Origin of the Delaware Breed

By Edmund Hoffmann, Ph.D.
Canning, NS, Canada
e-mail: Hoffmann@glinx.com
24 December 1995

Prologue: In those days the popular broiler cross was Barred Plymouth Rock x New Hampshire. If the barred broiler males were inadvertently mated with New Hampshires the progeny would be heterozygous for dominant black extension. A heterozygous male mated to a New Hampshire might be the progenitor of the silver (but barred) sports we occasionally saw. George (Ellis) found one outstanding male that he called Superman and we mated him to a lot of New Hampshires to found what eventually became the Delaware breed. All the other sports were inferior. Of course the sports had to be silver or we would have had a barred red. In those days no one knew anything about the inheritance of Colombian but in hindsight 2 crosses to New Hampshire might give a few homozygous Colombian (CoCo) individuals.

It is interesting that no one thought to get rid of the barring so the black feathers of Delaware in the neck were barred and for some reason there was not much black in the tail. In this connection Fred Jeffrey wrote, March 13, 1996 that, as one starts with the hackle and goes back to the tail, the barring weakens. This same gradient is noted in the pencilled pattern where there is no barring just penciling. But, why the gradient?

Contrary to what has been written I recall the sports we had as silver not Colombian silvers. There was plenty of black in the wings and some in the body. Apparently the combination of the Colombian gene with barring restricted the black. The Delaware could never be considered a Colombian as seen in Colombian Rocks. In the latter the feathers of the neck and tail are really black and beautifully patterned. Some gorgeous Light Sussex are still to be seen in Europe. There is more to this question than meets the eye. The hackle and tail feathers show most barring in the barred reds I see.

A brief description of the Delaware and the White American can be found in Marble and Jeffrey, Commercial Poultry Production, 1955.

In the days when commercial broilers were produced by crossing Barred Rock males on New Hampshire females, a tiny percent of silver Colombian pattern birds would segregate out except that, unlike classic Colombian, these birds had barring on the black neck and tail feathers instead of black feathers tipped with white. That phenomenon was not well understood because it was 20 years later before the inheritance of the Colombian gene was described.

These “sports” caught the eye of George Ellis, owner of the Indian River hatchery, Ocean View, Delaware. He thought that dressed birds of Colombian pattern broilerswould have fewer dark pinfeathers than dressed barred broilers. He saved "Colombian" sports in an attempt to develop a pure line. In hindsight he had big problems because the silver in the Colombian pattern is dominant to red. So his birds needed to be progeny tested to identify the purebreeding silvers with barred black feathers in the neck and tail.

My involvement was that George Ellis hired me (Ed Hoffmann) from the University of Delaware to work on the project. Frankly I didn't know anymore than he. (He was a charming but difficult man because he changed his mind often. I left him after one year to teach at the University of Georgia, which made it, possible for me to continue with my studies of a Ph.D.) Nevertheless I remember well the first homozygous "Delaware," a fine specimen that George named Superman.

At that time there was no idea of making a new breed. The aim was simply to develop a male line to replace the Barred Rock to use with New Hampshire females and thereby produce Colombian pattern (rather than barred rock) broilers. These were to be called Indian Rivers after the name of Ellis' hatchery and the beautiful Indian River and the bay nearby.

I recall going to Philadelphia to hire an advertising agency to promote this bird. Stuck with the name Indian River, they developed a logo using a curved band simulating a river with the name Indian River on it. We thought it was ingenious.

The idea of establishing a breed that was subsequently named the Delaware came after I left Ellis to go to the University of Georgia. I don't know the last details. Apparently, shortly thereafter it was thought advisable to five the father of the Indian River broiler the name Delaware and the representations were begun to have the breed recognized by the American Poultry Association and to have it listed in the Standard of Perfection. It soon became clear, however, that however convenient it was to have a broiler with fewer black pinfeathers, it was even more convenient to have no black pinfeathers. The use of Arbor Acres White Plymouth Rock females crossed with Vantress white Cornish males was widely adopted shortly thereafter and this sort of mating is essentially the bird that is in use today.

If the Delaware now exists at all is a curiosity. From the viewpoint of the fancier it was a difficult breed because the combination of barring and the Colombian genes tends to produce females with no black at all in the tail. Therefore "winners in the show ring" Delawares could only be produced by a system of double mating.

Cecil Moore of Texas produced a Delaware bantam.


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