Sexing Chicks: Why It’s Important


Chick-buying season is nearly here! What do you need to know before you head out to the feed store or purchase mail-order chicks?

It is very difficult to tell the gender of newly hatched chicks, and you don’t want to wind up with 50% roosters in your flock. Nothing against the boys, but many communities have prohibitions against roosters. When they begin to crow in the early morning, and randomly throughout the day, you or your neighbors may have issues. Also, chickens don’t pair-bond, and one rooster will have a harem of hens. Two roosters in a flock can mean a fight to the death—or a seriously injured rooster.

If you do wind up with a surprise rooster that you can’t keep, finding a home for him can be difficult. See my blog post, What to Do with the Roos? If you can’t keep the boys, make sure you purchase properly sexed chicks, so you have every likelihood of having only pullets (female chicks).

Important Questions to Ask

  • First, ask the seller if their chicks have been sexed. You want to avoid Straight Run, which means that no effort is made to separate the boys from the girls. Fifty percent of straight-run chicks will be male.
  • Then, ask if the seller will take back any surprise roosters. Not all feed stores/mail-order companies will do this, however.

Methods of Sexing Chicks

Here is some information on sexing techniques and their effectiveness.

  1. Feather Sexing
    In some breeds, the sex of a chick can be determined by the rate of growth of its wing feathers. The method is largely depended on breed. Sometimes the differences are slight, and this is not a 100% certain way of determining gender.
  2. Vent Sexing
    This method involves examining the vent for the male “eminence” or genital organ. It is difficult to do on chickens and requires professional training. Even the pros do not have a 100% accuracy rate! Most hatcheries use vent sexing, but even so, you may get a surprise boy!
  3. Color Sexing / Autosexing
    Some breeds of chickens have been bred to make gender differences more obvious. These methods involve breeding chicks that will indicate their sex by the appearance of their down. Males may be lighter in color, or they may have a pale spot on the head. These breeds are called sex-linked crosses.
  4. Visual Sexing
    If you hatch your own chicks and don’t have color-sexed or auto-sexing breeds, you should be able to tell the sex between four and six weeks of age. This is when the secondary sex characteristics begin to occur: males will have a larger comb and wattles and start to practice crowing. At 8 to 10 weeks, the hackle, saddle, and sickle feathers will become noticeably different.

More information about sexing chicks is available from this Purina Mills article, How to Sex Baby Chicks.

Even if you purchase properly sexed chicks, keep in mind that no method is 100% accurate. Make sure to have a plan in case you accidentally receive a rooster and cannot keep him.

A rooster I met during the Windy City Coop Tour in 2021. This photo shows the enlarged comb and wattles characteristic of mature roosters. These secondary sexual characteristics do not become apparent until a young rooster is between 4 and 6 weeks of age.

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