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Cockerel or Pullet? Sexing Chicks

By Kelly Klober

Sexing day-old chicks is a skill that has been mastered by but a handful of people in this country. Several of them travel from hatchery to hatchery in the spring and early summer doing such work for up to twelve or fourteen hours each day.

There are texts that illustrate what to look for when vent sexing baby chicks, but this is no simple task and the visual indications are often quite slight. Many will find it difficult to bring themselves to handle baby chicks in the way required to successfully carry out this task.

There are a number of visual clues that many use to sex their own birds. These are oftentimes little more than folklore and you certainly won’t use them to guarantee chick sexes to buyers. Still they may have some merit and are worth considering — just don’t use them to cull through rare and valuable heritage birds too quickly. Prove them to your satisfaction before relying upon them.

There are certainly no sexing guarantees with hatching eggs and the safe assumption will be that of every ten chicks hatched, six will be little cockerels.

Visual Clues for Sexing Baby Chicks?

There are many theories about the possible visual clues for sexing baby chicks. Some are more reliable than others. Good luck!

  • The spot atop the head of barred birds is generally more round on females and more elongated on males. Females are also generally darker than males in their barring.
  • An old adage holds that if a young chick is picked up just behind the head with thumb and forefinger and raised, a young male will struggle and a female hang limply. The same has been said if the chicks are suspended upside down by their feet.
  • The legs and toes of young cockerels are said to be longer and larger than on newly hatched pullets.
  • Pullets generally feather faster than males and especially along the forward edges of the wings.
  • On Rosecomb birds, the combs of the males will appear wider and brighter than on the females
  • Silkies are an especially difficult breed to sex and some will even wait until the males start crowing to be absolutely sure. A rule of thumb holds that if the crest feathers are spread apart, the young pullet’s comb will appear more triangular and indented.
  • Pointed eggs are said to produce cockerels and more rounded ones, pullets.

The most venerable of sexing devices, once even used over the abdomens of expectant women, was a piece of metal suspended at the end of a bit of string. If it swings back and forth it means one gender and for the other it turns in a circle.

To follow the letter of ancient lore it should be a silver needle suspended by a bit of red silk thread. Some of the above are a bit more proven than others and some are probably best as meat for coffee shop debates.

I did hear of a new use for the remote control from the TV as a chick-sexing device. Begin by inserting fresh batteries and place the remote in the brooder with the little guys. The chicks that gather around it and peck at the keys are little males. Those pushed back into the corners are the little females.

The young bird of the year is the ultimate product of the heirloom flock. They are the yardstick by which the year’s work and the flock’s progress are to be measured. In the early going with a very rare breed, success may mean you now have four females where you had just two the year before. Just adding a second breeding trio can sometimes be a real victory — a very big one.

Source: Talking Chicken