Red sex-linked chickens and how to breed them.
Table of Contents
- What are red sex-link hybrid chickens?
- How to tell red sex link males from females:
- How quickly do red sex-links grow up?
- Are red sex link chickens good layers?
- Are red sex link chickens aggressive?
- How to breed red sex link chickens:
- Do red sex links need special care?
- How long do red sex link chickens live?
- Red sex link chicken breeds:
- Red sex links Vs heritage breeds:
- Where can you buy red sex linked chickens and how much do they cost?
- Can you eat red sex link chickens?
What are red sex-link hybrid chickens?
A red sex link chicken a type of hybrid breed produced by mating a red coloured cockerel and a white hen. Hybrid chicken breeds are the result of cross breeding two or more heritage or pure-bred chicken breeds, usually to produce offspring that lays more eggs, produce more meat or other desirable traits like plumage colour, body shape or temperament.
These modern hybrids are called red sex-links because when they hatch the hens are red and the males are white. I produce a lot of my own and they make excellent layers.
Below: I find my hybrids easy to look after, very tame and quite docile.
How to tell red sex link males from females:
As they grow up the hens seem to get varying amount of white feathers and they don't always grow up to be completely red, they often have white around the neck and on the tail.
Below: In this hatch you can clearly see how red the hens are compared to the white of the cockerels.
Red sex links are normally sexed at day old as the females are red and the males are white.
You can also tell the difference between the cockerels and the hens by using the secondary sexual differences. The hens have smaller thinner legs and feet as well as a smaller comb while the males develop pointed hackle feathers and begin to crow.
How quickly do red sex-links grow up?
Hybrids like red sex link mature very quickly and can often be ready to lay by 19 weeks of age under the right conditions. They are light weight birds that carry little spare weight at all.
Below: Here is a red sex link at 6 weeks of age.
Are red sex link chickens good layers?
Red sex-link chickens are very good layers, often producing 300 large, light brown eggs per year under ideal conditions. They begin to lay at 19 weeks of age with production continues for up to three years although the number of eggs produced falls by 15% every year.
Below: 6 eggs from my red sex links.
Being such good layers they burn themselves out very quickly and seldom live more than 3 or 4 years.
Red sex-link egg production table:
|Year 1||300 Eggs|
|Year 2||255 Eggs|
|Year 3||216 Eggs|
|Year 4||20 Eggs|
|Year 5||0 Eggs|
Egg production drops by roughly 15% every year after the moult.
Are red sex link chickens aggressive?
As far as the temperament of red sex-linked chickens goes they are some of the most docile and well mannered birds I have ever kept. Mine are fine with being handled and they rarely flap and make a fuss when you pick them up.
They love to free range and will happily wander about scratching in the earth for hours on end looking for tasty bugs.
Below: You can see how tame and easy to manage these hybrids are.
As for the cockerel, they are no more or less aggressive than other breeds. If you have too many males they will fight for dominance and although this happen much less with family groups raised together it can still be a problem.
How to breed red sex link chickens:
I have produced my own red sex links from time to time. I have always used a Rhode Island Red male and a white Leghorn hen, just because those are some of the breeds I keep.
You can use any of the males and females in this table below to breed red sex links.
|Male (Cockerel)||Female (Hen)|
|Rhode Island Red||White leghorn|
|New Hampshire Red||White Plymouth Rock|
|Rhode Island White|
|Silver Laced Wyandotte|
|Light or white Sussex|
I reached out to a friend of mine who I know works for a large chicken breeding company. He didn't say too much as he's not allowed to but he did let me into a few interesting pieces of information.
While red sex linked chickens are a cross between a red male like a Rhode Island Red and a white hen like a leghorn the reality of it is that with the big pullet producers the parents flocks ceased to be pure breeds many years ago.
These days the parents are hybrids themselves and the pullets are produced in what's is called a "terminal process" which means they won't breed true.
John said "The parent stock ceased to be traditional heritage Rhode Island Reds more than 30 years ago and the birds are around 30% lighter than RIR would be." He also mentioned that they even feed the hens and cockerels different foods in the breeding pen.
Do red sex links need special care?
Red sex linked chickens do need some special care.
They must have a quality layers pellet on tap all day every day as they are such high producing fowl that you simply can't skimp on their diet at all without it effecting their laying.
They also have a habit of moulting very quickly and can look like a feather pillow exploded in your coop one morning.
I keep red sex link chickens in North Yorkshire and can testify that they are fully cold hardy. Mine have coped with temperatures as low as -15c or 5F. Like most chickens they don't really like the rain but they have plenty of tolerance to cold.
Red sex link chickens do go broody occasionally. I had two last year out of a flock of 76 and they both raised a clutch of 6. They can't cover as many eggs as some of the bigger birds and they have a narrow breast which means they won't be able to keep large nests warm.
You will need to keep a close eye on a broody red sex link as they have no body weight in reserve and will need a high calorie feed three times a day.
How long do red sex link chickens live?
The lifespan of red sex-link chickens is short, easily only 50% of heritage breeds. They lay so many eggs it takes a toll on their length of life and most fade away inside three years.
I don't think I have any that have made it to 5 years of age. This group of 6 are all that is left from a flock of forty three years ago.
Red sex link chicken breeds:
Below is a list of some of the more common red sex linked hybrid chickens:
- Goldline: Bovans Goldline is the name of a commercial strain of hybrid hen produced by Joice & Hill Poultry Ltd. Based on the Rhode Island Red.
- Gold star: This is a commercial cross between a Light Sussex and a RIR.
- Lohmann Brown: A commercially produced red sex link, bred from specially selected lines of Rhode Island red cockerels and and White Rock hens.
- Red stars: These are a red sex link with a black tail that has a Light Sussex as one of it's parents. Sometimes also called a gingernut ranger.
- Golden comets: A New Hampshire male is crossed with a White Rock hen to produce the Golden Comet.
- Cinnamon queens: New Hampshire males crossed with Silver Laced Wyandottes give us the Cinnamon Queen hybrid.
- ISA Browns: A form of red sex links that started by crossing Rhode Island Reds from Rhode Island Whites. Several other breeds have been added in over the years. They were created in the 1970's as battery hens to satisfy the huge need for eggs.
They are often very similar and some are trademarked breeds. For more on all the different types of hybrid available.
Red sex links Vs heritage breeds:
Red sex link hybrids differ from heritage breeds in many ways:
|Red sex link chicken||Rhode Island Red heritage chickens.|
|Large number of eggs initially.||Fewer eggs per year.|
|Short life expectancy.||Longer life expectancy.|
|Often lay eggs in winter.||Take a break from laying in winter.|
|Grow fast and mature early.||Slower growing, longer to mature.|
|Less likely to be broody||More likely to be broody.|
|Cheap to buy.||Expensive to obtain.|
|Excellent feed efficiency||Average feed efficiency.|
|Egg quality suffer after 18 months.||Good egg quality for many years.|
|Easy to find.||Can be hard to obtain.|
|Don't breed true.||Can breed true.|
|Not as much choice.||Hundreds of types and breeds to choose from.|
|More likely to suffer laying problems||Less likely to have egg issues.|
Hybrids were created to satisfy the needs of the big market stores.
Where can you buy red sex linked chickens and how much do they cost?
They are available from most hatcheries and at most stages. It is even possible to adopt these birds from chickens farms after they have completed a 70 week laying cycle. These Ex-battery hens will need to be moulted but can be free.
When buying red sex links, you can expect to pay from $2.85 for straight run chicks, $3.95 for sexed chicks and From $10 for started 16 week old pullets.
Prices vary depending on how many you buy at the time and whether or not you choose to have the vaccinated.
Can you eat red sex link chickens?
You can keep red sex link chickens for meat, it is the ideal way to dispose of all the surplus males. They are not big but hey are quick to mature and provide a reasonable return on your investment.
They can be raise in the same way as any broiler chicken but don't need a meat bird feed.
Below: A comparison between a red sex link chicken breast and one from a heritage breed. You can see how much less meat there is on a hybrid chicken (Left).
They are not for you if you like big portions as the carcass tops out at 6.5lb including all the guts and feathers but one chickens will feed two people.