“Can you ID the male and female chicks at birth, even as they get older I am still not sure, can you give us any guidelines?”
I’d like to thank our reader for this question and yes, the sex of day old chickens can be determined in a few different ways.
The first way is very difficult for the layman to accomplish with much success but I’ll tell you about it anyway.
“Vent sexing” relies on identification of the chickens sexual organs.
A chicken’s sexual organs are not located on the outside of their bodies like other animals but rather just inside their vent (anus).
The copulatory organ of a chicken is identified by shape. However, there are over 15 different possible shapes so determining male or female sex is very difficult.
There are also a limited number of individuals with the knowledge and experience to vent sex chicks, most are employed by large hatcheries.
With thorough instruction and a lot of practice, a laymen could learn this art but most small farmers find it an impractical undertaking as an accuracy rate of 60% – 70% would be considered excellent for the laymen.
A second way to determine the sex of a chicken is through “Feather sexing”. This method makes it easy to determine the sex of the chicks and can be done by most anyone with a keen eye.
The feather sexing method is based on differing characteristics in feathers between males and females that have been bred with specially selected genetic traits.
In a strain that has been bred for feather sexing, the female’s primary feathers will be longer than her covert feathers.
In a male, the primary feathers will be the same length or shorter than the covert feathers.
The challenge is that most breeds do not have the characteristics for feather sexing and the feathers of both males and females look identical.
A third way to determine the sex of a chick is their color. The sex of a sex-link cross bred chicken can be determined by color or markings at hatching.
Sex-link cross breeds are rapidly gaining popularity because of the ease of sexing the chicks. Often times will be referred to as if they are a breed of their own.
Again, to determine the sex of a chick based upon color or markings, the chicken must be a specific cross, it is not a method applicable to all breeds.
In the 1950s, there was a machine used to examine chicks to determine their sex. This machine is no longer used and is now obsolete.
So to our reader, unless you have feather sexed or sex-linked chicks, or you have been trained to vent sex, you’ll probably have to determine which are pullets and which are cockerels the slow way.
By 4 to 6 weeks you should be able to see some secondary sexual differences between males and females.
The waddles and combs of a male will become larger compared to the females. Their head will begin to take on a more angular and masculine shape. The males will grow faster and will often begin to have a protective quality about them.
Females will grow more slowly and will retain a more feminine, delicate appearance.
Best of luck to you.