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 breed true. Sex-Links are hybrids and do not breed true (i.e. if two sex-links are bred together, they will not necessarily produce sex-linked offspring. However, if two autosex chickens are bred together, they will produce like offspring). A good example of an Autosex chicken is the Barred Plymouth Rock. As a chick, a male Barred Rock 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 that has the silver gene (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 do Black Sex-Link Hens Turn Out Black While the Males Turn Out Barred?
The barring gene (as seen in Barred Plymouth Rocks) is simply a pattern. However, it is called a ‘sex-linked’ pattern (this means that it appears differently on males than it does on females). Barring can also appear in many different colors (for this reason, you can have barred lemon Cochins… they have the barring pattern but instead of typical grey, they are lemon colored). The genetic combination that results in grey ‘barred’ chickens (i.e. the typical color pattern of Plymouth Rocks) is a ‘barred’ gene and ‘black’ color gene combined.
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 barring 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 are primarily white. However, the females 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 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). Like Barred Plymouth Rocks, both genders are gray barred. 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 (therefore not guaranteed to breed true), it is often considered an Autosexing chicken. This is because real California Grays usually produce like offspring.
California Grays are sometimes crossed with White Leghorns. This combination make the ‘California White’. California Whites are white, sometimes with a few black spots or flecks. In fact, they closely resemble Leghorns. California Whites 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 Production (egg-laying) Red/Gold Sex-Link & Black Sex-Link Chickens
Though sex-links are hybrids (and therefore not very guarantee-able), their temperaments are often fairly similar (bein bred with similar breeds). Temperamental turnout is more predictable if one can see the parents’ temperaments.
Sex-links are often 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. Since sex-links are sometimes created by crossing breeds that have aggressive breeds in their breeding history, a few end up with sour temperaments… However, most sex-link breeders steer away from breeding aggressively behaving birds. Since they are hybrids, consistent temperamental characteristics are not guaranteed.
Sex-links love keeping busy (excellent when free ranged). They generally 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. Also, Sex-links are generally large and assertive (Rhode island Reds, New Hampshire Reds and Plymouth Rocks are known to be dominative breeds). This means that when placed in mixed flocks with smaller, more docile breeds, they may push the smaller ones around. However, they often get along very well with one another and similar chicken varieties/breeds.
Sex-links are usually rather hardy, robust birds. They do exceptionally well in the cold. However, they are heat tolerant as well.
Red/Gold & Black Sex-links are superb layers and are often called ‘production hybrids’. Gold/Black Sex-Link hybrids usually lay between 200-300 egg per year (depending on the cross). Like most production breeds, they are not inclined to going broody (broodiness is bred out of production breeds because broody chickens lay less).
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.
Notable references: Cackle Hatchery & Countryside Daily (article by Don Schrider)