Enhancing Chicken Breeds: The Science and Strategy of Line Breeding

A group of line bred chickens.

Be aware that the all rare breeds today have been created by selective breeding which has always at some point involved inbreeding or linebreeding. 

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It is often stated that line-breeding is the use of more distantly related animals and inbreeding the mating together of those of much closer kinship, for example, mother to son, father to daughter, or brother to sister. 

My view is that you can get as close as this when line-breeding, and employ more distant relatives when inbreeding. Both in breeding and line breeding are to an extent inseparable as they are not mutually exclusive.

What is linebreeding?

Linebreeding is a form of selective breeding in which closely related chickens are mated to each other. This is done in order to concentrate desirable traits and produce a more uniform flock.

Linebreeding is a form of scientific inbreeding where less closely related birds are used.

Birds in a linebreeding program are typically father and daughter or granddaughter. These chosen birds are typically closely related, often sharing a common ancestor, to ensure that the desired genetic traits are consistently passed on to the offspring.

Below: A generational line breeding chart.

Over successive generations, breeders continue to select and mate birds that exhibit the target traits, reinforcing the presence of these characteristics in the lineage.

Line breeding is a selective breeding technique used in poultry farming, including chickens, to enhance and maintain desirable traits within a specific genetic line or family of birds.

This method is commonly employed to improve specific characteristics like egg production, meat quality, or certain physical attributes in chicken breeds.

Why do you linebreed chickens?

Linebreeding is often used to improve the show quality of birds, but it can also be used to improve production traits such as egg laying or meat production.

To linebreed chickens, breeders will typically start with a pair of unrelated birds that have the desired traits. They will then breed these birds together and select the offspring that most closely resemble the ideal. These offspring are then bred back to one of their parents, and the process is repeated for several generations.

Below: Line breeding enable you to preserve characteristics such as clean and even lacing on the feathers.

Linebreeding can be a very effective way to improve the quality of a flock, but it is important to note that it also increases the risk of genetic defects. This is because linebreeding concentrates all of the genes in a flock, including both the good and the bad.

The good genes and attributes are selected for and the bad a selected against.

As a result, it is important to carefully monitor linebred flocks for any signs of health problems or genetic defects.

The advantages and disadvantages of linebreeding:

Here are some of the benefits of linebreeding chickens:

  • It can help to improve the show quality of birds by concentrating desirable traits such as feather colour, body conformation, and egg size.
  • It can also be used to improve production traits such as egg laying, meat production, and disease resistance.
  • Linebreeding can help to create a more uniform flock, which can make it easier to manage and care for.

However, there are also some risks associated with linebreeding:

  • It can increase the risk of genetic defects, such as health problems and low fertility.
  • Linebreeding can also reduce the genetic diversity of a flock, which can make it more susceptible to diseases.
  • Linebreeding can be a time-consuming and challenging process, and it is important to have a good understanding of chicken genetics before attempting it.

Overall, linebreeding can be a valuable tool for chicken breeders, but it is important to be aware of the risks involved. If you are considering linebreeding your chickens, it is important to do your research and consult with experienced breeders.

How to linebreed:

Line breeding requires a meticulous approach and close monitoring to prevent undesirable genetic issues, such as inbreeding depression, which can result from breeding closely related individuals.

Here's how line breeding in chickens typically works:

Selection of Breeding Stock: To start a line breeding program, you select a group of chickens that possess the desired traits you want to enhance. These chickens are considered the foundation stock or the "founders" of your breeding line.

When I started my Barnevelder breeding program I chose two cockerels that were brothers and 4 hens, 2 were their daughters and 2 were granddaughters.

Closely Related Birds: Line breeding involves breeding closely related birds within the same family or line. Typically, you start with a brother and sister or parent and offspring mating. The idea is to concentrate the genes responsible for the desired traits by keeping the genetic pool narrow.

Generation Succession: The offspring from the initial mating are evaluated for the desired traits. The best birds that exhibit these traits are selected for breeding in the next generation. This process continues for several generations, with each generation being carefully evaluated and selected.

Avoiding close Inbreeding: While line breeding involves breeding closely related birds, it's essential to monitor and manage inbreeding. Too much inbreeding can lead to a decrease in genetic diversity, which may result in health problems and a reduction in overall vigour. To prevent this, breeders may introduce unrelated individuals into the line occasionally or use other techniques like outcrossing.

Rigorous Selection: Line breeding requires strict adherence to the selection process. Breeders must continually evaluate and select birds that display the desired traits while culling those that do not. This rigorous selection helps maintain and strengthen the characteristics of interest.

Record Keeping: Detailed records of each generation's breeding decisions, pedigree information, and performance data are crucial in line breeding. This documentation will help you make informed decisions about which birds to breed in subsequent generations.

Patience and Persistence: Line breeding is a long-term process that requires patience and persistence. It can take several generations of selective breeding to achieve significant improvements in the desired traits.

I introduce new genetic material from outside the lineage periodically to maintain genetic diversity while preserving the desired traits.