Chicken sexing is an important part of egg production in BC and most commercial hatcheries employ chicken sexers who separate pullets from cockerels within a day or so of hatching. This is necessary because different feed is needed for female chicks who will lay eggs one day versus male chicks who may or may not be kept for meat. It is largely an economic decision. Heritage chickens often don’t come sexed – I know someone whose 25 heritage chicks included 18 roosters that neither laid eggs nor grew into nice fat broilers.
To sex a chicken is difficult, if not impossible, for the uninitiated. Chicken sexers usually learned how to do so from someone else. According to David Eagelman in the book Incognito, the process is impossible to describe. He credits the Japanese for figuring out, “…how to teach this inarticulable knowledge. The student would pick up a chick, examine its rear, and toss it into a bin. The master would then say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on his generally correct observation. After a few weeks, the student’s brain was trained to masterful levels”.(1)
In the spring I attended the BC Historical Federation annual conference in Chilliwack and went on a field trip to New Siberia Farms, now run by Bill and Janice Balakshin. We toured a hatchery that was closed sixty years ago and was still basically intact. We saw the cardboard boxes that had held “pullets” and “cockerels”, and the pull-out shelves of a wooden incubator. There were still a few hens that the Balakshins kept for their own use; the hens lived in a pen open to the outside with a mesh screen door and what appeared to be a wonderful life. I’ve bought only free-range eggs since that tour.
Back to chicken sexers. Bill Balakshin’s Aunt Annie was the first certified female chicken sexer in Canada (3). While she might not have attained the world record of sexing 1682 chicks in an hour without a mistake (2), she did win many awards for her uncanny and undefinable talent.
I will leave it up to your imagination to figure out how to figure out the sex of a chicken.