The Colour Blue in Chickens

Inheritance of Blue

article from Fancy Fowl

The Blue gene dilutes black to blue, but only has a slightly lightening effect on the gold and red colours. The exact shade of blue is fairly unpredictable and can range from very pale to slate grey.  As yet the cause is not understood.

Blue Wyandotte  hen.
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Blue Wyandotte hen.

In Wyandottes, (or any other breed) self or patterned, blue is always inherited in the same way.  It is a surprise to most people to find that if you mate two blues together the best you are likely to get is only half of the offspring coming out blue, the remainder will be quarter black and a quarter blue-splashed white, often just called splash. (Splash is essentially a pure white bird but with a few blue markings).  The reason for this is that the Blue gene, Bl, is semi dominant and doesn’t breed true.  Just a single blue gene – i.e. Blbl dilutes the black of normal colouring, blbl, to blue.   When there are two blue genes, BlBl, the effect of the dilution is doubled to (blue-splashed) white.  This effect is seen in the white lacing of Buff Laced Wyandottes (and is why some of the white lacing is a bit blue in places, as it is the residue of the blue splashes).

Rules of blue genetics

Whatever the variety of Wyandotte (or other breed of chicken) laced, partridge, self, etc:

When there is no blue gene present any black markings will be normally coloured (i.e. black)

When there is one blue gene present any black on the bird will be diluted to blue.

When there are two blue genes present any black will be diluted to (blue splashed) white.

An example of the full range of the behaviour of the blue gene is shown when two blue birds are mated.  This is because every chick takes one gene from each parent, so every chick has a chance of inheriting a blue gene, Bl, or a normal colour gene blfrom each parent.  The potential outcome is illustrated below:

 genetics of breeding blue chickens
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The genetics of breeding blue chickens

 

Notes:

* Black x Black mating can never produce Blue, i.e. Blue cannot be carried by black chickens (even if they had Blue parentage). ** The only mating guaranteed always to breed blue is to mate a Black with a Splash.*** Splash x Splash mating can only produce Splash, and can never produce either Black or Blue (even if they had Blue parentage).

Much of the charm of Wyandottes is the wide selection of colours and patterns. It is “blue Wyandottes” which, for me, have been the source of many mixed up, cross-purpose conversations.  Typically, someone rings me to ask if I have any “blues” for sale.  After discussion it turns out that I thought they were asking about self blues but in fact they were after blue laced or blue partridge – and did’t even know of the other varieties’ existence.  Subtle colours and precise patterns are particularly attractive displayed on the curvy proportions of a Wyandotte, so it is easy to understand why the various “blue” Wyandottes are becoming increasingly popular.   As there is so much interest in the colour I thought it would be useful to go into the blue Wyandottes in a little more detail.   Inheritance of the colour is a second front on which the subject of blue Wyandottes causes confusion.  For breeders new to the colour I will attempt to clarify how blues are bred.

Blue Wyandottes

This is a blue self; pullets are a soft, but lively, shade of blue all over, it is often called pigeon blue, though no one said which part of which pigeon!  The cockerels have darker hackles and top.  Faults include black markings, dark edges to feathers and unevenness of colour.  It is certainly not an easy colour to breed and produce to perfection, but good specimens look lovely and the colour really seems to suit Wyandottes.  Quality large and bantam Blue Wyandottes are around but neither are common.

 Blue Laced Wyandottes

This is a handsome but very unnatural-looking colour; each feather is a rich reddish brown edged with pale blue, the hackles are blue edged with gold and the fluff is blue.  The contrast between background and the lacing makes the blue look electric.  It’s such an extraordinary colour it’s hard to believe it’s possible.  Blue Laced Wyandottes are quite common in bantam and large, both are bred to a good standard.  Faults include, incorrect background colour, lemon edged or solid blue hackles.

Blue Laced Wyandottes are currently single mated (exhibition males and females are produced from the same mating) and are essentially “pullet breeder’’ type, i.e. the pullets are correctly patterned but the cockerels are marked more like pullet breeding cockerels than exhibition males.

web blus silver lace
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Blue silver laced pullet was shown at the National and was so nice she convinced the Laced Wyandotte club it was a worthwhile colour.

A variation on Blue Laced is the uncommon but pretty Blue Silver Laced Wyandotte. It is an attractive contrast of blue and white.  Each feather is white edged with blue.  Currently seen in bantams, but could easily be produced in large.

 Blue Partridge Wyandotte

Nothing is ever totally simple with partridge Wyandottes and blue partridges are no exception.  As with the usual coloured partridges there are two types of blue partridge: ‘cock breeders’ and ‘pullet breeders’.  Both are attractive, the black markings of standard partridges are replaced with blue and the background colours are slightly lightened.

Cock breeders: the exhibition male has a solid unmarked blue breast and the cock breeding wives have blue stippling on a biscuit background.

Blue partridge Wyandotte hens, pullet breeders.
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Blue partridge Wyandotte hens, pullet breeders.

Pullet breeders: the females have blue pencilling and fluff on a light gold background, their males differ from the exhibition males by having their breast flecked with gold.

Another extremely attractive variety which is are probably the most truly silver in appearance of any breed is the Blue Silver Pencilled. These are beginning to appear at shows.  They are a silver version of the Blue Partridge and currently only bred in bantams. There are cock-breeder and pullet-breeder versions, both are similar to the blue partridges except the background is white instead of gold.

 Other Blue Wyandottes

Any colour can potentially have a blue version; black markings become blue and any gold is slightly brightened.  Some could be very interesting – I can’t help but wonder what blue salmon would look like. Has anyone got a picture or even seen one?

Blue Columbian and Blue Buff Columbian, both are seen on the Continent (is anyone breeding them in the UK?), have blue replacing the usual black neck and tail markings on backgrounds that are, respectively, white and a slightly paler than usual buff.   Black mottled have been around for a while, a Blue Mottledsimply has blue replacing the black, so the end result is a blue bird with white spots.  I am hoping that some of my blue chicks are going to become mottled – but can’t count one’s chickens before they’re fully feathered.

Showing “Blues”

Only Blue (self), Blue Laced, Blue Partridge Wyandottes have classes at shows, other colours have to compete in the Any Other Colour classes.  Blue Silver Pencilled will probably start to see classes in the near future.

Lavender Wyandottes

Lavender is a similar colour especially on the females and can be mistaken for blue; blue males are distinctly darker in the upper parts.   Lavender is caused by a completely different gene to blue and is inherited differently too.  Bantam Lavender Wyandottes are seen on the continent.  In Holland the colour is called parelgrijs, which translates as pearl grey and describes the colour well.  Lavender is a lighter colour than blue and also has a strong  effect on gold , which it dilutes it to a pale straw colour.     It would be possible have lavender versions of all the varieties seen in blue.

 

Breeding Blue Wyandottes – laced, partridge, self, etc.

Examples of black (normally coloured), blue and splash (white)  varieties of Wyandotte:

Use of blue gene in chicken varieties
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*not recognised varieties