Sexy Fowl Languauge - Sexing Chicks
Hi! Can you hold my cock and pullet? Wait, what? If you’re new to poultry you may be hearing some fowl language thrown around that makes no sense what so ever. Today we are going to talk about the different ways we can sex poultry and fowl. But first let’s take a look at some of the most basic terms when it comes to sexing poultry and fowl to help you understand sexing techniques later on.
- Cock – adult male chicken or breeding age or older than a year old.
- Cockerel – male chick under a year of age. Any bird from a day old to 11 months old is referred to as a cockerel.
- Rooster/Roo – informal/slang word used for a male chicken. Do not use in an exhibition or professional setting.
- Hen – female adult fowl who is laying.
- Pullet – female chick who is not laying. Any female bird from a day old to several months old is referred to as a pullet.
- Vent – the opening under the tail where excrement is expelled and eggs are laid.
- Drake – adult male duck.
- Gander – adult male goose.
- Poult- baby turkey
- Tom – adult male turkey
- Straight Run – non-sexed baby chicks, ducks, geese, turkey, etc.
Game fowl have different terms for their cocks and cockerels
- Stag – young male between 5-11 months.
- Bull Stag – males over 11 months but under 2 years old.
Chickens have been domesticated for nearly 8,000 years, but it is still difficult to tell the sexes apart in newly hatched offspring. Over the years there have been a few methods developed to help sex chicks and some old wives tales from along the way. We are going to address all of these here.
Vent Sexing is a very complex process developed in the 1930’s by the Japanese and should only be performed by a professionally trained individual. This process puts a lot of strain on the frail hatchlings and can cause prolapse and death if done incorrectly. Vent sexing is done by squirting the intestines of a newly hatched chick so that they empty out completely of all fecal matter and force the inside of the vent to push outwards. Afterwards the sexer will gently lift the left side of the vent and pull up on the right side of the inner vent to expose the cloaca. The cloaca is where the sex organs are housed. When pressure is gently applied there will be a tiny protuberance that pops out. If the sexer visibly sees this shiny, little bulb shape then the chick is marked as a cockerel.
However, vent sexing is not 100% full proof; approximately 1 out of every 5 sexed cockerels will not have a regular shaped protuberance. Some may be small, flat, have uneven depressions, or be pointing downwards. This is why sometimes you have that little cockerel pop up in your sexed pullets. It happens to everyone, unfortunately. Some breeds are harder to sex than others, like the Ameraucana and the Easter Egger. They are only about 80% accurate when it comes to vent sexing. Also, on some occasions even the day old pullets can have sexual organs the mimic that of the cockerels. This occurs when the protuberance does not shrink like it should during that second week of incubation. Vent sexing should not be done on any bantam breeds as they are more at risk for prolapse because of their tiny little size. It is very difficult to properly hold and squeeze the bantams.
Auto Sexing refers to breeds where pullets hatch out with different colors and markings than the cockerels. This is similar to sex-linked breeding except auto sexing traits will be handed down to future off spring of each breed. Auto sexing was developed in Cambridge by Dr. Reginald Punnett. Auto sexing are sex linked purebreds, some of which are recognized by The American Poultry Association. Here is a list of Auto Sexing breeds.
- 55 Flowery Hens
- Ancobar (extinct)
- Brockbar (extinct)
- Cambar (extinct)
- Isbar (still iffy and a work in progress)
- Legbar, Cream (most common)
- Legbar, golden crele
- Norske Jaerhon
Geese breeds that are Auto Sexing
- West of England
Sex Linked breeding in chickens only work in the first generation off spring, meaning sex linked breeds bred together won’t produce the same physical traits as their parents. Sex links are hybrids and are created by crossing two different breeds where the sex of the offspring will harbor different characteristics based upon the chick being a cockerel or pullet. It is best to use heritage lines when breeding for sex links so the genetic background can be known and is guaranteed to be pure. Sex links are breeds not recognized by the American Poultry Association as there is no standard to hybrid breeds. The following is a list of all the American bred sex links:
- Black Sex links (Black Stars) – Rhode Island Red cock x Barred Rock hen. Pullets are solid black; cockerels are black with a white dot on head.
- Golden Comets – New Hampshire Red cock x White Rock hen. Pullets are red; cockerels are white
- ISA Brown (Red Sex Links) - Rhode Island Red cock x Rhode Island White hen. Pullets are red, cockerels are white.
- Cinnamon Queen – Rhode Island Red x Silver Laced Wyandotte hen. Pullets are red; cockerels are black.
- Production Blue (Blue Rocks, Blue Plymouth Rocks, Sapphire Gems) – Blue Plymouth Rock cock X Barred Rock hen. Pullets are solid blue; cockerels are blue with white dot on their heads. Or Rhode Island Red cock X Blue Australorp hen. Pullets are solid blue; cockerels are blue with red head.
- Mystic Marans/Midnight Majestic Marans – Black Copper Marans cock x Dominant Barred Hybrid (Barred Rock cock x Rhode Island Red hen). Pullets are black; cockerels are black with white dot on head.
- Amber Links – Rhode Island White cock x Rhode Island Red hen. Pullets are white; Cockerels are white with cream and red.
- California Grey – White Leghorn cock x Barred Rock hen. Pullets are solid black; cockerels are white.
- California White – California Grey cock x White Leghorn hen. Pullets are white with black spots; cockerels are white with black spots but have more on their heads.
- Austrawhite – Australorp cock x White Leghorn hen. Pullets are white with black spots; cockerels are white with black spots but more on head.
- Asian Blacks –Light Sussex cock x Barred Rock hen. Pullets are solid black; cockerels are black with a white spot on head.
- Calico Princess – Barred Rhode Island Red cock x Light Sussex. Pullets are red; cockerels are white.
- Project Silkie colors in chocolate, mauve, cuckoo
-Rhode Island Reds
There is a new method, Called In-ovo Sexing, that is being developed at the University Of Leipzig in Germany. This method was created with the intent to decrease the amount of cockerel being culled in the poultry industry and is by far the most humane and ethical way to deal with unwanted cockerels. In-ovo sexing uses near-infrared Ramen spectroscopy to test the developed embryo of an egg that’s 72 hours old. After 3 days of incubation each embryo develops tiny blood vessels, these tiny blood vessels are used help to determine the sex of the developing embryo. First a tiny hole is made in each egg by a laser, and then the Ramen spectroscopy is used to send infrared light into the contents of the egg. Afterwards analysis of the light scatter pattern is used to identify the sex of the embryo using the size of the sex chromosome. Afterwards, the holes in female eggs are sealed and incubation continues. Male eggs will no longer go through the incubation process. This entire process takes 15-20 seconds to complete and is contactless so there will be no need to disinfect machinery after each egg test. So costs to run will be low. This is a wonderful method to sexing but is not yet used mainstream.
We talked about the ways we can sex chicks that are based on science and proven to work, but now let’s talk about those old wives tales we see floating around on social media!
The first one we are going to talk about is egg shape. This method is said to be the how to on sexing a chick before it even goes in the incubator. It is said that a round egg will produce a pullet and the oblong oval eggs a cockerel.
This is simply not true. If this was the case then every commercial hatchery in the world would be using this method to sex their birds, including bantams. There is also a lot of science and experience out there that discredits this method. Plus, look at a well bred Marans for example. Their eggs are supposed to be round and golf ball shaped; if we are going by this method being true then there would be only female Marans floating around in those who breed to the standard of perfection.
Some people claim that adjusting their incubator temperatures will determine the sex of a chick. High temperatures of over 99 Fahrenheit result in pullet only hatches while temperatures fewer than 98 Fahrenheit result in cockerel only hatches. First off avian species are not like reptiles. The sex is determined by what genetics the mother hands down to her off spring. In mammals the sex chromosomes are X and Y. XX being female and XY being male, each parent will share one sex chromosome with their offspring to determine the sex. In birds however the sex chromosomes are Z and W. Females as ZW and males are ZZ. So off spring will always start with the Z chromosome from the cock bird, whatever chromosome the hen shares will determine the sex of the future chick prior to hatching, there for temperature sexing is far from being an accurate means to sex chicks.
The last thing we are going to discuss, with a high cringe worthy rating, is the “holding the chick upside down and watch it struggle” method. Please just stop doing this; just don’t hold your chicks upside down or even on their backs. The wives tale claims that a cockerel will wiggle and fight back if held upside down while the pullets just go limp.
THIS IS NOT TRUE OR SAFE! Most birds will wiggle when put in this position because they are very uncomfortable and those who go limp just can’t breathe. This is very stressful on an adult bird and even more stressful on a frail baby. Holding a bird on their backs or upside down causes a bird’s breathing to be compromised from their lungs and other organs being compressed together. Everything inside just kind of falls towards the head when tipped upside down, birds are not made to be in this position. If there is any fluid in the crop the bird can also aspirate on the fluid that will pour out of their crop when tipped. This can lead to drowning or aspiration pneumonia and eventually death. Please stop doing this.
I hope this sheds some light and what’s what and gives a new perspective on how sexing is done in the poultry world. Now, play with all them chickie babies and talk dirty fowl language to all your friends!