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.