How to Tell a Rooster from a Hen
Keeping a “backyard chicken” or two is gaining in popularity in America. Chickens make good pets and if you play your cards right you’ll have a free source of fresh eggs. Don’t forget that chickens are excellent pest control animals, eating fleas, mosquito eggs, and all sorts of backyard pests. For a pet that helps keep the yard clean and puts food on the table, look no further than an egg-laying hen.
As people get into the backyard chicken business, it is not uncommon for them to have difficulty telling the difference between baby hens and roosters. Most people don’t want roosters in their backyard–for starters, they don’t lay eggs. It is also illegal in many areas to keep a rooster in neighborhoods due to the noise they make early in the morning.
Why Is It So Hard To Tell Roosters and Hens Apart?
Telling roosters apart from chickens when they’re young is not as easy as it is with other animals. Professional chicken handlers can tell the gender of a chicken the day they’re born. This process is called “chicken sexing” and is very important in the chicken industry. How can you work with an animal if you don’t even know what gender it is?
Unfortunately, “chicken sexing” is much tougher than it sounds, and on their second day of life, chickens grow feathers which hide this gender detail. The goods news is you can tell the sex apart even before your chicken is of potential egg-laying age.
The main differences between roosters and hens after they hatch are visual and behavioral. Roosters and hens look and act different from birth.
Comb or Wattle
Check if your baby chicken has a comb or a wattle. Roosters have large combs and wattles, usually brightly-colored and prominent.
So what is a “comb”, anyway? The comb is the tuft of flesh on top of a chicken’s head. Rooster’s combs are bigger and brighter than hens, though both genders have them. Rooster combs tend to be red, though they can be almost any color on the rainbow. Hen’s combs are generally small and pale.
Roosters wear big brightly-colored combs to attract the attention of hens, that’s why a chick with a big bright comb and wattle is almost always a rooster.
The same goes for the wattle–the little bit of flesh on the chicken’s chin. Just like with the comb, a rooster’s wattle is brighter and bigger than that of a hen.
Like with the comb and the wattle, a rooster’s feather color will be bolder and brighter. Hens have less-colorful feathers, usually white or maybe brown.
Roosters are generally larger than hens. Hens may be fatter than roosters, but they will almost always be short and squat.
Birds of a Feather
Look at the tail feathers of your baby chicken. A rooster’s tail feathers tend to be longer and brighter than hen’s feathers. A rooster’s tail feathers are the easiest way to tell him apart from a hen, when he is grown. Unfortunately, as a chick, you can’t really tell the difference.
You could check your chick’s neck feathers for an easier way to tell the difference between the two. The neck feathers on a hen and those of a rooster are very different from a few days after birth. Roosters grow neck feathers that look long, skinny, and pointed, while hen’s neck feathers are short and round on the end.
Listen For a Crow
In general, roosters crow and hens don’t. If your baby chicken is a true baby, you won’t be able to tell the difference right away, as young chicks don’t crow at all. Another problem with determining your chicken’s gender via the crow is that some hens make a very similar sound to crowing around the same time in the morning as roosters, especially when there are no roosters around.
Hens are considered less “sociable” than roosters–they move around less and “display” much less than their male counterparts. Roosters are friendlier than hens, especially toward humans. Roosters are also much more aggressive with other chickens than hens are.
If you wait long enough, you’ll know if your chicken is a rooster or a hen based on the fact that it either does or doesn’t lay eggs.
You can go down the entire list above and decide your chicken is a hen, then when no eggs come and you hear the chicken crowing in the morning, realize you have a rooster on your hands.
The easiest way to tell roosters and hens apart is to wait for the chicken to lay eggs. If your chicken starts laying eggs, it’s a hen.
Take the “Long View”
Don’t go off just one of the above methods of determining chicken gender, except maybe for the egg-laying part.
Think of the above rules as a set of “symptoms”–just because your chicken has one “symptom” of being a rooster does not mean that chicken absolutely is a rooster.
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