Wondering how to tell a rooster from a hen?
Well, the old-timers will tell you that you can tell because a hen starts laying eggs and a rooster starts crowing :)
Of course, I know you want to know as early as possible so let’s break it down.
With my first batch of chicks, I was nervous to get a rooster so I meticulously watched for any possible sign. It wasn’t until the 3rd flock that I got a rooster (4 actually) and I realized you can actually tell fairly early. In fact, I had picked out one of the chicks, thinking its size would make it a rooster and I was right.
Even if you have sexed chicks you might end up with a rooster since sexing chicks is only about 80-90% accurate. So how could we tell?
How to Tell a Rooster From a Hen: Characteristics of a Cockerel or Rooster
- Stand more upright and tall
- Aggressive towards people or other chickens (tend to climb to the top of the pecking order)
- Strutting/waltzing (a half circle dance with one wing extended downward as an aggressive move to show dominance)
- Protective of hens/territory
- Flare hackle feathers to show dominance (not a guaranteed sign but I’ve never seen a hen do this, only roosters)
- A rooster has longer and more pointed hackle feathers that are more reflective than a hens (although our Rhode Island Reds have very reflective hackle feathers)
- The comb and wattle appear sooner and are bigger and more red
- Bigger, thicker feet and legs
- Only the male has saddle feathers (feathers that point down around the tail) and sickle feather (long curving feathers that go up and out from the tail, like a fountain).
- Spurs on the back of the legs
If you’re unsure of what some of these terms are here is a great illustration from Backyard Chickens. Of course, this is a general illustration and will be different for your chickens depending on the breed you have.
I was suspicious that we had roosters. This was because of their size and the fact that they quickly told our older hens who was boss. I also suspected roosters when I saw them flaring their hackle feathers at each other. I was sure we had roosters when I saw the sickle feather grow in at about 2.5-3 months old.
I Have a Pullet or Hen that Acts Like a Rooster, What’s Going On?
Some hens take on the role of rooster if there isn’t a rooster around (and sometimes even when there is). Some even start to look like a rooster and/or stop laying eggs. How’s that for confusing?
My thoughts on this are that if you have a rooster you’ll know, if you have a dominant hen, you’ll suspect.
Add your tell-tale rooster signs in the comments!