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!