Sexing Chicks After a Few Weeks

Advice from the creater of the
Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken Chart


Sexing young chicks is a difficult task. Using an ancient Japanese and Chinese art that was refined and placed on a scientific foundation by poultry professors Kiyoshi Masui and Juro Hashimoto around 1930, a professional chick sexer can examine the vent of a recently hatched chick in less than three seconds and determine its sex with greater than 98% accuracy (I've seen some sources claim the rate is 99.8% and others lower it to 90-95%.). The best professionals can accurately examine thousands of chicks in a single day. You can read a book (online, for free, thanks to Cornell's Core Historical Literature of Agriculture [CHLA]) written by Charles Shelby Gibbs in 1935 about the technique, but it is delicate work, and unless you know what you are doing, you can harm or needlessly worry a chick. For the rest of us, instead, the best advice may be to wait. There may be clues within the first week, but there is absolutely no certainty then. After a month, you may have some more confidence, but it might be false confidence. It may take until they are seven weeks before you can be more certain -- or fourteen weeks, or even five months old. Eventually, however, the secondary sex characteristics, behavior, and, especially, crowing will tell you if you have a cockeral.

For those of you who can't wait, here is a chart that can help you guess more confidently. It is absolutely, positively guaranteed not to be 100 percent accurate. Please don't use this chart to compare chicks of different breeds, since they will not develop the same way or at the same rate. I have purposefully omitted reference to days or weeks when to expect to be able to observe difference since they will vary so widely by both breed and individual.

Clues for Sexing Chicks After a Few Weeks,
based on secondary sex characteristics

Trait or Characteristic

Cockerel

Pullet

Heavy Breeds
(Asian, American, English)

Mediterranean & Other Light Breeds

Comb & Wattles

Comb early to turn pink. Later comb and wattles noticably larger & redder

Comb early to turn pink. Later comb and wattles noticably larger & redder

Comb and wattles usually remains yellow much longer

F
e
a
t
h
e
r
i
n
g

EARLY

Still mostly fluffy & downy

Fairly quick feather development

Quick feather development

LATER SIGNS

Development slow and in patches. Some bareness at shoulders, back & wing bows

Development only slightly slower than pullets

Even development on back, chest, & thighs. Reaches complete feathering sooner

FINAL CLUES

Development of long, pointed & shiny hackle and saddle feathers

Development of long, pointed & shiny hackle and saddle feathers

Feathers in hackle and saddle areas are oval & rounded

Tail

Stumpy, curved; slow to develop

Curved, but only slightly shorter and slower to develop than pullets

Long, straight; quick to develop

Legs

Long, sturdy; spurs developing

Long, sturdy; spurs developing

Short, delicate

Head

Larger & more angular

Larger & more angular

Small & round

Size

May be larger (perhaps shorter in length but stouter, more thickset) or becomes noticably larger

Becomes noticably larger eventually

Small, although may be longer

Posture

Upright & erect

Upright & erect

Lower set

Behavior

May be more alert, aggressive, & noisy; will emit pre-crowing chirps before crowing

May be more alert, aggressive, & noisy; will emit pre-crowing chirps before crowing

May be more docile, but can also be aggressive & noisy

I don't have information or experience with bantams or game birds, so you are on your own for them.

Feathering Clues
for certain breeds and varieties


two chicks

Several breeds or varieties within breeds have patterns in their downy coats that allow them to be sexed on the day they hatch out, or at least guessed at with some confidence. The two most common feathering patterns are the barring and the wild stripe patterns.

SPOTTING THE BOYS
Chickens with barring or cuckoo pattern as chicks will have a black and white downy coat. They can be sexed after hatching by examining the top of the chick's head. Look for a white or yellow spot. The females will either have no spot or a small, narrow and compact spot, while males will have a spot, large and quite predominent, but irregular and somewhat scattered. The method has its limits, but I've read it is 90% accurate. In the picture above the black chick has a prominent, but irregular white spot, so I can confidently guess he is a male.

If the spot isn't enough of a clue, once the chicks get older and develop their barring pattern, you can compare darkness of the feathering. Males will appear lighter in color than the females.

Breeds with this trait include Dominiques and Scotch Greys. Varieties with this trait include Barrred Rocks, Barred Cochins, Barred Hollands, Barred Wyandottes, Cuckoo Marans, and Cuckoo Dorkings. I'm sure there are others, as well.

DORSAL STRIPES AND EYELINES

Chicks with dorsal stripes can be sexed, often with nearly 100% accuracy. The downy coat is similar to that of red junglefowl chicks, so the pattern is sometimes called "wild striping" or "wildtype." There are several things to look for to determine the chick's sex. A pullet will have refined,well defined markings while the cockeral's coloring will be more fuzzy and blurry. You can start with the dorsal stripes (stripes along the back). A male's stripes will be lighter, less well defined, and fade out before reaching the head. A female's dorsal stripes will be darker, often defined with a outline, and will extend much further onto the head. Check the head for two clues. If the chick has a long, dark eyeline extending towards the ear, the chick is almost certainly a female. A male may have an eyeline, but it will be short, light and blurry. In addition, look at a triangle on the top of the head. The triangle on a female will be dark, have a sharp contrast, and may be outlined by an almost black outline. A male's triangle will be lighter and a bit indistinct.

I have great confidence in writing that in the picture above, the brown Welsumer chick with the well defined triangle on the top of her head is a female. I will let you decide about the chick on the far right with dorsal stripes. Are they dark and well defined stripes or lighter, less distinct stripes?

One breed for which I have used the wild striping pattern for sexing is the Welsumer. The one variety for which I've successfully sexed chicks through this pattern is the Brown Leghorn. I've observed it in Ameraucanas, but not confidently.


Acknowledgments: The chart includes some information gained from personal observation but was also adapted in part from information found on three different sources: a chart on Greg Davies's The Chook Shed and two sites that no longer exist: one by a vet at UC Davis and another from Eleanor (aka Henwife).

This page authored and maintained by John R. Henderson (jhenderson@icyousee.org)
Sage Hen Farm, Lodi, NY.
Last modified: April 10, 2014
URL: http://www.sagehenfarmlodi.com/chooks/sexingchicks.html