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Like its large counterpart, the Brown Leghorn Bantam is not seen in great numbers at the shows although at the last Sydney Royal (1988) a good entry of four trios and thirty-eight in single classes was shown. I have pondered the general lack of interest in this variety while the Blacks, Blues, and Whites continue to be popular. My conclusion is that the challenge in breeding exhibition Browns is more than most bantam fanciers wish to undertake. But if you are seeking a real challenge perhaps Brown Leghorn Bantams could be for you. There is certainly room for some enthusiastic breeders, as generally the Browns are not yet quite up to the standard of the other more popular colours.
The first step to success is to know the Standard. The Leghorn Club of Australia has wisely adopted the Standard from the 2nd Edition of the British Poultry Standards for all Leghorns. The Standard, of course, does not tell you how to go about breeding birds which conform to it nor does it explain that, for success with Browns, it is necessary to have separate cockerel breeding and pullet breeding strains. The colour requirements of the Standard are such that it is just not possible to breed winning birds of both sexes from the one pen. A word of caution here - if you decide to breed both exhibition males and females keep your cockerel breeding and pullet breeding strains rigidly apart. No good purpose is served by mixing the two and the breeding achievements of others can easily and rapidly be undone. Remember that the bantam Standard allows 30 points for colour, twice as many as the 15 allotted for type.
The male for the cockerel breeding pen should be as close to a prize winner as possible. He should have a well cut comb, sound lobes, long back, round breast and a full tail carried at 45 degrees from the back. His colour should be as near as possible to the Standard. Note particularly that the neck hackle should be rich orange red shading off to lemon at the tips and the saddle hackle should closely match. In addition, the neck hackle is striped with black, free of shaftiness and not running through the tip of the feather but wholly enclosed with orange or lemon colour. Black fringing is sometimes seen and is to be avoided as it gives a smutty appearance to the hackles.
White in feather is a serious defect. The fluff at the base of the tail where it joins the back is invariably of a light colour but grey is to be preferred to snowy white. The late C.C. Elliott, a famous Newcastle Brown Leghorn breeder, once wrote that he would not reject an otherwise good male which showed touches of grey in the flights. However, as pigment is all important, and grey is simply black diluted with white, I prefer not to use such birds in the cockerel breeding pen. The breast needs to be solid, rich black free from orange or brown flecks, splashes or lacing.
There is no written Standard for cockerel breeding females or pullet breeding males so those starting out with Browns may not know what is required in these so called "breeding sexes".
When selecting cockerel breeding females the first requirement is that they come from a strain which produces winning males. True Leghorn type is the next requirement although a little extra length of tail and an erect, well cut comb will add to these features in their male offspring.
The colour of the cockerel breeding female is very important if correctly coloured males are to be produced. Basically, the colour required is similar to that of the Partridge Old English Game. Neck hackle should be rich golden yellow with a dense and distinct black stripe free from shafting and not running through at the tip. I like to see these females with an almost brick red hue on the breast, shoulders and wings, as it is indicative of a good reserve of colour. If the outer edge of the black primary flight feathers carries a margin of brown or bay, so much the better. The tail should be black and the rest of the body rich brown pencilled with black. Look also for dark under-colour as, in my experience, light under-colour can lead to white in the flights of offspring.
To my mind the colour description in the Standard for the exhibition (or pullet bred) female can lead to some confusion among those new to Brown Leghorns. I can only repeat my earlier suggestion that winning birds be compared with the Standard so that the colour that wins is fixed in your mind. In females the emphasis is on softness of colour, but this does not necessarily mean pale and washed out as the word "rich" is used to describe colour in the Standard.
In 1930 a meeting was held in Sydney to consider the question of colour in Brown Leghorns. Several top breeders of the day submitted their ideas of how to bring our birds as near as possible into conformity with the British Standard. Hitherto they were considered to be too dark. Perhaps this is one reason why the winning females seem to some, not to be the colour described in the Standard. However, once seen it is not easy to forget the colour of a good Brown Bantam female. They certainly are rare at present.
The neck hackle is lemon yellow, lightly striped with black. Breast colour is soft salmon red, dull maroon below the beak. On the abdomen the salmon shades off to ash grey. Body colour is soft brown with fine black pencilling while the tail is black, although the top feathers may be pencilled with brown. Shaftiness, especially on the back and shoulders, should be avoided and rust or red on the wings is most undesirable and difficult to eliminate.
The pullet breeding male is a most attractive bird. His colour pattern is the same as his cockerel breeding counterpart but the actual colours are somewhat different.
Neck hackle is lemon yellow shading off to almost straw colour. If there is any striping it will be maroon or brown rather than black. The Breast will be black but can be flecked with orange or brown. Saddle hackle will probably be light orange and flights may show some white. Under-colour in such a male can hardly be other than light but white should be avoided here and in the tail.
If his comb falls, do not discard him as it will help to establish this feature in his daughters. In this case, however, he will perform better in the breeding pen if he is dubbed. The lack of a great flow of tail is of no real concern as often females with tails too long or whippy are seen thus destroying the visual balance, if not the physical.
So far I have concentrated mainly on plumage colour requirements for breeding Brown Leghorn Bantams. There are a few other features which are common to all Leghorns and which require careful attention when selecting breeding stock.
Type is of great importance, especially in the Brown Bantams because other breeds, including Old English Game and Wyandotte, have been added in the past to get the colour right, particularly in cockerel breeders. A sure sign of Old English blood is green spots on the legs of cockerel breeding females.
Eyes should be a good strong red and legs bright yellow or orange. This is particularly important in pullet breeders as constant breeding for the required soft coloured plumage seems to have drained the reserve of pigment. Always check for a straight breast bone and reject as a breeder any bird deficient in this respect. Plumage of all Leghorns should be soft and silky to touch without being woolly. A good overall sheen adds the finishing touch.
It goes without saying that birds as described in this article will not be easy to obtain. However, start with the best you can obtain and strive to balance your breeding pen to offset rather than compound faults or deficiencies. Be prepared for some disappointments while getting your strain established. With perseverance success will come. In meeting the challenge you will derive great satisfaction from knowing that you can breed one of the most difficult and demanding varieties in Leghorn Bantams, if not the whole poultry family.
by courtesy of Ken Bergin, Summerhill, NSW ....