Well, it turns out that my guess was accurate (quite unfortunately). Miss Dixie cannot keep her name, because “she” is a “he.” I’m so bummed, but such is the risk when you’re working with straight-run chicks. You usually never know which sex you’ll end up with. For those of you who missed the first post on this topic, you can see it HERE. My little cockerel is now 4 weeks old, and his comb and wattles nearly doubled in size just over the last 2 weeks. His legs are so long and thick that you’d think he’s twice his age. That little dude had to be the friendliest thing to ever roam my brooder – curious and playful with everyone. It’s funny how the personalities of chicks come out earlier than yo
u would think. Before I had my own flock of hens, I didn’t realize that they had any semblance of individual personality at all. Boy was I wrong. Each one is so different and unique, which is the main reason I am always so entertained as I watch them from my backyard swing with morning coffee in-hand.
I do have a silver lining though, one that I am very happy about! As I cannot have a rooster within the city limits of Portland OR, I have been preoccupied trying to find a new home for this little guy that I know is safe. I had a chat with the breeder from whom I bought Mr. Dixie, and she has a customer looking for a Marans cockerel to raise with her flock. She only wants one, and she wants the “right” one with a stellar personality. Dixie will definitely fit that bill. So to that end, I dropped my little boy back with the breeder, and his new caretaker picked him up the same day. I’m sure his name won’t be going with him, so maybe I’ll pass it on to my next Birchen Marans pullet.
My ability to spot a male from a straight run of chicks has greatly improved over the last month, that’s for sure. There are obvious signs when a chick reaches a few months of age, but I’m always on a mission to identify males earlier on – much earlier. While nothing is ever the 100% sure-fire way we hope for, simply keeping an eye on the following “measuring sticks” have worked for me, rather successfully:
- BEHAVIOR: You can really glean a lot of information by just spending time watching your chicks. Behavior characteristics are displayed so early that it never ceases to amaze me. Males are less jumpy, and usually somewhat fearless. Of course any chick will “spook” when a giant hand is coming at it from above, but once the environment has settled down, you can see general behavior. For example, whenever I lower my hand into the brooder and leave it there for a bit, males are immediately curious about my gold ring and head over to peck at it. The hens usually do not make that move until the male has already approached it and deemed it safe.
- POSTURE: This particular characteristic can show itself far earlier than the others, if you watch for it. Males can often have a very upright posture – I’d say almost cocky and confident. Sometimes he’ll be like this all day every day, and other times only when surprised or threatened.
- COMB/WATTLES: People always say to watch comb development, but I have had more success watching wattle development. Combs can vary so widely between breeds, both in rate of development and size. Instead, I focus on wattles, as I have found two solid consistencies: 1) rooster wattles will always be larger than a hen’s when full-grown, and 2) that means those wattles will always develop faster in males. Every time I have ended up with a male chick in my brooder, his wattles are always double the size of any female (similar in age, of course).
- FEATHERS: When chicks are young, you aren’t able to see the tell-tale hackle, saddle, or sickle feathers of a cockerel. However you can see the shape of the main body feathers. A pullet will have feathers with gently rounded tips, and a cockerel feather will be longer with more of a pointed tip. You can identify the difference right when they start feathering out.
- LEGS/FEET: The legs and feet of male birds will nearly always be thicker and longer than those of a female. You can also keep an eye on their knees. If you think about it, you often do not see a hens knees as they’re walking around. Usually they’re buried somewhere in the fluffy feathers of their undercarriage. However with a male, you can not only see his knees, but usually at least an inch above those knees. Those males – they show off some leg!
All of these traits and markers vary between breeds, so you have to keep a watchful eye on everything at once. It helps immensely if you have a few birds from the same “hatch batch” for comparison’s sake, because trying to compare an Americana’s little pea comb with a Barred Rock’s big single comb just doesn’t work. You can usually begin seeing any of the characteristics I mentioned above show themselves at around 3 weeks of age.
I try to stick with physical attributes and behavior, because both are easily observed. The old wives’ tales about how you can dangle a needle and thread over a chicks head (it supposedly moves side to side for a male and in a circular pattern for a female) is just not scientific or accurate. Others say you can hold a chick upside down (please… don’t try that) to see if the male rights himself and the female does not are – again – simply not consistent. They also leave too much to individual opinion. So really, unless you’ve chosen an auto-sexing breed, you’ll just have to wait and see if that bird gives you an egg or instead decides to crow. But if you enjoy trying to “beat the game” and guess ahead-of-time, then hopefully you’re better prepared for the challenge after reading this post. Just remember, you have exactly a 50% change of being right every time. Lots of folks in Vegas would take those odds! Have fun!