If you are new to raising chickens, you’ll have a lot to learn. And one of the most fundamental things you’ll need to learn is how to tell a rooster from a hen.
This may seem like a simple task, but it’s actually quite perplexing if you don’t know what to look for, especially when certain breeds or young birds are concerned.
This isn’t something you can just leave to chance, either. You’ll need to know how many males and females you have in your flock at all times.
For breeding, protection, and just for keeping a happy flock the presence and ratio of males to females is critical to success.
To help out in this regard I am bringing you an in-depth guide packed with foolproof tips and info to help you tell a rooster from a hen with ease. So, let’s get started!
One of the easiest ways to tell roosters from hens, once you know what to look for, is appearance.
This is especially easy when dealing with adult birds, but even adolescents will have some telltales to look for. Consider the following markers below:
Wattles and Comb
Hens and roosters may both have wattles and combs, but there are some key differences between these two body parts.
For starters, wattles are shorter and thinner on hens than on roosters. In addition, hens often have two wattles, while roosters usually have just one.
As for combs, they are generally larger and more pronounced on roosters than on hens.
Roosters also tend to have red combs, while those of hens are usually yellowish or pale red, almost pink.
Finally, the combs of hens are typically shorter and pointier than those of roosters. These physical differences between the sexes help to ensure that hens and roosters can be easily distinguished from one another even in the absence of other features.
Anyone who has ever spent time around chickens knows that there are distinct differences between hens and roosters. Perhaps the most noticeable difference is in their tail feathers.
Hens have shorter, rounder tails with less pronounced coloration, while roosters have longer, taller, fuller tails with more striking patterns and colors, used as always to woo the ladies. These tail feathers play an important role in chicken communication.
For example, a hen will lower her tail to signal that she is ready to mate, while a rooster will raise his tail to show that he is feeling aggressive.
The tail feathers also help chickens to maintain balance when they are flying or attempting to fly, through the air.
So, the next time you see a chicken, take a closer look at its tail feathers to see if you can tell whether it’s a hen or a rooster.
The hackle is a feather that grows along the neck and back of a chicken. Both hens and roosters have hackle feathers, but there are some subtle differences between the two.
For example, rooster hackle feathers are typically longer and more prominent than hen feathers.
Additionally, the hackle feathers of a rooster tend to be stiffer and stand up straight, while those of a hen are softer and lie flat.
These differences are due to the different roles that hackle feathers play in each gender. For a rooster, the hackle feathers help to make him look larger and more threatening to predators, and these stiffer feathers can also be used to create a courtship display as they are sometimes showy like the tail feathers.
In contrast, hen hackle feathers are primarily used for insulation and camouflage. Thus, the subtle differences in these feathers reflect the different needs of hens and roosters and also help you tell them apart.
Most people are familiar with the stereotypical image of a rooster: tall, lanky, and with a proud strut. In contrast, hens are often thought of as being smaller and more subdued.
However, there is actually quite a bit of variation in the size of these two types of chickens. In general, though, roosters are noticeably bigger and heavier.
On average, roosters weigh about 8-10 pounds, while hens tend to be about 6-8 pounds. However, there are some breeds of chicken that do not follow this trend.
For instance, the Brahmas is a type of chicken that is known for its large size, with roosters reaching up to 12 pounds on average and hens reaching up to 10 pounds.
Similarly, the Bantam is a breed of chicken that is much smaller than average, with birds of both sexes typically weighing between 2 and 4 pounds.
As these examples illustrate, the size difference between breeds can vary significantly, but roosters are usually bigger than hens.
Legs and Spurs
Hens and roosters differ notably in their legs, feet, and spurs. Hens have shorter, thinner legs than roosters, which gives them a more compact appearance.
They also have smaller feet, with three toes pointing more or less forward and one toe pointing backward.
In contrast, roosters have longer legs and larger feet, with three toes pointing forward and the fourth often being sideways, pointing to the other foot.
This difference in leg and foot structure can be traced back to their different roles within the flock.
The extra length and strength in the rooster’s legs and toes helps them to fight more effectively.
Finally, roosters have prominent spurs on their legs, a sharp spine located just above the foot that is used as a weapon during defense against predators or in fights with other roosters. Hens do not have spurs.
These physical differences between hens and roosters are some of the most reliable ways to tell them apart.
As you might expect, roosters and hens behave very differently. Roosters are constantly on the lookout for danger and will sound an alarm call if they spot a predator.
They are also very territorial and will fight to protect their flock from other roosters or interlopers, sometimes that means you and me!
Even when it comes to subtle interactions within the flock or among other members of the same sex, differences are apparent. Consider the following for more info.
Does it lay eggs?
The single most dependable way to tell hens and roosters apart: only hens lay eggs! If you see one of your birds laying an egg you know you have a hen on your hands, simple as that.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of raising chickens, you know that they each have their own unique personality.
This is also true when it comes to their eating habits. Hens are generally more dainty eaters, pecking at their food and taking small bites.
They also tend to forage for their food more, scratching at the ground in search of insects and other tasty morsels.
Roosters, on the other hand, are typically more voracious eaters. They will gobble down their food and often leave behind crumbs.
They are also less likely to forage for food, preferring to wait until it is brought to them when in a domestic setting.
Part of this is due to their role as lookout and protector. A rooster that is foraging isn’t on guard duty, so they are more likely to stay in place until the dinner bell rings, so to speak.
Something else to consider is that a dominant rooster might impose his will on the other, lesser roosters when it is time to eat, meaning that you could see him acting aggressively around food. Hens are far less likely to engage in or be the targets of, such behavior.
If you’ve ever spent time around a flock of chickens, you may have noticed that there seems to be a well-defined set of behaviors among them. These behaviors are usually determined by the sex of the rooster, male or female.
While both types of chicken perform important functions within the flock, there are some easily noticeable differences in their daily activities.
For instance, roosters spend more time patrolling the perimeter of the flock’s territory, while hens typically remain closer to the center.
Roosters also tend to be more vocal than hens, used in nature when leading the flock to food and water sources.
Additionally, roosters play an important role in protecting the flock from predators. They will spend their days perching in high places when not patrolling, and keeping a watchful eye on the hens and the immediate area.
However, it is only hens that work to incubate eggs and care for chicks, though you will rarely find a rooster that assists in raising young. If you notice these protector and perching behaviors, it is highly likely it is a rooster.
One of the most iconic and easily recognizable differences between roosters and hens are their vocalizations.
Roosters are famous for their early morning crowing, the infamous “cockadoodledo” which is used to communicate with other members of the flock as well as announce the arrival of dawn.
Another thing; roosters tend to be much louder than hens. This is partly due to their larger size, but it also has to do with their role in the flock. A rooster’s loud call helps to announce his presence and assert his dominance over other males.
Hens, on the other hand, make a clucking sound that is used to communicate a variety of things to the flock, including a warning of danger or the location of food.
Hens also have a much wider range of vocalizations than roosters generally, using different calls to express fear, excitement, or contentment.
Both chickens may make a distinct sound known as “panting” which is used when they are hot or excited, and is often accompanied by flapping their wings.
How Can You Tell them Apart When Young?
Telling adolescent chickens apart is trickier than adults, but not impossible. As your birds start to mature you can keep an eye out for the same morphological and behavioral distinctions outlined above, only keep in mind that they are subtler when the birds are not yet fully grown.
In my own birds, I could usually determine a rooster easily enough when his comb, spurs and tail feathers started to develop.
Young males would also get pretty cocky as they came of age, and obvious rooster behavior would start to manifest.
If you have any doubts as to the sex of your bird, wait until it is mature and observe its behavior. The vast majority of the time, you will be able to tell quite easily whether you have a rooster or hen.
Be Very Cautious When Inspecting a Chick
On the subject of determining the sex of a very young bird, a chick, I should mention that you must be very cautious.
There are plenty of self-proclaimed experts on the internet that say they are able to “easily” tell the sex of a chick by inspecting its vent, but you should take that assertion with a big grain of salt.
For starters, because there is a tiny, tiny difference in the appearance of male and female chicks reproductive organs, it is all but impossible to tell them apart without experience and specialized tools and training.
Second, and most importantly, it is all too easy to injure or traumatize the chick when doing so.
Because of this, I would caution anyone against trying to determine the sex of a chick unless they are absolutely sure of what they are doing.
If you must know, consult a professional veterinarian or breeder who is highly acquainted with chickens, or just purchase known cockerels or pullets from certified suppliers.
Rooster or Hen, Now you’ll Know
Now that you know how to tell a rooster from a hen, it should be a cinch for you to determine the sex of your chickens. By appearance or behavior, you’ll be able to find out which is which at a glance.
By being aware of the key differences between the two sexes, you can better care for your flock and ensure that each bird has the best chance at living a healthy and productive life.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.