Sexing your chicks is useful if you have planned how many cockerels you wish to have. There are many ways that poultry keepers have developed over the centuries, some more accurate than others.

Old methods of sexing your chicks

Folk wisdom used to have it that male chicks came out of pointed eggs, while pullets hatched from round eggs. However this is totally unreliable.

There was also the method that involved hanging a ring on a piece of string. When you hold it over a male chick it will move up and down in a straight line, while it will move in a circle over a female chick. As you can imagine, science does not accept this habit.

Temperature

Small farmers with years of experience with poultry have developed the theory that the temperature of incubation can affect the number of males or females in a brood. Apparently a slightly higher temperature leads to more male embryos to survive.

sexing your chicks
The wing feathers give clues.

Another way in which temperature may make a difference is the weather patterns leading to more of fewer of one gender, but a great deal more research is required to make this clearer.

Down colour

This method applies to some breeds. The down is the fluff which covers the chick when it hatches. In a Potch Koekoek the female chick is entirely black, while the male has a white or pale yellow spot on its head. Other barred breeds such as the Plymouth Rock have the same differences.

A smallholder who breeds pure bred poultry will observe the differences in the down of their particular breed. Sometimes it shows in the markings on the head, sometimes in the dorsal stripes.

Feather sexing

This might also vary according to the breed of chicken. Female chicks tend to have wing feathers when they hatch. Males develop theirs after a few days. Once all the chicks have wing feathers you will see a further difference between the sexes. The pullet wing feathers vary in length. The cockerel wing feathers all appear to be of the same length.

One must be very gentle when examining the wings. This method is also not 100% accurate.

After a few weeks you can observe the back and tail feathers. Those of the male tend to be pointed and the tail feathers are longer.

Behaviour

Even at a very young age, a cockerel will be bolder than a female chick. They will be the first to rush to the food dish and will soon be seen to fluff out their down in challenge to another male chick. They will not show fear at a sudden loud noise, while the girls will hide in a corner.

Time

sexing your chicks
Over time you will see differences.

Males tend to have bigger feet and thicker legs than females, which becomes clear as they grow older.

After about four weeks male chicks in breeds that have large combs will begin to develop combs. Other breeds might take six weeks.

By about eight weeks you will recognise the males by their long, pointed saddle, hackle, and sickle feathers.

At between eight and ten weeks your cockerels will begin to crow, which will be your final means of sexing your chicks.

Vent sexing

The chick has a vent, which is the opening out of which it expels waste. People who practice vent sexing are highly trained. They lay the chick on its back in the palm of their hand. They squeeze the chick until they can see the inner reproductive parts. However, they have to be highly experienced to be able to identify the gender accurately, as it is not immediately clear which is male and which is female. It can also be painful for the chick.

Owners of backyard flocks are advised to leave this method of sexing chicks to the experts.

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