Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Tale Of Blue Chickies

Quick warning, this post is going to cover some genetics stuff.  I hope to present it to you in an easy to understand way!

This post is about these cute chicks, and why I bred them.  
This post is about the color "blue".  Well, not blue like the sky.  It's actually about many shades of gray!  No, not that 50 shades book - we're talking science, genetics, and animal colors today!

It's common in the animal world to call gray animals "blue" - like "Blue Russian" cats or a "Blue Kerry Terrier" dog.  The same is done in chickens, you'll hear of "Blue Ameraucanas" for example.

Here is a great Blog post on the "Blue" color in dogs:


Here is a great PDF on "Blue" and "Cream" (Dilute black and dilute red) in cats:


So, as you can see, whether the animal is a dog or a cat or a horse or a chicken, there are different genes that make Red color in animals, lighten up to a golden tan or yellowish color.  There are other genes that make a black color lighten up to a chocolate brown or grayish color.

These different genes are often called Dilutes.  These "dilution" genes take a deep rich color - like black - and lighten it to a softer pastel shade.  How they work can vary, depending on the gene.

Picture a cup of deep. dark rich black coffee.  Next to the coffee, you have a little container of cream.  If you add cream to the coffee, it turns a lighter color.  That's the effect that "Dilute" genes have on animal fur.

Some genes can only give the coffee one dose of creamer.  It doesn't matter how much more you add, the color stays exactly the same!  (The chicken color "Lavender" works like this.)

With other genes, the effect can be doubled up, if both parents carry the gene.  That would be like having two people each with a little container of cream.  Imagine that the first person pours cream into the coffee cup.  That is like one parent animal giving the "dilution" gene to the offspring.  If the other person *also* adds their cup of creamer to the coffee, then the coffee gets even lighter still!  It just depends on the gene, and how it works, if it can be "doubled up".  (The chicken colors Blue and Dun work this way!)

There are many kind of "dilute" genes that can affect an animal's color, and each gene is different, though sometimes the general look is kind of the same.  A great example, in horses, is Palomino versus Champagne.  A lot of you know what a Palomino horse is, it's a golden horse with a white mane and tail.  Think of Roy Roger's horse, "Trigger".  Well, for years, people who owned Saddlebred horses or Tennessee Walking Horses, would sometimes get a Palomino with funny gold or greenish eyes.  They thought it was just a strange Palomino.  It turns out that was a totally different gene, called "Champagne"!

When you get a Champagne and a Palomino horse side by side, you might think they were all Palomino.  In this way, colors in animals can get very confusing.  Sometimes, what makes an animal appear a certain color - like gold or gray - can be totally different genes at work.

Here's a page where it shows a Champagne horse and a Palomino horse side by side.  The Champagne is a little more shiny, and has lighter skin, but overall, can see how similar they are?


About 15 years ago, DNA color tests became easily available for horses, and this has cleared up a lot of confusion!  But there are still no color DNA tests for chickens, so we still have to muddle through the old fashioned way.

Years ago, when I started my breeding project, people would  often share with me photos of a white chicken with bits of black or gray feathers, and say "Hey!  I found the perfect chicken for you to use!"  Often, the chicken would look like this one:

This is a BLACK chicken.  Really!
But WAIT.  That's not a white chicken with gray spots.  Genetically, that's a black chicken.



You see, in chickens, there is a color called "Blue".  If one parent is blue (fancy name for gray) and the other parent is black, half the chicks will be blue, and half the chicks will be black.  It's a simple dominant gene.  If a parent has the Blue color, half the chicks will have it, and half won't!  How easy is that, right?

Here is a flock of Blue Andalusians:

The "spotted" rooster above, had parents like this!  Solid blue!
OK, so we know that if one parent is black, and one blue, half the chicks will have it, and half won't.  What if both parents have "Blue"?

Well, in that case, half the chicks will be blue.  One quarter of the chicks will be Black.  And one quarter of the chicks will get a "double dose" of blue - one gene from each parent - and those chicks will be a color called SPLASH.

This is a SPLASH Orpington:

BLACK chicken + Blue + Blue = Splash.
Bred to a black rooster, all chicks will be BLUE.
That's a solid black chicken, with two copies of the "Blue" dilution gene!  If she was put in with a Black Orpington rooster, all her chicks would look like this:

Again, Splash + Black = Blue.  This is Blue.
No, really.  ALL OF THEM.  They would all be solid gray in color!  That's how Blue works.

No blue:  Feathers are black.
One copy of blue:  Feathers are gray (or "blue)
Two copies of blue:  A color called "Splash" which is two copies of the Blue gene.

Anyway, you can see how when I'm trying to breed for spots, how having "Splash" chicks could really make this kind of confusing.  How would I know if I bred a nice spotty hen, or just a Splash hen?  So, I bred out Blue from all my Aloha chickens several years ago.

But, I like the look of Blue, so I wanted to have something kind of like that effect.  There are other genes that look similar to Blue.  Remember the example that I listed above - where I showed you how a "Palomino" horse could look almost exactly the same as a "Champagne" horse?  There is a reason I shared that!  There are other genes that make gray feathers on chickens.  These different genes, they don't make Splash.

So I decided to look at these other color genes!  One is called "LAVENDER" and is seen in Lavender Orpingtons, which are super popular and very expensive right now!  Lavender looks almost like blue, but it's a touch lighter and almost "silvery" in color.

This is LAVENDER, not Blue.  They look almost the same.
Totally different genes.  You will never get "Splash" here.
Lavender is a RECESSIVE gene.  So here's how it works:

Lavender to black:  All chicks are BLACK.  The gene goes into hiding!  You don't know who has it.  It won't show up until the next generation.  Then, the chicks must get a copy from both parents.  If they do, they will be "Lavender" and if you breed Lavender to Lavender, you get all Lavender.  So let's recap:

No Lavender:  Feathers are black.
One copy of Lavender:  Feathers are black.
Two copies of Lavender:  Feathers are Lavender.  (Pale blue)

Of course this would work well with Alohas as Lavender would not look like Splash, and there would be no confusion there.  True breeding, you get 100% Lavender chicks when both parents are Lavender.  That's handy!  No Splash!

But, how would I ever tell if a chicken was carrying Lavender?  What if I wanted to breed it out?  There would be no easy way, as recessive genes can "hide".  Better play it safe!

That left one other gene to play with:  DUN.

Dun in chickens makes a color a lot like "Blue".  It's a grayish color, but a little more brown-ish.  Some people call it "chocolate" but that's not a good idea to use that name, because there is another gene in chickens that is also called "chocolate".  Calling it "Dun" keeps things straight.  Dun is very rare in chickens, and it's only found in a few breeds, so you don't see it nearly as often as Blue.

Let's go over how Dun works.  Like Blue, Dun is a simple dominant gene.  That means, it doesn't go into hiding, like Lavender does.  If a chicken has Dun, you can see it!  It is there, or it is not!  Right in plain sight.  That comes in handy if you want to breed for it, or if you want to take it away, as you can see with your own eyes who has it, and who doesn't.

Dun only affects (or lightens) the color BLACK.  Dun, Blue, and Lavender - all three of these genes do not change the colors Red or Buff.  They leave those colors totally alone!

If Dun is crossed with Black, the chicks will be half Black, half Dun.

If Dun is crossed to Dun, half the chicks will be Dun, one quarter will be Black, and the last quarter will be Khaki.  The color "Khaki" is just what it sounds like - a sort of cool beige color.  It is to Dun what Splash is to Blue.

So in theory, if I had a flock of Dun Mottled Alohas and bred them together, I could get THREE different spotty chickens!  Chickens with "regular" black feathers, chickens with smoky chocolate brown "Dun" feathers, and chickens with beige or Khaki feathers!  And no confusing Splash chickens.  I decided that this "trifecta" of color possibilities was exactly what I wanted in Alohas.

Now, where to find Dun?  It's really hard to locate, as so few breeds have it!  I found it in a project that another breeder was working on called "Cinnamon Sussex".  He took the Light Sussex black neck and replaced it with Dun!  Okay, that white body color, not what I need!  But the size on these chickens was HUGE and they did carry Dun, so I ordered the eggs, over two years ago.

Here is info on Cinnamon Sussex:


I took the GINORMOUS rooster with Dun and bred him to tiny spotty Aloha hens:

I kept one of the chicks, who grew to be an odd colored hen who carries both Dun and Mottling:

I also have a Cinnamon Sussex hen. She is gorgeous and big:

I have two Buff Sussex / Cinnamon Sussex cross hens, who now have the white color of the Cinnamon Sussex, replaced with Buff:

(notice the neck and tail feathers are grayish)
And I have another hen who should be carrying Mottling, out of these hens.  This means half of her chicks may be spotted, if she is bred to a spotty rooster:

So we are creeping ever closer to Dun Mottled Alohas!  The above examples show how the Dun color looks "pretty much" like Blue.  However, I will never get a "Splash" chick from these hens.

I set up a breeder pen in October, with this big boy. I believe his Mom was my huge Dun Sussex hen.  This rooster grew twice as fast, and twice as WIDE as his rooster siblings.  His body color is all wrong, but he has wonderful body type:

Isn't he a chunk?
I have put him in a breeder pen with some of my LARGEST and most spotty Aloha hens:

And now, I have chicks!  Some show Dun color, though I'm not sure if any will also show spots:

Without Dun, the wing would have black patterning.
Remember Dun has no effect on red or gold colors, only black.
Compare the chicks above WITH DUN - to chicks below with BLACK feathers - no dun!

Dun can't hide. Sibling chick by same rooster, no Dun.
NO DUN - Black feathering.  Sibling to above chicks.
To date, the only chick I've hatched with both Dun and Spotting belongs to a neighbor:

Dun turns black to a grayish color, but doesn't affect Buff or Red.
You can see the Dun where her neck feathers should be black?

Here, check this out - this is her sister, without Dun:

Buff mottled, with black neck and tail feathers.
See the difference?  Dun makes the neck feathers gray-ish.  Without Dun, the neck feathers are Black.  The really neat thing is, wondering, what will this color look like on a chicken with more black scattered all over the body?  It's really hard to see the effect on mostly red or gold chickens.  You need a lot of black to get the most dramatic look.

Here is a hen, that is currently in with my Dun gene rooster:

Try to imagine all the black feathers as silvery gray!
For now, we have to use our imagination to try and guess what that color would look like on an Aloha.  However, I have seen this color on a forum!  This is from Backyard Chickens member "Henk69" who lives in the Netherlands.  This chicken is a Bantam (Miniature Chicken) but shows what the Aloha breed, with Dun, might possibly look like in color:

NOT MY PHOTO - user "Henk69" from BYC.
Hen located in the Netherlands.  Dun Mottled Bantam.
As for two doses of the Dun color - which makes "Khaki"?  Well, that will remain a mystery for a while!  (Try to picture the black or dun colors replaced with beige.)  Replacing the Blue color with Dun, and having the possibility of Khaki Mottled is yet another way I hope to distinguish the Aloha breed from the Swedish Flower breed.

I will be keeping the Dun chicks from this batch, and updating as they grow!  I also have a second batch of these babies in the incubator now.  Stay tuned for more photos as we move into 2016.  It's going to be an exciting year for Alohas!

Dun Aloha cross chicks hatched November 2015.

*Note:  Some of the above photos used as examples of Lavender, Blue and Splash colors were borrowed from the reference site "Feathersite.com" and are watermarked as such.  Since I do not have any Splash or Blue photos and wanted to explain the different colors.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rooster Review

I still don't have one "perfect" Aloha rooster.  The good news, is I finally feel like I have the right ingredients to make one, down the road.

Aloha rooster.
The closest to perfect that I've reached is this guy:

Note the extreme white on head and chest.
He has a nice upright comb, yellow legs, and great flashy color.  He is very tall.  Long, gorgeous flowing tail.  His main fault is he is a bit gangly or weedy, and lacks the depth and roundness I'd like to see.  If he had a deeper, robust body, he would be the perfect Aloha rooster.

This season, I have hatched out two more along the same type, though the colors vary somewhat.  (Which is good, I want color variety within the breed, so they do not all look like "clones".)  Here are boys who also have great color, but are lacking in build.  Keep in mind, both these boys are still young, and will continue to fill out for many months.  Neither are at their prime yet:

Brilliant orange and white Aloha.
Almost 6 months old, still filling out.
Only four months.  Still growing! 
I have kept all of these colorful guys as potential mates for the large and heavy-bodied Sussex hens.  While the first rooster pictured will probably be nicer than both of these youngsters, I don't want the gene pool to get too concentrated, so it's important I give a few other boys a chance.  These were the best I could find in terms of color and size combined.

However, I am really excited about the body types on the next two roosters.  These roosters are basically Sussex, not Aloha.  Sussex is a breed of chicken that comes in many colors.  The size of Sussex varies on the color.  Often, Speckled Sussex from a hatchery are the smallest.  Privately bred "show" type Speckled Sussex are larger.  Buff Sussex tend to be even larger than Speckled.  Largest of all are Light Sussex.  Light Sussex are HUGE chickens.

Mostly Sussex Rooster for size improvement.

Tail and neck feathers are "Dun" color.
The first rooster is from Light Sussex lines.  He is from the bloodlines of Paul's Rare Poultry "Cinnamon Sussex".  He shows the rare Dun color on his neck and tail.  Dun turns areas that are normally black on a chicken into a grayish brown color similar to "Blue".  However, he has been mixed with other stock, including Buff Sussex and Aloha.  His legs were very yellow as a chick, though they have since faded.  He may or may not carry Mottling.

As a chick, he grew much faster than his siblings, towering over them from the very start.

Shown next to an Aloha rooster - same age!
His yellow legs were visible as a chick.
He only became more massive as he grew.
Still showing yellow legs.
Currently, he is penned with some of my very BEST large Aloha hens to find out if he does carry Mottling.  I am wondering what his offspring may look like as adults?  If they are promising, this boy will be kept.  If they are not the right color, a few of the best hens from these chicks will be kept, and I will try to bring the color out in the next generation.  (While hoping his size and type carries through.)

Here is the breeding pen showing him with some of my best LARGE girls:

Six of my largest and best spotted hens are with him now.
These hens are all of good size. 
While he is a nice rooster, I would like to see a slightly larger comb, and longer tail.  His body color is totally wrong of course!   The fact he carries yellow legs is a nice bonus, as he is primarily Sussex breeding, and Sussex have the dominant pink/white legs.  The yellow legs were a pleasant surprise!

So, what is up with the "Dun" gene and why does that matter?  Well, if you look at the hens with black on them, imagine them with the black replaced with grayish brown.  You would have a tri color effect, with either red or gold, plus this brownish gray.  In fact, one chick was already born in this color!  She lives down the street with a batch of chicks that I gave a neighbor:

Neck feathers show Dun coloration.
Why is that interesting?  Right now, there is no large chicken that shows Dun and Mottling.  It would be a color unique to Alohas, and help make them different from Swedish.  The Aloha chicks with Dun may show a softer, more "pastel" coloration.

Another boy I'm really excited about is this guy:

Buff x Speckled Sussex Cross.
Probably 100% Sussex?  (No Aloha.) 
I am pretty sure he is 100% Sussex, and not Aloha at all.  However, that is good for keeping the bloodline "fresh".  He is a mix of Buff Sussex and Speckled Sussex.  He does show some mottling, so he is technically a "Mille Fleur" Sussex, though not a very flashy one.  That does mean his chicks will show spots.  We just don't know how much spotting?

I love his depth of body, weight, and overall quality.  He needs more spots, a bigger comb, and a longer tail.  I plan on penning him with some of my smaller super-spotty Aloha hens.

Aloha hen in front, Speckled Sussex in back.
This is one of the hens I'd like to breed him to.
It is my hope that if I pen the flashy (but small) Aloha roosters with the larger, more plain hens, and the flashy hens with the larger roosters, that when the two lines combine in the future, the right blend of traits will start to appear in one chicken.

I've already had a small number of hens that finally are what I've been breeding for.  Now it's time to make more, and start working on fine-tuning and "locking in" the right traits.

Eggs from the first pen - the big beefy white rooster of some of the best Aloha hens - are going in the incubator right now.  I can't wait to see how they develop.  Going to be a real mystery on what his "kids" look like?

The second pen that will include the large "Mille Sussex" rooster over smaller Aloha hens will come next, with chicks from that hopefully by late November or possibly December.

Stay tuned for updates!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fall Review

Thank goodness, summer is over at last!  It was a long, hot, tough summer in Phoenix.  Many chickens were lost throughout the Valley of the Sun.  I read many discouraging posts on Facebook from my chicken owning friends. June was especially brutal, because the heat rose so fast, the chickens did not have a chance to acclimate.  When temps shot from 95 to 115 in only one week, the poor chickens had a difficult time coping.

The smaller Alohas did fine in the heat.
Larger hens, like Buff Sussex, had a tough time.
As predicted, my largest chickens were hit hardest.  The small Alohas shrug off the heat, but the larger ones that I have brought in to improve size have a bigger body mass that seems to make them overheat more easily.  I lost two Buff Sussex.  I also lost a couple of Buff Sussex crosses.  Saddest of all, was my very special blue-eyed hen, the only hen I've ever seen with blue eyes.  She came from Swedish Flower lines.

My beautiful blue eyed hen.  RIP lovely girl!
My only comfort, is that I still have her son (I know this for sure because I penned only her in a cage with a rooster and hatched him from those eggs) and I also have a couple of hens that I believe are her daughters.  In addition to her blue eyes, the hen had a lot of white spotting, lanky build, and she had an unusually long neck, traits which her daughter also shows.

I believe this is her daughter.  (No blue eyes.)
I have her two daughters in with a totally unrelated rooster right now, and the son is heading the main flock this year.  Hopefully when the two lines cross back, we may see another like her someday?

After the loss of the blue-eyed hen our first brutally hot week, misters were installed, and I'm happy to say there were very few losses after that.  (I think only two?)  I believe the overall tally for the summer was a loss of five hens and one or two chicks, out of a flock of about 50 adults and over 100 chicks.  That's not a bad rate, but the few adult hens lost were really nice, and will be missed.

Lots of the chicks were raised to replace older hens, and I've kept about 15 new hens.  Some are shown below.

This pullet is 4 months and not yet laying.
Several more pullets, not yet laying.
This beauty is new to the flock, laying now.
Breeding is just starting up again now.  Late this year, because the heat wave continued into fall.  In August, we had 117 degrees, and October had another record of 106.  Temperatures would drop a little bit, only to spike back up again.  The high temperatures have resulted in few eggs.  What eggs are laid, have mostly been infertile, as when temps reach above 100 it can cause infertility in the boys.

I did a test hatch in July, and out of 84 eggs, only 30 were fertile.  Just 15 of those actually hatched.  15 chicks from 84 eggs was too much waste, so this summer my family was gifted with dozens of Aloha eggs for eating.  Considering the price of eggs at the store right now, this made me very popular at family gatherings!

Now it's time to regroup, and get going once again!  Blessedly, most of the Aloha flock survived, and I look forward to setting up new people with Aloha chicks again, probably starting sometime in November.

Two survivors of 117 degree temperatures.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Still Searching for Mr. Right

Last post, I went over the weirdness that happens as Aloha roosters age.  They tend to suddenly "drop" most of their white spots, right at four months old.  My biggest issue is finding a BIG rooster with lots of spotting.  The little "gamey" type Alohas are beautifully colored, but the bigger they get - whether rooster or hen - the more challenging it gets to put spots on them!

I wish his eyes were blue, like his Mom's!
I have yet to find one perfect Aloha rooster - a "Mr. Right" who has everything that I'm looking for.  Big size, lots of spots, and yellow legs.  So far, the nearest to that goal that I have reached is this guy, who is the son of my blue-eyed hen, and is probably about half Swedish Flower:

Best example of Aloha breed rooster, to date.  
He is unique in that he was bred to be a rooster.  I penned my blue eyed girl for a couple of weeks, saved her eggs, and hatched the offspring, specifically looking for a son that had the qualities that I liked so much in her!  The rooster that I used with her was only OK, but was the best I had at the time, so I knew that if any roosters turned out nice, it would be directly because of their Mom!

Better body size is all this boy needs.
This boy only reached breeding age about a month ago, and he has not yet had a flock of his own! I'm very excited to have him penned now with some of my favorite girls!  Some eggs from this pen are already "baking" in the incubator right now.

My biggest, chunkiest Buff Sussex hen, penned with this Aloha.
The breeding pen, May 2015.  Eggs are already in the incubator.
So he's a great rooster, and I'm incredibly pleased with him, though I wish he had even more bulk and "meaty" size to him.  Like his Mom, he has lots of height.  He is as tall as any standard sized chicken, but he could use a little more roundness in the body area.  That is why I have him penned with my solid colored Buff Sussex hens.  The babies from that cross will NOT show spotting, but they will be light colored carriers Mottling and yellow legs.  I'm hoping as the breeding line mixes down the road, I'll get chicks with yellow legs, size, and spots . . .

He is also penned with some super colorful and pretty decent sized Aloha hens, to make more pretty spotted hens like ones seen in this pen.  (Hopefully with yellow legs too?)  Spots to spots only makes MORE spots, so every one of their babies should have lovely markings.  Though these hens - while not small - are about the same size as the rooster.  So there will only be "more of the same".  I have to go through the boring step of losing the color (by crossing to BIG buff hens) to make actual progress in the future.

Hen in front: One of my favorite Alohas.  Pretty with decent size!
I continue to look for any really promising roosters, as lately it seems that my boys are the "weak link" in the breeding program.  For years, I lacked BIG yellow hens.  I've FINALLY got those big yellow hens now, but I need big spotty roosters to breed them too.  A super-spotty, good sized, purebred Speckled Sussex would be a huge help right now, but since I don't have that, I have to try and look at what I have growing in my pens of babies, and hope what I need pops up?

As mottled roosters age, they tend to get darker and darker, which is why I try and keep baby chicks that appear to have way too much white.  Here is a progress update on a few.  Remember this guy?

He was a chick that I got back from a person who bought some eggs from me via Craigslist.  Here he is not even one month later:

He's already lost a ton of white and we aren't even at the four month mark, where they tend to lose the most color of all.

There was a second rooster that I went back for, because I thought his structure was promising.  This guy will probably be kept around for a while even if he loses most of his color, because he has very nice body type and good size, so far.

Odds are, however, this boy will be pretty much a buff color with barely a trace of white anywhere, when he is full grown.  However, he carries the gene for spots, and does show it now, which means he could improve the body type on the more colorful hens.  If bred to my super spotty girls we might see some chicks with better body type that keep their spotting to adulthood.

But to date, I just can't seem to find a rooster with both size and type PLUS color.  Here's a good example.  I was SO EXCITED when I started to raise this chick!  He was big, and round, with bright yellow legs.  And look at all that white!

Photo taken:  MARCH

Photo taken:  APRIL 7th

Photo taken:  MAY 10th

Aaaand it's gone.  All the white spotting is gone.  Bummer.

So there's his brother who of course is smaller:

It's also possible his brother is simply a few weeks younger.  If that's the case he might lose all his white in a few weeks as well.  Here's baby brother, photo taken early April:

And about a month later, in May:

And here is a third rooster, who is not as white as the one above, and not as tall as the one that lost all his color.  Not sure what to think of this guy yet?  Will have to grow him out a bit and see:

There are many other baby roosters that are growing out.  I will be keeping many of them to see how they develop!  Here are pics of a few of them:

Promising Mille Naked Neck Aloha.
Yellow legs, and mostly white, with some buff and black spots.

A row of Aloha chicks growing out.

Young Aloha roster with interesting dark head and yellow legs.

Striking orange and black dark head, white chest.
I don't know if any of these youngsters growing out now will be Mr. Right, but I have only kept about 50 chicks so far.  Typically, only about 1 in every 5-10 chicks makes the cut to the final breeding flock.

My hope is to hatch and keep at least 100 more babies, and raise them through the summer.  These ones that are hatched in February - April will be of breeding age August - October, which will give me a small flock pf probably 10-15 adults to start hatching Aloha chicks from, as soon as temps cool.

The bulk of my hatchlings are due end of May, to early June, and anything raised through the summer would be ready to breed by December, if all goes well.  (The tough part of course is keeping them alive through the Phoenix heat!)

I currently have about 125 eggs in the incubator, and the hope is to keep the entire group of chicks, if I can handle raising that many at once!  LOL.