About how old is it easy to tell if you have a hen or a rooster, and are they good foragers? What should I look for when going to pick out 6 week old straight runs to improve my chances of getting hens? Thanks!
I was able to tell mine was female by 6 weeks old. She had no comb and no signs of wattles yet. Yes they are good foragers. If your getting 6 week old straight run I would look at the combs. If they are coming cheap from a farm I would ask if they have sold any of them yet. Sometimes people will sell older chicks and claim they are straight run when actually they are all males.
Three weeks has always been my magic number. Within one day of their three weeks "birthday" the roosters combs pop out. If you have a rooster, it's easier to tell because you will look at everyone, but the rooster has a slightly larger comb.
If you look at this photo you will see three peeps peeking out from under mama Marbles. They ended up being a one of each. One Delaware, One Astralorp and one Barred Rock/Delaware cross. The yellow peep on the left and the center peep are boys, and the peep on the right is a female. If you look closely at the difference in the combs you will see the difference and know what to look for at the three week window.
I had a batch of 12 barred rocks, and on the very day of the third week I was putting them outside in their little run-pen. I was in flip-flops and they were running around at my feet. One started to attack me and would pinch my toes and twist. It finally drew blood and I had to get out of the pen. I sat down and was putting some yarrow/plaintain on the bleeding toe when I noticed that one had a bigger comb than the others. That's when the three week window became apparent to me, and it has been that way with all other peeps since then. And, yes, that little one grew into a rooster and had to be dealt with before he even crowed. He was "something else".
If the peeps are 6 weeks you should see a definite difference in combs, especially the color. The males will have more color in their combs, they will be bigger than the females etc. I agree with Apyl above, if you ask if any have been sold, and they all look alike, with no comb difference at 6 weeks, then they are trying to fool you with all males. Also by 6 weeks females should be fully feathered with a female tail shape NOT tails that stick up vs. that soft slope.
Crowing doesn't come until later, sometimes MUCH later. Every rooster I have had has had a different "first crow" sound. From a garbling that sounds like they are drowning to a squeaking door.
Comb is an obvious one
The vent of a hen is different to the one from a cock but this is not very obvious for someone who is new.
The neckfeathers. A hen has a more rounded tip to them and a cock will have a definate V shaped point.
Size, a cock is generally bigger and heavier.
If they have multiple breeds running together make sure you compare the same breed against each other as breed does make a difference.