Would You Make a Good Chicken Sexer?

I’m betting you haven’t given a moment’s thought to how you would determine the sex of a baby chick. Most of us haven’t. But then, we don’t run large commercial hatcheries. The owners of commercial hatcheries invest their money in females who lay eggs for commercial sale. They need to know which chicks are females on the very day that they hatch.  To find out, many hire a chicken sexer.

Six Ways to Determine the Sex of a Chicken

Since chicks are either male or female, any method of sexing has a 50% chance of being right. Methods that work some of the time include:

  1. Length of wing feathers. This works within 1-3 days of hatching, but is only valid if the chick’s father was a fast-feathering breed and the mother a slow-feathering breed.
  2. Down colour. This works only for chickens with distinctive colour patterns.
  3. Physical features like combs, wattles, and feather length. These aren’t apparent until at least three weeks after hatching.

There are three methods that are much more accurate, but also expensive:

4. DNA testing
5. Testing of the egg within three days of fertilization. A special light analyzes red blood cells to determine sex of the chick. This is a new technique, whose use is not yet widespread.
6. Vent testing. This is the work of professional chicken sexers.

Vent Sexing

On the day that a chick is hatched, the chicken sexer picks it up, gently squeezes its abdomen to expel feces, then looks in the chick’s anal vent (called a cloaca). The chicken sexer is looking to see if the chick has a tiny (less than 0.1 mm) genital organ shaped like a pimple. If so, this usually indicates that the chick is male.

If only it were that simple. 40% of day old female chicks have pimples that look like those of males. And 20% of all chicks don’t have an easily recognizable sex organ at all. A chicken sexer has to learn as many as a thousand vent configurations and then achieve a consistent 90-95% success rate while they process up to 8000 chicks per day.

The Art of the Chicken Sexer

Vent sexing was developed by a Japanese scientist in 1920. After an article was published in English in 1933, poultry breeders from around the world began attending the Zen-Nippon Chick Sexing School in Japan.

While Chick Sexing School offers a two-year course, a good chicken sexer often says that he “just knows” whether a chicken is male or female. This matches the training approach that was practiced in the 1930’s.  The student chicken sexer would put a chicken in the female bin or the male bin. The master chicken sexer would say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This would carry on for weeks or months until the student’s accuracy approached the 90% success rate.

Would You Be a Good Chicken Sexer?

So to be a good chicken sexer, it appears you need to possess the diagnostic skills of Dr. House, or at least those of an expert chess player who can ‘see’ their next five moves. Assuming that this intuitive knowledge can be learned at chicken sexing school, there are just a few other qualifications for a good chicken sexer. They include:

  • delicate hands so that you don’t damage the day-old chicks
  • the ability to sit under a spotlight in a darkened room for up to thirteen hours at a time as the chicks roll by on a conveyor belt
  • laser-sharp concentration and focus for hours

If chicken sexing is in your future you can make up to $60,000 U.S. a year, more if you win chicken sexing competitions. And you’d probably find work quite easily. The United Kingdom reported a “chicken sexer crisis” as recently as 2015. Apparently, fewer young people are enrolling in chicken sexing school. Just three students graduated in 2010.

The Future of Chicken Sexing

The days of the professional chicken sexer may be numbered. In-ovo (egg) testing is a new technology that is showing promise. And more hatcheries are using specially bred chickens so they can do wing feather sexing.

I know it’s progress and, believe me, I wouldn’t want the job, but there’s something a bit sad about losing the art of chicken sexing. At least, that’s what I think. Do you agree?

 

 

 

19 comments

  1. I think a lot of jobs are being lost with new processes, however those who have the new technology probably will earn more than $60,000 per year.
    It’s not the job I would want, but is fascinating.

  2. Wow, is right, Karen! This was totally random but totally interesting as usual. You are also correct about me not giving a moment’s thought to how to determine the sex of a baby chick. LOL, I do have a best friend that lives in Saskatchewan who does have chickens. I wonder if she knows how to determine the sex of chicks. Hmm, I will have to ask her. She is by no means a large commercial outfit, however, that being said, she does sell eggs. I am sure she has under two dozen chickens.

    Her main focus is on her vegetable gardens she owns and runs. It is called Jessy’s Gardens after her daughter Jessy who committed suicide eight years ago now. Jessy was always about giving to those in need and making sure everyone around her was fed. So in her name, my friend and her husband started Jessy’s Gardens and they have acres of vegetables (all kinds) that they harvest for things like the food bank, various charities and also sell to the public at drastically reduced prices due to a large number of volunteers who tend the gardens during the growing season.

    Once again Karen, thank you for introducing me to a new and very well researched topic that I never knew I needed to know about until I read it on your website. 😉

    1. Thanks for telling us the story of Jessy’s Garden, Susan. It sounds like a wonderful, useful way for your friend and her husband to honour their daughter’s memory.

  3. Another fascinating topic. I had no idea how the sex of chickens is determined or that it would be this difficult. A job with a future. Or, maybe not. I’m not surprised that technology will take over in this sector. It wouldn’t be my thing, for all the reasons you mention.

    I’m not sure why, but this topic reminded me of the Chinese pearl grafters that are hired in French Polynesia to make the oysters produce pearls.

  4. Wow Karen – another subject that I had never heard of. While I can understand that it’s valuable to poultry producers, it is not a job I would want.

  5. Hi Karen – I absolutely love the wide range of fascinating topics that you cover in your blog. (And, I too, would not want the job of ‘chicken sexer’ !) Thank you also for the grocery list template…I had always planned to make one (or at least look for one on Google…) but never got around to it. Yours looks fantastic! Finally, thank you for mentioning my blog. I look forward to featuring your guest post this coming Sunday (6 a.m. BC time)!

    1. Thanks, Donna. I so appreciate you taking the time and making the effort to comment when you’re in the midst of your “big walk.” I hope it was a productive walk day, although must admit that the day you spent at the spa is more my style lately!

  6. Hi Karen – Another well researched topic as usual….and here’s another one. My grandson has a 4 year old Bearded Dragon (male??) that he has had since it was a baby. It is well looked after and lives alone in a large aquarium filled with sand, logs, trees, etc. — yesterday he went to give it breakfast and LOL it had laid a clutch of 16 eggs —- what the heck!!! Looks like immaculate conception…or another job waiting to be filled — sexing dragons!

    1. Do do do do – that’s mysterious music playing, Marlene. What the heck indeed! It sounds like a Wow Note worthy topic for sure. Please let us know if you solve the mystery. (Personally, I like the immaculate conception theory.)

  7. At first I thought your post was about chicken SEXTING (perhaps they tweet, rather than text, naked pictures of themselves?), but soon realized that would be hard to do without opposable thumbs.

    A better method of sexing might be having the chickens cross an unfamiliar road. If they refuse to ask for directions, it’s probably a male.

    1. Oh, Janis! It’s early morning here and you’ve just given me my first and undoubtedly best laugh of the day. I LOVE your method of chicken sexing… and so wish that chicken sexting were possible.
      Your joke reminds me of a sign in the house of a friend who owns half a dozen chickens – “I dream of the day when a chicken can cross the road without having its motives questioned.”
      Have a great day, and thanks for the laugh.

    2. Chicken sexting — hahaha! And undoubtably, you’ve discovered the way to determine the sex of a chicken. Just place them near a road. Although perhaps that only works for adult males of the species, not newborns.

      Jude

  8. Can you just imagine telling people that you are a master chicken sexer! What fun! I couldn’t help but think of the old Kung Fu show: I figure I would be a ‘grasshopper’ for my entire chicken sexing career.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about that I have never, ever thought about before.

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