How to breed more productive hens: don’t pick the superstars
IF YOU’RE A SPORTS FAN, you know the star players: Sonny Bill Williams in rugby, Irene van Dyk in netball, Tom Brady in the NFL, Michael Jordan in basketball.
But star players don’t necessarily make a team an automatic championship certainty, and curiously, it’s the same when it comes to breeding more productive poultry.
US evolutionary biologist William Muir of Purdue University ran an intriguing experiment to find out what would improve egg production in chickens. One selection was of the superstar layers, the nine best individual hens in a large flock which were put into one group; the other was a group that were the best producing of all the groups Muir could choose from. He then bred six generations from each group of hens, using the same criteria to choose the next generation, to see which ones would end up the best producers over time.
The results were so shocking, it’s reported that when he showed them to a conference of scientists, they gasped. The final generation of ‘star’ hens contained only three birds, and they were almost featherless; their success was achieved because they suppressed the productivity of the other hens in the cage. The missing six hens had been murdered by the top three, and even then the remaining hens continued to attack each other to the point where they were almost featherless. Egg production had dropped dramatically, far below the production levels of their superstar ancestors.
In contrast, the team of hens chosen for their high group production were
Choosing individual superstar layers doesn’t result in a superstar flock
healthy, fully feathered, all got along, and their productivity had gone up 160% in six generations.
“Muir proved that animals living in groups and bred to be more passive sustain fewer injuries and are more productive. For instance, chickens bred to be less aggressive don’t engage in as much pecking, which often causes severe injury and even death. The energy that animals used for negative behaviour or to avoid such activities is then transferred to production.”
Sources: Scientists find method to pick non-competitive
animals, improve production, Purdue University, 2007
This example is now used by psychologists and business leaders as an example of how creating a team of people that is most productive won’t be a select group of star performers, but the group with different capabilities and a communal approach that brings them together to create something bigger and better.
However, purely in terms of breeding your next flocks for productivity, it’s not always the best layers who have the edge, and taking a group approach to finding the best layers is a better long-term strategy.
Sources: Let’s talk about chickens and e2.0, www.competingonexecution.com https://ag.purdue.edu/ansc/pages/bmuir_res.aspx