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Selective Breeding: How to Breed Chickens

Last Updated: 25.02.24


If you plan on raising chickens for a living, you should stock up on poultry equipment such as cages for chickens, waterers, and feeders. However, having the proper equipment will not bring you money by itself. If you want to be as efficient as possible you should try selective breeding. This way, you will produce birds with traits that are up to the standards by attentive breeding and keeping the right pullets and hens.


Why you should do selective breeding

Your flock is either getting better or getting worse with each generation. You can improve a flock only by selective breeding even if it requires to remove all birds that don’t meet the standards. Each breeder respects a standard when it comes to his/her flock. Otherwise, he/she is a multiplier, not a breeder.



Look for reliable information

If you want to improve your flock, you must know where to search for information. The American Bantam Association and the Standards of the American Poultry Association are great places to gather much-needed information. In case you want to find out how to breed chickens efficiently, you need to check these Standards to get the necessary knowledge. 

Also, consider the idea of taking a business trip to visit another breeder of the same poultry type you want to raise. If there is no poultry farmer close to you, check the local poultry show and you will get a better idea about the chickens’ overall appearance.


Decide what you want

After doing the required research and paying some visits to local farmers, decide what you want to improve. Do you want to increase egg production or do you intend to raise chickens for meat? Don’t become too greedy as you can enhance one or two things at a time.

The first step to start the selective breeding process is to have a healthy and vigorous flock. If you have some ill-looking birds, it’s better to sacrifice them so they don’t slow the progress. Having this extra space might allow you to add some chickens that are already up to the standard.


Hen or cock?

To decide if you should add a hen or a cock, you must first see what quality your flock is missing. As older farmers will tell you, the hen sets the type and the cock influences the feather’s color. Since that phrase was in vogue we discovered a lot of information about genetics, but it is still good basic advice.



Selective breeding systems

The most common systems used for selective breeding are Clan Mating and Rolling Mating. If you checked them out and they don’t really work for you it’s no problem. The best part about selective breeding is that you choose what you feel works best for you. 

For example, single mating might be the easiest way but some breeders want to produce a large number of birds so they choose something else. The key is to keep the process as simple as possible.


Make two groups

Using their phenotype, divide the hens that are capable of breeding into two groups. You could build a fence to separate them or if you don’t want the extra work, use colored bands to identify their group. Let’s say you select green and yellow bands.


Use an unrelated cock

Add to the breeding process a cock that is unrelated to the hens. When selecting the cock, keep in mind how you want to improve your flock as there is no point in adding a cock with no relevant traits.


Don’t breed the groups simultaneously

Each year you have to breed only one on the two groups. Let’s assume you will breed the green group. Because this is the first breeding process, you must use the unrelated cock. All the chicks produced will wear a green band no matter if they are chicks or pullets.


Select the best hens

Only hens that are close to the imposed standard should enter the selective breeding process. You may weigh every bird to make sure they have the correct weight. If some of the chickens are not up to the standard do not use them no matter how many hens you should discard. You could give them to a fellow farmer, retire them, cook them but don’t use them for breeding.



Repeat the process with the other group

The next year, follow the same steps with the yellow group. This time you can use any cockerel from the green group or go with the unrelated cock. After the second year, you will use green band cocks for yellow band hens and yellow band cock for green band hens. This way, you can practice inbreeding but not in a harmful way so you can still reach your goals.

It’s easy to keep the process of selective breeding going as long as you do a bit of record keeping. It becomes effective if a new group of chicks is produced every year and they go through a severe selection process. After some time, you will easily spot birds that are not up to the standards and immediately remove them from the group.


The selection process

Make sure your brooders are up to the standard. The process begins from the brooder all the way to the bird’s maturity. When the chicks reach the adult stage, take the produced pullets and compare them to their mother. You might see some signs of improvement but there is a small chance all pullets will have better characteristics than their mother. 


Choosing the brooders

A period of at least two years before any hen is bred helps to ensure longevity in your flock. This way, a hen must show good health for two years before being used for breeding purposes. Some of the hens could be five or seven years old and still be used as brooders in this system. 

However, it is better to use cockerels for these older hens. When it comes to breeding, it is important that either the hen or the cock is young.


First results of selective breeding

There is a big chance you will notice how your flock improved after the first two or three years of selective breeding. However, there is no need to become too proud as the progress may slow down the following years. 

The obtained improvement is the result of selective pressure which may not have been practiced for the recent ancestors of your chickens. For example, if you purchased the birds from a hatchery, there is a big chance no selective pressure has been applied.


Don’t rush the process

Even if you notice some progress in your flock, you are still learning how to become an efficient breeder. Nobody became a knowledgeable breeder from a few good years in the breeding pens. The process is more complicated and it involves learning from every new experience with the chickens.

You might go through some years where you are not sure if any improvement has been achieved at all. If you have an enclosed flock, you will start to observe some undesired characteristics appearing in some of the newly hatched chickens. 

This is because you are mixing the genetic cup and some of the recessive genes might manifest despite being latent for a few years. But this is a good thing.


Eliminating unwanted traits

There is no method to get rid of unwanted traits except for using the inbred system. When you are using one of the selective breeding systems, the inbreeding takes place in a restrained environment. 


Adding new characteristics

After five or six years, you will be experienced enough to determine if your flock needs to be added some other genes. If you decide to add a bird showing the desired traits to your groups, proceed with caution. Inevitably, you will add a lot of unseen traits.

When adding a new bird into the breeding group, use the side mating method. This way, you are not putting a new bird directly in the overall breeding system. Let’s assume you are using a new hen to add some wanted characteristics to your flock. 

Mark the newly hatched chicks so you can easily observe them while they are growing. Check if they have the desired color, weight or if they have any weakness. If you decide to add them to the group, keep them marked as they could manifest unwanted traits. You can add the chicks obtained from the new hens to one of the formed groups and introduce them in the breeding process.



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