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.
 

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How to Sex a Chicken.

82 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiment and knowledge! I have been keeping chickens for about 10 years now and have many different breeds of all shapes and sizes. I have never been good at sexing chicks and have read so many different ways to tell but your blog was the best I’ve ever read! Most others don’t include pictures or very helpful details like you have. Also, you confirmed my suspicions about tail feathers and comb and wattles. After raising a ton of the little fluffy cuties and watching them grow over the years you came to the same conclusions that I had been wondering about. I appreciate you sharing your findings and especially the humor! You made my day. I just had 9 chicks hatched by my Cochin and am excited to go out and verify what they are. One thing I want to share with anyone who wants to try raising chick’s is that I have found Silkies and Cochins to be the most docile and tend to be terrific moms. I’ve had others to be broodie too but these 2 particular breeds have proven to just want to hatch and raise chicks constantly. My Cochin (Goldie) raises 3 to 4 clutches a year. Thank you so much for your help!!!

  2. Brandy says:

    Any suggestions for chicken breeds with black combs? They’re already 8 weeks old so I’m past the early signs. And being totally new to chicken keeping isn’t helping lol! The two have always been larger than the other four. And have larger combs with beginning wattles where as the others do not. So I’m wondering if they’re roosters?

  3. Wendy says:

    I have been into Bantams for just over a year now. I started with 4, and now have 14. Only 3 have been actual hatched chick from my hens. I get sentimental and don’t really want to get rid of any of them, but I know I have at least 2 roosters from my new babies. I just bought, what I think to be Silkies, and I’m hoping I sexed them correctly from their wings. It’s hard to tell from their butt feathers. They’re fluffy all over! I wanted 3 hens and a rooster from them. Any advice? BTW, if I never answer a response, it’s because my husband has killed me for getting more chickens.

    • Karen says:

      Wendy! Wendy! Are you there?! Are you O.K.?!😂 The only advice I have is start looking for a home for extra roosters now in case that’s what you end up with! ~ karen

  4. Susan Snyder says:

    If correct I’m pushing towards 2 hens in my Buff Orpington chicks. If so I am so happy

  5. Aussie mother hen says:

    Nice entertaining read!!!
    Unfortunately – i cant get near my feral little tax evasors!! Have to wait another 6 weeks i guess.
    Thanks!!

  6. jonh says:

    love them

  7. Amelia says:

    Haha, love the tax jokes – so relatable! Laughed out loud and made my 2 week old chicks stop tweeting and gawk at me. Glad to know the tip about the tail feathers – I wasn’t sure if it was the roos or pullets that grow tails first.

  8. 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.

  9. 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…

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

    • Sulur A says:

      Lovely!!! You are spot on with the egg shape and chick sex identification method!

      My Kadaknath Breed(The world famous and best Indonesian Ayam Cemani breed is actually our old Indian Jungle Fowl breed, domesticated by tribals and called Kadaknath in India, a breed that is fully black in color, including skin, flesh and bones) eggs, I can see and pick 7 hen eggs and 3 cockrel eggs and keep them in incubator for hatching, for I maintain 2.33 females for 1 male ratio, to get maximum egg production when they grow up and mate.

  12. 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!

      • Kassey says:

        Oh my I’m reading this in a military pharmacy and trying not to laugh out loud. Thank you for the information and making it fun to read. I had been told about feather sexing by multiple people but was still curious if it works.

      • Karen says:

        I’d say using the combination of everything worked, PLUS I got lucky. But, … it was completely accurate so 🤷‍♀️ ~ karen!

  13. 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…

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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