Had a chat with a neighbor who is a fellow chicken keeper. We’ve swapped notes about our birds before and we’ve consoled one another after the coyotes roared through, treating our coops as the neighborhood KFC’s. Always look forward to chatting with him. Except for this latest conversation. Did not like what I heard.
I was telling him about baby June, our Ameraucana chick. “Oh yeah”, he said. “We got two Ameraucanas from that feed store. They both turned out to be roosters.”
But we can’t have a rooster! She can’t be a he! Oh no!
Here’s the thing about baby chicks. Unless they are a sex-link variety, in which the males and females have visibly different markings, it can be a tricky business to differentiate the gender of a just-hatched chick. Hatchery personnel are trained in vent-sexing but it is apparently somewhat more of an art than a science. Mistakes are made. The first and last thing they told us at the feed store when we picked up our chicks is that they can only provide an 80%-90% guarantee that the chicks are female.
What’s wrong with roosters? First and foremost, they don’t contribute to breakfast. No eggs. They also don’t contribute to neighborhood harmony. While I don’t mind the sound of roosters crowing, other people do, and we’ve assured our neighbors that we won’t ask them to contend with any 2 a.m. cock-a-doodle-dos.
No one wants a rooster. So what happens to them all? You don’t want to know. Let’s just say that in the poultry world “male privilege” is most definitely a myth.
After that chat with my neighbor, I’ve stared and stared at baby June, looking for any signs that she could be a he. Trouble is, the conventional wisdom is that you can’t really tell until she lays an egg or he crows, which is months down the road.
Is there any way to tell?
Feathers, apparently. Hackle feathers around the neck will be pointy in a male bird. Males also have pointy saddle feathers that extend from its back and sickle feathers, which are the ones that sprout up from its tail. I panicked when I looked closely at June, because I didn’t like the look of those long feathers drooping from the back and the sides. Should I be worried about those?
But then I read that the feathers in question don’t really manifest until 12-16 weeks. June is only about 5 weeks old. Too soon to tell, they say. Maybe those are just normal hen feathers?
Sometimes, I’ve read, a male bird will begin displaying “boy behavior” fairly early on, boldly challenging even adult hens. Not seeing that with this chick so far. Whew! Another tell can be comb development. While both male and female birds have combs, in the Ameraucana, at least, the male’s develops earlier and larger. Here’s a pic posted on backyardchickens.com of a five-and-a-half-week-old Ameraucana chick that later turned out to be a rooster:
And here is our baby June at about the same age:
See? Not much going on with the comb yet. I am counting on June not to turn out to be Junior. My neighbor managed to pawn off one of his roosters on another flock. The fate of the other one has not, ahem, been openly discussed. I am really, really hoping that this sweet little chick is, indeed, a chick. You might say her life depends on it…