The only way to identify the sex of newly hatched chicks is through a process of manually manipulating the chick to try and differentiate between the male and female.
Many types of chickens are able to be feather sexed. This procedure is quick and minimally invasive as it only requires looking at the growth of the wing feathers. Our heritage breeds are not able to be distinguished in this way, and would therefore need to be vent sexed. Vent sexing is done by looking in the vent of the chick to decipher the different organs. According to the book “Sexing all fowl, baby chicks, game birds, cage birds”, there are six types of male organs and this organ is, in most cases, as small (or smaller) than the head of a pin, and there are four female types. The sexing expert has to differentiate between all these types which have very small differences. In our program we have five different unselected breeds of heritage chicks which often don’t compare reliably to a commercial type bird. ‘Unselected’ meaning that the birds have not been sorted for different characteristics over time.
The vent sexing process is an extremely specialized skill and there are very few trained experts who can perform it. Previous efforts to vent sex our birds have shown that they are not what the experts were used to seeing. In addition, the procedure can add stress on the chicks, by increasing the handling done to them before shipping.
We believe that the stress, difficulty, expense, and inaccuracy due to the type of chickens we have makes this process prohibitive. We decided it is in the best interests of this particular program to avoid it. As the birds have the added stress of needing to be shipped to destinations all across Alberta, it is best to get the birds on their way as soon as we can.
After hatching, it takes approximately 4-6 weeks to be completely sure of the sex of the Brown, White leghorn, and Light Sussex birds. Plymouth Rock birds can be identified a bit earlier as the males will be a lighter colour once their adult feathers come in. It can take up to 12 weeks to be sure of the sex of the New Hampshire and Rhode Island Red. In some cases the Random-bred chickens can take a bit longer if for example a male is on the smaller side it may still look not unlike a female for a longer period.