Preparing for Breeding Season

It is so hard for me to believe…but it is true…our chicken breeding season is about to start up again.  We breed our birds from January through June.

There are a few reasons we do this.  First, it gives us plenty of pullets at point of lay by the time the older hens molt in the fall, so we don’t have a decrease in production for our egg sales.  It also makes it so all the cockerels are butchered before the cold weather hits and slows their growth.  Lastly, early in the season (Jan-March) it acts as a natural selection process for hens that lay well through the winter because the hens that are laying well will get more eggs into the breeding pool.

So this week we are preparing for breeding season by selecting breeding groups and setting up the breeding pen.  We decided to do it a bit differently this year as we are hoping to have most of the chicks for this season set, brooded, and raised by our hens.

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We use a rolling breeding system.  This means that we breed rooster (second breeding year+) to pullets (first breeding year females) and cockerel (first breeding year male) to hens (second breeding year+).  This ensures that there is not sister/brother inbreeding going on, and minimal father/daughter and mother/son line breeding going on.  It is also the best system to use when a farm has limited space.

How do we keep track of all these birds and whether they are a first breeding season bird, or a second, or a third?  We use colored numbered bands on their legs.  The color indicates their generation/year of birth – red are the birds born in 2013, yellow 2014, and green will be 2015.  And the number on the band keeps track of the individual bird within the generation that it is in.  So this year a yellow banded male (cockerel) breeds the red banded females (hens).  And a red banded male (rooster) breeds the yellow banded females (pullets).  Next year a green banded male will breed the yellow and red banded females – and a red or yellow banded male will breed the green banded females.

This year we have decided to use the lower coop as our breeding pen.

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We will keep the breeding cockerel and hens in there from January through March.  All the breeding eggs during that time will come from that group.  Towards the end of March, if we don’t feel like we have gotten enough chicks from that group through our broody hens setting on them (since we can’t control how many hens will set nor when) we will run an incubation to finish off that breeding group.

Then, we will keep the breeding rooster and pullets in that coop from April through June.  All the breeding eggs during that time will come from that group.  Again, towards the end of June, if we don’t feel like we have gotten enough chicks from that group because of the broody hens then we will run an incubation to finish off that breeding group.

This year is a bit different, since we don’t have a breeding rooster (second or more breeding season) because our rooster Boaz lost part of his foot and was unable to breed anymore last summer.  So both of our breeding males are technically cockerels (first breeding season breeders).  Because the point of the rolling breeding system is to prevent inbreeding and yet provide minimal linebreeding, we are able to use these particular cockerels anyway.  Why?  Because Gandalf (previously named Rusty if you have been following the blog for long) has no full sisters in the breeding program.  So he can play the part of the “rooster” and breed the pullets because none of his full sisters are in that group.  And Frodo can be the cockerel and breed the older hens.  This will increase the line breeding of half siblings in our flock this year, since Gandalf will breed several half-sisters.  But we are OK with that since we have very few other options at this point.  We will see how they turn out.  If that breeding group doesn’t turn out many good birds, then most of next years breeding flock with be coming from the Frodo/older hens breedings.

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Frodo and Gandalf were in the lower coop as a bachelor pad the last few months to give the girls a break from their affections.  Gandalf is the grey roo on the upper roost, and Frodo is the dark one on the lower roost in this photo.  So we moved six of our hens (second and third breeding season ladies) in with Frodo in the lower coop.  They are our best breeding hens: Sophie, Rachel, Ruth, Petunia, Henrietta, and Lacy.  If there are any issues with any of those hens (they aren’t laying or something else) then we have Daisy and Banana as back-up breeding hens.

Gandalf gets to live up in the barnyard/upper coop with the rest of the ladies (19 of them) until his turn for the breeding pen comes in April.

We decided to jacket all the females in the breeding pen this year, as a preventative measure, instead of waiting for damage to occur like last year.

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We will also jacket any of the females in the barnyard with Gandalf that seem to be getting extra attention from him or any back damage.  It wouldn’t make sense to jacket all 19 of them since with only one rooster they are not all going to be getting enough breeding to matter.  But it does make sense to jacket all 6 of the breeding girls in the smaller coop since they will likely get some damage to their backs if we don’t.

So now we will let them all settle in for the next few weeks as they figure out their pecking order and submit to the roosters.  We have found that they need a few weeks before we start getting good fertility.  So, within a few weeks we should have successful breeding occurring and the breeding season can begin.  We have a few hens already trying to set, hopefully they will still be interested when we are ready with breeding eggs for them.

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