Are meat chickens male or female?

The simple answer to this commonly asked question is: “both”.

Both male and female chickens are used to produce chicken meat. That’s the case right around the world.

Unlike the case for the egg industry, where only hens are required to lay the eggs that are sold for human consumption, both male and female meat chickens can be and are grown for meat and are equally valued by the chicken meat industry. This is just one of many differences between the two industries…. other differences include that meat chickens are never grown in cages and come from completely different breeds of chickens than egg laying chickens (for more information about the breeds used by the two industries see my earlier blog: no cages for meat chickens).

While it’s not possible to know whether the meat that you buy has come from a male or a female chicken (they will look and taste the same), roughly 50% of the meat chickens grown in Australia will be males and 50% females.

Are they grown differently? Do they look different?

These days, both male and female meat chickens are generally grown together in the same barns. Indeed, it’s impossible to distinguish between them when they are day old chicks delivered to farms around Australia. However, from about 30 days of age physical differences between the two sexes start to emerge, and by the time they are collected for processing for human consumption (which is before they have reached sexual maturity), it is possible to differentiate between young male and female meat chickens in a flock.

Males are a bit ‘meatier’ in their breasts, their legs and feet are thicker and their combs and wattles (the red floppy fleshy bits on top of their head and below their chin respectively) are bigger, brighter and more noticeable.

Blog Sketch_MaleFemale Chickens_160822F (002)

Male chickens tend to grow a bit faster, and at the same age will be a bit bigger than their female counterparts. Therefore, while the ratio of males to females when they hatch is roughly 50:50 (slightly more males, for some reason), when we look at which of the sexes contributes the most meat, it probably works out more like and 55% from males : 45% for females.

Are any of the meat chicks that hatch not placed on farms?

A small percentage of chicks (less than 1%) that hatch may be too weak or otherwise unfit to survive the first few days after hatching, and it is the responsibility of hatchery staff to identify these and euthanise them at the hatchery so that they do not suffer.

All fit and healthy day old meat chickens that are hatched are sent out to farms.

Male or female? Can you pick the difference?

The meat chickens in the foreground of the photos below are the same age and from the same flock. Can you tell what sex they are?

Male and female-1

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2 thoughts on “Are meat chickens male or female?

  1. Sergio

    This seems to contradict a lot of other websites that say that the vast majority of the chicken we eat is female and that male chickens are essentially discarded due to their tough meat. Since I have no idea which is true, I hope you’ll be able to confirm or deny this. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Vivien Kite Post author

      Thanks for your comment Sergio. I can confirm, definitively, that both males and female chickens are grown to produce meat chickens these days. Both males and female chickens from the major hybrid breeds of meat chicken used today are equally tender. I’m not sure where your sourced that conflicting information, but I wonder whether it may have referred to the situation up until the 1960s? Up until about the early 1960s the industry didn’t have the current modern breeds of meat chickens that have been specifically bred for meat and poultry producers therefore relied on growing out the cockerels (the otherwise unusable young male chickens from strains of chickens used for egg production or dual egg/meat production) for human consumption. They weren’t ideal, because they were a bit tough. If you want to find out more about what that lead to, then perhaps you could read my blog about the hormone myth: http://www.chicken.org.au/chookchat/the-hormone-myth/ .

      The breeds available these days are able to be killed at an earlier age – indeed, they are processed before the chickens have grown into adult males and females, and their is no detectable difference between males and females in terms of the eating quality of their meat. Hope that helps?

      Reply

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