Chicken Breeds: Sex Link, Red Star, and Black Star; Color Sexing
A Red Star Hen
What's A "Sex Link" Breed?
A “sex link” chicken breed is one where you can tell the difference between male and female chicks when they are hatched. The female and male chicks will be different colors, which means that you are virtually guaranteed to get a hen when you buy a “female” chick.
This is an important distinction, because sexing baby chicks can only be done reliably within a narrow window – between 1 and 3 days after hatching. Even when performed by professionals, chicken sexing is only about 95% reliable. This means that when you buy a pullet chick from a breed like Buff Orpington, there is a 5% chance that it will grow up to be a rooster. Roosters can be a terrible nuisance, and illegal to keep in many areas, and while they can make great and wonderful pets, there are few things worse than a rooster if you only wanted hens.
As you can see, color-coding at birth can be really helpful!
What Kind Of Sex Links Are Available?
Sex link breeds come in two basic “flavors,” red and black. Both red and black sex link chickens use a red rooster, either a Rhode Island Red or a New Hampshire. The most popular and common red sex link chicken breed is the Red Star. “Red Star” is a vague term, and is produced by crossing with a hen which is a White Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island White, or Delaware.
Red Stars are strong egg layers, which lay brown eggs, and lots of them! Many Red Star hens will start laying relatively late in life (27 weeks, according to McMurray Hatchery) but they will lay straight through the winter, whereas many breeds will stop laying when the daylight hours get short. Red Star hens are red, and the roosters are white.
The “Black Star” or “Black Sex Link” hen is black with gold or red hackles and breast feathers. Black sex link chicks are produced by crossing a red rooster (either Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire) with a Barred Rock hen. Both male and female chicks are black, but the males have a white spot on top of their heads. Confusingly, black sex link chickens are also called “Rock Reds.”
Both Red Stars and Black Stars come from a variety of cross breeds, and each hatchery has its own “special blend,” if you will. These cross breeds are closely guarded, and this is part of the reason for why there are so many possible breeds which create a sex link chick. It’s almost impossible to know exactly which breeds have gone into your sex link chick, but that doesn’t make them any less lovely.
Sometimes it seems like every hatchery has its own special name for sex link chickens. I have also heard them called "cinnamon queen," and sometimes just "black sex link," "red sex link," and so forth. I myself have a hen named Dolly who was identified as a "black and gold sex link" when I bought her at the feed store.
Other common chicken breeds:
- Buff Orpington
- Old English Game Birds
- Ameraucana, Araucana, and Easter Egger
- Sex Link, Black Star, and Red Star
Roosters Are Loud!
Why Is Accuracy Important?
Most chicken owners do not want to get roosters. In many cities, you are not allowed to own roosters, due to the noise they make! A rooster crows at dawn, sure. And mid morning, at noon, in the afternoon, and in the early evening. Some roosters essentially crow constantly as long as they are awake.
Aside from the noise issue, roosters can be aggressive – both to their hens, and to their human keepers! Roosters have sharp spurs, bony claws that stick out of the backs of their legs. When a rooster is motivated to attack, he rakes these spurs across his opponent. If his “opponent” happens to be you, wearing shorts? Big problem! If his “opponent” is your waist-high child? HUGE problem.
Because a rooster entices his mate by “treading” on her back, this can cause feather loss and even open wounds. You may have seen chicken saddles for sale, these are little aprons that your hens can wear, so that the rooster does not tear out all their feathers in the name of love.
Finally, you do not need a rooster to make eggs. Your hens will lay them whether or not you have a rooster. So unless you plan to breed, you have no need for a rooster!
When buying chicks of other breeds, your best case scenario is that 95 out of 100 chicks will turn out to be female as advertised. This leaves a 5 in 100 chance that your chick will be male, or 1 in 20. Put it this way: if the lottery odds were 1 in 20, I can guarantee you I would buy a ticket!
Many people are put off by the possibility of having to deal with a rooster. Can you bring yourself to “do the deed” by hand? Do you have a friend, family member, or neighbor who grew up on a farm, and would be willing to help you out?
You can try posting a “free rooster” ad in the local paper or on Craigslist, but your success with this will be limited. Be aware that many people will be picking up a free rooster in order to slaughter and eat it. If this thought distresses you, then sex link breeds may definitely be the way to go!
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