Mick Telkamp

Mick Telkamp

At six weeks old my chicks’ downy fuzz has been replaced by grown-up feathers. The adorable peeping has given way to a far less charming “bwaaaaak.” They have graduated from “starter feed” (which has a higher protein content) to “grower” feed. In a few short weeks they will be ready to join the rest of the backyard flock and will be laying eggs of their own sometime this fall. Well, not all of them.

Into each hatch, some roosters must fall.

My small flock provides about half a dozen eggs a day. Heaven knows I don’t actually need more eggs. Still, for the backyard coop, keeping roosters isn’t really an option. One rooster in a residential coop is one too many.  Even your most accommodating neighbors will change their tune quickly once a rooster starts that full-throated crow at six a.m. So how can we tell a hen from a rooster?


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If the egg has a pointed tip, it’s a rooster. Hold them upside down by their feet and the rooster will spring back up quickly. A threaded needle held over the bird’s head will swing back and forth over a rooster and in a circular motion over a hen. There. That wasn’t so hard. Have a great day!

Still here? Alright, so those old wives’ tales don’t actually work. Those are just a few of the rooster divining suggestions I’ve heard over the years. It would be handy if any of these could do the job (that pointy egg one would be particularly convenient for the home hatcher). Any other ideas?

The professionals use a method called “sexing,” in which the anal vent of a day-old chick may be carefully inspected for signs of gender. The window of time to complete this is narrow and, even then, accuracy generally tops out at about ninety percent. This takes a lot of practice. For the home hatcher, the opportunity to log the hours necessary to determine gender in this way, just isn’t there. And to be frank, there are some skills I don’t feel compelled to master.

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If you aren’t an old wife or a “sexing” professional, there are a few methods for early detection. In breeds known as sex-link chickens, male and female chicks have markedly different coloring at hatch. Other breeds “feather out” differently, where roosters develop adult feathers more rapidly than hens. Wattle or comb shape or body type can also provide hints. Attentive breeders may use these methods to get ahead of the game.

Cockerels (juvenile roosters) may also reveal themselves through personality after the first few weeks. Often, the bossiest and most aggressive of the brood are the males. Once again, this rule of thumb is no guarantee.

This brings us to my six-week-olds. At six to eight weeks, the cockerels are going to start crowing. Well, trying to crow. Of my three chicks, one has begun its attempts to greet the day with a feeble shout out. Hello, rooster. A second is showing some other signs of roosterhood, but has yet to speak up. We’ll see.

So is there a conclusive method for differentiating the rooster from the hen? Sure. The one that lays an egg is a hen.

7 Comments About this Article

  • paula marshall
    this really made me laugh thank you

    Posted 5 months ago

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  • Elesis
    I have 2 chicks and one chirps really loud but the other one is quieter and they both fight for food. The thing is, the quieter one has a slightly larger comb than the loud one. All combs are still yellow. Which do you think is pullet?

    Posted 4 months ago

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  • Tomcoll67
    I have a chicken who antagonizes my cat by pressing against the mesh wire and jumps back when the cat tries to touch her/him. The same chicken seems to stand guard and will actually jump and kick my hand when I reach in. I seriously think it is a rooster. Any thoughts?

    Posted 3 months ago

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  • Mick Telkamp
    Hi, Tomcoll67. If it's an adult, other indicators will make it pretty clear. In a coop without a rooster, it isn't uncommon for a hen to take over some of the rooster duties, becoming aggressive to protect the flock. Some will try to crow (which sounds pretty pathetic) and have even been known to grow spurs. And, of course, sometimes chickens are just jerks.

    Posted 3 months ago

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  • Rebecca Holton Vice
    I have a chicken that my son got me for Easter along with a duck. I did some research and we decided to get 3 more ducks for fresh eggs. The chicken has always been very protective over the original duck, which is a Mallard. The other 3 ducks are Cayuga's and are 3 times the Mallard duck. The chicken is also 3 times the Mallard. They are about 4 months old now. The chicken is very docile and likes for me to carry it around but, over the weekend, the chicken was trying to mate with the Mallard and has crowed a few times since. I thought my chicken was a hen but now I do not know. PLEASE HELP!!!

    Posted 3 months ago

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  • Mick Telkamp
    Hi Rebecca. I don’t know if the chicken was sexed when purchased, but even then the occasional roo is overlooked. If the crowing is full-throated, you probably have a rooster in the coop (some hens may try to crow in the absence of a rooster, but it won’t ever be as loud or clear). Given the attempt to mount a hen, it sure sounds like she is a he. If you don’t feel certain, within a month or two there will be no doubt. If he continues to disrupt your ducks or is too noisy, you’ll have to decide if keeping a rooster is an option for you. Good luck!

    Posted 3 months ago

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  • Rebecca Holton Vice
    I wouldn't call it full-throated at this point and a short one at that. If you think it is even a slight chance, unfortunately I will have to find him a new home. I live in a suburb and a crowing rooster in the backyard is not an option. Thank you for helping.

    Posted 3 months ago

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