Based on our breeding goals, here is a list of what needs to be accomplished this year:
- Grow newly-hatched chickens to 18 months of age before selecting which ones to use in the breeding program. This will enable us to select breeders more accurately than if we selected earlier, plus it lends itself to selecting hens that are better long-term layers.
- Check growth rates when the chickens are 10 weeks and 20 weeks old. Use numbered leg bands so we can correlate those weights at those ages with their weights at the time when we select breeders.
- Maintain a flock of “spares” that is composed of the best chickens that didn’t quite “make the cut,” plus some additional hens for egg production.
- Keep a “cull” pen. Non-productive hens and pullets are moved there and kept there until the next time we process chickens for table use.
- Use uniquely numbered, colored leg bands to indicate the hatch-year of each bird and to make it easy to identify each bird for record-keeping.
- Group the breeders into 4 main flocks. Flocks 1, 2 and 3 will each contain one of our best males along with 2 of our best hens. Pen 4 will be the basis for our broody line and will contain one rooster plus some of the hens that we have observed going broody.
- Hatch 120-150 chicks in 2017. With those, we will aim to:
- Select about 8-16 new pullets and 4-8 new cockerels to keep as future breeders. We will start with a larger number and continue to narrow down the selection as they grow older.
- Cull chickens that are lower in quality than the breeders from previous years. This way, we are always seeking to improve the flock.
- Since we will be keeping the flock size roughly the same year to year, we will be culling about 120 birds each year. Some will be from previous hatches (for example, hens that are no longer laying well) and some will be from this year’s hatches. This adds up to about 2.3-2.5 chickens per week on average, which fits well with the amount of chicken that our family uses for meat, so most of these will be for table use.
Planning the Hatches
Here are some of the “back of the envelope” calculations that I did to plan the hatches for this year:
- We’ll be starting with 8 breeding hens. If we hatch 120 chicks from them, that equates to an average of about 15 chicks from each hen.
- If hatch rates are about 70%, then we’ll need to set about 22-30 eggs per hen and about 170 eggs, total.
- Since these are all second-year hens, which don’t lay as strongly as first-year pullets, I’m currently getting about a 59% lay rate. So from 8 hens, I’m getting about 33 eggs a week. The small, tabletop incubator that I’m using will hold 41 eggs, so I’ll need to do at least 4 hatches this year. Possibly more, since I may fill the rest of the space in the incubator with eggs from my spare pens.