Having an Amberlink chicken in your flock pretty much guarantees it a year-round spot on the “Employee of The Month” wall! With a terrific blend of sought after traits, the Amberlink is a very well balanced, all-around performance chicken with excellent temperament. A champion egg layer with strong shelled and beautiful medium dark brown eggs, Amberlink is also a great forager, significantly better at finding its own food than most other backyard breeds. The Amberlink is a fantastic choice for northern climates, as it is quite cold hardy as well as heat tolerant.
First, because of the complex process in breeding Amberlinks, they are not all that easy to come by. Amberlinks (or Amber Sex Link Chickens) are hybrids of the ISA Hendrix genetic line. That means that they are the result of mixing two pure breeds. For Amberlink, the pure breeds could be Rhode Island Reds and White Plymouth Rocks, or White Island Reds. These hybrid breedings are special and complex though – you may not get similar results if you simply bred any Rhode Island Red with a White Plymouth Rock or White Island Red. Also, because Amberlinks are hybrids, you won’t get Amberlink chicks if you breed two Amberlinks together. So, complexity of breeding makes things a little harder for common breeders.
Also, inherent in the business of hybrid chickens there are several drawbacks. Here is a list of potential negatives of hybrid or cross-bred as well as reverse cross bred chicken lines:
- Hybrid chickens tend not to live as long as pure-breeds Unfortunately, hybrid hens do have a significantly reduced life expectancy (average 2-4 years vs. 8-10 years for purebred). Compared to most healthy pure-breed chickens, Amberlink hybrids’ shorter life expectancy is directly related to their high egg production. Because they are bred to continue laying through most of the year (ie. winter), their reproductive systems are never at rest, and the high laying performance also means the hens rapidly use up the calcium stores in their bones. The cost of this is a strain on their systems as a whole, depleted energy resources and immunity decline, and early death.
- These chickens are more likely to be prone to laying problems, such as egg-binding, prolapse and egg-peritonitis: Again, because of their incredible egg production, more eggs usually equals more chance something can go wrong in the process of forming or laying an egg.
- Laying can be unpredictable after the first year. All chickens tend to slow up production after the first year, hybrids are no exception. In fact, after a hybrid’s second laying season, egg production drops by 15-20% every year, and by the time a hybrid hen reaches old age, egg production, more often than not, has withered up altogether.
- Quality and careful feeding is important for hybrids to meet the demands of very intensive egg-production One would expect that in order to get more eggs OUT OF a hen, we would need to put more, or higher quality food INTO the hen. Although this seems logical, it is sometimes overlooked when choosing chickens for a backyard flock.
- Hybrids don’t ‘breed true’ – the only way to obtain more of the same type of hybrid is to buy new pullets flocks of each of the two parent breeds, therefore parent breeds must be maintained in order to have birds with which to make the cross to produce the sexlink chicks. Sexlink crossbred/hybrid chickens can be mated and will produce offspring, but color, rate of growth, and egg laying ability will vary much from one offspring to another.
- Hybrids are less likely to make reliable mothers if you want to hatch some eggs. Because these chickens were designed to mass produce eggs, not to lay and hatch eggs naturally, most hybrids have lost the instinct to brood.
- Hybrid layers don’t make the best meat birds. Designed to be egg laying machines, these chickens use up energy stores for just that. The weight required for a typical meat laying bird is never fully reached.
- Many traditional pure-breeds are declining due to the popularity of hybrids The old standard of chicken breeds, ‘Heritage’ or “purebred” breeds have declined as the hybrids have increased on popularity. This is the result of largely economically based decisions made by chicken breeders who are going for hybrids, which are the more prolific, earlier egg layers.
All in all, it comes down to personal preference as far as deciding to keep hybrid chickens, like Amberlink, or stay with heritage, purebred birds. Are you looking for a dependable amount of egg layers for a few years and willing to be somewhat vigilant about the quality feeding necessary to accommodate this? Do you need cold or heat hardy chickens, with a better than average immune system, but are willing to confront possible laying problems due to constant production? Do you prefer a flock of even-tempered chickens neither overly friendly nor overly aggressive? Will you be ok with replacing your hens 2-4 years after your baby Amberlinks hatch when their ‘old age’ creeps in and they pass away?
As with every decision, it’s important to know all the pluses and minuses that may happen as a result. Amberlinks are super duper chickens; but owning them does come with a cost. After all, even an Employee of the Month program costs you a parking spot.