white rooster with deep red comb

How To Tell You Have A Rooster

 

rooster identificationYou’re in the feed store looking down at a pen of fluffy chicks. You egg-citedly picture your family taking them home, nurturing them, building a coop for them, and in return they will provide you with years of eggs and entertainment. Visions of omelettes and fried eggs flash before your eyes as you enthusiastically fork over the cash for your chicks.  

4 months later, your daughter is being chased around the property by a dozen angry, territorial, free-loading roosters with predatorial sharp claws. Where did you go wrong?

Every chicken owner has a vision for their flock, and each vision has an ideal number of hens and roosters. It would be great to be able to predict sex BEFORE you bought those chicks, right?

Well, looking at chickens’ external characteristics, behaviors, and internal characteristics can give us some insight and help us answer the question “how do I tell if I have a rooster?”

mother hen with baby chicks

External Characteristics

In a word, roosters are more striking than their female counterparts. Their beauty developed as a tactic to attract mates, the rooster’s number one life priority. If your rooster is sexually mature, his external rooster characteristics will be quite obvious.

Size, Plumage and Color

In most breeds, adult males are larger than females. They have more elaborate and colorful plumage that is especially obvious in their dramatic tails. Most roosters also have bigger, brighter combs (the fleshy crown along the top of chickens’ heads.)

Even as chicks, roosters can be distinguished from the hens. When male chicks hatch, they tend to have just fluff, while the hens already have some feather development.

rooster with ornate plumage

Talons

Many roosters also develop lethal, long talons on the back of their legs used to ward off other roosters that may want to mate with his flock. These talons also come in handy when trying to defend the flock from predators.

Feather Sexing

Another way to sex young birds  is by “feather sexing.” In this method you can look closely at the feather growth pattern on the wings of chicks.

To feather sex, set the chick in your left hand. With your right hand, gently take the left wing and spread the wingspan.

Look at the feather development on the outer edge of the wing.  Roosters will have an even feather growth pattern while the hens will have feathers of different lengths. Check out the picture below for an example:

difference between hen and rooster
Credit: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky

Difference In Behavior

Unfortunately, new chicks do not show significant behavior differences between hens and roosters, but adult roosters can easily be identified by their behavior alone.

There’s a reason we called pompous people “cocky.” Roosters tend to be “showoffish” and controlling, and strut in a very upright posture. They crow to let their flock know where they are. When mating, they will always be on top, and they tend to be the most aggressive birds in the flock.

You may be thinking “what selfish jerks!” But the life of a rooster isn’t just about being a self-indulgent sex maniac. Roosters also serve a very important role in a flock that ultimately helps the hens survive.

Since roosters have developed to be larger and more lethal, they have a job to do. They protect the flock (their potential mates,) from harm. They can often be seen strutting along fence lines, and no, they aren’t just showing off–they’re also scanning the horizon for predators.

rooster and hens

If a rooster detects a threat, he will give a warning squawk that alerts his flock to take cover. Many roosters will actually herd their flock to safety by pushing them under a tree or into the coop. If really pressed, a rooster will try to defend its flock. Some roosters perceive humans as a threat and will go after owners. This is why roosters get such a bad rap for being “aggressive,” when in reality they are doing what they were born to do: protecting the hens from harm.  

If you’re unsure that you have a rooster, sit down and observe the chicken’s behaviors. If it exhibits several of the behaviors above, it is very likely you are dealing with a rooster.

Internal Characteristics

Venting

The next chicken sexing technique is the most accurate way to tell if you have a rooster, but it’s not for the faint of heart and requires significant practice. It is called venting. When done correctly by professionals, venting is a 98% accurate way to sex chickens, but for the amatuer it only has 60.5% accuracy. Practice is key. If you are new to venting, it is recommended you try this with another sexing technique to increase your accuracy.

Venting is the process of opening up the rectum or “vent” and looking at the cloacal folds. You are searching for a bump on the cloacal folds. This bump indicates male sex organs and lets you know that you have a rooster.  If there is no bubble, it is a hen.

How To Vent A Chicken

To start, put on medical grade latex gloves if you are squeemish (poop is in your future.) To vent sex a chicken, flip it upside down so that the vent (rectum) is facing you and you have a clear view.

With chicks, gently place their heads between your pinky and ring finger and cradle their bodies in your hand. Gently press below the vent to remove any poop from the vent area, then carefully open up the vent with your fingers.

Examine the cloacal folds inside. If you see a bump or a bubble, it is a rooster. If there is no bump/ bubble, it is a hen. Check out this video for a quality example of how to vent chicks.

Fragile, Handle With Care!

Chickens and chicks are very delicate. If you decide to try feathering or venting for yourself, you MUST remember to be very gentle. There is no need to be rough with the chicks or chickens at any part of this process. Doing so could hurt the chicken and cause permanent damage.

two baby chicks

If you’re having trouble sexing your chicks/ chickens with one method, try a different one. It isn’t worth accidentally hurting an animal just to say you sexed it a certain way.

Egg-eptions

Now you have several different strategies for sexing your chickens and identifying roosters, no matter what the age of the bird, but remember, there are always exceptions to every sexing rule.

Even professional chicken sexers (yes, this is a job,) cannot predict chickens’ sex with 100% accuracy. You may have a hen that exhibits rooster behaviors, or you could get a rooster with underdeveloped internal sex organs that you misidentify as a hen.

While each of these sexing techniques improves your ability to tell if you have a rooster, no one method is fail-proof. The  best predictions are made when several methods are used together to determine bird sex.

Have you tried sexing chicks on your own? How’d you do? Did you have any success? Let’s chat in the comments!

More From The Loft!

  1. How Old Does A Chicken Have To Be To Lay Eggs?
  2. How Often Do Chickens Molt? (Ultimate Guide To Chicken Molting)
  3. Can Hens Lay Eggs Without A Rooster?
  4. Do Chickens Really Sneeze?
  5. Can Chickens Eat Strawberries?

Methods for identifying roosters

 

 

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