It is vital to determine the sex of chickens early in order to separate them for their appropriate uses. Hens of egg-laying breeds are typically kept for egg production. Males are often culled. Both males and females are useful as meat in breeds specifically developed for meat production.
It is easy to identify the sex of adult chickens. It is also relatively simple to sex a chick that is newly hatched. It is trickier to determine the sex of adolescent birds, because they have not yet developed their adult characteristics. It is ideal to sex chicks that are only one to two days old and separate the males and females. Failing this, there are a few ways to determine the sex of older chickens.
The easiest way to determine the sex of an adolescent chicken is by examining the feathers on the bird's neck. A female chicken has rounded feathers, and a male has pointed feathers. It is simple to check these feathers. Simply pick up the bird and hold it securely under one arm. Take a sturdy piece of card like an index card or credit card and place it under a row of the chicken's feathers at the back of the neck. If the feathers have pointed ends, the bird is likely male. If the feathers are more rounded, the bird is probably female.
In breeds that have multiple feather colors, the feathers sometimes indicate a bird's sex. Pullets will usually be dull, and their feathers will mostly be of one color. Cockerels will have a wider range of colors in their feathers. This obviously will not be accurate in solid color breeds.
Combs and Wattles
A pullet is a female chicken under one year of age. A pullet will have a smaller comb on top of its head and a smaller wattle underneath its beak. A cockerel is a male chicken under one year of age. A cockerel will have a larger comb and wattle. The comb will stand erect, while a pullet's comb will usually fold over to the side.
This test is not always accurate until near adulthood, because many pullets and cockerels have similarly sized combs and wattles in their adolescence. This test is only accurate in single-comb breeds.
The spur is the toe-like growth at the back of a chicken's leg. It curves upward. Males have a larger spur, because they need the spur to cling to the hen during mating. Locate the spur and compare it to a known male or female of approximately the same age, or compare several birds for size.