In “The Plymouth Rocks,” a Reliable Poultry Journal publication of 1911, Thoe. Wittman wrote, “A well colored and marked Silver Penciled Plymouth Rock is a wonderfully beautiful bird, and the time is likely coming when they will take their place as one of the popular and leading varieties.” Well, the Silver Penciled Rock was a useful variety but never did become a commercial contender. However, Mr. Wittman was correct in that the SP is a beautiful bird when well-bred. Unfortunately, the writers of the Standard called for a pattern that is somewhat of a challenge. I feel that some folks give up the bird when they see the difficulties in producing both exhibition males and females from the same pen.
In New England we have some superior Silver Penciled bantams coming mainly from Guy Roy and Bob Murphy, plus Bob has loyally kept some very nice SP large fowl for many years. The males, especially the bantam males, are really showstoppers with their silvery white wingbows and clear black breasts. Plus they have Rock type: wide backs that carry well back, good fronts and nice heads. A fault to guard against in the males is brassiness in the top plumage. Nothing detracts more from the overall appearance of a Silver Penciled male from any breed than the dirty white color that we sometimes see in the hackle, wingbows and saddles.
A further problem with this brassiness in males is that it will show up in the females and give them an overall rusty appearance. I owned a pullet that was 1st in a rather large class at the Boston Show few years back. I hadn’t been breeding the SP too long and so I asked the judge why I took 1st against some very good competition. He said, “Look at the rusty shade on all those other females.” He was right; mine was the only female that had the silvery white shade that is called for. I confess that it was pure luck!
Of course, after body type, the first order of business in females is penciling. There is a difference between the APA and the ABA in this description. The APA Standard states, “Each feather in the back, breast, body, wing bows, and thighs should have three or more pencilings.” The ABA calls for, “three distinct black pencilings on the breast” and for the back, “steel gray, with distinct black pencilings, outlines of which should conform to the outline of the feather,” no mention of the numbers of pencilings. The ABA requirements are more realistic if one is using a single mating system. Most breeders are producing a “male line” and males more often catch the judge’s eye. Males have sharp demarcations of color and it’s easier to defend your decision. But exhibition males do not beget exhibition females. The penciling on the daughters of these males is just not as sharp as the Standard demands.
Watch the overall color on pullets. It should be a bright silvery-gray with sharp contrasting penciling. The APA description says that the penciling “Should not be black because that destroys the even shade of gray that is desired.” But the ABA calls for “black penciling,” so take your choice. The important thing about the penciling is that it should be distinct and should follow the contour of the feather. It’s pretty easy to get good penciling on the breast but it’s not so easy to have a well penciled back, and that’s what the judge first examines. There are some judges who can appreciate a good female; at the 2007 Boston Show the BV was a pullet.
Other traits to watch for in females are crow heads and poorly serrated combs. Remember that the comb on the female is going to be enlarged about 3x on her sons and what seems like a minor fault in the dam can be a real defect in the male offspring. Watch for leg color; too many SP have very pale, almost white legs. We can accept some paleness in females from egg production but when it causes white legs in the male offspring one has to think it may be genetic. A couple of handfuls of scratch feed in the litter in late afternoon prevents the “white leg syndrome” in my pens. This extra corn does not seem to contribute to brassiness in the males (sunlight may, however).
One other area that I think needs to be watched in SP is the amount of fluff under the tail. In some cases both males and females have a gap between the lower main tail feathers and the start of the fluff. This to me gives the tail a sort of tube-like appearance. The ABA Standard calls for the fluff to be, “rather full and of moderate length.” Look at your birds in profile and you’ll see what I am describing.
Both the APA and ABA Standards call for the female’s head to be a “silvery gray.” In some birds the penciling goes up over the head, and gives a “dark gray” appearance. I prefer the contrast of the “silvery” heads as seen in the drawings in the APA Standard and in the older breed books. I think if you are using only one mating pen, that the exhibition male will naturally produce these silvery-headed females. And finally, the Standards call for the fluff to be penciled in the females - lots of luck with that!
In the large fowl, of course, size is always a consideration. For the most part the SP cannot compete with the Barreds and the Whites in terms of body weight. The Dark Brahma was one of the original ancestors of the SP Rock. How about revisiting the old family homestead for a little infusion of new blood?
Without resorting to the rather complicated and space-consuming “double mating” system there is a system for producing both exhibition-type males and females from the same pen and it’s called the “two female color system.” Head the pen with an exhibition male and use 2-3 well-laced females plus 1-2 of the “mossy-backed” females, those having good heads and combs. These latter females will produce the exhibition males. Keep a couple of the daughters from the mossy-backed females for next year’s male breeding. The drawback of using only one pen is that the offspring cannot be identified by dam unless trap nests are used. Having two pens available, one for each type of female, would get around this problem and you are still not actually following a “double mating” system. Read about this system in the Plymouth Rock Standard and Breed Book, pub by the APA, 1919. This book can probably be borrowed on inter –library loan thru your local library.
These are a few thoughts from an amateur breeder. My experience has been only with bantams. Try the Silver Penciled, bantam or large. They lay well and they hatch well. Don’t worry that each and every bird is not exhibition quality, just enjoy them, and at the same time you will preserve a little Plymouth Rock history.