When you purchase your chickens from Dare 2 Dream Farms, you can rest assured that we provide a Healthy Hen Guarantee policy with every purchase of standard chicken breeds. However, since sexing chickens is only about 95% accurate, it's natural to wonder if you might have a young rooster, or cockerel, in the coop.
Most baby chicks are sexed at hatch by professionals using a method called vent sexing, which is quite invasive and difficult to do without proper training. A handful of breeds are auto-sexing, meaning that the male and female chicks are hatched with easily identifiable colors or markings, such as a white dot on the top of their head. Homesteaders and small-scale chicken breeders may also use feather sexing, which scrutinizes the number of pin feathers on the tip of the chicks' wings within the first day of hatching.
Other methods for sexing baby chicks beyond these are not supported by scientific research. The good news, however, is that there are quite a few ways of identifying a male, hopefully well before its first crow sows discord in the neighborhood. Read on to learn how!
1. Combs & Wattles
The comb is the fleshy crest on the top of the chicken's head, while the wattles are the fleshy lobes that hang from the lower jaw behind the beak. The comb and wattles are generally much more pronounced in cockerels and roosters than in their female counterparts. Because males typically begin to mature earlier than females, their combs and wattles do, also. Male chicks start to grow larger and redder combs and wattles as early as four weeks old, whereas the comb and wattles of a female turn red and grow larger just before she lays, or around six months old. It's worth noting that the many types of combs (single, pea, rose, buttercup, walnut, etc.) all look very different. Some combs are slim and tall, while others are squat or broad, so the size and shape of the comb (unless the chickens are all the same breed) may not be a reliable factor. Smaller combs are also usually accompanied by smaller, less noticeable wattles. Any bird younger than about four months, then, can be identified as a rooster if its combs and wattles have changed from a fleshy pink color to a deeper red compared to the other chicks in the flock.
2. Rooster Feathering
As with most birds, male chickens have special feathering to help them attract mates. Hackle feathers grow around the neck, and saddle feathers on the lower back just above the tail. In females, the hackle and saddle feathers will blend in with the feather pattern or color of the main body, and they are short and rounded. In males, they are longer, pointed, shiny, and sometimes noticeably more colorful than the feathers of the main body or chest. Sickle feathers are quite easily noticed as they give a rooster its well-known tail shape. The main sickle feathers are the longest, highest in the tail, and often iridescent. The lesser sickle feathers are the smaller flowing feathers on the side of the main tail. Sickle and hackle feathers are late to develop, around 16-24 weeks, possibly after the first crow. Saddle feathers grow by around 8-12 weeks, making them a much more reliable way to identify a rooster early on. It's important to note here that some breeds have roosters that are "hen-feathered," meaning the feathering is the same on the males as on the females, such as with Sebrights or Campines.
Spurs are bony protrusions that grow from the back of a chicken's legs, just above the feet. They are a natural feature of adult male chickens, although some breeds may have more pronounced spurs than others. Roosters use them as a defensive weapon to protect their territory and mates. They are typically larger and more pronounced in older roosters, and they can grow up to several inches long in some breeds. Unfortunately, spurs are an unpredictable and unreliable factor for sexing chickens for two reasons: first, spurs can develop as early as three months and as late as eight months old, and second, hens also develop spurs, though usually much smaller and less pronounced.
4. Size and Behavior
Cockerels grow much more quickly than pullets and take a more dominant role in the pecking order. Although their larger size and striking behavior are sometimes seen as early as 2-3 weeks of age, without other identifying factors, it is too early to determine the sex of the chicks with any certainty. The breed of a chicken can also play a major role in the size, growth rate, and temperament of a young chicken, so it is unwise to remove questionable chickens based on these factors alone. Rather, quick growth and strong personality are best used to indicate which chickens to watch more closely during development.
If you haven't identified your rooster, this should help! Cockerels can begin to crow as early as two months old, and as late as five months. Males that crow early, usually also develop other early signs such as a bright red comb, significantly larger size, and dominant behavior. Males that don't develop as quickly concerning the above features will likely also crow much later. A cockerel's first crows are often quite weak and comical. With practice, however, the crow will get louder, more frequent, and more forceful.
While many roosters are beautiful, careful with their flock, and safe with your family, others may not be a good fit. Some can become overly protective of the flock, bordering on aggression, and others may mate too frequently with their hens, causing stress and injury. If you have a cockerel or rooster that has become a flock favorite with its abundant and genial personality, you're not alone! When deciding whether to keep him, check your local ordinances to see if he's allowed. Some municipalities disallow roosters altogether, while others may allow one under strict circumstances. Rehoming roosters can be a daunting process, but there are some tricks to finding a great forever home. If you purchased your chickens from us, simply fill out our Identification Form with pictures and order information to start the process of our Healthy Hen Guarantee.