Extracted from
The Poultry Manual (1911)
by Rev. T. W. Sturges

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THE BUFF  The Buff Leghorn came to us from Denmark, and the first exhibit in England was in 1888. When I first began my periodical visits to the Crystal Palace shows, nearly twenty years ago, they were few in number, but they soon caught the eye of the Fancy, and were fairly popular before the Buff craze set in with the introduction of the Buff Orpington in 1895, though they do not seem to have taken the same hold on popular esteem.

  The original Buff Leghorn was not what we understand by a "Buff to-day. In the words of Mr. Verrey, one of the oldest exhibitors, "The cocks were of an almost cinnamon colour on breast and back, with a lighter hackle; the tail feathers were white in the centre, margined round with an edging of buff, the effect being very striking."

  In the desire to improve the colour of these " Chamois " or " Yellow" Leghorns with their white tails, and open white-laced feathers, resort was made to the Buff Cochin, the fountain-head of buff colour.

photo courtesy of D Broom

  The details of the crossing which thus took place are narrated by Mrs. Lister Kay, in Mr. Harrison Weir's book, Our Poultry. Having purchased Leghorns from Denmark—a cock and two hens—she mated the cock, which is described as of" lemony colour," with a poor comb standing off the back of the head at an angle of 45°, and with flights almost white, and squirrel-tailed, with two Buff Cochin hens, and also with two Leghorn hens. Details are given of the breeding for eight years, till Leghorns were produced in 1893 with only one part-Cochin blood and thirty-one -parts Leghorn, showing how the Cochin shape had been bred out while the loveliness of the colour had been retained. The labour involved in this breeding was enormous, and I know of no other instance in which the public has been, admitted to the confidence of the breeder so fully as | in this case. The hundreds of birds bred not fit for show were either killed or exported to America, and for many years, 1892-7, Mrs. Lister Kay carried all before her in the show-pen. The desire to be on a level with these specimens led fanciers to import birds back from America, and with the new blood thus obtained the number of breeders rapidly multiplied.

  There is little doubt but that the Buff Rock was introduced by English breeders both to maintain colour and size, and in recent years specimens have been shown bearing, in the more bulky size and shape, evident traces of this cross.

  The breed, however, never became very popular, and although a Club has been formed for its advancement it does not seem to make much headway. I have bred them for twelve years, and while they are excellent layers I do not find them equal to the Black or the White, and they are not so hardy. The Club has recently set its face against the demand for increased size, being determined to keep the breed true to the Leghorn type. For some reason or other good combed specimens are rare. The original stock was weak in this respect, and the small comb of the Cochin has left its mark, more especially in the pullets.

Utilities Qualities For egg laying they are above the average, and the eggs are a good size though usually slightly tinted in colour due to the distant Cochin cross, as well as to that of the more recent Buff Rock. They are very timid fowls and seem to have forgotten the slow-moving instincts of their Cochin ancestors. To those who love the buff colour and a well filled egg basket they can be recommended, while the exhibitor will still have his hands full to maintain the colour and to improve the head points


  The colour should be one even solid shade throughout, though it may vary from a lemon buff to a rich orange shade. The rules for breeding are the same as for Buff Orpingtons, to which the amateur is referred.

The cinnamon colour still shows itself and is an undesirable shade.

The points to bear in mind are:

(1) That there is always a tendency to loss of colour, as in all Buff breeds, and that to breed good cockerels the hens should be of a deeper shade than the desired tint, and conversely, in breeding pullets the male should have a reserve of colour to impart to the pullets.

(2) That under-colour is a matter of the highest importance.   If neglected, white tails and flights are certain to come.

(3) That colour should be infused gradually, i.e. the sexes should not be of extreme shades, or patchiness is sure to result.

 Mating for Colour.—There are fashions in colour. At one time, not unreasonably, the darkest birds were all the rage. There is a great tendency in Buffs to breed lighter each year, and if two Buffs of a very soft, light shade are bred together, some of the progeny will be almost white, and very many of them have white feathers in flights and tail.

  The present-day tendency, which has prevailed for the past five or six years, is to go for very pale-coloured birds almost of a lemon shade. Such birds are very handsome, but they are comparatively of little value in the breeding pen unless mated to birds of a darker shade than themselves.

  The old Standard said: " Clear, sound, even dense buff to the skin from lemon to orange (not red or chocolate), allowing a little richness in top-colour of cocks.

  The words "lemon or orange1 have slipped out of the present Standard, but " any even shade of buff still holds good. If a good soft medium shade, like that of a typical Buff Cochin, were more in favour, there would not be the difficulty in breeding good specimens of both sexes from the same pen.

  As it is to-day, it is almost necessary to have two breeding pens, one for cockerels and the other for pullets. This is detrimental to any breed. And, as a matter of fact, it will be found that at the great classic shows it rarely happens that the winners in the two sexes come from the same yard. It is more common for one to win the chief prizes in cockerels and another in pullets.
  Certainly the breeder who has limited, space or limited means, will be better advised to concentrate his| money and his energies on breeding exhibition specimens of one sex, although it will be at once apparent that if one man can breed good pullets and another good cockerels, the same results would follow if the respective pens were concentrated in one yard and mated as they are in the separated yards.

 It is difficult to advise on the best way of mating, since methods are various and nature is capricious. Besides, what answers one season may not answer in another, and, strange as it may appear, mated pens that breed well in the beginning of a season may fall away in the end of it, or vice versa.
 There must, of course, be a reason for the elusiveness of buff colouring. Sometimes this is easily accounted for, especially in large pens containing seven or eight birds, by some hens being much better layers than others, and the difficulty of knowing which hen is laying (unless trap-nests are used) at one time or another.
  But I believe the health and stamina of the birds has much to do with it. If the cockerel is especially vigorous his coloration prevails and if the hens or pullets are especially fit and in good trim, so their colour is more certain to be imparted. Again, at the beginning of a season, if the cockerel has not been over-shown, he is more powerful in the colour line than later on, when his energies have been dissipated. Hence the advisability of a rest from time to time to renew his loss of colouring matter. For the same reason I hold that a cock cannot be depended on for the same amount of colour as a cockerel. This may be an advantage, at times, if he has been too harsh in colour as a cockerel; and the same holds good of the hens.
  I should hesitate to lay this down as an absolute law, but observation convinces me that there is something more than mere fancy in it. It is an undoubted fact that most buff birds lose their individual colour with age, and moult lighter each year, though there are exceptions to this rule; and, further, that the progeny of any birds of any given shade are usually lighter than the parents; and I see no reason, therefore, why this loss or accentuation of colour should not vary during the mating season, owing either to the health of the bird or to the colouring pigment having been temporarily exhausted. This tendency to loss of colour leads to a statement of a general law for mating.

Mating for Cockerels.— Choose a cockerel of the shade you desire for the show-pen, if you can get him. The fashionable shade is at present nearer to the lemon* than the orange, but a good medium, rich, golden shade, without any suspicion of redness, is the best. Avoid bay-coloured wings, or deep cinnamon flights; see that his under-colour is sound. When the feathers are lifted see that the shaft of the feather is buff, and of the same shade as the feather, and that it is buff right to the root, or as near as can be. The flight feathers should be buff and not tinged with white (a frequent fault with the paler shades), and if possible the covered part of the secondaries should be buff, though a little sprinkling of black here is not a serious defect. If you can get it see that the neck-hackle feathers are also of sound colour underneath. The most common failing is for these to be buff only on the surface and to be washy underneath. If he has a red eye so much the better In type and size let him be as good as you can procure

photo courtesy of D Broom

To a cockerel as near like this in colour, etc., as you can find mate three to six hens or early pullets, a shade or two darker than himself, but not more. Too great an infusion of colour will only lead to unevenness in colour, which will manifest itself on the wings of the cockerels bred from him. The under-colour should again be noticed. A medium under- colour with a buff shaft is best. If too dense, the excess of colour will show itself. If too light or white, even though the top-colour is darker, the progeny will be splashed, and white flights are sure to be present.     Mealiness.—And here may be noticed a prevailing fault of colour known as "mealiness" This is a failure in the soundness or evenness of the colour of a feather, as if the buff colour had been finely sprinkled with flour. In pronounced cases it looks very patchy, like a handful of coarse bran, some flakes of which expose the white surface of the bran and thus show the wheat colour. It is most commonly found on the small wing-coverts of the pullet or hen| Sometimes the whole feather is affected, and is very plainly seen; at other times it is nearer the- base o of the feather, and is covered by the overlapping feathers The mealiness is put down among the serious defects! and is a fatal fault in the show-pen. Some over-zealous judges go so far as to discard any bird from the prize list if it shows the very faintest trace, requiring almost a magnifying-glass for its discovery, and certainly quite hidden unless searched for by turning up the feathers.

  It is a singular fact that this fault occurs most frequently in the pens which breed the best- and soundest-coloured cockerels. I have sometimes examined and found as many as seventy-five per cent, of mealy pullets bred from a pen which has produced a large proportion of winning and high-class cockerels. If such a bird is good in other ways, and the mealiness is not excessive, I should not hesitate to mate it with a sound-coloured cockerel for cock-breeding. But a mealy pullet never, so far as I know, breeds a sound pullet.

  Mealiness is a failure in the colour of a given part, usually the wing-bow. A chief failing in cockerels is an excess of colour in the wing-bow, and the one may serve to counteract the other, though if the practice were persisted in, mealy-winged cockerels would follow. Where sound pullets can be got, especially if bred from a pen which has bred good cockerels, I should very much prefer them. It may sound like treason to some fanciers to commend or even hint at this, but I have known yards, where the plan of double mating has been followed, in which it has been most successfully carried out.

  Mating for breeding Buff Pullets.—In this case the pullets should be chosen as near to perfection as one can get; of a soft medium shade, quite free from mealiness, sound in top-and under-colour, and quite free from smuttiness.

  Let them be as large and typical as possible, remembering that you must have large stock birds if you are to get large chickens. The pullets bred will resemble their parents in size and colour, and in a great degree type also, if well mated.

  As there is a tendency for the progeny to come lighter each season, mate up hens, if you can find them, that have kept their colour during and after the moult. There are a few examples here and there to be found where the hen moults out as fresh and sound as a pullet. These are invaluable for breeding good stock of either sex.

photo courtesy of D Broom

  The cockerel to mate with, for the purpose of breeding pullets, should be a shade darker than the pullets, to compensate for loss of colour. Take care he is not red in colour on the wing, or harsh in tone of body colour, but he may well be a shade darker than the: fashionable show colour. If he is a brother of good show pullets so much the better.

  Soundness of Under-colour is the great point to look for when mating stock. Birds may look very well and yet when handled may prove to be nearly white in under-colour. This indicates a lack of colouring pigment. In this case like will not produce like, even as far as top-colour is concerned; but most of the progeny will be mealy, or patched with white on the secondary feathers, or white in the flight feathers or tail, and perhaps in all these parts. If one has pullets like this and is content to improve slowly, then a sound under-coloured cockerel may show improvement in some of the stock. Soundness of under-colour means that the feather is buff underneath and has a buff shaft. Nearly all birds are paler in this colour as the end of the shaft is reached, but this paleness should not extend to white. Many birds are advertised as " buff to the skin," but few are found to answer this description. And birds that are " buff to the skin" are sometimes too dense in colour, and the result is harshness in the progeny.. A colour that is buff throughout, yet gets paler as it extends to the root of the feather, is the ideal.

  Preserving the Buff Colour.—Little more remains to be said except that it requires as much pains to preserve the buff colour when it has been bred as to breed it. Exposure to sun and rain quickly puts the best-coloured pullets out of condition, though cockerels stand the elements much better. Most of the exhibition specimens that grace the show-pens in the autumn have been carefully sheltered from the rain from the age of about four months, when the chicken moult begins. They may be let out early in the morning and towards sunset in the evening, or in well-shaded runs they may be out during the day. To allow a bird to get wet with rain, and then be exposed to the hot sun to dry, quickly fades the feathers, on the back and saddle especially; and the feathers show a faint fringe or lacing of a lighter shade. Yet it often happens that fanciers of limited means and small covered runs grow and exhibit some of the best.

  Effect of Washing.—A buff to be shown to perfection must be perfectly clean. If soiled in plumage it must be washed. And although washing may improve the general appearance there is a danger of injury to the colour. Many a bird of soft and beautiful colour has been turned into a harsh colour through the effect on the colouring pigment of the soda in the soap. It has a strange chemical action which has the effect of intensifying the colour, and to wash a bird whose colour is already dark enough is to ruin its chance in the show-pen, though it may improve the colour of a buff that is too pale. Washing will not turn a patchy or mealy bird even in colour. I have an idea that the addition of a little acid (vinegar or acetic acid) in the final water would neutralize the effect of the alkali and leave a buff, after washing, the same colour as it was before being washed. It is worth trying, though it is better worth trying to keep a chicken's colour pure from the time of its first adult moult till the show season is over. It is not the wetting that does the mischief, else buff birds would be darker after every shower of rain, but a chemical action in the soap which acts on buff pigment, though it seems to have no effect on a black, or white, or multi-coloured plumage.

photo courtesy of D Broom

   Other Imperfections in Colour demand only a few words. Lacing destroys the evenness of colour, and is most common on the breast feathers of both sexes. When the feather has a pale fringe, or a white tipping, it indicates lack of colour, and is most common on birds of the paler shade, and is a decided disfigurement.

 On the other hand, there is a dark lacing, more common still, which is noticeable chiefly in rich-coloured pullets, and may occur in all parts of the body, though it often happens that a pullet with a fine sound-coloured breast is laced on the back and the wings. It looks pretty, and if intensified may make a new variety; but it is contrary to the Buff standard and is a defect. I consider this is due to an excess of colour, as it is not common in those whose store of pigment is less abundant.

  Shaftiness is another form of lack of colouring pigment, and is the name given to feathers the shaft of which is lighter than the web. It destroys the beauty and evenness of many an otherwise good bird.

  Brassiness is a term given to the hackles on both sexes and to the back of the cock when these feathers have a " brassy" coloured, metallic fringe. Such feathers usually have a darker centre. It spoils the softness of colour and is a defect. I have an idea that this brassiness is often the effect of exposure to the weather, as it is so common in other breeds, e.g. the Barred Rock.

  Smutty under-colour is the only other blemish in colour to note. This is a black or blue smudge in the fluff instead of buff. Though it may occur in any part of the body it is most commonly found in the back or saddle. When found in any great intensity it is usually accompanied by tickings of black upon the feathers in its vicinity. It is commoner in rich-than in-pale-coloured birds, and is often quite unsuspected in otherwise sound-coloured birds. Many judges pass a bird altogether for the slightest trace of this, just as they do for mealiness. It is a bad fault in breeding stock as it usually repeats itself, and throws birds with ticked or mossy feathers.

  It will have been noted from the list of defects above named that it is by no means an easy task to breed and exhibit a good Buff Orpington.
  Yet the very difficulties themselves act as a spur and an incentive to the fancier, and its adherents increase in number as the years pass by. The many pitfalls and uncertainties in mating also keep up the popularity.


  There is no other breed I know of where the winners, at the great events are changed so often. Owing to the gradual loss of colour I have mentioned, it is very rare that the same breeder is in the front for more than a couple of years. When he has to change his blood a great uncertainty comes in, and many of the best birds every season are bred by a novice in the Fancy. There is no other breed in which there is a greater chance for the novice to come rapidly to the front, and this is as it should be. When one or two men dominate a fancy, especially if they are greedy exhibitors, it soon spells certain ruin. In Buffs the little man has a good chance, if he has the means of shading his birds, and this is often possible even in a backyard. And, if he has not the desire to do much exhibiting, he will have no difficulty in getting a good round sum for a typical and sound specimen, while those not up to show form may be mated to breed better stock, and in the meantime will amply repay him by their undoubted economic qualities.

photo courtesy of D Broom

   Weeding out the Chickens.— Even at the time of hatching some wasters can be detected. Any with fluff on the shanks, or deformed toes, or with a dark patch of colour on the head, especially if with a striped back, like a newly-hatched Brown Leghorn or Partridge Wyandotte, can be put on one side, as also any hatched with side-spikes to the comb. Birds of a medium shade of buff are likely to be the best. The fluff at time of birth is a good indication of the future under-colour.

  A chick with light fluff, indeed all shades of fluff, will come darker with its first chicken feathers, and darker still when it puts on its first adult plumage at about four months; and at each moult afterwards go lighter. Chicks with much black in the flight feathers can be discarded, as this never grows less. But white in the flight feathers up to three months old often comes a pure buff with its final chicken moult. If this moult is in any way retarded through cold or weakness the adult feathers may come with a light tip, especially in the wings. Some breeders assert that this gradually becomes buff as the bird develops. I have not found it so, though I have known a cockerel with sound under-colour, but white in the flights, moult his adult plumage in the second year quite a sound buff, as also in the case of early-hatched chicks in their second moult in the autumn. But I have never known any which show signs of white in the secondaries cast it off afterwards, and these are of no use except for utility purposes.

  Cockerels which look a typical shape at three months often grow very lanky when passing through the moult, and until six months or more, and then " come down'" as it is called, and make large typical birds. A cockerel which develops its plumage slowly often makes the finest adult. Pullets showing mealiness never improve, and can be put on one side as "layers'" only. Every breeder knows to his cost that many which " seem sound'" at first often develop this blemish at later stages. Not every promising chicken maintains its place, and the " weeding'" process has to be long continued. Yet the sooner it is begun the better the chances for the rest. Black in the early stages, and- white in the later are most to be feared.

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