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

This article contains affiliate links, and we may earn a commission at no cost to you if you choose to purchase through these links. I never recommend products that I do not trust or will not advise my veterinary clients and patients to use.

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 simply 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.

Silkie chicks are sold in a straight-run, meaning they are not sexed. Some places do 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.

Can you guess the sex?

First, some Interesting Genetics on Sex Determination in Birds

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, in that females are the heterogametic sex (notated ZW) and males are the homogametic sex (notated ZZ). This means that the sex of the offspring is determined by the Female parent.

In some chicken breeds, specific sex-linked characteristics have been selected for by breeding in order 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. 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 hens and roosters that you can use to see which side gets the most checkmarks for each of your chicks. It’s loads of fun to take a guess and see whether you were right in a few months’ time.

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)
CrestAt about 7- 8 weeks of age, male silkies will develop streamer feathers. These are strands of feathers that are longer than the rest of the crest feathers. At hatching, male silkies tend to have more square-shaped crests.Females’crest tends to stay rounded with no individual feathers being distinctly longer compared to 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 slightly higher. They tend to look taller than the 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 she is around laying age (somewhere between 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 girls 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 silkiesIn female chicks less than a week old, you may notice the start of primary feathers at the tips of the wings. As they get slightly older, their wings will reach the tail while male chicks’ wings will appear slightly shorter.
Feet featheringIn chicks from the same brood, males usually tend to have more and thicker feet feathers compared to females.Female chicks usually have less feathering on their feet than males from the same brood. This method can only be used relatively reliable in chicks from the same brood to be able to compare as feathering on the feet is a genetic trait.
CrowingBoys may start crowing at around 4 months.Unless you have an exceptionally ‘special’ hen, they 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.
SpursMales will develop spurs around 6 months of age.Female chickens do not have spurs
Two young roosters. 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

This is the most accurate and reliable way to sex silkie chicks with an accuracy rate of 99.9%. It will cost you roughly $12 per bird and is done by collecting a small amount of blood, feather clippings or eggshell collection at home. Most companies will deliver results within a week or two.

IQ Bird Testing is a reliable company that I know many silkie owners have had good success with. They offer discounts for a large number of samples as well. After placing your order, they will send you the sampling kits. Their website has excellent easy-to-follow instructions on how to collect samples. If you have to fill in the species, 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 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

In order to have a decent accuracy rate with this method, many hours of looking at the business ends of chicks are required. The difference is very 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 as well as many commercial layers are bred to have sex-linked color or feather variations that make sexing a lot easier and quicker.

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

Conclusion

Determining the sex of young silkies younger than laying/crowing age without a DNA test will remain an educated guess at best. 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!

References

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.

Recent Posts

vetmarx-21