The Song and Dance of Sexing Chicks

As I mentioned last week, we have a living room full of chicks right now. When hatching chicks at home, we get what is called a straight run. This means the chicks are always about 50% each of male and female. It is extremely rare that an urban homesteader like myself can keep one rooster, much less many, so figuring out the sex of your chicks can be important to prevent accidental heartbreak after getting attached to a little cockerel(sexually immature male chicken).

Sexing home-hatched chicks is something of an imperfect science. Very few people are well trained enough to accurately vent-sex day old chicks the way that hatcheries do, and the skill is one which is perfected by much practice and apprenticeship. An amateur can do serious harm to fragile chicks by trying to do vent sexing without proper training so most of us hobby-hatchers have to rely on less accurate but also less invasive methods.

The most common method is feather-sexing. This is done by looking at two chicks of the same age and comparing the feather development. Some breeds which are called Fast-Feathering Breeds can be sexed by this method as early as 24hrs after hatch by comparing the wing coverts, while all other breeds can be compared 3-5 weeks after hatch.

Take for example these two, Katsu(Left) and Frankie(Right). Look at the feathers on their head and neck. Katsu is still fluffy, with lots of chick down on his head, while Frankie’s head is feathering out all smooth.

Left: Katsu/Cockerel Right: Frankie/Pullet

Left: Katsu/Cockerel
Right: Frankie/Pullet

Another method of sexing, which is best used in conjunction with feather-sexing, is comb sexing. I found some great photos on BackyardChickens.com which helped me a lot. The whole point of this hatch was for me to continue the genetic line of My dearly departed rooster, Cinnamon, and his mate Ginger who has found a happy home with Kitty Sharkey of the Havenscourt Homestead.

Thanks to BYC use Steph5253 for allowing me to use this image! Left: d’Uccle Bantam Cockerel. Right: d’Uccle Bantam Pullet

As you can clearly see in the photo above, the young cockerel on the Left has a much larger and redder comb than the young pullet on the Right whose comb is very small and almost the same color as her skin. I hatched two d’Uccle chicks myself and was hoping desperately that they were both pullets so I wouldn’t have to part with either one. It was especially important to me not only because of their parentage, but also because the two chicks were Bento, the first chick to hatch in my incubator, and Bonsai, the chick who couldn’t hatch alone. I had to carefully and with surgical precision remove the shell by hand to save her. Naturally I had a strong bond with these two because of the circumstances and parting with them would be very sad.

Bonsai, named such because she is the little runt, is my favorite chick from this hatch.

Bonsai, named such because she is the little runt, is my favorite chick from this hatch.

Now compare the photo of Bonsai to the sample photo above. Do you see what I see? PULLETS! PULLETS ALL AROUND! Huzzah! According to Steph5253’s tutorial photos, both of my d’uccles are little pullets and I musn’t fear losing them to the stew-pot or BBQ.

Some other chicks were so lucky. If you look back to the photo of Katsu and Frankie, this sexing method confirms what feather-sexing had already told us. Katsu is a cockerel. I will be trying to rehome him, but if that doesn’t work out, he will be culled respectfully and humanely at around 3-4 months of age.

Another chick of ours, Lilo is also most likely going to grow up to be a rooster. Lilo is my mother’s favorite of the chicks and it has been very hard for her, coming to terms with her favorite little fluffball growing up to be an unwanted alarm clock. She was so upset that I went on a mission to find out how to keep him quiet.

We aren't completely certain the Lilo is a Cockerel but with that red comb, it's likely.

We aren’t completely certain the Lilo is a Cockerel but with that red comb, it’s likely.

First I looked into Caponizing, but found out that while caponized roosters crow less often, it doesn’t stop it entirely and I fear that our grumpy neighbors still wouldn’t tolerate it on occasoion. So I set out again and hit the forums in search of a solution. A few came up, including the tube of a childrens sock over their throat, but results seemed mixed because figuring out the right sizing isn’t always easy. Then I stumbled across this wonderful product the other day! The No-Crow Rooster Collar works by the same principal as the childrens sock, putting light pressure on the neck of the rooster to keep them from making a full sound, but these collars are adjustable and come in several sizes. I have secretly ordered one and plan to surpise my mother with it as soon as it arrives. Check out this convincing video from the My Pet Chicken website.

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2 thoughts on “The Song and Dance of Sexing Chicks

  1. Jayne Stuart says:

    good luck on this one-sexing chicks… I have found the only sure fire method is comb development but by the time it is clear am already attached… We dont have neighbors -but fighting cocks do not appeal either … at the moment have one cock and 3 cockerels as big as the rooster most will go into the freezer… I may keep one of them. if they can co-habit

    • Hah, Thanks. I need it. Sexing home-hatched chicks is always a bit of a toss up. I have two chicks that I really have no idea which way they fall and won’t know for some time, but Lilo and Katsu have made themselves fairly obvious and Bento and Bonsai are perfectly on track for pullet development in d’Uccles so I’m pretty confident about those four. The other three chicks are still a bit of a mystery but that will resolve itself with time. :]

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