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Spiral Breeding- is it really necessary?

 
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I'm designing out a chicken system for my new farm, and I've been doing a lot of reading about spiral breeding; I'm wondering if anyone has any thoughts about exactly how necessary it really is? I understand the merits, but if I want to keep more than one or two breeds with 3 families of each breed, and a rooster needs 10-12 hens each to keep from overworking them.... the number of chickens gets enormous very quickly. I'm wondering how important the idea really is versus keeping my favorite rooster and 10-12 hens and just being smart about my pairings, especially since I will be giving each chicken an identifying number, so I will know who is who when choosing breeding pairs. Thoughts? I would love to be able to keep a couple other breeds instead of multiple families of each breed.
 
gardener
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Can you state what spiral breeding is?
 
steward
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Spiral breeding is a state of the art standard operating procedure. It has been vetted by centuries of experience in maintaining small flocks of chickens.

An alternative method with similar results, is to only breed with roosters from other flocks, so that your own roosters are not inbreeding with their close relatives.

In my own case, I am interested in undoing the  "breeds mentality", so as long as my rooster (of any breed) is unrelated to the hens, then I'm perfectly happy with that sort of situation. That's easy to do by replacing the rooster each year with a rooster from a neghbor's flock. I prefer mixed breed roosters, and then eat birds that don't match my breeding goals.

 
steward
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Where's the "spiral" come in?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
steward
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Spiral breeding is based on the idea of keeping three (or more) separate families of chickens. Hens always stay with their mothers. New roosters always move to the next family over in the rotation. In that way, roosters are at least 3 generations removed from the hens with which they are mating. It's a common way to minimize inbreeding problems. It's simple, because you don't have to keep track of the pedigrees for individual birds, you just have to know what family they belong to.

An easy way to implement spiral breeding is with colored leg bands. So if we are keeping three families we might use Red, Green, and Blue. The chickens can be kept in a common flock, except while mating for hatching eggs.
spiral-breeding-chickens.png
[Thumbnail for spiral-breeding-chickens.png]
Spiral breeding in chickens
 
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If:
you have difficulties locating roosters with your breeding goals, or
you are at risk of introducing diseases

Then spiral breeding makes sense, as it is an easy way to keep a closed flock.
If, like Joseph, you can easily swap roosters within your village each year, why bother?

If you have quite specific breeding goals (be it digestion of difficult feed, tolerance to other environments, or something esthetic), if you swap your rooster each year you "loose" 50% of your genetics each year.
Due to this, some breeders do some inbreeding, which is not that problematic in poultry IF you have a strong selection and cull consequently.
Furthermore research has shown with many animals species that females select their partners based on conpatibility, in other words to reduce inbreeding. So if you have a flock with a few roosters, you probably wont have a problem.

By the way, there are other breeding methods than the spiral breeding.
 
Chelsea Hartweg
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Interesting thoughts. My main motivation for the spiral breeding is that I am new to breeding chickens and I want to keep my flock strong, especially since I hope to sell breeding stock as well as I am using these chickens for business purposes. Additionally, I will be raising several breeds in one large flock, so I will need to be isolating breeding pairs when it's time to collect hatching eggs, so I will be targeting specific chickens at that point anyway. This leads to me keeping breeding pedigrees anyway, so maybe the spiral part of things isn't strictly necessary, but I don't know enough to encourage the proper kind of line breeding yet, so I figured spiral method works best.

I don't know anyone locally who keeps these breeds, but that's worth thinking on too...
 
pollinator
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To what end are you isolating breeding pairs yourself? Are there specific traits you are looking to encourage?

I like the idea within spiral breeding that within the approved mating groups, the individual hen assesses the suitability of a given rooster. I like the idea that, within the safeguards established by the operating procedure, nature's safeguards are still up and running.

-CK
 
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I'm just *really* glad that you're looking at this issue. I live on an island, and granted it's a really large island, but despite my limited experience, I'm more and more convinced that the Khaki-Campbell Duck population on the island has far too much inbreeding to be healthy. I use my Muscovy ducks to set and brood Khaki eggs because they're good at it and it keeps my Muscovy numbers under control. Bishop sat on 10 Khaki eggs, hatched 5 live but 3 more died during/just after hatch. Last year, the first time I let a mom with Khaki younglings out into the field, one died of an apparent heart attack.
I think this is aggravated by the tendency to use incubators rather than live moms to raise so many of our feathered farm employees. In fact one site I was on looking for info about geese recently, strongly recommended that incubating goose eggs was the only way to go. We permies need to support and encourage strong genes in our animals just as we encourage among our plants, and having real moms hatch and rear those young has many benefits. Not everyone is in a position to do this, but I salut those of us who are making that effort!
I haven't got a firm solution to my Khaki problem yet, but it will likely involve eggs shipped from out of province and that will likely mean relying on an incubator to hatch them unless I get very lucky with my Muscovy moms. If it results in new genetics on my Island, it will be worth it.
 
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