Breed­ing from a pair

Grant Br­ere­ton of­fers ad­vice on get­ting started with pure breeds

Your Chickens - - Contents -

Get­ting your first pure-breed poultry is a very ex­cit­ing time. Most of us be­gin with keep­ing a few hens for eggs and have kept var­i­ous hy­brid lay­ers, cross­breeds and maybe the odd ‘pure-breed’ hen ac­quired from some­where. A good num­ber of peo­ple will have ex­pe­ri­enced hatch­ing their own chicks, ei­ther by adopt­ing an un­wanted farm­yard cock­erel that is likely of mixed back­ground – be­cause these are so read­ily avail­able – or by pur­chas­ing a pure-breed cock­erel from a poultry dealer, for ex­am­ple, the likes of which have sprung up ev­ery­where over the last decade.

And there is some­thing so mag­i­cal about not know­ing what kind of chicks you’re go­ing to get from your own flock. Many of the cross-breeds can be pretty things, the mother and some­times fa­ther (if you have more than one male) of which we can never be com­pletely sure. To watch such birds feath­er­ing up in their dif­fer­ent stages of plumage de­vel­op­ment, as well as comb, legs and body shape can be fas­ci­nat­ing, and such birds are of­ten given pet names as they are so unique in ap­pear­ance and per­son­al­ity.

But there comes a point for many of us when we get switched on to the idea of breed­ing our own pure-breed poultry, which is highly ad­dic­tive, and of­ten our beloved hy­brids get phased out over time. We see breeds that take our eye in books or at rare breed cen­tres, sales or shows and set our sights on some­thing we fancy. And be­cause many of these out­lets get far more de­mand for pul­lets than cock­erels, they of­ten will only sell a pair (a male and fe­male). Oth­er­wise they may be left with a pen full of un­wanted males; in spite of them be­ing ‘pure’.


There are many pos­si­ble rea­sons that you may only have a pair of birds to be­gin your pure-breed poultry jour­ney. Per­haps you saw them at a mar­ket and fan­cied them, or per­haps you bought a trio and one fe­male per­ished (which has been the case per­son­ally), or maybe a busi­ness out­let or breeder could only spare a pair of the breed you wanted. But there is no man­ual that clar­i­fies the ethics of breed­ing from a pair of birds, be­cause so much is de­pen­dent on breed, rar­ity, ex­pense, size, viril­ity and weight.

And many of the top breed­ers swear by only breed­ing from ‘a pair’ be­cause it al­lows you to ac­cu­rately doc­u­ment the parent­age of each bird you hatch, which is cru­cial to many ex­hibitors and purists who rely on record-keep­ing to line-breed their cho­sen strain of birds.

My ini­tial con­cern is al­ways the fre­quency of which a cock­erel tends to cop­u­late over the course of a day. If he is a light­weight True Ban­tam, such as a Se­bright, Pekin or Nankin to use ex­am­ples, and is highly in­bred, then he may not be in­clined to ‘tread’ his part­ner many times in a day, in which case it’s fine for him to re­main with his wife all day. If, to use the extreme op­po­site ex­am­ple, he’s a large Brahma male that’s a new and vig­or­ous colour of the an­cient stately breed, then it can lead to dam­age of the fe­male’s back in no time.

So my ad­vice is al­ways to as­sess how many times a day a cock­erel is tread­ing his part­ner and make a de­ci­sion based on the re­sults of this anal­y­sis. Even if no dam­age is oc­cur­ring, it’s not ideal for a fe­male to get trod­den con­stantly. You will get a feel for how much is ‘too much’. My thoughts are that more than once an hour and you have a vig­or­ous cock­erel that will ap­pear in­sa­tiable. Dam­age to his wife’s back will in­evitably en­sue in the heavy breeds, or even ‘heavy breed’ ban­tams such as Wyan­dottes, Sus­sex or Ply­mouth Rocks. And this dam­age doesn’t al­ways come from spurs, or nec­es­sar­ily give you much no­tice through the no­table ab­sence of feath­ers on the fe­male’s back. Most ‘cock dam­age’ oc­curs in the form of torn skin from sharp toe­nails of a male, which hides be­neath the feath­ers be­tween the lower back and thigh of his part­ner, LEFT: Eggs from the Marans-based hy­brids are easy to dif­fer­en­ti­ate from the Brahma ones BE­LOW: Cock dam­age to the back of a fe­male IN­SET: New feath­ers com­ing through on the same hen af­ter be­ing sep­a­rated from the male and of­ten goes un­no­ticed un­til in­fec­tion has set in.


As men­tioned, it may be the case (for what­ever rea­son) that you could only ac­quire a single pair of birds, but you could eas­ily have many more fe­males of your cho­sen va­ri­ety but only de­sire to pro­duce off­spring from a par­tic­u­lar ‘su­per­star’ in­di­vid­ual. In which case it’s the same issue, in that you need to en­sure fer­til­ity of the eggs from the cho­sen fe­male with­out con­stant pes­ter­ing, dam­age or stress from the male.

The eas­i­est way to get round this is by ac­quir­ing a cou­ple of fe­males that can take some of the heat off the de­sired fe­male,

but which lay dis­cernibly dif­fer­ent-coloured eggs to hers. One such ex­am­ple would be a dark-eg­ger such as the French Marans.

How­ever, it is im­por­tant to check that your fe­male is still get­ting ‘some at­ten­tion’ from her pure-breed male coun­ter­part, and that he doesn’t favour one or both of his new lady friends in­stead.

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