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The Beautiful Blue
Some people contend that the Blue Leghorn is the most attractive of all the
varieties in the breed, and is perhaps, one of the most difficult to produce.
This is certainly true regarding the breeding, for how often do you see a lovely
cockerel on the show bench, true to type, displaying the desired even colour
outwardly, but when handled is snow-white underneath.
The yellow-legged Blue in any breed of poultry can be produced in many ways,
however, the most common appears to be from the original cross of Black over
White, or vice versa. Progeny from this mating will throw a surprising variety
of colours, dependant on which parent is dominant and which is recessive,
however don't be daunted by the result. Upon maturity, select the best male or
female Black, Blue and Splashed, and in turn they can be bred to either parent.
Whilst one would expect to mate blue to blue, experience shows that without an
outcross of black every other season, there is a decided deterioration in the
colour pattern, and in some cases a fading out to a very pale shade, which is
unacceptable on the show bench.
One of the most prominent breeders of Black and Blue
Leghorns this country has seen, the late Jock Salmond, always stressed that the
best way to maintain the desired even colour of pigeon blue, was to mate a
pullet breeding black male over a blue female of exhibition quality. Care should
be taken to ensure that the female was sound in colour and under no circumstance
show any white in under-colour.
A common fault in the Blue Leghorns shown today is
lacing on the breast. This is not acceptable and can be easily eradicated by use
of a carefully selected pullet breeding black male, showing not slight, but
abundant snow-white under-colour. The desired effect of ridding the lacing
problem, can be achieved by use of a white cockerel provided he has abundant
yellow pigment in the legs, beak and skin.
The third option open to you is to mate the flea-bitten
back to the black parent, producing 100% blue chickens, usually of a light
shade, however rarely displaying lacing. To overcome the problem of white
under-colour and white in the tails of the cockerels, use a blue female with
willow legs instead of the accepted yellow leg. However it should be stressed
that the willow leg must be matched by a yellow pad with a degree of yellow
showing through the willow. Avoid at all costs a willow leg with green pad
devoid of any yellow.
As you will appreciate the blue colour, being in a way
delicate and vulnerable to strong sunlight, necessitates that the birds be
protected from too much sun and so they must be provided with shade for the
greater part of the day. The various grades of Sarlon Shadecloth are ideal for
There is no doubt that this attractive member of the
Leghorn family is not given its rightful place with its more illustrious
relations, the Blacks and Whites, when one considers that it is called upon many
times when one looks to correct faults in other varieties. On many occasions an
infusion of Blue into the Black has eradicated that troublesome purple which
shows up in many Blacks shown today, and again, it can be used as a corrective
measure in taking the brassiness out of the Whites.
A nice pen of Blue Leghorns is an asset in any Leghorn
by courtesy of Peter Chowne, Monterey, NSW ....
Breeder, exhibitor and judge of Leghorns for over forty years. Well known
|My experience breeding Blue Leghorns
By Tony Wonka
I first started breeding large Black Leghorns in 1993 when I was able to
secure a batch of chickens from renowned breeder Arthur Smith from
Ipswich, Queeensland. Arthur was a friend of my late father and showed
Anconas and Black Leghorns with him in the 1950's.
|From this first batch I got 7 chickens and started
the Blacks from there. I tried to breed blues in 1995 by introducing a
blue pullet breeding male from Mike O'Connor of Murwillumbah. The first
season I had mixed results and the following year much the same. The type
and head gear was fair and color a bit blotchy - lots of lavender shading
and darker blue in the hackle and tails. Also I was starting to get some
barring in the primary feathers and the heads were ordinary - small lobes,
and double folds in the female's combs. In 1998 I decided to bite the
bullet and discard all the blues and blacks I had which were results of
this attempt to breed blues.
|I was very fortunate to have the loan
of an outstanding White Leghorn Hen from Clive Claus of Rosewood. This was
an exceptional female which had won Best in Show twice that season and
from memory a major award at that year's Brisbane Royal. I am forever
indebted to Clive for loaning me this female for what was an experimental
mating. I selected the best black male which was pure Arthur Smith's line.
Both these birds had all the traits needed when commencing a new strain.
True leghorn type, good big bodied birds, great heads, good leg color and
||This female laid 32 eggs which all were incubated;
there were 24 fertile eggs on first testing at 14 days but a disappointing
final hatch of 16. They were a mixed batch to say the least. Half were
white as chicks, 5 appeared to be blacks and the remaining 3 were blue. My
first thoughts were that the mating was a failure with so many whites,
however in the long run it proved a blessing in disguise.
|I ended up after 6 months with 12 half
grown birds - 2 blue, 4 black, 2 cuckoo and 3 sports (black and white).
The latter sports consisted of 1 male and 2 female. At maturity 3 of the 4
blacks were males with no white undercolour but white in the tail and some
wing flights - no rust in the hackles. The 2 cuckoos were evenly barred
but full blue tails and primaries, the male had a double serration so he
was dispatched to the pot and the female was sick half way through her
first year and never developed into a good size hen so I didn't breed on
with her. The two blues were females but one had a lot of white in her
primaries and was never bred with, the other very light but consistent
blue color, good size and nice head. She was too light in color to show
but was a valuable breeder.
|I was unable to get back Clive's white
hen for a second mating but still had the black male and put him over a
blue female, a sport female and the only black pullet from the first
hatch. I put the sport male over 2 of my original black hens. Next season
I set 65 eggs, sadly poor fertility about 50% and hatching rate 70% I only
ended up with 24 chicks again a motley crew. On hatching I again had
plenty of sports 10, and the balance evenly spread of blacks and blues.
The best blues came from the sport cockerel over the black hens and the
blues were from this pen: I did get some slashing blacks from the black
male over his sport and black daughter from the original white hen. They
were solid black, big bodies nice heads with beak and leg color as bright
as fresh corn and they retained that leg color apart from when in heavy
molt. They also had red eyes but in later year's one female which was a
great show hen ended up with silver eyes: no other female had this and it
never seemed to worry as a breeder as I never again had a light eye.
For the past few years I have generally made up 3 pens headed by a sport
male, a black male and a blue male and mated them with a similar color
range that is sport male over sport, black and blue females: black male
over sport, black and blue female and so forth for the blue male. I only
breed from 1 male of each color each season over 9 females in total and
generally try to get about 30 chicks overall. For the past few years I
always retain the sports as breeders they are invaluable: although I have
noticed that even blue to blue has produced some great blues and even nice
blacks but you always need to keep the sports in the mix somewhere.
I made a big mistake in 2002 when I added too much meat meal to the
growing ration to get quicker development and ended up with full blown
combs on the females and now 2 breeding seasons later I am still trying to
get the combs back to a good size, the males are fine but the female combs
still need a bit of work: it was a good lesson in leaving nature take its
course rather than try to artificially improve.
It might disappoint the purists but since 2001 when I started the 3 pen
mating program eg using black, blue and sport male - I don't toe punch any
of my birds. It might sound a bit strange specially when trying to breed
such a difficult color, that is pure black and pure blue but each season
usually last week of August I pick the best black, best blue and best
sport male then select 9 females - 3 of each color for that seasons
mating. Sometimes I will use the same male or some of the same females
depending on how the season has been.
For the past 4 years with no toe punches and just breeding from the best I
have produced some nice birds and always get enough to put together a show
team although we only have two decent Leghorn shows in Queensland each
year - the Leghorn Clubs show at Rosewood in July and the Brisbane Royal
in August. I like to keep about 4-5 breeding males all the time so I have
a few reserves in case of death etc and by running the youngsters and the
previous seasons cock birds together from about 4 months of age they seem
to get on with each other and never have any lingering fights, I run all
the females together until they finish their molt and then select enough
for a show team.
|I find it's very necessary to keep all leghorns out
of the full time sun so all the runs have large shade trees or shade cloth
shelters. If they run in full sun their feathers get really brittle and
the black looses its gloss and the blue gets really washed out. I don't
have any trouble with leg and beak color and attribute this to a regular
diet of fresh horse manure. Having stables on the farm is a big help,
every other day I throw half a dozen handfuls of fresh horse manure in the
pens, by afternoon its all gone and this is attested to the greenish beaks
on the birds - they look like kids just having had a big feed of
mulberries only the color is green not black. I think the horse manure is
also good for keeping the cherry red in their combs.
|Show preparation is very simple. By
being round your birds from early stages they are quite placid and easily
take to show pens and I find all they need is 3-4 days in a show pen. From
about 6 weeks I like to spend a few days a week hand feeding them with
either bread of green pick. After a few days they get used to taking it
from your hand and this keeps them manageable all the time.
I never wash them and for their
legs I use a battery toothbrush and a warm solution of something like WD
40 or any degreaser. I firstly wash their legs in warm soapy water then
apply by hand the WD40 working it up their scales give it a few minutes to
take up then dip the battery toothbrush in warm water, fire it up and
within a few seconds the legs are clean. Just work the toothbrush across
the scales lightly against the scale taking care not to dig the bristles
too hard into the skin, you will find any dirt or grime will come away
very easily. It's essential then to give the legs a good coating of hand
moisturizer to balance the coarseness of the WD 40.
A Leghorn in good condition won't need too much lotion on their heads, I
stay clear of heavy oily solutions like olive oil or baby oil - they look
too artificial and give a greasy appearance. If you can afford it the best
I've found is Oil of Ulan or now called Oil of Ulay mixed with a very
small amount of metho or vinegar just enough to provide full penetration.
It's also a good idea to use a very soft toothbrush to clean their nasal
passage and any areas of built up dirt like small hollows in males combs
prior to using the lotion. Obviously with blue leghorns a good pluck of
any black feathers prior to the show is essential.
I often show the sports in AOC classes because some of the best type
Leghorns falls into this color category. Black and Blue Leghorns are one
of the finest of the large soft feather varieties. A stunning black or
blue fowl, legs and beaks the color of corn, combs like strawberries and
lobes like almonds covered in white chocolate - what more can you ask for.
Contact me if I can help Tony Wonka. 02 6676