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How to Tell a Rooster from a Hen?

Last Updated: 22.10.20

 

If you want to provide your chicks with enough heat, you can find more info here. To help you sex your chickens correctly, we have gathered a couple of methods that are generally used for this purpose. To do so, you can analyze a chicken’s colors, feathers, comb, wattle, and even spurs.

 

How to tell a hen and a rooster apart?

If you weren’t raised on a farm, chances are that you have no idea how to tell a rooster and a hen apart. However, there are a couple of tell-tale signs that you can learn and use to distinguish between the two.

One thing that you should keep in mind is that it is very difficult to say for sure if a chick is a hen or a rooster. So, you might have to wait until your chicks grow a bit before you can start naming them. What is more, the specialists also point out that there are breeds of chickens that make it very difficult to sex as chicks. One example, in this case, is the Columbian Wyandotte.

In the case of mature chickens, the process is much more simple and there are plenty of safe methods you can use.

Adult chickens

When they reach maturity, the male chickens are called roosters, while the females are called hens.

The easiest way to distinguish between a hen and a rooster is by analyzing their feathers. Roosters usually have neck feathers that are pointed upwards, while the hens have rounded feathers. 

If a flock has more than one rooster, they will most likely poof up their plumage and fight each other in an attempt to show dominance. Another sign that you can look for is the shape of the feathers in the tail, as roosters have curved, rich feathers. 

What is more, male chickens are usually colored in bright, vibrant colors that make them stand out. By comparison, hens have a more tamed, conservative plumage. The reason why hens are not as colored is linked to their chances of survival in case of an attack. 

As the leader and the protector of the flock, the rooster has to draw attention to itself in case a predator is around. This way, the hens have the chance to disperse and survive unharmed. Additionally, roosters have to look showy in an attempt to attract the lady chickens.

 

 

Wattles and combs

When compared to hens, roosters generally have upright, tall combs that are easy to spot even at a young age. Also, their combs are colored in an intense red color. A vibrant red comb is also a sign of vigor and health and it is attractive to the hens.

The same can be said about the wattles of a rooster given that they often have larger and redder wattles than hens. Once again, this is a way in which the roosters like to appear strong to hens.

 

Legs and feet

As a rule, roosters have stronger and more robust legs and claws than hens do. Differently from hens, the rooster needs stronger legs because it uses them to fight predators or other roosters that challenge their dominance.

 

Sexing chicks

The process of determining whether a chick is a male or a female is called sexing. This selection is performed even on chicks that are a day old. However, in these cases, oftentimes people can make mistakes.

 

Vent sexing

Vent sexing refers to the differentiation between male and female day-old chicks. This process involves using a lot of care and attention and it can only be performed by trained professionals. During the process, the trained inspector is looking for male genitalia. Yet, this is rather difficult as the sexual organs are located inside the chick.

When not performed correctly, vent sexing can lead to the hurting and, in some rare case, the killing of chicks. On issue with this practice is that it takes a lot of time. Vent sexing is often performed in hatcheries and it has a rate of accuracy of 95%.

Sexing juveniles is a complicated task that is not always accurate. The safest method is to look at the saddle feathers, or the feathers in front of the tail of the bird. Roosters have pointy feathers, while hens have rounded ones. However, to do so, you have to wait until the chick is about three months old. 

 

Feather sexing

Another method used to differentiate between male and female chicks is feather sexing. This alternative is also vulnerable to errors. However if it is done right, it is 80 to 95% effective, depending on the breed.

This method is also used in hatcheries and it is well appreciated because it takes less time than vent sexing. In this case, to determine the sex of a chick, the inspectors look at their feathers. Female chicks have short and covert feathers, while males have longer feathers.

One important aspect that should be pointed out is that this method can only be used on those chicks that have been selectively bred. So, you might not get the expected results if you try it on your backyard gown chicks.

 

 

Problematic breeds

There are several breeds of chickens that are problematic to sex as chicks. The only way to make sure that the sexing method is accurate is by waiting a couple of weeks, and in some cases months, until the distinctive features appear.

For instance, the Breda fowl poses a lot of problems because these birds have no combs and because they grow very slowly. In this case, farmers have to wait until the birds grow sickle hackle, and a saddle feathers. This means that the sexing process can only be performed at 5 to 6 months of age.

Similarly, Silkies are also very difficult to sex. This breed is known for its rich plumage that feels very similar to silk or satin. Their sex is given away only by observing their behavior. 

Some argue that one can distinguish between female and male chicks by observing their behavior. However, a breeder can use this method efficiently only if he/she has years of experience doing so, as well as a good eye for detail.

 

Behavior according to sex

Because roosters and hens have specific behaviors, they can also be sexed according to how the chicks act. Therefore, roosters are more assertive and significantly bolder and they tend to stand upright and chirp more than the females.

Additionally, they are more curious and more interested in exploring the coop. By comparison, hens like to remain unnoticed and, when they are startled, they crouch down and stay silent. 

What is more, when they start growing feathers, roosters have a patchy plumage while hens grow even feathers. In most breeds, roosters develop hackle and saddle feathers at around eight weeks of age. However, this is not a rule that applies to all breeds.

Most sexing methods one can use to determine the sex of chicks are not entirely reliable. To make a correct distinction between hens and roosters, one has to wait until the bird is at least three months old. The process is significantly simpler when it comes to sexing adult birds.

 

Foolproof methods

Out of all the methods available, three of them are considered fool-proof. Firstly, if the chicken lays eggs, then it is a hen. Secondly, the saddle and the hackle feathers are a clear giveaway. Roosters have narrow, elongated saddle feathers in front of their tails and pointed hackle feathers. 

Hens have no distinct saddle feathers and their hackle feathers are rounded at the edges. However, breeds such as the Golden Campine, Silkie and Sebright have no distinctive saddle and hackle feathers. The presence or the absence of the tail is also indicative of the sex of the chicken. Roosters have rich and long tails that arc at the end, while hens do not.

Last but not least, some breeds exhibit specific characteristics depending on the sex of the bird. For instance, Easter Egger roosters have red wings. Also, male Welsummer chicks usually have a black chest, while females have red chests. 

The size of the combs, the presence or absence of spurs and the crowing are features that are not as reliable. 

 

 

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