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Chicken Breeds: Sex Link, Red Star, and Black Star; Color Sexing

A Red Star Hen


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!

Chicken Resources

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.

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!


norman brookins on April 21, 2014:

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i have 5 golden sex link chicks 3 have green tinted legs and 2 yellow. the store said they were stright run, does the leg collor have anything to do with the sex

Lisa on January 30, 2013:

I had 2 white leghorn roosters. 1 was mean and attacked all the time (needless to say he did not live a long life). The other was very docile and never once attacked. He got to live out his life completely. I now have 2 rhode island red roosters. I was worried at first when I took these 2 boys in because I got them due to them not getting along with any other birds on the farm they came from. But I love these 2 boys. They are excellent protectors of my girls. I let my hens out to free range during the day and lock them in the hen house at night. One evening one of the girls was missing and one boy took the rest of the girls into the hen house. The other one stayed out looking for the missing hen. He was running all over and running up to me to let me know she was missing. Of course I found her sitting in our barn. He was right behind me looking for her. These 2 have never attacked anyone, only other animals trying to mess with their girls.

Outbackhouse Farm on May 21, 2012:

I have gone through several roosters and sure they are sweet and loving at first but sooner or later they WILL start to turn on their owners! Sometimes it could be 8 months others could be way longer and I have found it depends on the breed of rooster too!

miller on March 29, 2012:

Not all roosters are bad mine is wonderful and my two year old carries him like a puppy! Whoever wrote this is giving all roosters a bad name and maby your the reason so many people are scared of them.

charles on March 09, 2012:

I have 7 brahma hens and 1 rooster and I ordered 5 hi-line hens and a rooster , will they get along togethjer?

Chicken Lover on February 21, 2012:

My red star has started laying at 21 weeks exactly and never stoppped since. So exciting!

Neil on January 31, 2012:

One solution to the rooster problem if you are relatively rura:. Escort the hens to their coop for a cozy and safe nights rest, but not the rooster. Lock him out. This exposure to nature and it's elements (coyotes, skunks, raccoons, large owls, mountain lion, bobcat) might provide an easy 'natural' solution. I have found the rooster to have a beneficial role fending off our Labradors from the easy prey hens.......the dogs learn fast whose boss!!

Hoerenamateur on January 22, 2012:

Didn't knew this, very informative.

Emmanuel Kariuki from Nairobi, Kenya on January 13, 2012:

Thanks for this information. I have always wondered how the hatcheries guarantee that 'day old chicks' are layers thugh I heard from farmers that they always expect a few to turn out as roosters. I am having fun incubating my own chicken though they are not a specific breed. Just this morning, two black chicks popped out from a possible 24 and I expect more by evening when I get back home. Incidentally my rooster is red in colour but the four hens are a mix of brown and white. the previous five chicks (now 8 weeks old) are 3 black and 2 brown. I wonder if that can help in deternining sex.

Soggybottomfarm on October 21, 2011:

If a hen become broody and you don't want them to sit but come back to laying eggs, what can you do?

Terri Everett on October 21, 2011:

Hi, I have just been given three little white bantom hens, they are very white and smotth feathered, the rooster has a top not coming and they have blue ears and grey legs. Do you know what breed they are?

cookie on September 30, 2011:

well i guess that's why my roosters stays on my hens back

Meg on September 20, 2011:

I have several breeds and my red sex inks are BY FAR the best! They were the first to start laying, always consistent layers, friendly....the best! Second are my Rhode Island Reds and my barred rock.....My ameraucanas have yet to lay and they are 7 months!

Cathy on April 30, 2011:

Would just like to say,I bought Red Stars and not only did I get a rooster,he was NOT white,he is red,just like the hens with the exception of black in his tail. Got him from McMurray Hachery fyi.

E L Danvers (author) from Ventura, CA on February 03, 2011:

That's an interesting philosophical question, Brett!

Personally, I don't think they are fundamentally that different. But I know a lot of people get upset and kind of creeped out by this sort of genetic manipulation.

In the case of the Hy-Line Brown, I assume it's a variant of the ISA Brown which is a common breed used in commercial egg farming. ISA Browns are definitely high-output birds, although not particularly friendly.

I have a friend who got some ISA Browns in her order by mistake. She says they're fine enough, but she wishes she had the Buff Orpingtons she was supposed to have gotten instead!

Brett Hodges on February 02, 2011:

Thanks for helping me start to make sense of the confusing "sex-link" option. All the different brand names just make things harder.

Ok, I recently came across a listing for the Hy-Line Brown Chicken. Hy-Line apparently creates its 'breeds" through genetic manipulation. Are genetically created crossbreeds like this really any different from the more naturally created sex-link crossbreeds? Thanks for your help.

E L Danvers (author) from Ventura, CA on October 08, 2010:

Good catch, thank you!

Jess on October 08, 2010:

“Red Star” is a vague term, and is produced by crossing with a hen which is a White Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, or Delaware.

I think you mean Rhode Island WHITE not red.

E L Danvers (author) from Ventura, CA on October 03, 2010:

That's a good piont, Na Carridire! I shouldn't blame the roosters for doing what they do best.

They do have their place, for those who want them (and know what they're getting into).

Na Carridire on October 03, 2010:

roosters are handy when your chickens run free. Roosters protect their hens and the rooster keeps the flock together with those calls. Mine have killed rodents and snakes. Just because we don't have a use for them consider everything depending on your sistuation.

E L Danvers (author) from Ventura, CA on September 06, 2010:

Roosters are TERRIBLE. Nice to know when you get a sex link breed, you will definitely NOT get a rooster!

apple blossom on September 06, 2010:

cool, but i love the buff brahma the are to awesome.... but i relly dont want a rooster...neibor has 4 and they atact me a few times and they wont stop crowing! GRRR :(

chicken coop size on August 21, 2010:

Good Article..Thanks for the post very informative.

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