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