Developing Moonbeam Chickens
A New Breed of Black and White
Reading Time: 5 minutes
A New Breed of Black and White
For a year and a half, Danielle has been working to develop a new breed of chickens, and she is almost there. These chickens have black skin and beaks with stark white feathers. She calls them Moonbeam chickens.
In early 2018, Danielle drove from Ohio to neighboring Indiana to buy some Silkie chickens. While there, she noticed a few chickens with black skin and white feathers, so she begged the purchase of one. This beautiful hen became the inspiration behind breeding chickens specifically to have those characteristics. Unfortunately, due to crop issues, the hen did not live long enough to produce chicks to pass on her traits.
Because the inspiration Moonbeam hen did not live to hatch chicks, Danielle had to start from scratch on attempting to breed chickens that would produce black skin and white feathers. She began with fibromelanistic breeds for the black skin and beaks. Fibromelanistic chickens have hyperpigmentation, or more than the normal amount of melanin, in every cell of their body. This makes their skin, beak, feathers, and internal organs black. This melanin gene is dominant, so Danielle had to find chickens in which white feathers are also dominant to try to counteract the feather color.
Going back to high school biology, genes are segments of your DNA that code for a specific trait, like eye color, skin color, or blood type. These genes can be dominant, recessive, or even co-dominant. If a chicken has white feathers, the gene could be either dominant or recessive. It is possible for recessive genes to be more common than dominant ones especially if breeders have specifically bred for those traits in the past. If you only breed recessive white chickens to other recessive white chickens, then you will only get white chickens. If you breed one chicken with recessive white to another with a dominant brown color, the chicken will be brown. However, with co-dominant genes, they are expressed as a mixture of the two genes. For example, a white chicken and a black chicken, both with dominant color genes, could produce a gray chicken. It was difficult for Danielle to know if a certain breed of white chickens had dominant or recessive genes for the white feathers. She had a bit of trial and error just figuring out which ones could give her white feathers at all when bred to black fibromelanistic chickens. At first, she would end up with mostly chickens that had “dirty white” feather color and dark mulberry-colored skin, not quite black. As Danielle continued breeding chickens, she would often have batches where one chick out of five was what she was looking for or at least moving in the right direction towards. In breeding for specific traits, that one is what you keep and add to the breeding pool. Fortunately, Danielle is getting more and more chicks in every batch now that possess the Moonbeam characteristics. She believes that in one or two more generations, she will be satisfied with her results.
One of the setbacks in this project came in the form of the roosters. Even though hens often showed the proper coloring from early on in the Moonbeam project, the roosters still displayed more reddish skin and silvery feathers rather than white especially as they aged. But, Danielle has finally hatched a rooster that looks as though he will keep the proper coloring even as he ages. While Danielle doesn’t want to disclose the parent breeds of her Moonbeam chickens, she will say that they are NOT from Silkies or Mosaics as others have hypothesized. Danielle has shared that there are probably about six different chicken breeds that make up the genetic background of her Moonbeam chickens.
While there is already much interest in buying her Moonbeam chickens, Danielle is still waiting to open up sales until the breeding project is complete. The Moonbeam project will not be complete until the chickens breed true, meaning that all the offspring look like the parents. Currently, about 25% of the chicks are still black-feathered, and there is the occasional blue colored chick. However, more than half of the chickens are breeding true. This is good news because Danielle wants to see two full generations breeding true before opening the line up for public sale. This will hopefully happen by the spring of 2020.
You can follow the development of the Moonbeam chickens through Danielle’s Instagram page Hot off the Nest or her Facebook page by the same name. Danielle loves to see the interest of other people through social media. She has even inspired others to begin their own breeding projects.
For Danielle, the best support of her Moonbeam project would be that people would continue the breeding of the line if they purchase from her. She has put a lot of time and effort into these chickens, and it would be nice to see them continue, even adding in other lines if someone else develops a black-skinned white-feathered breed. Danielle has devoted so much to this project that she has even taken a small step back from her beautiful show chickens, not keeping or breeding as many in the past year.
If you are considering breeding chickens for a certain trait, Danielle urges others to follow her protocol. While she is breeding Moonbeam chickens primarily for how they look, she does not keep aggressive, moody, or poorly mothering chickens in her breeding pool. Her chickens will not only be beautiful, but they will have a good temperament as well. She believes that there are too many breeders who ignore personality and focus solely on appearance. Even from the parent breeds before the Moonbeam coloring started appearing, Danielle selected breeds and specific chickens for personality as well as looks.
What do you think of Moonbeam chickens?
Originally published in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.