The American Silkie Bantam Club was established in 1923 and reorganized in 1931
 
Breeding of the Blue Variety

by David Plant
article © by David Plant

NSW Australia 2001 Revised April 2004

The following notes have been extracted from my notes and experiences over the past 35 years in Breeding the following Blue Varieties, Old English Bantams, Pekins & more recently establishing a new gene pool of Laced Blue Langshan Bantams derived from Black Langshan x Blue Orpington

The exact same principles will apply to the Breeding of the Silkie Fowl provided Splashed silkies are produced when two Blue silkies are mated together and provided when a Black Silkie is mated to a Splashed Silkie ,only Blue silkies are produced


A tip for Silkie Breeders


Here in Australia the Blue silkie is seen but it is not as commonly seen as the Black or White on the show bench, probably because insufficient breeders are specializing it its production and breeding. I have noticed that some breeders in Australia are using Silkies to breed Blue silkies that have many other foreign colours in them, probably through crosses with other colours to achieve type .The path to pure blue silkies is much harder this way, Try where possible to avoid silkies with foreign colour, particularly when using black silkies, avoid those with silver in the neck as seen in Australian males or sisters to those males, who will naturally carry the trait and pass it on to progeny that will come muti-coloured blues in following generations


In this article I will endeavor to give the reader an insight into breeding Blues and how the Blue Laced variety is pivotal to the success of a Blue Pekin Line and how to sustain that colour.


The breeding of the Blue and laced blue Pekin variety of bantam in Australia and the Blue Silkie must be viewed in the context of Mendels theory as applied to the Blue Andalusian Fowl which is as follows:


Bateson & Punnet (1906)


demonstrated that the Blue Andalusian fowl when mated together segregated into progeny of three colours, Blue laced, Black and Splashed white. Blue laced, the colour required for exhibition was shown to be the result of the impurity of a gene, Bl being present.


In R.C. Punnets book on Mendelism


He explains that when the three various combinations of Blue plus Blue cross matings are made, the following results in colour distribution can be expected:


Blue X Blue will yield 50% Blue, 25 % Black 25% Splashed white chicks


Blue X Black will yield 50% Blue chicks 50% Black Chicks


Black X Splashed White will yield 100% Blue chickens


Because the following popular Blue varieties today have the same genetic make-up as the Andalusian they utilise the above principles of expected colour distribution. Among those breeds are the Blue Old English, Pekins , Leghorns, Orpingtons and Blue Laced Wyandottes & Silkies as well as several other popular blue breeds. Mendels Theory and Punnets explanations are said to apply to those breeds.


The description of the Blue Andalusion dictates colouring as follows:


"Clear Blue edged with distinct black lacing, not too narrow, on each feather, excepting the males sickles which are dark or even black and his hackles which are black with a rich gloss, whilst the female's neck hackle is rich lustrous black showing broad lacing on the tips of the feathers at the base of the neck.


Undercolour is to tone with the surface colour."


The actual lacing on popular varieties in Australia tends more to be Dark Navy Blue where depicted as "black "in the Andalusian. Dark navy also relates to Neck hackles, back, tail coverts and sickles in the males and neck hackles in the females. My belief is that even in written descriptions of the Andalusian the colour was not Black but the very darkest of Blue.If it were a two-tone Black and Blue bird then the Mendels Theory of colour distribution would hardly apply


BLUE LACED OR UNLACED BLUE IS NOT A COLOUR THAT BREEDS TRUE


Many breeders when starting out often think that by mating two blues together that they will produce offspring all of a blue colour.The reason this does not occur is that the only ones produced from the mating of blue to blue, that breed true when mated together are splashed white and the black. In other words black mated to black will produce all black and splashed white mated to splashed white will produce all splashed white.


In fact the Blues that are produced from these matings will more often than not be a mixture of different shades of Blue.


"SELF BLUE" IS THE ONLY COLOUR THAT BREEDS TRUE TO BLUE


The Definition:


Self-blue is a shade of uniform Pale Blue throughout without edging to any of the feathers. The most distinct aspect of birds possessing this genetic colour makeup is that when they are mated together they will only ever produce 100% Blue offspring of a similar colour.


In any of the popular breeds mentioned herein it is incorrect to call any of them "self -Blue"There is no self- blue gene that has been developed in Australia at the time of writing.


The only self blue fowls presently in Australia is the Araucana and the Belgian Bantam none of which were originally developed in Australia themselves


Over many years people are still incorrectly calling pale Blue unlaced birds"self Blues".


The Lavender gene (which visually looks a pale Blue) is a distinctly separate gene to the Blue gene and it does in fact breed true to colour, with only lavenders produced.


THE STANDARD


Because the Pekin standard in Australia allows the exhibiting of both the laced and the unlaced varieties Nature dictates that there are two pens of birds used in the breeding pens to produce the blue colour shades required to comply with the Standard


In terms of the laced Blue Pekin this colour descriptions used to describe a cockerel breeding line and the unlaced version is used to describe a pullet breeding line in some varieties. The un-laced version is usually of a lighter shade of blue due to the lack of Navy pigment in the female used., containing no navy edging to each feather. The females in particular are often described as “powder Blue” because of their soft all over light blue colour.


Much confusion and poor results often occur when breeders mix the two lines and expect the laced variety to result from a cross between the two colours. Some lacing may occur but the cross reduces the effects of the lacing by 50% so partial or incomplete lacing is often seen on progeny from these matings and detracts from the birds overall appearance


(I.e.by crossing laced with non-laced)


THE LACED GENE


Please note to Silkie breeders :


Given the type if silk that the silkie has as opposed to distinct feathering or other breeds of poultry the lacing if present would barely be visible. It would more than likely appear as a darker blue if anything


For readers to fully appreciate the laced Blue Pekin they must firstly realise that the lacing produced on the feathers of the Pekin has arrived there because of a set of factors that have combined to produce the fine dark edged lacing around each feather. These are called genes and it is the genetic make-up of the parents of the bird that dictate whether the bird will be laced or not. In other words it is an inheritable feature carried from the parent stock and without the lacing gene, laced feathers will not miraculously appear.


It is virtually impossible to breed a correctly laced bird from parents that do not visibly exhibit the lacing factor, unless one or both of the parents have had the lacing gene in their background. Meaning that one or both of their parents may have the lacing component and the offspring have not exhibited the trait. One would need to be fully aware of the parentage of the birds being used in matings to be able to predict any sort of accurate result.


Birds that do not have a visible laced feather but are known to have had laced parentage will carry a diluted form of lacing. Breeding back to another bird with sound lacing will assist in producing lacing although it may take two generations of mating back to achieve the results required.


From my experiments in crossing Blue Laced Orpingtons and Black Langshan Bantams I have found that the Blue Laced Orpington has an extremely strong inheritable set of laced genes that has now carried on for 6 breeding seasons to still produce a rich blue ground colour complemented by fine dark edging in the Blue Langshan offspring.


A BALANCED BREEDING PEN


To produce Navy topped and laced Blues of a darker shade(as applicable to silkies)


Should consist of a male described previously as the standard required colour and a female described as the standard colour.(Ie Male with Dark Navy Topy Colour and body lacing and Female with darker Navy Hackle and rich body colour with navy lacing)


Particular care must be taken to choose males that are a rich dark navy on the top and hackle and without rust or foreign colour in the hackles, back or saddle feathers, as this is likely to produce further discolouration in the resultant offspring,


Be sure that both sexes have clear distinct lacing on the body and that the body feathers do no cloud over so as to appear all dark grey with no lacing visible.


Often patches of partially badly marked lacing appear on some specimens so care should be exercised to moderate the use of this fault.


Foreign colour such as rust or coloured flashing in the hackles of males will also affect the rich body colour of offspring and it will also be present in sisters of a male showing that fault, though not always visible.


Remember that a sister of a badly coloured male will carry the same fault in her genetic make-up as her brother and vice-versa


TO PRODUCE UNLACED (or even shades of pale/powder blue as seen in silkies)


The mating would consist of a male without the navy top colour, even shade throughout with no mealiness in feather and specifically no rust or foreign colour in hackle saddle or tail coverts


Female counterpart would be free from lacing and a pale even shade throughout with particular emphasis placed on the fact that the hackle should be as close as possible to the body colour, not a distinctly different shade of blue.


DILUTION OF LACING & DEPTH OF COLOUR


It stands to reason that to maintain a depth of colour in the body and a clarity of colour in feather lacing then the correct balance of matings must be used with closest to the standard colour required, being used on either side of the breeding pen.


Dilution of lacing and depth of ground color in these two factors often comes when breeders are tempted to use better typed birds of lesser colour quality in an attempt to improve the type.


Bear in mind that each time an inferior coloured bird without the lacing present is used, then the resultant offspring will have a diluted portion of the lacing gene in their make-up. Even if they do not always show the lack of it they will always have the propensity to reproduce a lesser quality colour.


However, if the breeder is forced to use a breeding bird of lesser colour quality, colour intensity can often be regained if the offspring is bred back to the correctly coloured parent the next season.


FEATHER COLOUR FAULTS


MEALINESS


Is described as "Whole feathers containing any foreign colours in the form of streaks, blobs or patches giving the effect of multi-coloured blue feathers"

This can often occur when two distinctly different colours of Blues are mated together and tend to produce non-acceptable show standard coloured birds. Mealiness also occurs from over use of Black in the breeding pen.


Some effective ways to remove mealiness from future progeny is to:


a) Introduce white blood for one cross which can often remove streaks but will produce a paler bird (effective in Non Laced varieties as well) then take the progeny back to the laced parent.


b) Introduce splashed Wyandotte, to the Blue mating whereby the white factor in the splashed wyandotte assists in eliminating the mealiness of the resultant blue offspring.If you are able to use a splashed bird that has been bred from a Laced Blue mating,so much the better


c) Utilise a Blue to Blue Mating at least every second year securing a richness in colour in the breeding stock.Progeny from this mating can be mixed into the good typed birds that are showing colour faults.


BLACK STREAKS THROUGHOUT BLUE FEATHERS


This often occurs when breeders are continually mating Blue Pekins with quality Black Pekins in an attempt to improve the type. It is therefore possible by using one mating of Splashed white to Blue to assist in eliminating the black streaks. Ensure once again that offspring are mated back to the Blue of a rich sound colour & lacing the next season to retain the depth of colour Many breeders are of the mistaken opinion that by mixing with black they will increase the rich navy top colour. This can be misleading as whilst the offspring may in fact be darker on top the actual lacing component is starting to nbe diluted and whilst an even colour may be the result, over future generations dilution of the lacing is an inevitable side effect as well as the loss of depth of blue as the colour


THE VALUE OF SPLASHED WHITES AND BLACKS


Many breeders underestimate the value of the splashed white bird produced from Blue x Blue Matings.


Taking into account the above information, the value of the splashed white produced from say a Laced Blue x Laced Blue mating is high. This bird would carry the genes for lacing in its genetic blue component and could easily be utilised with a pure black Pekin to produce further laced blues.


My experience has led me to the conclusion that Blues of a more even shade are often produced from Black x Splashed white.


Bear in mind that the black used does not necessarily have to be bred from a Blue x Blue mating and can easily be a high quality black male from another outside line. This male however, will not carry the laced gene so some back breeding would be necessary.


Progeny of course should be mated back to the existing blue laced birds for continuation of depth of colour retention.


Conversely splashed bred from non laced Blues will carry that non-laced trait so care must be taken when keeping records on the splashed progeny. From my experience, the same would apply with blacks bred from Blue X Blue matings when mated to splashed white females


It would be unwise to contaminate a Blue laced line with splashed or blacks bred from non laced lines.


RETENTION OF DEPTH OF COLOUR & LACING


The hardest possible task when breeding the laced Blue variety is to retain that lovely Rich pigeon Blue colour of an even shade with that desired perfect edged lacing.


One of the most successful ways I have found to do that is :


· continually scrutinize your breeding stock particularly the males for rich navy top colour and chest & Body lacing,


· retain daughters bred from good coloured males


· each year breed back to well laced birds male or female


· for preference, breed from blacks and splashed whites that have come from laced blue x laced blue matings for maximum results


· avoid where possible using birds with rust or foreign colour in the topcolour


· All Blue males top colour will bleach in the sun do not confuse this with badly coloured hackles.


· Introduction of unrelated Black males or females will not automatically produce lacing as they most likely do not have the lacing gene.They will only act to dilute the lacing component and create a majority of fully dark-grey feathers in the first cross. If introduced blood has lacing in its background then you will have a better chance of getting laced chickens in the first generation rather than having to wait for the second generation offspring.



©David Plant


posted with permission by David Plant


David is writing a new book, entitled "The International Handbook on the Silkie Fowl", which is scheduled for publication in late 2005. Publication and distribution info will be available on the ASBC website!