History of Chicken Breeds/Breeding
All domestic chicken breeds (scientific name – gallus domesticus) originated from the Red Asian Jungle Fowl. Believe it or not, your funky frizzle bird or colorful Barred Plymouth Rock rooster came from this majestic, wild bird.
Through many years of extensive breeding, we have finally arrived at the chicken breeds available now. Who knows? Fifty years from now people may look back at the chickens we have now the way we look back at the Red Asian Jungle Fowl!
Breeding chickens can become quite complicated, but always remember one interesting point. Because all chickens originated from the Red Asian Jungle Fowl, if you let your birds breed freely between species you will end up with a mangy chicken that looks just like its ancestor (at least, that’s what would happen in theory).
Unless having a flock of odd-colored chickens is your goal, or if you’re experimenting with creating a new hybrid, keep separate breeds apart.
What is a breed?
There’s no use talking about breeds if we don’t first clarify what we’re talking about! Birds are grouped together by similarities in their feathers, body size, color and carriage. These are called breeds, and each breed belongs to a large, more general group of birds. For example, the Leghorn is a breed and it belongs to the Mediterranean group.
Some breeders delight in the challenge of developing new breeds. There are countless, beautiful birds out there that are the result of the hard work and perseverance of professional breeders. However, beginners should settle for just breeding the common chicken strains before pushing on toward such a difficult endeavor. There’s nothing worse than diving in too deep too fast and getting burnt out before discovering how fun it can be!
Before you start breeding chickens
Take a moment to review some important concepts of breeding. First of all, decide what you want your chickens’ offspring to be for. Will they be used for strictly laying? If so, you should “breed out” several different traits, including broodiness. Why? A broody hen stops her laying cycle, and this reduces the overall egg/chicken ratio. You should also breed out the hens that eat a lot and lay very little. The less feed you have to feed them, the greater your Electronic Cigarette profit.
Maybe you want to breed excellent chickens to exhibit. If so, you’ll probably want to keep the birds that match the Standard’s guidelines and cull those that don’t fit.
What about meat birds? If you are trying to breed chickens for consumption, then you’ll obviously only want to breed the fattest, fastest growing birds in the flock. The faster the bird grows, the less time and resources you spend raising it and the bigger your profit!
Any trait that is important to the breeder’s goal is constantly emphasized, while irrelevant traits are ignored. Any characteristic that seriously goes against the breeder’s goal(s) and proves to be detrimental is selectively bred against.
Traits you want
Fecundity, or the ability to lay eggs, is of obvious importance to the chicken farmer who is wanting a new flock of layers. That’s why is helps to keep a record of all the hens’ and how they lay. Understandably, this trait is generally ignored by meat and show breeders.
Plumage color is basically ignored by someone breeding layers, but is important for those breeding exhibition chickens. Keep an eye on the chickens and select the ones that match the Standard. For example, if the bird shouldn’t have feathers on its feet and you see one that has, remove it. Also, for meat breeders, the birds should have white feathers since dark ones leave black pigment spots in the skin. Most people lose their appetites when they see a polka-dotted drumstick on their plate.
Foraging ability and fertility are ignored by commercial layer breeders, but you should decide for yourself what you want your chickens to be like. Feed costs are reduced if the chickens know how to forage for themselves, and if you are a backyard chicken raiser then fertility should be bred into the chickens.
Size is VERY vital. For layers, they shouldn’t be overly large because large layers generally don’t lay as well as smaller hens. On the other hand, if you are raising meat birds then this trait should be bred into the chickens continuously!
Additional offline book resources:
1. Feeding Poultry: The Classic Guide to Poultry Nutrition for Chickens, Turkeys, Ducks, Geese, Gamebirds, and Pigeons
2. Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens
3. University of California: Feeding Chickens