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    Ramblings part 5

    Improved Indian Game Pullet.

    October and it’s raining and the nights are drawing in. For the next 4 months it’s a case of keeping the birds as comfortable as possible. While inside the litter must be changed before it gets to the stage of being wet and soiled or the build up of disease will trigger health problems.

    The coops are cleaned and disinfected and fresh bedding is put in. I use either dust free white shavings or Aubiose which is chopped flax.
    It costs around £8-£10 a bale, but lasts well.
    Pros: Absorbent and stays very dry on top, soft, easy to clean out, rots down super quick on compost heap
    Cons: can be dusty, hard to get out of bale, as very compacted,but a first class bedding.

    With daylight getting shorter and the birds having less time to feed outside, keeping them in condition is on-going.

    Water is vitally important as it controls the body temperature and removes toxins in the body, besides making up a large part of an egg if the bird is in lay.

    I’m still using cider vinegar when I refresh the drinkers on all the birds including the chicks. I had only 2 chicks with signs of coccidiosis this season out of well over 260. Signs of blood in the droppings and a fluffed up chick which I culled immediately, as the last thing I needed was a chick spreading the germs of this around the brooder.

    I had 1 chick/grower with respiration problems that sounds like a gurgling noise and the possibility of this being infectious was removed and again culled.

    When you have a batch of chicks/growers and 1 of them starts looking ill you need to assess the problem there and then and not ignore it and hope it will right itself or get better, trust me it won’t.

    If your running the chicks at the right temperature, with the correct amount of space with no over crowding and on dry clean litter and with clean fresh water not contaminated with droppings and giving the right feed anything that effects your chicks needs removing. A sick chick is spreading what ever it is suffering from to all the other chicks in the brooder. You need to take the chick out and clean the whole brooder out and disinfect or the remaining chicks will pick up, usually from dropping the sick chick left behind and they will catch whatever it is that’s causing the problem.

    Single Comb Wyandotte bantam pullet

    The light has gone by 7 pm now and the birds are not let out of the runs till around 8 am to free-range. Most of the adults are moulting, so the egg numbers are low and I have added a little more cod liver oil to the corn mix. Grass is still available and I have used up almost all the spinach I planted back in the spring on the growers still in the broody runs in the granary. I hatched some very late chicks this year due to some very persistent broodies and I have had to extend the light in the granary to give them about 14 hours to feed. With some early hatched birds now almost at point of lay and some chicks still on a heat lamp it’s been a long season.

    Wyandotte Hen.

    I have a large number of cockerels that are becoming a nuisance, mainly Improved Indian Game and Welsh Blacks and within the next week I shall start going through them and selecting the 2 best from each breed to go on to the breeding pens next season. The ones that don’t come up to standard will be penned for a couple of weeks and finished on a grain diet.

    This will be a worthwhile exercise, as I know by the breeding I can get another pound or two on them yet if I pen them and restrict free-range and chasing around after the hens. While they are still growing exercise gives them the appetite and vigour a cockerel should have, but once they start showing any sexual intentions it’s time to curtail the freedom.

    These birds will be penned in the groups they were hatched with, so fighting should not prove to be a problem. I pen them after dark with just fresh water in the run and about an hour before dark on the first day in the pen I give them a feed by which time they will be hungry. They are then fed on wheat,cut maize and rolled barley without cod liver oil. I slightly increase the cut maize and give them as much green feed as they will eat within half an hour after the grain feed. You need to keep them interested in the feed and only give them enough to fill their crops and then remove the feeder. For the first 3 days they get 3 feeds a day and after that they get 2 untill they are ready.

    Ramblings part 4.

    August starts at the end of this week and with it dews and condensation. I try to make sure the ventilation is correct in the grass runs to prevent water dripping onto the birds under the tarpaulin. I let all the growers out from each pen as soon as I’m up around 7am at the moment. They seem to squeeze the last drop of light out of the day before they go back into the coop to sleep.

    It never ceases to amaze me the difference mixing a gene pool throws up in the way of feather colour and pattern.

    The growers from the Improved Indian Game Cock penned with the Welsh Blacks are a very mixed bunch.

    There are all black birds both male and female like the Welsh Blacks, Dark Indian Game markings and for some unexplained reason 2 blue, 2 blue laced and a black laced cockerel. There is as expected difference in size as some were a week or two younger that the run mates in that batch. A few slow to feather up..Not ever used in breeding and ringed before they totally feather up and get missed.

    Growers.

    It may seem an odd way to go this season almost a sideways mating as opposed to back breeding. The intention was to find out just what was in the gene pool and force extremes to the fore.

    The size % is well up with just the odd grower a bit smaller than the average.

    Variation in leg colour of yellow from Indian Game and willow/black from the Australorp and white.

    Without exception the whole bunch are active and alert and hunt all day long.

    The sexual differences are easy to see and a comb check for shape should be possible within a week or so.

    Unless you have a passion in life for whatever it is that floats your boat, life would surely be boring and my passion is poultry.

    I have about 150 growers here at the moment in different breeds and the amount of pleasure seeing them flap out across the grass when I let them out in the morning and the annoyed squawks when they are settling for the night reinforces the many reasons for having the birds.

    By the end of October I will have selected the birds bred this year to go forwards towards the breeding pens after progeny testing and which way I need to take the line to get a better dual purpose breed. Do I carry on along the Welsh Black type or towards the Improved Indian Game. Either way times running out.

    I can only take a few forwards, perhaps 2 cocks and 5 pullets  out of around 50 birds and the rest are up for grabs.

    The Wyandotte bantams I have hatched this year are lovely colours.The pen of single combs have produced 12 chicks almost feathered up and some are just stunning. Bred around 30 this season and these are the first to go if anyone comes looking for birds as new keepers.They are easy to keep and lovely markings and colours.

    The Sumatras produced 8 on test hatches and I have managed to send out over 5 dozen eggs, so hopefully more of this lovely breed are in other parts of the UK.

    I have bred to many Jubilee Indian Game this year as they are not often asked for, but they kept laying and going broody and I let them.

    Ramblings part 3.

    Albert.

    Very bad day today, as I have just had to cull Albert. He had a kidney infection and there is no way back for a breeding bird once you have been that ill.

    He was a son of my foundation cock out of a very good hen and the right arm of my main Australorp breeding group.

    He has filled many eggs over the last 3 breeding seasons and his quality genes live on in many of my birds and in birds around the UK and Ireland.

    You will often come across the old saying about only breeding from quality birds and he is a prime example of what that means.

    Whenever I read or see ‘bred from unrealated stock’ I instantly think rubbish breeding and here is the reason.

    If a chicken was a plant that had all the qualities you could want in that plant like lovely shape/colour or habit you could take a cutting and grow on another plant exactly the same as the plant it came from. Every part of that plant would be the same..a clone.

    You can only grow chickens from seed I’m afraid and that process  should start before you put the cock and hen together.

    Genes.

    If you took a handful of confetti, with hundreds maybe thousands of different colours and shapes. One side of each bit is smooth and the other side is rough. (think dominant and recessive) this is the genetic makeup of the male.

    You have the same thing on the female side.

    Drop both handfulls together and how they land is how each chick from that union will be made up and every chick will have a different pattern of genes.

    If you think of the smooth side of each individual piece as dominant and the rough side as recessive in breeding the way I do (Line breeding) you are looking to breed more smooth sides than rough sides, but it doesn’t even scratch the surface just breeding the rough out, you have to try to match the colours of the bits as well.

    In the gene pool of a chick and thats every individual chick that hatches, you will get half the genes from the male and half from the female.

    So the first and most important part of breeding is the choice of the male side, the Cock.

    It really helps if you know how he was bred and ideally he should be by a cock that was from a good laying line. A line that had high hatchability and produced vigorous chicks that feathered up quickly, were free from any ailment, especially coccidiosis, mycoplasma and white diarrhoea. On the female side of his pedigree he should be out of a hen that was a good layer who was in turn from a father who came from a line of quality birds. You can see that history of the strain or line is important, because getting hold of a bird with a traceable history saves time and time is the thief of many dreams.

    When I went out looking for Albert’s father (Malcolm) I had already bred some good birds, but I needed a better comb and a larger frame, as the line I had were prone to crease marks in the cocks combs, a fault I just couldn’t breed out with the line I had. I found him at a championship poultry show and he cost me dearly, but I had a pedigree bird and I got to see the stock he was bred from.

    Malcolm.

    I had the choice of 8 hens and after spending half an hour sitting on an upturned bucket judgeing the visual make-up of each bird I got it down to two birds. Both were very much a like in fact sisters and I caught up the one that was ‘working’ the most. She hardly ever stopped searching for whatever birds look for when foraging around. Both these bird had the size and shape and both were fit and in full lay.

    Malcolm was penned with the hen and she gave me on average 5 eggs a week and I did my level best to hatch every one I could and what with broodies and my incubators that pair produced 36 chicks and everyone managed to reach maturity without any problems.

    From that I gathered that the chicks had stamina/vigour and grew away well feathering up without any problems. When your rearing chicks you need to take everything that happens to the brood on board. How strong they grew away, did any die or were ill and any feather pecking or other vices. All these things go to make up the profile of the bird and if you incounter any problems you need to find out why. It will be down to a number of things but mainly breeding or husbandry and how they are housed.

    It does not matter how good a strain is if you bring them up in poor conditions they will never reach the birds full protential.

    By selecting at maturity the best pullet from the 22 that were female I had a bird with 50% Malcolm’s blood in her and 50% of the best hen in her. She was leg ringed and along with 2 of her sisters, again the birds I concidered 2cnd and 3rd best, were mated back to Malcolm their father.

    The resulting chick from these now carried 75% of Malcolm’s blood and 25% of the 3 best hens. By breeding back you gather together more of the genes that made Malcolm what he was.

    I now have 6 Australorp hens in lay that were penned with Albert before he got ill and I figure he was sexually inactive for a while before I noticed he was sick, so in total I guess a week and I recon I have another week before his sperm starts losing it’s intencity, so all the eggs from that pen are being collected and my Brinsea 40 will be set up and I hope I can hatch a few before Autumn sets in. Not the best time to be hatching as a month from now the daylight starts to fade towards winter andit is by far the best if chicks are hatched with the daylight hours getting longer not shorter.

    So next week I shall cut the feed down to wheat only, plus a dribble of cod liver oil, so no rolled barley or cut maize. They are out on grass and they will have to work harder and I expect them to stop laying and go into a moult within a couple of weeks. As soon as there are signs of a large amount of feather drop I will up the protein again by including some bread and milk and some thawed out frozen tripe.

    Alberts replacement next season will be James a full brother.

    James.

    Grass Runs

    Growers.

    It’s been a hectic breeding season so far and this year I have done it all under broodies. I have never know a breeding season when so many birds went down on eggs. Even 2 of my Exchequers took broody and have given me 15 so far, moved under a Welsh black that already had 10 of her own. I just leave them sit together in the nest box and remove the chicks they hatch and when I have enough remove the hens and give them some freedom around the farm to break them.

    I  have bunched the chicks in groups of about 20 this season, as under hens doesn’t produce large numbers like filling an incubator with eggs. I foster untill the chicks are fully feathered in grass runs that are moved onto fresh ground each day.

    Grass run.

    These are 6ft x 4ft and made from 2×2 inch timber that frames a sheet of heavy duty weldmesh. The ends are made from marine ply that is 4ft x 2ft.

    A couple of 6 x 1 boards each end keeps the chicks off the ground and holds a drinker above grass level.

    Total cost of one of these is

    £5 for a 6x4ft weldmesh panel (heavy duty).

    Timber about £10 for tanilized and plained 2×2 and the ply on the ends cost about £15, but it should last for years, so about £40 (without the weatherproof cover or of course labour)

    Grass run.

    .

    The cover is an almost clear reinforced tarp from QVS online (ebay) and for £23.78 you have enough to cover 2 runs of that size…just.

    I used it last winter on all my fixed runs and it’s brilliant stuff. It took the full force of the wind up here and never ripped or tore. One reason my runs are not very high is the wind. Castle Farm is at 1000ft and exposed.

    I try to get the chicks out on grass as soon as they have lost most of the fluff and have enough feathers.I leave them another couple of weeks if they are without a broody or the weather is cold.

    Getting them out on fresh greens gives them a real boost as growing tips contain a high protein. I have sown a lot of white clover across the yard which is on stone and free draining. The chicks from around 3 days old get a handful thrown into the brooders at least 3 times a day and they love it. If you have them under a lamp put the clover in away from the heat.

    Once they have been in the runs a week or so and have got used to being outside I let them all out to run around and do they enjoy it.

    The amount of everything that makes a grower into a first class adult is all around them. Fresh greens,bugs,flies,soil and sunshine.

    Within a couple of days they settle into an area that they will always return to and roost up in the grass runs without being herded in at dusk.

    I have breed some nice birds this year and look forwards to the autumn selection of next years breeding stock.

    Jubilee Indian Game and chicks.

    Welsh Black and some of her brood.

    Breeding for Dual Purpose part 2.

    On the 16th of May I change the cock in the Indian Game pen. I have hatched enough from the Indian Game Cock x Indian Game hens to have breeding stock for next year and at the moment have 26 chicks all doing well with no loses. Come October I shall go through and pick out the best and move the rest on.

    The male I have replaced the Indian Game  cock with is a superb Welsh Black 2 year old, he was the best bird out of a very good bunch and I have high hopes of this pen producing some good chicks.

    It will take about a week before any sperm from the Indian Game cock is dissapated by the Welsh Black, so after 10 days I should be sure the eggs will be fertilized by him. There is a chance that the 4 hens in this run may go off lay due to the attentions of the new cock, but within an hour of his introduction he was wing fanning and at least 3 of the hens came to his call having found a treat to tempt them with.

    He was dusted with loose powder and vent checked for excess feathering before I put him in, so that should keep him clear of feather lice for at least 8 days. The hens got the same treatment and the coop was cleaned and disentfected and clean shaving added.

    By the 26th of this month I will set a batch of eggs from this pen as a test to see not only if they are fertile but how well the eggs hatch and how strong the chicks grow away.

    The growers that have come out of the Improved Indian Game x Welsh Black pen are really strong and I have 5 under a wyandotte bantam that are now out on grass in a run all doing very well.

    June 4th and eggs are being produced fertile by the Welsh Black Cock. This season I have only used broodies and there has been no problem finding a bird to set eggs under.

    Using the red buckets as nest boxes makes moving a broody very easy,just wait untill after dusk and remove the box and hen into a coop on her own and give her some eggs to hatch.

    I usually put  10 under a large fowl and take her out and powder her with louse powder before she is settled in her coop. Frsh water and a grain feed will keep her happy. I never bother to remove a sitter she will come off and feed when she is ready.

    I have taken around 40 chicks from the Welsh Black x Improved Indian Game cock and they are mostly coloured white and black as Indians are when chicks. There are a few blacks in them and the difference in feathering up is interesting and needs to be watched. Fast feathering is a sign of a quick maturing bird.

    In the first batch I appear to have 2 blue ones, but to early to tell yet what they are going to be like. I have more coops to make before they leave the chick room. One of the sitters a Welsh Black started to lay again while still brooding and as the chicks were inside and almost feathered she was returned to the breeding pen to join the group.

    I hadn’t intended hatching many this year, but there are youngsters everywhere.

    So far I have 6 Friesian chicks just feathered 1 cock 5 pullets, another Friesian sitting on 16 eggs and 5 Wyandottes all brooding chicks.

    Around 60 dual purpose and various test hatches to check fertility on the pens.

    I need to get 20 Australorp pullets and about 10 Exchequer Leghorns out to add to the flocks as replacements of the 3 year old birds in the groups now.

    My Indian Game cocks hatched last year are building up very well and in another month I shall choose the best to breed with next season.

    Ramblings Part 2.

    Broodies.

    Click photos to enlarge.

    I get a number of emails on dealing with broody hens, so I’ll enlarge on the way I run my lot. (See also under breeding)

    At the moment I have about 20 birds down in various runs and coops. Allowing each bird a broody coop would mean dozens of coops and drinkers/feeders to be attended to on a daily basis, so I let whatever hens want to go broody in the breeding runs and the others just lay along side her. All or most of my laying boxes are the same shape and size and if I want to move a sitter I take her box and all and replace the box with another.

    The sitter very rarely comes off the eggs even if moved in daylight, as she feels secure in the box she has sat in, seemingly the venue of the box is unimportant to the hen sat on the eggs.

    Nest boxes.

    I get these from local farmers and a few I use myself. They are a feed supliment bucket for sheep and I cut the opening out with a snips.

    If you notice the lip on the opening is low it’s because if a chick gets out it will need to be able to get in and back under the hen or it’s cheeping as it cools down may make the hen come off the rest of the eggs to brood it.

    I write the breed, number of eggs set and date and the date they are due to hatch on the lid.

    They will hold red mite under the lid lip, so keep an eye on that if you start using them.

    At the end of a sitting I just scrub them out with Dettol or Jayes Fluid and swill them off.

    When all the chicks hatch and if I keep them with the hen the box is removed and the family are put into a rat proof broody coop or put them under an infrared lamp in a chick brooder pen..

    Brooder pen.

    They need to be showing feather before I allow the brood to go out on grass again in a coop. As soon as the growers look fully feathered and well able to cope with life without the hen I remove her after dark and put her back into whatever breeding group or pen she came out of. This removal would be posponed if the weather was cold and ideally the growers would be perching. If the growers were still ground roosting, there is a chance, albeit a small one that if the night is chilly and they are not perching they may crowd into a corner, but good strong chicks that are well feathered should be ok.

    This season I have only used broodies as yet and only hatched dual purpose birds. The chicks coming out of the Improved Indian Game x Welsh Black are really strong and feathering up really fast.

    Breaking a Broody.

    If you do not want a hen to sit you will need to break the broody cycle. A hen that is sitting is about 2 degrees f LOWER in temperature than a hen that isn’t sitting and at normal rest. The temperture of a healthy hen is between 105 -109 f depending on weather conditions

    She needs to be removed from the rest of the group or any eggs from the other birds will be brooded and once sat on for an hour or two will spark into life inside the egg.

    Buckets of cold water and wire cages in a draught is not only cruel, but a serious danger to the hen’s health, never under any circumstances use these methods to attempt to ‘cool’ down a bird. Idiotic old wives tales passed on by people that know nothing about the anatomy of poultry perpetuate these stupid ideas.


    A hen that has gone broody is not ‘heated up’ to be able to incubate her eggs, she has a physical urge to sit.

    She will need a coop on her own with just shavings and feed and water, if possible in view of any other birds. There is no quick fix that is not deprimental to the birds health and well being. She is triggered into sitting by her breeding and the genes contained in the strain she comes from. It will take between 3-6 days before she come back into normal behaviour and at least 2 weeks before she will lay again depending on condition. She will need some TLC and plenty of fresh greens to start her laying cycle again.

    Light breeds such as Anconas and Leghorns do not carry any genes for sitting and hatching their own eggs. These traits have been bred out by the originators of the breed, as laying birds and nothing else.

    Most, if not all of the heavy breeds have the genes still in the make-up of that breed to sit. It would be possible to build a strain that were not as prone to go broody, but it would take a good many years of selecting birds that rarely go to sit mated to cocks from similar hens to get anywhere near a heavy breed non sitter.

    The genes for this comes from both male and female sides of the breed, as does egg laying and many other factors of a birds make-up. A good steady hen that goes the distance in brooding is worth her weight in gold and should be cherished.

    FEEDING.

    I never give my broodies any pellets, in fact I never feed any pellets except for chick crumbs to any of my birds.

    Pellets have all sorts of additives in that I don’t particularly want in my eggs or meat, so I feed a grain diet and as much free-range foraging as I can give the birds. When I mow the grass the breeding pens all get a big handfull, more if it’s available. The tips of new grass can have as much as 30% veg protien in and as well as digging over an area of ground that I have the birds get ample animal protien from any worms they get.

    The grain mix is Wheat,cut maize and rolled barley with cod-liver oil added to boost the vitamins A+D. I also add just a small amount of mixed grit in the feeder.

    The birds I have here as my broody team are Bantam Wyandottes, usually around 14 hens that have the tendency to go broody very easily.

    The Welsh Black fowl and the birds bred from the lines I have made from them have the same habit. Both of the original breeds Australorp and Indian Game carry the genes for sitting and mated together the urge to brood is very strong.

    The Welsh Blacks are very good sitters and almost bomb proof. They are rock steady and top class mothers.

    Ramblings part 1

    I have 10 static pens that are 12ft x 12ft with a 4ft x 2ft coop inside and they are weatherproofed with a clear heavy duty tarpauline from qvsonlineuk on ebay.

    A 4mtr x 10mtr sheet costs £34.99 plus £6.99 postage and it’s brilliant. Iv’e covered all the roofs of the runs with it and it took a real pounding last winter and not only did it keep the runs dry, it never ripped or split.

    I use these pens in the breeding season and run the different breeds in small groups,usually 4-6 hens to 1 cock, depending if they made the grade into the breeding groups. These birds are given a run out into a much bigger area I dig over to allow the birds some fresh earth to scrat in obviously in thier own groups, never mixed.

    In the main ‘shed’ are 2 14ft x 16ft loose boxes made of concrete block and in the one side I have the eating egg flock and in the other side I have 3 8ft x 8ft runs along the one side and 4, 4ft x 4ft cockerel boxes that hold a spare cock in each on the other.

    Besides these I have an area fenced to 8ft and divided into 4 large runs and a concrete block shed that houses the Exchequer flock and the Appleyard ducks,seperated of course.

    There is a large granary that contains my brooders and grower runs and another 8 moveable coops and another large static run around the other side of the big dutch barn.

    Selection starts around Febuary with choosing the best cockerel from last years birds. He is penned in the cockerel boxes and I usually pair him with a 2cnd year bird most often an aunt/aunties.

    If the birds of this breed have come up to expectaions I re-pen the birds they were bred from,but It depends on how they measured up last season on egg numbers,hatchability and progress of the chicks from that mating. All very time consuming and reference to the records I keep on them.

    Any bird that went down broody and failed to produce a hatch for whatever the reason I leg ring and never use again. They get blue ringed if they are nest foulers or come off before the whole hatch is out. I had one today that I took off to tidy the coop up before the chicks came out and found 1 live chick,1 dead chick and 1 half out of the egg, plus 10 fouled eggs and a dirty nest. I removed the live chick and the half hatched 1, and popped both under another broody untill I cleaned up the nest. She went walkabout for an hour before she returned to her coop, so it will be interesting to see if any more hatch. The 2 chicks I have since put in a brooder with another 9 that an Improved Indian Game hen hatched in the big horse building, (it’s a big building for our horse, not a big horse in a building) and all seem to be fine, even the partly hatched one. The hen is now out with the eating egg flock to recover from her sitting duties. ( This morning the half hatched chick (Indian Game x Improved Indian Game ) is up and around and fighty fit, so the vigour is there.

    A set up like this takes a lot of work. Twice daily feeding and keeping the birds fit and healthy, plus daily on-going cleaning and maintainence of runs,coops and brooders eats into your days and the thought of taking a break for more than a few hours a day is not an option, but I’ve got deeply involved with all this and even enjoy most of it, much to the annoyance of my other half who does’nt really like poultry,possibly because the stock here come first and it leaves no free time to do things together. I have offered to take her to poultry shows and auctions and if quality time be her goal even suggested she help me muck out, but nope it’s not happening.

    Two days after I removed the 2 chicks from under the hen today she had hatched another 1, so bang goes the theory that if a nest goes cold near hatching all is lost. The bird was off for at least an hour and I was surprized another managed to hatch. The eggs under this hen were taken from a pen where 3 of the birds were sitting in the same box with another 2 birds laying on top of them,so it was getting to be a bit of an egg mountain.

    I removed 1 hen and 12 eggs at random, so they could have been just layed or sat on for about 10 days or more, so they will hatch over a long period and if the chicks are taken as they hatch and fluff up into a brooder she will keep sitting. She will be perfectly ok as long as she has fresh water and feed in the coop when ever she needs to get off. She is not using energy just sitting there and will hold body weight if in good condition when she started. I still have 2 in the run sitting and another 2 laying on top of them,so in a couple of days I’ll re-coop another and take another 12 eggs with her and you can bet your life as soon as there is room another bird will join the last one sitting in the run. Within a 3-4 weeks I’ll have a large number of chicks under lamps and the hens will go back to the run and either neck moult or start laying again.

    I try to group about 30 chicks at a time in batches going through the brooder and move them on together in these groups out of the granary and into grass runs.

    Running the breeding pens.

    April and now the weather has warmed up I have broodies going down everywhere. At the moment I have every broody coop full and are struggling to find room for the others. It creates a few problems in as much as the hen usually sits on eggs laid by her pen mates and once the eggs have warmed up to the hens body temperature the egg sparks into life. If the broody isn’t removed the eggs will not all hatch over a couple of days and more than likely the hen comes off the eggs after she has hatched a couple.

    It would be pointless putting eggs under the broodies that were not worth hatching, as the amount of work and room involved in growing the chicks on is massive when you let indiscriminate breeding take over from common sense.

    If your only hatching a few birds as garden pets pedigree doesn’t really matter much, just be aware that your going to hatch cockerels that no one wants and if your not capable of culling them, trying to find new homes for them is almost impossible,what ever happens to them needs to be concidered before you start breeding.

    If, on the other hand you want to breed pure breeds your selection of breeding stock is very important. Since the future of a breed lies in the hands of the hobby breeder it goes without saying that breeding from sub-standard birds will eventually be the ruination of that breed, as this type of bird gets absorbed into the poultry keeping fraturnity and further bred from.

    It takes experiance before you can see at a glance that a bird is of quality stock, but be aware that there are exhibition strains and strains of the same breed bred for what the breed was originally used for. In the case of layers it was bred for egg production and when most of these breeds were at their peak ( Early1900′s) they were superb examples, bred by highly committed poultry breeders. Leghorns, Anconas and Minorcas laid upwards of 280 eggs in a season and kept laying for more than the hybrids of today will ever achive. There were rumors of birds laying 1000 eggs in her lifetime.

    Exchequer Leghorn.

    Try to locate a strain of the bred you are interested in from a reliable source and unless you want to show, find a breeder that breeds for the future good of that breed. Poultry in the hands of the exhibition breeder is going the same way as pedigree dogs, downwards. To much headgear and feathers in poultry and what in hells name have they done to the poor old Polish. Not only bred a bird that is blinded by excess head feathers, but put a frizzle gene in as well.

    There are a number of breeds that are in need of taking on before the utility factor has been bred out of them. Exhibition breeders are a dedicated bunch and are guided by the judges interpritaion of the British Breed Standards and these judges have their own ideas of what a bird should look like. The judges look at size, shape, colour of legs,comb shape and size and pattern, plus a few other visual points, but breeding that perfect specimen doesn’t always take into account what it lays like or how virile the breed is or even worse hatchability.

    Selection should be based on what you want the breed to do, if it’s a layer and a pure breed you can’t get better than a Leghorn or if you can find a good strain of Ancona or Minorca they would forfill your needs in eggs. A meat breed is a different matter, as people are used to seeing Jordans (bird with big breasts) in the supermarkets and expect the pure breed birds to dress out the same I’m afraid they won’t. To get meat on the breast you will need to cross it to an Indian Game.

    Breeding for Dual Purpose.

    Click on photographs to enlarge.

    Keeping a breed that lays well and that will produce a cockerel for the table has been an on-going activity for poultry keepers for many years and I am no exception. To be able to table a well built bird for a meal, knowing that bird had a free-range natural lifestyle (or as natural as possible under available conditions) is very satisfiying.

    WELSH BLACK X WELSH BLACK First year cock.

    Breeds such as the Sussex and Dorking were bred for just that and in thoses days the strains were bigger than today. Now I’m afraid you will not find many pure breeds that will be worthwhile as far as converting grain to meat by the time they have reached maturity. Birds taken on to that stage will be a totally different taste and texture to the chickens you buy in a supermarket. Supermarket birds are dispatched at around 60 days from hatching,some even younger. The birds I take to the table are free-range and carry more dark meat on the legs being bred usually from a first cross traditional breed.

    The commercial poultry industry is a massive . There are ‘super hatcheries’ that handle hundreds of thousands of chicks a day, all automated and high tech. It’s a multimillion £/$ industry.

    Over the last 50 years there has been vast amounts of money invested in breeding poultry that either lay eggs or are table weight ready in a few months all these birds were bred for commercial production millions and millions of them all across the world.

    They are examples of what man can do to a creature, if there is any money to be made doing it. You cannot get anywhere near the weights on breeds bred for the commercial market using traditional breeds and if you want a quick table bird get them, but somewhere along the way ethics must come into what you consider a suitable life for a bird you intend to eat.

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    Dark Indian (Cornish) Game.

    Keepers have been using an Indian Game crossed with another heavy breed for years, the main reason being the amount of breast meat this breed carries and thats what all the commercial strains are based on, but in my opinion the reserch and developement programmes have gone to far. Birds that just eat and in some cases are reluctant to get up and roam around because of the weight they carry are not my idea of ethical farming/rearing.

    Over the years I have bred most crosses using an Indian Game Cock penned with a heavy breed hen and they were fine, but I wanted something that looked like a breed in it’s own right. I had a number of Australorps and a surplus of good Indian Game.

    2 Year old Australorp Cock.

    Instead of usual use of an Indian Game as the male line, I used an Australorp cock and penned him with just one Dark laced Indian Game hen that was from a good laying strain I had improved over the years by only breeding from the best layers. Australorps are top layers and the cock I used was from a good line, so I knew he would carry good egg numbers into the gene pool from this mating. I used just one hen to start this project, so I would be sure the foundations of the breed were sound and get a 50% split of genes from both birds and be able to correct any bad points that may crop up in later generations.

    The resulting chicks were all jet black with rose type comb. To make the assessment I hatched 26 chicks, all from the one hen under broodies or in the incubators and only 2 eggs failed to hatch, both got broken under a broody, but were fertile.

    The chicks grew on well with no loses. They feathered up fast and went out of the brooder onto grass and grew away well and as they were all black and born in Wales I called the Welsh Black Fowl.

    At 28 weeks they had grown well and I took all but 3 of the cocks for the freezer. They plucked easily and dressed out at around 7lbs. I only fed them on a corn diet and free-range.

    The pullets were very good layer and giving at least 5 eggs a week in lay.They are a calm easy going breed and the only slight downside is her habit of going broody. The eggs were of a good size and buff in colour.

    Australorp x Indian Game = Welsh Black Fowl.

    Welsh Black 1st year Cock.

    The following year I penned a sibling mating (*Brother-Sisters*). I chose the best cockerel out of the bunch and mated him to 3 pullets. The chicks were again strong growers and came out mainly black with some dark Indian markings on some of the pullets and a couple of gold hackeled cockerels that were a lot larger than the rest. All but 2 had rose combs and those 2 had single combs and all had slate coloured legs brought in by the Australorp.

    Welsh Black x Welsh Black Cockerels.

    Welsh Black x Welsh Black.

    The following year this cock was mated to 2 Indian Game.

    The intention was to improve a strain of Indian Game that were bigger and laid more eggs. I knew I was stuck with the pullets going broody, as the genes for ‘sitting’ were fixed from both sides of the original mating and I had not selected to remove that trait. For now I was happy with what I had done and waited another year to see what this mating would bring.

    I set 40 eggs that season and had very good results. They hatched looking like dark Indians and again grew away and feathered up fast, ( a gene factor that luckily had carried through from the Australorp side). The birds were a good size, even though I’d bred them back to a smaller bird on the female side,I guess the large size of the male balanced them up.

    I sold quite a number of these as breeding groups or stock cockerels and kept 16 pullets and just 1 cockerel.

    Improved Indian Game Cockerel @10 months.

    Improved Indian Game pullet @10 months

    The photo of the pullet has a mature pure Indian Game Cock behind her.

    This strain were now.

    Australorp X Indian Game. 1st gen.

    Welsh black X Welsh Black. 2cnd gen

    Welsh Black X Indian Game. 3rd gen

    This season the Cock on the left is penned with 4 Welsh Black Hens.

    The best 4 of the pullets are penned with a pure Indian Game Cock.

    As you can see they are a lot larger than pure Indian.They lay a lot more eggs that are bigger. The feathering is softer and all have slate legs. I will not breed out the leg colour, as it will in the future indicate the birds are not pure Indian Game.

    Improved Indian Game pullet.

    They are calm and easy going, obviously following the Australorp as they are really friendly birds.

    They still have the tendency to go broody, but if your looking to raise a few birds for eggs and meat having a reliable sitter saves a lot of messing about with incubators and heat lamps.

    I hope this years birds will retain the size across the breast and tighten up on the feathering. Next season I shall have two pens of chicks to choose from to take the project just a bit farther.

    You must be aware that I only breed from the best birds and some don’t measure up, these are used for table birds in the case of the males and eating egg layers if they are females.

    Pure Indian Hens.

    The pullet in the photograph is where I want to be with this breed. Good shape,deep body and strong on her legs. Well feathered and a nice girlie head not course or heavy. Being wide across the bottom indicates capacity for laying as thats where it all happens from.  A tight rear end is a sign of a poor layer. I’m not fussed about the markings as you can’t eat the feathers, but I do like the way they have held the lacing.

    I can still breed from all the pens that went into this project, as I still hold the lines that bred each stage in separate pens.

    If you have Indian Game and any of the heavy breeds you can try this. Breeding birds such as these kept many a family in poultry meat and eggs for generations.

    Please realise that running the growers on to select the next generation needs space and accomadation and you will never get anywhere if you neglect the feeding, houseing and care of your birds. They will at maturity (About 18-20 weeks)  crow and if that is going to be a problem for your neighbours get hold of some commercial hybrids, as they are ready for the freezer before they are old enough to make a racket and annoy everyone within earshot.

    Sibling Mated..(*Brother-Sisters*)  It is usual when line breeding to mate the pullets back to the father or uncle to fix points or genes. I mated Brother to sister to see how diverse the genes in the breed were.

    David Harris.

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