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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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!!

Too bad for Bungie, and for you. He is a beautiful boy.

Strutting, Protective, Alert, and Attentive, think Mick Jagger (early years)

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.

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.

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!)

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

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.

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

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