Whether you’re a farmer or a backyard-breeder, it’s valuable to be capable of sexing chicken hatchlings. There are three basic methods to sex a chick– feather sexing, finger sexing and vent sexing. And, yes, they all sound much more scandalous than they actually are. Each of these methods help chick-sexers determine whether the hatchling in question is male or female.
You’ll likely need special hands-on training to be able to reliably sex a chick, but these guidelines can help you get started. Unless you want to hire or become a pro chick-sexer, your best best is to wait until the bird reaches puberty, at 4 to 6 weeks of age, to make a firm decision about its gender.
If you’re lucky, you’re dealing with a sex-linked chicken breed. These hybrids are specially bred to display sex-specific traits long before sexual maturity. In general, females of sex-linked breeds have longer pinfeathers in their wings than males have. Others have colors specific to gender. Unfortunately, feather sexing only works with specifically bred chicken breeds. The majority of backyard chicken varieties do not have these traits bred into them, and male and female chicks look ultimately identical to the untrained eye.
It sounds dirty, but this is one of the quickest, easiest and cleanest ways to sex a chick. To finger sex a chick, locate the hatchling’s pubic bone. In a male hatchling, it is relatively narrow, whereas females chicks have a wider pubis. If the pubic bone is narrower than your index finger, you probably have a male. If it is wider than your index finger, the chick is most likely a female. This method is not foolproof, but it is fairly reliable.
Here’s where it gets nasty. This is the most reliable but gross method involved in chick-sexing, and it’s not for the faint-hearted. To vent-sex a chick, an expert chick-sexer has to squeeze all feces out of a chick, then examine the inside of its cloaca. If there’s a large bump there, the chick is male. If there is no bump, or only a very small bump, the chick is female. Expert chick-sexers can do this safely, but do not attempt is unless you’ve had special training. If you make a mistake while squeezing poop out of the chick, you can seriously injure or kill the hatchling.
Fortunately, for an average breeder, the sex of a chick is relatively unimportant until it reaches maturity. You can wait to cull or separate roosters until they are old enough to begin displaying noticable gender-specific traits.
This “Raising Chickens” blog offers excellent information about sexing chicks, including a few outdated wives’ tales about chicken-sexing.