The picture to the right illustrates the "bar of slate" on feathers from several areas (labeled) of one of our breeding males. With this degree of undercolor, we are fortunate to have no black surface feathers on the exterior of the plummage. You will find people that say "the bar of slate should only be on the back". I understand that is what the Standard calls for, but how much sense does that honestly make? You have that feature in your flock or you don't. I've yet to see an exhibition judge ever check a thigh or breast for undercolor. Regardless of what others may say; in my opinion, undercolor does indeed contribute to the overall color depth of this breed. Nettie Metcalf felt this way also according to her writings.
Body Fluff (Excess fluffy feathers)
This type of feathering has become a very concerning issue in many of the exhibition buckeyes I've observed. What I'm referring to is the cushion or pillow of feathers on the back (saddle area) of the females and the thighs (upper leg) areas of both the male and female Buckeyes. Buckeyes are supposed to be a tighter feathered breed of the American class and this is due the Indian game (cornish) that was utilized to create the breed. The pictures to the right are examples. Cushions or excess fluff on the back/saddle and on the thighs should be avoided. As depicted in the standard, a flat topline should be present with a tail angle; not the horizontal tail feature. I've also provided a couple older pictures of female examples of the breed on this page as a reference. The picture to the right is of an ALBC pullet and you can clearly see what I'm referring to. This fluff issue can also be witnessed in the males as well.
2016 Breeding hen on Shumaker Farm
Exterior Plumage Color
In the introduction to the breed, the standard references that the Buckeye is an American breed originating in Ohio, the “Buckeye State”, with the color similar to the richly colored buckeye nut. That being said, the buckeye nut appears to be a darker shade of red than many of the Buckeyes observed on the internet through any basic web search; the examples of the hens below prove my point. The males tend to be multi-shaded and approaching a lesser quality light reddish orange in color, the current ALBC strain of Buckeyes are a great example of such color imperfections. Currently, there are other groups that are involved with the Buckeye breed that place less emphasis on this observation of Mrs. Metcalf's written vision of color. These groups choose to put a strong emphasis on the body development (which is a great thing). EVERY breeder should focus on body development, but it is also crucial to focus on the color simultaneously! The two go hand-in-hand to ensure the Buckeye maintains its remarkable beauty coupled with dual purpose utility!
When digging a bit deeper and reading through the articles that Mrs. Nettie Metcalf published. The color was described in better detail; “--for my hens had that brown red surface like a ripe buckeye and the males were mostly a maroon red.” Mrs. Metcalf goes onto write; “The R.I. Reds are a sorrel and the Buckeyes a dark bay red, comparing them as one would cattle or horses of the same shades…..The Buckeye, as bred ideally, is as much darker in shade ..” (Pacific Fancier, 1909).
Later in 1917, Mrs. Metcalf wrote; “As for color—well, my own are so dark a red that at a little distance in the shadow they look fairly black, but when the sun strikes them and brings out that rich, garnish luster”. She goes on to write; “…with the very darkest of red plumage, hens containing some black not being objectionable to me as long as the males kept that dark red shade I admire.” (Poultry Success, 1917).
The information above suggests that the “true” color is a dark, deeper mahogany color; void of ANYTHING "light-golden". Based on personal experiences, judges seem to waver in opinion from the lighter color red to the darker shade of mahogany much like many of today's hobbyists. The direction these birds are bred should be left to the individual based on their own interpretations of how the color should be presented.
The rich, vibrant sheen (glossy appearance) of the Buckeye will readily separate its dark appearance in color from the now; darker mahogany Rhode Island Red. Quality of brood stock, proper breeding techniques and a balanced diet separates average birds from what Mrs. Metcalf envisioned for this wonderful breed!
The Qualifications of a Breeder!!!
“To be a breeder, one must needs be a man among men. This does not mean lavish expenditures for entertainment during shows. It means the possession of the breeder’s instinct; a sympathetic understanding akin to affection for our dumb friends, even those of the feathered type; an exalted aspiration to be a producer and to bring forth something better, and withal the patience to “carry on.” Such a man reads a little, experiments some, and thinks a great deal.
Such a man is a fancier. He even strives to improve his own stud, and seeks and enjoys the company of other stock improvers. He goes to a poultry show and fails to hear the roosters crowing in the noisy, merry place because he is intensely interested in the birds themselves. At his own home he somehow feels that the hens are not laying especially for someone’s breakfast, but rather to reproduce their own species, and all their lives he mates and cares for his birds with a view to their breeding possibilities.
His poultry plant is not a factory where hen machines are kept solely to convert raw material or feed into a finished product, meat or eggs. It is a place where the lives of the fowls are marked, first, by the period of embryonic development, then the period of actual growth, and, lastly, the period of the species assured.
The stock becomes plastic in the hands of the breeder. There is response to every thoughtful selection and wise mating. There is infinite scope for study and experimentation, and fact on fact, correction on correction, the breeder builds up a rich knowledge of breeding. He does not learn suddenly or swiftly – Nature does not teach that way; but “slowly, gradually, with infinite reserve, with delicate confidences, as if to prolong our instructions, that we may not forsake her companionship,” she yields up her secrets to the student who is devoted to his work.
This should be understood: all men alike have the same sort of feed to use, their birds breathe the same air and range on the same Mother Earth, and the success achieved depends very largely on the intelligence with which the breeder’s efforts are directed.”
-Frank L. Platt, 1921.
Example of early 1900s Buckeye Hen
Why the variations between Strains/Lines?
This is a question that I see and hear all of the time. What makes one strain better than another? The answer can get very political if people want it to be. There are those that feel that most of my views are political.
The truth is that the Buckeye breed of poultry has not had the refinement that other more popular breeds in the American class have underwent, breeds like the White Plymouth Rock, White Wyandot, Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire, ect. have all had responsible breeders looking after these breeds for decades. The Buckeye, not so much. The Buckeye has fallen victim to a long line of ill-responsible “breeders” that rather than taking the time to breed them correctly, break what they had into families, and breed properly; they bred themselves into a corner and added other breed genetics such as Cornish, Rhode Island Red, or even New Hampshire to improve the vigor. I heard of one case where a guy added Partridge Chanteclers. This is the WRONG method of breeding Buckeyes!! That is why most of the variation is observed.
Another reason why notable differences can be seen are because breeders of Buckeyes breed them poorly. When you have a breed that does have so many variations in traits. It is not a good idea to throw several hens and a couple roosters into a breeding pen! How in the world are supposed to control the genetics? Hatcheries do this! Some “breeders” (I use the term very loosely) focus on one aspect and not the whole of the breed like the ALBC; heart girth and a huge front end aren’t everything, especially if the rest of the bird goes to pot. The ALBC and the fools that follow that mentality has set the breed back significantly as a result! “Type” is important but it’s not everything. There are so many more elements that constitute a Buckeye.
The final and probably the most universal reason why there is so much variation in the Buckeye breed of poultry is because of the STANDARD! This reason saddens me. The Buckeye standard within the Standard of Perfection that is suggested by the APA was written and really hasn’t been refined or modified in over 100 years. The standard is open to several different interpretations because it is so broad. Other breeds have gone through a period of refinement and sometimes many refinements like the Rhode Island Reds. This aspect has set the Buckeye back significantly. The interpretations of the Standard are many, especially as it related to color. Nettie Metcalf was not shy when describing the breed, especially as it related to color. The Standard was written by the Rhode Island Red Club dominated APA during the time period when the standard was introduced. The color was a BIG deal back then. The Rhode Island Red Club only wanted one “Red” breed to corner the market so the breed would survive and they made sure of it. They tried and failed in get the Buckeye removed from the standard. However, they did succeed in altering the name because the original name for the breed was “Buckeye Reds”. The poultry world and the Rhode Island Red Club were dominated by men and Nettie being a lone ranger (even though she was very outspoken) did get the short end of the stick.
I feel that its long past due that a refinement of the Buckeye breed take place! The APA should go back and look at Nettie’s written description of her breed to make the NOTABLE changes to help the breed move forward as the creator intended for the next 100 years. I realize that this probably will not happen because this change would make the majority of the Buckeyes being bred now irrelevant. In my years of breeding buckeyes, it has occurred to me that people fight change; even if the change would be for the betterment of the cause! It requires too much effort. The good thing is that there are judges out there that realize what the Buckeye should be and I can only hope that the word will spread. Potential breeders and people who will take the Buckeye seriously needs to do the necessary research and breed the Buckeye as Nettie intended. Only through perseverance and continually putting quality Buckeyes in exhibition pens can the breed ever get back on the right track.
Example of slate undercolor on a juvenile pullet.
The undercolor, as referenced in the standard, refers to the feather color observed beneath the exterior plumage. The undercolor of all sections should be red with exception of the back plumage which should show a “bar of slate” or a blue/gray/charcoal color. This feature can be observed by lifting or folding the feathers back located on the birds’ back as illustrated below.
When witnessing a mature buckeye, one cannot help but notice the beautiful rich appearance of their plumage. This rich appearance can be attributed to the sheen of the exterior feathers accompanied by this "bar of slate“. The trait was specifically mentioned my Mrs. Metcalf in her early journal articles regarding plumage color. Mrs. Metcalf writes, “My reason told me that all wild birds of brilliant plumage had slate, or leaden blue, undercolor, and I felt sure that this dark pigment was necessary in order to retain the dark plumage in the offspring.” (Poultry Success, 1917).
Many of today's Buckeyes are lacking in undercolor. Instead, the feathers are a lighter red all the way to the base of the feather. This is leading to Buckeyes becoming lighter in surface color, and should be avoided. Color was very important to Mrs. Metcalf and one of the main features of the breed. Just because the APA doesn't place as much emphasis on it as the type of the bird; doesn't make it suitable for it to be different than Mrs. Metcalf's vision for the breed.
Excellent example of the "bar of slate" on a mature Buckeye Cock.
What Constitutes a Buckeye?
The Buckeye is a dual purpose bird! One of the breeds main purposes is for the dinner table. So first and foremost TYPE (how the Buckeye is proportionally structured) is very important.....that should be a given as it has been during my years of breeding buckeyes. Regarding TYPE; a mature cock is 9 pounds, cockerel is 8 pounds, a hen should be 6 1/2 pounds, and a pullet 5 1/2 pounds. In shape, Buckeyes are between a Rock and Cornish. They have the proud erect carriage of the Indian Game without the harsh outlines. Their rich dark red plumage is set off by a broad high breast, a fearless eye, clean-strong yellow legs, broad-powerful shoulders, and long back sloping gently downward to base of tail (as observed in the pictures to the right). Buckeyes have the pea comb, red ear lobes and wattles, and yellow skin.
There has been much debate when discussing the Buckeyes exterior feather color. This debate revolves around how dark red the mahogany color should be. With today’s advanced technology, colors can be conveyed with better understanding with actual pictures rather than interpretations from a book that are nearly 100 years old; especially from a standard description of the breed that was derived by the Rhode Island Red Club dominated American Poultry Association. It's no secret that they only wanted one "Red" breed in the Standard of Perfection and undermined the Buckeye to the point of trying to have the breed removed from the Standard but only succeeded in getting the "Red" removed the original Buckeye Red name.
The 2010 standard suggests that the general surface color be an even shade of rich mahogany-bay in all sections, with the exception of the unexposed primaries and secondaries and the main tail feathers may contain black. According to the APA definitions, mahogany is "a deep, glowing reddish brown" and bay is defined as "a light-golden brown". Putting those two definitions together should make a lot of sense; right? The definition to mahogany-bay is fairly broad considering a “Google Search” of mahogany-bay and color; the search engine delivers a series of equine coat colors. None of which are “mahogany-bay”, however dark bay (very dark red hair; sometimes also called "mahogany-bay") does register. This would lead me to believe that mahogany-bay is a relatively dark shade of red approaching dark mahogany, like that of today’s accepted Rhode Island Red color. From that description, difficulty observing anything "light-golden" is witnessed.