Red Star Chickens : designer birds or the mutts of the poultry world?
Genetically designed to produce eggs, the Red Star is a favourite of commercial egg producers. But do they make good backyard chickens?
I'll always have a soft spot for Red Star chickens - they were the very first kind of chicken I ever had and I always keep some in my flock. Easy to care for, easy to handle and an exceptionally reliable egg layer - what more could you want?
Red Star chickens at a glance.
- Male and female chicks are different colours so you know what you're getting.
- Because of this they're also known as 'red sex-linked' chickens.
- One of the best egg-layers ever.
- Keeps laying in all climates - both heat and cold tolerant.
- Good foragers who love being able to free range.
- Curious and friendly, especially if handled from a young age.
Claudia, one of our original, typically friendly, Red Star chickens. Notice the empty flowerpot on the left - used as a dust bath!
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History - when is a breed not a breed?
- Answer - when it's a Red Star. These hens are hybrids - they have different breeds of father and mother and their own offspring will never be 'true to type'.
- They were developed in the 1950s when backyard chicken-keeping was no longer as common as previously. The public wanted eggs and to meet with demand, industry selectively bred a hybrid hen to produce the most number of eggs whilst eating the least amount of food.
- There are many different variations of breeds used to produce a sex-linked chicken. The most common is a Rhode Island Red rooster with a Rhode Island White hen.
- Two sex-linked or Red Star chickens cannot be crossed to produce sex-linked chicks.
Their ability to lay eggs every day mean Red Stars are often used as commercial egg-layers.
What do they look like?
- Males and females can be told apart very quickly after
hatching so you'll never have to deal with a rooster (cockerel) unless you want
- Depending on the breeds used, male chicks are generally white or a very light yellow; females are a light brown.
- This ability to see gender at an early stage makes them the bird of choice for many commercial poultry farms who only want the egg layers.
- This is a short video
of a group of female and male Red Star chicks at just one day old. You can see how easy it is to distinguish between them.
- Female juveniles tend to go through that "gawky" stage but will begin to develop pretty shades of brown darkening to a rich mahogany. This is a picture of my first set of Red Stars at the age of about 17 weeks.
- They came from a local breeder who kept hundreds of them in a barn, so
they were not used to people or to freedom - you can see how unsure they
were of their new surroundings.
- As adults, males remain white while females develop different shades of buff or brown, depending on the specific cross, with pretty white flecking. They quite often have pale coloured or white feathering around their backside but can be completely brown.
Some of my Red Star hens with very typical feathering on their backsides.
What about personality?
- Generally gentle, calm, friendly, sweet chickens who will allow themselves to be picked up and petted.
- They don't like over-attentiveness, though - this is not a chicken who likes to be cuddled.
- Always curious and very active, they love to explore the world outside their run.
- Happiest when foraging for bugs, they will eat more or less anything and appreciate nothing more than regular treats!
- They have a definite language of their own and will let you know when they're happy with a gentle purring noise.
Always on the lookout for food - my Red Stars come to the kitchen door each morning!
- This type of chicken is the result of crossing one breed with another for the express purpose of egg-laying and for that reason, they're one of the most prolific layers around.
- A typical Red Star / red sex-linked chicken will start laying earlier than others - seventeen to nineteen weeks is not uncommon.
- Their eggs are a standard light brown colour and often quite large - I've had eggs averaging around 5 oz to some at about 8 oz - equivalent to a medium / large shop-bought egg (but of course far tastier and healthier!).
- Extremely good egg-layers.
- Able to be sex-linked from one day old so you always know whether you're getting a male or female.
- Very hardy birds, they will continue to lay even in very hot or very cold extremes of temperature.
- Generally healthy chickens which don't succumb easily to infection.
- Curious and friendly, they'll tolerate handling by children - particularly if they bring treats!
Any problem areas?
- These chickens love to explore and they will try to fly when they can,
so they can be hard to keep in a run unless there's a high fence - and
even then, they'll have a go!
- For more information about how my own Red Star girls flew into danger, have a look at this page (it will open in a new window so you can come back here when you're finished).
- In a confined space they can become easily bored, so you need to have something to keep them occupied if you want to avoid pecking within the flock.
- They don't take well to other chickens being introduced into the flock and can become relentless in their bullying. This needs handling with care.
- They do also tend to eat quite a lot which, given how many eggs they lay, is not surprising! Giving them free range to forage for some food helps.
Avoid Red Star chickens if ...
- You're planning to keep a chicken in your apartment or any other confined space.
- You would have problems with either putting a net over the top of your run to stop them flying out, or clipping their wings - you'll need to do one or the other.
- You want eggs which are more colourful than the standard light brown variety.
- You like your plantpots to look nice - like most chickens, Red Stars love to dust bathe wherever they can!
My Red Stars love to dust bathe in my plantpots!
Red Star chickens will suit you if ...
- You don't want to run the risk of having a rooster in your flock.
- You want a reliable egg-layer.
- You live in a very hot or a very cold climate - they will cope with either.
- You like to have chickens who forage for some of their food.
- You would like to have hens who will be friendly without being over-clingy!
Where to buy.
- As with any poultry, you need to make sure you buy from a
reputable person so that the flock is disease-free.
- Some hatcheries do sell Red Star / sex-linked chicks.
- Never buy from websites such as e-bay or Craigslist. There are
some genuine sellers there, but more who will sell you infertile eggs or chicks from the wrong cross-breeds.
- Poultry magazines can be a good source of people selling eggs locally to you.
Sources of genetic information, and useful links.
- Because the Red Star is not a breed, it doesn't have any breed-related clubs or websites.
- There's a lot of conflicting advice and information on the internet about how to produce sex-linked chicks. Most of it is inaccurate. A completely reliable source describing the crosses which can be made to produce a Red Star or sex-linked chicken can be found here.
Please note : Although
the characteristics above are common across Red Star chickens, not every bird will conform to them. Chickens, like people, are individuals.
How can I help you now?
If you're looking for a breed of chicken which is particularly good with children, either of the two below are good choices and reasonably good egg-layers, although the Silkie is not as weather tolerant.
Just click on the pics for more details.
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