Do you want to know how to distinguish a hen from a rooster?
When they’re little:
- You can’t.
- Professional sexers who stare at their cloacas everyday aspire to get 95-96% right. Mike Rowe tried it on Dirty Jobs and would have sent you a mixed run every time. I don’t even bother to try.
Ways to be sure it’s a hen:
- It lays eggs.
- It gets broody, meaning that she wants to sit on the eggs all the time except for going to eat and eliminate. In my flocks, there has usually been another hen that will take over as babysitter to keep the eggs warm until the broody hen returns. One nice Buff Orpington would go tap on the broody hen to let her know she could have a break and wait for her return.
Ways to be sure it’s a rooster:
- It has spurs (the talon on the heel of its foot).
- It crows.
- It keeps trying to get on top of the hens and make new chickens.
Ways to make an educated guess:
- Aggression: Roosters pick fights with each other to establish their pecking order. Roosters will force themselves on a hen–it’s pretty much one-sided and usually involves grabbing the back of her neck with his beak. Hens may have squabbles, but you won’t see the paso dobles with a wing outstretched and fluttered along the ground daring the opponent to duel. In my experience, roosters get increasingly aggressive as they age, sometimes until they start attacking humans. That’s when they become fajitas.
- Pecking order: There are two separate pecking orders. If you can tell what another chicken in the pecking order is, that one is too. Roosters don’t fight hens; they may even protect a hen against another rooster who is trying to interlope.
- Size: Within a breed, at the same age, hens are generally smaller. Comparing across breeds is meaningless.
- Wattles: In some breeds, the roosters have wattles and the hens do not. In other breeds, both have wattles.
The occasional exception to all these observations: In some flocks of hens only, one will take over the rooster “job” and start crowing, among other things.
These are all based on experience with several breeds and reading some chicken books, mostly over a decade ago.