Chickens / Management

Setting Up Breeding Pens Part 2

Last Saturday on Community Chickens, I explained the basics of setting up a breeding pen.  You want to select healthy birds that are not too closely related, provide them with nutritional supplements, and separate them from the rest of the flock.  But how do you select chickens to further your breeding goals?  Two common approaches are breeding the best to the best and offsetting faults.

By Alice Wilkman from Chapel Hill NC, USA (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Appenzeller Spitzhauben trio by Alice Wilkman via Wikimedia Commons

Breeding the Best to the Best

By selecting your best rooster and placing him with your best hens, you increase the odds of those “best” traits being passed along to the next generation.  Choose chickens with the traits you want to increase in your flock.  Selecting for production traits is summarized in Breeding for Type (as are commonly mentioned faults such as wry tail and crows head).  Egg-laying types have a thinner skeleton, smaller frame overall, a boxier shape, and a deep, soft abdomen.  Meat-types have a thicker frame to support heavier muscling, a rounder shape, and a tighter abdomen.  To select for breed conformation, you will look at traits like body shape, plumage color and pattern, skin color, and comb shape.

By Anjwalker (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Phoenix rooster and hen by Anjwalker via Wikimedia Commons

Offsetting Faults

When improving a breed, you rarely have perfect specimens to begin with.  However, you do not want faults to become more entrenched in your line.  If an individual has a certain fault such as off-color shanks, be sure to breed the individual to a bird without the same fault, in this case correctly colored shanks.  This way, the resulting offspring will be at worst heterozygous for this fault, having the faulty genes from only one parent.

Here are some basic guidelines to help you make your selections:

Breeding Criteria

The *absolute, best resource* for breeding is the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC).  Their educational resources are a must-read for all aspiring breeders.

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9 thoughts on “Setting Up Breeding Pens Part 2

  1. I was surprised and pleased to see your photo of Appenzeller Spitzhauben. I have them, too. I was fortunate to start with stock from a good breeder, but even so I have to do selection from each new generation.
    If I may add a bit of advice, unless it’s something immediately obvious, like toe issues, don’t try to winnow out your chicks too early. It’s tempting to do if one has space issues, but they need to have gone through the first molt at four months before you know much about them. It’s better still to wait until they reach sexual maturity.

  2. I have a question for maybe a “Part 3” to setting up breeding pens…
    Please address housing and the pens themselves, space requirements per bird, how many birds per rooster, bedding, nesting area and whether to use a broody hen or incubate?
    I have just begun my first breeding pen of Silver Ameraucana, I only have a trio. 😦
    But have been considering putting some other hens in with the Silver trio, that lay a different color egg, to produce some Colored Egg Layers.
    The existing pen is a 10×20 chain link dog kennel with wire roof and a 4×4 shelter
    Any suggestions appreciated, thank you!

    • Hello, Chris! I apologize for not getting back with you earlier – it has been an intensely busy few weeks for me.

      I think that’s a great article idea. I will definitely write it! You can definitely begin with just a trio. I love Silver Ameraucanas! I had some for a while. I love their hawk-ish look. Beautiful! Creating colored egg layers would be fun. Consider that Silver is dominant, so with a silver rooster, all chicks will have their gold/red replaced by silver in whatever pattern they inherit. If you wanted to use a silver hen with a different rooster, you could create sex-linked chicks.

      Your existing pen and shelter are sufficient size for 3 birds. Are you in a warm climate where they are not inside an enclosed coop? In a 4×4 coop, you won’t want to go over 4 chickens unless you want to clean it out very often, so you may not want to add too many more hens. It sounds great, Chris, and thank you for the ideas!

  3. Thanks Heather!

    I know what you mean by “intensely busy”!
    I live in VT which is some of the reason for picking Ameraucana, besides their other wonderful attributes!

    I decided to add 3 hens to the Silver roo pen, two blues and a SLWyandotte. The offspring will either be project birds or good ole EE’s depending on what hatches. Found some info on project “Silver Blue” Ams and fell in love hard and fast!

    The shelter has 3 roosting bars and their food and water are outside under an extended roof. I added a covered kitty litter pan outside so there is extra nesting space. Some lay in a corner of the coop too. They are not enclosed in the 4×4 coop ever. It’s a “summer” shelter of sorts. They seem to be doing good with it, although egg production is still slow. I think they are all still adjusting to the change and the lack of real sunshine!
    Being patient is really difficult, but need to wait for exposure to the BWSplash roo to clear anyway!

    Thanks for your reply, looking forward to Part 3!

  4. Oh yeah and thanks for the tip about using the Silver hens with something else! They will be busy making Silver chicks for a while, but it’s a very interesting thought to be able to have “sex link” offspring out of them! 😉 Later on down the road!

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