Proper breeding…my goal for this year with the Ancona. I’ve mentioned it before, but I think it’s super important to share information about good breeding of animals, in general, especially chickens. There is a huge surge in backyard chickens which is awesome, and I’m not of the opinion that everyone who has chickens should breed chickens, but I do think than everyone that has chickens and enough space, which may be less than you think, should CONSIDER breeding chickens.
You love your fluffy wyandottes, you think those Buff’s are so sweet, but remember they have specific genetics that make them what they are. If no one takes on the job of steward of those genetics they can all to easily be lost. At one time Farmers bred chickens. They were hatching and culling and the process built up the breed. There were a great many Farmers who were showing birds alongside fanciers. Now the Cornish Cross and the high production birds have taken over industry, and the Farm, as well. Farmers don’t breed they order chicks each year. This doesn’t improve the old fashioned breeds that have been the foundation of our food system. That is the philosophical reason but it leads into a very important practical reason.
Breeding improves YOUR birds. You want a good egg layer, one that is not just prolific for a year,but productive for a couple, or more years. You want your meat birds to have good size and get there efficiently. You want all your birds to survive your winters, or your summers in good order. All these things are bred into a bird. If you select well your birds will pay you back in better and more efficient production.
Breeding creates community. If you have ever stumbled across someone how has a breed of chicken, rather than a mixed bag of fun chicks they picked up at the feed store, you know they are excited about their breed. Even folks with mix bag flocks often find they have a favorite breed in that mix. When you get a few people together who all like the same breed…that is when great discussion can take place. People can get ideas, learn from each other, and build a breed together.
Breeding opens you to showing, which opens you to exposure to other breeders, learning from each other, the community I mentioned, finding outlets for chicks/young birds. There was a time that Farmers supplemented their incomes by selling breeding stock to others. It’s great for the farm economy, as well as the new breeders and, again, the breed itself.
I’m sure there are more reasons, but those are enough to make it worth considering.
So what do you need to breed? On a smaller scale, like I’m doing ,you could have a growing pen that can house 100 birds to about 12 weeks, and then 75 birds to about 4 months, so about 400 square feet, which would be 3 growing pens that are 10×12. Maybe less, if you pasture them. Then you need a couple Love Nests. These are spaces for your breeders. A simple small scale breeding program can be done with just 2 roosters and 4-6 hens. That is what I’m doing.
I have Rooster number one in with 2 pullets from last year. I have Rooster number 2 in with two Hens that were pullets the year before. I will be marking the eggs and when they hatch the chicks, to keep track of who came from who. Next year I can breed daughters back to fathers, which can be done for a couple generations. Then when genetics are getting tight, I would breed the daughters from Rooster 1 to the sons of Rooster 2 and the Daughters from Rooster 2 to the sons of Rooster 1, then start breeding back to fathers again for a couple generations. When done with good records you can keep just a small flock of breeders, basically 8-10 birds and still improve the flock each year.
The birds you hatch, about 100-150 birds can be culled (turned into meat), sold as breeding stock, or kept as your replacement breeders. Oh, and the other upside to breeding… you don’t have to order in from hatcheries each year, paying shipping fees, and chick fees. You make your replacements. You always have enough hens to replace any older girls that aren’t laying and you have plenty of meat in the freezer.
So if you have space for the housing I mentioned, and a place in your heart for a breed of chickens, you might want to consider breeding.
Today we set up the roosters, with 2 hens each, and will be hatching every egg they lay! It’s exciting to be starting on this new adventure. I’ve been working towards breeding in earnest for a while, and have been dabbling to get my feet wet, but this year I’m all in!