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.
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.
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.