Is My Silkie Chick Male or Female? Reliable Ways To Sex Silkie Chicks

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Can you guess the sex of these two chicks? This article will guide you through what to look at when determining the gender of silkies.

Determining the sex of a silkie is a major question on the lips of almost all silkie owners. If a 50/50 chance of guessing the sex correctly does not suffice, there may be a few other ways to help increase the accuracy of your best guess. So get the family to place their bets before you read on…

Silkies are one of the most challenging breeds of chicken to sex because the differences between hens and roosters are very subtle at a young age. They become sexually mature at 5-6 months old, and at this age, the first apparent signs of gender may be revealed. The most accurate way to determine the sex of a silkie chicken is by DNA testing.

Commonly, silkie chicks are sold in a straight-run, meaning they are not sexed. Some places offer sexed silkie chicks at a higher price, but be aware that errors may still occur unless DNA sexing is done. If you live in an area with restrictions on keeping roosters, correct sexing becomes even more critical. To be able to make a more educated guess, have a look at the table below comparing traits of male and female silkies.

How Is Gender Determined In Chickens?

You might know that in most animals, sex is determined by a pair of sex chromosomes. One of the sex chromosomes is derived from the female parent, and the other from the male parent. The rest of the chromosomes that are not sex chromosomes are called autosomes.

In humans and all other mammals, for that matter, the male is the heterogametic sex, meaning that males have two different sex chromosomes (XY) and females have two of the same sex chromosomes (XX). In birds, this is the other way around: females are the heterogametic sex (notated ZW), and males are the homogametic sex (notated ZZ). This means that the Female parent determines the sex of the offspring.

In some chicken breeds, specific sex-linked characteristics have been selectively bred for to be able to determine the sex of a chick at a young age. Examples of this include the bar of the Barred Plymouth Rock (males have a solid or larger white ‘bar’ on the head at hatching while females have a more subtle or faded ‘bar’ on their heads at hatching) and the Rode Island Red (females have a sex-linked fast-feathering gene which causes their wing feathers to be longer at a few days old compared to the males).

Traits Indicating Sex In Silkies

Even the most experienced silkie breeders will be reluctant to determine the gender of a silkie chick until it either lets out a crow or lays an egg. However, silkie crosses seem to have slightly more obvious sex differences at an early age, depending on which breed they have been crossed with.

Below is a table comparing the traits of pullets and cockerels that you can use to see which side gets the most checkmarks for each of your chicks. It’s quite a lot of fun to take a guess and see whether you were right in a few months.

Physical TraitMale SilkieFemale Silkie
SizeMales are usually slightly heavier and larger than females. They also have thicker, sturdier legs. This, although a very subtle difference, can be noticed at hatching.Females tend to be smaller. A study found that eggs containing a female embryo were slightly smaller in diameter and weighed slightly less than eggs containing a male embryo. (Davies and Payne, 1982)
CrestMale silkies will develop streamer feathers at about 7- 8 weeks of age. These are strands of feathers longer than the rest of the crest feathers. At hatching, male silkies tend to have more square-shaped crests.Females’ crests stay rounded, with no individual feathers being distinctly longer than the other feathers. At hatching, females tend to have more round-shaped crests.
Body shape and postureMales may stand more upright and hold their tails higher. As a result, they tend to look taller than females.Females usually hold their bodies more horizontally to the ground.
WattleMales will develop their wattles sooner than females. This is handy if you have a few silkies from the same brood, as you will be able to notice some of them developing wattles sooner (usually around 4-5 months).Female silkies only develop wattles when reaching sexual maturity (laying age, around 6-9 months).
CombMales have a wider U-shaped comb. Their combs are also much larger than the females’.Females have a tapered or V-shaped comb.
WingsIn chicks less than a week old, males will have fluffy wings, and their wings tend to be slightly shorter compared to females of the same age. This is due to the sex-linked fast-feathering genes that some females carry. Note that this will not be the case in all breeding lines of silkies.In female chicks less than a week old, you may notice the start of primary feathers at the tips of the wings. As they get older, their wings will reach the tail, while male chicks’ wings will appear shorter.
Feet featheringIn chicks from the same brood, males usually tend to have more and thicker feet feathers than females.Female chicks usually have less feathering on their feet than males from the same brood. This method can only be used reliably to compare chicks from the same brood since feet feathering is a genetic trait.
CrowingCockerels commonly start crowing at around four months old.Pullets do not crow.
BehaviorEven as chicks, males tend to be more confident and curious.Female chicks tend to be shy. Not all the girls follow this rule, though.
SpursCockerels will develop spurs around six months of age.Pullets do not have spurs.
Two young cockerels. Note the streamer feathers on the crests of both and the higher tail position seen on the silkie on the left.
A female chick. Notice the v-shaped comb and neat head feathers.

DNA Sexing

With an accuracy rate of 99.9%, this is the most accurate and reliable way to sex silkie chicks. It will cost you roughly $12 per bird and is done by collecting a small amount of blood, feather clippings, or eggshells from each chick. Most companies will deliver results within a week or two.

IQ Bird Testing is a company many silkie owners make use of. They offer discounts for bulk orders and will courier all the sampling kits to you after placing your order. Their website has excellent, easy-to-follow instructions on how to collect samples.

A few handy tips: When filling in the species on your sample submission form, write Gallus gallus domesticus, which is that fancy name for a chicken. When collecting blood by nail clipping, make sure to have some styptic powder (link to example product on Amazon) on hand to help stop the bleeding.

You must label your samples and birds carefully. Something such as colored rubber bands or cable ties tied loosely around the legs of individual chicks work well.

Also, be careful not to cross-contaminate samples. Wash your hands or wear disposable rubber gloves when working with a specific bird to prevent traces of DNA from another bird from contaminating the sample of one bird resulting in a wasted test.

Vent Sexing

To have a decent accuracy rate with this method, a considerable amount of experience is required. The difference is subtle, and this method is often not practical for backyard poultry owners. Vent sexing is more invasive and, if done incorrectly, can cause discomfort to the chick.

Vent-sexing is done by gently pressing on the chick’s vent and looking at the cloacal folds inside. Males will have a small bump or bubble, while females will have no bump or bubble.

This skill has even seemed to fall by the wayside in commercial poultry production. Many commercial layers are bred to have sex-linked color or feather variations, making sexing much easier and quicker.

Remember this image from earlier in this article? What did you guess the sex to be? The chick on the left is female, and the one on the right is male. Did you guess correctly?


Determining the sex of silkies younger than six months (or when they start eaying or crowing) without a DNA test will remain an educated guess at best. However, if it is imperative that you know the sex of young chicks, for example, you have limited space for new birds, or there are restrictions on the keeping of roosters, I would highly recommend investing in DNA sexing before you get too attached!

Pet Vet Tip: If you do end up with a few cockerels that you do not know what to do with, have a look at this article on 8 Ways to Manage Unwanted Silkie Cockerels.

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Dr. Annerien de Villiers

Dr. Annerien de Villiers graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Pretoria in 2018. She has since worked full-time in clinical practice tending to all kinds of companion animals in general practice. Serving the human-animal bond with care and compassion and making accurate information accessible to pet owners is at the heart of her driving force as a veterinarian.

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