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How to breed your own chickens

 
Justin Rhodes
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This week I published an article on how to breed your own chickens called, "The 5 Stages To The 100% Sustainable Flock"

After I set my first fertilised eggs a couple of years ago and hatched them with mama hens I was hooked.

This year I'm consulting Jim Adkins of the Sustainable Poultry to help me select breeding stock to start my own program.

In the article I talk about:

1. Selecting stock for breeding
2. Managing breeder chickens
3. Handling fertilized eggs
4. Managing the broody hen
5. Managing Mama and Chicks

I'd love to hear from you guys.

Have any of you been breeding your own chickens? How's it been working out?

What breeding system do you prefer and why?



Check out the article here.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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My grandparents were breeding their own backyard flock since before I was born, back in the 60's and 70's and before a person had to be a sustainable breeder, the shipping of eggs, chicks, and grown fowl wasn't all that reliable and it hurt to spend money on a box of dead chickens or eggs that wouldn't hatch. As far as breeding method, I guess I'm using grandma's method, I breed to performance (egg production), sustainability (good mothers, not prone to disease), then color/confirmation. These days I can be a little less stringent when looking for brood stock but grandmas teaching is always there and I catch myself often about to let something pass that would have never been allowed in years past.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I would have liked the article to deal with the resilience of the new breed.

So you spend 5 years breeding the perfect set of chickens for your farm. Then one night a mink finally gets into the coop and kills every bird. With my vegetables, it's not a disaster if a flood wipes out every plant this year, because I have backup seeds in other places. But with animals, if you loose the animals you loose all the work that went into them.

To enhance the resiliency of your new breed, I recommend a strong community component to the breeding program. Grow cooperatively with other chicken keepers. Swap roosters. Give away lots of young birds. Spread the genetics of your flock far and wide. That way, when lightning strikes your coop and burns up all the birds, or your helper forgets to water them while you are on vacation, and the whole flock dies, you can start up again with minimal loss. More than a few times, people have returned seeds to me after I lost my own due to whatever set of unfortunate circumstances. I love the benefits of locally adapted breeds.

Also, cooperation with the neighbors increases your effective population size, and helps avoid inbreeding depression.
 
George Hayduke
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Good article but the single biggest omission is not mentioned auto-sexing chicken breeds. If you have auto-sexers (Cream Legbars, Bielefelders, etc.) you can determine the gender of your chicks on Day 1 and cull the roosters. This saves the homesteader a tremendous amount of wasted effort and feed. These breeds were only recently introduced in the US but should be at the top of the list when considering which breed to select.
 
Tracy Kuykendall
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Joseph's post brought up an aspect that I had forgotten about, when I was a youngster, Grandma would give a few hens and roosters to other chicken owners or people she knew that needed one or the other, she told me many times that you should give some of your brood stock to friends and family, that way if anything happens you can get some of your base look back and start over again.
 
Ann Torrence
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Adam Klaus has been working on a homestead-bred chicken for sometime. I'd love to get some of his chicks over here.
 
Michael Cox
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George Hayduke wrote:Good article but the single biggest omission is not mentioned auto-sexing chicken breeds. If you have auto-sexers (Cream Legbars, Bielefelders, etc.) you can determine the gender of your chicks on Day 1 and cull the roosters. This saves the homesteader a tremendous amount of wasted effort and feed. These breeds were only recently introduced in the US but should be at the top of the list when considering which breed to select.


One of the big factors you would be looking for in a permaculture chicken flock is likely to be ability to gain weight while subsisting on mostly forage. You might be giving them access to other farm yard waste and compost, food scraps etc... You would essentially be breeding for cheap to raise chickens, so keeping some extra roosters might not be an issue in the longer haul, especially as they will ultimately go in the pot.
 
John Weiland
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The questions: "Have any of you been breeding your own chickens? How's it been working out? What breeding system do you prefer and why?"

Our chickens started out as a mixture of what was purchased as chicks from a local feed store and what someone dropped off along with some other donated animals at the time. So I really have no idea what base population genetics was represented by that mix, although I suspect they were mostly layers than meat chickens. What they do really well is breed....and hide the places where they are breeding. We've gotten better at finding the nests, but never get all of them. To say that they are free-ranging would be an understatement. [We had a visitor try to introduce us to one of those "chicken hook" type leg-catchers...that person was in tears by the end of the visit, having gotten nowhere closer than 20 feet to the nearest chicken.] The property is fenced to give the livestock guard dogs a known perimeter; quite often certain groups of chickens will be seen outside the fence (during non-winter months) when I'm leaving for work in the morning.

I guess the breeding system would be described as "mass pollination" and what survives has a chance to procreate. Between various agents of natural death, and culling for the freezer from a mixture of sizes and colors, we are hoping to maintain some underlying genetic diversity while selecting for those that have the smarts to find shelter (which is provided) and avoid predators. At this point, after 5 years it's a pretty hardy flock with good enough size for eating and still great egg production. We would have enough for marketing if we desired, but just use for ourselves what gets culled....which is mostly roosters.
 
Ann Torrence
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Adam's thread on the his Eldorado breed chicken project.
 
Justin Rhodes
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Thanks for the feedback.

Joseph, I think I might add something about how to prepare for that possibility.

Once I had a flock of 15 and a racoon got in their coop, couldn't get out and killed all but one.

I think Harvey Ussery tells the story of a breeder who lost their prize rooster. The owner quickly called some of her customers (of eggs that happened to be fertilized by that rooster) who had already refrigerated the eggs. Sure enough, she was able to hatch out some offspring!

I love Tracy's idea. Too bad there is not as many homesteaders as there used to be. We just might have to travel a bit further to make that happen.
 
Niele da Kine
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We pretty much let the mama hens handle the chicken breeding. If you get the right breed, the hens will go broody and no worries on integrating the new chicks into the flock. The mama hen will do that for you.

When we had more chickens, we'd have a few hens and one or sometimes two good roosters. They had a chicken coop that they'd go into at night but they were free range during the day. They came down to the back kitchen window that had a bird feeder just outside the window. Well, it was a bit of rain gutter mounted on a pair of clothes closet brackets with the clothes pole there for the chickens to perch on. There was a nesting box to the side. So, in the mornings, we'd put kitchen scraps out in the rain gutter, the chickens would come running down to see what was for breakfast and they'd leave the eggs in the nest box next to the window. Worked pretty well to have fresh eggs delivered to the kitchen window.

There were nest boxes up in their coop, too, so generally when they were going broody that's where they'd lay. Once mama hen hatched out her eggs, we'd gather her and the little ones up and put them in a big dog crate for a week or two so the mongoose wouldn't get the chicks. Then we'd let them out and mama hen would take care of the little ones.

When we wanted to catch them, we'd either have the border collie go round them up or wait until they went into their coop at night. Sleeping chickens are easy to grab.
 
It's just a flesh wound! Or a tiny ad:
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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