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Lance Hicks Memorial Page

Lance Hicks was a highly valued member of the Brahma Club of Australia. A long time club patron, Lance was always willing to explain the finer details of inheritance in poultry and went to great effort to make the experience enjoyable. He spent many countless hours both in person and over the phone helping breeders of the fowl with their various projects, including creating new colours and improving their strains. Lance and Bryan Jon worked tirelessly for more than a decade helping to recreate, improve and develop new colours in the Brahma breed in Australia. It was not uncommon for them to hatch close to one thousand chickens a year to produce a handful of valuable birds which possessed the combination of traits they desired in their various colours. Lance will be greatly missed but never forgotten. He wrote numerous informative articles for our club newsletter and also contributed articles to the Australasian Poultry Magazine. We have provided a selection of Lance's articles below, and hope they help you as much as they have helped us over the years.

Vale - Lance Alexander Hicks 1942 - 2010 (Written for The Brahma Club of Australia newsletter, June 2010)

By PAUL RODGERS


It is with much sadness that we as a club farewell our great mate Lance.


On the morning of Friday the 22nd of April our Club Patron and mentor to most of us passed peacefully from this life into eternity. What a mark he has made on most of our lives, I for one only knew him for a short few years (about 7) of which I am truly thankful to our President Bryan as he was the one person who brought us together thru our mutual love of poultry in particular the mighty Brahma.


How I wish I had known Lance earlier during the late 1980`s when I was endeavouring to create the Buff Cochin breed in Australia. His invaluable advice and vast knowledge of poultry genetics would have made the task so much easier and quicker but it was not to be. I am thankful for the time I and we all had with him. It was a privilege to present the eulogy on behalf or our club at his funeral.


I would like to point out a few highlights from his long association with poultry. In 1997 Lance and Bryan teamed up to be the main driving force behind recreating the Braham breed in Australia. In 2000 Lance along with other founding members came together to form the Brahma Club of Australia at Castle Hill show grounds in Sydney. 2005 saw Bryan and Lance travel across Bass Straight to exhibit over 30 Brahmas at the Tasmanian Poultry Club 150th Centenary Show which was a real milestone for the breed. The last show to have a Brahma entered in Tassie was 1923. 2008 was a milestone for Lance when he was elected our Club Patron a position he held with pride and dedication. He had already been considered our club geneticist for a much longer period. Finally at our last show Lance entered for the first time under his own name a Speckled Brahma female which he won any other colour champion, a sash he proudly displayed on his lounge room wall. The speckled were a variety near and dear to him and one he developed only 3 or 4 years back, it was to be the last variety he was to develop. He gave me the last of his line of speckles a few months back and they will always have a special place in my heart.


Well that takes us up to the present. We will never forget you Lance you have made a huge impact on all of us and the Brahma breed would not be where it is now with out his guiding hand. Who of us will forget his quirky sense of humour and the way in which he would chair our annual meetings. I don’t suppose it will ever quite be the same at Yass now without him but we owe it to him to continue on faithfully in memory of him.


I would encourage as many as possible to make it to Yass in June as numbers will be light on due to illness and other problems amongst some of our key members this year. Remember also we will for the first time be showing Cochins under the Cochin Breeders Group with in the Braham club this year, and we have also invited The Marans Club of Australia to join with us. I look forward to seeing as many of you as can get there and hopefully swap a few yarns about our old mate. Rest in Peace Lance, you may be gone but never will be forgotten. 

How I Got Started (Written for The Brahma Club of Australia May newsletter, Issue 4 2001)

By LANCE HICKS

There was nothing unusual about the way I got started with Brahma. After all who can resist the appeal of a large stately fowl with an almost regal bearing and dignified unflappable manners - much like the Queen Mother, but with longer legs.

My good friend Cathy McCartney had a trio of the Light Brahma, Large; which traced back to the stock of Andrew Rathbone. The male bird was so tame that Kathy's daughter, Annette, would enter Agricultural shows with him on a lead in the child and pet section, and sometimes they would win. The time came as it does to all fowl fanciers, when Kathy had to many birds for where they could be kept and some, including the trio of Light Brahma, had to be sold. I did not hesitate and bought them from her immediately. Hardly had the glow of satisfaction from this coup receded from my mind when I realised that, with my Crele Bantam Wyandottes in a township house block, I had no room for the Brahma either.

Who would look after my birds, it had to be someone from out of town - with plenty of room and who had an enthusiasm for breeding rare breeds of poultry. Vicky Mayne had these qualities and she had bred plants, animals, fish and birds over many years. She has a thorough understanding of genetics; and her husband Peter, was kind and indulgent, allowing her to breed whatever fowl she fancied.

Soon the Brahma were on their way to Greta, but not before they had laid two or three eggs from which hatched a pullet that became a foundation bird in Bryan Jon's Stud. Vicki Mayne has enjoyed some success; one of the cockerels she bred won best Standard Softfeather Heavy Breed at the Australian Rare and Minority Breeds Show at Wangaratta, with Ian Pollerd judging. The original old rooster went out to Major Plains where he founded another family for Jane Barclay. So although I do not keep any Brahma at home, my interest and enthusiasm for them is kept active through the kindness and efforts of my friends.

In Black and White (Written for The Brahma Club of Australia Autumn/Winter newsletter 2006)

By LANCE HICKS

This is the story of how Bryan Jon and I vastly improved the type and quality of the white Brahmas that we had in 2001. Bryan had bought the only pair of white Brahmas that were available, from John Mercieca. They traced back over generations, to a white bird who was Malay Game. Within a fortnight the cockerel died. The pullet was of medium size, with a Malay type walnut comb and straw-coloured sparsely feathered legs. In despair, Bryan bought a large white Wyandotte cockerel from Andy McDonald. This was an acceptable cross, as he would add size and his brilliant yellow legs to her chickens. He was barely fertile and we hatched thirteen chickens from sixty-seven eggs. Of these only three were worth going on with - two white cockerels, one of which we named "Braxton", and a white pullet that we called "Sister to Braxton". Unlike most of the chickens they at had at least some leg feathering and the legs were yellow. They had walnut combs. The cockerel was crossed back to his mother. We realised that it would take some generations and heavy culling to get birds with reasonable leg feathering and the required pea combs. The pullet was put to a very large black Brahma with a good pea comb and an upright stance with an excellent "U" back. He had well feathered, pale black legs with pinky-white soles. His pedigree went back to Partridge Brahmas with an infusion of black Croad Langshan. Even so, he did have some red markings on his neck and saddle hackles; which led Bryan to call him "Dick Reynolds" after the V.F.L. footballer who wore the black and red Essendon jumper. We thought that our white birds were recessive white and this proved to be the case when all the chickens from the "Dick Reynolds" X "Sister to Braxton" pen were black. We toe marked them so that we could tell them from any other black chickens. All this was entered in our studbooks; from which I am writing this history.

It is at this stage that many breeders say 'I didn't get a single white bird. the experiment was a failure. I will cull the lot!' It is a great pity that, having taken the first step of a two-stage project, these breeders lack the confidence to go on. It is like driving at night with the headlights on low beam. Bryan and I could see further ahead and he selected the best young cockerel and named him after another footballer, a soccer player. "Renaldo" was a large black bird with some brassiness in his neck and saddle hackles. He was of excellent type and had well feathered legs of a bleached colouring. In 2003, he was matched with the best of his sisters. She was a solid black colour with dusky yellow, well-feathered legs. With the leg feathering getting better we needed only to retrieve the recessive white, with as great amount of leg feathering as possible. On the 26th October 2003, a white pullet, which I called "Alma", was hatched. It did not matter that her brothers and sisters were black. She was only about the same size as her grandmother, but had combined the pure white colour with a pea comb and profusely feathered yellow legs.

There was an amusing sequel to our success. The Southern Tasmanian Poultry Club celebrated its 150 years of poultry exhibition with a show in Hobart in July 2004. Brahmas had not been shown there for over fifty years, so Bryan loaded his truck with a selection of the colours of Brahmas bred in Victoria. He went over by ferry. I travelled, in greater comfort by plane. Among the birds were "Renaldo" and his sister, and their daughter "Alma". A number of Tasmanian poultry fanciers inquired about the breeding of good white Brahma. When I explained, as outlined above, and showed them the parents of "Alma", I was greeted by a stunned silence and a look of disbelief, followed by a look of distinct distaste. It seems that these locals had been subjected to mainlanders' attempts at leg pulling before; and that they expected a more plausible story than what they had just heard!

Introduction to Heredity (The Brahma Club of Australia Autumn/Winter newsletter 2007

By LANCE HICKS

When it comes to inheritance, mostly we would rather it came in cash! But what we are considering here is the inheritance of the physical characteristics which make our fowls what they are, in regard to plumage colour. Jeans come in pairs - so do Genes, each one of which is called an allele of each other. If they are identical, the individual is homozygous. If not, they are called heterozygous. The parents of the individual, (be they animal, plant, human, or bird) each contribute one gene of every pair to their offspring. When one allele of a dissimilar pair shows its effect and suppresses the effect of the other, it is dominant. However, when the parent passes one allele of each of its genes to its offspring, each allele has an equal chance of being passed on. When it takes both alleles to be the same, in order to show the effect, the gene is said to be recessive. The phenotype of an individual is what it looks like. The genotype is a list of both the seen and unseen alleles of each pair of genes. Letters of the alphabet are used as symbols, a capital letter indicating a dominant gene, and a lower case first letter indicating a recessive gene. Thus S-S in regard to fowls is for silver ground colour, and s-s is for the alternative. A bird with the genotype of S-s would also have a silver ground colour. Mostly there is only one alternative to each allele, but sometimes there are more. in the E-series, which determines the pattern of the colouring in our fowls, there are five; e+ (the wild type pattern as seen in the original jungle fowl), E (extended black, as in self black or self blue), and the other three are ER (birchen), eWh (wheaten), eb (brown). The term used to describe this situation is Multiple Allelemorphic. The word "morph" just means form, so really we are dealing with many different forms, in this case different patterns on the plumage of our birds. Recent work on the human genome shows that we have between 21,000 and 25,000 genes spread over 23 pairs of chromosomes. In our fowls it is between 20,000 and 23,000 genes spread over 39 pairs of chromosomes.

For Adults Only - Contains Fowl Language (The Brahma Club of Australia newsletter)

By LANCE HICKS

One of the great things about needing two parents in order to produce offspring is the fun that you can have playing the 'blame and claim' game. When the child does something bad, one parent will say to the other "Look what child has done!" When the child does something good, one parent will say to their partner, "Look what child has done - obviously the youngster takes after me!" Ever since humans and other animals have been producing babies, great interest has been taken in the similarities between the generations, as the offspring usually resemble their parents more than other, unrelated members of the community. Why this is so, and the process by which it occurs, has been the subject of many theories. What we are considering here is something that we get at birth and keep for the rest of our lives - the inheritance of our various characteristics.

One theory was that it was passed by the blood - each individual having half the blood of each of its parents and therefore a quarter of the blood of each of its grandparents, and so on back to Adam and Eve. To make it sound flash and very scientific we will call it 'The theory of the infinite divisibility of blood?. This view was popular for a very long time, and some people still hold to it. Another idea was 'The inheritance of acquired characteristics', which was that whatever happened to you physically during your life was passed on to your children. This did not last long as an explanation. It was disproved by a Jewish scientist who cut the tails off mice, generation after generation, and noted that the young mice in the umpteenth generation were still being born the correct length of tail. I reckon that the chappie whose name was August Weismann, was a bit of a dill because he only had to look inside his jeans to realise that circumcision needs to be done at each generation (More about genes later on.)

In a modern context we know that the children of amputees are born with a full set of limbs. Another thought about heredity was given in the bible (Genesis, chapter 30 starting at verse 28.) Basically Jacob had the task of breeding speckled, spotted and striped sheep from a mob of white woolled ewes. His solution was to take new branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and peeling some of the bark off them to expose the white cambium layer, but leaving some of the darker coloured bark on the branched in the shape of speckles spots and stripes. He placed these specially prepared branches in front of the sheep while they were breeding. Don't believe me, read it for yourself, it is the gospel truth. Nowadays we refer to this as 'The theory of prenatal impressionism.' To me there is a delightful irony in the fact that it was a man of the cloth who disproved this and the other theories.

Back in the eighteen fifties at a monastery high in the Alps of what is now the Czech Republic, there wasn't a lot in the way of entertainment ('T.V, reception was poor and there was nothing much on the Internet!) The monks, of course, did not have wives and children to keep them busy. Brother Greg was an assistant teacher who sat for the exam to become a fully-fledged teacher. He failed. Abbot Napp sent him to Vienna for a crash course, studying full time. When the final exam came, he crashed - failed again. He never did become a teacher who was fully qualified. Abbot Napp was a kindly fellow, wise and observant. He knew that even those who were academic failures could still contribute something to the benefit of mankind. He noticed that the young Bro. Gregor Mendel was (like your humble scribe) very keen on his tucker. To make pea soup, which was very popular in that cold climate, you need to have plenty of garden peas. These were grown in the monastery garden and the abbot showed his young charge that some of the plants had many pods with lots of peas in each pod; while some had few pods with les peas in each. He told Greg that if he could work out how to grow only the varieties that produced plenty of peas, then there would be lots more soup to go around. Here was a task that was worthy of the young priest. I suspect that the cunning old abbot knew that much is achieved when the needs of men and the will of God go hand in hand. The peas were a pretty mixed bunch; some had smooth skins and some had wrinkled skin:, some had green colour on the unripe pod and others had yellow, some of the flowers were white, some were purple.

Crosspollination of peas had been done before and it had been noted that in each case nearly all of the offspring resembled one parent and not the other. The purple flowers dominated the white flowers.  Interbreeding of these first cross purple flowers resulted in mostly purple flowered seedlings, but quite a number of white flowers. Winter nights at the monastery were long and dark so Greg used to get a hot Cup of soup and count the peas from the second cross and at the same time divide them into two heaps, one with the round smooth skinned peas and the other with the wrinkled ones. No one had bothered to count them before. Today a person doing this type of work would refer to himself as a Statistical Analyst. We just call them bean counters. Of the 7,324 seeds it turns out that 5,474 were smooth skinned and 1,850 had wrinkled skins. Gregor Mendel was keen on maths and he calculated the ratio to be nearly 3 smooth ones to every wrinkled one. Next he checked out the colour of the flowers in the second generation and again found the ratio of three purple ones to each white flower. Never in any of his experiments did he find a flower that was a blend of purple and white --- they were one colour or the other, so he concluded that mixing of the blood (or sap in this case) was not the cause. He doubled checked using the unripe pod colour and found that the green outnumbered the yellow by three to one in the second generation. Clearly the yellow in the pod was recessive. He reckoned that each of the plants had two distinct factors, sometimes similar, sometimes unalike but at all times separate and distinct. Further he thought that only one of the factors was passed down by each of the parent plants and that it was a toss of the coin as to which one. Nowadays we call this 'The law of independent segregation.'

One night when he found the soup tureen empty he remembered that he was supposed to be finding the plants which had the most peas. He wondered if any of the factors were linked to high production so he divided the pods into those which had six to nine peas in them and those which had five or less. It often happened that the heavy bearers had the smooth, round seeds, i.e. the dominant factor. To check he again divided the pods into those that were green coloured and those which were yellow. He found that mostly the heavy bearers had yellow pods, i.e. the recessive factor. Clearly a desirable characteristic can be dominant or recessive, and to keep the soup simmering one should plant pea seeds from yellow pods and/or smooth skinned peas. In later experiments he managed to produce yellow pods full with many smooth round peas.

In 1865 Mendel went public with his findings and gave two lectures at the local natural history society. The next year he published them in the society's journal. Sadly it was not a best seller as the public was disinterested and the scientific world subjected his work to a 'file it and forget it' policy. To add to his woes his friend and mentor Abbot Napp died in 1868. The other monks applied the old army principle of 'if a fellow can't do anything useful, then promote him?. Gregor Mendel became the abbot of the monastery. Although the administrative work left less time for research he continued study, mostly of bees and weather. With advancing age and a rich diet he became rather portly (just as your humble scribe has done). Finally he wrote that hill climbing had become "very difficult for me in a world where universal gravitation prevails." In 1884 he left this world.

Fast forward about twenty years from the death of Gregor Mendel and we find a keen chook breeder, William Bateson, much interested in the different comb shapes in fowls. He mated birds with rose combs, both male and female, to their opposite sex birds who had single i.e. blade combs and found that all the youngsters had rose combs which were indistinguishable from their rose combed parent. Next he crossed these youngsters, the first filial generation (usually just called the F1 generation) to each other.

The F2 chickens had both types of combs, in the proportions of three rose combs to each single comb. The single combs were no different to their grandparent's single comb despite having both parents with rose combs. Apparently Bateson was not aware of Mendel's work, and had independently rediscovered what we now call the 'Mendelian Ratio', in the second generation of crossing a simple dominant to a simple recessive characteristic. He named what Mendel called factors, as genes, coming from the word genesis, which means the start of i.e. creation. Thus it was a poultry man who named 'The Science of Genetics'. It should be noted that both men were not content to stop after stage one, the first cross; but went on to get knowledge of the hidden factors' effects in the second generation. Experimental breeders today should, if they are not satisfied with the results of the first year's breeding, persevere by intercrossing those birds and also by backcrossing them to their parents. We should remember the young man who ardently wooed a young woman until she finally allowed him to kiss her. What a pity that he stopped there. Had he continued to court her keenly she might, eventually, have permitted him to advance to stage two which, if memory serves me correctly, can be very enjoyable.

In 1904 William Bateson and Professor Punnet at Cambridge bred a Silkie rooster with a Brown Leghorn hen. The cockerels from this cross had light skin and the pullets had dark skin. This is called sex-linkage, but they were not the first to discover it. On the 10th January, 1855, an unknown fowl breeder reported in "The Poultry Chronicle" that he had crossed a golden pencilled Bolton Grey (an old name for Hamburgs) male with a silver pencilled hen of the same breed and produced "excellent golden pencilled pullets and silver cockerels with chestnut wing patches; and that these last will, with silver hens, produce excellent silver pullets." In 1909 William Bateson left Cambridge to become the director of the John Innes Horticultural Institute (A good chook breeder who went to seed). Professor Punnet recruited an enthusiastic young fellow called Michael Pease. Together they worked on the barring factor, as seen in Barred Plymouth Rocks. It also is sex-linked and they ultimately produced, by matings with Brown Leghorns, a commercial egglayer they called the Legbar. It was autosexing at hatching because the cockerels were much lighter in the down than the pullets who were dark but had a small round patch of white on the top of their heads. This was caused by the cockerels having a double dose of the barring gene and the pullets having only one. "Why," was the big question. It turned out that while the rose and the single combs were on ordinary run-of-the-mill chromosomes, which we call autosomal chromosomes, the sex-linked genes were on the sex chromosomes. (Chromosomes are really just the villages where the genes live.) The sex chromosomes are usually referred to as X and Y. Y is the Long John Silver of the chromosome world ---it is only an X with one leg missing. Like its human counterpart the Y is limited in what it can do. Basically, possession of a Y chromosome determines the sex of the individual ---male in humans and strangely, females in our birds. The barring factor, the silver ground colour gene and the other sex-linked genes can only exist on an X chromosome, so a hen or pullet has silver gold on its one and only X chromosome. A cockerel can have two gold or two silver genes and thus is pure for the ground colour; or it can have one of each and be impure. In this situation the silver dominates the gold, but often there is a tell-tale clue; as our friend of 150 years ago found with the chestnut wing patches on his impure silver pencilled Hamburg cockerels. Such a bird is not useless as his daughters will be, in roughly equal numbers, pure silver or pure gold ground, regardless of which colour hen he is bred to. There are many crosses with fowls that demonstrate visually the movement of sex-linked factors from one generation to the next, but I prefer that the products of a cross be useful; So here is my recipe for Black Forest Cake ...er... Black Forest Fowls.

Ingredients -One black Australorp male from a good egg-laying strain. One or more, according to taste, Barred Plymouth Rock females, Instructions -Mix well in a pen of suitable size. After a week or so collect and incubate the eggs. About half of the chickens which hatch will have black down with a white head spot, indicating one barring factor. When grown up these will be barred and cockerels; which are delicious when roasted with potatoes, carrots and onions. As a purist as well as a gourmet, I add green peas to the meal (in memory of Gregor Mendel.) The other chickens will have dark down and no head spots. They are pullets which will grow into black hens; whose eggs are very tasty, whether boiled, fried or poached. These hens will also have inherited, through their father, some of the good egglaying capacity of their Australorp grandmother.

The black Australorp male who is their father can pass on characteristics, such as egglaying ability, which he himself cannot express. Egglaying is a sex-limited factor. An example in humans of one factor which is sex-limited is that I, as an adult male, grow whiskers, whereas the girls, as they mature into the full flowering of womanhood grow --- more interesting, at least to me.

When fowls have black patterning, such as the Silver Laced Wyandotte and the Dark Indian Game, it is still obvious whether their ground colour is silver or gold. With the all black Australorp it is not. Yet they have sex chromosomes, of which each of the X chromosomes is either a silver or gold and is passed, without its presence being apparent, from each generation to the next, according to the rules of sex-linked inheritance. Even the non-sex-linked characteristics on the autosomal chromosomes, are passed without becoming visible, from parent to offspring, in the self black chooks. Thus any all black fowl can be a black Columbian, i.e. with black neck and tail feathers on a black background; or a black laced back, with black lacing against a black background. In this world many things are not seen by the eyes of men, even married men. The astute breeder will cross a self black fowl with, say a buff bird to reveal what patterns and colours lie beneath those black feathers. To breed Australorp to Australorp for twenty or thirty years must be like treading water endlessly without ever swimming a single stroke.
Combs (The Brahma Club of Australia newsletter)

By LANCE HICKS

At the risk of causing mild offence to our Patron (Khris Abuid, who reckons that you can't have hair and brains too) I wish to write about combs. The Brahma standards that I have read all call for our birds to have triple or ?pea? combs.

The best explanation of what that is, its variations and the genetic information which shows how to produce it, is by Dr. Clive Carefoot, one-time President of the Poultry Club of Great Britain, in his book Creative Poultry Breeding.

He writes "A pure pea comb has the appearance of three small single combs parallel with each other, the middle one being larger. All are small compared with the standard single comb. The triple or pea comb mutation from the standard single was-shown to be incompletely dominant and denoted P by Bateson (1902). The impure pea comb has a larger well developed, thicker, irregular central comb, whilst the side combs may be quite inconspicuous and resemble side sprigs.

The interaction of rose and pea combs causes the walnut comb, which is low, solid and moderately small, with several surface conformations and variations. An unusual feature of the walnut comb is that it often has a shallow transverse groove separating the rear third from the front two thirds. In newly hatched chicks there are frequently small bristle like hairs which help in the detection of the walnut comb." Dr. Carefoot makes the point that "frequently the comb of the female is not given sufficient examination before the breeding pen is mated."

Until he was re-educated, our Vice President, Bryan Jon referred to all female combs, except the blade comb, as "insignificant". The positive identification of comb type in hens and pullets is not easy or certain; and at this stage of the re-creation of the Brahma in Australia it is unreasonable to expect every bird to have the perfect, pure pea comb. However, we must not despair. Instead, look at our member and good friend Don Jones. Then look at another of our members, his granddaughter, the beautiful Jessica Bunn. Clearly a lot of improvement can be made in two generations. And so it is with our chooks. This is how in regard to combs.

If both, birds of a pair have walnut combs, then half their chickens will too. About a quarter of the chicks will have rose combs and should be culled. But the other quarter will have the correct, pure pea combs.

If both parent birds have impure pea combs; i.e. pea/blade combs, then half their chickens will too. About a quarter of the chicks will have blade combs and if they have yellow, feathered legs, can be used to breed Cochins. The other chicks will have the correct pure pea combs.

If your rooster had an impure pea comb; that is a pea/blade comb, and the only hens that were available to him had walnut combs, then you would expect to breed a lot of rubbish -and so you would. But in about a quarter of the chickens the P gene from the hen's walnut comb, and the P gene from the impure pea comb of the rooster would have combined to produce pure pea combs on the chickens.

Of course not all pure pea combs, even those produced from pure pea comb to pure pea comb matings, are perfect as pea combs; that comes from further breeding and careful selection. Still, it is marvelous what can be achieved in two generations --- just ask Don! 

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