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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.

UPDATE: Chicken-keeping classes with Home to Roost change to online format


UPDATE 1/7/22: The two chicken classes I am teaching for Villa Park Public Library will now be held ONLINE via Zoom, instead of in-person. I hope you can join me for these virtual events!

Basic Backyard Chicken Keeping – January 19, 2022, 6:30pm – 8:30pm

Please register for this online program (at the link above) and you will receive a link to join on January 19.

This class is designed for curious folks who are considering getting chickens, as well as for those who already have their own birds. Learn how to find local laws, choose and raise chicks, and care for adult birds.

NOTE: A license is necessary to keep hens in Villa Park, IL. Here are links to the Village’s guidelines & ordinance, and the license application:

CHICKEN (HEN) LICENSE Guidelines & Ordinance

CHICKEN (HEN) KEEPING LICENCE APPLICATION


My next class in the Villa Park Library series, about chicken coops, will also be held online:

Chicken Coop Basics – February 16, 2022 6:30pm – 8:30pm

Please register for this online program (at the link above) and you will receive a link to join on February 16.

This class addresses what you need to know about building a safe and comfortable home for your hens. You’ll learn the basic housing needs of backyard birds. Find out the essential components of a coop, construction materials to choose and avoid, important construction tips, and see different coop styles.

Photo by Liz McCrory of kosmicstudio.org

Hen Looking for Home Update: A Home Has Been Found!!


12/16/21 UPDATE: Isa has a new home!!

HELP FIND A HOME FOR “ISA” THE ISA BROWN HEN!

Isa the brown hen

Name: Isa
Age/Breed: ~1 year, 7 month old Isa Brown Hen
Description: Spunky and healthy Isa Brown hen that’s a reliable, daily layer.
Location: Chicago, south side
Reason for Re-homing: Our small organization just lost our other hen (a Plymouth Blue Rock) who had persistent health issues with laying for a long time. We are a nonprofit organization that doesn’t have the staffing or space to take other chicks/hens at this time of year. We know that a single hen is not a happy hen… and are concerned about keeping her warm enough through the coldest parts of winter all by herself. We have feed and other supplies.

Give the gift of chicken care! Gift certificates for chicken consulting now available


Photo courtesy Jennifer Gilstrap

You need the perfect holiday gift for the chicken keeper who has everything! Home to Roost LLC is now offering gift certificates for in-home and Zoom consultations. Chicken consultant Jennifer Murtoff will help the chicken keeper in your life with issues related to chicks, adult birds, coops, health, and nutrition. Consulting sessions are 1 hour in length.

1 Chicken Consulting Session: $63

2 Chicken Consulting Sessions: $124

3 Consulting Sessions: $155 (a $30 savings!)

Please note that fees for mileage and additional time may apply and are chargeable to recipient.

Please contact me using the form below if you are interested in purchasing a gift certificate! I will email you instructions for purchasing a certificate using PayPal (I can’t accept payment through my blog).

Yes, I am interested in purchasing a gift certificate! Please send me more information.

Thank you for supporting backyard chicken keeping in the city! Warm holiday wishes to you from Home to Roost.

Visit my booth at the Green Living Expo, held online Nov. 6!


If you’re interested in learning how to live more sustainably, join us for the 14th annual Green Living Expo, held online on November 6! Come anytime betweeen 10am and 5pm. I will have a virtual booth at the Expo and also speak about chicken keeping at 3:30pm. When you visit the Home to Roost booth, download our coupon for 25% off a 1-hour session of chicken consulting!

Yes, this will be an adventure, both for us and anyone who attends! We have never participated in an online expo before.

Visit www.mchenry.edu/greenexpo to register and view the agenda for the expo. There will be four unique tracks:

Renewable Energy
Waste Reduction
Food and Farming
Fun and Recreation

Plus, sessions throughout the day focusing on areas of importance to our audience. Hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Hens looking for home


As of 11/16/21, these 3 hens are still available. The hens are 2 1/2 years old.

Contact Mary: mmarcano866@gmail.com.

Looking to rehome 3 hens as my daughter moved out, and I will be moving soon. We are looking to relocate 1 Welsummer, 1 Easter Egger, and 1 cream legbar to a spacious coop, as they are older hens and like room to roost. All 3 raised together since birth. 

Contact Mary: mmarcano866@gmail.com

Home to Roost unavailable for housecalls 11-1 to 11-5-2021


Hello, all!

I will be out of town attending on-site visits with a poultry veterinary program Nov. 3 to Nov. 5.

I will be unavailable for housecalls on Nov. 1 and 2 due to biosecurity protocols, but you can always set up an appointment for a phone or Zoom consultation!

Fun at the Windy City Coop Tour, Part II


Other coop owners have shared their Windy City Coop Tour photos with us, displaying their fabulous coops and birds! Here are some highlights:

Elizabeth of Chicago says: “I have learned a lot in past years from going to the coup tour. It’s fun to see everyone’s set-ups. This is the first year we hosted and it was rewarding having people come through. I think the general consensus is that we have some spectacularly spoiled hens.”

#1 accessory for the stylish chicken mom: a chicken stroller!

No wonder, given that they have a chicken stroller! Elizabeth’s husband Art made the stroller, which has a yellow plastic bin for chicken snacks and a hole in the clear plastic panel for the chicken to poke its head through. Sounds like a fun way to give your hens a change of scenery (and show off your flock to the neighbors) when you go out for a walk.

Melissa in Darien, IL enjoyed giving tours of her totally redesigned and improved coop to visitors who ventured out to the Southwest suburb. “This was our second year being a host of the windy city coop tour,” she said. “We have young boys who really love showing the guests around the coop and how they collect the eggs every day. They even enjoyed showing off some of the essential chicken health care items we keep on hand in case any of our hens get injured… We really enjoyed sharing our knowledge and hearing from other chicken enthusiasts alike.”

Redesigned coop in Darien, IL, complete with decorative shrubs and outdoor lights! See more photos at: Instagram.com/adventure_awaits_mom

What a beautiful coop. We especially love the landscaping in front of the run!

As you probably know by now, I spent my Saturday at a coop with 25 chickens, located in the backyard of a Chicago bungalow.

Tim the owner said “I get to share my chickens and my garden with others… it’s pretty great! This year a young woman came by to say Hi and report on some asters and goldenrod I dug up for her garden last year. They’re doing great! Another woman will come by soon to dig up some Althea – Rose of Sharon for her garden.”

Tim has an eco-yard for his 25 chickens, who were roaming around providing photo ops for the many visitors who came to see his coop. One of the most photogenic was Buffy the rooster, who can be seen strutting his stuff in the photo below:

Look who’s cock of the walk at the Windy City Coop Tour!

All day Saturday visitors came through, ranging from toddlers to senior citizens. I can’t resist sharing this video of two kids who were having a great time during the Coop Tour, following the hens who were wandering around the yard. I showed them the different feather types on a chicken’s wing and gave them some grain for the chickens. Children and chickens get along so well!

I am showing these kids the different feather types on a chicken’s wing!

Fun at the Windy City Coop Tour, starring 25 chickens and a box of blueberries [VIDEO]


I spent Saturday talking to folks about chicken keeping, ably assisted by the 25 chickens roaming around the Coop Tour location where I was stationed! We had lots of visitors, ranging from toddlers to senior citizens. I was there mainly to answer questions, but I went into Chicken Consultant mode when I noticed one of the roosters had a foot injury.

One of the scales on the rooster’s foot had lifted up and was bleeding. That can happen with these feather-footed varieties! I treated the wound by stopping the bleeding with a little cornstarch and pressure. Missy the rooster was happy to be released and get back to his hens.

A group of Spanish-speaking visitors stopped by, and I answered their questions about the coop and translated while Tim, the coop owner, talked about the chickens’ love for blueberries:

I’m so glad that I got to combine two of my favorite things, chickens and speaking Spanish! Yes, the chickens at this site really love their blueberries. We watched them jump for their favorite treat when Tim called each chicken over by name!

A yard with 25 chickens provides endless entertainment. The birds dustbathe, sun themselves, engage in chicken play, and announce the momentous occasion of egg laying. The three roosters made a raucous chorus at 8:30 in the morning and crowed occasionally throughout the day. This Chicago bungalow has a small farm in the backyard, with beehives on the roof. It’s amazing to see what is possible in a smallish backyard when you are really comitted to urban agriculture, or at least to the joy of chickens!

Time to Celebrate National Chicken Month!


Photo by Liz McCrory, kosmicstudio.org

In honor of the chicken, who provides so many of us with eggs, companionship, and entertainment… we are pleased to announce that September is National Chicken Month! We at Home to Roost strongly agree that a bird as important as the chicken should have its own month. After all, the average American ate 97.6 pounds of chicken in 2020, according to the National Chicken Council. And that number is expected to rise in the coming years.

Why September? For more than 20 years, the National Chicken Council has called on all of the major chicken producers in the U.S. to promote chicken sales in September, just as the summer grilling season begins winding down. Thanks to their efforts, September is now one of the year’s best-performing sales periods!

Visit the website NationalToday.com for a list of National Chicken Month Activities to help you celebrate, as well as some fast facts about chicken and the history of chicken dishes. Many restaurants are running specials on chicken dishes during this month, so it is definitely a great time to eat more chicken!