Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Guest post: Thorleif’s guide to breeding the best (part 1)

Of the thousands of chicken-keepers here in the UK, their interests are so varied. Some people like to show poultry. Some people just enjoy breeding different breeds, ornamental fowl, utility or rare breeds. But the vast majority of poultry-keepers keep their chickens as pets with the added benefit of the fresh eggs! The huge majority keep commercial breeds and ex-battery hens.

Many people think of these hybrid chickens as the end product. They live, lay eggs, and die. But it need not be so, as many people have found out. You can, and should breed from them. To breed from your hybrid garden chickens you will obviously need a cockerel. So what cockerel should you look for? Find a young boyo that is not too big, because then he could hurt your hens while doing the business.

My first choice was a Rhode Island Red from a family that laid plenty of eggs. One of the reasons for this is that most hybrid hens have a massive part of Rhode Island in them already, so the offspring can be quite pretty little Rhode Island Red lookalikes. It is also one of the few breeds that are being bred for utility.

Chances are that you will be able to find a cock from a strain that lays well. This is something that is being passed on, generation after generation, by selecting and weeding out hens that are not performing well enough. Your hybrid hens are bred just for laying, so that side is sorted. To make sure the next generation lays as well as their mothers, it is therefore necessary to find a cockerel that comes from a strain of good layers. Simple as that!

Take the guesswork out of the breeding, use a cockerel from a traditional utility-breed, not too large, and you will produce more garden-hens that can lay eggs for you. You can then breed again from second and third generations, and then start from the beginning again with more hybrid hens. Just remember, strain/family is more important than breed when it comes to laying.

When it comes to finding a suitable cockerel, don’t be afraid of using a bantam of one of the more traditional breeds. They are often a more suitable size for hybrid hens and the bantams often lay better than their larger counterparts.

In my next blog, I will give some simple tips on how to breed from pure breeds. After that I will try to give a few useful hints for breeding the rarer breeds, and how to keep on improving the breeds.


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