Some of the most popular chickens today are sex-link chickens. However, they are not recognized as breeds by the APA (American Poultry Association). Many hatcheries sell sex-linked chickens under these names: Red/Golden Sex-Links, California Grays, Black Sex-Links, Comets, Stars, Red Buffs, Cinnamon Queens and Isa browns. However, contrary to popular belief, many of these hybrids are different and are obtained by crossing different breeds. Learn about the difference and how to tell what’s what here!
What is a Sex-Link?
Sex-Link chickens are hybrid chickens that are gender-identifiable at any age. Put simply, the males are colored or feathered differently than the females, even as chicks. There are many different kinds of Sex-Link chickens but most fit into two main categories: Red/Gold Sex-links and Black Sex-Links.
Note: Sex-Links are different from Autosex chickens. The only difference is that Autosex chickens will breed true. Sex-Links do not breed true (i.e. if two sex-links are bred together, they will not necessarily produce sex-linked offspring). A good example of an Autosex chicken is the Barred Plymouth Rock. A male Barred Rock chick is lighter and as an oblong or splotchy, white spot on his head. A female Barred Rock chick is darker and has an even, circular spot on her head.
Red/Golden Sex-links are produced by crossing a red/brown male (such as a New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red) with a white female (Such as a Leghorn, Plymouth Rock or Delaware). The male offspring are predominantly white and the female offspring are red with white markings or a white base color.
Black Sex-links are produced by crossing a red male (like a New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red) with a barred female (usually Barred Plymouth Rock). The male offspring turn out barred and the female offspring turn out black (often with red/gold markings around the neck/chest).
How Sex-Linked Chickens Work (Color Genetics):
With poultry (as well as all birds), the males carry 2 color genes. Females carry the gender factor (i.e. whether the offspring turn out male or female) and 1 color gene. This is important when understanding sex-linked chickens. Now, some genes are dominate (they will overpower other genes and show up in the offspring) and some genes have the ability to mesh with other genes (resulting in a new color that is a combo of the other colors).
How do Black Sex-Link Hens Turn Out Black While the Males Turn Out Barred?
The genetic combination that results in grey ‘barred’ chickens is a ‘barred’ gene and ‘black’ color gene combined. Since male Barred Rocks have 2 of these black/barred genes, they have closer barring than the females, who only have one black/barring gene.
When you cross a Barred Plymouth Rock female with a red male (like New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red), the daughters do not inherit the barring gene (just the black gene, oftentimes with some red mixed in). However, the males inherit the barred gene. This results in black/barred males and non-barred black/gold females. As chicks, all the males and females are the same color (black/grey). However, the males have a white spot on the top of the head (characteristic of the barring gene). Also, the females may have brown markings around the face. As the chicks mature, the males grow barred feathering (sometimes with red patches) and the females stay black (often with red/gold showing through around the breast, hackles and head).
Image above of Black Sex-Link Rooster from Cackle Hatchery
How do Red/Gold Sex-Link Hens Turn Out Red/White Mottled While the Males Turn Out White?
White chickens often carry what is called ‘the silver gene’. This is a dominate or semi-dominant gene, meaning that only one gene needs to be present to show up in the offspring. If a solid colored rooster is crossed with a hen that contains the silver color gene, the male offspring (which carry 2 copies of a color gene) are primarily white. However, the females (who can only carry one copy of a color gene) inherit a combination of the red and white.
Images above of Eric & Cheryle from Feathersite
Production Sex-Link Types & Terms
There are many different kinds of production (egg-laying) sex-link hybrids (there are meat Sex-Links as well. However, I will be honing in on the egg producing varieties here).
Since a common method of creating sex-links is crossing a white female with a red/brown male, that leaves many sex-linked variations looking very similar. Also, since these sex-linked hybrids are not true ‘breeds’, many of the terms below were coined by breeders to identify different types of hybrids. Consequentially, many of these varieties are confused with one another or labeled ‘the same’. However, this is not necessarily true. Most of the hybrids below are ‘types’ of Red/Golden Sex-links but most differ from one another.
A Golden Comet is a specific type of Red Sex-Link chicken. Comets are the result of crossing a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red male with a White Plymouth Rock female. Since both breeds used in this cross are comparable weights, you can expect Golden Comets to weigh 6-9 pounds. They will lay 250-300 brown eggs annually (for the first few laying years).
An Isa Brown is another common Sex-link hybrid. Isa Browns are created by crossing a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red male with a white Leghorn female. Isa Browns usually weigh 5-8 pounds and lay ~300 big, brown eggs annually (for the first few laying years).
A Cinnamon Queen is a type of Red Sex-Link. Cinnamon Queens are the result of crossing a Silver Laced Wyandotte hen with a New Hampshire Red Rooster. This results in reddish colored females with white or off-white under coloring and primarily white males. They usually weigh 6-9 pounds. Cinnamon Queens are very good layers and lay ~200-300 big, brown eggs annually (for the first few laying years).
The Red Buff is a type of Red/Gold Sex-Link Hybrid… Though I could not find much information on their breeding, the hatcheries I encountered that sell Red Buffs mentioned Leghorn and Rhode Island Red in the parentage. This would make them a type or relative of the Isa Brown.
Red/Gold & Black Stars:
A Star is simply another name for a Red/Gold or Black Sex-Link hybrid. Black Stars are Black Sex-Links and Red/Gold Stars are Red/Gold Sex-Links.
California Whites & California Grays:
The California Gray is a non APA recognized breed bred from Barred Plymouth Rocks and a White Leghorns. California Grays look very much like Plymouth Rocks. However, California Gray hens lay white eggs (Barred Plymouth Rocks lay light brown eggs). With California Grays, both genders are gray barred (like Barred Plymouth Rocks). However, California Gray males are significantly lighter than the females and can be gender identified by 3 weeks of age.
Though the California Gray is not a true breed, it is often considered an Autosexing chicken. This is because California Grays breed relatively true. California Grays are sometimes crossed with White Leghorns. This combination makes ‘California Whites’. California Whites are white with a few black spots or flecks. They are only sex-links if the father was a White Leghorn and the female was a California Gray that bred true enough to pass the barring genes along to her offspring. If the Father was a California Gray and the mother was a White Leghorn, than the offspring will not be sex-linked.
More About Red/Gold Sex-Link & Black Sex-Link Chickens (Isa Browns, Comets, Red Buffs, ect…)
Though sex-links are hybrids, their temperaments are fairly predictable if one looks at the parent stock and/or has had experience with the breed.
Sex-links are generally very inquisitive/curious, intelligent and easily tamed. When accustomed to humans, they are often the first to come investigate people and happily eat out of one’s hand. However, since sex-links are created with by crossing breeds that have aggressive breeds in their breeding history, a few end up with sour temperaments.
Sex-links often have short attention spans and lover keeping busy (excellent when free ranged). They have wide foraging ranges and will go far from the coop to forage. However, Sex-links (generally) tolerate confinement poorly and often dislike being cuddled or handled much. When penned, they are often the first to come down with boredom issues (such as egg-eating, feather plucking and digging holes). Also, Sex-links are generally large and assertive. This means that when placed in mixed flocks with smaller, more docile breeds, they may bully or push the smaller ones around. However, they often get along very well with one another.
Sex-links are usually rather hardy, robust birds. They do exceptionally well in the cold. However, they are pretty heat tolerant as well.
Red/Gold & Black Sex-links are superb layers. Sex-Links usually lay between 200-300 egg per year (depending on the cross). Like most production breeds, they are not inclined to going broody.
Note on egg color of Sex-links: Sex-links that are white egg layer x brown egg layer turn out as brown egg layers. This is because white is like a blank sheet. It either blends with or is overpowered by brown. For this reason, when a blue egg layer is crossed with a white egg-layer, the result is a faded or lighter blue.