Old Wives Tales of Chick Sexing

Old Wives Tales of Chick Sexing

This year my daughter, B, wanted to come up with a chicken science project.  Why?  Because it was a great excuse to get a whole bunch of baby chicks.  She really didn’t have to twist my arm too hard.  I love having chicks around, and we had a broody hen, so I agreed to let her do it.  She came up with the idea to test out a bunch of the old wives tales on sexing the chicks at day old.  There are a lot of myths about sexing baby chicks. When we have had straight run Cochins chicks in the past, she has heard some of my pessimistic guesses based on their temperament and initial feather growth.

how to do pick female chickens pullet cockerel
Baby chicks are hard to tell the gender on but boy are they all cute. This was one of our first chicks we raised. It was a large fowl Easter Egger and it was a pullet, but it was sorted ahead of time at the hatchery.

Since the chicks she is studying are Bantams, we would not know the gender until they are older, and therefore there was no way of skewing our data.   I wouldn’t let her test anything that could injure the chick, but told her she could list any or all myths she discovered in the research part of the report.  After a little searching and inquiry, below is a partial list of some of sexing baby chick myths we sorted through.  An article at Backyard Poultry covered many of the myths and proven techniques for sexing.

  1. Pick up a chick by the head and they pull up their legs if they’re cockerels, if they throw their legs straight down they’re pullets.
  2. Needle and Thread – dangle the needle over your chick … if it moves around and around it is a female, if it swings back and forth it is male – this is supposed to work for both chicks and eggs.  It is supposed to be based on Magnetic theory.
  3. Waving your hat over the brooder; those that squat down are pullets, those standing alert are cockerels.
  4. Pick up the chick by the back skin of the neck, if it lifts its legs it’s a pullet, if the legs just hang there it’s a cockerel.
  5. Lay the chick on its back in the palm of your hand, if it stops kicking after a second or two, it’s a pullet, if it continues to kick or tries to flip back over, it’s a cockerel.
  6. Head sexing: Looking at the chick “head on” the head that appears boxy and square is a cockerel and the head shape that is more round or oval is a pullet.
  7. Noise Sexing: While observing the chick, clap your hands loudly above their head, a cockerel will stretch and extend his head and chirp and a pullet will crouch down or try to hide.
  8. Leg Sexing: A cockerel’s legs and toes tend to be bigger and thicker than the pullet.
  9. put a credit card in the brooder, the pullets will run directly to it. 😉
  10. In feather footed breeds, cockerel chicks have heavier foot feathering than pullets
  11. Pullets have tiny tips of primary wing feathers, and as they grow, pullets feathers grow faster than cockerels.

A couple of them, #1 and #4, seemed very cruel and we would never have considered trying.  The needle one, #2, sounded interesting, however, when we tried to get a couple of different chicks to hold still for it was practically impossible.

day old buff brahma bantam baby pullet
This is a Baby Buff Brahma Bantam pullet chick. At the time of the photo, we were not sure, but we guessed correctly using one of the old wives tales, wing feathering, and judging by the color of down. Bantam Buff Brahma chicks seem to be one of the easier bantams to determine gender at hatch by down color on chest and wings.

My daughter, B, picked out the chicks she could tell apart the easiest when the shipment arrived.  It was difficult, because out of 25 chicks, about 12 of the chicks were some shade of black and 7 were whitish.  She is making a note of each chick, testing each of the four myths she chose, and is now helping to raise them to 8+ weeks old.  Three of the chicks in the project are being cared for by a different hen across the street.  I will report back at the end of the project, especially if any of the sexing baby chick myths turn out to be more accurate than others.  Out of the above list, she decided to test and record these four things:

  1. primary wing feather length (longer=pullet, shorter= cockerel) She is recording the number of mm from the fuzz to the tip of the first feather.
  2. laying the chick in the palm of her hand (rest=Pullet, squirm=cockerel)
  3. holding up a chick by the torso and watching what it does with its legs (legs up=cockerel, legs hang =pullet)
  4. foot feathering (lighter = pullet vs. heavier = cockerel)  She is recording if the chick has feathers on 1,2,3+ toes.  The more toes w/feathers, the heavier.

*Based on her first couple of weeks of data, out of the chicks she is following, she guesses there to be 6 pullets and 4 cockerels in the study.  (But, when I looked at the same data, I guess there are 4 pullets and 6 cockerels.)  We do have a few other chicks, but she can’t tell them apart well enough to use in the study without leg bands or painted heads.  I will update this post in another month or so when we know the gender.

Here is a link to the follow up post on her project.

This post has a detailed drawing of features to look for in sexing bantam baby chick pullets from cockerels.

4 thoughts on “Old Wives Tales of Chick Sexing

  1. We ended up with 7 roos and 3 pullets in the study. Wing feather growth was not accurate in any the varieties. It wasn’t accurate on the Blue/Blk/Splash chicks or the Silver Laced. Those males and females feathered in similarly. The only thing that seemed a bit consistent, was the squirming when laid on the back. All chicks that squirmed, turned out to be cockerels. But chicks that didn’t squirm weren’t necessarily pullets, there were a few cockerels that didn’t squirm or tried to flip back over.

    I wish one of these old wives tales methods really was a dependable way to sort the genders at 2 days old to a week old, but unfortunately, none seem to work well enough to count on. Basically, waiting for the bantam chicks to develop is the only way to sort 100% accurately for gender.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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