The sex of a hen can be determined in several different ways. Which method is best depends on the age of the bird, its breed and variety, and the skill of the observer. Here are the four common ways to sex a chicken.
Reveal sex can be performed soon after the chick has hatched. Also known as chick sex, this method determines the sex of a chick by examining slight differences in a small cloaca inside the vent. Accuracy requires a great deal of practice, skill, and keen observation. Not to mention the good lighting.
In hatcheries, sex is practiced by trained sex workers. The accuracy rate for a really good vent homogenizer is 95 to 98 percent. However, some breeds are inherently more difficult to sex, which leads to a lower accuracy. Bantams are rarely sexed because they are so small and delicate that they can get hurt in the process.
The color sex may also be determined at the time of hatching, although differences between the sexes remain evident for some time after the chicks hatch. In this way to sex a hen that takes advantage of sex-linked genes that control feather color and/or down.
Hybrid chicks that can be classified by color are called sexual bonds. In sexual bonds, such as the Cinnamon Queen and Golden Comet, the color variations remain at maturity. The accuracy of sex for sexual relations is 99 to 100 percent.
Determining the sex of a color within a single breed or variety is called autosexing. In some autosex breeds, such as the Legbar, the color differences persist into maturity. In such strains, which were specially developed as autogenous, the accuracy is 100 percent.
In naturally autosex breeds, such as the New Hampshire, the female’s plumage coloration is quite similar to the male’s throughout life. Depending on the specific breed, the color identification accuracy rate ranges from 80 to 95 percent
Feather sex determination may occur at hatching or three days later. This method involves identifying growth rate differences in the primary plumage of hybrid chicks. Here the billet’s wing feathers are longest at hatching time.
This method only works with hybrid chicks developed by crossing a slow-feathering female, such as a Cochin, with a fast-feathering male, such as a Maran. This technique is typically used in the white broiler industry, which crosses a slow breeding line with a fast breeding line for feathers.
The accuracy rate for having sex this way is about 99 percent. But it only works during the first three days after the opening. Next, the length of the cockerel’s wing feathers catches up with the length of the pallet’s wing feathers.
Wait and see
The surest way for most people to have sex with chickens is the wait-and-see method. This technique involves noting the differences in physical features and behavior patterns between males and females. These features begin to appear at three weeks of age, or sometimes later, depending on the breed.
As the young cocks grow, they develop combs and wattles that are larger and brighter than those of the billet. Breeds with large single combs usually develop earlier and are more noticeable. At about the same time, the roosters begin to crow.
But some individuals develop later than others, especially in a flock with several roosters. And it is difficult to distinguish between some strains, especially silk, until they are almost ripe.
The males of most subspecies also develop tail feathers that are longer or fuller than the females. Males of most breeds have a pointed neck and saddle feathers, in contrast to females’ rounded neck and saddle feathers.
The exception is the Sebright bantam, which is a hen’s plumage—meaning that the plumage of males and females is nearly identical, even at maturity. So with Sebrights, the only foolproof way to determine sex is to wait for the males to develop their large combs and wattles or start crowing.
And that’s today’s news from Cackle Coop.
Gil Damero has written several books on poultry, including The Encyclopedia of Chicken.