Saturday, October 13, 2012

Breeding my Flock: Part I

Want to learn about breeding your flock of chickens? Well, so do I!

I thought we could learn together so I am starting a series of posts called "Breeding my Flock" that discuss the successes, failures, and particulars of breeding a line of chickens (in my case Dominiques) in order to best preserve that breed's standard of perfection (or at least come as close as possible, ha!).


 A well-managed breeding program is sooooooooo important when raising chickens. If we didn't have good, thoughtful, careful breeders, the number of distinct recognized chicken breeds (over 100) would  dramatically decrease pretty quickly.

I have many many challenges in my young flock of Doms, but I am trying to learn the things I must do and in what order to attain those characteristic features that identify my stock as American Dominiques. Here are a few problematic things I've noticed:

(FYI- I will no longer be naming any more roosters that we hatch unless they pass the test and are keepers for the breeding pen. All roosters that don't pass will be culled and go to "freezer camp" to be used for yummy meat and chicken soup :))

"Sassafras"

One of my hens, Sassafras (shown above), has a single comb. This is a recessive gene in the Dominique and an obvious defect, because Dominiques should have a rose comb.

"Lavender," has a crooked toe. She is super sweet though and probably the friendliest.
One of the hens has a crooked toe (shown above on her right foot), a genetic defect. She will not be bred.

"Peppermint" aka "Pepper"

Another one of the hens, Peppermint or "Pepper," is totally wrong, with much too dark feathering and dark grey legs rather than yellow legs. She will not be bred either.

The alpha rooster, Oregano, or "Reggie" will probably be used for breeding, but his feathering is a little dark for my hens since I am hoping for lighter pullets in the future.

Cori is standing here in mid-crow. Cock-a-doodle-doo!!

My beta rooster, Coriander, or "Cori" is not the most popular guy with the ladies. Bless his heart, he doesn't get lovin' very often and when he tries the girls will scream and try their best to run away. Occasionally he succeeds. Even cooping him into the breeding pen with the girls may be a challenge to get fertilized eggs. If Cori tries to mount the ladies inside the pen with Reggie in view, Reggie WILL HAVE A FIT and probably tangle himself in the netting trying to rescue his girls (he did this once already).

The rest of my girls are so-so in terms of being up to the breed standard of perfection. For all my hens I need to work on their overall shape and slope of the back.  I will outline these next hens below:

"Parsley"
Parsley is actually not too bad, but her feathering is getting a bit "smutty" and dark for my preferences. Her comb is better than the rest, but she has a little too much "poof" in her rear and her tail could certainly be better.

"Sage"
Sage is not too bad a specimen either. Her tail is much nicer than some of the others, but again, her coloring is a bit "smuttier" than I like and her comb is rather beefy and not as flat on the top as it should be. I would like to see a better "U" shape slope to her back.

"Pennyroyal" aka "Penny"
I think that Penny has the best coloring in her feathers of all my pullets. She also has nice bright yellow legs. I am eager to see how her form turns out once she is fully developed, but she is definitely one of my best pullets in terms of type and breeding.



Last but not least, there is Rosemary, whose overall form and type is probably the best. That is, before she became an old hen and and a mama. Since then, her tail feathers have never really been quite as good, all the yellow has gone out of her legs, and her feathers have sort of "grayed" since her youth. Poor Rosemary, she is just getting old......but still very useful for breeding!


Important features to work on in breeding (for Dominiques):

1. The slope of the back

2. A nice comb (sits straight on the head, flat, with upward turned spike)

3. Tail spread

4. Overall size and shape

5. Bright yellow legs

6. Short, stout beak

7. Good feathering (dark tips on barring, no green sheen or other colors, with nice "lace like" effect)

8. Dominiques in general are on the smallish side for standard fowl. It's important to keep them from weighing too much or too little (around 5 lbs. for hens, 7-8 lbs for cocks).

These goals will obviously differ depending on which breed you are working with and trying to improve. Another thing you have to think about is their temperament-- is it characteristic of their breed? For instance, Dominiques should naturally be excellent foragers, very curious, hardy, and good layers and mothers. If I was trying to decide between two that were very similar, I would perhaps pick the one that exhibited its breed's qualities better than the other.

In Part II of this series I will discuss my plans for breeding this winter/spring and how to overcome some of the problems discussed above.




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4 comments:

  1. Wow, a lot goes in to the breeding process. I had no idea! My favorite hen I ever had was a dominique named Aster. I still miss her to this day!

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    1. Awwwww, Doms are the best aren't they? Some day we may like to get a few other breeds, but rit now we are loving our Dominiques.

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  2. Fabulous post! Breeding is such a judgmental process, isn't it? I found myself making excuses for the beauties in your flock with 'flaws.'

    Thank you for linking up with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop this week. I look forward to future installments on your Dominique breeding journey!

    Cheers,
    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

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