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Breeding Cuckoo Orpingtons - a detailed guide
by the Cuckoo Stud
This article is an original work and written from my own experience over the course of my life breeding Cuckoo Orpingtons and developing the Blue, Buff, Lavender etc versions in OZ. No disrespect is meant to the Breeders of other breeds that have Cuckoo.
It is no harder to breed Cuckoo Orpingtons than any of the other colours; you just need to know the basics of what to look for
and what to use. Some decide that it is too hard as they do not take the time to find out how to breed with this pattern.
This is a sectional article and refers to the APS (Australian Poultry Standard) listed colour of Cuckoo Orpington, with reference to
the Buff Cuckoo (known as Lemon in the UK), Blue Cuckoo, Lavender Cuckoo and Chocolate Cuckoo etc further down.
It encapsulates the breeder bird selection and breeding process, including a brief explanation of single and double barring
in male Cuckoos and what to look for when assessing growing chicks and culling accordingly.
Starting out =
You need to carefully choose the birds you will use, whether you have bred them or purchased them - - - - - - -
Birds should be chosen for =
A white Beak. Eyes = red and full, rounded and bright (not droopy or sleepy eyes). Comb, Wattles and Earlobes = red.
The comb needs to be neat and tidy sitting well on the head, 5 to 7 spikes preferred (both sexes) and little or no fishtail
The wattles compact and well shaped (not elongated giving the appearance of dragging the floor).
Ensure each bird has a nice full rounded (convex) chest, with depth and broadness obvious in both sexes.
(NO cut away fronts)
Good wing set (held well, not hanging limply). The hen must not have too large a rump/cushion (must not resemble a bump) although the cushion needs to be obvious, the rooster needs to display a broad (but not overly broad) rump with
good hackles neatly covering the back of the wings. The male neck hackles must not touch the rump you must see the back.
Ensure there is a nice back-line with rise of tail in both sexes = a long and/or flat back with little or no rise of tail is to be avoided.
A bottom line side on that looks like a bowling ball is most desired while displaying a small amount of leg
(not some great expanse of leg), the legs need to be compact (not stilts) and must be white skinned but can have a small amount of mottling (ensure you do not use birds that have dark or smutty skin) and with neat tidy white feet and toenails.
When breeding the Cuckoo pattern in the Orpington you need to know a few basics to help in the improvement with each generation.
Exhibition Quality birds of both sexes can be bred from the same pen = 1 pen
conditional that both single and double bar factor roosters are used, as both types of roosters are of importance to
the Cuckoo pattern. If unable to keep more than one rooster make sure you have access to an opposing barred rooster.
If possible, I recommend that an 'Heir' and a 'Spare' be kept for both the single and double barring = that way if you lose a rooster
you have a back up = far too many (that can keep more than one rooster) choose to only keep one and if they lose the bird are left without a good backup bird = often not waiting for a quality replacement instead sourcing a cull that will do more harm than good.
At this point I have to say = always grow out your cockerels to about 11 or 12mths old (the ones not culled for faulty pattern or defects = refer to the APS or your country's Standard of Perfection for defects) = that way you are certain to be able to choose quality of
both single and double barred males for future breeding and as the spare (if/as needed).
Mating Cuckoo to Cuckoo will produce quality well patterned birds, as well as a number of 'clunkers' = meaning careful selection/culling is essential.
My rule of thumb is that the progeny should be infused with Black every 4th generation = to keep the depth of colour up.
The first rule of breeding Cuckoo Orpingtons is you must never breed from males with any sign of rust (bronzing, yellow or orange)
in the top colour or in the hackles of either the neck or rump and you need to check wing feathers for these colours as it can also display on the wings. Please note here that a rooster can carry the bronzing etc without displaying it hence the need for growing out and careful selection for each generation.
Even in Black based birds some Cuckoo males hackles can be too light (giving a sliver/white appearance = these are NOT Silver Cuckoo < this colour does not exist). Also, females can carry crowded barring on the shoulders and wing coverts.
So careful selection of pattern in breeders ensures the next generation will be better to the pattern.
The second rule is you should not breed from females that are too light in basic ground colour (white barring too broad).
A double bar factor male (wider pale barring) will produce all Cuckoo both sexes (with a high percentage of correct shank/foot colouring) when mated to either a Cuckoo or Black hen.
# it must be said here regards the offspring of Double Bar Factor rooster over Black hen mating =
The beak may have dark striations but this usually breeds back to the essential white beak in the first cross of these offspring
back to Cuckoo.
Also the legs and occasionally the feet/toes of this Double Bar Factor to Black mating offspring will have a lot of dark on them - usually goes back to mottling or even white at the first cross to Cuckoo but occasionally there will be a chick from the Cuckoo X Black bird when mated back to Cuckoo that has dark legs = this is a ‘put it in the pot bird’
* it is extremely rare from a Double Bar Cuckoo male over a Black hen to get solid black legs and beak = IF this happens these should not be bred from = if pretty sell them as layers but NOT for breeding
You also have to watch the eye colour = must be red or at the very least a dark orangey red = about 5% of double bar cross black chicks will have dark eyes = do not breed from them = even IF their legs and beak are white = they will throw the dark legs and eyes = again = if pretty sell as layers but NOT for breeding
In OZ our Standard is correct to genetic = legs = some mottling over white skin allowed on the regular Cuckoo and Blue Cuckoo and Choc Cuckoo only = the Lavender Cuckoo, Red Cuckoo and Buff Cuckoo (referred to as Lemon in UK) etc all have to have pure white legs feet toes
A non arguable point is that regardless of colour all Orpingtons must have pure white toe nails = no smudginess or striations of any colour allowed
A single bar factor male (narrower darker barring) will produce Cuckoo in both sexes mated Cuckoo/Cuckoo, but mated
Cuckoo/Black will produce Cuckoo males and Black carrying Cuckoo females (out-crosses for Black infusion).
Do not make the mistake of breeding Cuckoo Orpingtons as per Pekin Cuckoo breeding as the Pekin method does not work for Orpingtons = Pekins have feathered legs and feet and as such there in no colour requirement for same, allowing a Black cross at each or every 2nd generation = causing dark legs/feet in many instances.
However the Orpingtons having clean legs and feet and also strict colour requirements in this regard means it is essential that you breed your Cuckoo Orpingtons using careful selection of the breeders at each generation.
It is suggested that you never use Cuckoo pullets as the true pattern does not show itself until after the first moult.
Also as pullet eggs are smaller = giving smaller chicks/adult birds.
Orpingtons = the leg and foot colour requirement means less crossing to Black and the use of double bar factor males over Black (or Black carrying Cuckoo) hens when crossing to help keep the legs/feet correct.
BUT = single bar factor Cuckoo males over Black hens gives all males Cuckoo, all females Black < 90% of these females carry the Cuckoo gene = these are future crosses for the next Black infusion = you do need to breed ahead to keep legs/feet correct.
# note the use of Black or Black carrying Cuckoo must be confined to hens only
When choosing hens from a single bar Cuckoo rooster and a Black hen = ensure that you choose/keep only those that display mottling on the legs (not solid black) and either red or light brown eyes = look for legs that look a pale black with black mottling = these carry the Cuckoo gene, remember the eye colour also helps in selection.
The mating sequence I suggest to keep the depth of feather ground colour in your Cuckoo and to also help keep the leg/foot, skin, eyes and beak colour correct is =
1st cross = Cuckoo to Cuckoo
2nd cross = Cuckoo to Cuckoo
3rd cross = Cuckoo to Cuckoo
4th cross (A) = Cuckoo (double bar factor) rooster over Black hen for 100% Cuckoo
4th cross (B) = Cuckoo (single bar factor) rooster over Black hen (or preferably Black carrying Cuckoo hen) for out-crosses
for future infusion of Black
5th cross = Cuckoo to Cuckoo
and so on until you reach 8th cross when black is infused again
# When discussing Buff Cuckoo (known as Lemon in the UK), Blue Cuckoo, Chocolate Cuckoo, Red Cuckoo =
replace Black with Buff or Blue or Chocolate or Red accordingly where necessary in all of above.
Lavender Cuckoo is helped with both the APS listed colour of Cuckoo and Lavender as both are infused with Black to maintain depth of ground colour = giving the Black component from both quadrants.
# note that all Black, Buff, Blue, Chocolate, Red, Lavender offspring from this type of mating carry the Cuckoo gene and are not recommended to be bred into their name colours if you want to keep those colours pure to name.
The use of White as an out-cross can be useful as the hens from this mating can be mated back to a dark ground based single bar factor rooster = this out-cross is recommended to be used only every 8th generation. Almost all (both sexes)
from this mating will be White, some will be Cuckoo (predominantly males). Be sure to only choose those hens that display
some Black flecking (random black feathers amongst the white) or hints of barring. Any males that display Cuckoo are white based and not recommended for breeding Cuckoo as they will cause the next and each subsequent generation to be paler (eventually displaying as White only), but carrying the Cuckoo gene that can crop up at any time without warning.
# note that it is rare that any Cuckoo offspring from a Cuckoo/White mating have the pattern extending the required entire length of the feather, as such, selected birds require mating to a well patterned Cuckoo with careful selection of offspring for pattern.
I use the Olympic years as reference for the various Cuckoo colours infusions.
A detailed explanation of single and double bar factor breeding outcomes and a brief outline of the genetics is on the attached page
Assessing and culling Cuckoo chicks at the Stud =
At hatching = check the beak and leg colour = if wrong = last breath
When the wing feathers grow in = if pattern is incorrect = last breath
(unless it is the only chick of that sex hatched that year and otherwise a good bird = when of age it is test mated to a well patterned bird = if any of the offspring show the same problem = it and those offspring = last breath)
When the body feathers have grown in = if predominantly incorrect = last breath
All chicks are checked for defects as per the APS from hatching and as they grow = if any serious defects = last breath
Each pullet and cockerel is assessed as it grows according to my guidelines elsewhere on this site.
Those that are still acceptable at 11mths old are either chosen as Exhibition birds, future breeders or offered for re-housing
# subject to copyright laws of Australia