How to tell a hen from a rooster: before they reach full maturity.

Bungie Boy.jpg

Bungie the rooster.  He’s a handsome boy.  Too bad my picture is sub-par.  He wasn’t cooperative and I didn’t have time to coax a good shoot from him before taking him to the farm store to be sent to the farm, where it is to be hoped he’ll have plenty of girls and no soup pot chasing him down.

Chickens are very difficult to sex when they hatch.  Experienced poultry people can tell the difference between the girls and the boys much better than most but no one is capable of being correct one hundred percent of the time.  If you live in a rural area where you’re allowed to have roosters this isn’t likely an issue you’ll lose sleep over, however, for everyone raising a flock of chickens in their own back yards in suburban or urban  neighborhoods, it is almost a certainty that roosters won’t be allowed. 

When you purchase chicks from the farm store they are sexed with the best accuracy possible, and yet, there is ALWAYS a risk that one or more of your chicks will turn out to be boy.  It’s a good idea to find out, before you buy them, what your farm store’s policy is on returning boy pullets.  Some won’t take them back so if you end up with a rooster you’ll need to be prepared to donate it to a farm or eat it for supper.  In my experience most farm stores selling chicks know that roosters are a problem for most of their customers and will take them back.  Some will even give you your money back. 

Bungie turned out to be a glossy preening gorgeous model of a boy.  Our farm store doesn’t really take roosters back but John the chicken man took ours.  We were sad to have to give him up because he was gorgeous and we actually like roosters, but they aren’t allowed, and he started practicing his crowing so we had to whisk him off.

Roosters don’t start crowing for at least two months.  Depending on the breed and the individual they may not start crowing until they’re three or four months old.  Bungie was a bit precocious in my opinion.  Little upstart!  Experienced poultry farmers like to tell you that until the bird crows you can’t know if it’s a rooster.  In our fist flock we had a hen that was acting like the boss of the whole group, herding the others around, posturing, and generally acting like a chest thumping boy and when I called the farm store they told me it was too early to tell.  I brought Lucy in and showed her to them and the chicken expert shook his head and told me she wasn’t a rooster.  I told him of her decidedly masculine behaviors and he explained (somewhat patronizingly) that some hens will behave in a very dominant fashion and that that wasn’t a sure way to tell a hen from a rooster before they’ve fully matured.

Two days later Lucy discovered his magnificent voice and began to practice his crow nonstop.  I brought him in to the farm store and they bought him back.  It wasn’t kind of me but I was a little smug.  Maybe he didn’t know for sure that Lucy was really Lucius, but WE did.

Our friends John and Jin were the first to tell us that Bungie might be a rooster.  They have a lot of experience with Ameraucanas and have noticed that the roosters always have a wider comb base which you can see even when they’re very young.  We wouldn’t have known by that indication but sure enough, there were other indications to make us suspect that John and Jin were correct.

So how can you tell a hen from a rooster before they reach full maturity?  I’ll include John and Jin’s tip, the rest of them are my own observations.  The only two times we had a rooster in our flock we knew it before they crowed.  So here are some things to look for:

How to tell a hen from a rooster:

  • In Ameraucanas the male chicks will have a wider comb base than the females.

  • Roosters generally have longer feathers around their necks than hens do.  You may start to notice a difference between two and three months of age. 

  • They like to thrust their chests out.  It is exactly the same type of gesture as a man pounding his chest.  They look like they’re puffing themselves up to look more manly. 

  • They will charge at the females (using their chest thrust) to herd them.

  • They may appear to fluff up their neck feathers and in addition to this some will have a distinct way of twitching their heads as they walk about importantly.  That one’s easy to spot but difficult to describe. 

  • Pushy, bossy, important, preening, puffed up, strutting, herding… these are all things you will find yourself saying about a hen who is really a rooster.

Obviously the gold standard is the moment the dudes roll out the voice.  I happen to love the sound of roosters crowing but there’s no getting around the fact that most people don’t enjoy it, so I hope that all of you with new flocks this year have only hens!

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24 thoughts on “How to tell a hen from a rooster: before they reach full maturity.

  1. Bonnie Story

    Ha! I bickered with my husband this morning and had a giggle reading “Pushy, bossy, important, preening, puffed up, strutting, herding…” OY VEY. Well, we got it worked out, but lucky for him I don’t have soup pot quite his size :~)
    Great article and very, very useful info. Thanks!!

  2. Helen

    I’m always the first one to the feed store for chicks and always end up with a rooster when buying pullets. I think they are not as timid at 1 day old and more likely to be caught easily. . . and come home with me. The first sign that I usually notice that their ankles are thicker.

  3. Angelina

    Bonnie- You are SO funny! I think frying pans are more traditional for spouses.
    Ann- thank you- he really was gorgeous! Roosters really are pretty magnificent creatures.
    John- you have nailed it precisely! Though you and Jin have come up with a more scientific way to tell the Ameraucana boys from the girls, I think in most cases its all about the attitude. I never really thought of Mick as a rooster but now that you mention it, I’ve got a visual of him on stage doing his thing and it’s EXACTLY like watching a rooster!
    Helen- I wonder if that’s true? You might do an experiment next time and ask the farm store person to grab at only the more shy ones and see what happens. I’ve gotten a batch of chicks three times now and two out of three times I’ve gotten a rooster in the mix. That’s why we always get one more than we think we really want. By the way- you’ve been on my mind because I keep meaning to do the dress post for you on Frocked- I really haven’t forgotten but I have been working on the book at night and haven’t sat down with my fashion binders- I might get to it by winter.

  4. Karmyn R

    These are all signs I will be watching out for the next time I get chicks.
    I thought we had a rooster – but she turned out to be an extremely bossy female who likes to make a lot of noise all the time. (yes, she does lay eggs!)

  5. Tricia Lage

    Great post, indeed Nice blog actuallly. good timing for me actually as I was studying all this information when stumbling across you :-) I will register, keep up the useful work. Regards

  6. Brian

    I have been told that the old wives tale is you can tell by the way a chick holds their legs when you pick them up. I just can’t remember if a hen is legs up or down, when picked up.

  7. Suzanne Buck

    Just found your website; very timely. We just picked up our six new chicks from the farm store (2-3 days old). Of coarse hoping for all hens but we had a rooster in the last group. He was bigger, bossy, loud, fearless, and not very nice to the girls. We found him a good home.
    I am very interested to know about these little peeps. I know I’ll probably have to wait a few months but all your suggestions are so helpful, I’ll be watching their behavior very closely.
    Also was wondering when the rooster spurs appear? I’ve read that only the roosters have them.
    Thanks for the great website and all the good info.
    Sincerely, Suzanne Buck

  8. Angelina

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to reply! I’m glad this post was helpful to you. I’m not sure when spurs show up on roosters because we’ve always had to find homes for ours the minute they started crowing which most of them do when they’re still quite young. Yes- only roosters have them! I hope you have all hens this time- it’s always kind of sad having to get rid of roosters. I like them (some are mean but most aren’t in my personal experience) they’re very funny to watch and often they’re much prettier than the hens.

  9. Pamm Powers

    I have been raising Americauna’s for a little over 2 years now. At this time, I have 3 beautiful roosters, 2 layers, and 9 chicks that I just hatched (one month old), that I’m trying to hatch. I absolutely love this breed! My roosters started showing signs of spurs around 4 months old, just small bumps on their legs, at a little over a year old, the spurs are almost an inch legs. I love my hens, but my roosters are my pride and joy, they are so sweet. I have heard horror stories, but I believe if you spend time with them, handle them, talk to them and allow them to trust you, then you won’t have any problems. Mine are beautiful….I have a new computer, or I would post some pics. We do show them at our county fair, and they did very well last year…I was very proud!

  10. Pamm Powers

    Sorry, I’m not trying to “hatch” the chicks that I just hatched, I’m trying to “sex” them. Think I have them figured out, but not quite sure. I want to get them separated as soon as possible. Already have takers for the roosters because the others are so gorgeous!

  11. angelina Post author

    I love roosters- and I LOVE Americaunas. I’ve heard the horror stories too and though I don’t doubt that some roosters are mean old birds, I have been lucky to only know sweet ones. We did have a giant rooster named Eggbert when I was a kid that I definitely didn’t try to catch, but he never attacked people or the hens. Although I know I don’t want to have to take care of a big piece of property, the one plus is that you can keep roosters on a farm. I can’t ever keep the roosters where I live because they’re illegal. I love crowing. I know some people hate it but it’s such a happy sound to me. I’m glad you’re having such fun raising your birds! Thanks for sharing here.

  12. Phillip Blanton

    I know it’s an old thread, but I have fifteen eight-week-old chicks and two I think are roosters, which brought me here. Once I was here, I couldn’t resist posting this…

  13. Dusty

    Just for the record…..hens can also have spurs. While researching this very fact I ran across your wonderful article. Just wanted to throw it out there. Again some roosters won’t grow spurs and some hens will so not a definable technique to sex a bird.

  14. Amy

    Actually, I have a hen who has spurs, so no, Roosters are not the only ones with spurs!! Also, many hens have bumps that just never turn into spurs. Just a little FYI so no one accidentally throws their hen in a pot because of bumps on their legs!!!

  15. Marqueta Wehunt

    I have Ameracauna’s . As well as several other breeds . My chickens are all hands on from the moment I get them or hatch them so they are very trusting . None the less , almost all my roosters have turned mean . Especially the Ameraucana’s ! (With the exception of Henry, a late bloomer I thought was a oversized hen as I had not had chickens before. ) The Red Stars are 2nd in line . The Silver Laced Wyandotte has only attacked me once. I’ve been told by people who have a lot of experience with chickens that it is not uncommon for a hen to crow in the absence of roosters . And yes they have been known to show other rooster caracteristics as well , including mounting other hens .

  16. angelina Post author

    People looking for information will appreciate all of your collected experiences. I think I was pretty clear that it’s never easy to sex a chicken but perhaps I need to edit to make that more clear. These are just general guidelines that I thought would be useful. Chickens, like humans, actually come in a full spectrum of behaviors and physicality that cross gender lines. Also, when you’re not dealing with purebred show chickens (I never have) then a chicken may not be typical to the standard set for the breed. So yeah, lots of variation all around. However, as I mentioned in this article, both times I had a rooster I knew it before the feed store did. I wasn’t wrong.

    As to mean roosters – there can be mean roosters and hens no matter how they’re handled, this is completely true. But I’ve known a lot of laid back roosters. Sometimes it’s more about their environment than their personality. The friends I mentioned in this post (John and Jin) discovered that their roosters never fought each other when they were fed in the morning separately from the hens. In their flock if their roosters had their own needs met first, they would then work together to protect the hens – and John and Jin’s flock free-ranged in the woods so they needed protection. So I think the culture of a flock and the environment they’re living in can also have an effect on their behaviors. Which is true of humans too, so why not chickens?

    Thank you all for commenting!

  17. Lisa Beck

    Was looking up hen spurs because I was reading about early sexing and they brought up sour bumps & 8 years into chickens I was pretty sure they were on both sexes.

    I gentle my roos, and so far have never had a long-term problem. When they start their pecking (usually a few months old), I pick them up, hold them snugly, and stroke their combs and wattles and tell them how good they are. It intimidates them without hurting them. A few boys had drawn blood once or twice -all grew up to be respectful.

    I hope that helps.

    Had a chick hatch when no one was on the nest, found it and another stiff (other did not receive). She(?) bonded with me now and we are praying she is not a boy because of noise worries. Roos do not just crow in the morning! LOL

  18. Kathryn Medrea

    We had two Easter Egger rooster chicks in a group I purchased years ago. Because any animal that finds its way here has a home forever if they so choose, we kept both of them. Sergeant Pepper and Admiral Halsey, as my husband named them, both free-ranged with their flock. Sarge got the girls and Halsey was the back-up. I don’t know whether the girls preferred Sarge because of his better plumage or if his plumage was better because he got the girls. Both roosters did some breeding. What I always found humorous was that even though I reared them all from a day old, Halsey often tried to attack me. When he did, all I had to do was holler, ‘Help, Chickie!” and Sarge would stop whatever he was doing – including eating or even breeding, and run right over to us to kick the snot out of his brother! It never failed to make me laugh. Before he died, Halsey and I declared a truce. Sarge is getting older and still does a fine job of guarding his hens. He hasn’t had to rescue me from anyone in years, but he does pause awhile nearby if I’m on his regular route around the farm.

  19. angelina Post author

    What a lovely story! I love roosters but I haven’t lived in a place where they’re legal since I was a kid. But when I was a kid we had two roosters and I loved them both even though Eggbert was a very large and grumpy rooster. George was a Cochen bantam and the sweetest rooster I’ve ever met. I used to carry him around with me all over our garden. Thanks for sharing your story!

  20. angelina Post author

    I love roosters and have never had a problem with mean ones, even our giant grumpy rooster we had when I was a kid wasn’t truly mean. Lots of handling gentles most chickens in my experience. I’d keep roosters if I was allowed to where I live. This post is very very old and I had to find a home for the flock I had at that time because we moved back to California. It turns out chickens (but not roosters) are legal now where I’m living and we’ll probably get a new flock in the next year or two.

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