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The development of the Blue Cuckoo Orpington
by the Cuckoo Stud
My son having fallen in love with poultry at an extremely young age, and the proud owner of a Silkie (this Silkie went on to be the founding mother of the Cuckoo Silkie here in OZ) one day asked if the Cuckoo Orpington came in other colours.
In Australia at that time, “No” was my answer.
He liked the fact that most of our birds had a blueish bar between the darker black bars. Over the years, the colour had modified itself to some extent in the bulk of the lines the family owned. However, my father had one line that had retained that unmistakable black and blue barring definition. I am proud of that line; the birds are from those ‘stolen’ for 20 pounds sterling Cuckoos with a hint of those 2 ‘mighty fine’ Blacks in there as well to offset them. They are kept seperate to all the other lines
the Stud has.
My son asked if it would be possible to breed a Blue Cuckoo. I said “I don’t see why not.”
I consulted with geneticists all of whom informed me that it could not be done as the barring would not be defined enough to be clearly seen and actually be Cuckoo. All saying the same, “No you can’t breed a true Blue Cuckoo, the markings can not be bred to be distinct enough.”
The problem:- the need to replace the black with a darker or lighter blue, while trying to retain the grey in the barring.
Regardless, I presented my son with some birds as a starting point. And the numbers were bred to set up lines.
Together we set the foundations at this point. Seven lines, consisting of approximately 9 birds per line, where possible.
After a few generations of experimental matings with various combinations of birds, we quickly saw that certain pairings produced birds that were tending, in contrast, to a darker blue and others towards a lighter blue.
One line, was exhibiting exceptionally dark black/blue barring. Young produced from an out-crossing from some excellent Blacks, displayed distinct signs of being a dark black/grey, instead of the black/blue.
I continued with this colour combination. Referring to this line as Slate, as the grey reminded us very much of a dark grey slate colour on black.
We were now in the 5th generation of development.
Determined to replace the black with light [or a darker] blue faster, many phone conversations followed to many people. Eventually locating birds we were happy with. We now owned Blue Orpingtons. Immediately we went about setting experimental breeding pairs in one line. Only to discover that to put Blue into the equation ruined all those years of work. Changing skin and eye colour (this followed through down four generations in the line these Blues were introduced into) and only producing birds with intermittent markings. These Blues were removed. The bulk of the birds from the line culled, only retaining the few most Cuckooish from that last generation. With plans to re-experiment with these few ‘part blue/part cuckoo’ young at a later stage,
so as not to re-ruin the Cuckoo patterning.
Geneticists were still maintaining =
“It can not be done to a level where the patterning was defined enough to warrant the name Cuckoo”
So, mathematical equations not withstanding, my son and I decided to strike out on our own yet again. And only rarely using a bird from those ‘part blue/part cuckoo’ to help emphasise the blue colour only. Heavily culling all those that had the wrong eye, skin, leg, beak colour.
We were now into the ninth generation. A select number of matings at generation five were back to the first birds to increase the Cuckoo patterning. (Excluding the black/grey line as it was progressing very well.)
This was extremely successful, we saw ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, with birds showing more blue/blue, blue/grey than black in the barring. We now had lines with blue/blue and other lines with blue/grey and blue/white barring being prominent after this mating back to the original birds. Only young with definite signs of blue/blue and blue/grey and blue/white were allowed to stay.
Any young showing the black barring were eliminated from the ‘blue cuckoo’ program.
The program was now at generation ten.
The black/grey (Slate) Cuckoo was now breeding true to a good depth of colour. # 2012 update insert - this colour is now mentioned in the Australian Poultry Standard as the base/undercolour for Cuckoo
The Blue Cuckoo was starting to show distinct definition.
We contacted members of various Clubs to acquire information regards the Cuckoo patterning where possible.
After consultations with these people, we decided to mate brother sister again, whereas before we had mated brother sister at the second mating some, by now, eleven generations before.
We bred these eleventh generation brothers/sisters together without incident, producing a mixture of Black/Cuckoo/Blueish Cuckoo. But being determined we just kept right on going.
We had six experimental Blue Cuckoo lines to work with (after the 'Slate' line had been distanced from the program). And as such were able to repeat the same process in each line. Producing some promising results in some and not others.
This gave us the opportunity to step back and observe the work done so far. Also to ponder on the benefits and disadvantages of brother/sister matings.
We continued to work with nine birds on average in each line. Each rooster having two or three hens. One rooster showed so much promise we gave him a set of girls (6 hens).
We had more than enough lines/birds to go on with, each generation producing better quality birds.
The hatchlings from these new settings were extremely promising. Each showing more depth of definition of the cuckoo patterning. Producing 75% Blue Cuckoo/25% ‘regular’ Cuckoo. Previously the average was 50% ‘regular’ Cuckoo/25% Blue Cuckoo/25%Black and/or Blue. New birds were chosen for the next generation.
Much to our pleasure these matings produced 75% Blue Cuckoo/25% regular Cuckoo and/or Black and/or a strange almost pink tinged shade of Blue Cuckoo. These strange pinkish ‘tinged’ young formed another program, becoming the founding parents of yet another Cuckoo colour.
Due to a storm, a large number of these young were killed by extreme cold and flash flooding while we were away shopping one day – coming home to your entire back yard under water and birds floating dead everywhere is not my idea of fun. Only 20 out of 60 Blue Cuckoo young survived that storm front. Only two of the ‘regular Cuckoo’ young and 9 of ‘Slate’ Cuckoo young survived. Fortunately no adult birds were killed. Sadly, we also lost young from the Cuckoo Silkies to that savage storm front.
The 'Slate' Cuckoo lines were by the 11th generation averaging 75% 'Slate' Cuckoo/20% regular Cuckoo/5% Black.
We were happy with this percentage and have continued with these lines.
In 2005 I contacted the Australian Orpington Club (of which I am a Committee Member) and during a number of conversations, made inquiries regarding a certain ‘type’ of Blue cockerel (wanting to continue with the ‘solid’ Blues). The chosen young man (upon advice from Dallas Smith, with thanks and generously supplied by The Vizers, also with thanks) was acquired via the Northern Feature Show. This cockerel was subsequently used in both the Blue and hesitantly (due to his spectacular size/conformation) in one line of Blue Cuckoo (for one mating only and with limited success). We also experimented with this young man and one of the best of our 'Slate' Cuckoo girls with reasonable success, supplying us one lovely Cockerel who at the tender age of 15 weeks won Champion Cuckoo at the very first show I had ever exhibited at. He went on to win Champion Cuckoo at the 2008 Royal Canberra National Poultry Show, also Champion Cuckoo at the National Orpington Nthn Feature 2009. We mated this cockerel to his Cousin. The 13th generation 'Slate' young showed promise. With the cockerels being even larger than previous generations and very ‘Typey’. However we noticed after this out-cross that the pullets/hens seemed to be decidedly smaller than previous generations. We of course worked on this problem and can say that the 2009/2010 seasons produced pullets that are larger than ever seen before.
Because my son persevered regards the ‘blue’ in the Cuckoo he was able to successfully exhibit a true Blue Cuckoo cockerel, named Lanky, at the 2007 Orpington National Show (our first show in well over 50yrs of breeding Orpingtons). Lanky was a late entry and unfortunately, had his rear shaved for breeding hence his pictures on the day looked somewhat less than spectacular. Regardless of this, Lanky won Reserve Champion Jnr, also creating interest in what had been happening in our backyard for a number of years.
Sadly my son suffered a severe farm accident a few months after this show and was not able to continue with the birds.
I took over the entire ‘project’ as the birds mean so much to our whole family.
After the 2010 season I can safely say, (after many years of experimenting and selective breeding), the colour/pattern has been breeding with good definition for a number of generations and still consistently breeding 75% for Blue Cuckoo. The main problem was to restore the size of the pullets/hens which was resolved easily with select matings and the 2010 hatch pullets at 7months old already are the largest that have been bred to date.
My ‘uncle’ maintained the Blacks descended from those two ‘stolen mighty fine Blacks’ and his share of the Cuckoos, they were developed into very nice lines and used regularly to maintain a ‘depth of colour’ in the Cuckoos my father owned. My father had ‘stolen’ the Blacks for HIS mate knowing HE liked black birds!
I used two black hens from my ‘uncles’ birds as outcrosses for my precious Sinclair (an amazing Cuckoo) many years ago now. Producing a large number of extremely dark Cuckoo birds showing well defined barring. There was almost no underlying hint of the original Cuckoo black/blue barring. I followed this up with various experimental matings (over six generations), including brother/sister matings three generations apart. Also one mating of 3 hens (resulting from the 2nd brother/sister mating) back to Sinclair. The colour in these young was the same distinct dark Slate Grey on Black barring as the 'Slate' line previously set (whom Sinclair was also a founding member), but with a hint of dirty white giving the impression of a triple barring pattern with a ‘spot’ at the end of almost every feather = dirty white surrounded by black. Culminating in what we here call Tear Drop (however, still considered Cuckoo, when examined by show officials and highly regarded Club officials/members back in 2007)
This line of 'teardrop' Cuckoo is kept exclusively by the family.
Two pullets from this experiment, were also debuted at the 2007 Orpington National Show.
We suffered a slight set back with the 2009 heat waves and fire-storms but once again have more than enough Blue Cuckoo and 'Slate' Cuckoo Orpington quads and sets (6 birds) to confidently continue with these new and attractive colour combinations. Birds from the Blue Cuckoo development were regularly seen at Shows until 2012 with some taking out Champion and Reserve, and in one case Grand Champion Cuckoo.
We lost that Vizer Blue to a tiger snake when he was 13mths old so we contacted the Vizers’ and purchased a Blue pullet and a Black cockerel as we were so impressed with the lines. The Vizers’ generously gave us another Blue cockerel to replace the one taken by the snake. As a result of the Vizer's generosity we have been able to supply Black, Blue and Splash birds and sometimes eggs to the public.
I have continued on in the development of new colours in the Cuckoo pattern and have already exhibited some and should soon be able to exhibit the other colours now in their final developmental stages.
# 2012 update insert = the Lavender Cuckoo (and Lavender) were debuted at the Northern Feature Show to excellent reviews.
The Buff Cuckoo was debuted at the VIC Rare and New Breeds show with many good comments as to Type and colour.
All this because I, like my father, am obsessed with the Cuckoo feather pattern and my son enjoys developing the new and unusual.
All content in 'The development of the Blue Cuckoo Orpington'' is documented, The Stud's own work, and subject to copyright laws of Australia