Color in Rhode Island Reds-Part 3
By Robert Blosl
In this final article on color for the beginner I will discuss two sections,
which many breeders pay Little or no attention. Those sections are the breast color and the black in the main tail feathers.
When you notice a red ckl in a show coop, the first thing you see is his beautiful, fully-furnished, beetle green tail. However,
if your remove him from the show coop and lift his inside tail feathers. you may only see black running down the feather to
stop 2-3 inches from the skin with red color. This is one of the signs that is an indication that the surface color on your
birds may be becoming too light. Another sign is the depth of dark quill color. If you see these signs, you will know what
direction you are going in.
Many people that start out with Reds end up with a lighter strain than
they started with. When a new red breeder uses birds in their pens which lack black in the secondary as well as the primaries
of the wings. They do this with the theory that this will eliminate color culls with over-shot wings. However, in doing this
they lose the black strength in the tail sections especially noticed in the females. To escape this problem, a breeder never
should let up on the depth of black in the tail. The darker the depth of black in a bird’s tail the better to strengthen
the over-all surface color in the strain. Another color area even I’ve failed to focus on over 8 years of breeding large-fowl
Reds is the breast color. In applying breeding pressure to the length of body, keel extension, feather quality and egg production,
I have kept an even shade of color on my birds especially in the hens. In the next five years, as I focus more on color, I
will watch the breast color more carefully. Harold Tompkins used breast color in his mating, to pick his chosen breeders.
In his 1924 Poultry Tribune article on color, he reveals the following:
"The surest way to breed uniform color is to select as good colored male,
as circumstances will permit, then select females whose back color matches as closely as possible the breast color of
the male. If the male is a medium colored bird with good breeding back of him, and the females are well bred and match him
for color, the results of such a mating will be a very large percentage of both males and females resembling the parent stock,
which would be a very good even colored flock. In mating for exhibition birds, every small detail has to be taken into consideration.
The fashionable shade of color today is a deep, rich red (not chocolate or brown), which in conjunction with a broad textured
feather gives both male and female a velvety appearance. The same shade of color on a narrow or stringy feather would be a
decided brown, but these days texture of feather is given a whole lot of consideration in the show room and to most of us
there is nothing more beautiful than a bird that has a solid rich red surface every square inch of which is covered with sheen.
Now to produce that kind quality, the male is selected first of the deepest and richest shade of color grade of exhibition
male as the breeder can obtain. He may have a defect in comb, a defect in eye color, not quite as strong a wing marking as
some or some other small defect that might keep him out of the winners in the largest shows but still be a good bird. This
bird carrying the desired color all over in general, his females are selected to match his breast color. Then after a number
of birds have been selected to match him in General color the finer points are taken into consideration." If there is a point
to get across to the beginner on the subject of color, that point is you will have to use birds that has strengths and weaknesses
in their overall make-up. There is no foolproof guide to breeding color in Rhode Island Reds in the 1990’s. There is
no book on the subject to show us how it should be done other than the Standard
of Perfection that gives us the ideal. So as a beginner you must use birds that
have faults but you can overcome these faults on the opposite side of the mating. It may mean that the male bird you use may
not be a good show bird but he may produce great show birds if he is mated to the right female. In the 1930’s, Mrs.
Emily Mahood, one of our all time great breeders, wrote a great article on color. Below is what she said about using birds
with minor faults in your breeding pens. “If we could have birds with standard black markings and standard under color
as well as absolutely even surface color to breed from; we might perhaps be able to produce Standard birds from them. We had
birds up to the Standard ideal in every detail in fact, if we could produce Standard birds in quantities all the interest
would be gone from breeding them. As soon as we attain a given ideal, life looks flat and uninteresting we cannot bear to
contemplate it and we immediately set up a higher ideal to attain a more distant goal to reach. Since we cannot have perfect
birds for our breeding pens, let us take the hints these men, wise in the laws of breeding, who made the Standard, have given
us, and remember that to hold red we must mix black with it." In this last article on color breeding, I’ve shared some
of the sections that I feel are important to the beginner. E.W. Reese, Jr. suggested I study the old-time Red breeders such
as Mrs. Mahood and Mr. Tompkins several years ago. Mr. Reese was a student of color and felt these two breeders were the top
two of all time. I hope you will take their advice into consideration. We only need to apply the
common sense principles of breeding color along with the brick-shape type to produce outstanding Rhode Island Reds worthy
of their name as I end the subject of color.
I want to share with you a story about Norman Maxton,
Red Breeder from Michigan in the 40’s. His favorite description of color in Rhode Island Reds was using a corncob pipe
for an example. He said that leg and beak color should resemble in color the bowl and mouthpiece of that pipe. The shade or
depth of the horn color you want is that of a well-used old-time corncob pipe. The true under color matches the color of a
pack of Prince Albert pipe tobacco. If slate or smut is used, it should be the color of a totally smoked bowl of tobacco.
In the vegetable section of the grocery store, is where you will find the true quill color and that is the dark blood-red
shade of Binge Cherries.
I wish you much success in your goal to be a good Rhode
Island Red color breeder. Hopefully, my work in these articles will assist you in your climb to the top.
Till next time, I’m yours for a better Rhode Island
Written for the Rhode Island Red Chronicle 1996