By Dr. Don Monke and Jonathan Patterson.
Wyandotte Chicken Breed Characteristics
The Wyandotte chicken breed is one of the most prominent breeds of poultry in the United States. Their hardiness, dual-purpose capabilities, size, variety of colors, and temperament are just a few reasons why they are one of the more popular chicken breeds for fanciers. The Wyandotte is a compact bird with a stout stature. The head, body, and tail carriage are well-balanced and fit together nicely. Their legs are straight and set well apart under the balanced body (Fig. 1).
The Wyandotte chicken breed is considered to be a “breed of curves.” A good Wyandotte has a well-rounded chest and underbody that curves up to the head and tail. The concept of balance within curves can be illustrated by placing a circle over a side-view of a bird. The bird should fit nicely inside a circle with the only space showing being the gap between the back of the head and the tail (Fig. 2). On the topside, the back should be a convex slope up to the tip of the tail at a 40-degree angle for males (Fig. 3) and 30 degrees for the female. The tail is relatively short with well spread main tail feathers (Fig. 4). The Wyandotte is a pretty bird that is broad and wide and it begs the attention of onlookers.
The large fowl Wyandotte weighs in at a modest 7.5 to 8.5 pounds for males and 5.5 to 6.5 pounds for females. The size of the birds put them in a category known as “dual-purpose chicken breeds.” This means they are able to lay a moderate number of eggs and still be big enough to use as table fowl. The yellow skin and soft feathers make for an attractive option when selecting the right chicken breeds for meat. All American breeds of poultry have yellow skin; the softer feathers make them easier to pluck.
Another favorable characteristic of the Wyandotte chicken breed is the rose comb on top of their heads (Fig. 5). Because the comb lies close to the head it is not subject to frostbite as a bird with a single comb. If you exhibit poultry you may notice that the Wyandotte breed is quite popular in colder climate states such as the upper Midwest. There are typically more Wyandottes entered in these shows than anywhere else in the nation.
Wyandotte Chicken Breed Varieties
The American Poultry Association recognizes nine varieties of large fowl and 10 bantam chicken varieties. The American Bantam Association recognizes 18 varieties. Some varieties are more popular than others. In large fowl, the White and Silver Laced varieties are by far the most popular. Typically the solid colored birds are tough competitors. However, some dedicated breeders of varieties with color patterns are improving the conformation and size of the birds. Examples of varieties gaining in popularity are the Columbian, Silver Penciled, and Partridge varieties.
The origin of the Wyandotte chicken breed and the Silver Laced color pattern is shrouded in mystery. In the late 1800s, the birds we now recognize as Wyandottes were known as American Sebrights because of their peculiar lacing. While Dark Brahmas and the Silver Spangled Hamburg were considered to be two of the breeds responsible for the color of the “American Sebright,” complete knowledge of the origin remains unknown. This situation has been explained well by Mr. Theo Hewes in a book published in 1908. Mr. Hewes writes, “When by accident the blood of several breeds of fowls was mingled, each adding a little and losing much of its own strength in the offspring, there was none to predict that these crosses, brought together no doubt by merest accident, would give to poultry fanciers a foundation for one of the most popular breeds of fowl the world has ever known. But such is true, and there is not today, nor never has been at any time, a single person that could give an absolutely correct account of the crosses that produced the first Wyandotte.”
Wyandotte Name Honors Indian Tribe’s Kindness
The name “Wyandotte” also seems to have been somewhat accidental. In the late 1800s, there was no breed of large fowl having the peculiar lacing of the Sebright bantams other than the “American Sebright” fowl. As Mr. Hewes explains, “There was some discussion as to what name they should have when they were first talked of as a Standard fowl and we are in doubt as to who first suggested the name of Wyandottes, but our oldest writers on the subject give credit to Mr. Fred A. Houdlette…The name Wyandotte was given…in honor of a powerful tribe of American Indians that had in many instances, shown their friendship for the white race.”
From these humble origins the Wyandotte chicken breed developed and flourished. The Silver Laced color pattern was the first variety of Wyandottes recognized by the American Poultry Association. It was admitted to the Standard of Perfection in 1883.
Other early varieties were developed as “sports” of the Silver Laced variety or a combination of the Silver Laced variety crossed with another breed of a desired color. The whites and blacks came directly from the Silvers as “sports.” Golden Laced, Partridge, Silver Penciled, and Columbian were all crossed with another breed to get the desired color patterns.
If you are searching for a breed for small farm use or exhibition, the Wyandotte chicken breed is a great choice. Hatcheries produce thousands of Wyandottes every year in many of the varieties. If you are considering taking your birds to shows to see how well they match the Standard of Perfection you will find there are hundreds of people across North America producing top quality stock. The Wyandotte Breeders of America has more than 100 members.
The American Bantam Association recognizes 18 color varieties of bantam Wyandottes. Bantams weigh 26 to 30 ounces for males and 24 to 26 ounces for females. As indicated by the lesser weight value of the birds compared to large Wyandottes, the bantam varieties are simply a smaller version.
Bantam Wyandottes are generally nice birds to raise and handle. Bantams also consume considerably less feed per bird than large Wyandottes. While the eggs produced from bantams are smaller in size, they are certainly suitable for consumption. In general, two bantam eggs are equivalent to one typical large egg. So, if you are not sure if you want to eat one or two regular size eggs for breakfast, just cook three bantam eggs and resolve your gastronomic dilemma.
Because of their small size, fanciers can house many bantams in the same coop space required for several large fowl. This can be an important factor for persons living in suburban areas or who have limited space available for poultry coops. When raising any breed of poultry to improve conformation per the descriptions in the Standard of the American Bantam Association or American Poultry Association, the fancier must have many coops for mating the adults and raising the young birds. When available space is a limiting factor, the bantam Wyandotte may be a logical selection for the fancier to raise.
The bantam varieties that usually place well in shows are the Whites, Blacks, and Partridge. The other ABA-recognized varieties are Barred, Birchen, Black Breasted Red, Blue, Blue Red, Brown Red, Buff, Buff Columbian, Columbian, Golden Laced, Lemon Blue, Silver Laced, and Silver Penciled, Splash, and White Laced Red.
Heritability of the Rose Comb Trait
The rose comb and the single comb are inherited as two types of comb shape on the same gene. The traits are inherited in a simple autosomal manner, which means they are not sex-linked and the inheritance pattern is straightforward. Every mammal and bird inherits a pair of genes — one from its sire and one from its dam. During development of the male sperm and the female ovum, each pair of genes divide so that each sperm and each ovum carries one of the pair of genes for comb shape (a process known as meiosis). The symbol “R” is used to illustrate the inheritance pattern of the rose and single comb traits. Capital “R” represents the dominant gene and a lower case “r” is used for the recessive gene. Because the rose comb is dominant to the single comb, the genetic pattern (or genotype) for rose comb and single comb are as follows:
As stated in the table, a bird with a rose comb may have both dominant genes for the rose comb (RR) or it may have one dominant and one recessive gene (Rr). You cannot tell the difference when looking at the bird. Breeds with a single comb have both recessive genes (rr) for this trait. When birds with a rose comb are mated, most chicks will have a rose comb; however, a few chicks with a single comb may be hatched. When birds with a single comb are mated, all the chicks will have a single comb. Let’s evaluate several Punnett Squares to determine how this occurs.
When both the sire and dam have both dominant genes for the rose comb (RR x RR), a Punnett Square can be drawn that illustrates how the gene pairs for the parents are distributed when mated. This is illustrated in Punnett Square# 1 as shown in the table below:
In Punnett Square # 2, the rose comb genotype of the progeny is determined in the matrix by placing one symbol from each of the parents’ boxes into the progeny boxes. In this example, all the progeny (illustrated in the four white boxes) will have a rose comb and will have both dominant genes (RR). This is referred to as being homozygous dominant.
If you replace every capital “R” with a lower case “r” as would occur when mating two birds with single comb (rr x rr), then ALL progeny will have a single comb (rr). In fact when mating birds of a single comb breed, the only comb shape that will occur is a single comb.
What happens if one of the pair of Wyandottes in a mating is heterozygous for the rose comb (Rr)? In Punnett Square # 3, we illustrate the male as being heterozygous (Rr) and the female as homozygous dominant (RR). Note that all the progeny will have a rose comb but that 50% of the progeny will be heterozygous (Rr) and carry the single comb trait.
When mating Wyandottes wherein both sire and dam are heterozygous (Rr) for the rose comb trait, as illustrated in Punnett Square # 4, the result is that 75% of the chicks will have a rose comb (RR or Rr) and 25% will have a single comb (rr).
When a Wyandotte chick with a single comb is hatched, it is not necessarily a totally bad situation. Sure, one should not exhibit a Wyandotte that has a single comb; the bird would be disqualified as not meeting the breed standard. But it can be a healthy bird and if it is a pullet it can lay eggs quite normally. But you should not use it in a breeding program. Because the genotype for rose comb is usually not known when a mating is made, hatching of even one Wyandotte chick with a single comb means that both parents are heterozygous (Rr) for the trait. In other words, if these birds are used in a future mating, it is possible that additional chicks with a single comb will be hatched.
Having a Wyandotte male that is heterozygous for rose comb is not necessarily bad. Studies done in the 1960s found that White Wyandotte males that were known to be homozygous dominant (RR) for the rose comb trait may have reduced fertility potential when compared to a heterozygous male . This may be observed by a greater number of infertile eggs when candling eggs at about ten days of incubation. The sperm from such males was considered to have a lesser duration of fertility. The fertility of pullets or hens was not affected by the genotype for the rose comb.
 Crawford RD, Smyth JR. Studies of the relationship between fertility and the gene for rose comb in the domestic fowl. 2. The relationship between comb genotype and duration of fertility. 1964. Poultry Sci. 43: 1018-1026.
• Hewes, T. (1908) “Wyandottes, in colors and how to judge them,” The Inland Poultry Journal Company, Indianapolis. p 5-6.
• American Poultry Association (2010). The American Standard of Perfection, a complete description of all recognized breeds and varieties of domestic poultry. Published by the American Poultry Association, Burgettstown, Pennsylvania.
• American Bantam Association (2006). Bantam Standard, for the breeder, exhibitor and judge. 11th ed. Published by The Covington Group, Kansas City.
• Don Monke is President of the Wyandotte Breeders of America club and is APA Master Exhibitor # 521.
• Jonathan Patterson is Vice President of the Wyandotte Breeders of America club and is APA Master Exhibitor # 577.
Does your flock include Wyandottes?
Originally published in the June/July 2012 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.