How to Tell if a Chicken Is a Rooster?

Chicken sexing at a young age is a bit of an art. Even with years of experience I find myself staring down the growing babies looking for signs that theyll be egg-laying hens or yet another rooster.

However, thats going to take 18-20+ weeks to happen so well go over some more helpful ways to tell hens from roosters. Im adding this for some comic relief but at the same time youd be surprised how often I see Facebook posts asking why they have one rooster and one hen but they get two eggs a day.

Roosters have elongated, narrow and pointy saddle feathers on their sides right in front of the tail. If youve ever seen two roosters fighting and it looks like they swallowed an umbrella, thats the hackle feathers in action. Ive also noticed a 50/50 shot on my Cochin roosters having long tail feathers.

Male Welsummer chicks have a black chest that shows up when they lose the down and start going in regular feathers. Comb size is hands down the most misleading characteristic used to sex chickens in a mixed flock. There are a few generalities that have some truth behind them, the only useful one is rooster combs turn red sooner than hens.

The rest were not roosters, they were leghorns with giant floppy combs typical for the breed. Right now I have a Cuckoo Maran with big old spurs, unrelated but shes a great mom. He had giant spurs and overall bad feet but he was a sweetheart and a big reason why Brahmas are my favorite chickens .

I love having a mix of egg colors and personalities in my backyard flocks so Ill keep it complicated as long as I have chickens.

How can you tell chicken gender?

So the simplest rule in sexing chicks by down color is to remember males have lighter heads, sometimes with a white or yellow spot, and females have darker down color often with a black or brown spot or stripes on their heads or with darker stripes on their backs.

Actually the two showing nice combs are hens (a cross between a Welsummer rooster and a Breda hen). And the one without the comb is actually a Breda rooster (pure Bredas do not have combs).

Both should be firm to the touch, feel a little waxy and have good, deep coloration. Plymouth Rock HenAlthough hens do have combs and wattles, they are nowhere near as large and impressive as the roosters.

This is intentional and gives then hen natural camouflage for when she has to sit on those eggs. Hens are also smaller which helps if they have to move quickly to avoid trouble. Barbu DUccle rooster (right) and hen (left) As the flock leader, it is the roosters job to keep the flock safe, keep subordinates in line and mate with the hens as frequently as possible.

When a rooster is among the hens he will be watchful and will rarely eat until the ladies have finished. He will either herd them or follow them keeping a watchful eye for predators or unusual things. When he finds something tasty for the hens he will draw their attention to it by making a tuk sound to tell them he has found something interesting for them.

Some breeds of rooster are known to assist in selecting nest sites and raising chicks with the hen, but these are the exception not the norm. Inside the coop roosters will rarely spend time in the nesting boxes , this is the domain of the hens. This helps them to stay in contact with each other and not get separated from the flock (there is safety in numbers).

They can be very chatty in group situations or when travelling as a flock, but in general their demeanor is much quieter and more subdued than the roosters. Although it seems the hens rely on the rooster for food and safety, they are not helpless little creatures. They can be quite independently minded at times and a flock of hens can certainly function without a rooster.

If your chicken has beautiful long flowing hackle feathers then they are a rooster. In general roosters can weigh a few more pounds than the hens so he needs a stronger base to support that body. A roosters comb will be much larger, waxy to the touch and bright red.

The hen will actually choose a rooster based on several criteria, one of them being the size and condition of his comb. For each of the stages of development from chick to adult we will explain the key visual differences between roosters and hens. The only way to know for sure is to buy sexed chicks, or watch them grow and determine it by their behavior.

Autosexing: The sexes of some breeds are easy to spot at hatching because of different coloration or other characteristic. For example the Barred Rock males have a more diffused yellow spot on their head. As chicks Golden Comet Roosters will be white, whereas hens will be a brownish color.

If your chick does not fall into these categories then you will have to observe them carefully and wait until they reach adolescence . As adolescents the chickens are now taking on more gender assigned characteristics of their sex. Hens will continue to communicate in cheeps and trills, only the boys will crow.

He will be alert and have a glorious plumage with large comb and wattles and regal tail feathers. He will learn from the head Rooster and the time will come when he issues a challenge for supremacy. If he wins the fight, he will become the flock master and if he loses he will remain as a subordinate.

Once she has started laying eggs the other hens seem to accept her as one of them and will become a bit less stand-offish with her. Learn about the different roles of the hen and roosters and you will become a great chicken mom or dad.

One of the first questions people will ask when it comes to chickens is: Is that a hen or rooster? Or as some people put it: is that a chicken or a rooster? Sometimes its easy to tell the difference as the roosters strut across the yard and crow. But other times, especially when chickens are young, its more difficult.

Now, the next time you hear someone talking about pullets, you know they mean young female chickens! Its difficult for the average person to determine the gender (otherwise known as sexing) of a young chick.

In most cases, even experienced chicken owners will not be able to tell whether they have cockerels or pullets until the chicks are least 2-3 months of age , often longer for some breeds like Silkies. In fact, typically the only places you can buy vent sexed chicks are from hatcheries where they have highly trained personnel to do it. Straight run means the gender is unknown and chicks are not sexed (again because its nearly impossible) and your odds of having boys or girls are usually 50/50.

Would you believe the fluffy yellow chick on the right grew up to be our giant boy, Smokey (see his photo farther below)? There are some crossbreeds, known as sex links, and a few other chicken breeds where you can tell the gender right away based on their colors. We can guess all wed like, but as many people who raise chickens like to say, you wont know for sure until they crow or lay an egg !

As chickens begin to mature, their comb will grow larger and darken or brighten in color. Sometimes you will see a young chick begin to develop a larger comb earlier than the others and this is sometimes (not always) a clue as to its gender more likely a male. A cockerel or roosters feathers will be longer, more flowing, and generally showier.

Posture cockerels tend to puff out their chest and stand taller than pullets. For me, this is one of the last things I consider when telling hens and roosters apart, but it is one more characteristic you might notice.

Why might you be worried about your poultrys gender? If you want eggs, roosters can’t help you. If you live in an urban area, most cities dont allow property owners to keep roosters. For example, my citys regulations for animals states, Property owners are allowed to keep up to 10 chickens aged 6 months or older. Roosters are, however, prohibited. Youre probably thinking, Elementary, my dear Watson!” a la Sherlock Holmes. Its not hard to tell hens and roosters apart. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as it seems, especially when they havent reached adulthood. When you bring home some adorable fuzzy chicks for your flock, there’s a 20% chance you’re going to end up with some roosters instead of hens. So, how do you tell if you have a hen or a rooster?

Hybrids are chickens that are cross-bred, resulting in more desirable traits like improved egg-laying, coloring, or temperament. Theoretically, male chickens, at any age, are more curious, aggressive, and boisterous than juvenile females.

It’s easiest to differentiate poultry gender when theyve reached adulthood, which occurs between 16-24 weeks. Their combs (on top of their heads) and wattles (hanging down from cheek area) are more noticeable and redder. While there are many old wives tales used to find roosters versus hens, we did not include them in this article.

The very handsome Phil now lives at a rescue nearby where Shelby visits him regularly.

Eggs

However, that’s going to take 18-20+ weeks to happen so we’ll go over some more helpful ways to tell hens from roosters.I’m adding this for some comic relief but at the same time you’d be surprised how often I see Facebook posts asking why they have one rooster and one hen but they get two eggs a day.I’ve seen hens with spurs, hens that crow and even hens that mount other hens. It doesn’t matter how rooster-y they act, if they lay eggs you can be certain you have a hen.

Saddle and Hackle Feathers

This is my main method of telling hens from roosters. The object here is to identify the boys. If there aren’t any saddle feathers you can be pretty certain you’ve got a lady.There are a few exceptions to this rule. Silkie, Sebright, and some Golden Campine roosters are called ‘hen feathered’ because they lack the district saddle and hackle feathers.Roosters have elongated, narrow and pointy saddle feathers on their sides right in front of the tail. They spill over the sides like a waterfall.These feathers start showing up around 8-10 weeks. Usually by 12 weeks they’ll be impossible to miss. Depending on the breed they may be colored differently than the other feathers.Hackle feathers are found on the neck, in roosters they are also elongated and pointy. Hens also have hackle feathers but they will be more rounded at the ends. I pretty much ignore the necks andIf you’ve ever seen two roosters fighting and it looks like they swallowed an umbrella, that’s the hackle feathers in action.

Rooster Tail Shape

The most obvious tail clue is the presence of sickle feathers. Sickle feathers are the long, beautiful arched tail feathers that roosters have.Unfortunately, they seem to take the brunt of rooster-on-rooster aggression and they don’t always stay stunning. I’ve also noticed a 50/50 shot on my Cochin roosters having long tail feathers.Cochins are a very fluffy, soft-feathered breed and these features can be a little harder to see from far away or if you aren’t sure what you’re looking for.The tails can also give you a few clues before those pretty sickles feathers grow in. When the tail feathers grow in you’ll notice that hens tails end bluntly. The feathers themselves will have rounded ends.Rooster tails will start to arc at the end and the feathers will be pointier. In general, roosters seem to be pointier, both in appearance and personality.

Breed Specific Sex Characteristics:

Red on the wings is a sign that anThat guy above was a jerk, you can see the red coloring on his wing. If you look closely you can also see the pointed hackles and the arching tail.Male Welsummer chicks have a black chest that shows up when they lose the down and start going in regular feathers. The chest on pullets (females) will be red.Barred chicks will show a difference as day-old chicks, males will have a large light-colored spot on the head and on females it will be smaller. I’ve never tried it but it’s supposed to be 80% correct.

A few not-so-helpful methods

Now that we’ve covered all the things I do look for, I want to tell you some of the less helpful advice on chicken sexing I’ve seen thrown around.

Comb Size

Comb size is hands down the most misleading characteristic used to sex chickens in a mixed flock.If you’ve only got one kind of chickens you’re probably safe to compare and guess.There are a few generalities that have some truth behind them, the only useful one is rooster combs turn red sooner than hens. This is something I look for but I’m not about to bet money on it.Going back to those Facebook groups, I was once in a chicken group conversation with someoneNot all roosters will get a giant comb like that pretty boy on the Kellogg box, comb shape and size is determined by genetics. I live in a cold climate with awful winters and I personally favor chickens with small combs for their cold hardiness.Check out my post onMy

Spurs

Spurs are most likely to show up on roosters butThey don’t grow in until around 3-8 months so I don’t put a lot of importance on them at all. By the way, this is Bruce, he was my favorite rooster ever.He had giant spurs and overall bad feet but he was a sweetheart and a big reason why Brahmas are

Rooster vs Hen Appearance

The first picture is of a Rhode Island Red rooster and hen. Their appearance is quite different so it is easy to tell the rooster from the hen.However can you guess in the second picture below?You could be forgiven for thinking there are two roosters and a hen.Actually the two showing nice combs are hens (a cross between a Welsummer rooster and a Breda hen). And the one without the comb is actually a Breda rooster (pure Bredas do not have combs).So sometimes appearances can be deceptive!Below we will explain the common differences between roosters and hens.This should make it easier for you to tell a rooster from a hen.

Rooster Appearance

I am sure when most poeple think of a rooster they imagine the iconic image of the rooster with a large comb, head thrown back to crow and a long rooster tail.Roosters will have a larger comb and wattles. Both should be firm to the touch, feel a little waxy and have good, deep coloration.The neck and shoulder area will usually be adorned with hackles. These are long, pointed neck feathers that flow down into the back. Hen’s feathers will be more rounded. Roosters will also have tail feathers (also known as sickle feathers) which gives them shape. They curve up and gracefully arc down into the tail itself.They also have a larger and more muscular body than hens. Their chest should be fairly broad as should the shoulders.

Hen Appearance

Although hens do have combs and wattles, they are nowhere near as large and impressive as the roosters.The color of their feathers is usually more subdued than the boys too. This is intentional and gives then hen natural camouflage for when she has to sit on those eggs. She should blend in with the background and hopefully not be seen by predators.Hens are also smaller which helps if they have to move quickly to avoid trouble.For more help make sure to read how to sex chickens.

Rooster Behavior

As the flock leader, it is the rooster’s job to keep the flock safe, keep subordinates in line and mate with the hens as frequently as possible.When a rooster is among the hens he will be watchful and will rarely eat until the ladies have finished.He will either herd them or follow them keeping a watchful eye for predators or unusual things. If he sees something suspicious he will sound the alarm and lead the hens away from danger.Roosters are constantly on the lookout and an exceptional rooster will defend his flock to the death.When he finds something tasty for the hens he will draw their attention to it by making a tuk sound to tell them he has found something interesting for them. He may repeatedly pick up and drop snacks to display what he has found for them.If a rooster wants to mate he may do a little dance for her to try and get her to squat for him. If she is not interested then he will move away and try his luck elsewhere.Some breeds of rooster are known to assist in selecting nest sites and raising chicks with the hen, but these are the exception not the norm.

Hen Behavior

Hens rule as far as nesting and raising chicks go. Otherwise they adopt a more submissive role and let the rooster be out in front and in charge.Inside the coop roosters will rarely spend time in the nesting boxes, this is the domain of the hens.When out ranging the hens will talk softly among themselves. This helps them to stay in contact with each other and not get separated from the flock (there is safety in numbers). However when compared to roosters, hens are much more submissive and will be more careful when ranging.They can be very chatty in group situations or when travelling as a flock, but in general their demeanor is much quieter and more subdued than the roosters.Hens will adopt a submissive squat when they are ready for mating. However not all hens may mate with him. If they do not like him then they may refuse to accept him as a mate.Although it seems the hens rely on the rooster for food and safety, they are not helpless little creatures. They can be quite independently minded at times and a flock of hens can certainly function without a rooster.In those situations an older hen will take charge of the flock and become the leader of the group.

Hackle Feathers

Hackle feathers are the long flowing feathers that grow around the neck of a rooster.These feathers are beautifully designed to fall gracefully around the shoulders. These long feathers are pointed at the tips whereas a hen’s neck feathers are much shorter and more rounded.If your chicken has beautiful long flowing hackle feathers then they are a rooster.

Rooster Tail

If you look at a rooster’s tail you will see he has sickle feathers. These feathers give the rooster that typical rooster look of high curved tail feathers. The older the rooster gets, the better his sickles will look.Hens do not have the high curved tail feathers.Roosters also have saddle feathers in this area.These are similar to hackle feathers in that they drop gracefully either side of the tail feathers adding a look of seamless feathering.If you chicken has high curved sickle feathers they are a rooster.

Egg Laying

Egg laying is reserved solely for the hens.You may have heard tales of rooster eggs but they are actuallyAlso, you do not need a rooster to make the hen lay the egg. She will lay eggs all by herself. So if you have a chicken that is laying eggs they are definitely a hen and not a rooster.

Feet and Legs

Roosters will have bigger feet and sturdier legs.In general roosters can weigh a few more pounds than the hens so he needs a stronger base to support that body.If you look at the rooster he will also have much longer spurs. They grow in towards the opposing leg and can grow to several inches long.

Combs and Wattles

The difference between a rooster’s comb and wattles and a hens can be quite remarkable.A rooster’s comb will be much larger, waxy to the touch and bright red. Whereas a hen’s comb is much smaller and not as bright.The hen will actually choose a rooster based on several criteria, one of them being the size and condition of his comb.

Chick To Adult Life Cycle Differences Explained

For each of the stages of development from chick to adult we will explain the key visual differences between roosters and hens.

Chicks

It can be very difficult to tell a rooster from a hen as a chick.The only way to know for sure is to buy sexed chicks, or watch them grow and determine it by their behavior.If you have zoning or space limitations your best choice is sexed chicks.There are a few ways to tell the difference between hens and roosters as chicks and they include:If your chick does not fall into these categories then

Adolescents

As adolescents the chickens are now taking on more gender assigned characteristics of their sex.With roosters you will see them developing larger combs and wattles.They will start to develop hackle feathers on the neck and sickle tail feathers around 12 weeks or so. They will look a bit puny to start with but eventually the pointed hackle feathers and the curving sickle feathers will give the typical rooster look.If you look carefully you will see them standing taller and being bolder.They are intensely curious and seemingly unafraid.A big sign is they will start to crow around seven weeks or so.Hens on the other hand will be slower to develop their comb and wattles.Their body will more rounded and curvier than the boys. She will be lower to the ground and lighter in weight.As for her behavior, you can expect them to be quieter and have a lower stance posture. Hens will continue to communicate in cheeps and trills, only the boys will crow.

Adults

The typical badult arnyard rooster is easy to spot.He will be alert and have a glorious plumage with large comb and wattles and regal tail feathers.However some roosters can be more difficult to spot, so how do you spot them in a crowd?It is all about attitude.Even is the rooster does not look like yourIf he is a subordinate rooster then he will look to the alpha rooster for cues and direction. He will learn from the head Rooster and the time will come when he issues a challenge for supremacy. If he wins the fight, he will become the flock master and if he loses he will remain as a subordinate.Once your hens are mature enough to start laying eggs there will be some behavioral changes to note.As she starts to look around for nesting spots, she will become more vocal. Once she has started laying eggs the other hens seem to accept her as one of them and will become a bit less stand-offish with her.We discuss visual differences between adult rooster and hens here.

Hens and Roosters | Cockerels and Pullets

First, let’s address “chicken vs rooster.”Now let’s go a little more detailed and look at the difference between hens and roosters, cockerels and pullets.A male chicken is considered aA female chicken is considered aJill is one of our pullets. She is a bantam (small) black cochin.And here is Jack, her cockerel brother. He is also a bantam black cochin.Now, the next time you hear someone talking about pullets, you know they mean young female chickens!

Sexing Chicks

It’s difficult for the average person to determine the gender (otherwise known as sexing) of a young chick. In most cases,These are two of our silkie hens with their young chicks.The most common form of sexing is called “vent sexing,” but if not done correctly, it could kill a chick. And even then, the odds are about as good as a coin toss when it comes to accuracy with this method unless it is someone very experienced. This is why the average backyard chicken keeperIn fact, typically the only places you can buy “vent sexed” chicks are from hatcheries where they have highly trained personnel to do it. Even then hatcheries are only accurate about 90% of the time. This means that if you order female chicks from a hatchery or your local feed store (they usually buy from hatcheries too), you still have a chance of ending up with one cockerel (or more.)Here is a great article that talks about sexing baby chicks.If you buy chicks from a local chicken breeder, they will likely sell you “straight run” chicks.There are some crossbreeds, known as sex links, and a few other chicken breeds where you can tell the gender right away based on their colors. You can read more about sex links here. That being said, you cannot tell the gender with the majority of chicken breeds.

Pullet or Cockerel?

We all wait anxiously to see if our chicks are boys or girls. We can guess all we’d like, but as many people who raise chickens like to say,That can be anywhere from 12-30 weeks of age! Occasionally though you might have a little cockerel who makes himself known by crowing very early. We had a young Silkie start crowing at just 6 weeks of age!Still, it’s fun to guess and see if you’re right late.For older chickens, typically

Comb and Wattles: Size and Color

TheIt’s the same thing with a chicken’s wattles – the fleshy skin that hangs from underneath the beak/neck.This is Wolf, our Light Brahma cockerel, when he was very young. You can see his comb and wattles beginning to get bigger and brighten.Here’s a photo I took of Wolf today. See how his comb and wattles are bigger now? Wolf is still considered a cockerel because he is 7 months old.On the other hand, here is “Fireball”, our Light Brahma pullet. She is also 7 months old. Do you see the difference?Fireball and Wolf belong to my oldest, Nathan. He named them after Minecraft. 🙂Sometimes you will see a young chick begin to develop a larger comb earlier than the others and this is sometimes (not always) a clue as to its gender – more likely a male.

Feathers

You can see Fireball’s hackle feathers here:One way to remember the difference between hackle and saddle feathers is to think of a horse saddle which goes on a horse’s back, not the neck.Lastly, look at a chicken’s tail feathers. A cockerel or rooster’s feathers will be longer, more flowing, and generally showier. Sometimes there will be more colors, such as shiny green feathers.Here is Wolf again. Notice the differences between him and Fireball.

Juveniles

Believe it or not, sexing day-old chicks is a job requiring extensive training. If done incorrectly, the chick can be permanently injured or die. This type of sexing is called “vent sexing.” The trained ‘chicken sexer’ expels poop from the cloaca to see the bird’s sexual characteristics.Something to keep in mind is that sex-link chickens are only from first-generation breeding. To keep the sex-link characteristics, each parent has to be a purebred chicken.