Sexlink Chickens are a popular choice for people who want lots of eggs quickly. A really simple breeding trick gives you chicks that can be sexed on sight, making it a lot easier to ensure you’re only bringing home females!
Sexlinks aren’t a specific breed of chicken, instead, it’s a term applied to specific hybrids that produce dimorphic chicks. In simple terms, the male and female chicks are different colors.
It might sound crazy but it’s really just genetics. Sexual dimorphism is almost always present in adult birds but in some breeds it’s visible in the babies.
Pilgrim Geese are naturally dimorphic with the males being all white and the females looking almost exactly like grey Toulouse (that’s how I know my male geese are the real jerks). Breeds that are naturally dimorphic are called “autosexing” instead of “sexlink”.
Read more about The Chaotic Reality of Keeping Geese
In the wonderful world of chickens we have breeds, including the historic heritage breeds, and the hybrids. The hybrids aren’t actually considered breeds they are a type or a variety.
In order to be considered a breed they would have to produce offspring that are true to type and that just doesn’t happen when you try to cross mutts.
I’m a big fan of the old-school dual-purpose chickens for their longevity. Hybrids on the other hand, generally lay earlier and more consistently until they burn out.
Read more about Dual Purpose Chickens
A lot of people that keep hybrid chicken flocks keep them for a year or maybe two before dispatching/making a ton of broth and moving on to the next batch. From a practical stand point it’s a good plan, you get lots of eggs and then enough broth to make egg drop soup for the whole neighborhood.
One of my earlier flocks had a half dozen hybrid layers, they were all Tetra-Tints from Tractor Supply. Out of the 6, I had 3 die from water belly or ascites. It’s a common problem in hybrid layers that I’ve never seen in the 100’s of chickens I’ve had since then.
Hybrid chickens (including the sexlinks) are very good at laying eggs but they aren’t likely to have a long, healthy retirement phase after they’re done. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing but it is something to keep in mind when you’re deciding on a breed for your flock.
Read more about Picking the Right Chicken Breed For Your Flock
While I don’t intentionally seek out production hybrids, my barnyard is basically a never ending key party and all of my home grown chicks are hybrids. I’m sure I’ve had a few unplanned sexlink chicks over the years but my hens seem to only hatch roosters and I haven’t seen any of the heath issues mentioned above in my barnyard mixes.
Sex link chickens are specific hybrid crosses that take advantage of recessive color traits to produce chicks that look different depending on what sex they are. The actual appearance of the chicks will vary depending on the parents but it’s always clear who is who.
One of the trickiest parts of chicken keeping is telling watching your little fluffs grow to that awkward teenage phase and onto adulthood while obsessivly looking for signs that will tell you who is going to make egg salad and who is going to make your neighbors hate you.
One of the most popular posts on this sight is about that exact topic. Unless you’re vent sexing (please don’t) you chicks the only way to know if you have males or females before about 6-8 weeks of age, is with sexlinked chicks.
Read more about How to Tell Roosters from Hens
Popular Sex Link Chicken Breeds
There are lots of options for sexlink chickens and I’m only going to cover the most popular. It’s also important to note that sometimes hatcheries come up with their own name so there is some overlap.
One of the most popular varieties of sex linked chickens is the Black Sexlink. Adult black sexlink hens are mostly black with some red feathering around the neck and down the chest.
You will often find these birds sold as Black Sexlinks but other names include Black Stars, Black Rocks or Rock Reds.
Black sexlinks are made by breeding a barred hen with a non-barred rooster. The most common combination is a Rhode Island Red rooster over a Barred Rock hen.
Barring is a recessive trait that is only carried on the male chromosome. That means the female chicks will have 0 copies of the barring and the male chicks will have 1 copy.
This shows up in the chicks as solid black females (sometimes they’ll have some reddish coloring on the chests) and black males with a white dot on their heads.
That white dot is a huge flashing sign indicating barring, it’s on all Barred Rocks, Dominiques, and Cuckoo Marans. Male chicks in those breeds can sometimes be IDd when little because they’ll have a larger white spot than females but it’s not as exact as in the sex links.
Read more about Identifying Chick Breeds
The hens can be expected to lay 200-280 large, light brown eggs per year. Actual numbers will vary with feed, husbandry, and weather. They are not known for going broody and do not tend to sit on eggs.
All hybrids tend to be very sturdy and
Read more about Broody Hens
Red sexlinks are the other popular category of sexlinked chickens with even more variety names. Golden Comets, Cinnamon Queens, ISA Browns and Red Stars (just to name a few) are all names used for Red Sexlinks.
Red sexlinks are bred from a New Hampshire or Rhode Island Red rooster over a White Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island White or Delaware hen. There are a lot of combinations in there and that’s why this style of hybrid has so many different names.
Male chicks are pale yellow to white and female chicks are red to reddish brown.
The adult hens are either buff-colored (tan) or red and the adult roosters are either all white or white with black tails and some yellow in their hackle and saddle feathers. They have large, single combs and clean legs with no feathering.
Red sexlinks are active, sturdy birds that are not known for going broody, but there are always exceptions. They do well in a free range situation and are considered an active bird.
Read more about Broody Hens
Adult hens are around 7 pounds and roosters will weigh 8-9 pounds at maturity. The hens can be expected to lay 200-280 large, light brown eggs per year with some specific varieties like the Golden Comet and the Cinnamon Queen laying over 300 eggs a year.
Another, newer and less well known sexlink chicken variety is the Sapphire Gem. The breeding behind this type is a little more murky than the others but there are certainly some Rock genes going on.
The name Sapphire Gem is actually trademarked by Hoover’s Hatchery but they supply chicks to Tractor Supply so you might have seen them in a store near you.
Read more about Tractor Supply Chicken Breeds
Sapphire Gems are blue, which in chicken land means a dusty grey/lavender. Blue chicken genetics are a whole different ball game but they likely play an important role in the sex-linked characteristics of this breed.
Male sapphire gem chicks will have a white dot on their heads while the female chicks will not. The adult birds have lovely dusty blue-grey feathering that varies from light to dark in tone.
The medium sized hens lay approximately 290 large grown eggs per year. They have also developed a reputation as nice, friendly birds that enjoy interacting with their human keepers.
Breeding sex link chickens isn’t any different than breeding any other chickens. You need a rooster, a hen and 21 days in an incubator or under a hen and you’ll be throwing your own barnyard gender reveal party on hatch day.
The most important thing is to start with quality parent stock. Genetics can be complicated and if you’re not starting with clean blood lines the recessive markers you need for the sexlinking to work won’t be reliable.
If you plan to breed your own sexlink chicks make sure you’re starting with roosters and hens from good bloodlines. It’s also important to note that you can not breed a second generation of sexlinks from sexlink parents.
It’s a one and done situation. Each batch needs to start with purebred parents if you want to know what your chicks are when they hatch.
Looking for more info? Check out my Chicken Keeping page or start here: