A lot of people are curious about how to sex chicks so they don’t end up getting roosters. Honestly, there aren’t many ways for most people to accurately tell the gender of chicks until they’re a bit older. There are, however, some pretty silly myths that supposedly tell you whether the chick is a cockerel or pullet.
Spoiler Alert: They don’t work!
Read on to find out what actually is a fact and what’s a myth. If you have older chickens you can read about sexing them here.
Vent Sexing – Accuracy 90%+
Vent sexing chicks is both an art and a science that’s done almost entirely by experts working for hatcheries. There’s a significant risk of injury to the chick if done improperly and it’s not something I would recommend most people try.
Sex Links – Accuracy 99%+
Chickens have certain genes that are passed along one of the sex-determining chromosomes (the chromosomes that cause the difference in genders). With a basic knowledge of how these genes work you can breed chickens together to create chicks that can be sexed accurately at hatch based on differences in appearance. These are called sex links.
Sex Links defer from autosexing chickens in that they are only sexable for the first generation.
How to Sex Chicks Myth #1: Wing Sexing
Chances are you’ve seen something on the internet that says you can look at the wing feathers on day old chicks to tell their gender. While this is a myth, it IS based on a fact.
There is a sex-linked gene in chickens that results in rapid feather growth. Crossing a rooster with the rapid feathering gene to a hen with a slow feathering gene results in chicks that can be sexed at hatch by wing feather growth.
One cross that results in chicks sexable at hatch by wing feather growth is a Leghorn rooster x Orpington hen. It’s important to note that you will never be able to use this method with pure breed chicks – all chicks will be a mixed breed.
Autosexing – Accuracy 50% – 99%+
Some breeds of chickens are autosexing, meaning that the chicks can be sexed with accuracy at hatch based on the color of their down feathers AND that it works with every generation. However, to maintain the autosexing qualities the chickens must be carefully selected and bred to make sure the differences in chick down are clear.
Without selective breeding, autosexing traits are lost which results in low accuracy for sexing chicks.
Tail Feather Growth – Accuracy around 70%
These chicks are the exact same age from the exact same parents. The chick on the left who is just sprouting tail feathers is likely a cockerel. The chick on the right with significant tail growth is likely a pullet.
After about 1 week of age, many pullets will start growing in tail feathers while cockerels will still have little fluffy butts. This is one of the early indicators of gender.
However, I have a number of cockerels that feather in just as quickly as pullets so this is NOT always an accurate indicator of gender. A recent straight run batch of 53 chicks had each and every chick feathering in at the exact same rate.
Another caveat: Only compare chicks of the same breed. Different breeds will feather in at different rates.
Comb Development – Accuracy around 95%+
These bantam chicks are both 5 weeks old. The black chick is a pullet and the white chick is a cockerel. His comb is noticeably pinker and larger.
Around 4 weeks of age, the combs and wattles of cockerels will start “pinking up”. They will usually show a little growth of the combs and wattles too. Generally, this is a VERY accurate way to sex chicks.
Pullets will show little comb growth and coloring before 12 weeks of age.
How to Sex Chicks Myth #2: Body Curling/Hanging
Some neighbors came over the other day to pick up 8 chicks from me to start their own backyard flock. I watched with amusement as they held up a chick by the scruff of the neck and then announced it was a girl. At which point I informed them that “method” was a load of chicken poop.
Both cockerels and pullets will either curl up or hang loosely when held by the scruff of the neck. You can get either response from the same chick.