What constitutes a Seney Chicken
The Seney breed was created over the span of two decades. My initial goal was to create a fancy large chicken breed that was hardy for Northeast winters.
When I began I had no knowledge of the chicken genome and only rudimentary knowledge of raising poultry. I also started the process with junkyard chickens where no two looked the same. Did I ever have my work cut out for me!
Another factor for raising chickens was to give my children some chores to do and to give them an opportunity to raise animals. They learned to work and to care for a physical being in the process. Both are skills that many people are lacking in our modern society.
The first thing that sparked my interest in colors was how the chicks that were hatched from this junkyard of birds looked completely different than their parents. I had to understand why. Soon afterwards, I learned that genes cannot be spontaneously create by me and I would need to go shopping for them. I found them for sale in hatchery magazines and poultry shows. Oh... I should mention that the genes come prepackaged in a chick or an adult chicken; therefore, you need to buy the whole bird and figure out how to extract the genes the old fashioned way to be able to use them. I found that the process to do that was MUCH more difficult then I had estimated.
So... what exactly constitutes a Seney breed? Many genes put into the correct order (genotype) to produce a specific look (phenotype). I will explain some of these traits below and give you pictures to help you see what made them unique. They were truly unique; a one-of-a-kind chicken that was nowhere else on the world. And they did reproduce their traits reliably, making them a breed.
For those of you good with math, the probability of creating a breed from scratch with the specifications below were astronomically low. Probably in the realm of 100,000,000 to 1. So how did I do it? With a lot of thought and studying. I figured out ways to circumvent statistics. I looked for finer points that evades most breeders. And later in the project I fully understood the genome and knew where to extract genes. Careful attention to linkage effects were also important. Knowing when to hatch a lot and when not to also helped. Bio security was paramount. Any infection from other chickens could have spelled doom. I almost lost everything one year when I made the simple mistake of bringing a bird to the County Fair where it was amongst sick birds. It took a scorched-earth process to halt the disease. I did not lose everything, but I had no adult birds for a year while I raised their bio-secured chicks.
The following is a list of attributes that collectively constitute the Seney breed:
- Hardiness. They must be able to thrive, not just survive, in northern New York State winters. In order to achieve that goal I needed to change some the physical characteristics of the bird:
- Reduce the comb size. Single combed chickens get frostbite on their combs. While they can survive this, it is painful for the bird. The comb freezes, turns to gangrene, and then falls off. In-effect, it dubs the bird. Many people thought that this made the birds sterile. It does not. Dubbed combs have no effect on fertility. However, when a chicken is distressed, they often have no desire to breed. If your ears had gangrene, you probably would feel like breeding either. At least for a while. The single comb was replaced with a pea comb. The Canadian breed, called Chantecler, has that same trait. If it was good for Canadian winters it would be good for ours. And no, I did not use Chanteclers in my breed. If I am correct, I used the pea comb gene in Ameraucana and Brahma chickens. Some Seney chickens actually came with singles combs, but they too were reduced. These were created for southern poultry hobbyist were single combs helped the bird in extreme heat. Some breeders said that it helped to disappate heat. I never verified that statement. However, many people liked the single combs.
- Reduce wattles. Wattles can also get frost bite. The pea comb introduction did have a slight reducing effect on the wattles, but not enough. I used the muff/beard gene in Ameraucana chickens to eliminate the wattles. In a homozygous state the wattles are nearly non-existent.
- Genetic hardiness. This is good old fashioned genetic selection for the hardiness trait I desired. Yes, I played mother nature by selecting breeders from the hardiest birds I had.
- Fancy feathering. The Seney breed must be able to hold its own amongst the fancy bantams that always took center stage at poultry fairs. Over the years people have shifted to rising fancy show chickens in only bantam sizes because they cost less to raise and you can house more in a a smaller area. The sacrifice is that they then become purely ornamental animals. I do not subscribe to that type of animal rearing. Any animal on a farm must have a purpose that helps to sustain the farm, family, and its own survival. Nobody eats bantams, their eggs are too small to do much with, and they require special heated quarters to survive the winter. In other words; they are not sustainable in any stretch of the imagination. No; the Seney breed must be an important addition to a family, yet be gorgeous to look at. I was out to prove that you could have both. The feathering features I pursued are as follows:
- Muff/beard. Yes, I used the allele to eliminate wattles, but I also liked the look. For the look I could have also used the tufted allele from the Araucanas, but I did not like the negative aspect of that allele. It is what is termed a "lethal" allele. In a homozygous form, the chick will die in the shell. In a heterozygous form, many of the chicks will also die in the shell. However, some will actually hatch and survive. The level of tufting is also unpredictable. This is not a sustainable trait for a hardy bird. Furthermore, it is not a trait that is self-productive. Why the trait is used in a bird that is called pure-bred is amazing. Most Araucanas are bred to non-tufted chickens in order to improve hatchability. In other words; they are not pure-bred. The muff/beard is a hardy trait and produces itself without lethality.
- Vulture hocks. I love them! Many breeds eliminate them because of the Standard of Perfection specifications. This was a difficult trait to establish, as I had no adult birds with this trait. So how did I get them? Luck and looking at the finer points. I used many different breeds to begin experimenting with colors. And here is the thing with "pure-bred" chickens; most birds do not conform 100% to their breed characteristics. There are many "culls" that do not fit. The chicken breeders sell these culls for littl to nothing just to get rid of them. And that is where I fit in. I went everywhere looking for culls that had traits that other breeders did not want. One bird brought in the vulture hock allele in a heterozygous state. To the untrained eye it did not have vulture hocks. However, I noticed a "slight" hardness to the shaft of the thigh feathers that did not feel normal to me. I took a chance that the vulture hock allele was not recessives, as all the books said, but was what I termed "incompletely dominant". Yes, that is my term and it makes sense if you think hard about it. Sure enough, two generations later I had my vulture hocks! I should mention that I neve had vulture hocks without leg/toe feathering. There is a relationship between those two traits. However, you can have leg.toe feather without vulture hocks.
- Complete (extreme) foot and leg feathering. Again, this is purely for esthetics. I was not happy with partial foot feathering like in all the other feather legged breeds; I wanted ALL of the toes to have feathers. That proved to be EXTREMELY difficult to accomplish and took many years. I finally found the correct combination by using two completely unrelated breeds that both had leg feathering. I figured out that there are actually two different gene locations for leg/foot feathering. When both loci are homozygous, you get complete leg and toe feathering. And by complete, even the inner leg shank had feathers. Furthermore, in this state, it acted as a modifier for the vulture hock gene and made those feathers even longer. When a Seney chicken is kept by itself so no other chicken can peck at its toe feathers, they develop feathers almost like a wing. These feathers are similar to ancient birds that have been discovered with wings on their feet. Females will look like they are laying in a bed of feathers when setting down to lay an egg or set on eggs.
- Long outer toes. This is included in the feathering requirements section because it is directly related to foot feathering. It was a long-standing belief that when a bird had foot feathers, that the outer toe was short. On the surface it appeared to be true. But I noticed that the degree of outer toe length was variable. And to me, if it was variable, then it was changeable. It took many years of crossing out to non-foot feathered breeds to unlink the relationship between the outer toe length and foot feathers. It turned out to be that the short outer toe gene was located very close, if not directly next, to the a leg feathering gene on the same chromosome. It took hundreds of chicks to unlink the two alleles, but it was possible. And yes, I ate a lot of chicken when I culled the ones that did not work. Fortunately I could cull them early to have nice tender chicken for the table. The nice thing about raising chickens is that you can eat your mistakes.
- Large upright tail. I love a good tail. It has to be carried high, but not too high as to be a squirrel tail. It should also have nice sickle feathers. Do note, for those of you that breed chickens, that slow feathering and good tails "generally" do not go together. That is one reason that good barred rock males do not have good tails. Cuckoo colored birds can and do.
- Fast feathering. The feathers that grow on a chick have different rates of growth depending on a couple of genes. I selected for fast feathering because it gave me better tails and it was easier to raise the chicks. Slow feathering chicks would peck each others skin till they bled and they they would suddenly go cannibal. When that happened it was difficult to keep them from eating each other. It was not pleasant. That is why it is suggested that meat type chickens be raised under red lights so they cannot see red. They are slow feathering with tender skin. Not a good combination.
- Not fluffy. They should not look like a fluff-ball, like Cochins. Fluffy feathering makes it difficult for males to mate. Many fluffy type breeds require artificial insemination or pulling of feathers to allow the male to reach the female for copulation. This trait goes against sustainability.
- Not hard feathered. Game birds are hard feathered. My guess is that it helps them in fights. Furthermore, I felt that hard feathering might make them more susceptible to cold.
- Yellow legs. Again, this is simply something that I like. The shanks, toes, and skin, and beak are yellow. Have you ever had a Purdue chicken and a generic market chicken? The Purdue chickens use the yellow leg/skin allele to get that nice yellow color. The market chickens use the white allele. Now you know.
- Only four toes. Chickens with 5 toes are simply a mutation that does not make any sense. It also complicates matters when it comes to leg feathers and vulture hocks. The 5th toe gene is incompletely recessive and can rear its ugly head at any time if the allele is in your birds somewhere.
- Not blocky in body type. When creating a breed you eventually have to put a stake in the ground for body type. I did not want the body to be a block like that of a Rhode Island Red, nor lean and upright like a Leghorn. I preferred the chest to be deep, and held semi-upright. The size consideration was always to be large.
- General purpose. The Seney breed was a chicken that could be used for meat and eggs. They laid reasonably well and had a very good amount of meat.
- Any egg color. Seney chickens laid every color that a chicken could possibly lay. They were truly a rainbow egg layer. Early in my program I focused on very dark brown eggs and blue eggs. Combining them made for a very ugly army green egg. Because of the complexity of the Seney breed genotype, it was not a wise to pursue any one egg color. It was the least important factor of the breed.
- Good temperament toward humans. No attack chickens in my pens! I learned early on that roosters attacking kids is a good way to make you have to do ALL the chicken chores. In my pens it was one strike and you were out... right there on the spot. Mature roosters have long spurs on their legs that can literally tear your legs open. Responsible breeders will breed against attack chickens. I learned through trial and error that temperament is partially environmental and partially genetic. If you raise your birds with complete inconsideration or attention, they may attack you because you are viewed as an intruder. However, if they have an attack gene toward humans, there is NOTHING you can do to stop them from striking you. Holding them when young and caring for them with kid-gloves does not work. It merely makes them completely unafraid to attack you. The Seney breed was so gentle, even 5 year old children could pick up the largest roosters and carry them around without fear. I had several techniques that I employed to test for the correct alleles.
- No fight to the death trait amongst roosters. Chickens fight to establish a pecking order, to protect the flock, to steal other flocks, and to defend a flock against a competing male. This gene is not the same one as the human attack gene. Game fighting chicken have a genome where they are completely gentle with their human caretakers, but develop a HATE for other male chickens. They fight to the death. There is no in-between for them. Unfortunately, this is a trait that takes a long time to eliminate. The only way to find it is to turn them lose on each other in a pen and see who wins, but does not go for the kill. A good rooster will establish dominance, but not continue the pursuit to kill the competitor. They will establish a pecking order similarly to the ones that the hens create amongst themselves. Seney males were kept in "bull pens" with other males. At times there could have been many of them. They all fought when introduced, but settled their differences within a day. And no, I never conducted any chicken fights. My goal was to not have birds that could. I did have one chick early on that did have a fighting gene. It tore all the other chicks up from his hatch (at only one week old). To keep him in check I put him in with older chicks. It was a bloody mess the next day and he again was dominant. I had to cull him. He simply could not get along with other birds.
- Fertility. There is an inherent drawback to establishing good temperament. Sometimes you can go too far. I had some roosters that were so gentle, that they simply refused to pursue a female to mate with her. If he chased her and she objected, he simply walked away. That is not a good trait for breed's sustainability. A good breeder needs to recognize this and cull the rooster. Many breeders will not. Why? It is possible that the rooster in question has excellent color attributes that a breeder was looking for. He/she will then conduct artificial insemination from the rooster if he will not breed. This is really, really bad in establishing a sustainable breed. What they have done is to proliferate the bad alleles for future generations. Eventually the line will collapse for lack of vigor.
Note that I did not mention any particular color for a Seney breed. In the Standard of Perfection book, it implies that a breed is not a breed unless a specific color is attained. Not every color for a "breed" is allowed in the "standard". The issue I had with this is that I like MANY colors. Therefore, I did not make the Seney breed adhere to any one color. The Seney breed was more of a "type" rather than a "color". In other words, there were many color varieties of Seney chickens at any given point. They would, however, breed relatively true within the color variety. I say "relatively true" because NO chicken is actually "pure-bred" and will reproduce their color and type 100% of the time. None. In-fact, I could take any "pure" variety of chicken and within 5 generations create a completely different variety. How could that be? Because every animal alive has a unique genotype. No two are the same unless they are a clone or identical twin. But even twins will eventually vary because of epigenetics. So the notion that a breed will always breed true is false. And what about those pure-bred show birds that meet the utmost criteria in the Standard of Perfection? One serious breeder admitted that he had to hatch 100 chicks just to get one that was show quality. I never misled anyone with the Seney chickens. Like every other chicken in existence, there was going to be some variability.
I will now show you some pictures of the traits required in the Seney breed: