My 20 Year Breeding Program: Buff Wyandotte Bantams
About 25 years ago, I discovered the wonderful breed of Wyandotte bantams. They were just what I had been searching for in all respects. They were cold hardy (heavy feathered with a Rose comb). They had what I found to be a very pleasing body type with all of those curves and a short, strong head. Last but certainly not least, they are enjoyable to work with because mean ones are few and far between. I started with Blacks compliments of a good friend who sent me some hatching eggs. A few years later, I added Whites and enjoyed them too but I really hankered for Buffs. I think that the Buff color is perhaps the most beautiful of all of the solid colors. The problem was that I couldn’t locate any of any quality. It took about three years before I finally got some at the Columbus Show. There were 5, two males and three females, ages unknown. Each and every bird had multiple disqualifiable defects: side sprigs, split wings, stubs that would have looked good on a Cochin, etc. I determined though, that any start was better than none.
I set every egg that they layed that year and hatched 104 chicks. When the culling was over the following summer, I had 4 birds to work with that I considered to be better than their parents. After hatching almost another 100 the following year, I knew that I needed some outside help. I contacted Warren Tye from Utah who I had met a few years earlier. Warren raised some of the best Buff Orpington bantams in the country. Warren sent me two males that were too short backed for him. I consider those birds to be the turning point in my breeding program. Leg color was a relatively short term problem but I am still fighting to improve comb quality, particularly in the males. Rose combs are dominant but the quality of the resulting Rose combs was the issue.
I admit that I gave some thought to following the advice I had been given by several breeders and cross my Buffs with good White Wyandotte bantams so quickly improve the type. I rejected that notion, however because I believed that such a cross would cause serious and long lasting color problems. I have never regretted the decision to avoid that cross. Most of the time, the easiest path is not the best long term.
The difference those birds made in fertility and other breeding points was amazing, however. When I located and purchased a Buff Wyandotte male from Jerry Tom a couple of years later, he constituted the last new blood I would add for well over a decade.
One thing was obvious to me, however. I have limited space to rear young birds and I was going to have to hatch Buffs in large numbers for quite a few years. That meant that the Blacks and Whites had to go as much as I loved having them. I liquidated both flocks but promised myself to re-acquire the two colors when the needed number of Buffs each year became manageable. That did not happen for about 8 years.
During that time, I tried to hatch 75-100 Buff chicks each year. I culled the males in particular heavily, keeping 1 in 10 or less most years. My principal concerns were comb quality, size, and even color in all sections. I did not worry about the exact shade of Buff as long as the bird was even in color.
In recent years, I have hatched 40-50 Buff chicks each year and the cull rate in males has dropped to about 1 in 4 birds that would be acceptable. The female cull rate is probably 1 in 2 or maybe a bit less.
My main concerns today are improved head type (comb and width of skull), tail carriage, leg length, and, of course, maintenance of sound color.
I have been very gratified to see an increasing amount of interest in the Buffs from other fanciers. Since the best birds are in great demand, I try to avoid selling to fair exhibitors and try to get the better birds in the hands of breeders. I can honestly say that even though I have not won a single starred win with the Buffs, no other breeding program has provided me with a greater amount of satisfaction.
I believe that any poultry fancier who has derived the amount of pleasure from the hobby that I have over a long period of time owes the fancy something in return. That debt can be paid in many ways including working as a volunteer in a poultry organization such as the APA or ABA or becoming involved with a local poultry club and helping to put on a show. Working to improve what I would refer to as a heritage breed or variety is certainly a worthy way to leave the fancy better (even in a small way) than one found it.
Originally published: 03-29-2015
Last updated: 04-28-2016