How to Sex a Chicken.

Spring is chicken sexing season. The time of year backyard chicken owners stare in dismay at a huddle of fluff balls wondering girl or boy? Here’s how to sex a chicken.  Sort of. 

5 day old chicks in a row on barnboard.

Sexing a chicken yourself is usually about as reliable as doing your own taxes. I mean, you can take a guess and hope for the best but in the end you don’t really know if you screwed up until it’s too late.  In the case of your taxes, you get the dreaded “audit” call.  In the case of chickens you get the dreaded 5:00 a.m. rooster call.

But when I hatched a group of chicks years ago I decided I was going to put a few of the common sexing methods to the test and document it all. I had zero confidence any of the methods were going to work. 

By the way if you have ZERO interest in how chickens are sexed, you might like to watch this video instead that just shows a bunch of my chicks as they venture into the world for the first time – including breakout of the their shell. Or if you DO have chickens but aren’t interested in sexing them go on over and read why you should install an automatic coop door.  LIFE changing!

O.K., now that 90% of the readers are gone, we can talk chicken penises! They’re gonna be SO upset they missed out on this.

More specifically I’m going to talk about whether chickens even have a penis. 

They do and they don’t. Male chickens are born with a teeny tiny micro penis. They’re also born with a gene that stops it from growing. So beyond the first couple of days of the chick being alive it can’t be seen. 

To even find it, a trained chicken sexer will hold a day old chick and push a tiny bit on the under side of the chick’s vent (their bum).  If a minuscule little dot pops out of the vent from the pressure, it’s a male. 

Sounds easy right? It’s not. Vent sexing chickens is a skill that takes practice to do with accuracy and without harming the chick.

For sexing my own chicks I turned to slightly easier methods.

The long toes on a 6 week old chicken's foot.

The first thing I had to do was put leg bands on all of my chicks, otherwise I’d never be able to tell them apart unless one of them developed a quirk, like a limp. Or spoke with an accent.

Different  methods also work best with specific breeds.  Some breeds of chickens automatically sex themselves at birth because of different colouring.  Cream crested legbars for instance have hen chicks with a stripes down their backs. The boys on the other hand have a dot on their head. These are known as auto sexing birds.

Other chickens breeds are called Sex links.  This is when two breeds of chickens are bred together and the gender of the chicks they create are easily distinguished by colour.

When a Rhode Island Red Rooster mates with a Delaware Hen the result is called a Red Sex Link.  All the female chicks will be red and all the males are yellow which makes sexing them incredibly easy.

2 chicken feet on a young Marans cross chicken, with one foot just starting to feather.

 

My chicks (which were a cross between a Marans and an Ameraucana) all got their own colour coded leg bands which were switched out every couple of weeks as their legs grew.

You can buy chicken leg bands but I made mine out of the smallest zip ties you can find at the hardware store. To differentiate them you can paint them with different coloured nail polishes. Amazon also sells multicoloured tiny zip ties for banding chickens. 

I had chicks identified as Black, White, Dot, Teal, No Tag and Mint.

By day 2 I was ready to start sexing.

I implemented 3 different types of methods for sexing chicks: feather sexing, tail sexing and comb sexing.

Sexing Baby Chicks

Renaissance style photo of a black chicken surrounded by her chicks including one sitting on her back.

 

 

FEATHER SEXING CHICKS

According to some, you can feather sex a chicken within the first 3 days.  A girl chicken will have 2 different lengths of wing feathers and a boy chicken will have wing feathers that are all the same length.


This apparently only works on breeds where the father was a fast feathering breed and the mother was a slow feathering breed. I had NO idea what the parents of my chicks were in terms of their feathering but I gave it a shot anyway.  

In the name of science.  And blogging.  And curiosity.

RESULTS

The black banded, mint banded and not banded had 2 lengths of wing feathers, therefore appeared female 

The white banded, dot banded and teal banded had 1 length of wing feathers, therefore appeared male

According to the feather sexing theory which may or may not apply to my chickens, I had my hands on 3 roosters and 3 hens.

Tail Sexing Chicks

Another method I read about years ago was tail development.  The chicks who develop tail feathers first are female.

1 week old female yellow easter egger chick with tail feathers.

 

One week old male easter egger chick with no tail feathers.

 

Fluffy bum of 1 week old easter egger chick with no tail feathers meaning it's probably a male.

 

1 week old Marans/Ameraucana cross chick. 1 week old female olive egger chick. One week old chick with tiny tail feathers.

RESULTS

The black banded, mint banded and not banded had tail feathers, therefore appeared female 

The white banded, dot banded and teal banded had no tail feathers, therefore appeared male

According to tail sexing, I also had 3 roosters and 3 hens on my hands.  Even more strangely … this method gave me the exact same results as the wing feather sexing method.


But still, I thought, it might not be true, It might be a fluke.  Fluke’s happen.  Like that time I prepared my own tax return and it was apparently accurate.  I saw that as the fluke it was and have used an accountant ever since.

Comb Colour Sexing Chicks

The most reliable way to tell if a chicken is a boy or a girl is to wait until they’re a bit older (6 weeks) and to look at their combs and wattles.  Combs are this …

Side by side photos of hens, one with a pea comb another with a single comb.

And wattles are this …

Large wattle on Rhode Island Red cross hen.

Just because they’re big and glooby or long or droopy means nothing.  The chicken above with the huge wattles was Walnut, a hen.

BUT roosters combs turn red earlier than a hens do.  They’re born with cute little yellow combs and no wattles at all.

By the time a rooster starts to get past a month old, their combs turn red while the hens stay yellow.

 

6 week old female Olive Egger with yellow comb and typical Ameraucana beard starting.

 

6 week old splash Olive Egger.
6 week old male splash olive egger.

Red comb and small wattle on 6 week old chicken showing signs of being a rooster.

And look at this same one from the side. THAT is what  a rooster looks like.  Large, red comb, and definite red wattles forming.

6 week old olive egger rooster. 6 week old olive egger with yellow comb.

Olive egger chick at 6 weeks that looks like a female due to no wattle and yellow comb.

RESULTS

The black banded, mint banded and not banded had yellow combs, therefore appeared female 

The white banded, dot banded and teal banded had red combs, therefore appeared male

In case you weren’t paying attention because this is all sciencey and stuff that means ALL THREE sexing  methods showed I had 3 hens and 3 roos.


Years later I can confirm that the results were true.

The 3 chickens deemed roosters by the tests were indeed roosters.  The 3 chickens deemed hens by the tests were indeed hens.

Here they all are in their phases:

WHITE BANDED CHICK (Rooster)

Male olive egger chick at 1, 3 and 6 weeks.

 

DOT BANDED CHICK (Rooster)

Male Olive egger chick at 1, 3 and 6 weeks old.

 

TEAL BANDED CHICK (Rooster)

teal

 

NON TAGGED CHICK (Hen)

no-tag

 

MINT BANDED CHICK (Hen)

mint

 

I sold the roosters, gave 2 hens away and kept The Black Banded Chick.  She is now known as Baby.

BLACK BANDED CHICK (Hen)

black

She grew up into a a very attractive hen.

Splash olive egger in the snow.

However, she is a miserable, mean chicken who chases and bites like a Rooster. But she lays the most beautiful green speckled eggs.

Ironstone bowl with green speckled eggs from an Olive Egger chicken.

I can’t guarantee these methods of sexing baby chicks will work for you, but it’s worth trying.

This experiment was SUCH a great success for me and so completely accurate that I’m ready to take things to the next level … I’m going to try to feather sex my accountant.
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

How to Sex a Chicken.

69 Comments

  1. Sexing says:

    I watched a video of Chinese women sexing chickens..they did not do the wing thing or the bum thing..moved so fast could not figure how they doing it. But I was told how and it works..will do testing on method and if works will send details.

  2. Dorie says:

    This is great thank you for sharing! I missed the 2 day check, my chicks are 3 weeks old, going for 2 hens and a roo at the moment…

  3. Annette says:

    What a really lovely idea. I am so happy you put all the pics. That makes it so much easier to understand – I am from Austria and some chicken specific words are um familiar to me. As soon as I have new chicks I will try your methods! Greetings and thanks!

  4. Amy Burton says:

    Here is another experiment you can try. If you are hatching your own eggs pick only the really round ones not pointy or elongated. We have done this the last three years and got all hens. We are 100% so far for picking those girls. We also did feather testing and tail testing and were 100%for girls every time. If you want to make it really fun hatch some of both and see how it comes out. We have one rooster and he is the sweetest thing so we don’t want anymore. We do this experiment every year at the school I work at. The kids love it.

  5. Barbara Bower says:

    Thinking of getting two pullets for fresh eggs. Do the breeders tell you if you are buying a GMO chick?

    Love your sense of humor and learning about chicks was a delight not a chore❗️

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barbara! First I’d like to suggest that you get 3 pullets. If one dies, you’ll be left with only 1 if you get 2. Chickens are social and need to be around other chickens. I’m not sure what you mean by a GMO chick? ~ karen!

  6. Lisa G says:

    First, you turn the lights down low, turn on Barry White’s Greatest Hits, and dab some peanut butter behind your ears, then…

  7. Jennifer says:

    You had me at chickens. Sunday was a giant pile of. . . . not chickens. But Monday. Monday was a delight. Because you sent me this. Then I saw your chick video. And sent it to everyone I know. I WAS a casual blog subscriber, but now I know. You, are a bad ass.

  8. Leslie Russell says:

    Just don’t press on his vent to see if a little dot pokes out. They don’t like that.
    And he might charge more to do your taxes.

  9. Marguerite says:

    Maybe I’ve missed it, but do you eat these chickens? I used to raise chickens (self sexing ones, though. I ate all of them so didn’t care which sex they were). I REALLY enjoy not having to bump off chickens now.

  10. Renata says:

    The eggs are beautiful! I have a hen that lays eggs, but she was mounting and ‘doing’ the other ladies until we got 2 roosters. Now she has gone broody.

  11. Caroline Montgomery says:

    You should be able to write at least a short book, Sexing Chicks For Dummies. You are so funny and cute!

  12. Karen i have been using the wing method for 5 years and find it 90% accurate keep up your great work

  13. Paula says:

    Well I can tell you that those other two hens are still doing really well and lay gorgeous eggs!
    Last year I incubated and hatched 20 eggs and 3 – yes only 3 were hens.

  14. Grace says:

    Did you need up being right?

  15. B says:

    Just wondering what type of chicks these r? They look just like one i have.

  16. Hi Karen,
    Love all the pics you take, makes me ‘broody’ for baby chickens again!

    Some chickens (our own Norwegian Jaerhons included) are able to be “auto-sexed” which means the boys and girls look different on day one (different colours on the head etc.).

    This means you can buy the Jaerhons relaxed in the certainty you’re gonna get hens, phew. Not like the Light Sussex chicks we bought which turned out to be nearly all lads :-(
    Those guys developed as you noticed with yours, plus you can also see from your pics that the legs develop bigger and taller too on the boys.

    Other auto-sex breeds include… Amrock, Ancobar, Barnebar, Bielefelder Kennhuhn, Brockbar, Brussbar, Buffbar, Cambar, Cobar, Cream Legbar, Dorbar, Gold Legbar, Hambar, Niederrheiner, Norske Jaerhon, Oklabar, Polbar, Rhodebar, Welbar, Whealbar, and Wybar.
    (Okay, okay, I admit, I googled that bit… https://poultrykeeper.com/poultry-breeding/autosexing-poultry/).

    Enjoy your chicken therapy Karen, I can’t imagine a life without hens pecking around my feet outdoors, the perfect antidote to time spent on this machine ;-)
    Cheers

  17. Jamieson says:

    When have you ever worn MINT nail polish?? [Do not include plunging your hands into a St Patrick’s Day cake.]

  18. Marna says:

    LOL! Loved it all, even the comments had me ROFL! I love the girlies! :)

  19. Heather (mtl) says:

    OMG, My face would never leave that fluff alone. Too adorable, all of them!

  20. Elaine says:

    Obviously, this is a question from a city girl who would love to have chickens. Don’t the breeders or suppliers that sell the chicks, determine the chicks prior to sale? I saw a “Dirty Jobs” episode where Mike Rowe was taught how to determine the sex of chicks and separate them based on gender.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Elaine! Only certain breeds of chickens can be sexed by looking at them day one. Chickens that are basically bred to be able to be sexed. These chickens are called “Sex Links”. There are also other methods like “venting” which a professional chicken does to sex a chick. But no, most people can’t sex chicks, especially ones that are cross bred like mine. Not even experienced breeders can do it. So most people buy chicks as “straight run” which means a bunch of chicks and you have NO idea if they’re boys or girls until they grow up. (Oh … and also, I bought these as fertilized eggs so there really isn’t any telling what’s going to develop inside.) ~ karen!

    • Travis says:

      Elaine, yes, all large poultry providers will vent sex the baby chicks that are not auto sexing (you can see the difference in Male and female easily day one) the day they are hatched. This is done by professionals as it takes years of practice to master. They will sell them to you as pullets (female chicks), cockerels (Male chicks), or straight runs (non sexed). Vent sexing when done by professionals is proven to be over 90% accurate. If you get chicks from a random farmer, most likely he’s not going to sex them unless they’re auto sexing. The dead give away is to look for “pullets,” cockerels,” or “straight run” when ordering.

  21. Stephanie Hobson says:

    I really have nothing to add to this conversation other than you should definitely keep No Band based solely on her 6 week “yellow comb” photo.

  22. j says:

    OK Karen-fun-est blog yet!

    Please share the % increase in readers you get immediately—

  23. Joe Danford says:

    Regarding the feathering of your accountant: Pictures of cape and shoulders I can take, but I draw the line at the fluff.
    Happy Trails

  24. FarmKid Marti says:

    A bit lost among all the pictures of cute and tasty chickens.
    Did you determine that in fact these are accurate genders that you have applied to these birds?
    Or just throwing dirt clods at the fence here?

    • Karen says:

      Ha! No. They are as I state. The only one that I thought might be iffy was the no tag. I considered she may be a boy but I’m 99% sure she’s a girl. ~ k!

  25. Renee says:

    Just wondered if they have developed a distinct personalities. ALso seems like the boys are the ones with black specks on them! I especially like the feathers on dot. Bet ya keep all the girlies!

  26. Barbie says:

    HAHAHAHAHA! I love this one! Very interesting! I love the one you choose too! They are adorable.

  27. Agnes says:

    Wow how unexpectedly consistent! So you decided not to sex them by a) holding them upside down and seeing which ones struggle, b) a ring on a string or c) what shape the egg was. (or maybe d) tossing a coin, about as accurate…)
    I have three. One we were sure was a rooster on day one – just by ‘his’ attitude! Sure enough, huge red comb and wattles very early, his ‘sisters’ still have yellow combs at 10 weeks.

  28. Karin in NC says:

    Does your accountant read your blog? I hope not – imagine his/her surprise!

    The chicks are cute as they can be, btw.

  29. Ev Wilcox says:

    Well, if your accountant reads your posts he is either going to drop you as a client or is eagerly awaiting next tax season! Be sure to let us know what happens. Hey, you might even soon answer a knock at the door and find him there with flowers and chocolates! Congrats on successfully sexing your newest chickens!

  30. Linda in Illinois says:

    ROFL!! Great blog…

  31. Mary W says:

    I bought sexed chicks when I got my first batch. Then I got some more and they were Rhode Island Red chick – not sexed. They all developed so nice (and quick) that soon I had a wonderful large red rooster we named Rodney (for Dangerfield since he “got no respect”). He soon became a menace with his sharp leg claw and chased us when we came for eggs. During the day they all ran free and he even scared our pit bulls! Finally his turn came for potluck dinner and we discovered a 3″ long stick had been in his leg which probably explained his personality. Now to the point of this – once he was gone another chicken developed into a rooster. I can only say its’ hormones hadn’t developed due to Rodney – what other explanation could it be? I loved to hear him crow.

  32. Thandi says:

    I am assisting at my university while I work on my PhD, and I spend a lot of time rolling my eyes at 19 year olds and their drunken, oversexed pub conversations (obviously academia drives you to drink). So with first year lads in mind, I was HORRIFIED at your post title until I realised that, duh, it was Karen. She may not be completely respectable, but she is not looking for ways to pick up women on the Internet.
    I probably need a lot more coffee…

  33. Cheryl says:

    I burst out laughing on that last line.

    Which I rarely do. That was a really really good one. Lol

  34. Donna Horne says:

    Don’t have chickens but found this very interesting–cute chicks !

  35. KariMcD says:

    I love that you used an abbreviated Scientific Method for this. As a mom who has been through one too many science fairs, this would be an awesome experiment for a kid to present. Curious as to what you “thought” you had going in to this and what your hypothesis was.

    • Karen says:

      I had no thoughts Kari, lol. I’ve learned with chicks it’s best that way. ;) But I figured it would be 50/50 based on odds and sure enough … 50/50. ~ karen!

  36. Paula says:

    The results of your experiment make me want to find a chicken farm and try out all of the methods again! Don’t forget me if you choose to sell a chicken!

  37. Peggy says:

    I think Miss No Tag is quite photogenic. You must keep her for future chicken post photos.

  38. Grammy says:

    I’m pretty sure no one has ever wanted to feather sex my tax accountant, but I guess I could be wrong.

  39. Shirley Curtis says:

    My dear- you seriously never fail to crack me up! Your accountant better be ready for you next year!

  40. Isabella says:

    When you sex your tax man please include pictures. What color will you choose for his band? Will you keep him if he’s a layer?

  41. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    Chickens sexting…there’s something you don’t see every day…Hummm…very interesting Karen..really…

  42. Stephbo says:

    I kept reading “sexing” as “sexting.” That would be a completely different type of post. Lol!

  43. Kathleen says:

    LOL at your parting shot.

    Those babies are too cute. Don’t how you are going to let go of them.

  44. Ardith says:

    Loved the entire post, but you really got me with the final statement. I did not see that coming. Thank you for that. Cheers, Ardith

  45. Alison says:

    Girl, you are going to get some confused and disappointed search hits, based on that title! Lol!! I love to think of the people searching some of those terms, and landing on your chicken page!

  46. Bobbles says:

    Fascinating! I read something (was it you?) about setting them by squeezing their poor little bums until they pooped and was instantly turned off. I’m glad your methods are more gentle!

    • Karen says:

      That’s called venting Bobbles and it should only be done by someone who really, really knows what they’re doing. You could easy squish their guts doing it. You can only do it on the first day they’re born and you’re looking for the little roosting penis to pop out basically. It’s almost impossible for someone inexperienced to do it successfully. :) ~ karen!

  47. Cynthia Jones says:

    Karen said “Next year … I’m going to try to feather sex my accountant.”

    Nah, just check out his wattles.

    Wont tell you much about him, but sure will liven up the meeting and make his day.

  48. Mark says:

    If you do keep all those roosters, make sure to keep a good supply of shoes (or what not) to throw at them at 4am…

    Fantastic closing quip, btw!!!

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