Partridge Leghorn


The Partridge Leghorn by John Lawry
published in Fancy Fowl magazine April 1997

Partridge Female Leghorn
THE PARTRIDGE (click for pictures)            return to homepage
In 1986 John Lawry of Penzance, Cornwall, set out to breed Partridge Leghorn hens via double mating and now has hens of a quality suitable for exhibition at the National Show.
In the article which follows, Mr Lawry shares his experience with Fancy Fowl readers. Any correspondence or enquiries may be addressed to the author via Fancy Fowl.

The Cock: Producing the Partridge Leghorn cock is little more than a formality. The Brown Leghorn cock, as exhibited nowadays, is to all practical purposes the Partridge Leghorn, excepting that it would not have front neck hackles crimson below the wattles. Hackle feathers, as with the Partridge Wyandotte, must be lemon and not the amount of orange seen in the Brown Leghorn. Striping of both the neck and saddle hackles, both to be devoid of shaftiness, would need attention. To breed the Partridge Leghorn cock is therefore just a matter of attention to detail. The exhibition cock, however, would not involve a Partridge Leghorn hen.

Partridge Leghorn hen-breeding cock from a tenth generation hatch
Partridge Leghorn hen-breeding cock from a tenth generation hatch
The Hen: Partridge are strictly two breeds with the cock being a definite black-red and the hen a definite gold pencilled. This means breeding the cocks and hens from two separate breeding pens - double mating. Double mating would have to be practiced for many reasons. An evenly pencilled hen showing fine detail and correct ground colour would be difficult to obtain from an exhibition cock with a solid black breast. Yellow legs in females from males with black undercolour in the breast also requires double mating (note female's Blackbird leg colour). Partridge hens bred from exhibition cocks with solid black striping in the hackles would invariably result in pencilled hens with pepperiness in the feather groundcolour. The hen breeding cock bears little resemblance to the exhibition cock in Partridge breeds. For example, he must have broken striping and ticking in the neck and saddle hackles; the exhibition cock would be of little use. He must have orange hackles, not lemon. He must be brightly coloured, not dark, as this produces foxy-red females. His back should be broken with markings and ticking. In order to obtain a hen with strong feather, strong enough to hold the pencilling, the cock must be tight feathered and especially so on the thighs. It should be noted that the Partridge Leghorn hen neck hackle feathers must be pencilled - not striped, as in the Brown Leghorn hen.  

Partridge Leghorn hens from Brown Leghorns The first Brown Leghorns in England were recorded as imported from a Mr A.M. Halsted, Rye, New York, USA to Lewis Wright on 17 June 1872, who described them thus: "The hen was salmon breasted with rest of plumage partridge marked or brown finely pencilled over with dark markings." Certainly, the painting by J.W. Ludlow of the hen, circa 1872, show them to have pure unmarked salmon breasts with definite pencilling (as pencilled in the Partridge Wyandotte/ Gold pencilled Wyandotte) on the back, wing bows and cushion. The pencilling was not as in the modern Brown Leghorn hen or the Welsummer. It is not at all clear when the original imported type of pencilling gave way and became the stippling pencilling as in the modern Brown Leghorn. The Standard called for a "soft rich brown, very closely and evenly pencilled with black"; commonly referred to as stippling or peppering with intricate black specks. To produce the Partridge Leghorn hen one had to consider the partridge varieties of bantams available, their suitability, availability, standard of excellence, compatibility with Leghorns, whilst always bearing in mind the problem of requiring a hen with a white earlobe, a single recessive comb and yellow legs and a red eye in the hen. The obvious choice was the hen-breeding strain of Partridge Wyandotte (Gold-pencilled Wyandotte) which had been kept for very many years and bred particularly to be free of a 'yellow or foxy tinge'. Partridge markings were of the essence to the endeavour and, rightly or wrongly, a Partridge Wyandotte hen-breeding (PWHB) cock was selected and crossed to a typical, good type, physically sound, yellow-legged, red eye female Brown Leghorn hen. The hen had a beautiful salmon breast - the subject for much regret, later - and for future reference - the salmon had been 'fixed' genetically for well over a century according to Lewis Wright's 1872 description. The salmon would return to haunt me. The Partridge Wyandotte cock was as long-backed and long-legged as could be found and possibly had a hint of white in the earlobe.

An experiment in genetic engineering The PWHB cock was crossed with the Brown Leghorn hen to produce the first generation (filial one or Fi). The Fi hens were well pencilled for a first cross with pencilling dominating the stippling. Hens were salmon breasted but pencilling was visible on the salmon. Ground colour of the feathers was not even throughout i.e patchy and varying from salmon to brown. The type was immediately that of Leghorn and, as expected, they had yellow legs but red earlobes; comb in all being rosecomb. The second year breeding was 'selfing' the Fi (brother of the first cross to sister of the first cross). This was a complete failure; for some reason every egg was infertile. In the third year the second generation F2 was obtained by crossing the Fi hybrid hens with another unrelated pure PWHB cock, because of the perceived problem with infertility. F2 pencilling improved somewhat upon the Fi; the pullets were as deeply salmon breasted as any Brown Leghorn hen. Pencilling on the thighs was indifferent, feathers being insufficiently strong to hold the pencilling. The female neck hackles were pencilled; not striped. For over five years, from Fs through to F/, inbreeding was practiced with sires crossed to female progeny and dams to cockerel progeny. Pencilling characteristics were always given paramount importance

Brown colouring (left) for comparison with Partridge colouring (right)
Brown colouring (left) for comparison with Partridge colouring (right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Partridge Feathers
Partridge Feathers

in selection and the least salmon breasted pullets were favoured, with other factors, such as, comb, eye colour and type being of secondary importance. Generally, from Fa to F? the pencilling improved, especially on the thighs but the progress, if any, was not constant; there were generations with little improvement and some which regressed. Indeed the Fe females lost all the underside pencilling and were back to Brown Leghorn breasts. The salmon breast was the best 'fixed' secret of the lot. Indeed the Fe hatch almost ended the challenge - would genetically engineered bantam flesh be acceptable? The salmon breast was the most persistent of all the Brown Leghorn characteristics to replace. It was singularly the most difficult characteristic to overcome. Indeed it was not until the seventh generation, F/, that the feather ground colour of the breast was the same as that over the remainder of the hen. The shaftiness of the breast in all modern Brown Leghorn hens did not persist into the breast of the Partridge Leghorn somehow the shaft disappeared, unexplained, with the salmon. If the salmon breast was known to be the most difficult characteristic to overcome from the beginning one would have given more thought to the use of the Brown Leghorn hen, but theory is one thing and the practicalities of genetic engineering is that one has to use the pool of genes (characteristics) available at any given time. Looking at Lewis Wright's description of the 1872 importation of Brown Leghorns with salmon breasts perhaps it should have been obvious that a characteristic 'fixed' for well over a century could not be re-engineered in a generation or two. The eighth generation Fs was arrived at as much by chance as by better judgement. After having kept and bred a Partridge Wyandotte hen breeding strain for something like two decades and breeding pure Partridge Wyandottes for that time a single-combed Partridge Wyandotte cockerel appeared unaccountably, a mutant or 'sport' for sure, a filius nullius in the pen. Why, one enquires could not the filius nullius have been hatched eight years earlier and have saved the trouble! This pure bred Partridge Wyandotte mutant cockerel, single combed, was crossed back to the F? Partridge Leghorn hens. From Fa onwards all offspring hatched were fixed with all the Partridge Leghorn characteristics, were henceforth considered pure breeding (homozygous) for all the characteristics and any would have been suitable to exhibit at any show as Partridge Leghorns. Only one characteristic seemed in doubt; the mutant PWHB single comb was indeed not a pure characteristic, for another two generations the odd, indescribable, comb type occurred; not single, walnut, pea or rose. The comb genetics followed in text book style. After some 20 years of pure breeding the PWHB it would be reasonably considered the PWHB comb of the first cock was homozygous. Likewise, the single comb of the Brown Leghorn hen had to be homozygous since single comb is recessive. One could have expected a single comb to emerge after two generations with 25% of the chicks single- combed if one selfed the Fi as planned. However the Fi was not selfed; rather, the rosecomb was reintroduced for F2 but single combs were produced in F4, exactly as expected but not in a 25% to 75% ratio of rosecombs - the variation due to small numbers distorting the ratio. With recessive single comb, once the comb is bred it is there as a pure breeding characteristic. White earlobes in the Partridge Leghorn has to be bred for and it cannot be taken for granted and forgotten. Comb genetics: Rose RR x Single rr R x r Fi Impure Rose Rr All rose All impure breeding Self Fi Impure Rose Rr x Impure Rr Fa Rose (pure) RR Rose Rr Rose Rr Single rr Leghorns may of course be rosecombed in addition to single combed (1984-1996) but for preference most breeders wish to see them single combed.

Wright's 1872 importation The breeding of the Partridge Leghorn prompts a number of questions. Lewis Wright's book, first edition, with the paintings of the Brown Leghorn by Ludlow as imported in 1872 is not consistent with breeding Partridge Leghorn experience. The painting shows the Brown Leghorn hen to be pencilled on the back, wings, cushion and tail coverts (not stippled). The cock has a solid black breast and solid black striping in the hackles. One questions if these two birds could have been obtained from single mating. If one breeds the Partridge Leghorn hen from a cock with a solid black breast and solid black striping in the hackles the resultant pullets exhibit some little true pencilling but the ground colour is filled with pepperiness. 'Pepperiness' is stippling as in the modern Brown Leghorn hen (which comes from a solid blackbreasted exhibition black-red cock and from single mating.) Perhaps Ludlow's painting was correct but with the great respect one would suggest the cock would have required a black breast mottled with red to have produced those markings on the 1872 Brown Leghorn hen alongside. There is no mention of double mating the Brown Leghorn. Returning to Wright's description in 1872 - "The hen was salmon breasted with rest of plumage partridge marked or brown finely pencilled over with dark markings." The obvious observation; were there two types of hen markings? One originating from double mating 'partridge marked', the other single mated 'brown finely pencilled over with dark markings'? The first Brown Leghorns recorded in America were from a ship in Boston Harbour in 1853 to a Mr F.J. Kinney, Worcester, Mass. This importation came direct from Leghorn in Italy. The hens were described as having red earlobes, cocks brown-red (not black-red) and the cocks had dark brown breasts spotted with light brown. Other importations must have taken place as later records show the earlobes to be white. So, back to Ludlow's painting of 1872 - perhaps the hen was one of two variant colours but if the cock was brown-red or partly brown-red cocks on 17 June 1872 as 'combining the Spanish

 
comb, head and body with the colour of Black-red Game; the cock having a black breast with hackles orange red striped with black'. Apparently everyone tormented Wright by claiming he was sold Spanish cross Black-red Game - not until the chicks proved consistent was this disproved. A.F. Lydon's painting of the Brown Leghorn circa 1913 (Poultry Keeping - Lewer & Lewer) is not altogether clear in detail; insufficiently clear upon which to base revolved comment but the hen's back had changed from soft partridge brown to grey slate; the cock, magnificent black-red which could have then, and now, be shown as a Partridge Leghorn cock.

Reason The challenge to be the first to produce a Partridge Leghorn bantam was laid before one by the good and true friend John Martin Esq of Wisbech, Cambridge (the accepted authority on Leghorn breeding); the credit is his. However, the challenge was easily accepted; not so easily executed and took some 14% of one's allotted time according to the good book; the result was no more rewarding than any task accepted and completed; there was heartbreak, disappointment and despair along the way but as with the gentlemen who have bantamized the Spanish and Exchequer Leghorn it had to be seen if it could be done. Perhaps like another of man's endeavours it should not be entered into light heartedly, frivolously or unadvisedly. The lesson in patience and persistence has been well learned.

Partridge Leghorn Standard Male
Head: dark orange
Neck & Saddle Hackles:
bright orange yellow shading to bright lemon yellow. Hackles free from washiness. Each feather having a clearly defined glossy black stripe down the middle. The stripe not to run out at the tip and free from light shaft.
Back, Shoulders, Wing bow:
bright red of a scarlet shade; free from maroon or purple tint.
Wing Barn
Solid glossy black.
Wing:
Primaries; Outer and inner webs: black. Secondaries; Inner web: Black. Outer web: rich bay, the rich bay alone showing when wing is closed.
Breast and fluff: metallic black; free from red or grey ticking.
Tail, Sickles & Coverts:
metallic black; free from white at roots. (NB Lemon is not orange; beetle green is not raven blue)
Undercolour:
black or dark grey; free from white.

Female
Head and Hackle
: rich golden yellow; the larger feathers finely and clearly pencilled black.
Breast, Back, Cushion, Wings:
ground-colour - soft light partridge brown, quite even and free from red or yellow tinge. Each feather plentifully and distinctly pencilled with black.
Pencilling
- to follow the form of the feather and to be even and uniform throughout. Fine, sharply defined pencilling with three or more distinct lines of black is preferred to coarse, broad markings, especially in hens where the pencilling is generally better defined than in pullets. Pencilling that runs into the brown, peppery markings and uneven, broken or barred pencilling constitute defects. Light shafts to feathers on the breast must be penalised.
Fluff:
brown, same shade as body, as clearly pencilled as possible.
Wing:
Primaries; Inner and outer web - black. Secondaries: Inner web - black. Outer web brown, same shade as body, pencilled with black, showing pencilling when wing is closed.
Tail:
black, with or without brown markings with clearly pencilled feathers up to point of tail coverts. (NB The standard allows for a wide range in groundcolour between, yet avoiding, the extremes of yellow tinge and red tinge.)
Undercolour:
slate.