Selection for Breeding

Even the smallest of back yard or garden poultry keepers can become a leading breeder. To do so there are some basic principles to observe.

Selection

If the new poultry keeper intends to concentrate on serious breeding and/or exhibiting it will be necessary to select parent stock very carefully. The same basic principles apply to all breeds of poultry and bantams when the selection of breeding stock is under scrutiny.

1. Health

Poultry which have suffered from any disease which has necessitated severe treatment should not be used for breeding. Good health is visible, it can be seen as well as felt when breeding stock is being selected. The feathers will be sleek, well furnished to form a protective covering during bad weather or hot sun. There will be a healthy glow about the head with no discolouration or weakness apparent. In most varieties of poultry and bantams combs, faces, and wattles will be bright red. Discolouration or darkening of the comb might indicate liver or heart trouble, or it might be obesity, so the correct diet is important. There should be no wheezing that indicates respiratory or heart trouble. The face should be open with a pleasant expression. Eyes should be bright and stand out well from the head and nostrils should be dry. Plumage should be normal for the breed with each feather wide, well made, whole, and resilient. Tail furnishings should be plentiful according to the sSandard.

2. Conformation

According to breed, the shape of the bird is laid down in the Standards. Examine the legs and feet:  bones should be sound, neat, toes straight and refined. No breed should have coarse shanks and thick scales. Texture will be shown in tight, well-fitting scales continuing down the toes. Any deformity such as bent toes, duck feet, crooked breast bone, wry tail, or split wing should mean rejection as a breeder.

Scale of points are typically thus:

Type and Carriage 25
Colour and markings 25
Head points 25
Legs and feet 15
Condition 10
  100

3. Breed Character

All the poultry which have passed the handling test for health and conformation should be scrutinised for breed character. Because points vary for each breed it is necessary at this stage to know how many points are awarded for which shape, size, or colour according to the different breeds, especially for show stock. This can be found in the British Poultry Standards, organised by The Poultry Club and from whom copies can be purchased.

4. Colour

Detailed official colour (and type) standards for each breed are to be found in the British Poultry Standards. Every breed has a standard to which it must conform and every prospective breeding bird must carry good points of breed character and colour to accord with its breed name.

 

5. Head points

These are especially featured because few standards exist which do not give a fair share of points to formation of comb, lobes, and wattles. Close inspection is necessary. Breeds with small single combs will not readily show up defects in females but will be latent and recur in cockerels of the following generation. Thin, glossy skin is not wanted in white lobed breeds. It will soon yield to white in face, a serious defect in showing and breeding.

Mating up

After all the chickens or bantams have passed the above tests and are considered up to standard and fit for breeding, the question arises of how many females should run with a male. With breeding, there is no hard and fast rule about this mating ratio. The breeder’s target is quality rather than quantity of day-old chicks. Thus many breeds, especially true bantams are simply pair mated (one male to one female) or trio mated (one male to two females). This is very advantageous for pedigree records, particularly if the stock is Poultry Club close rung (see Ringing Scheme). In the larger breeds they will be mated in pens of six or seven birds. The objective here is to get as many as possible from which to select those of high quality; when they are less robust, the number of females which will run with one male is reduced. The surest way to progress is try using birds which are similar in quality and possessing no bad faults. Of course it is not always easy to come across birds for breeding which do not possess bad faults. Minor faults in one individual may be balanced by similar extra good points in the opposite sex. Having put the stock breeders together, eggs should be checked for shape, size, and texture. The better the egg, the more chance it has of producing a robust chick, if fertile. As the saying goes, “Good eggs come from healthy birds and healthy birds are the best breeders”. If egg shape and texture are neglected, the strain will gradually deteriorate until there are more weak eggs than there are good ones.

The same principles above apply to turkeys, but light drakes will need 5-6 females to avoid over-mating, heavy drakes can be run with 1-3 ducks and Call ducks do best if they select their own mate. Geese pair up in autumn and may not accept another goose if added in spring.

Fertility

When egg laying commences, usually when day length is increasing, fertile eggs may be
expected within ten days of the male being introduced. If the male is already running with the females it is possible that their eggs will be fertile from first laying. If you have a different breed male running with the females, allow a fortnight for the correct bird to be fertile with those females after removal of the other one. It is not necessary for the male to copulate with each female daily. He can fertilise several eggs at one time if there is free access for the sperm to travel to the ovary. Some of the more fluffy breeds may need feathers removing from around their vents in order for successful mating to take place. You will find that cocks will have favourite hens and the feathers on the backs of these hens will be worn away. In order to prevent this if you want to show your birds, put the cock in with the hens for only a few minutes each day or fit a breeding saddle. Drakes of light breeds have a habit of removing the feathers from the necks of the ducks. It is not possible to determine from the actions of the birds how many eggs will be fertile, but if the stock is selected on the lines indicated and allowed to settle down in the breeding pens, the percentage of fertile eggs should be quite high, according to breed.

 

Culling

Culling is never easy. It doesn’t necessarily mean killing a bird, but removing it from the breeding pen so that whatever fault it has is not perpetuated. Improvement in the standard of your stock is the goal and this includes not only superficial points but utility aspects as well.

Motivation

When selection has been accurate, when mating up has given good, fertile eggs, when hatching has produced strong, healthy chicks, when rearing has brought those pictures in books to life, now may be the time to seek comparison with other like stock. The route to follow is through the shows held under Poultry Club rules. First the small local shows, next the more ambitious regional shows, then to the big one where most Breed Club shows are held - The National Championship Show, where every conceivable breed of poultry in the UK has classes of its own, held during the winter at Stoneleigh. Breed winners are taken to Championship Row and judged by a separate judge, to establish Show Champion and all the other major awards.

For some people just the sheer pleasure of keeping poultry for eggs is enough, and why not, but if you have chosen a pure breed, please try and make sure it is close to the Standard, so join the Poultry Club and the Breed Club(s) which look after your chosen breeds.