10 Ways to Tell If Chicks Are Hens or Roosters

Chicken eggs with male or female symbols

Undoubtedly, identifying whether a chick is a hen or a rooster is a practical skill for poultry keepers. It requires careful observation and a bit of know-how. But how can you tell the difference before they fully mature?

Many people find themselves puzzled when trying to differentiate these birds. While adult roosters and hens have clear distinctions, the challenge lies in determining them during their early stages.

In this article, we are going to share with you ten handy tips for telling the difference between young hens and roosters. Are you ready to become a chick gender identification expert? Let’s get started!

How Early Can You Tell If a Chick Is a Hen or a Rooster?

Separating male and female baby chicks

You can usually tell if a chick is a hen or a rooster when it is around 4 to 10 weeks old. However, note that this process is not fool-proof.

Close observation of the chicks as they grow is essential, as the differences in their physical characteristics start to become more apparent during this period.

For roosters, traits like the size and shape of their comb become noticeable over time. On the other hand, young hens tend to grow slower.

Yet, it is important to bear in mind that autosexing breeds, which can be identified immediately after hatching, are an exception to this general rule.

Once you have identified the gender of your chicks, though, the young females are referred to as pullets, while the young males are known as cockerels.

Fun Fact: Researchers can predict a chick’s gender before it hatches by analyzing its egg’s shape. They use a calculation called the shape index, which compares the egg’s diameters to reveal the chick’s sex.

Male or Female Chicks? 10 Ways to Identify

It can be hard to tell if baby chicks are males or females because they all look alike at first. But do not worry. There are a few clever tricks to figure out their actual genders.

1. Autosexing Breeds

In poultry farming, autosexing breeds stand out for their unique characteristic: the ability to distinguish male from female chicks right after hatching.

This is due to sexual dimorphism, where males and females exhibit different colors and markings in their initial feathering.

For your convenience, provided below is a list of autosexing chicken breeds:

  • Welsummer
  • Cream Legbar
  • Barred Rock/Plymouth Rock
  • Rhodebar
  • Bielefelder
  • Dorking
  • Niederrheiner
  • Orpington

To be specific, a classic example is the Barred Rock breed. Male Barred Rock chicks typically have a larger white spot on their head, while female chicks have smaller white dots.

See the difference in this photo:

Male and female barred rock chicks
Image credit: livingeasternmt / Instagram

Another distinguishing feature is found in their leg coloration. Male Barred Rock chicks generally have more uniformly yellow legs. On the flip side, females often show black or gray markings on the front of their limbs.

Note: Even though they share the common feature of being distinguishable at hatching, be aware that autosexing chickens are purebreds, whereas sex-linked chickens are hybrids.

2. Feather Patterns

Feather patterns offer a reliable way to differentiate between male and female chicks. For instance, female Cream Legbars have a notable dark stripe on their head, unlike males.

Similarly, male Orpington chicks often show white streaks in their plumage, whereas females tend to have brown or black bars.

To give you an idea, below is a photo of a young male Orpington:

Orpington male chick
Image credit: joubert_orpingtons / Instagram

On the other hand, here is an image of two female Orpington chicks:

Two Orpington female chicks
Image credit: pihlajaahon_heta / Instagram

But remember, their feathers’ growth pattern can also be a fantastic way to tell them apart.

When rooster chicks are about 9 to 12 weeks old, they begin growing longer, pointy saddle feathers. By contrast, hen feathers usually remain uniform, short, and blunt.

Another method involves examining your chicks’ wing plumage. Males typically have coverts and primaries of even lengths. Meanwhile, females display irregular or alternating lengths.

For a more precise wing sexing tutorial, check out this clip:

How To Identify Male and Female Buff Orpington Chicks | Feather Sexing | Heritage Chicken #ABX

3. Combs and Wattles

While both hens and roosters carry combs and wattles, the patterns of growth differ between the sexes.

Typically, male chicks show earlier and more significant growth in their combs and wattles, noticeable around 6 to 8 weeks of age. Theirs also tend to turn bright red sooner than those of females.

On the other hand, females usually experience later development of these features, typically about 10 weeks or older.

Check out these photos to compare the combs and wattles of pullets (left) and cockerels (right):

Comparing combs and wattles of male and female chicks

To be specific, the combs and wattles of female chicks become more red and enlarged in the weeks leading up to when they start laying eggs.

4. Plumage Coloration

Plumage coloration is a significant indicator of gender in certain breeds of chickens, especially sex-linked ones.

For example, day-old male Red Sex Link chicks typically show an off-white or yellowish color. In contrast, female chicks of the same species exhibit a distinct salmon-red shade.

Breeds like Cinnamon Queens, Golden Comets, and ISA Browns also lend themselves well to color sexing at hatch. Here, female chicks are recognizable by their reddish-brown color, while the male chicks appear almost white.

Gold Sex Links are just like that, too. I once had a bunch of these chicks, and the females had this bronzy buff tint with awesome stripes. I could spot them right away because the males were all a lighter shade of yellow.

In addition, I eyed a similar trait in New Hampshire chicks. My friend, who is also a chicken keeper, showed me how to tell their gender as soon as they hatch.

He pointed out that his male New Hampshire chicks had a distinctive white spot on their wings, which is a feature absent in his females. I also observed that his female chicks were generally darker in overall color.

5. Weight and Growth Rate

Upon hatching, note that male and female chicks typically have no apparent weight difference. But as they develop, males tend to grow faster and gain more weight than females.

See this image of two chicks with a noticeable size contrast:

Hen and rooster chicks with size difference
Image credit: agv4697 / Instagram

As a matter of fact, a particular study highlighted this growth distinction. Researchers have observed that male chickens are more efficient in converting feed into body mass.

This results in male chicks reaching broiler weight approximately 7 to 10 days earlier than their female counterparts.

6. Leg Size and Structure

Leg size and structure are another set of physical traits that can help identify the sex of your chicks. As they grow older, male chicks tend to have thicker and longer legs compared to females.

Another distinguishing feature is the development of spurs. Male chicks grow their stiff, spike-like bones much earlier than females. Moreover, the spurs found on young hens are generally less sharp than those on their male peers.

Additionally, you will notice that the feet of male chicks often appear much larger when compared to those of young female chickens.

7. Body Shape and Posture

Surprisingly, body shape and posture offer subtle yet telling clues in identifying the gender of chicks.

In most cases, male chicks have larger bodies and heads, presenting a more robust appearance. Contrastingly, female chicks often appear more petite in size.

When it comes to posture, male chicks usually display a distinctive upright and assertive stance. This cocky posture becomes particularly noticeable when they are surprised.

As for females, a key stance observed is the submissive squat, especially once they reach sexual maturity.

During this squat, a hen crouches down, spreads her wings for balance, and lowers her tail, indicating her readiness for mating in response to a rooster’s presence.

8. Behavioral Traits

Hen and rooster baby chicks standing together

Broadly speaking, male chicks show bolder behavior compared to females. This boldness can be seen in their response to unexpected situations or noises around them.

When startled, a typical response from a cockerel is to stand erect and issue a warning chirp. This behavior contrasts with that of female chicks, who are more likely to crouch down and remain silent in similar situations.

Fun Fact: Rooster-less flocks may have pullets or hens displaying “masculine” behaviors such as tidbitting, waltzing, and strutting.

9. Crowing

Observing the initial crowing behavior of your chicks is a surefire way to determine their sex. Since crowing is predominantly a testosterone-dependent behavior, it is more commonly observed in male chicks than in pullets.

However, to be certain, it’s better to wait until your “male” chicks are about 3 months old. By this age, roosters should exhibit a more confident and uniform crow.

After all, hens can also exhibit occasional crowing, especially when there’s a lack of a dominant rooster in the flock or when they are exposed to environmental stressors.

10. Vent Sexing

Vent sexing is a method used to determine the gender of chicks by examining their reproductive organs.

Specifically, this technique involves holding the chick upside down, expelling any fecal material, and gently turning its vent area outward.

The observer then looks for the presence or absence of a male sex organ to ascertain if the chick is male or female.

However, it’s important to note that vent sexing is not a guaranteed method and requires a skilled hand. Further, the process can be delicate and should be done with care to avoid harming the chick.

Watch this short video demonstrating chick vent sexing:

How to tell baby chick male or female | Vent sexing | Baby chick gender | Feather sexing

Now that you have got the hang of telling whether your little chicks are hens or roosters, what do you think? Do you have any insights or questions? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

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