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Sexing Chicks: How to Determine Gender of Your Chickens

Two chicks standing together

Anyone who has had chickens most likely already knows how difficult sexing chicks can be. When the birds are young, the ways to tell what gender your chicken is aren’t always 100 percent foolproof.

Whether you’re a new hatchery owner or you just purchased a straight run of chicks from Freedom Ranger Hatchery, we want to provide you with helpful information to increase your success in raising your flock. That includes sexing chicks as accurately as possible.

Methods for Sexing Chicks

Depending on your experience with raising chickens, you may already have a few favorite techniques of sexing chicks. When it comes to sexing baby chicks, not being able to tell if your birds are pullets (female chicks) or cockerels (male chicks) can be detrimental to your flock. The following are a few methods we tend to use here at Freedom Ranger.

Feather Sexing

Feather sexing your chicks is one of the best methods that you can use, but it will also depend on the breed of your chickens. In certain breeds, your pullets will be born with wing feathers, while the cockerels will not. Most of the time, you can only tell the difference between the feathers within the first few days of hatching until they look the same.

It’s important to note that feather sexing can be a 100 percent accurate method if the parent lines are sexed properly. With the parent flock, you’ll want to know if the males are fast feathering and if the females are slow feathering (or vice versa).

If you’re going to be sexing chicks using their feathers, be sure to examine the chicks’ wings gently. The wing feathers will seem longer or vary in size if the bird is a female. If the feathers look to be all about the same length, it’s probably a male. This isn’t always a guaranteed method of sexing baby chicks, but it’s much more comfortable than the vent method.

Vent Sexing

While a very accurate method of sexing chicks, vent sexing is usually done as a last resort method. If you haven’t done it before, you’ll want to hire a chicken sexer to get it done for you and avoid harming your chicks.

vent sexing a chick

Vent sexing is a more delicate way of saying you’re checking the reproductive organs of the chick. This is done by carefully holding a chick upside down and squeezing it so that it empties its body of fecal matter. From there, light pressure is applied around the chick’s cloaca so that the vent area turns outward. A trained chicken sexer will be able to identify a slight bump that signifies that the chick is male.

While this method is an accurate way of sexing baby chicks, it’s essential to know that it can take years of practice to perfect the technique. Vent sexing chicks is not the easiest method to do, and you don’t want to accidentally harm your bird while checking its gender. You always want to make sure your birds are happy and healthy so we recommend only using this as a last resort.

Auto Sexing and Color Sexing

Another (and safer) way to tell apart the gender of your chickens is by understanding their coloring and how their genes work. Auto sexing, for example, is done by the natural markings on your bird. Certain breeds, particularly Rhode Island Reds or the New Hampshires, have an identifying white spot on the wing of their down feathers. As they age, the spot goes away, which is why it’s crucial to sex the chicks before they’re too old.

Color sexing is usually done by using a male (which has a gold gene) with a female (a silver gene). For example, when you use a Rhode Island Red rooster and a Delaware Hen, the females will be brown and the males will be white. This trait is due to “sex-linked” characteristics where certain genes are carried differently in males versus females.

It’s also important to note that certain breeds can be sexed just from observing the hue of their down color. A few broiler breeds can sometimes be cross-bred so that the down of the female is gold in hue, while the males will be brighter and almost white.

Observing Behavior

Sexing chicks when they’re just a few days old is very difficult. Fortunately, if you have a little patience, it becomes easier to tell their gender as they get older.

As your birds age, they’ll likely start showing particular behavioral signs. The cockerels may be first to the food dish, while pullets will probably stay to the corners. You may also notice some of your chicks fighting and flapping at each other, which is another sign that you have a few little roosters in your flock. They may even start to make little crowing noises!

How Old Do Chicks Need to Be to Determine Gender?

If you are vent sexing chicks, a professional chicken sexer can tell how old they are from very early on. As we previously mentioned, this method can be very accurate, but only if you know what you’re looking for. Otherwise, sexing chicks will have to wait until the birds are older using one of the other methods mentioned above.

Methods You Shouldn’t Trust

Among all of the different ways of sexing chicks, there are a few old wives’ tales that are floating around and aren’t usually accurate. Here are a few that we’ve heard of:

  • Shape of the Egg: Some people have said that you can determine the sex of a chick by what shape the egg is before it has hatched. When the egg is longer and more narrow, it supposedly male. When the egg is rounder, it’s supposed to be female. The shape of an egg has nothing to do with the gender of your chick, and the egg may not even be fertile.
  • Egg Candling: If you hold a bright light underneath an egg in a dark room, you can see some of what’s inside. The misconception, though, is that you can tell the gender of your chick before it’s hatched (which is not true). Candling can be used to check the growth of a chick and to see if it’s progressing along healthily.
  • Weight on a String: Another inaccurate method of sexing chicks is by tying a small weight to a string and hovering it over the chick. According to the myth, if the weight swings in a circular motion, it’s female. If the weight swings in a linear motion, the chick is male.

Tired of Sexing Chicks Yourself?

Let us do the hard work for you! Here at Freedom Ranger Hatchery, we carry a wide variety of free-range chickens. From broilers to egg layers, you can rest assured knowing you’ll get top-quality birds. The best part? You can order the birds by sex, so you don’t have to worry about sexing chicks yourself!

Contact us today for more information on our birds or how to go about sexing chicks yourself. We ship all across the United States and will be happy to answer any of your questions.