Now the hard part of raising bantam chicks begins: waiting to see which chicks are pullets and which are cockerels. With bantam cochins, as well as other bantam chickens, they usually can’t be easily sexed for gender at hatch. Vent sexing them can seriously injure or worse lead to the death of the tiny bantams, therefore, most hatcheries and breeders won’t do it. Since I love Cochin bantams, Pekins as they are called in the U.K., I normally have to wait a few weeks to see how many girls or boys I got. Based on numerous past clutches of bantam cochin chicks that we have raised over the years, I have slowly been getting better at making educated gender guesses fairly early in their development. The best age to determine gender in my opinion, any earlier than six weeks, is between five days old to 14 days old. In that age range, with most of the color varieties, it is possible to be accurate in about 80% to 90% of the chicks.
K across the street often asks me to come over and determine gender in her chicks for her too, mainly so she doesn’t get too attached to the boys. My guesses are based on a combination of temperament, size, head shape, wing growth, tail feather growth, and sometimes slight color or marking variations in the different varieties. Between one day to 4 days old, and then again between two weeks to five weeks, it is much harder to tell, mainly because during that period both sexes look pretty much the same. Around 5 or 6 weeks old, the young roosters start to turn pink or red in the comb, if they haven’t already. Their comb also changes shape a little, getting a tiny curve or bow to it, and growing slightly. At the same age, the pullets’ combs remain straight and under developed. By the time the chicks reach 6 to 8 weeks old, it is pretty clear again what their gender truly is.
If I was asked to guess today on the batch of chicks we have right now, which are 10 days old as I compose this, I would say these are what we have:
- lavender cochin bantam cockerel
- white frizzle cochin bantam pullet
- white frizzle cochin bantam cockerel
- smooth feather white cochin cockerel
- smooth feather white cochin pullet
- buff brahma pullet* (this one ended up being a cockerel)
- dark brahma pullet*
- birchen cockerel* (this one ended up being a pullet)
- birchen pullet*
*Note: I have no prior experience determining gender in Buff or Dark Brahmas and I have only had one male Birchen chick to date. Those chicks are complete guesses for me at this point, but I am using the sexing same criteria to see if it applies to those chicks as well.
Updated on September, 2013: out of the group of chicks I mentioned above, I was correct on the gender of 7 of 9 the chicks. Both Birchens turned out to be pullets and the Buff Brahma was a cockerel.
So what exactly am I looking in determining if a chick is a pullet or a cockerel? In general, it is a combination of traits. Please note, I do not compare different colors of cochins to one another. Pullets grow feathers in the primary and secondary wings faster that the males. The females wings often reach the end of their body by the end of the second week. See my drawing above for what I am talking about. Pullets get tail feathers a few days to a week before the males do. Pullets are often calmer, quieter, and sometimes a little shy. If a pullet is flipped onto its back in the palm of my hand, it will only squirm a tiny bit for a second and then relax. Pullets are sometimes slightly smaller and usually have more markings like stripes, warpaint, freckles, blemishes, and eyeliner. Pullets have busier and more clearly defined chipmunk patterns in the laced, penciled, and partridge patterns.
Cockerels generally feather in slower than pullets. Boys are usually the friendlier or more curious chicks. If flipped on its back, a male will usually squirm and not want to relax.* In my daughter’s science project, every chick that squirmed was a male. However, a few males will also be calm during the flip procedure. Basically, if you are trying to pick female chick at the feed store and it squirms in your hand, it is probably a male. Pick a different one and your odds are more likely to be 75% or better to get a girl. *This squirm test does not work as well on 1 to 3 day old chicks. I have tried it on the first day or two shortly after they arrive, but I think the chicks are still stressed and tired at that point, and almost all of them will test out as pullets. When I repeat the flip test on them a few days later, maybe day 4 or 5, it is more accurate. Cockerels’ wings initially grow in an “L” shape, where just a few primaries stick out, and then little to no secondary feathers growing. When the secondary feathers do start to slowly grow, the wing shape is more curved like a “C” while the female has a more triangular shape. Cockerel coloring and patterns are plainer, any lines are a bit fuzzier, or where the female will have three color lines, a male will have just two colors. Some male chicks’ combs will start to change from yellow to a dark pink color as early as 12 days. I also look at color of the lines where their wattle will later grow. If it is dark pink, any earlier than 4 weeks, those chicks are almost always males.
There are exceptions to these things I look for. I have noticed, in a few of the varieties of cochins, both genders feather in at the same fast rate or both feather in really slow. Silver Pencilled Cochin and Self Blue/ Lavendar Cochin are really slow to feather in, in both males and females and the pullets could easily fool the novice cochin chicken keeper. On the other hand, Silver Laced Cochins, Partridge Cochins, and Gold Laced Cochins feather in fast in both genders, and they all look like pullets until about 6 weeks old. At the six to eight week old point, the males will start to color up on their wattles and combs and/or the combs start to grow. In addition, the more colorful feathers, like the iridescent greens or burgundy will start to grow out at that age in the males. Regardless of what my initial guesses are, I don’t count on the fact I have pullets or cockerels any earlier than 6 weeks of any variety, well, unless it crows of course.