Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
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Is it a rooster?

At early stages of chicken life, it is sometimes hard to tell whether the bird is a rooster or a hen. Behavioral differences and morphology aren't necessarily reliable, but in some breeds color differences help identify a rooster.


JL writes

My wife hatched a chick from some fertile eggs she purchased at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. The chick is now five weeks old and I am concerned that it is looking much more like a cockerel than a pullet. My wife has grown very attached to the bird, but we live in downtown Sacramento and could not possibly keep a rooster.

I read your blog and it sounds as though your chickens live very happy and fulfilling lives. If our chicken ends up being a rooster I was wondering if you would accept it as a donation to your flock. I believe it is a white leghorn. If you are not interested, perhaps you could refer me to someone else who would allow the rooster to live and treat it with care.

We respond

We do sometimes adopt roosters from those who can't keep them anymore... before we agree to adopt yours or help find it a good home, though, we would ask a few things.  First of all, five weeks is sometimes too young to tell for sure if it's a rooster, though sometimes you can tell by then. It depends both on the individual and the species: some species mature quicker, and some individuals within a species mature quicker.  However (and please excuse me if you already know this, its a common enough mistake) many hens will develop combs and waddles early, though they will never get so large as a roosters it can be hard to tell wha they'll look like later.  A better sign is the feathering they'll get at age 6wks plus (again, depending on the bird): most roosters get long, swooping tails, sometimes get extra color on their feathers, and get "saddles" of longer feathers on their backs.  Another better sign is crowing (though we once had a hen that crowed from age 5 weeks until she was old enough to lay eggs, that is very unusual). If you'd like us to have a look at it ourselves, the best we can offer at the moment is via photos (we deliver via UPS to Sacramento; otherwise we'd have offered to drop by and look at it).  Or, you can take it to someone who may be able to tell better (such as UCDavis's vet school).  Or, keep an eye on it for another few weeks (some chickens don't "tell" if they're male or female till a good four months of age, though you can usually tell at 6 to 8 weeks) and let us know what you think then. 

We hope this helps: we would hate to adopt your rooster only to find out that it was a hen that you could have kept!  We almost had this happen when we adopted our rooster Scuttle: his previous family had five chickens, four of which they were sure were going to be roosters... we looked at them, guessed that Scuttle was a rooster (based on behavior and coloration, mostly, though it was an educated guess at best because he was only about 6 weeks old), and encouraged them to call if the others ended up being roosters.  Turns out the rest were hens after all, despite early comb growth and one having aggresive behavior, and their owners were very glad we didn't take all the chickens they asked us to...

If you want to send a photo we'd be happy to look, or just keep us posted if you decide to watch your chicken longer!  

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