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Selecting Chickens for Breeding

Black Australorp RoosterJanuary to mid-February, is a good time to begin selecting your breeders. It’s important to do this early in the year so that you have time to move your breeding pairs into separate pens several weeks ahead of when you will begin gathering eggs to hatch.

In this article, I’ll go over how to select both your hens and your roosters. Your breeding program will determine how you pair up your breeders.

How to Select Hens

By mid-February, your hens should be laying. Any that aren’t are likely not excellent layers.

The hens you select for breeding should be a minimum of one year old. That is, they should be in their second year of laying. By using second year (or older) hens instead of pullets, you are selecting for longevity and longevity of egg production.

First, check your hens to determine which ones are laying.

Of those that are, select hens that:

  • are the most vigorous (top priority)
  • have the right body shape, or type
  • are free of defects
  • temperament
  • and are the best representatives of their breed, based on the breed standard

After considering these things, also consider the production-related traits that are important to you. These may include:

  • egg production
  • weight
  • growth rate

Those that you’ve selected are potential breeders.

How to Select Roosters

Selecting roosters is similar. Things to look for first are:

  • those that have good vigor (top priority)
  • have the right body shape (or type)
  • are free of defects
  • temperament
  • and are the best representatives of their breed, based on the breed standard
  • head width and shape
  • heart girth
  • flatness of back

Vigor and type will be the top priority, but the order of priority among the other traits will depend on your breeding goals.

As with hens, you will also want to consider production and growth-related traits, such as:

  • weight
  • growth rate

Identifying the Breeders that You Selected

If you’re not yet ready to separate the breeders, the simplest approach I’ve found to indicate which ones you’ve selected is to add a leg band (a colored zip tie) of a particular color. I typically add a purple leg band to breeders that I’ve selected, and I add a gray or black zip tie to any that I plan to cull.

The zip tie (cable tie) should be attached loosely so that it does not constrict their leg at all. If I can insert my index finger between the leg band and the leg, that ends up being just about right.

It is also helpful to be able to tell each of the breeders apart. I do this by using colored, uniquely numbered zip ties. I choose a different color each year so that the zip tie also indicates the age of the chicken. (See the resources page for information on where to get these.)

Arranging Breeding Pens

If you have had your hens with different males than the ones that you plan to breed them to, then once you have moved them into the breeding pens with the correct male you will need to wait at least 3-4 weeks before gatherings eggs to hatch to make sure the eggs have been fertilized with the new male, not the previous one.

Sometimes, if I am tight on coop space, as is usually the case, I will take the rooster way from the hens in a coop that has potential breeders so that the 3-4 week wait can happen right away, even before I’m ready to move them into separate pens for breeding.

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