Are you interested in raising chickens? Not only do they make interesting and unique pets with distinct personalities, they are great providers of eggs and meat. Some questions you might have as a beginner are whether or not you need roosters for your hen to lay eggs and how to stop roosters from crowing , but how do you even tell your roosters and hens apart?
Mother Earth News reports the Barred Rock chicken, also known as the Plymouth Rock and Barred Plymouth Rock, as one of the most popular birds among backyard flock keepers, farmers and industrial breeders. The Barred Rock breed is both beautiful and useful according to Local Harvest — the bird's distinct feathers are white and black in a striped or barred pattern and it's characteristics as a frequent layer and a provider of quality meat — making it a top choice for breeders.
Heritage Breed With History
Barred Rock chickens have a long history. Mother Earth News describes the breed's first recorded appearance occurring in 1865 as a cross between a Dominique cock and either a Black Cochin or Black Java hen. The single-combed, medium to large sized birds were the most popular farm bird by World War II, with farmers raising them for meat and eggs.
Today as more people are raising chickens outside of the farm model, whether for pleasure or for profit, Barred Rock hens are of more interest than roosters. Knowing sex distinctions are important, especially as many cities allowing laying hens but prohibit their crowing counterparts. Cath Andrews, an expert chicken keeper, describes the many different types of laws regarding rural and city chickens in various countries — it can be vary dramatically whether or not your fluffy feathered friend is legal or illegal, so make sure you know the laws on farm animals where you live.
Physical Differences in Adult Rocks
Barred Rock roosters and hens have easily observable physical differences. A rooster boasts a large, upright comb while hen's comb is more moderate. Roosters' tails are noticeably different, too, with a handful of extremely long, barred feathers sprouting from the hind end; these "sickle feathers" are composed of both long main feathers and shorter, curvy feathers called lesser sickles. The Chicken Chick also recommends looking at the body feathers; male and female Barred Rock body feathers are subtly different, with hens appearing lighter due to wider white bars — roosters have bars of equal width.
Something to Crow About
Another giveaway difference between roosters and hens isn't seen as much as heard. Roosters do something hens don't: they crow. Crowing usually begins upon sexual maturity but sometimes even in their first few weeks.
The rooster crow is an iconic aural emblem of daybreak, but a male will crow throughout the day and sometimes well into the night. The rooster's crow is his way of communicating with the flock; it can carry several messages, from alerting that danger is present to announcing arrival of food. Barred Rock hens, meanwhile, are largely quiet birds known for cooing and other subvocal noises.
Sex Differences in Baby Chicks
Sexing chicks is more difficult than adults, but it's important to know the gender of your chick if you plan to raise them for egg production. Barred Rocks are considered “sex linked,” so it's possible to accurately sort male and females at birth without hiring a trained vent inspector. Barred Rocks are born with a spot on their heads, and this spot is key to sex linking — a male has a large white spot, while a female has a smaller narrower spot. In general, female Barred Rocks are also lighter colored than males. These sexing methods are 80 percent accurate — so have a plan if your hens possibly turn out to be roosters.
Rodney Wilson is owner and manager of Goldfinch Farm in central Kentucky, where he oversees veterinary and management practices for a diverse group of animals, from dogs and cats to pigs and chickens. He's written professionally since 2001, with articles appearing in such publications as The Cincinnati Enquirer, CiN Weekly, Baby Guide and Akron Life.