Most of the time when you see huge barns of chickens on industrial-scale farms, or a bustling flock in someone’s backyard, it is all about those eggs!
Eggs are indeed one of the primary reasons for owning and raising chickens in the first place.
But this does beg the question: if seemingly all chickens are laying eggs, does that mean that all chickens are female?
No, not all chickens are female. The vast majority of chickens raised for egg production are indeed female, but male chickens of course exist. Females predominate in many flocks because female-only flocks are easier to manage and lay more eggs.
Don’t worry, you aren’t psyching yourself out. It is entirely true that even a massive flock of chickens might be all ladies by design.
But there are male chickens out there, to be sure! We’ll talk more about the battle of the sexes in the chicken world below.
Are All Chickens Girls?
No, not all chickens are girls. Male chickens exist, naturally, and play an important role in many flocks. Female chickens are overwhelmingly more popular than male chickens, however.
Why Are Female Chickens So Much More Popular?
The main reason that female chickens are more popular is that they lay eggs, and male chickens don’t.
This is the primary purpose of most chicken-keeping, so it only makes sense that the vast majority of chickens encountered would be female.
Another reason that female chickens are more popular is that they tend to be far less aggressive and troublesome overall than males.
Male chickens can be quite aggressive, sometimes to the point of being dangerous. This isn’t always the case, but it is something to consider if you are thinking about adding a rooster to your flock.
Male chickens, and roosters, are prone to fighting with each other. This can lead to serious injuries or even death.
They are also much more likely to attack humans, especially children, than female chickens are. Not for nothing, their iconic (or infamous) cock-a-doodle-doo at the crack of dawn is rarely appreciated by owners or neighbors.
Lastly, successful mating with a female means she will not only suffer from a disrupted laying schedule (if she was laying already) but she will also then start laying fertilized eggs with viable chicks inside!
Not a great thing unless you are deliberately breeding your birds. For these reasons, most chicken keepers choose to stick with hens only.
Are Meat Chickens Males?
No. Both male and female chickens are raised for meat, with females, once again, being overwhelmingly chosen for meat production. The main reason for this is that female chickens grow to butcher weight faster than males.
Additionally, male chickens often have undesirable traits for meat production and their meat may have an undesirable flavor for mainline consumers.
That being said, both male and female chickens can certainly be slaughtered for their meat and both are used in the chicken meat industry.
You may sometimes see “capon” on a menu, which is a male chicken that has been castrated and therefore grows larger and has more flavorful meat than regular male chickens. These birds are comparatively rare, however.
Are All Chickens Hens?
No. However, all female chickens that live to adulthood are called hens. There are several stages in a female chicken’s life, however, and not all of them are “hen”.
Chicks that have not yet reached sexual maturity are simply called chicks, regardless of gender.
Upon reaching adolescence, male chickens are called cockerels and females are pullets.
Once they reach sexual maturity, male chickens are called roosters and female chickens are called hens. So, all hens were once chicks, but not all chicks grow up to be hens.
When Does a Chicken Become a Hen?
As mentioned, female chickens become hens technically upon reaching sexual maturity (around 20 weeks old if bred for the purpose) or, unofficially, upon reaching one year of age.
So after her first birthday she is officially a hen no matter what!
Can Chickens Change Sex?
No. Chickens cannot change sex, though in some vanishingly rare circumstances a female chicken might start to develop physical traits that make her appear and act more like a rooster.
Can a chicken that starts out as female end up as a male, and mate with females? The answer is again no.
However, there are actually verified reports of chickens “changing sex.” However, upon closer inspection, these stories are usually more complicated than they first appear.
In most cases, what is actually happening is that the female chicken is exhibiting masculine traits due to a hormone imbalance.
This can occur for a variety of reasons, including severe stress or a lack of certain nutrients in the diet. Illness or dysfunction of the adrenal glands is also quite common.
In all such cases, it is this quirk of biology that starts the female’s physical characteristics changing.
In rare cases, a chicken may be born with both male and female sexual organs. While this chicken will generally default to a female phenotype, it may begin to develop male characteristics if exposed to high levels of testosterone.
Ultimately, while chickens cannot change their sex, there are a number of conditions that can cause them to exhibit masculine traits like combs, darker and more colorful plumage, large tail feathers, and heightened aggression.
Consequently, these stories of sex-changing chickens are not quite as far-fetched as they might initially seem.
However, it is important to note again for emphasis that these chickens still retain their female chromosomes and cannot mate with males. As a result, they are not truly considered to be males.
So, while chickens can’t change their sex, there are some circumstances where they might develop some characteristics of the opposite sex and can easily convince onlookers that they are, in fact, changing sex!
Can Hens Lay Eggs Without a Rooster?
Yes, they sure can. Hens do not need a rooster in order to lay eggs. Once sexually mature, hens will lay eggs whether or not they have mated with a rooster at all.
In fact, most commercial egg-laying operations do not keep roosters as part of their flocks, period, since they serve no real purpose and can actually be quite a nuisance.
So hens will lay eggs regardless of whether or not there is a rooster present. However, in order for those eggs to be fertilized and result in baby chicks, a rooster must be present and he must mate with the hen.
So while a hen can lay an egg without a rooster, she will only produce a fertilized egg if there is a rooster around to mate with her.
Once mating is successfully concluded, a hen will start laying fertilized eggs around 10 days afterward, and will continue laying them for 2 to 4 weeks, with fertility generally dropping off after 2 weeks.
It is worth noting, however, that not all eggs a fertilized female lays will necessarily be fertile! Some simply aren’t.
How Can You Tell a Hen and Rooster Apart?
It is quite easy so long as the birds are mature. Aside from the fact that roosters never, ever lay eggs, the main way to tell a hen and rooster apart is by their plumage, or feathers and particularly larger and more prominent tail feathers than hens.
They also tend to have bigger combs and wattles on their head, and roosters also tend to be quite a bit larger and significantly more aggressive than hens. Roosters also possess, most notably, spurs on their legs which are used for fighting.
Hens, on the other hand, are generally much more docile and easy-going than their male counterparts.
They also tend to be smaller in size and have smaller, paler combs and wattles along with coloration that is more subdued and less bombastic compared to their male counterparts.
Of course, these are all characteristics of adult chickens. For young chicks, it can be a bit more difficult to tell males and females apart since they have not yet developed their distinctive physical characteristics.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.