The excitement of adding newly hatched chicks to your backyard flock comes with the suspense of not knowing how many hens and roosters you'll end up with. In most chicken breeds, babies of both genders look frustratingly identical for the first weeks of life. With a little practice, you'll be able to know which is which long before little cockerels start to crow.
Cracking the Case
Chicken eggs hatch after 21 days. Chicks of most breeds are impossible to differentiate when newly hatched. Sex-link chicks are the sole exception. While there are no naturally occurring sex-link breeds, you can create cross-bred chicks where each sex is a distinct color. Use a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire rooster for the father. Pairing the roo with Plymouth Barred Rock hens produces black males with single white dots on their heads. Females are completely black. You must cross-breed each generation for sex-linked chicks, as future generations will not bear the sex-link traits naturally.
Twenty-Eight Days Later
Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. By the time they are a week to three weeks old, they'll start to develop traits that give clues to their genders. Dominant chicks will stand taller and chirp more loudly than others, and these loud-mouths are males more often than not. Young roos may begin trying to crow as early as 3 weeks old, but 3 months is a more common age. The males' tall stance is partly due to longer, sturdier legs set on larger feet. Male chicks will develop combs that are larger and darker than those on the female chicks.
Check the Vents
In some large breeds of chicken, sex identification is possible through vent sexing. Don't attempt this technique without training from an experienced chicken handler, as chicks can be severely injured or killed. The procedure involves expelling feces from the chick's vent and then gently exposing the cloaca. A penislike bump on male chickens differentiates them from females. The technique is not 100 percent accurate, as some male chicks are less developed than others and may be mistaken for females.
Call In the Professionals
Genetic testing is another way to tell if your baby chick is male or female. Genetic testing is the most reliable way to sex a chick, but as the price of a test is several times the price of a chick, genetic testing on chickens is the exception, not the norm. It is the most reliable way to tell the sex of small breeds of chicken at a young age. Genetic testing uses a few feathers, a blood sample or the dried shell after the chick hatches.