You wanted to raise chickens for eggs and bought some hatching eggs. Or you couldn’t resist the fluffy little munchkins at the feed store this spring. In any event you now have chickens growing up in your backyard. You are feeding them and caring for their every need. So what’s the problem? Some of the chicks are starting to look different than the others. One or two in particular seem, odd. They better hadn’t be roosters! You aren’t allowed to keep roosters in your neighborhood. How do you know? Can you tell the difference between pullets and cockerels when they are still growing?
Pullet or Cockerel – How to Know the Difference
There are a few ways to sex chicks and maturing chickens. At hatching the first way that has been used for generations is called vent sexing or the Japanese method. Using this method, you would look inside the tiny vent opening and notice the difference in the cloaca. I have not seen this done but hatcheries use this method with 85 to 90 % accuracy.
Another method is wing feather sexing. Using this method you look at the wing feathers of a chick on the first or second day after hatching. Cockerel’s wing feathers would be all the same length. Pullets wing feathers would be in two layers of different length. A cautionary note on this method. It does not work on all breeds of chickens. Certain breeds such as leghorns have the genetic trait that allows this method to be used. Not all breeds have this trait.
Sex Linked Traits – For certain genetic pairings, a predictable and identifiable appearance gives a fool proof method of determining sex of the chick. For this method you need to understand that the hen contributes genetic material to the cockerels and the rooster contributes genetic material to the pullets. Any sex linked characteristics will be passed on in this way. Color is one of the sex linked traits. Knowing this, if you mate a hen that carries a sex linked color trait with a rooster that does not carry the trait, the cockerels will have the trait. This makes it easy to separate the pullets at hatching. There are some popular hybrid breeds that utilize this method. Black Stars or Black Sex links are the result of a Barred Rock Hen crossed with a Rhode Island Red Rooster. The cockerels have a white spot on their heads. Red Stars and Golden Comets are two other breeds that are bred for this reason and for increased egg production.
If you absolutely cannot have a rooster or don’t want to deal with one, buying sex linked breed pullets is your most fool proof method of obtaining pullets.
As your chicks develop, you may begin to notice some differences in the growth and characteristics showing up. The cockerels will often hold themselves differently, in a more upright stance. Their feathers will be pointy as compared to the more rounded feather ends of the pullets. The combs and legs will also begin to look different. Combs on a developing cockerel will be darker colored, and larger than the pullets of the same breed. By ten weeks of age, it is fairly certain if you have a developing rooster in the flock.
The Crowing and the Egg
Of course the final answer to the question comes when you find the egg. Or the morning noon and night crowing that is hard to dispute. Although, hens of some breeds, in the absence of a rooster may take up crowing.
One last anecdotal test. I have found that my roosters are often the chicks that were the most easily handled and didn’t mind being cuddled. It doesn’t last though! Somewhere around 8 months to a year, the hormones fully kick in and the rooster is no longer so cuddly.
This post appeared first on Backyard Poultry Magazine.com