Rooster vs Hen: How to Identify Hen and Rooster?

Differentiating hen and rooster.

Telling the gender of newly-hatched eggs could be tricky. Chicks look and move similar to one another. By the time they strut in your yard, you get confused about the gender of your chicks. 

Identifying the gender of your chicks does not need extra ability. There are tell-tale signs if the chick is a pullet or a cockerel. Determining their sex could be easier if they reach 16 weeks old, as some changes in their feathers, color, and appearance are becoming noticeable. 

This article will help you identify a hen and a rooster. 

What is Chick Sexing?

Before we talk about the differences between a hen and a rooster, let’s know what sexing is. Chick sexing is a technique for identifying the sex of your fowl and their hatchlings. 

If you are unfamiliar with this method, get help from a trained person in chicken sexing, a chicken sexer, or a chick sexer. Large hatcheries hire chicken sexers to make the job easier as the demand in the market is high. 

These hatcheries sort out the cockerels (males) and the pullets (female) chickens. They raise the pullets to lay eggs for production and commercial sales. In most cases, they kill the cockerels within days after hatching as they do not contribute to egg production. 

The pullets and selected numbers of cockerels will remain on the farm for other uses, such as cockfighting and meat production. Each chicken destined for a different purpose have different feeding programs.  

Sadly, males are unwanted in some parts of the poultry industry as they cannot produce and lay eggs. Those selected male and female chickens are helpful for breeding purposes. 

Breeders kill unwanted chicks upon hatching to reduce the cost of feed and nutritional supplements as they are useless to the breeder.

Techniques of Chick Sexing: How To Tell The Differences Between Chicken And Hen

Chick sexers use a technique in determining the sex of your day-old chick. While effective, particular crosses and breeds may not apply to some of these methods. Take a look at the different techniques of chick sexing: 

Feather Sexing

Although the feathers of both male and female chickens look similar, chicken sexers can spot their differences. The male chicks exhibit shorter wing feathers as short as the coverts. 

The female chicks have longer wing feathers, resulting from the cross between a slow-feathering female and a fast-feathering male. Chicken sexers can tell the gender of the chicks by looking at the length of the wing feather during hatching.

Color Sexing

Chicken sexers use the silver and gold Ss gene to determine the sex of newly hatched chicks. When an s male mates with an S female, their male offspring will have a light and white down color. Their male offspring will have a dark brown down color.

Venting Sexing

This method is known as venting. The chicken sexer squeezes the feces directly from the chicken, where the cloaca or anal vent slightly opens. The chicken sexer will check the vent’s inside to see the bump’s size. Male chickens have small bumps than female chicks. 

The genital organ or eminence is prominent and solid in male chickens. You can find eminence on the lower rim of the anal vent, which resembles a small pimple. The female chickens have smaller eminence and disappear if you rub them with your thumb.

Auto-sexing Breeds

Another method of chicken sexing is auto-sexing. The University of Cambridge popularized this method. It is easy to identify the male chicks in Cambar, a breed of auto-sexing fowl created in 1928 by Reginald Punnett. The female chicks have darker spots on the head, while the male chicks have pale head spots, spreading to the body.

Semi-auto-sexing Breeds

Some chicken breeds are easy to determine their sex after hatching, like the Barred Rock chickens. The male offspring have a distinctive, sizeable pale spot on the head, while the female chicks have less defined, more minor marks on the head. The New Hampshire Red and Rhode Island Red chicks have chipmunk stripes on the head.

In-ovo sexing

This method of chick sexing uses an automated system to identify the gender of the chicks inside the incubated eggs. It uses spectroscopy to know the color of the plumage. It is suitable for sex-linked plumage coloration for strains.  

Alternative Methods

Small breeders who do not have a budget to hire a chicken sexer use the traditional method to determine the gender of chicks. They wait for the hatchlings until four to six weeks old to identify their sex. During this period, the hatchlings begin to show some characteristics and behavior that help determine if they are female or male.

Machine Sexing

Large poultry breeders use a sexing machine called Chicktester in Japan or Keeler Optical in the UK. These machines have a blunt-ended telescopic tube that contains a light. The breeder inserts the telescopic tube with the aid of the light into the cloaca (anal vent) of the chicks. This instrument can determine if the chick has an ovary or testis.


Major Hen & Rooster Differences & Similarities

Time can tell if the chick is a female or a male. As chickens grow older, they show some changes in their behavior and appearance. At three to four weeks, the cockerels exhibit their single large combs. 

Cockerels begin showing their authentic plumage at six weeks. Their combs will grow into a pea-size at six weeks old, consisting of three ridges and tiny bumps. The middle of the ridge is a little taller than the two ridges. 

Most males grow their pointed, long, hackle, sickle, and saddle feathers at eight weeks. Pullets begin showing their wide and round feathers in the saddle, sickle, and hackle. Some breeds start crowing at four or six weeks of age. 

Let’s take a look at the characteristics and behavior of hens and roosters:

Body & Legs

Comparing the differences between female and male chickens is more manageable if they are of the same age. Cockerels have thicker legs and bigger bodies than pullets. 

The male chicken develops sharp and pointed spurs on the legs above the toes. When they turn six months old, these spurs are less than one-third of an inch long. The spurs grow longer to more than an inch as they mature. 

They use the spurs as their defense weapon, which could harm you if an aggressive rooster attacks you. Some breeders trim or file down the sharp ends of spurs or remove them through a surgical procedure. 

Feathers

Chickens have different plumage depending on the breed. Generally, a hen has rounder and shorter hackle feathers, also known as neck feathers. The neck feathers of roosters are pointed and more extended. The tail feathers of roosters are longer and pointed with various colors. 

The sickle feathers of cockerels are curved, whereas pullets have straight feathers on the tails and rounder feathers in their bodies. They grow their long saddle feathers on their back toward the tail. Their saddle feathers become long and pointed at the age of three months.

Combs and Wattles

The combs of cockerels are more developed, prominent, upright, and brighter than a pullet’s comb. The rooster’s wattles, the fleshy skin parts that lie under the beak area, are bright-color and more significant than the hen. A rooster’s wattles hang down longer compared to a hen’s wattle.

Plumage Coloring

Cockerels begin showing their brightly colored- plumage earlier than the pullets. Their colorful and iridescent plumage is vibrant that is eye-catching, and it captures light, showing off green and blue shades.  

Crowing

You can easily detect a rooster from a hen due to its ability to crow. But you have to wait for the right time when it crows. Usually, roosters crow early in the morning when the sun starts showing from the horizon. Roosters also crow any time of the day for several reasons. They crow as a warning sign that a predator is eminent or they want to catch a hen’s attention. 

Egg Production

Female chickens or hens lay eggs as early as four months old. They lay and hatch the eggs. Roosters do not produce and lay eggs. 

Duties

Roosters and hens have different responsibilities in their flock. Roosters mate with hens to produce eggs, while the hens lay the eggs and raise the chicks until they grow. 

The male chicken defends their communities using their stocky body and spurs. Roosters use their territorial violence to protect against predator attacks. They get alarmed when they hear a whistle, clap, or make a commotion. They stand erect and give a warning sound while the females choose to crouch and keep silent. Hens are more friendly and gentle than roosters. 

But mind you, hens are more protective of their babies and are in a defensive mood when someone gets close to their nest. Generally, hens are timid, less energetic, and silent, yet they can be incessant talkers when she and her babies go out and look for food.

FAQs on Differentiating Hens & Roosters

Do Hens Crow?

Yes, there are breeds of chickens where the pullets or hens adapt the male qualities if there is no rooster around. The hen crows to build its stature in the pecking order. Hens sometimes get naughty, and it is normal if you hear the hen crow as an indication of territorial dominance. 

What is the Best Way to Determine the Gender of Chicks?

The best solution is to buy sexed chicks from a reliable breeder and observe their behavior and personality as they grow. They will show signs as they grow wattles or combs and develop feathers. Chick sexing is a good idea if you have space or zoning limitations.

What Shall I Do If My Pullet Turns Out To Be A Cockerel?

This scenario can happen to any fowl farmer. The best thing you can do is to call the breeder and inform them about the mishap. Ask for a refund if they will not take back the cockerel. If you buy it from a tractor supply store, expect no refund since they sell straight-run chickens. 

Straight run chicks are chicks that are up for sale without undergoing chick sexing. They are a mix of female and male chicks, which are often fifty percent pullets.

How Important is Chick Sexing?

Sexing chicks is vital in poultry production. It can save money on feed for unwanted chicks. Pullets are most preferred in poultry production as they are ideal for commercial layers. Cockerels are preferable for commercial broilers and meat as they grow faster and more robust than pullets.

What is the Ideal Chicken Breed for Chick Sexing?

The New Hampshire and Rhode Island Red are the best chicken breeds for chick sexing during hatching. Chick sexers identify the sex using the wing color during hatching. 

The male chick has a white spot down on top of the wing web. You can hardly recognize it once the chicken sheds its feathers on the down, but there is a slight variation in the size of the white spot. 

What is Sex Reversal?

Sex reversal is a phenomenon where a pullet/hen adapts to the external characteristics of a pullet/rooster. If a hen experiences sex reversal, it is still considered a hen with secondary traits that resemble a rooster. 

What is the Best Method of Chick Sexing?

The best method is auto-sexing, which uses sex-linked traits like slow and fast feathering. This method requires control in mating the hen and rooster. The rooster should have a rapid feathering or recessive allele, and the hen should have slow feathering or dominant allele. The result will be males for the slow feather chicks.

Wrapping Up

Chicken sexing is vital to maintain healthy flocks for their particular purposes. Determining the gender of your chickens can be exhausting if you are not an expert in chicken sexing. It needs the expertise to tackle this issue so as not to waste raising unwanted chicks. There are many methods in chicken sexing that can help you sort the male and female chicks. You must practice the techniques but be careful not to hurt the chicks when implementing them.

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