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Web Foot

Not every mutation we find in pigeons is necessarily something we want in our own stud of birds. While mutations may be interesting from a scientific point of view -( they often allow us to map a chromosome, i.e., figure out the position of any particular gene along that chromosome) , the simple fact is as breeders we often want no part of a particular mutation. Usually our reasoning is merely show or performance related. For example, no breeder of standard fantails wants muffs on his birds. They would be disqualified at the shows. No racing homer breeder wants the giant balloon crop of the Norwich Cropper, such a the bird couldn't race. No Bokhara Trumpeter breeder wants anything to do with an English Pouter's long legs, etc.
Sometimes, though, there are other reasons why we don't want the mutation in our stud. Perhaps, the mutation has a severe health or physical problem associated with it. Web foot (genetic symbol w, a rather rare condition, is one of these mutations - here, I have to mention the fact that in some heavily muffed breeds such as Trumpeters, Swallows and Wing Pigeons, web foot may actually be advantageous (in the breed milieu) because it allows for better feather hold in the muff. I've been told this by one breeder of heavily muffed birds but have no direct experience with it and don't know whether this is true or not. For most breeds, though, web foot is definitely a no-no. Web foot is just what its name implies, a condition in which the toes are joined by a web of skin. In a duck or other waterfowl, this is normal, in a pigeon it's not. Web foot expression ranges from birds having tiny amounts of skin between their toes to birds whose toes are joined from the base to the tip. In some of these cases, the webbing is not wide enough for the toes to spread normally and they are clamped together - as if your first three fingers were tied together. Birds like this have a lot of trouble walking normally. Many breeders, who often first note the webbing when they band the birds at about ten days, simply take a blade and cut through the skin thus loosening the toes and allowing the bird to develop and walk normally. Breeders who do this have told me, they also usually use something like a styptic pencil (a coagulant agent used by men when they cut themselves shaving) to stem any excessive bleeding. While this procedure is kinder to the bird in the long run, it doesn't dispose of the basic problem even though many believe it does. Web foot seems to be a simple recessive mutation - (whether that's totally true or not is still open for debate). That means for web foot to show up in a youngster, both parents must be at least heterozygous for the trait. You can cut the web; you can dispose of the youngster but you'll still have the heterozygous parents or others in the loft. A homozygous web foot bird can be used as a tester if you'd like. Simply pair birds to it and if after a reasonable number of rounds you don't get any more web footed youngsters, you can fairly safely assume the tested bird is free of the mutation for web foot and it can be used in your breeding program. Conversely, if web footed babies are hatched, it means the tested bird is heterozygous for the trait and you can choose to dispose of it or use it with care. If you use it in your breeding program, you'll have to test all it's non web footed young to see if they're clear of the trait. A bit time consuming but a way of clearing your stud of something you don't want -- the same procedure could be used to clear crest carrying birds from a breed, say Oriental Rollers, which is supposed to be non-crested.

P.S. It ain't a good idea to have mice in the loft either, no matter how cute they are.

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