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Sexing Norfolk Grey Chicks

by Alison Jones

 

There are few things in the world more fulfilling than watching your very own chicks hatch – from selecting the eggs to set in your incubator and then candling them until the miracle happens your very own chicks emerge. However the newly arrived fluffy chicks will soon start you wondering, what are they? Have I got lots of cockerels or are there any pullets, this age old question has bothered the seasoned chicken keeper as well as those first embarking on rearing their own chickens. Unfortunately unless you have chosen an auto sexing breed there is no certainty on what sex your chicks will be, but there are a few methods which poultry keepers have used as a guide to determine the sex – I can't guarantee that the method will work for you but it may help and will prove good fun.

 

 

There are many methods used to help sex chicks and a quick internet search will illustrate many different ways, some more successful than others but for the purpose of this article we will look at feather sexing. This method uses the chicken's genes which determine how fast feathers will grow. The father of the chicks has two alleles for recessive fast feathering and it is this gene he will pass onto all his offspring in comparison a hen will only carry one copy of the dominant slow feathering gene which she will only give to her male offspring resulting in the cockerel chicks been slow to feather. The pullets will only inherit the fast feathering gene from their father (the cockerel) but they will not be given any gene from their mother (the hen) resulting in the pullets been fast feathering.

In practice the difference between cockerels and pullets can be easily observed between one to three days after the chicks have hatched. The female chicks will have primary wing feathers that are longer than the covert feathers and the male chicks will have short primaries the same length as their coverts.

 

 

                                    The illustration below shows the wing on a chick highlighting the location of the coverts and primaries.

 

 

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It is this section of the wing we use for feather sexing

Sexing the Pullet

The primary feathers are longer than the coverts.

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Wing development of the pullet at 10 days old

Picture courtesy of Gina Upex

Wing development on my own pullet chick

Picture Courtesy of Alison Jones

Sexing the Cockerel

Primaries are smaller than the pullet's wing and are the same size as the coverts.

Wing development  of the cockerel at 10 days old

Picture courtesy of Gina Upex

One of my young cockerel chicks at about 5 days old.

Picture courtesy of Alison Jones

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Over the past twelve months I have used the feather sexing method on my own Norfolk Greys looking at the chicks at a day old and then leg ringing the chicks to follow the development to ensure the method is working. Another breeder has kept notes on her strain and we have both enjoyed good results, but there is always an exception to the rule so there are no guarantees any method is not completely fool proof. However between feather sexing, comb development and looking at the thickness of the legs all help to find which youngsters are cockerels.

 

Alison Jones