Breeding chickens and bantams

Breeding bantam chickens is a little different to breeding large fowl

Mating and breeding chickens and bantams.

Breeding chickens at home is relatively easy, in chicken society the males are polygamous, that is, one male will mate with several females. This makes the production of large numbers of fertile eggs relatively easy. Selection and treatment of the right breeding stock is always more difficult.

However just because a male can handle many hens it doesn't mean that is the best way to breed successfully. Sometimes just a pair or trio is called for.

Below: Breeding chickens can be easy and can be done naturally with broody hens or artificially with an incubator.

Chicken breeding has become a huge trend in recent years, but it isn’t as easy as some people may think. Yes and male and female chicken will produce offspring but the results can be unpredictable at best and disastrous at worst.

There are many different breeds of chicken, and knowing how to take care of a specific breed is vital to any chicken breeding enthusiast.

How do you breed chickens naturally?

To breed chickens successfully you will need a few things:

  1. Is it actually legal where you live.
  2. Some cash and resources.
  3. Time.
  4. Space.
  5. The right chickens and a rooster.
  6. A plan to deal with the surplus cockerel that you always get when breeding.
  7. Correct feed.
  8. A coop or ark to house the chickens.
  9. Patience. Spring is the best time to start.
  10. Research of the breed.

Are you going to incubate the eggs yourself or allowing the hen to raise her chicks in a natural way.

How do you know if a chicken egg is fertilised?

There are 2 ways to test the fertility of eggs.

  1. Crack it open and look at the spot.
  2. Incubate for 7 days and then candle.

I normally use a mixture of these two methods. Get the first few eggs after mating and use them for cooking. Look at the embryo spot beforehand to see if they are fertile. If the first few are then collect an incubate the eggs and keep a record of the results to check fertility levels.

How do chickens mate?

When the male wants to mate with the female, he will usually droop one wing to the ground, circle around her, grab the back of her head, and climb onto her back. There is a distinct clucking that goes with cockerels treading the hens.

Below: the mating ritual of chickens. The cockerel dancing for the hen.

He keeps himself in this position by flapping his wings. It is at this time he lowers his tail and places his vent on the hen's vent. Sperm, from the male, travels into the female, toward her oviduct. 

This process can be over with in as little as 15 seconds. The female will usually shake her body and fluff her feathers afterwards. The sperm, now inside the female, literally swim through the mucus lining of the oviduct until they reach the Infundibulum. They now fertilise the ovum at the point it passes through from the ovary.

Below: The cockerel treading the hen.

It can take seven to ten days, after the mating, for fertile eggs to be formed. This is because it takes this long for the sperm to get into the correct location, and also because of the way the egg production cycle works.

Hens have been known to lay fertile eggs for up to ten days after a mating. This is why it is good practice to keep your hens separated from any male for a couple of weeks before mating. This ensures that you know who the father is.

All of the breeding mentioned above will only happen when the length of daylight hours and weather conditions represent a typical spring. Springtime conditions cause the chickens' pituitary gland to become active in the proper way to stimulate reproductive behaviour. It's kind of like Mother Nature saying, "It's time".

About the boys and Girls.

Females (Pullets or Hens):

The egg yolk is made in the ovaries. Inside the yolk of an egg is the egg itself, in a yellow fluid made up of proteins and fats. The yolk membrane is called viteline.

After the yoke is made, it passes into the funnel, known as, the infundibulum. This is where the male sperm fertilises the egg. This is also where the chalazae are added to the egg. They are like little threads, which hold the yoke more or less in the centre of the egg.

The yoke hangs around in the infundibulum for about 15 minutes and then moves on into the magnum. It takes about three hours for the yoke to travel through the magnum and this is when the egg white is added around the yoke.

The outer shell membrane and also the inner shell membrane are added around the egg white in the next section called the isthmus. It takes a little more than an hour for them to form. The next place in the eggs travel is the shell gland.

The egg stays here for about 21 hours while the shell is added around the egg white. Now a complete egg is waiting to be laid. The hen forces the egg out through the oviduct. The large end comes out first. After the egg is laid, it dries out quickly and the shell becomes harder.

The complete cycle detailed above takes about 25 - 26 hours.

Males (Cockerels, Cocks or roosters):

Male sperm is produced by the testes. The testes are attached to the kidneys. The male has two testes, one on each kidney. As the sperm is made it flows through tubes called, vas deferens. These tubes exit into sperm sacs located by the cloaca. The sperm sacs hold the sperm until the male breeds a female.

Can bantam roosters mate with standard hens?

Sometimes, and this is a complex subject - here is a full article on mixing chickens sizes when breeding -

It depends on the size mostly. Genetically all chickens are compatible -

How long does a chicken lay fertile eggs after mating?

It may take a few days for the cockerel to get round a whole flock of hens if it is a new introduction.

It takes 3 to 5 days to produce fertile eggs after adding a rooster to your hens. If the hens in question have been with a different cockerel then you will need to leave at least 2 weeks before beginning to collect eggs for incubation.

Young birds may take a bit longer to get the hang of mating rituals and some hens seem to resent the roosters attention which can be a bit of an issue. Most males seem to get their way with the hens eventually though.

To be on the safe side leave it 5 days before collecting and/or selling fertile eggs.

How often do chickens have to mate?

Technically a hen can lay fertile eggs for up to 14 days after a successful mating with a fertile male. As far as the backyard keeper is concerned, mating should be allowed to happen as often as possible.

The reality is she will need to be mated every few days to make sure. This is not really an issue as most cockerels I have will tread many hens every day. As long as you don't exceed the maximum number of hens your rooster can deal with it should never be a problem.

Some breeds, like Orpingtons, have known issues where the big fluffy feathers get in the way of a successful mating. Others like the Cornish meat bird struggle to mate because of the positioning of the legs and fullness of their bodies.

How many hens to a cockerel?

If you stick to a maximum male to female ration of 1 male to 8 hens for large fowl and 1 male to 4 hens for bantams you should never have any issues.

If you have a high percentage of clear or infertile eggs then consider halving the number of hens with your rooster.

A male will be more than happy to mate with as many hens as he possibly can. Some experts recommend breeding five females to one male. The male will select a female to breed with and this female will usually just happen to be the first one he comes to.

If your hatch rate is below around 75% you might need to consider giving your rooster less hens to tread.

Can you breed chickens that are related like brother and sister?

The mating and breeding of chickens that are related in called inbreeding. Chickens can also mate with both their siblings and offspring so fathers and daughters can also breed together in just the same ways as brothers and sisters.

Chickens do not have the same rules as human society and a male chicken will breed with a female regardless of whether they are related or not.

Inbreeding of related chickens has it's advantages and is a useful tool for the poultry breeder.

It can be used to bring out the best characteristics of a single bird for example. Lets say you have a hen that is a show winner and you wish to preserve all her traits.

Your first step would be to breed her with a direct sibling or parent and the offspring would have at least 50% of her good genes.

You would then breed one of her sons back to her and this would produce young chicks that have 75% of the mother hens DNA.

Repeating the process would give you birds with 87.5% of the Dams ( Original show winners) genes. A fourth mating would give a flock that shares at least 93.75% of the show birds genetics and should show remarkable consistency.

This is how "lines" of chickens are founded.

What to feed breeding chickens?

Chickens used in breeding need to be in top condition. I always recommend a varied diet that includes a quality pellet, a mix of whole grains that include sunflower seeds and flax seed and natural foods and greens whilst free range.

One of the many things I have learned in all my years of keeping chickens is the like choice in the diet and to be able to wander and find their own food.

Plenty of clean fresh water is a must for all chickens.

It can be difficult to keep breeding birds from mixing with others so move able coops or arks are needed to contain breeding groups of chickens.

Flax is an excellent source of omega-3 oils and known to help produce better eggs. They should be between 1 and 2% of the diet. In my flock sunflower seeds make up 4% of the diet I feed.

I feed some whole grains in the evening before roosting to keep the digestive system active for longer overnight.

Grit (2%) should always be included in any chicken diets and Diatomaceous Earth (1%) and seaweed (1%) make excellent supplements for breeding chickens.

Do you need a special coop for breeding chickens?

No, there does not need to be anything special about a chicken coop for breeding birds. The only consideration is that it is secure and the hens can not sneak out or other males sneak in to ruin your hard work.

Breeding coops or pens for backyard chickens are often smaller structures used in the short term and then the birds are released back to range with the others.

How do you select chickens for breeding?

There are many things to consider when starting your chicken breeding program depending on what you will be doing with your chickens and what you expect from them.

Reasons for breeding chickens:

Productivity - Dual purpose chickens are an example for this type of breeding. If you want a chicken that will provide delicious tender meat for the table and lay great eggs.

Family birds - Like Orpingtons. Not really good layers but they have a docile and affectionate disposition that makes them great around children. In addition, these birds are a beautiful gold colour hence their name that will make you proud to show them off to friends and family.

Showing - Breeding birds or producing eggs for competition with other chicken fanciers.

Unusual eggs - Plenty of chickens that will lay different coloured eggs. Araucanas will lay green-blue eggs that are very appealing to people. Marans have a deep brown egg and Easter Eggers can produce many different colours ranging from green to pink to brown.

Meat birds - This really depends on what you are looking for. Some great breeds are the Cornish, Le Bresse Gauloise and Hubbard type hybrids.

Profit - Producing chickens to sell on to customers.

Ask yourself what you need in a chicken before you start.

Breeding chickens for sale is increasingly becoming a popular business venture these days. The need to supply the market with live fowls has been the reason for the sudden increase in the number of people engaging in poultry farming.

My Advice for your first attempt:

  1. Decide first if you are going to sell mature fowls or chicks. It is best to focus on one specific age. This will allow you to standardise your selling practice. If you are going to sell mature chickens, make sure to stick to it. Mature chickens often bring more profit than the younger ones.
  2. Acquire a popular breed of chicken for your first attempt. It can be either a good egg producer or a meat producer.
  3. Get the best stock you can afford. Breeding from really good stock birds is of the utmost importance.
  4. Unless you have found a niche for hybrid chickens I would encouraged you not to crossbreed the birds. There is a saturated hybrid market.
  5. Plan and get decent equipment. Your incubator must be 100% capable of producing chicks or else it is should be considered as a waste.
  6. It is also important that you know your target market. This will help you focus on raising the chickens for a certain market standard. Knowing the price limit is an additional tip that you can use to gain more profits.

Breeding Bantams.

A good and popular strain of Bantams will pay just the same as large fowl or hybrids.

 The accommodation that bantams require is very little and the amount of food that they eat is around a third that of large fowl. The value of a good Bantam is about equal to a large fowl.

In breeding Bantams the chief aim is to keep the size small ; therefore, you will pay more attention to obtaining small hens than a small male bird, though, naturally, you will get both as small as possible. 

Breeders hatching late in the season produce chicks that do not mature till spring. In large fowl this depends a good deal on the season. Often the January hatched birds are, later in the year, dwarfed by those hatched in March and even April. Taken all round, we consider the best months for Bantam hatching are February, the end of April, through May, and until the middle of June.

Do Roosters have balls?

Rooster do have testicles and they are bigger than you suspect.

They do need to be however as a rooster is expected to be up early and service as many as he can hens during the day.

Rooster don't have balls in the traditional dangly sense, cockerel testicles are tucked away safely inside the bird and look like little fat sausages. The basic structure is similar to mammalian testis as is the product.

As a rule, the bigger the chicken, the bigger the testis but there is individual variation.

They vary greatly in size from 1 inch long, 0.6 inch diameter and 0.13 ounce to 2.4 inches long, 1.13 inches diameter and 3.13 ounces. The later being a similar size to human danglers.