You go outside every morning to collect your chicken’s eggs. It just occurred to you, is your chicken coop full of females? Can chickens be male? That’s what I used to think about too, when I first got my chickens. Here’s what I’ve learned after raising backyard chickens.
Are Chickens female? “Chicken” does not refer to the female sex, it’s actually a type of bird. Chickens are a subspecies that belong to the genus Gallus, officially known as Gallus gallus domesticus.
A chicken can be both male or female, any other claims are just misconceptions. In this article, we’re clearing up the myth once and for all, so keep reading to get your chicken facts straight.
Are All Chickens Girls?
No, chickens are not only females. This is probably the most common misconception about chickens, and it’s completely false.
Chickens belong to a subspecies known as genus Gallus. There are three types of chickens which are, meat producing, laying, and dual purpose breeds.
To achieve a self-perpetuating species, this species must contain both males and females. In other words, if chickens were really all females, chickens would have died out long ago since they couldn’t reproduce.
To provide an easier way of identifying this domesticated fowl, female chickens were given the names ‘hens’ or ‘pullets’, whereas male chickens are referred to as cocks, cockerels, or roosters – yet still, you can call all of these chickens.
Are Meat Chickens Male or Female?
Another common misconception about chickens is that we get meat from the females only.
That’s also not true because both male and female chickens are used to produce meat, and this happens everywhere in the world.
In the egg industry, the eggs that are meant for human consumption require hens only. However, in the chicken meat industry, both hens and cocks can be and are bred for meat as both sexes are equally valued.
As a matter of fact, it’s virtually impossible to know whether you’re buying chicken meat that has come from a hen or a cock since they look and taste the same. The best you can tell is that it’s about a 50-50 chance.
More so, male and female meat chickens are usually kept in the same barns. While differentiating between the two sexes is very difficult when during the first days of the chick’s life, physical variations between the males and females start to appear from when they’re 1 month old.
By the time the chickens are collected to be processed for human consumption (this happens before they’ve reached sexual maturity), it’s possible to tell apart the young male meat chickens from the female ones in a flock.
Are All Chickens Hens?
People often use the words “chicken” and “hen” interchangeably, but they’re not the same. So what’s the difference between the two? Well, it’s like the difference between the words “humans” and “women”.
Generally speaking, “chickens” is the name of a particular species within birds, just as we humans are a distinct species within mammals. Humans are divided into males and females and children and adults. Chickens also have a similar categorization.
A rooster is a “man” and a hen is a “woman”. Both are chickens, but the names will tell you their sex and that they’re adults.
As for the chicken terms for boys and girls, the English dictionary comes to the rescue. It states that a young male chicken is called a cockerel and a young female chicken is called a pullet.
When Does a Chicken Become a Hen?
If you’re wondering when does a chicken go from being a young female pullet to an adult hen, you may be surprised to know that there’s no clear answer to this question yet.
There’s a bit of a disagreement here. Some say that a chicken becomes a hen when it first lays an egg. Other theories argue that when the chicken turns one, it can be called a hen.
Can Chickens Change Sex?
There’s an ongoing myth that chickens can change between sexes. That’s true. Well, sort of anyway.
The much more common form is shifting from being a female to being a male. The other way around? Not so common.
Still, you should know that nothing major changes when it comes to the physical appearance – it’s just the traits that get altered.
For example, hens may start crowing and taking care of the flock. They might even try to mate with the other hens. On the other hand, roosters may start acting like a hen by trying to hatch eggs and letting other roosters mate with them.
The reason behind such changes is most probably a hormonal imbalance caused by a disease or the hen sustaining an ovary-related injury.
It may also have something to do with flock dynamics since it’s mainly seen in single-sex flocks. For instance, people who keep hens just to lay eggs have a flock with no rooster, so one of the hens becomes the rooster.
This isn’t a recurring event by any means, but lots of people have had or known of a person who’s had a chicken that demonstrated a switch.
Note that chickens do not really change sex though; the roosters don’t suddenly lay eggs or the hens fertilize the roosters. Generally speaking, most hens that switch into males are just playing the role of the rooster.
Can Hens Lay Eggs Without a Rooster?
Yes, hens can lay eggs without a male around. Just as with releasing an egg and having a period in human females, female chickens do not need a rooster to form an egg.
The egg is produced whether or not there’s a rooster present, however, it won’t be fertilized unless there’s a male to do it. This means the egg won’t become a chick.
Many people don’t keep roosters as they only want eggs from hens.
How to Tell If a Chicken is Male or Female?
Here are 6 ways to sex a chicken:
- Venting – observing the vent of the chick is the most accurate way to determine the sex of a young chicken. This is known as “venting” or “vent sexing”.
The process requires a great deal of experience and skill, as well as being able to restrain a chick without causing it any harm. Most hatcheries hire professional chick sexers before shipping their chicks.
- Feather Sexing – this is a somewhat easier method to tell the sex of a chick. Female chicks often grow wing feathers before hatching, whereas young roosters develop these within a few days after hatching.
- Comb Colors and Sizes – a more simple way of sexing a baby chick is by studying the colors and sizes of its comb. This method works best if your chicks come from the same breed.
- Behavior – the way a chicken behaves can be a good indicator of its sex. For example, a young rooster may display more power by rushing up to your hand for feed as opposed to a young hen that sits quietly in a corner.
Additionally, some roosters will show their ability to be dominant and protect the hens right out of the egg by puffing up. Young roosters also often rush to the feed dish and make cooing sounds to alert the rest of the chicks of the found food.
- Down Colors – if you want to know the sex of your chicks from early on, you can order Sex Link chicks from your favorite hatchery. Identifying the sex of this type of chick is so simple – just observe the color of their down feathers!
Keep in mind, however, that you can use this method to determine the sex only when the parents are not of the same chicken breed.
- Vocalizations – If all else doesn’t work out, you can listen for certain vocals while your chicks are in the brooder. Hearing a crow can be all you need for confirmation.
While some people swear that hens can do it as well, crowing is mostly exclusive to males when sexing chickens.
A young rooster will start crowing when it’s around 4 or 5 months old. At this point, it probably looks like a rooster already, so it won’t exactly come as a surprise when it starts being vocal
So are chickens female? We’ve established that this is a common misconception as “chickens” is a type of bird and it doesn’t refer to any specific sex. Adult female chickens are called hens, while adult males are called roosters. It’s as simple as that.