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CUCKOO GENETICS & BREEDING

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August 4th , 2006

 

Many people don't realize that the cuckoo rooster is of much greater importance in breeding cuckoos , it is only from a cuckoo rooster that you will hatch all cuckoo chicks. The female cuckoo can only give you cuckoo males (when properly bred to a solid color rooster).

Eventually , when cuckoos have been perfected  & bred to each other 100% of the time , than the female will be equally as useful.

When my newest generations of cuckoos are old enough to breed & its time for me to choose my breeders , I keep 90% roosters. 1 rooster is able to fertilize at least a dozen hens , where a single hen will only give you a small amount of chix each year.  Then theres vairables , a predator could get the eggs , or you might have egg eaters ..I certainly do.  Occasionally you could have a bad hatch , especially if your using an incubator.

 

On this page Ive tried to compile the most important information to help breed cuckoo silkies to achieve the best results. This information will work with my line , which has the  heterozygous 1 copy) & homozygous (2 copies) .

If you are unsure of which cuckoo gene your rooster has , breed him to a black hen ..if 100% of the offspring are barred , than you will know.

 

 

Because the cuckoo is still very new , I only hatch a small amount of them  , usually double what i think I will need for breeding. I dont belive in mass producing silkies , especially the newer varities. Cuckoos have come a long way  & are reaching the finish line ..its important to keep them headed in the right direction, becuase it would be nice to see them as an asbc standard color.

Another thing Id like to mention is , keep your cuckoos progressing in generation . Ive seen alot out there lately that are far behind , with my name attatched to them- I only sell the newest generations.  Because of South Carolinas mild climate , in a good year I can naturally hatch 3 generations. I use no lighting or any unatural means in breeding , Its important to let the silkies rest .

                            Cuckoo silkies :
 The coloring of cuckoo's varies from lavender to navy blue. Chicks are born without any barring & look like blues, but are easily spotted by looking at their beak color closely. The beaks on my line of cuckoos will be a sheer black color , usually solid..they can lighten up in the first few weeks.
 
 Barring on silkies is not as distinct as on a hard/smooth feathered bird, this is due to the very soft, fluffy feathers. The barring is more distinct on a darker colored  and or male cuckoo.
 
 Cuckoo Roosters:
 
Cuckoo roosters take much longer to "bloom" than the hens.
If comparing a cockeral to a pullet , the pullet always looks nicer much sooner.  Even though the cuckoo roos dont look as progressed as the hens , they are the most important part of the breeding program.
 
Breeding Cuckoo x Solid:
 
I can honestly say I have bred my cuckoos to ever color silkie & even some smooth feathered birds in unusual colors to see what works best in these matings.
My most preferred is breeding cuckoo x black or cuckoo x white.
 I have learned through trial and error that breeding the splash/andalusion blue will dilute the barring & the skin coloring,The andalusion gene will dilute the black right out of the bird.
Normal dilution occurs in all breeds which have the cuckoo barring if not bred cuckoo x cuckoo , but it is necessary to breed cuckoo to solid until the cuckoos are absolutly perfect. Its also recomended to breed cuckoo x cuckoo in unison & use the offspring of this mating to breed back to solid ..thus keeping the barring strong. Another important issue when breeding cuckoo x cuckoo is to be sure you know 100% which eggs belong to the cuckoo female.
 I have been rotating & using both c x c & c x s breeders this season , I have had no dilution from any of the breeding formulas , but do this as a precaution ..until cuckoo x cuckoo can be bred together 100% of the time.
It is very important that when choosing a solid silkie to breed cuckoos to that only the best silkies are used. Using a solid silkie with the smallest  possible comb with no points on it , if the comb is too large & has points/spikes it will do nothing to improve the overly large knobby cuckoo comb.
 
August 2006 breeding results:
 
The cuckoos from late winter & springs hatches are just starting to take shape. Theyre at that stage where it seems every day theyre changing. Theres 1 little cockeral in particular that really stands out  , he is unbelievable looking ..In fact id say he's one of the best looking males Ive ever seen ..cuckoo or solid.  He's very girly looking, in fact i had though he was a girl. His toes have some of the best separation ive seen , not a smidge of webbing between the 4th/5th. Even though hes small , he has excellent type ..he looks like a mini rooster rather than an immature cockeral like he is. His comb is reddish , and I see some points coming in, but it looks smaller than the average cuckoo male comb size.
 I used a variety of hens , black and white  & cuckoo only. I only allowed each hen to hatch a few cuckoo eggs , that way I wouldnt hatch too many.  Every one of the cuckoos has proper amount of toes & much better spacing. The  skin color is slate blue , with some daker spots on some , and many of them have lighter toenails.
 
Skin- Combs- Beaks:
 
The main 3 problems with cuckoo silkies are their comb color ,  comb shape & beak color.
The problem is more obvious in the roosters since their comb is more noticable. I really cant say how much longer before they will be typical , but I just keep working & assume it shouldnt be much longer.
  The comb shape on the roos is obviously due to my origional cross of a  bantam cochin x silkie. I had no idea it would take so long for this mix to get back to a proper walnut comb , nevermind the color.
 .
Even though the roosters beaks arent solid slate/black , they have made major improvements , especially in the last few generations.
Typically , adult roosters from my line of cuckoos have 50/50 or better beaks in that the beak is somewhat of a pink color with black mottling on it.
The females differ greatly & now have an 80/20 with the majority of the beak being black.
 
Toes:
With my last breeding , I paid close attention to toes ..both the correct number & placement. I cannot find a single cuckoo in the bunch that doesnt have 10 toes , this is the first season the number of toes have hatched correctly 100% of the time. Looking at the toe placement , another major improvement . The last generation of cuckoos I hatched had osme of the best toe placement Ive ever seen on any silkie.
 
With buff colored silkies they have a different color beak, skin & comb than the other standard colors. The buffs combs are more pinkish & the skin has more of a greenish hue.  This difference in skin/comb color in buffs is clearly acceptable for them. Im assuming this variation of skin in buffs has something to do with the  gene color combination  that make up the buff color , and if it was possible for them to have a deep comb & skin that they would already have these features.
 
This season I decided to try breeding cuckoo x buff . Now that they are maturing , I see 2 main problems. They look as if they are further back in generation due to the very light colored beaks & mint green tinged skin.
With the roosters , the color is gorgeous  & similar to partridge  coloring. The hens are a different story , Although I like them colorwise , I have a hard time distinguishing them with a chinchilla gray  . They are marked & colored in the same way , but rather than having a patterned gray primary/background color , its light golden buff. These could surely be worked with , but would take a generation or 2 to catch up to looking like my typical cuckoos.
  
Ive started to wonder if cuckoos may not be able to have deep colored combs like on a black silkie , or lighter mullbery combs as in whites...the comb/beak color on them may only become somewhat darker , but more in the shade similar to buff silkies . So the possibility of this will be known once a silkie rooster hatches with a perfect walnut shaped comb.
 

Cuckoo silkie photos

Blue silkies

 UPDATED 2006: Breeding Cuckoo's :
 
 Cuckoos are still being perfected, and they are not a standard silkie color, but can be shown  in many shows.
  In my experience breeding this variety, I have found that the best offspring come from breeding cuckoo to solid color silkies. Breeding to a solid color silkie does not dilute the cuckoo pattern immediatly , however cuckoos can dilute over time. This line of cuckoos have the sex linked gene, therefore if you breed a cuckoo rooster to a solid color hen  all the offspring will have the barred cuckoo pattern. If you breed a solid color rooster to a cuckoo hen, only the males will be born with the barring. If breeding cuckoo to cuckoo, all the offspring will have barring.
Breeding results can also be affected if using a silkie who has a very mixed up color background, usually containing or is buff/red , In this scenario you may get unexpected color results which happen from certain combinations of colors.
This is also true when breeding cuckoo to a bird with an autosomal barring gene , Ive done this in the past using cuckoo x chinchilla gray , cuckoo x partridge.
The results from this were odd , It was hard to distinguish which ones were sex link cuckoos.
 
 
 
Breeding hybrid cuckoos: UPDATED APRIL 2006
 
A hybrid cuckoo is a female that was born from a cuckoo mother & solid color father - This is the only possible way to hatch a real hybrid cuckoo.  These hybrids are mainly born solid color , every so often one may be born with a few cuckoo flecks in the feathers, sometimes they are shed in the first molt, sometimes they are not.
 My experience in these has taught me alot about the cuckoo gene , I am still learning about it & will share what this experience has taught me.
When a hybrid female is bred with a solid rooster , you will get barred males, blk & blackish blue females which are just washed out black ..these will be hybrids.
  Recently Ive seen alot of whites coming from other cuckoo bloodlines, In my experience I have never seen or heared of any of these whites breed like a hybrid, Its highly probable they are the result of a crossover that occurs at fertilization  due to a problem from either the rooster or the hen, so these birds should be culled out & NOT used for breeding in a cuckoo prpgram.  I believe all these crossovers will hatch are various color (no cuckoo) chicks with poorly colored beaks & combs . You can get some interesting & beautiful colored silkies out of these hatches , which may be useful in creating new colored silkies . One shouldnt breed a  cuckoo silkie that is hatched that is not proper colored , this will only regress the cuckoo silkies. It is far better to plateu with your cuckoos than to go backwards.
Previously , in older generations of my line I was hatching white cuckoos with black barring , They look the same as the dark cuckoos , only the color pattern is reversed. The barring delevloped at about a week old & they had the typical cuckoo skin & beaks. I have not hatched any of these in quite some time . Since I have not hatched the reverse color cuckoo in some time , Im attributing it  to slowly breeding out the cochin from my cuckoo line.
 
Another important issue I would like to mention, keep your origional cuckoos.
Once youve sucessfully hatched your first batch off offspring, I suggest retiring your starter birds. It is important to keep them around , I let several older generations back to 4th freerange & when the hens go broody I give them eggs from the latest hens to sit on. Once your first hatch is fully mature , then choose your breeders. Before long youll be having more chicks..this is when your starter birds could come in handy & may need to come out of retirement if results arent pleasing enough. The perfect cuckoo starter flock would consist of a reverse trio , having the 2 roosters is important to keep your bloodlines separate. It is a proven fact that inbreeding can result in less vigor & less egg production in your flock.
 
 

cuckoo x chinchilla gray = hard to distinguish
autsomal.jpg
early generation cuckoo pullet, "Disco" she went crystal in Texas who hatched many cuckoos from her

White cuckoo - very early generation
george1.jpg
George has been enjoying years of retirement, He moved in with Bob in NC

 WHITE CUCKOO
The above and below photos show a very early generation  white cuckoo silkie rooster, this is what a white cuckoo should look like.
The photo is dark & his color looks a little dirty , but he is bright white with black & grey cuckoo markings. The pattern on him isnt very distinct , but he threw off the best marked cuckoo babies of all the roosters I used at that time.
 
The width of his comb was terrible , but much better than a single comb. Youll notice his beak is pink , not yellow & his skin on his feet is mainly pink with some grayish mottleing. I no longer breed this roo , he is too far back in generation to be of any benefit to my cuckoo breeding program.

white cuckoo
george22.jpg
"George" ..boy was he a little devil ..but I sure do miss him ..he was adorable