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Old 02-21-2013, 08:24 AM
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Default Ensuring genetic diversity in a chicken flock



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How do you ensure genetic diversity in a homestead chicken flock?

A few weeks ago a buddy of mine and I were talking about the genetic health of a chicken flock during a complete collapse of society. Such as a WROL (without rule or law) or TEOTWAWKI situation. One of my long term goals is to develop a self-sustaining genetically diverse chicken flock.

The rule seems to be 1 rooster for every 10 hens.

So for 60 hens the homesteader might have 6 roosters.

After my wife and I get moved to the homestead we are looking at buying around 2 dozen more chicks to add to our current flock of 13 hens.

The current flock includes:

4 – Rhode Island Reds
2 – Silver Laced Wyandotte
2 – Barred Rocks
2 – Australorps
2 – Black Jersey Giants
1 – Speckled Sussex

My wife and I would like to add:

1 dozen Buff Orpingtons hens
1 dozen Dominicker hens
Along with some more Barred Rocks, Australorps and Rhode Island Reds.

The goal is to have somewhere around 40 hens, then breed them until we hit 60 or so hens.

The roosters I am planning on buying:

1 Dominicker rooster
1 Rhode island red rooster
1 Buff Orpington rooster
1 Australorp rooster

Or would it be better to get 2 Dominicker roosters, 2 Rhode Island Red roosters, 2 Barred Rock roosters and rotate them out in the breeding pen? With 2 roosters of the same breed, then I could rotate them out with hens of the same breed.

Since my wife and I want broody hens, should we focus on roosters that carry the broody trait, such as the Buff Orpington and Dominicker?

After the new chicken coop is built, we will have our current coop and run for controlled breeding.

I thought about removing certain hens and a rooster from the flock, placing them in another coop and run to see if I can get certain roosters and certain hens to breed.
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Old 02-21-2013, 08:42 AM
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I've thought about this for a while myself. Unfortunately, except for a chicken swap with neighbors or at the local barter setup, i haven't come up with anything that prevents inbreeding over the long haul. I'll be interested to see what others have to say.
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Old 02-21-2013, 09:03 AM
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Are you wanting to keep all these breeds pure? Or are you just going to let them intermingle as they will?

You will get less genetic diversity if you are aiming for those numbers, with such a high number of breeds and wanting to keep the breeds pure. You will have more genetic diversity if you reduce the number of breeds you keep, but have more hens and roosters per each breed.

If you're just going to let them have a free-for-all, then you'll probably have enough diversity.
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Old 02-21-2013, 09:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Rosesandtea View Post
Are you wanting to keep all these breeds pure? Or are you just going to let them intermingle as they will?
As my wife and I were talking last night, she told me she wanted to try and keep some pure breeds.

After we get moved to the homestead I plan on building a 12x16 (or a 12x20) chicken coop to replace our current 6x8 coop.

My wife suggested we use the old coop as some kind of breeding area. But we are not going to be able to keep pure breeds with only 1 or 2 roosters.

It would take a lot of paper work, attention and banding to make sure the chicks were not bred to their father or grandfather.
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Old 02-21-2013, 09:30 AM
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Chickens inbreeding isn't all that big of a deal. All those purebreds are the result of very careful line-breeding and inbreeding removing those with undesirable traits, and breeding the ones with the desirable traits.

Any born with deformities should be culled immediately, and the healthy ones left to breed.



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Old 02-21-2013, 09:55 AM
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Introduce a new hen or cock every once in a while. Thought you wanted to free range? Trying to keep the various breeds you plan on raising pure will be more trouble than its worth IMO.
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Old 02-21-2013, 10:28 AM
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Introduce a new hen or cock every once in a while. Thought you wanted to free range? Trying to keep the various breeds you plan on raising pure will be more trouble than its worth IMO.
Once all of the hens are roosters are together its going to be impossible to control which ones are breeding.

As for free ranging, the backyard is a little over 3 acres, front yard a couple of acres, and bordering property is several hundred acres owned by a timber company.
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Old 02-21-2013, 12:55 PM
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Long-term viability depends mostly on your starter hens. Hatchery stock, even from the same batch, are usually genetically diverse enough to sustain a flock for a long while. Private breeders have fewer bloodlines to draw from and you're more likely to run into recent, close inbreeding. Whether breeder birds' superior quality makes up for needing to find more sources is up to you.

From there, it's mostly limited by the roosters, but with those numbers you won't run into trouble for many generations. Livestock are inbred all the time. We got the breeds we have through aggressive culling of the undesirable characteristics and selecting for the good. In your situation, I'd save the 10 biggest and best pullets hatched each year to build and maintain the flock. Add at least one new rooster every year for as long as you can.

If the SHTF in a very big way, you'll need to find someone to trade with every few years. When inbreeding, it's better to breed father to daughter than brother to sister.
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Old 02-21-2013, 01:12 PM
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You might be interested in this article from Backyard Poultry magazine.
http://www.backyardpoultrymag.com/is...ome_flock.html

It talks about both improvement breeding and conservation breeding.

Quote:
Conservation breeding has to do with making decisions that ensure there is enough diversity in the flock such that it can be bred for many generations without fear of the individuals becoming too closely related. So conservation breeding focuses on managing how related each individual is to other individuals in the flock; based on relations, who is mated to who; and ensuring that some individuals within the flock are as unrelated as possible. As we design a breeding program for our flock, conservation breeding decisions are going to play a key role in allowing us to breed for many generations without losing diversity.
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Old 02-21-2013, 03:08 PM
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Unless you are planning to show, or to sell them as purebred, I wouldn't bother with trying to keep pure bred lines. Focus on the traits you like, and that suit your purposes, breed those birds and cull the rest. Cull aggressively, eat lots of chicken. With 50+ hens, you should have no problem getting replacements. You're making your own breed of chickens, that will best suit your purposes.

I'd definitely get at least 3 times as many roosters as you intend to keep. Let them mature, and as they show their growth rate, size and temperament, cull a third, watch for another month or two, and cull half. The roosters you're left with will be the best of the best only if they had to compete to get there.

At the same time, watch your hens for broodiness and whatever other traits you're looking for. Band the ones that show exceptional positive traits, and when you're ready for breeding, isolate five of the banded ladies with a rooster. Do multiple such little isolated groups, and rotate the roosters to a new group of hens after a clutch starts incubating.

Starting with large numbers and several breeds will set you up with plenty of diversity, but selective breeding and heavy culling is what will ensure a healthy productive flock.

And like Pillarist suggests, save the 10 best pullets, and at least one cockerel hatched each year to build and maintain the flock.

I'm curious what you plan to do with 250 eggs a week?

Quote:
Originally Posted by PrincessKraken View Post
Chickens inbreeding isn't all that big of a deal. All those purebreds are the result of very careful line-breeding and inbreeding removing those with undesirable traits, and breeding the ones with the desirable traits.
+1
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rosesandtea View Post
You will get less genetic diversity if you are aiming for those numbers, with such a high number of breeds and wanting to keep the breeds pure. ...

If you're just going to let them have a free-for-all, then you'll probably have enough diversity.
+1
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pillarist View Post
... Livestock are inbred all the time. We got the breeds we have through aggressive culling of the undesirable characteristics and selecting for the good. In your situation, I'd save the 10 biggest and best pullets hatched each year to build and maintain the flock. Add at least one new rooster every year for as long as you can. ...
+1
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Old 02-22-2013, 04:59 PM
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I would just see about trading roosters with another person every so often so the diversity is always there.
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Old 02-25-2013, 04:40 PM
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If you want genetic diversity without having to buy new breeding stock, just place an ad for a rent-a-rooster. Separate the hens with desirable traits for 4-6 weeks before your rent-a-rooster shows up. This will ensure that any previous sperm left by former suitors gets used up and your hens will only lay eggs fertilized with sperm from the rent-a-rooster.

Keep in mind that once your hens have been introduced to the new rooster, any fertilized eggs they lay for the next 4-6 weeks will be sired by that rooster, even if you only keep the rooster around for 1 week.

Great way to meet some locals who are interested in the same things you are, too.
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Old 02-25-2013, 05:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NectarNook View Post
If you want genetic diversity without having to buy new breeding stock, just place an ad for a rent-a-rooster. Separate the hens with desirable traits for 4-6 weeks before your rent-a-rooster shows up. This will ensure that any previous sperm left by former suitors gets used up and your hens will only lay eggs fertilized with sperm from the rent-a-rooster.

Keep in mind that once your hens have been introduced to the new rooster, any fertilized eggs they lay for the next 4-6 weeks will be sired by that rooster, even if you only keep the rooster around for 1 week.

Great way to meet some locals who are interested in the same things you are, too.
LOL

I'm putting an add out on craigs list today to rent out my roosters!

Big [email protected]#$#ks 4 rent.

I'm sure I'll get a visit from the local barney fife vice squad.

Sorry Kev and mods just couldn't resist!

Last edited by n1d; 02-25-2013 at 05:04 PM.. Reason: cause i can
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Old 02-25-2013, 06:49 PM
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I pick up a couple of birds at the feed store each year. I cull the roosters by turning them out in the yard. Never had a problem although after a couple of years the birds to start to look a lot alike. "Free range" chickens don't work well for me. I bought 25 rooster as day old last year. Turned 20 out to eat the grasshoppers, kept 5 in the pen to breed. Only one rooster made it? I also turned two domestic turkeys out, neither made it. I turned 7 guineas out. All made it and have started nesting. I put 24 eggs in the incubator this morning. I'll put the rooster out this year and maybe a hen or two if they are not something I want in the pen. Who knows, maybe the guineas will teach them how to survive?
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Old 02-25-2013, 08:03 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by goat daddy View Post
Turned 20 out to eat the grasshoppers, kept 5 in the pen to breed. Only one rooster made it? ... I'll put the rooster out this year and maybe a hen or two if they are not something I want in the pen. Who knows, maybe the guineas will teach them how to survive?
Why not just eat them? Seems like a wasted resource.
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Old 02-25-2013, 08:40 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by goat daddy View Post
I pick up a couple of birds at the feed store each year. I cull the roosters by turning them out in the yard. Never had a problem although after a couple of years the birds to start to look a lot alike. "Free range" chickens don't work well for me. I bought 25 rooster as day old last year. Turned 20 out to eat the grasshoppers, kept 5 in the pen to breed. Only one rooster made it? I also turned two domestic turkeys out, neither made it. I turned 7 guineas out. All made it and have started nesting. I put 24 eggs in the incubator this morning. I'll put the rooster out this year and maybe a hen or two if they are not something I want in the pen. Who knows, maybe the guineas will teach them how to survive?
Free range doesn't necessarily mean that you turn them loose in the wild and hope nothing gets to them. We've always done free range during daytime hours. When the sun comes up, their door gets opened, and they come running out like they've never seen the light of day. When the sun is about ready to set, they make their way into the coop in ones and twos and wait for their night-time treat. Any stragglers outside usually come running as soon as the scratch bucket comes out. Close them up tight, safe and sound for the night.

Most predators will come during the night. The exception are birds of prey and neighborhood dogs/cats - they'll come any hour. You'll cut down on a lot of your losses if you are vigilant during the day and lock them up at night.

Such a waste. And totally preventable. Hope you can do better next time if you try it again. If you need tips on predator-proofing, just ask. Lots of helpful people here.
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