Unfortunately, all chicks go through an ugly stage. Some uglier than others. Buster, for example, was gorgeous up to two weeks old, but then he started to lose fluff and gain pin feathers … it was not pretty. The Peeps stayed gorgeous all the way through – possibly because, being outside, they were feathering up much faster. Plus pullets feather faster than cockerels anyway.
We were quite sure that Buster was a boy from very early – thick legs, and quite bolshie to the others. His comb started to show faster too, and, as you can see from the photo montage opposite, his feathering up was a slow process.
The others, we weren’t so sure about. Someone on BYP had commented that, in her experience of Welsumers, the ones with the strongest eyeliner markings were usually boys, and the unlined ones girls (which was the opposite of what we wanted to hear. Oh well). But we should be able to tell by their markings when they were four to five weeks old – females would start to show golden red feathers on the chest, whereas the boys would come through very dark, shading to black.
There was a technique that a few people had mentioned the old-timers using. Basically you take a day old chick and turn it upside down on your palm. Boys would leave one leg sticking out and curl one up, and girls would curl both legs up. Some people swore by it – reckoned that they got a 90% to 95% accuracy this way. (Professional chicken sexers are around 98% accurate, working at a rate of 800 chicks per day.) So at three weeks old, we thought we’d give it a try:
For starters, it wasn’t quite as easy to do as it looked. Chicks – quite naturally – object to being put on their backs, and struggle quite vigorously. But I discovered that they will soon settle and relax back on to your palm, especially if you support their heads and tip them back slightly past the horizontal plane. You just have to stop them hurtling out of your hand and onto the floor …
The two photos above look nice and clear, don’t they? Except Big Bird tested quite differently the first time we did him/her: curled both legs up into female. Only tested as a boy when we wanted to take a photo. And then a third time decided to stay a girl. Sigh! Barney was similar – tested male two out of three times. And then there were the (eventual) results:
|Rhode Island Red red||cockerel||cockerel|
|Rhode Island Red blue||cockerel||pullet|
|Rhode Island Red yellow||pullet||pullet|
50%. Not so good for us. I’ve since heard that it really only works for the first 48 hours. If we raise chicks again, we’ll put it to the test. For now it can stay in the “hmmm” files.
By four and five weeks old, the differences between the chicks was quite marked. The Peeps were still pretty gorgeous, and seemed to be feathering up very quickly:
Clockwise: RIR blue, Welsumer green, Welsumer blue, RIR red.
As you can see, the two Welsumers are both a lot more feathered than the two Rhode Island Reds. And the two Welsumers had also revealed their gender: the black chest feathers mean that both Sky and Basil were cockerels!
When the Peeps were five and a half weeks old, Bessie decided that she was sick of being a mum, and went back to the laying flock. It was a bit earlier than we’d expected, but the five girls were all well enough feathered to cope. And cope they did.
The Welsumers were pretty well feathered at that stage too, so we made an attempt to add them to the Peeps.
No. Not a chance. Alice and Lily just went for them, so after a fruitless thirty seconds we took the Welsumers back to the spare room and the ever-expanding Sammie Brooder, vowing to finish the chicks’ quarters asap and get them all out in the one enclosure. As soon as Buster, Barney and Big Bird feathered up enough, they were all hitting the Great Outdoors.