Is my chick a boy or girl?
How you can really tell
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Newborn chicks all look the same, so how do you know if they’ll grow up to be hens or roosters? Chicks purchased from a large hatchery are often sold as sexed. That’s because they have specially trained chick sexers who can identify the subtle differences between males from females when they first hatch. Even if you purchased all pullets, you may end up with a rooster or two in the bunch because even the experts aren’t right all the time. For those of us not trained in those arts, we can start distinguishing differences in male and female chicks at about 3 weeks of age.
- Combs – Male chicks tend to start developing more prominent and darker combs. Make sure to compare chicks of the same breed—apples to apples—because comb size also varies by breed. For example, Marans hens have larger combs than Ameraucana roosters.
- Legs – Males will grow bigger legs and feet. Male chicks will often have a growth spurt and be all legs for a while, unlike their female companions.
- Posture – Males often develop a more upright posture than females, giving them a jauntier and more alert expression.
- Crowing – Crowing usually doesn’t begin until males reach maturity, although occasionally they will start as early as 3 weeks in some cases! Crowing is the most obvious way to distinguish males from females.
- Saddle Feathers – Chicks start to grow saddle feathers—where the back meets the base of the tail—at around 8 to 10 weeks. Females have rounded saddle feathers, while males’ are more long and pointy.
- Hackle Feathers & Sickle Feathers – At 4 – 6 months old, hackle feathers (on the neck) and tail feathers will develop. A male’s hackle feathers will be long and pointy, while a female’s will be round. Males will also grow sickle feathers, the long, curvy, upright feathers at the top of the tail. A female’s tail feathers will be more rounded, more uniform in size, and less “showy”.
Even if you are watching your chicks grow and mature, and you are so sure you have them all figured out, they may still surprise you! Hens may crow, some roosters are “hen feathered,” and they all mature at their own speed. All we can do is make our best educated guesses!