Breeders of Traditional Pea Comb Buckeye Chickens
The Buckeye is a breed of chicken originating in the state of Ohio. Created in the late 19th century, Buckeyes are the only standard breed of chicken known to have been created by a woman, Mrs. Nettie Metcalf, in 1896, and the only one in the American Class to have a pea comb, and this, combined with its stocky build comprised of a short, yet broad back, makes it a supremely cold hardy chicken. The breed's name is derived from Ohio's nickname of "Buckeye state", and their mahogany color is said ideally to resemble the seeds of the Ohio Buckeye plant. They are a dual-purpose chicken that have a decent laying ability and strong meat production characteristics. Buckeyes are yellow skinned chickens that lay brown eggs. The Buckeye chicken was admitted to the American Poultry Association's Standard of Perfection in 1904. The Buckeye male weighs an average of 9 lb. and the hen 6.5 lb. The breed is somewhat similar in appearance to the Rhode Island Red, but can be differentiated by a bar of slate color on the back feathers close to the body. The Buckeye chicken is somewhat assertive in character and a very good forager, and are generally calm. The Buckeye chicken is well–suited to small farmyard and backyard flocks. (Excepted from Wikipedia)
The best testimony as to the creation of the Buckeye chicken would have to be Mrs. Nettie Metcalf herself. The following was originally printed in the 1916 American Buckeye Club Catalogue and later in 1917 found printed in "Poultry Success" - Copyright American Buckeye Club, and is presented here in it’s entirely, with permission of the American Buckeye Club, and can be found on the American Buckeye Club blog.
The American Buckeye Club (ABC) was originally established in 1906. Prior to the establishment of the new club, Nettie Metcalf formed a poultry club called the "National Red Feather Club" which included ALL breeds/varieties of poultry known as "RED'S" back in those days! The ABC became an active supporting member of the American Poultry Association (APA) on January 18, 1906 making it one of the oldest breed clubs associated with the APA in existence today.
Nettie moved her family from Ohio to California in late 1906 or early 1907 for various health reasons. As a result, both the American Buckeye Club and her beloved "Buckeye Reds" struggled to survive the next decade. The Buckeye breed hit its highest peak in terms of interest from 1915 - 1930. Like many other things, the great depression had an impact on the Buckeye breed and it nearly faded into obscurity when the nations economy collapsed.
In 1915, there was a bit of resurgence in the club with a new President and Vice President elected, Nettie remained on board as "Honorary President" for several years. American Buckeye Club Blog
Below is her account of the history of the Buckeye breed.
HISTORY OF THE BUCKEYES
The fascinating thing about life is that we never know what is going to turn up next. In chasing pleasure, for instance, Mrs. Wiggs says, “One never knows in what way the good time is coming. Here we started out for a picnic in a cemetery and ended up at a first class fire” (I may not have quoted quite correctly, but this is about the gist of it), and when I took the neglected chickens in hand on the old Ohio farm, because I wanted more spending money, I had not the slightest idea that it was going to lead up to the originating of a new breed and a national reputation no, indeed.
We began housekeeping in 1879 with a flock of pure-bred Brown Leghorns, and didn’t like them a little bit. They were into everything, scratching and destroying more than their necks were worth, laid only in the spring, and hid their nests then in the most out of the way places they could find, and when I wanted to kill one it was “always the wrong time of the year”, according to my husband, for they were always scrawny and in poor condition.
I read a little poultry literature and decided that I would take charge of the hen question, but insisted upon a different breed. Light Brahmas were much lauded about that time, so we secured some fine ones and tried them, but the hawks were very troublesome and seemed to see those white chicks from miles around, so that I didn’t succeed very well with the young: and the old hens set and set all summer long, while what broiler I did manage to raise were slab-sided and gristly, with big bones and little meat.
I very much admired the Black Langshans about that time, so changed to that breed next, and they were certainly fine for the table and better layers than I had had yet—but oh, the black pin-feathers! One season of the Langshan broilers was enough for me, so I tried Barred Rocks, then very new in our part of the country. Those Rocks did very well indeed for me, and my fame as a broiler raiser brought me quite a nice income, but I did work, and sometimes used to think that if I would sell the grain I fed there would be nearly as much clear profit in it, for in those days people expected quite a chunk of chicken for twenty-five cents. Yes, they did, and farmers were fools enough to raise and sell them at that price, too.
I traded eggs with a neighbor who had Buff Cochins, and used the cockerels so raised with my Barred Rock hens and pullets. This produced a big, lazy fowl, so I looked around for something to mix in.
I visited a breeder of B.B. Red Games, who claimed his stock was pure, but I noticed they were not uniform, some of them having yellow and some slate-colored legs, yet so handsome were they that I bought eggs and raised some fine cockerels from them, which I crossed upon my flock of hens.
This year’s mating produced a few red birds, something never seen around there before, and which attracted my attention and aroused an ambition to try and reproduce them. How I was laughed at for the attempt.
Well, reticule and opposition are just the spurs some people need, so determined to “show folks” or die trying. I had no yards or conveniences except one 10 x 12 coop and the run of the 100 acre farm, but whoever heard of a woman stopping for anything, once her mind was made up?
The back yard was fenced and there were big picket gates on the place which nearly always stood open, so I got a boy to help me unhinge a couple and carry them across two corners of the back yard; then I borrowed a couple of big boxes for coops, and what more was needed? I penned up two pairs in these small enclosures. Had I to do this over again, I would have started with one pair, but I was afraid of in-breeding in those days, so I doubled my troubles by starting with two pairs, thus getting the defects of four progenitors instead of two
My! What a flock I raised that year! No wonder my friends laughed! Green legs and feathered legs, buff chicks, black chicks and even red-and-black barred chicks; single combs and pea combs, and no combs at all, but fighters from way back.
One good neighbor quit laughing and decided to help me out, but her husband “didn’t want any of those Metcalf mongrels on the place.” She had got a pair of small, gamy ones to begin with, so he brought home a fine, big Barred Rock rooster which he intended using.
He put down the big fellow on one side of the high fence while my little red game was on the other, and went in to supper. “Why, Van, they’ll fight,” said his wife, but thought little danger could come to them with that fence between them. “Let them fight,” said Van, “my big rooster will soon knock the spots off that little scamp.”
They didn’t hurry out after tea, and when they did go there was a surprise in store for them. The big Rock lay on the ground with both eyes gouged out, and the little game stood with his foot on the enemy’s head, crowing for all he was worth. “Well I swan,” as all Van could say, but the saucy little game had fought his way into his affections, and he is a breeder of Buckeyes to this day, although the fighting proclivities are a thing of the past.
Many names for my breed suggested themselves, and year after year they bred truer to the type I had in mind, which was a modified Cornish shape, with the very darkest of red plumage, hens containing some black not being objectionable to me so long as the males kept that dark red shade I admired.
I finally decided upon the name Buckeye Reds, and advertised and sold eggs to well-pleased customers, although some of my neighbors thought I ought to be prosecuted for fraudulently using the mails. My! They used to say, “anyone could mix up a lot of chickens and name them something and sell the eggs; it isn’t right.” But when they saw some of the letters from pleased customers they began to go so far as to offer to trade eggs or roosters with me, and one man even made me the magnificent offer of “some fine, fat cockerels, Rocks, all ready for market, if I would give him their weight (their weight mind you) in late-hatched pullets.” He calculated on getting about two pullets for each cockerel, you see
Late in 1896, after having made my mind to apply to have my breed admitted to the Standard as Buckeye Reds, I read an article describing Rhode Island Reds, and for the first time found that the red chicken idea was not original with me, but had been worked at many years down East. I immediately corresponded with leading breeders of Rhode Island Reds, exchanged birds and eggs with them, only to find they bred to a lighter shade of red, and that they had rose and single combs while I had single and pea combs.
I now know that the black-breasted Red Games I had bought were mixed with the Indian Game and that was where I had obtained the pea comb, to me the finest of all combs.
Leading Rhode Island Red breeders, among them the late R.G. Buffington, advised me to drop the name Buckeye Reds and call mine Rhode Island Reds also, as they seemed to think they were so very similar. The help of a large club appealed to me and I finally took this bad advice, but was careful to keep the rose, single and pea combs yarded separately.
The difference in shape and comb and depth of color, however, convinced me that they ought to be bred to a different standard, and when the Rhode Island Red Club adopted the new standard, cutting out slate in the undercolor, I knew that standard would never do for Buckeyes.
My reason told me that all wild birds of brilliant plumage had slate, or leaden blue, undercolor, and I felt sure that this dark pigment was necessary in order to retain the dark plumage in the offspring.
So, while I threw in my single combs with the Rhode Island Reds, and bred them in their standard, my pea combs were bred along the old lines, and I returned to the old standard and name of the Buckeye Reds. This old standard called for “a bar of slate across the feathers of the back, next to the surface color, the rest of the undercolor being red.”
In December, 1902, I fitted up a pen of single comb Rhode Island Reds and a pair of Buckeyes for the Cleveland show, at the same time submitting a standard for the Buckeyes and petitioned the American Poultry Association to admit them to the standard. This was the first official showing for both breeds, the rule governing the admission of new breeds requiring that two generations must be shown at three annual meetings of the American Poultry Association. I lost the year 1902 by showing at an adjourned, instead of a regular meeting, showing at Indianapolis instead of Hagerstown. Therefore the technicality kept the Buckeyes out of the standard until 1905, while the Rhode Island Reds, single comb, were admitted in 1904.
My husband and I personally attended the meeting in Rochester, New York, in 1904, where we showed for the second time, officially. The following year I was unable to attend the meeting at Indianapolis owning to my mother’s illness, but sent birds for the third and last official showing, at the same time submitting proofs in the shape of affidavits from breeders of Buckeyes, sworn to before notaries public, proving that they bred true to type and were as claimed, and the Buckeyes were admitted February 1905.
It was a heap more of a job than I had expected when I began, and I think I should have given up after the first showing at Cleveland but for the encouragement of the president and secretary of the American Poultry Association, who visited Red Feather Farm, August 24, 1903, examined my breed, and advised me by all means to go on with them, as in their opinion there was more than enough difference between them and the Rhode Island Reds to justify my claim to a distinct breed.
Now the difference is summed up in a way briefly; The Buckeye should be as much darker in color than the accepted Rhode Island Red as the Rhode Island Red is darker than the Buff breeds. Their plumage should be so dark as to male as to look almost black in some lights, garnet red being as near a description as I can give. The shape should resemble the Cornish Game, but the Buckeye is not so hard in feather and has more fluffiness of plumage, but not so much as the Rhode Island Red.
The comb of the Buckeye is a pea comb, small and close fitting to the head, and the weight of the bird is much greater than is apparent from the size, although I personally much prefer a male weighing eight to nine pounds.
The laying qualities of the Buckeye are proverbial, and they are excellent sitters and mothers, although not very much inclined to broodiness.
I never aspired to a show breed, my object being utility qualities only but the great beauty of the Buckeyes is a sore temptation, and in the future more show birds, will be produced yearly.
The demand created for this breed caused me, the originator, such strenuous work that I gave all my time to chickens entirely and tried to supply the demand for Buckeyes until my health was breaking down, and while “pin money” had grown to a substantial income, I felt that health was of more consequence than money, so sought change and quiet in a new home in a milder climate, where I keep just a few choice birds, and try to furnish fresh blood for a limited number of customers only, not advertising for trade that brings showers of letters I cannot find time to answer much as I love to hear from all customers and friends. California has restored my own and my son’s health, and I expect to make it a permanent home, although the East has many advantages not to be found in a new country.
By their originator, Mrs. Nettie Metcalf