George Anderson : We all have wobbly bits. Clear differences between our wobbly bits make it easy – for those interested in that sort of thing – to tell man from woman. This is not true in the world of chickens.
I don’t know whether you can study to become a professor of chicken sexing. What I do know is that determining chicken gender is far more difficult a task that you might imagine.
Does chicken sexing matter? Yes, if you are commercially involved in rearing chickens. In fact the practice will be essential to the success of your enterprise. If you are breeding for eggs you will have no need of male birds and their early identification allows you to eliminate them as soon as possible. If you are breeding for meat as well as eggs then you’ll want to know as soon as possible how to separate the two so that you can treat them differently within your supply chain.
There are two main methods for sexing chickens: feather and vent. In feather sexing, the length of wing feathers is considered a reliable means to determine gender. The wing tip feathers are noticeably larger in hens.
The vent method is less glamorous by a country mile. This involves a two-step process. First squeeze the poop out of a young bird. Then look for a pimple sized bump which would indicate maleness. Apparently this is still difficult, even for professors of chicken sexing (if there are any).
Pinned down by people bigger than me and forced to choose, I know which method I’d prefer. Mainly because if I were down the pub of a lunchtime and asked what I did for a living I would be comfortable saying “I compare evolutionary gender differences in the feathers of now flightless birds.” This has to be more appealing than saying “Me? I squeeze poop out of chickens”
In the science-free past, it fell to folklore to offer methods for chicken sexing. Here’s my top half dozen.
1. Guessing: This gives you a 50-50 chance of being right but is no basis for running a commercial poultry business.
2. Penny Rubbing: Rub a penny on the back of a chicken. Toss it (that’s the penny, not the chicken). Heads it’s a rooster, tails a hen. Hmmm.
3. Shape: Round egg = hen. Pointy egg = rooster
4. Hat method: Wave a hat over a bunch of chickens then throw it to the ground. Only hens will run away. Personally this is simply an abuse of a perfectly good hat.
5 Ring dangling: Put a gold ring on a chain and dangle it over a chicken. If the ring starts a circular motion it’s a hen. In a line, it’s a rooster.
6. Water Method:
Two bowls, one with water, the other with water to which has been added a teaspoon of vinegar. Roosters will drink only from the plain water bowl.
7. Mischief Method: Select a chicken. Dip your partner’s head into a horse trough when they least expect it. If they’re angry when they emerge gasping for air, it’s a rooster. This method has been largely abandoned since it led to skewed results and a spike in the divorce rate.