Monday, 30 April 2007

How to tell the sex of chicks

A lot of people only want hens (for eggs or because they are not allowed, or do not want, the noise that comes with a rooster). So pullets are ordered. However, sexing chicks is very hard to do with most breeds. Hatcheries employ professional chicken sexers. They use vent sexing (squeezing them to make them poo and then observing whether they have a 'bump' inside their vent - bump=male, no bump=female), but some females do have small bumps, so even with a professional sexer most hatcheries will only guarantee a sexing accuracy of 90-95%. (Vent sexing is not a method recommended for the rest of us to use by the way, and only really works with day old chicks anyway).

The only way to be sure of what you are getting when you order is to choose sex linked breeds. Black Sex Links are a cross between a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster and a Barred Rock hen. Red Sex Links are a cross between a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster and a White Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island White or Delaware Hen.

The Black Sex Link female is a completely black chick
The Black Sex Link males are black with a white spot on the top of
their heads.
The Red Sex Link female hatches out a buff or red
The Red Sex Link males hatches out white.

If you order 25 pullets (which are not sex link breeds) then you are likely to have 2 or 3 roosters in there. But, how can you tell which is which?


- Pullets usually get their wing and tail feathers before cockerels (in the first week or so).
- At around 5 to 6 weeks, sometimes sooner, you will see definate comb development on the cockerels in most breeds (it will start to redden, whilst the pullets will still be yellowy).
- At 2-3 months you will see the hackle feathers developing on the males. They will start to get longer and will be more pointed.
- Cockerels are usually braver - if you walk into your henhouse and accidentally sneeze, the pullets should be the ones that scattered!
- Cockerels have more pointed feather tips.
- Cockerels are usually bigger by a few weeks old.
- Pullets tend to have a smaller, round head, compared to the cockerels larger more angular one.
- Cockerels usually have longer legs (look for spur development).

All of these general signs are indications - not certainties. There are always exceptions to the rule, and not all breeds will conform to the general signs. You may have a really friendly timid cockerel in your bunch masquerading as a pullet (and vice versa).


Barred Rocks and Cuckoo Marans - Males have wider white barring. They will often appear more silvery-grey than black. The males usually have a much larger, splotchier headspot.

Rhode Island Reds - By 5 weeks males have larger and thicker legs and a larger (pinkening) comb and wattle area.

Salmon Faverolles - By 2 weeks you can usually see a difference in the colours on the wings. Black should indicate a cockerel. Salmon brown should indicate a pullet.

Silkies - It can be several months before signs start to appear. Boys tend to stand more erect and girls more likely to be short and squatty. If the feathers swoop back towards the neck on the crest, then it is likely to be a boy.

White Crested Polish - The females tend to get more fluffy, mushroom looking crests.

OLD WIVES TALES - take with a pinch of salt!

If you pick a chick up with two fingers by the neck, the pullets will draw their legs up to their body and the cockerels legs will dangle.

Hold your chick on their back in your hand. If they stop kicking after a short time, it's a pullet, if they keep kicking it's a cockerel.

Needle and Thread - dangle the needle over your chick ... if it moves around and around it is a female, if it swings back and forth it is male - this is supposed to work for both chicks and eggs.

However you try to determine the sex of chicks you won't know for sure until it crows or lays an egg - but it can be a lot of fun finding out :-)


Anonymous said...

We have red sex linked peeps and I had no idea why they were called that...thanks for the infor and the geneology of our ladies...they have beautiful red feathers and my sweetheart likes to think they have the same colour "hair" as their "mom". Who has more fun, the blonde or brunette? They've missed the mark, the Redhead rules! =)

Anonymous said...

I also learned that a barred rock is also considered a sex-link chick in that you can tell by the coloring on the leg pullets have black coloring on the leg where cockerels have a more gray to yellow coloring down the front
of the leg. This is because the cockerel is the double chromosone and therefore the coloring is muted.
A wives tale I heard about also is to hold the chick upside down by the legs if it pulls up to peck at your hand it is a cockerel if not a pullet. This is because cockerels have more developed breast muscles then pullets. This method worked for me and can be done at any time.

Anonymous said...

i was wondering if anyone has tried any of the old wives tales to tell the sex of a chick

Anonymous said...

Hi Gina,

I am sort of new at this chicken game. My grandmother had a large flock of chickens of mixed breeds when I was a child. It was mine and my younger brother's duty to feed them and clean the hen house, but that was many years ago. I'm 68 now, retired and looking for a hobby.

About eight weeks ago I purchased six day-old-chicks that were reputed to be "Golden Comets", from my local feed store. Not sure if they are true Golden Comets or not, they don't look exactly like the pictures I can find on the Internet. At any rate, they were doing very well and growing like weeds, but I'm pretty sure they are all pullets, won't have many offsprings if this is the case, so I purchased 4 straight run "New Hampshires" at the same facility in the hope that at least one would be a cockerel (couldn't get Golden Comet cockerels). The only sexed cockerels I could obtain locally were Barred Rocks, thought that would produce a really ugly color combination, so I settled for taking my chances with the New Hampshires. I selected two that were all yellow and two that had a lot of reddish brown, hoping that the color might indicate a difference in sex, now I don't believe color is any indication in Hampshires. They are now two weeks old and they all developed their wing feathers about the same time. I won't know for sure for some time yet, but I think I'm going to wind up with 10 hens. What were the chances that they would all be pullets? Its got to be astronomical.

I'll give them a couple more months before considering a grown rooster from an outside source. I don't really want to go through the rearing of day-old-chicks again this year. I plan to hatch my own future stock, starting next year, after I have time to improve my facilities. Raising "peeps" in a spare bedroom is not something I want to go through again.

I really find these news letters helpful, and appreciate the plans for the coop that I downloaded from you in May. You wouldn't recognize what I built as coming from the coop plans you sent, but I did implement some of the features in my little 4' x 12' temporary coop. The older birds have been outdoors for the last three weeks and love it. I'll have to build a separate coop for the younger birds, they'll be a long time catching up with the Comets. I'll probably build a larger, more permanent structure, and transfer the Comets to it and put the four smaller birds in the pen I have now until they are large enough to defend them selves.

Thanks for all the help,

Anonymous said...

My father-in-law claimed that he could ID female/male chicks by their "ears".

I saw him do it with 200 Rhode Island Reds that were delivered. When he was done, he had 181 hens, so he said. When they matured, he had missed 3 males.

Was he just lucky and pulling my leg, or is there some validity to it?

Ed in NJ

Anonymous said...

Hey Gina!

Here's a question for you. How many folks have had hens that crowed?

I just lost a very dear 3 yr. old Araucana hen , snatched away by an unseen assailant, likely coyote or eagle...could only see feathers flying just out of view. Her name was Peeps because, well, she looked like a Peep. And she crowed (WELL!), tippy-toes and all, yet laid a lovely blue egg. She was a little mixed up but very sweet.

How common is it to have a hen that crows as well as a rooster?

Stanwood, WA

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to hear you lost her.
It isn't overly common but I have heard of hens crowing before - in the old days people were quite superstitious about hearing a hen crow.
It seems to happen more often if a rooster leaves the flock (then a hen will sometimes try to fill that gap).

Anonymous said...

Dear Gina

I have a batch of 5 cuckoo cochin chicks all about 4 weeks old now. Any idea on visual signs of sexing them? some are paler than others, others have barring, but I haven't a clue. Would like to keep a female before passing the others on, but don't want to upset my lovely buff orpington Eggbert by introducing another cockerel! Any clues gratefully received. Thanks Muchly

Unknown said...

Sorry, but I don't know of any specific signs for cuckoo cochin chicks - if anyone reading this does, please let us know :-)

Anonymous said...

I saw a video in You Tube of a chicken factory.
You can see there thousand of chicks been separated by workers looking the feathers of the wings.
If the chicks have same length feather at the wings, they will be roosters.
If there are 2 different length of feather at the wings, the chicks will become hens.

See :

I hope I did help you

Herbert P W Schweinitz

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link - I had heard about that documentary but I hadn't seen it. It was very interesting (and a little shocking) to see what they do.

I think those chicks must have been bred to be told apart by the feathers. It seems very effective (though not very pleasant for the chicks being shoved down their individual chutes!).

Anonymous said...

Wondering if you might offer advice, though I'm sure that we will figure it out eventually... we have three pullets aged nearly five months. Our medium-sized Silver-laced Wyandotte just started laying small brown eggs (we've seen her brooding over an egg she has just laid), so we know she's female. Our other two birds are a small Sicilian Buttercup and a large Barred Rock. The Buttercup is the most skittish of the three, nervous, and well, a chicken - not a feisty rooster personality. The Barred Rock is large and wide and calm (dumb!), and certainly seems most hen-like. However.... when the sun goes down all three chicks crowd onto one end of a roosting pole. The known female invariably ends up next to the wall, and the other two take turns trying to climb on top of her (my wife jokingly refers to this as "chick on chick action"). There's much indignant sqawking, somebody gets pushed off the roost, and then the cycle begins again. So far there's been no crowing, so I don't have positive ID of a rooster in the other two. Is this just juvenile hen behavior, or do you think that we really do have two roosters in our city flock? By the way, I've never seen any similar behavior during daylight. Thanks for your advice.

Anonymous said...

I am new to the chicken world, but I have 14 Aracunas(sp)and we only wished to have hens, but they are 6 months and we yet have gotten a single egg........what are the chances they are ALL roosters, and shouldnt they be laying eggs by now if they are hens???????

Anonymous said...

I have 2 cornish rock chicks and i think they are male but i dont know they have small bumps on the back of their legs. r these spurs? their only 2 weeks old. plz help!

Unknown said...

The bumps might turn out to be spurs, but it will not be totally clear what sex they are until they are older.

As they are meat birds the main practical difference would be that a male would get to 3-4 pounds in 6-8 weeks whereas a female will take a week or two longer to get to the same size.

xenobiologista said...

Oo, thanks for the info. I've got 77 young White Leghorns but they're for a totally different purpose than the normal eggs/meat...they're testing a vaccine in our lab! I don't know if there will turn out to be differences in immune systems between the li'l pullets and cockerels eventually.

By the way, I found your blog post via Wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm new to the chicken raising hobby. I must say that so far I really enjoy it. I got my chicks for Easter and they seem to be doing well right now.
Can you do a section on how to tell the age of a chick by how they look? Mine are getting their adult feathers and I'm not sure how many weeks that makes them?

Unknown said...

It usually takes 5-8 weeks for chicks to get their adult feathers.

Anonymous said...

We have 7 7 week old barred rocks that are supposed to be 95% hens, but 3 are lighter striped and are growing more red on thier combs. I'm wondering if they're just more advanced, or probably cockerels.

Also- We used to raise our chicks in open cardboard boxes with a lightbulb for warmth. This time, they pent thier first few weeks in a large aquarium in the house. They are very social now and easy to handle, also, they didn't smell as bad since the cage was easier to clean and didn't absorb moisture. I wouldn't recommend chicks in the house if you plan to have completely free range chickens, as they will probably come into your house. My mom raised them in a inside closet years ago, and would often come home from work and find her favorite hen roosting in the closet.

Gina said...


Those are definately signs that you could have roosters, but you can never be 100% sure. Other things to look out for over the next few weeks are hackle feathers developing and spurs. In the video article on sexing
the redness of the comb doesn't show up as well as it did in the actual newsletter, but it does show the rooster stance and the hackle feathers are getting more obvious by around 12 weeks - it also shows the development of the barred plymouth rock girls throughout those 20 weeks which may help for comparison.

carolac said...

I have red sex link chickens...this year I hatched some of their eggs and have somehow ended up with a black and white chicken ? Does anyone know why ? I also would like to introduce my chicks into my older flock ? How old do they have to be before I do this ? thanks

Unknown said...

I don't know for sure why your chick would hatch black and white, but I would guess generally that it may be because the original crossing would have been with standard breeds. Your new chicks are coming from breeding with hybrids so you can no longer be sure of what the colour and/or sex would be. It is usually easiest to mix flocks together when they are of a similar size. If the new ones are a lot smaller they may get picked on.

Anonymous said...


I've been wanting chickens for ages, and finally found them for sale at the pet shop, bought 3 week old chicks thinking out of three the chances of getting 2 or 3 ladies would be pretty good. At 16 weeks old, 1 had its tails feathers turn green and red, closely followed by another one. Last nite the 2 boys (black chooks) were kicking the yellow/red chook, seperated them overnight and now the yellow one is also crowing. What are the chances of getting 3 roosters in one lot? And would you also think the yellow one is a boy?

worried, not much chance of getting eggs!

Unknown said...

In theory, with a straight run there should be a roughly 50/50 split of boys and girls so you should, out of three, expect at least one girl (or at least one boy - which ever way you look at it). Chicks are usually sold as day olds, so as they were a week old when you got them they may already have had people choosing the least boisterous ones etc. which possibly could have increased your chances of being left with all boys. If the yellow one is crowing it sounds as though it probably also is a boy. Best Wishes, Gina.

Anonymous said...

I have four Rhole Island Reds that are a month old and I was wondering how to tell the sex of them?

Amy said...

I have four ~1 week old chicks that are supposed to be pullets, though I was warned that of course, there might be some males in there. I am not zoned for roosters where I live (my lot is too small), so if any are male, I will need to either eat him/them or give him/them away. How soon do roosters get annoying (crow etc)?

Unknown said...

It's usually around 4 or 5 months before roosters start to crow.

Allyson Lewis said...

My hubby and I bought some bantam chicks at our local feed store about 3 weeks ago. I think I have two cockerels out of the whole bunch, and the rest are most likely pullets. So, here's the question. All but one of my chicks are growing like weeds. I have one lone little gray chick with black feet and beak, and it is half the size of my other chicks. My husband swears it isn't a chicken. LOL I don't know what else it could be! It is the only gray chick in the bunch and hasn't had the feather growth or any other growth for that matter! It's nearly the same size it was when we got the lot. What are the odds of getting a dwarf chick or a non-chicken chick?

Unknown said...

A blue silkie chick could look grey and would have black feet so that may be a possibility. I'm not sure why it wouldn't be growing though - perhaps it is just naturally smaller ? When buying batches of 25 chicks from a hatchery there seems to be at least one or two who are not as strong or big as the others so I guess the odds of having a smaller chick may be as high as 5% - 10%. Also, sizes can vary from breed to breed so if they are different breeds that may also account for a difference. I don't know what the chances of getting a non-chicken chick would be though, I would guess it is pretty unlikely but perhaps not impossible (depending on what the particular hatchery hatches and how / where the individual breeds and species are stored and packed).

Good luck with your new chicks :-)

Sabrina said...

We bought our baby chicks a few weeks ago at the local feed store, and the woman who helped us with our chicks told us that hens start growing their tail feathers first. Have you heard this before?

Unknown said...

Pullets usually do start to get their wing and tail feathers before cockerels (often starting to show in the first week or so) but overall the cockerels will usually grow bigger faster.

zac said...

hey Gina, i have 4 newhampher reds 3 hens 1 rooster then i have 1 mut rooster and the smallest hen has 16 chicks. r they supost to have that many? and i have 3 red sex-links and 2 white i don`t know if they r boy or girl. but i am breeding them to sell i am going to buy outher breeds to tho my friend likes to thank he is the hatchery and nursery mostly i am the person that keeps most of the adults we have started a busnis together we sell young-&-adults i need to know a way to sex sexlinked and newhampher reds so if eney one can help me out ples help oh and the buosnes ant eney thang mager

Unknown said...

If you have true sex links then the red ones should be female and the white ones male. To breed red sex links yourself you would (as far as I know) need to cross a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster with a White Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island White or Delaware Hen.

Anonymous said...

I used the old wives tale of pullets drawing up their legs and cockerels' legs hanging. out of 18chicks, I've only got about 5 or so hens lol
My "leghorns" also turned out to be Delawares. I'll get my chicks from a farm before I get them from T. Supply again

maroongrad said...

Rooster, or not a rooster?

I got 6 sex-linked chicks at a feed store. Two were much bigger, friendlier, and bossier and I figured I'd ended up with two roosters in the batch. I still have one of them, he's serving as the class pet for now.

I'm not so sure it's a rooster. At 9 weeks, his comb is not red, is no bigger than the hen's were, and his spurs are still tiny bumps with a very tiny little nail. He doesn't crow.

His tail is puffier than the girls' tails were, and he's certainly bigger and bolder. His beak is darker, too. But is this a guy? I can take a picture and put it online if you'd like. He's very sweet, and I'd be DELIGHTED if I really did have a hen!

What signs, at 9 or so weeks, would help me determine if it's a boy or a girl?

Unknown said...

Hi, If he was a true sex link he should have been a different colour from your other chicks (i.e. he should have been white if a red sex link or black with a white spot on his head if a black sex link). Being bigger and bolder can be a general sign of a rooster but size also partly depends on the particular parents. At 9 weeks I would have expected the comb to already be bigger and redder if it were a rooster. In the seperating the pullets from the cockerels case study it was pretty obvious at 14 weeks but it may not be until at least four or five months old that you get full confirmation and hear him crow or see her lay an egg :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gina! Looks like I have a big, leggy, bossy, fluffy, very spoiled hen.

No red comb at all, and she's looking more and more like a hen now. Awesome bird, and I'm very very glad it's not a rooster!

Josiane said...

Dear Gina,

I've three birds, black Orpington, in my bck garden. They were bought as pullets and supposed to be hens. I fear two of them might be roosters. One of them definitely crowed this morning and the two fight a lot. No injuries as yet, but I suspect this set-up may be a disaster waiting to happen. The neighbours won't like me for keeping roosters and if I had to get rid of them at least, I'm worried about having a single hen. Yet I hear they don't like having new pals introduced to them once they have grown up. What to do? What to do?

Kind regards, Jo

Unknown said...

A lot of farms/breeders will accept roosters back and replace them if they have been sold as pullets (at least the good ones will). If not then you will need to lose at least one of the roosters (because of fighting but also for the sake of the hen who may be pestered all day long). If adding to your flock I have a few guidelines here which may help:

Anonymous said...


I have just been given some frizzles. They are a year old. One of them is acting a little confused. I have only had them a week so still watching them for more signs but one of them is now crowing and starting to jump on the backs of the other hens. It is also fluffing up the feathers on its neck.
This all sounds like a cockerel to me. But then it gets all excited when one of the other girls lays an egg and joins in the celebration. And other days will spend hours in the house trying out all the nesting boxes for size making happy clucking sounds. They are not all laying yet as they are young still so i can;t be sure. What do you think??

Unknown said...

It does sound like cockerel behaviour but it is not totally unheard of for a pullet to act like a cockerel (particularly if she is at the top of the pecking order).

Kaye said...

HI i have 7 what i believe to be warren chicks!? 3 are brown 4 are yellow the yellow are bigger than the brown id there any way of sexing them some people say the brown are pullets some say the yellow are!

Unknown said...

As far as I know Warrens are red sex-links and so if that is right the browns should be the pullets.

Kaye said...

Than you Gina, the yellows have begun to square up to each other! will give them a wk before a seperate the females.

Chicken Rancher Dave said...

Just got 28 chicks, half Orphingtons half Aracaunas, shipped from McMurray hatchery. I have looked and not found anything about leaving the light on 24/7. The temps good, but when I turn the light off, they bunch up, BUT all also went to sleep. I am concerned about them bunching up too much and some suffocating.

Any concern about bad sleeping habits too?

Unknown said...

Whether or not there is a light on, chicks must be kept warm so there is likely to be a need for some kind of 24 hour a day heat source. I would imagine that having a 'day' and 'night' (therefore mimicking nature as closely as possible) is probably the ideal situation but chicks will sleep at any time and I know that some people do use normal light bulbs for heat which are left on all the time and with apparently no ill-effects.

June said...

I saw a documetary regarding chicks which demonstrated gently spreading the wing. If there were two rows of feathers nearest the wing it was a female. If it had one row of feathers nearest the wing it was a male. I intend to check this out when next buying peeps. June

Anonymous said...

Thanks alot I have 5 silkie chicks and I dont like the idea of picking them up by the neak but i will try the others

Anonymous said...

I hav a white rock chicken it has the comb of a rooster and the feathers of a hen how do I figure it out before it lays or not

Unknown said...

If the comb is like that of a roosters but there are no eggs then it probably is a rooster as usually a hen will start laying before her comb is at its biggest and reddest - but I don't know how you can be 100% sure.