Almonds, They Are Still Here
February 2000

By: Chuck Zeller
Almonds may not be the hot ticket item that they were a little over a year ago, but are still a very popular pattern. It seems like just yesterday that a great number of our members were beating the bushes to get any quality almond or kite they could get their hands on. As is often the case in many breeds, a certain pattern or color will take off like wildfire for a period of time. After a while the dust settles, and for the most part only the fanciers who are really devoted to that pattern or color continue on for the long term. That seems to be the case in the almond Wests.

Those of us who have stuck with the almonds know that they are probably one of the toughest colors to raise, especially if one sets out to raise the classical colored almond as their goal. To raise almonds is one thing, to raise the classical colored almond is quite another.

Perhaps it would be best to describe just what is meant by the term classical in color and pattern. The term classical almond comes to us from the English Shortface Tumbler breed. That being the case, we should look at that breed's standard to define what the term means. The English Short Face Almond Tumbler standard goes back over 200 years and is well documented in a number of very old books on pigeons. Although each author's description of an ideal almond is slightly different, they basically call for a base color that is a golden almond yellow, and flecks or patches (break) distributed throughout the tail, flights and secondaries plus be distributed all over the rest of the bird. The break called for should be of at least 3 colors (some descriptions call for as many as 5), the color of the break being at least 3 of the following colors: black, bronze, yellow-gold, blackish bronze, white, and gray. The most difficult part of raising proper colored almonds is to maintain the proper ground color while achieving a high degree of break. One has to keep the blue color off the bird, watch for a ground color too reddish or too light (sandy colored), and keep them from showing any significant check or bar pattern.

I have found in my almonds that once I have made good progress in the ground color, that the proper amount of break becomes a problem. I seem to get break in the tail, flights, and secondaries, but the break on the rest of the bird seems to diminish. I have also found that the break increases once these birds approach two years in age. I have found that birds with the lighter ground color and those with the blue in the tail seem to get their break of feather at an earlier age. The problem with using these birds is you're going to be constantly fighting to retain the proper ground color, the production of your birds with proper ground color will be hit and miss.

I am still a firm believer in making use of the red and yellow agates, deroys, and heavily bronzed kites. I know that some believe that good colored almonds can and are produced by only using kites to their almonds. I believe that if heavily bronzed kites are used, that a good percentage of proper ground colored birds can be produced, but from what I have observed you will be fighting blue in the tails and again the proper ground color will be a hit and miss. I just don't believe this is the way to go if the goal is to consistently raise the classical colored almond.

I have not raised almonds long enough to state my way is the right way and to only use almonds to kites is wrong, but then again, those who argue that the use of agates and deroys is not necessary haven't either. One thing I do know is that the almond Shortface Tumbler has stood at the top of the ladder, and has for many long years. It seems logical to me that if one has set their goal to raise Wests that may one day rival these English Shortface Tumblers, they should follow the formula that has been set down and followed in that breed for well over one hundred years. When that states that one must make use of all of the almond sub-varieties if they wish to produce classical colored and patterned almonds on a consistent basis, that tried and true formula should be followed. Of course there is nothing wrong with trying something different, the long ago almond fanciers did the same. We today have the advantage of reading why most of the different experiments did not bring the desired result in the long term.

The West fanciers that have chosen to raise almonds have, as Bob Christman wrote in a recent article on agates, come a long way towards producing the proper colored almonds, but as Bob also wrote, we have a long way to go to match the almonds of the English Shortface Tumbler. Almonds, complex, beautiful and satisfying to raise, are also at times exasperating and always a challenge to ones breeding skills.

 Chuck Zeller
Almonds, They Are Still Here
February 2000

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