Sex­ing chick­ens

Then to now - how chick­ens are sexed

The Poultry Bulletin - - CONTENTS -

When my baby chicks grow up, will they be boys or girls, roost­ers or hens, lay eggs to eat - or crow end­lessly in the early morn­ing hours? Not want­ing to watch ex­cess roost­ers fight and pos­si­bly in­jure each other in the hus­tle to es­tab­lish dom­i­nance in their lit­tle world? Sim­ply want to have a flock of only hens to gather the eggs each day for the fam­ily to eat? These ques­tions and con­cerns are im­por­tant for the back­yard chicken grower who tries to ‘sex their chick­ens be­fore they hatch’ - or grow up in this case.

Not easy

Sex­ing baby chicks is not an easy process. There are a few who would try to sim­plify the mat­ter with old wives tales of how to sex baby chicks. One method of­ten re­peated is ty­ing a nee­dle or a weight to the end of a piece of string (if the sub­ject to be tested is an expectant moth­ers’ stom­ach, use a wed­ding ring on a string) and hold it over the young an­i­mal. One in­ter­pre­ta­tion of this method says that if the ob­ject ro­tates in a clockwise cir­cle, it is a male; if it ro­tates counter-clock-wise, it is a fe­male. Sim­i­larly, with the same ob­ject on a string held over the baby chick, the mo­tion of the hang­ing ob­ject in any cir­cu­lar pat­tern in­di­cates a fe­male while move­ment of the ob­ject back and forth in­di­cates a male. Suc­cess of this method has been ‘re­ported’ to be as high as ‘it will work every time’ to ‘it works most of the time’. In ac­tu­al­ity, one should ex­pect to be ac­cu­rate about 50% of the time when de­ter­min­ing the sex of baby chicks in this man­ner (ac­cu­racy may be slightly higher for in­her­ently lucky in­di­vid­u­als).

A second method is to ob­serve the shape of an egg to de­ter­mine the sex of the po­ten­tial young chick to be hatched. One in­di­vid­ual ex­plained that the dif­fer­ent sexes re­quire dif­fer­ent shaped eggs for op­ti­mum growth within the shell and that the hen’s body knows which sex the chick will be. Foot­ball­shaped eggs house boy chicks, and more oval or round­shaped eggs will house girl chicks. He went on to say he was ‘nearly 100% ac­cu­rate’ when sex­ing chicks by this method. In ac­tu­al­ity, the shell of the egg is formed sim­ply by the pres­ence of any ob­ject within the oviduct. Years ago some­one sur­gi­cally placed an engagement ring in the up­per por­tions of the oviduct and al­lowed the hen to form an egg (al­bu­men and shell, no yolk) around the ring. The egg was then given to the girl in the form of a mar­riage pro­posal. The ring had no sex, but the shell was formed re­gard­less.

Sim­i­larly, a rock placed in the oviduct, or more nat­u­rally some­times de­tached body tis­sues in the oviduct, can stim­u­late the for­ma­tion of an egg by the hen. The ac­cu­racy of this method is about 50%, again, slightly higher for lucky in­di­vid­u­als.

In a re­cent meet­ing it was men­tioned that birds may be sim­i­lar to rep­tiles in that the sex of the de­vel­op­ing chick is largely de­ter­mined by the tem­per­a­ture in which the eggs are in­cu­bated. Imag­ine if this were true, how valu­able this would be to the poul­try in­dus­try! Com­mer­cial egg pro­duc­ers could hatch only young pul­lets; chicken and turkey meat pro­duc­ers could hatch male chicks for one mar­ket and fe­male chicks for a dif­fer­ent mar­ket.

Un­for­tu­nately, it is not quite that sim­ple in do­mes­tic poul­try. Too much de­vi­a­tion from the op­ti­mum in­cu­ba­tion tem­per­a­tures will most cer­tainly re­sult in fewer chicks hatched. Likely some of each sex will be lost.

Ac­cu­rate sex­ing

For­tu­nately, there are some meth­ods for sex­ing baby chicks that are ac­tu­ally ac­cu­rate. Us­ing the proper breed­ing scheme, day old baby chicks can be sexed based upon their colour. This is pos­si­ble when us­ing what is called sexlinked colour traits.

Mat­ing barred hens (black and white striped feath­ers) with non-barred males re­sults in barred males and non­barred fe­male chicks. This can also be ac­com­plished us­ing birds car­ry­ing spe­cific genes for sil­ver and gold colour pat­terns in the roost­ers and hens (sil­ver males bred with gold fe­males re­sults in sil­ver pul­lets and gold cock­erels). From a ge­netic stand­point (ex­clud­ing mu­ta­tions), this method is al­ways ac­cu­rate.

Vent sex­ing baby chicks is a method pop­u­larised in the 1930’s by a Ja­panese pro­fes­sor, Kiyoshi Ma­sui. In­di­vid­u­als well trained at chick sex­ing schools can con­sis­tently at­tain greater than 95% ac­cu­racy. This method in­volves hold­ing the day old chick up­side down in one hand and while vis­ually ex­am­in­ing the vent area for the pres­ence or ab­sence of a rudi­men­tary male sex or­gan. This method sounds much eas­ier than it re­ally is. Af­ter be­ing taught the ba­sics of this tech­nique from non­pro­fes­sion­als, most peo­ple would be do­ing well to ob­tain 60-70% ac­cu­racy at best. Most com­mer­cial hatch­eries that of­fer chicks for sale as ei­ther pul­lets or cock­erels utilise this method.

Watch them grow

All in all, the best way to sex chick­ens in the back­yard flock is to watch them grow. Feed them, water them, ob­serve them and en­joy them while they ma­ture. As they de­velop, changes will be­come ob­vi­ous as the males will be­gin to act manly and their voices will change from the chirp­ing com­mon to young chicks to at­tempted crows. The young male’s feath­ers will also change, from the round oval-shaped feath­ers com­mon to hens and young birds to the shiny, more nar­row and pointed feath­ers found on their necks and at the base of their tails. Ad­di­tion­ally, the combs of the young roost­ers will be­gin to de­velop at an ear­lier age than they will in fe­males. In most breeds of chick­ens with large combs, this is a very ob­vi­ous dis­tinc­tion be­tween young roost­ers and hens as they are ma­tur­ing. In short, en­joy the birds and watch them grow. This is def­i­nitely the most en­joy­able method when es­tab­lish­ing a back­yard flock.¡

This is an edited ex­tract of an ar­ti­cle au­thored by the Uni­ver­sity of Ge­or­gia’s Col­lege of Agri­cul­tural and En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ences

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