How To Sex Chicks

Sexing Chicks

Sexing ChicksWhen 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.

Sex-linked characteristics

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.

Feather sexing

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.


Vent sexing

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!


Julie Helms
Julie Helms
Article is courtesy of Julie HelmsTwitter: @julie_helms

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About Julie Helms 8 Articles

I have enjoyed the hobby farm life for 20 years. It all started with my first job where I lived at an SPCA that catered to farm animals. Since then I have had horses, sheep, goats, rabbits and chickens. We currently have a flock of Corriedale sheep with award-winning fleeces. My favorite of all has always been the chickens. After a disaster with predators last year we maintain only a small flock now of 8 White Orpingtons.


  1. Hi Vegetable Garden Cook! Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I agree that it is somehow more cruel to kill a male chick as a baby as opposed to killing it as a 3 month old, maybe less wasteful though. Thankfully we have the option to order either way so that people can make a choice based on conviction. Thanks for reading!

  2. Your Feather sexing information is wrong and missleading people.

    Feather sexing isn’t hard, but it requires that the chickens be bred to show their sex in differences in the feathers as chicks. Male chickens in these breeds have longer wing pinfeathers than the females do, which makes them relatively easy to tell apart. Most chickens do not have these traits bred into them, and the chicks are identical to all but the skilled eye of the pro- chicken sexer.
    Accurate Sexing Methods (Chickens)

    •Feather sexing became possible in 1969 after several years of genetic research by the Tegels Poultry Breeding Company. This method used to determine the sex of newly hatched chicks is only possible if a female from a slow-feathering breed is crossed with a male from a fast-feathering breed. The sex of the chicks produced from this cross can be determined during the first 48 hours after hatching by looking at the primary and secondary feathers located on the chick’s wings. The primary feathers will be noticeably longer than the secondary feathers on a female chick. On a male, the primary and secondary feathers are the same length.

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