Improving your show stock of chickens

Show chickens are impressive but how do you breed better stock

How to breed better chickens:

Breeding better chickens is lengthy and expensive process. It takes time and money. I have been breeding chickens for many years and have had just as many failures as successes.

Don't be disheartened when a pairing doesn't work out, I have learned the most from  pairings that did not work out.

Below: Improving your flock of chickens takes time and effort and only happens one generation at a time.

Keys to success for breeding better chickens:

  1. Know your breed and don't breed weaknesses into the flock.
  2. Purchasing the best quality stock you can afford to start with.
  3. Provide quality feed and access to greens.
  4. Never allow birds to be without feed and water.
  5. Ventilate properly even in cold weather.
  6. Maintain a comfortable temperature range with shade and shelter from wind.
  7. Keep coop, nests, perches and litter in good condition.
  8. Do not exceed supplement or vitamin dosage recommendations.
  9. Cull birds from your breeding program that do not meet your specifications.
  10. Provide adequate roosting, nesting and floor space and enough feeders.
  11. Do not medicate unnecessarily or over-medicate.
  12. Observe all show rules and don't try to cheat the system.

What is the best age for breeding stock?

So is it better to buy a few older birds to start out or buy chicks or get eggs for hatching.

My personal opinion is always to buy older if you possibly can. It is impossible to know what the chicks will grow up into. If you are planning to start a serious breeding program you probably start with a few well matched pairs. The best age to buy chickens for breeding is between 12 and 24 months of age.

I don't select my breeding birds until they are at least 12 months old. It takes time for heritage chickens especially to fill out and get fully grown.

You should buy older birds after getting to know your standard of perfection so you know exactly what you are getting. When you buy chicks it's a complete crap shoot with no possible way to know what you are getting.

I would start out getting birds that are at least 3 months old. You will be able to see at that time more or less what they will end up looking like .

I would not buy anything older than 2 seasons for breeding unless you have a really good reason.

General disqualifications for breeding birds:

Deformities of shape including deformed beaks, crooked or roach backs. Any skeletal malformation.

Feather or wing problems like slipped or split wing, twisted or missing feathers in wing, sickles and main tail feathers. Wry tails or Squirrel tails.

Combs that are lopped or hanging (except some Mediterranean breeds), split comb or the absence of spike in all rose comb varieties.

Positive enamel white in the face of Mediterranean breeds and in the ear lobes of American or English breeds.

Feather stubs on legs, shanks and toes or between toes of clean leg breeds.

Colour of shanks, feet, or toes or colour foreign to the breed. Black in quills, primary, or secondary feathers of white varieties. Red, white or yellow in the plumage of any black or white variety

What about NPIP?

The National Poultry Improvement Plan was established in the early 1930's. The program was started to eliminate and control certain diseases and has been expanded greatly over the years. Be prepared to pay for vet fees and testing and lots of paperwork. Although it is a voluntary programs you should get certified birds.

NPIP certification means you submit the birds in your breeding flock to regularly scheduled testing to assure they are Pullorum and Typhoid free.

Buy from a reputable breeder and try to start off with decent stock vs just buying from a hatchery.

What prices should I expect to pay from a breeder to get started?

Expect to pay $3 to $10 for hatching eggs, $6 to $15 for straight run chicks and $50 and up each for POL birds. Remember they may be considerable wastage from hatching eggs with maybe only 50% or less hatch.

Where to get good breeding chickens:

Depends on how many you want to end up with. If you only want two or three I would buy a pair or trio from a breeder.

If you want more than that than you might want to try and hatch some.

Breeding strategies include:

1. Line breeding - Breeding closely related birds so that a specific strain can be established.

2. Double Mating - This involves one pen to breed exhibition males, and another to breed exhibition females to achieve correct markings on both sexes. Breeds include Wyandottes and Leghorn's.

3. Out-crossing - Introducing an unrelated bird of the same breed to improve a strain. Can improve fertility and vigour and bring new desirable characteristics into their breeding programme.

4. Artificial Insemination - Collecting semen from a male and transferring to selected females. A difficult skill that is required in breeds with poor fertility like Orpingtons, Pekin bantams and Indian Game.

5. Keeping accurate records - Recording your breeding program so that you can trace the parentage of present and future generations. Toe punching or leg bands are examples of good record keeping in chickens. The records should be able to identify both the birds and the eggs from your breeding pens.

The most important thing to know is your breed Standard. Firmly picture this in your mind before culling and picking out birds. Consider printing large full size colour photos on the wall behind your own personal show bench so you can compare your birds to the ideal easily.

Breeding better chickens.

Factors to consider when choosing chickens for breeding:

Bird Health - Birds that have been ill in any way should not be used in a breeding program at all but at least not in the year they needed treatment.

Select for clean even feathering, nice crests , beards if required and correct size and colour of comb.

Eggs, size, colour and free from defects.

Below: Eggs are a good place to start and should conform to the standards.

Conformation - Skeletal shape of the bird, its length, width, and depth are well balanced.

Length. The breastbone should be long, straight, free from defects such as dents or knobs, carry well forward and back between the legs, and parallel to the backbone.

Width. The back should be long and wide with a broad spring of ribs.

Depth. The body should be full and deep. Body depth must be consistent with breast width.

Double mating - Try to avoid breeds where you need a double mating system to get the colour right for showing. To get the colour right on the males or females you need to keep some separate pairs to breed both.

Skin pigmentation - Skin pigmentation results from the deposition of yellow or yellow-orange pigments in the outer skin layer

Fleshing or the amount and distribution of muscle - The breast muscle should be wide throughout the length of the keel bone. The muscle should carry well up to the crest of the bone.

Uniformity - A good breeding pen is where each chicken should be as near a carbon copy of its pen mates as possible in size, shape, fleshing, and finish. If one bird has a defect, it affects the rating of the entire pen.

Is it OK to inbreed chickens?

You can breed both sibling chickens as well as parent child combinations. It should not be done unless there is a purpose. I find it is a good way to fix a certain characteristic in the offspring.

For example I was recently breeding a bird for yellow legs and selected brother and sister for the mating as they both had the desirable leg colour. This mating would make sure that all of their future offspring would always have the good leg colour.