Grant Brereton is one of the leading experts on Wyandottes. Here he extols the virtues of this beautiful breed
With Grant Brereton
There aren’t many poultry keepers who can resist the charm of the Wyandotte fowl. The silver laced was the original variety of the breed, made from a fusion of different pure breeds. Its white body, surrounded by black edged feathers (known as lacing), makes it one of the most striking plumage patterns available in poultry. And that, coupled with its cobby and curvaceous shape (known as ‘type’), just broadens the Wyandotte’s appeal. It has yellow legs and is finished off with a neatly fitting rose comb. It is described as ‘a bird of curves’ and so should fill the eye - as well as the show pen!
The breed was created for dual-purposes in the form of both meat and eggs, and many lines are still fairly good layers today, although they would be regarded [by many] as too precious too eat. However, some breeders still use the odd male for the table.
VAST ARRAY OF COLOURS
There is a vast array of colour options when it comes to choosing your particular favourite. Mine is the partridge, but I still had to keep all the available varieties before narrowing it down to just one. They all have their charm and many of the plumage patterns are simply striking.
The Wyandotte also comes in miniature form, and many people opt to keep these instead of the large fowl due to space constraints. The breed is reasonably docile by nature and responds well to a bit of human interaction in the growing stages; they soon become very tame.
Broodiness is a quality found in most Wyandottes, but the white and partridge and pencilled bantams are particularly notorious sitters and will seldom let you down.
In terms of availability and what to pay, it depends on quality, time of year and a number of other factors such as age, for example. Most breeders won’t have an abundance of females available because the males also sell for breeding purposes, so it’s best to always view the breeding stock and place your order early. Bantams can begin at £15 per bird right up to £50 and above. And, rather surprisingly, it’s not that different with the large fowl.
As mentioned, there are many different colour options
The ‘proper’ buff laced don’t breed true (unlike the splashlaced), so come with three different types of offspring: buff laced – 50 per cent, gold laced -– 25 per cent, and virtually washed out white birds with no ground colour – 25 per cent. Buff laced continue to peak and trough in terms of support, with very few large fowl shown despite there being plenty out there. As with the blue laced,
they are clearly very striking and will grace any garden - especially if you have more than one laced variety; just be careful which ones you breed together (don’t mix with blue laced).
The silver pencilled Wyandotte is very similar to the partridge, with the only major difference being a different ground colour. And it is possible to breed a partridge male to silver pencilled females, which gives sex-linked offspring at birth. However, crossing the silvers to partridge can undo years of selection for a nice clean silver-white colour, so should be carried out with this knowledge in mind.
Large barred Wyandottes always seem to come in and out of fashion. They are out of fashion at present, with the bantams enjoying much greater numbers at the major shows. Barred Wyandotte males are generally lighter than their female counterparts because they have double the barring factor, whereas the females only have a single factor for barring (sex-linked).
BLUE-PARTRIDGE & BLUE-SILVER PENCILLED
It was in the late ‘90s that breeders in England and Holland realised they could cross in blue Wyandottes and eventually breed for blue versions of the partridge and pencilled varieties. These have both been standardised in the UK and are beautifully pastel in appearance. The only caveat is that they breed about 50 per cent true to form, because the
blue factor always has to be present in single rather than double dose to appear as we desire. When a fowl has the genetic makeup of the latter (double blue), it becomes ‘splashed.’ So out of a pen of blue partridge, you get half blue partridge, one quarter partridge and one quarter ‘splash-partridge.’ But it’s not all bad because you may like such ‘variety’, or you may opt to take advantage of the blue factor and breed a splash-partridge over partridge to get 100 per cent blue partridge. It’s the same situation with the silvers, so much fun can be had with these varieties.
White Wyandottes are often accused of having too much feather compared to the other colours, but a good white Wyandotte is hard to beat for impressiveness and often wins favour with the judges at both local and national shows. They are regarded as a real showperson’s breed and with no plumage pattern to correct for, all the focus can go on bone, shape, leg colour and head points. But they are still hardy birds, most of which have a really placid nature and are good broodies.
The blacks often struggle to get support, most of which comes from newcomers wanting to try every available colour of Wyandotte. This is particularly true of the large fowl. And I have to admit, there is something really striking about a yellow-legged, curvaceous black fowl with an iridescent beetle-green sheen to its feathers. However, despite now having a dedicated Facebook page, the blacks still seem to struggle compared to the other colours when it comes to supporters. As you might imagine, the bantams are more popular at shows, and when it comes to space constraints in people’s gardens.
Blue laced Wyandottes continue to fascinate breeders and newcomers alike. They are rather challenging to get right, and like the blue partridge only breed 50 per cent true to form. This means you get three types of offspring, the idea of which some people love, but the gold laced that come out as one quarter of the offspring tend to be too dark in ground colour for the show pen, and the splash-laced which emerge as the remaining quarter are too dark in ground colour and often have white necks, but some people still confuse these with the proper buff laced exhibition birds.
Gold laced Wyandottes are very attractive in their own right, but for a long time the Laced Wyandotte Club couldn’t agree on the required shade of ground colour. At a recent AGM it was proposed by the president that the word ‘chestnut’ be assigned, so most breeders are now aiming towards that ideal. Pictured is a bird having its wing feathers examined and displaying the correct amount of black and chestnut in respective areas of the wing feathers. This can vary greatly between specimens and is just one factor that all laced varieties have to get right.
Blue Wyandottes have never
really caught on like they should have. In terms of their popularity there are more bantam keepers, but like the blacks they are beautiful and it’s perplexing as to why so few people try to keep and breed them. They are good layers and reasonably hardy. Maybe one factor is that they don’t breed true, but as mentioned in an earlier example, you can always breed the splashes to the blacks to get 100 per cent blues, so that’s always worth considering.
The first silver laced Wyandottes were imported to Britain from America in 1893. They can be quite tricky to get right for the precise show standards but, unlike other colours, do breed true and most strains in both large fowl and bantam are regarded as hardy. Although a striking variety, the silver laced are still available to buy out there and you may get a discount if asking for ‘garden’ rather than ‘show’ quality.
My personal favourite is rarer in the large fowl than in the bantam, who often win at the big shows where they are exhibited in larger numbers. The males that complement the golden females with their concentric pencilling are very much the colour one expects from a traditionally coloured cockerel, so this makes for a wonderful dimorphic colour contrast when a male is in with some breeding females. The top exhibition specimens in both male and female have opposite sex breeding partners that aren’t really any use for the show bench, and this is known as double-mating; most breeders either try for exhibition males or females.
ABOVE: The wing feathers of a gold laced bird
available, both standard and non-standard. Here are some of the standard ones...
ABOVE RIGHT: Buff laced females owned by Steve Dace BELOW: A barred breeding pen owned by Steve Dace. Note the lighter male.
* Grant’s new book ‘Wyandotte Colour Breeding’ will be released at the end of September and can be pre-ordered at www.gbpoultry.com
ABOVE: A blue female owned by Steve Dace TOP RIGHT: A silver laced Wyandotte owned by Steve Dace ABOVE RIGHT: A superb partridge bantam and a multiple winner for Geoff Parker