How to choose the best breeding stock and produce the best Serama chicks?
Malaysian Serama, being a novelty, attract a lot of first time, inexperienced breeders as well as those who have plenty of practice with breeding chickens. The first rule of breeding Serama bantams is to choose the parents correctly and make sure the male has the right number of hens, too many will effect fertility negatively.
First, let me say, Serama are not yet a breed. They are still better defined as a land-race. What this boils down to is the fact that Serama are still full of diversity (too much diversity) and from flock to flock, they may be phenotypically similar (look alike), but they are not always genotypically (genetically) alike.
They have not yet been heavily subjected to modern breeding methods that, in the future, will turn them into a true breed.
Some terms I often see misused are line-breeding, inbreeding, out-crossing, and crossbreeding.
Inbreeding is the mating of individuals that are closely related. Line-breeding is a method of inbreeding used over time to both limit diversity in your flock (adding stability) while keeping them from suffering “inbreeding depression” and other issues.
Out-crossing is the term I see used incorrectly most often. Out-crossing is breeding to the SAME breed or land-race, just ones of different lines. This isn’t really possible at this time, as no greatly distinct lines of Serama have been bred in the US to date.
The term most often incorrectly used interchangeably with out-crossing, is crossbreeding. This is using another breed of bird bred into your flock. Many Serama keepers have bred OEGB into their birds, and this is crossbreeding. Crossbreeding can easily destroy Serama at this time.
How should Serama look:
The Serama is an upright breed which carries itself with a high held breast with its keel being almost vertical and wings being held in vertical position.
The Serama should not have short stumpy legs, with these short stumpy legs often comes a poor posture with long horizontal body, often causing high wing carriage as the bird is too low to be able to drop its wings.
Sometimes Serama are seen with their breast almost parallel with the ground this is not how Serama should look. Remember type is of the utmost importance, not size, so stock selection is very important. Don’t just breed from a bird because it is small, it must have the whole package, or at least the attributes to produce quality offspring.
Below- A Serama cockerel bred in 2010 showing the desired upright stance, vertical breast and good leg length.
Serama lethal genetics:
Since I have been breeding Serama since 2004 and doing a lot of research into the lethal genetics involved I decided to carry out some breeding experiments. Many articles claim that all Serama carry lethal genetics, but this is not so.
Serama were produced from cross breeding other breeds with Japanese bantams, and therefore there is an occurrence of the short legged genetics present in its gene pool, though this does not have to be. The short legged gene and therefore lethal gene can be bred out through careful stock selection and not breeding from short legged stock.
Can I breed the lethal genes out?
As was stated previously the Serama has Japanese bantam influence in its genetic make up. Japanese bantams are required to have excessively short legs for show purposes, therefore short legged birds are bred from to produce short legged offspring.
When I refer to long legs, I mean they are the correct length for Serama and not excessively long legs.
This table shows how the short legged genetics work in theory. The practice may be different.
|Short legs X Long legs
|50% short legs
50% long legs
|Short legs X Short legs
|25% dead in shell (lethal factor)
25% long legs
50% short legs
|Long legs X Long legs
|100% long legs
All short legged chicks will carry the short legged gene and can therefore produce chicks with lethal factors when bred back to a short legged mate, while none of the long legged chicks will carry the short legged gene and when bred to a long legged mate will produce no short legged chicks and no chicks carrying the lethal factor.
Whilst there are exceptions to these rules in that there are incidences of intermediate leg lengths the numbers are very little and little scientific research has been made into these genetics. In order to completely eradicate the short legged genes it is probably best to avoid birds with intermediate leg lengths sticking to long legged breeding only.
Breeding Serama bantams:
I bred from Serama exhibiting short legs to both short and long legged birds and found that the hatch success (in practise over several documented batches) from short legged to short legged birds was not particularly high with several dead in shell chicks approx 25% as with Japanese.
Long legged to short legged birds had good hatch rates but I still received a few dead in shell chicks perhaps 10% (in practise over several documented batches) plus also hatching more of the undesirable short legged chicks which did not adhere with the Serama standard. When I bred long legged birds to long legged birds I began seeing a huge increase in hatch success with less than 5% of chicks being dead in the shell (in practise over several documented batches).
By 2010 I had removed all short legged birds from my breeding stock and culled heavily. I had only bred from birds which were bred from long legged to long legged parentage to ensure that 100% of their offspring carried no lethal genetics. I bred 50 chicks and encountered 0% short legged offspring, proving my method had worked.
Of course Serama hatching will still be tricky and of course I don’t expect 100% hatches in every batch as nature does not always allow for this, eggs which have been knocked by rough birds in a pen, humidity, temperature in the pens, where eggs are stored and of course incubator fluctuations will also affect how many will hatch.
A good quality and reliable incubator is crucial in Serama incubation & hatching.
Successful hatching techniques can be mastered with lots of practise and careful selection of freshly laid, good sized eggs, and reliable parentage etc, but at least with no lethal factor to contend with there is one less hurdle involved in a successful hatch. Plus there are less surplus birds, as there are no stumpy legged offspring to either cull or re-home, which could potentially find their way into someone else’s breeding programme furthering the production of birds carrying lethal genetics.
The short legged genetics:
In Malaysia it is not acceptable to exhibit a bird with excessively short legs, these are culled and and not bred from. In America the standard states that Serama with short legs be disqualified from exhibition.
Is crossbreeding always harmful? No, it is often a useful tool. However, your donor (the one you want characteristics from) is best often a breed less stable than your target (the original breed you are working with).
Many Serama keepers breed Old English Game Bantams to their flocks, believing they will gain traits. Because the OEGB also has many characteristics not wanted in Serama and has had them bred into them for an extremely long period of time, this will cause the offspring to be genetically more OEGB than Serama.
The already unstable and unrefined genotype of the Serama will be further scattered. This is not a desirable outcome. In order for this type of crossbreeding to be effective, the Serama must themselves become much more stable first. This is where one’s efforts should lie.
Much of this crossbreeding has come in the name of colour and varieties.
If the basic bird itself is not fairly well set, this is premature. Especially when no variety or colour is missing in Serama already! Serama carry the genes for most colours.
What should one be doing if they wish to work on Serama? They should be concentrating individual traits in their flocks until they get to the point where each bird has every desirable trait. It is also my belief that this should be done with a minimal of inbreeding.
Once these traits are more concentrated, then line-breeding efforts will be used to clean them up and remove some more undesirable traits. Inbreeding too soon may leave our small US flock with future issues otherwise.
I have always been interested in production poultry and their genetics and have also enjoyed studying land-race and game-birds. I have seen mistakes made in many other breeds and would hate to see the Serama’s unique gene pool be lost or damaged so early on by such mistakes.