When we order chicks from a hatchery we generally have already chosen the gender we want. The big hatcheries have a pretty good track record for accurately sexing the breeds that can be differentiated. But what about the peeps born on the farm, whether under Broody Betty or in the incubator? Is it possible for us to sex chicks? Part of our Chicken Basics Series.
In many cases, Yes! It’s possible to Sex Your Chicks.
The easiest chicks to determine the gender of are those from the sex-linked breeds. The males and females may hatch as completely different colors so it is only a matter of sorting them by color. Red Stars and Black Stars are examples of sex-linked breeds.
However, these breeds are usually hybrids (one breed of mother and another of father) and so do not breed true to the next generation. For example a Red Star crossed with a Red Star will not make a true Red Star, there may be a variety of genetic expressions. This makes sexing by color no longer reliable in the subsequent generations.
Some other breeds have minor differences between the genders at hatch that can be used to identify them, such as a slightly different colored legs or feathers. Check with the experts in the breed you have for the differences, if any. These differences are almost always minor and your skill at identifying them correctly will improve with practice.
Many breeds can be sexed by examination of their primary wing feathers just after hatching. The females have staggered rows at the tips of their feathers (think: at the tips of their fingers) with little fluffs of feather. The males have a single even row with less or no fluffs, just the blunt tip. This method can be used by the hobbyist or commercial hatchery, but must be done within a day or two of hatching.
If you saw the Dirty Jobs episode at Murray McMurray Hatchery, you saw how they employ professional sexers. They can look into the the vent (rear end) of the chick and tell by the structures within if it is a cockerel or pullet. A male has a bump and a female does not or it is a smaller bump. The structures vary by breed, so this method requires expertise and probably isn’t practical for the average hobby farmer. However, not all breeds are able to be sexed this way, especially the diminutive bantam chickens.
Secondary sex characteristics
When the other methods are not possible then waiting a week or two will begin revealing the differences in secondary sex characteristics. The roosters typically develop a more pronounced and redder comb and wattle, followed a few weeks later by longer hackle and arched tail feathers. These changes will become easier to spot with practice. When all else fails the rooster will begin crowing at 3-4 months of age!