How to Sex Chickens: Telling the Difference Between a Rooster and a Hen

sexing chicks

If you’ve ever been to a farm, you’ve probably been able to identify the head rooster in charge. 

He’s loud, he’s proud – and he is 100% the leader.

However, it can be harder to determine if a chicken is a rooster or a hen based on looks alone when that chicken is young (say, still a chick). This can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if you have a brooder full of chicks and need to know which ones are which. 

There are a few ways you can sex chickens to tell the difference between a rooster and a hen, but it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds. 

Here’s what you need to know.

sexing chicks

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How to Sex Chickens: Telling the Difference Between Roosters and Hens 5 Ways

sexing chicks
Photo: Pexels

1. Vent Sexing 

If you have ever bought chicks from a hatchery, you might be wondering how they can tell the difference between the roosters and the hens. 

There’s a reason why straight run (non-sexed) chickens are cheaper, and that’s because there’s a significant amount of labor and technique involved in sexing day old chicks. 

The technique that most hatcheries use is called vent sexing. This is incredibly challenging and must be done by people who are true professionals. This is not something that any untrained person should ever attempt to do at home because it can seriously harm a chick.

Venting is accurate, for the most part, but still not perfect. It involves examining the vent of the chick for sexual differences. To do this, the “professional sexers,” as they are called, must squeeze the chick until feces is expelled and the inner parts can be examined. If it’s a male, a small bulb will be visible inside the cloaca. If it’s a chick, it will not – but it’s also incredibly easy to miss this bulb. 

2. Feathering

Another way that you can figure out the sex of a chick is through looking at the feathers. Female chicks often have wing feathers before they hatch, with roosters developing them later. The hens’ feathers are often all different lengths, too. 

Again, this is not a perfect technique, but something you can try to get a general idea.

Once your chickens get older, it will be very easy to tell the difference between the males and females. Roosters have long hackles that cascade down onto their shoulders, generally feathers that are long and pointed (some people call these mantles). 

Roosters also tend to have more vibrant coloring than hens. Hens are generally more subdued in their coloring so that they don’t stand out to predators. Plus, only roosters have saddle feathers, which are the feathers that appear at the middle of the back and cascade around the tail.

Speaking of the tail, don’t forget about those tail feathers! Tail feathers tend to be upright, growing like sickles and cascading down for a waterfall-like effect. 

3. Combs, Wattles, Feet, and Legs

Of course, you likely know that a mature rooster will have a pronounced comb that makes it easy to tell it apart from the hens. Their combs tend to be much larger and redder, a signal to the hens that they are ready for breeding. Hens tend to gravitate more toward roosters with more developed combs. 

The same goes for the wattles. These tend to become redder and more pronounced at an early age when compared to hens. 

You might even be able to tell the difference between hens and roosters by examining the legs and the feet. Roosters generally have feet and legs that are stronger, along with the telltale spurs. However, keep in mind that hens can also grow spurs, particularly as they get older. 

4. Behavior

Most of the time, a chicken will reveal its sex to you over time – you just need to wait. Sometimes these behavioral differences will be pronounced early on in a chicken’s life, but you need to be careful about labeling a chicken as a rooster simply because it displays more dominant behavior.

Often, you just have a bossy hen!

However, some telltale signs to look for when your roosters are still chicks are bossiness, ruffling their down feathers, and standing erect while looking into the eyes of other roosters. Sometimes, the pecking order among the roosters will become apparent within her first few days. Roosters also tend to be more aggressive around food. 

Once your roosters get older, you’ll have more obvious signs that they are males. One of the biggest is crowing! Of course, roosters tend to be more aggressive, too. 

Hens tend to be quieter and more timid – when threatened by a predator, they’ll crouch down and stay quiet. Of course, you’ll always have more dominant hens, particularly if you are raising a flock of only hens. One dominant hen might take on the role of the authoritarian and serve as a leader.

5. Breed

If you’ve ever raised sex link chicks,  you’ll know that doing so is a good way to determine the sex of your chicks very early on. Sex link breeding is a modern method of poultry sexing that involves using the down color of chicks to determine their sex. Certain combinations of hen or rooster provide a definite clue as to which is which.

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Unfortunately, this technique only works with certain breeds and with first generation sex links. If you mate a sex link to a sex link, you won’t have as reliable a determination of gender.

Sex link breeding can be done to produce breeds such as:

  • Red Stars
  • Golden Comets
  • Red Sex Links
  • Cinnamon Queens
  • Black Stars
  • ISA Browns 

….and is normally done by crossing breeds like:

  • New Hampshire Red roosters with Plymouth Rock hens for Golden Comets
  • Silver Laced Wyandotte hens with Rhode Island Red roosters for Cinnamon Queens
  • Rhode Island Reds from Rhode Island Whites for ISA Browns

There are some heritage chicken breeds that can be sexed at hatch, too, such as Barred Plymouth Rocks and Cream Legbars.

Do You Need to Know How to Sex a Chicken?

sexing chicks
Photo: Pexels

Unless you plan on selling baby chicks and need to be able to tell the difference between a rooster and a hen, just be patient. You don’t really need to know the difference until your chickens are much older, and once you hear that first rooster crow, trust me – you’ll know! 

Sexing chickens is not easy and while you’ll certainly get better at being able to tell the difference over time, it does require a fair bit of practice. There are plenty of old wives’ tales you can fall back on, like the one that says that hanging a string over an egg will tell you the sex of a chicken based on which way the string goes. 

But at the end of the day, it’s really just a 50/50 guess.

Do you have any tricks that you rely on to tell the difference between a rooster and a hen? Let us know in the comments below!

Want to learn more about farming? Be sure to take a look at these other articles.

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Author: Rebekah PierceI'm a writer and small farm owner, and lover of everything outdoors. I'm hoping to share my passion for farming, gardening, and homesteading with you on my blogging journey.

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