Slate

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Slate Background:

The Slate, or Blue Slate as it is also known, has an unclear origin which is surprising given the striking looks and delightful nature of these turkeys.  Their first mention in literature was in the 1800's, and they were recognised as a standard breed by the American Poultry Association in 1874.  In the 1900's they were very popular and regularly to be seen at poultry shows in London.

The flavour of a Slate turkey is reputedly one of the best of all varieties, and it is surprising they never gained popularity as a
significant commercial type.  Some open range farmers did raise large flocks of Slates traditionally and they found the colour helpful in identifying their birds from others as they 'walked' to market. However, as intensive farming methods took over if favour of larger commercial birds the numbers of Slate flocks significantly diminished.  Very few Slates now remain and the Rare Breed
Survival Trust classifies them as a 'Poultry Breed at Risk', and in America they are classified as 'Critically Rare' by all the conservancy organisations.

Slate Roots:

The Slate variety is thought to have been derived from a mating between a Norfolk Black, otherwise known as the Spanish Black in the United States, and a white bird.  However, there is little genetic evidence to substantiate this and it may be the Slate gene is a legitimate mutation that just occurred spontaneously.  Trying to define the Slate's heritage is confusing because there are in fact two different genetic mutations to consider, one incompletely dominant and the other recessive, and these produce the blue colour, albeit of different shades.

Slate Colour Phases:

The Slate, or Blue Slate as it is also known, is named for its colour which is a solid ashy blue over the entire body.  However the Slate variety comes in three distinct colour phases, blue flecked with black spots, solid blue and solid black.  Given the genetic complexity whereby the blue colouring results from either of two different gene mutations, one recessive and the other incompletely dominant, Slates are a difficult variety to characterise. 

Although they are known by different names there are essentially three colour phases within the Slate variety:

Slate: (Slate, Blue Slate and Splash): is black based with a single dominant slate gene. (Genotype: BBDd), their phenotype is slate or ashy blue with specks of black 'spackles' scattered over the feathers.

Blue: (Blue, Self Blue and Lavender): is black based but has two dominant slate genes.(Genotype:BBDD), they are more of a solid, dull, grayish-blue with the hens a lighter bluish gray. 

Black: (Black): is just that, Black (Genotype:BBdd) solid black. They also have pink legs and feet which distinguishes them from Norfolk Blacks and Spanish Blacks. 

Slate Breeding for Colour:

The Slate is less well documented and more variable in type and colour than any other variety of turkey, and this makes it much more challenging to breed consistently.  Some colour phases can breed true whilst others don't.

Without a managed selective breeding strategy Slate turkeys will very soon revert to a flock where the colour range varies from pure black through to an almost pure white.  To maintain the desired Slate standards and to dictate outcomes it is essential the breeder pairs these turkeys appropriately. 

Although there is a significant amount of information on the internet with regard to the pairing up of these birds to achieve a specific outcome much of it is actually conflicting.   The only assured way forward is to undertake a strictly managed breeding program and to record all outcomes. 

The outcome list below is taken from the website of Kevin Porter in America who is probably the leading authority on turkey colours and genetics.

Slate to Slate = Slate & Blue & Black
Slate to Blue = Slate & Blue
Slate to Black = Slate & Black
Blue to Blue = Blue
Blue to Black = Slate
Black to Black = Black

During our background research we found the following observation on what we would consider reputable websites. We have included the observation in our notes as it seems logical given all that is going on colour wise within these complex birds. 

Put simply: When breeding Self-Blue to Self-Blue it is important to remember that the colour dilutes, and after several generations the turkeys turn completely white.  It is advisable therefore to ensure an occasional Slate influence is bred into your Self Blue
turkeys every few generations to retain a good bluish slate colour.  

 

Franklin Albertsen: Notes on the history of the Slate 

The nature of the Slate gene is to change black pigment in the feathers to grey (even though Standards prefer the more colourful terms of slatey-blue or even steel-blue). Non-slate simply allows the black colour to show in full, normal intensity. However, to complicate matters, complete dominance does not really occur in most turkey genes, and heterozygotes ( a single dose of a given gene) often create an effect somewhere in between, With slates we get an additive dilution effect with a homozygous slate ( carrying 2 doses) being much lighter than a heterozygote.

From the time the Standard was written up through the 40's, turkeys which approached "accepted" exhibition ideals tended to be heterozygous.  Breeders at that time simply sorted poults by down and kept a select group for development and sold the rest.  As scientists studied the genetics of slate - - Ghigi and Taibel in Italy (1929 & 1933), Walther, Hauschildt, & Prufer in Germany (1933), Jaap (1933) Marsden & Martin (1939), Jaap and Milby (1943), etc. - - it was noted that the basic colour pattern of a given turkey modified the expression of grey (slate) in the plumage.

Up to this era, most grey (slate) turkeys shown were on a bronze base, which is essentially an arrangement of mostly brown and black pigments. In areas where black is absent, the replacing colour may be varying shades of yellow, reddish-tan, and brown; or even silvery-white to white, depending on what other genes are affecting the colour pattern. In general, the grey (slate) does not replace the yellowish-brown or silvery-white of the basic plumage colour. Therefore, brownish ("dirty") tints usually occur when the basic colour pattern is bronze. As a result, slates on such a basis are not as free from objectionable colour tones.

Slate poults on a bronze base with a single dose ( 1 dose) of slate have the brownish striped pattern of the Bronze clearly marked on a dark grey background.  At maturity, when intermated these dark greys or slates ( as the old breeders called them) will segregate into 1 bronze : 2 dark slates ( like themselves) : 1 lighter slate grey. In the past, breeders would sort them at hatch and could correctly classify without error over a 1000 at a time as to future adult colours.

Slate poults on a bronze base homozygous pure for slate ( 2 genes) strongly resemble white poults with the creamy white down replaced by a pale grey. The head is always light tan. Rarely, faint tan stripes ( similar to the stripes of a bronze) will be observed. They are the last category (light slate grey) that segregated out in the above example. Often, certain regions of the wings and tail feathers are nearly white on mature birds. Either of these two types (slates on a bronze base) were called slates or greys by the old breeders and usually further split into lights and darks.

As the results of the scientists were disseminated, efforts were pushed to develop slate turkeys of a more even tone, free of the "muddy" or "dirty" appearing brownish tones. One has to remember, that during this era, scientists and breeders worked hand-in-hand. The Standard breeders supplied the scientists with their birds and shared information freely. No one else even cared about it.

Once it had been determined that the grey (slate) gene really only had much of an effect on black pigment, a movement emerged in which the bronze base slates were crossed with black turkeys. The resulting poults had the characteristic down pattern of black poults. The head and face ("mask"), and sometimes the wing tips, are at least partly creamy white; which is always sharply separated from the grey down of the adjacent areas. These poults are usually "splattered" with small randomly scattered spots of intense blue approaching black. If the original slate parents carried only a single dose of grey (slate), an equal number of black poults occurred in this initia cross.

At maturity, these new slates had black flecks throughout the plumage. These flecks varied in size; and in some cases an entire feather was black. Breeders liked this "rich grey" appearance of these new slates on a black base and called them "blues" or "blue splashes". And then the confusion really started because many breeders also bred chickens. In chickens, blue refers to a heterozygous blue, and splash to a washed-out, splotchy homozygous light coloured bird. But in turkeys they started calling the heterozygous bird blue splash. Regardless, breeders disliked the black flecks. 

When these blue splashes were intermated; blacks, bronzes, dark and light bronze-base slates (striped down), and blue splash and an even lighter blue (w/face masks) segregated out. These light black base slates were a very uniform pale bluish grey free of any flecks in the down. hence the name, "blues". However, these individuals when mature were somewhat paler in colour than what appears to have been desired in the Standard at that time. The hens were particularly attractive with a uniform grey colour with the faint white edging on the breast feathers. "Pearl grey" may have been a more appropriate choice of words?  

The toms were not (and are not) as pleasing in appearance. A dark edging on the feathers sometimes created an uneven, blotchy appearance, even though they were free of the flecks of the heterozygous blue splashes. Some toms were more uniform than others, and careful selection for many years by the dedicated old breeders for, or against, minor modifying factors successfully produced more uniformly coloured blue strains. These lighter coloured clear feathered strains bred true. About this time Marsden and Martins book stimulated the switch from bronze base to black base slates to fit the Standard, but in those early editions they described the Standard slates and these new blues separately while suggesting the blue would be an acceptable show slate.

 

 



Standards

Origin:
America
Classification:
Light    
Stag Adult:
10 - 12kgs / 22 - 28lbs
Stag Young:
7.25 - 10.4kgs / 16 - 23lbs
Hen Adult:
5.4 - 8.1kgs / 12 - 18kgs
Hen Young:
3.6 - 6.3kgs / 8 - 14lbs
Head:
Red, changeable to bluish white.
Beak:
Horn.
Eyes:
Dark Brown
Throat & Wattle:
Red, changeable to bluish white.
Neck:
N/A
Back:
N/A
Tail:
N/A
Wings:
N/A
Breast:
N/A
Body and Fluff:
N/A
Legs and Feet:
Pink in adults, deep pink in young.
Undercolour or all Sections:
N/A
Colour Female:
N/A
Defects:
Any entirely black feathers. Feathering that contains brown or buff.
Day-old Poult:
The head, neck and back are a yellowish white with a definite tinge of blue. The throat is a pale yellowish white to light yellow, going to a yellowish white underneath the body.
Plumage in both sexes:
Slatey blue throughout, which may be dotted or flecked with black.
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