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Looking to raise birds on your land but unsure where to start? Check out this guide on rooster versus chicken for information so you can decide what’s best for your needs!
If you are going to raise some meat birds, you will have a choice of ordering unsexed chicks, all rooster chicks or all pullets (hens). Should you order roosters or hens?
We always order unsexed (or straight run as they are called) chicks. They are cheaper than ordering all roosters or all hens. We like a variety of sizes of chickens in our freezer, another good reason for ordering them unsexed.
The pullets will be smaller so we can put a 6 lb bird in the freezer. Since the roosters will grow larger, we can grow them out to get 8 pound birds.
We always order our meat bird chicks from a hatchery. They have catalogues or websites where you can learn about the different breeds they have. Give them a call and request that they send you a catalogue.
Remember that it takes 3 weeks from the date of ordering until your chicks arrive. This is because that is exactly how long it takes to hatch the eggs.
If you have hens and a rooster, you can have a mama hen sit on the eggs and take care of them. For meat birds, we always order Cornish Giants (or Cornish Cross). These birds have been bred over the years for fast weight gain, which is why we can fill our freezer with chicken in only 8 weeks.
What are Straight Run Chickens?
Essentially, this refers to a flock of chicks that you’ll order from a hatchery unsexed. This option is good if you have a lot of space to work with and you’re interested in raising chickens for both eggs and meat.
For more information about whether you should go for sexed or unsexed chickens, check out this post on Straight Run Chickens. This will help you find out what’s best for your needs.
However, because they come unsexed, you may initially be unsure of the ratio of males to females. That’s where this post comes in handy! Keep reading to learn a myriad of ways to determine the difference between roosters and hens.
Difference Between Roosters and Hens
This may seem obvious, but not everybody knows! The difference comes down to gender.
A rooster (also sometimes called a cock) is a male chicken. When compared to females, they tend to have distinctive tail feathers, including saddle feathers which are long feathers that cover the rooster’s tail and behind.
This is sometimes called a sickle feather due to its curved shape. Roosters also have distinct hackle feathers around their neck, and are typically larger than hens.
And it’s not a myth that roosters crow (in other words, you will actually hear that classic cock-a-doodle-doo)! Female chickens can also exhibit crowing behavior on occasion depending on pecking order, but crowing tends to be a male chicken behavior.
Another indication of gender in chickens is the presence of spurs, which grow on the legs in the opposite direction of the toes of roosters. Their beaks can be bigger, and they also have larger wattles than hens.
On the other hand, hens are female chickens. One of their most notable characteristics is that they lay eggs. This can be a fantastic option if you’re looking to raise chickens for fresh eggs, either to use in your own kitchen or to sell.
Hens laying eggs daily for us to enjoy is one of the top reasons I love having chickens! We often keep two separate flocks here:
Cornish Giants for meat (raised in 8 weeks)
Hens for eggs – we raise a variety of Heritage chicken breeds that do well in northern climates.
How to Tell: Rooster Versus Chicken
By the time they are about 4 weeks old, you can begin to tell the difference between the males and the females because of sexual dimorphism. This is just a fancy word that means males and females of the same species will have markedly different characteristics.
Not only will the roosters already be a fair bit larger than the hens, the roosters will have a larger comb (the red on the top of his head) and also will have larger wattles (they hang down). See the picture above of a rooster (also known as a cockerel).
You may want to keep some hens for longer than 8 weeks to grow them out a bit more. Or, you may decide to butcher your roosters at 6 or 7 weeks, instead of 8. It depends on the size you want your finished birds to be.
Here’s a full list of things to look for:
- Neck feathers – Roosters will have particularly pointy neck feathers, whereas hens’ hackle feathers tend to be shorter and rounder.
- Wing feathers – This is one area where hens have roosters beat. Male chicks tend to have shorter wing feathers, and they also typically develop later. Female chicks will have round and neat feathers with more length. This may actually be the most apparent in one and two day-old chicks, as the progression of wing growth tends to become fairly even beyond that point.
- Leg size – If a chick seems to have thicker legs, that’s a good indication it’s a male. In many cases, this also means longer legs.
- General size – Roosters are stockier and sturdier than hens, and will generally be larger.
- Coloration – Hens tend to have lighter plumage than roosters. This can vary depending on the breed. There are also some types of chickens that have been bred specifically so that there will be a particular marker on one gender or the other that can help you determine.
If you want to learn everything there is about raising meat birds, grab our book 8 Pounds in 8 Weeks: Raising Day Old Chicks for the Dinner Table.
Why are roosters so different from hens?
This comes down to evolution for the most part. In flocks of chickens, roosters are typically the protectors of the hens and their chicks when it comes to predators and other threats. As a result, they’ve evolved to be larger, have more stamina, and have more distinct markings to look more intimidating.
Do we eat meat from hens or roosters?
Most store bought poultry comes from both sexes. There isn’t a difference in taste, since birds are processed for meat between 6 and 12 weeks of age, there is really no difference between roosters and pullets (young hens).
They’re often fed the same way as well, which contributes to further similarity.
Are a chicken and a rooster the same thing?
Yes and no! A rooster is just a name for a male chicken. In other words, all roosters are chickens, but not all chickens are roosters.
Will hens lay eggs without a rooster?
All hens need to lay eggs are a safe space to do so and a proper, healthy diet. The difference is that without a rooster, the chicken’s eggs will not be fertilized, which means they can’t possibly hatch into chicks.
These are the kind of eggs you’ll find at the grocery store! Most egg-laying hens don’t have mates, and many of them have never even been in the presence of a rooster.
What is vent sexing?
This is a method of examining a chicken’s vent (in other words, the place where feces and eggs will exit the body, also commonly called the cloaca) in order to determine the gender. For the inexperienced chicken owner who’s just getting started with backyard flocks, I don’t recommend this method.
Professionals know how to safely determine a chick’s sex this way, but because chicks are so small and fragile, it’s easy to injure or harm them if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Other Chicken Questions:
Here’s where you can find lots of common questions and answers about having chickens in your backyard.
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latest update Nov 9, 2023