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How do you really know you're getting good chicken stock? Lots of distain for hatcheries, but how do I know a small breeder's stock is better?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

This is a difficult subject for me to grasp. If I buy from a hatchery (say Cackle, Murray McMurray, etc) there's a lot of talk about the product being poor quality or even not true pure breds. I've read here that they ARE actually pure bred chickens but with poor genetics (quantity vs quality). I can believe it since they have to crank out hundreds of thousands of birds.

 

BUT theoretically, I could take hatchery stock and breed them for a generation or two, then start selling them and technically the buyer is getting birds from an individual (NOT a hatchery). Realistically, they are buying hatchery stock since I obtained the original breeding stock from a hatchery.

 

So... with so many individuals out there, how do I know I'm not just getting homebrew hatchery stock a few generations later? I'm very confused as to how to find good birds.

 

 

Side note from all of that... I butchered 16 Cornish X's today and at 6.5 weeks they weigh 3.5lbs dressed. I was pretty happy with the results. These were from a hatchery out east who drop ships from one of the big "byproduct" producers for the meat industry. They ate 1000 pounds of feed (110 birds) and I have $350 into approx 350 lbs of meat not counting costs of shelter, electricity, etc. That's with my own processing (no cost). Still cheaper to buy from the store at $1/lb whole or $0.38/lb for leg quarters. But it was a good experience and gave me something to compare with last years heritage breeds. Not to get too long winded, but related... last years meat birds were heritage breeds: Buffs, Barred Rocks, New Hamshires, and Red Sex Links. They were from Cackle Hatchery and weighed around 3 pounds at 18 weeks. Would I expect similar from good stock on say Delawares?

post #2 of 9

For the most part, 'hatchery birds' are well beyond a generation or 2 from being quality stock.  There's a world of difference between a bird from the general hatchery stock and heritage/exhibition/etc stock - almost to the point of looking like entirely different breeds.  Take a look at this thread as an example - both birds are barred rocks and in their own ways, are great looking birds - but there is clearly a difference in their make-up.  

 

Most breeders select their best stock to pair together and this usually translates in the quality of offspring.  Most hatcheries have hundreds of roosters with hundreds more of hens and it's essentially a free-for-all on who mates who (often the most aggressive roosters wins out and this is a reason why so many hatchery roosters have sh**ty personalities), so undesirable roosters may be mating undesirable hens and this too often translates in the quality of offspring.  Also, many hatchery birds, at one point in their evolution, have had some outside influence added to their genetics - to increase egg production, weight, etc that it could potentially take several years to begin to right the ship (and I'm not sure that it would be possible without heavy additions of quality heritage stock).

 

That being said, there's a place for birds of both stock.  I have hatchery birds in a brooder right now for my kid's 'barnyard flock' - a mix of breeds for various egg colors (olive eggers, legbars, etc) - they're pets and we enjoy them now and will enjoy watching them in the yard 'being chickens' but their use basically ends there.  We also have some pure bred birds (we hatched some Svart Hona and we have a shipment of barred rocks from Dick Horstman en route) that we'll use for my kid's 4-H and other exhibition and likely use as a breeding program in the future.

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post #3 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by 0wen View Post

Also, many hatchery birds, at one point in their evolution, have had some outside influence added to their genetics - to increase egg production, weight, etc that it could potentially take several years to begin to right the ship (and I'm not sure that it would be possible without heavy additions of quality heritage stock).

Owen, do you have any proof of this? As you point out, it would take a pretty big effort to get back to them looking somewhat like they are supposed to if you introduced outside influences. Different hatcheries have different people with different abilities and even different goals selecting which get to breed, but I think the “breed quality” degradation is mostly due to the pen breeding method they use.

Also, I think the improved egg laying ability you get form most hatchery breeds is more due to selective breeding, them keeping their most productive birds to lay eggs, so over time the flock just lays better. Some hatcheries, Cackle for example, claim to have had at least some of their breeding flocks for about 40 years. They have certainly had time to develop their own strain.

You might find post #34 in this thread interesting. It’s about Ideal, not Cackle.

http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/450193/ideal-poultry-a-look-inside-the-hatchery/30

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

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When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

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post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 

Regarding comments about the hatchery birds being bred over the years for high production, I will say our birds from Cackle (105 quantity Frypan Special) of which at least 5 turned out to be hens (62 died of heat stroke by a mistake leaving them penned on a hot day, the rest became meat for us or for predators) are quite the layers! One egg a day is normal. It's rare to miss a day and we believe we've had doubles certain days. This has been from "Barred Rocks" which we believe may have been black sex links, a Buff Orpington hen, and a New Hampshire hen.

 

The meat quantity was minimal though. I realize these aren't Cornish X, but at 18 weeks we were lucky to get a 3# dressed bird. Most were 2# or a hair under. These were free ranged in a wooded area AND fed.

 

But I guess what I'm confused about is... how do I know I'm really getting good breeder stock and not just hobbyist "breeder" stock. Again, I have a pair of Cackle birds that are producing fertile eggs. I could post an add saying I have purebreds of the breed I own. They buyer would think they're getting something better since it's not from Cackle when in reality they are just Gen 2 of a home grown variety with me posing as a farm breeder. I wouldn't do this... but how do I know what I'm getting I guess is the question.

 

And I do collect and am trying to hatch my bird's eggs. Not for resale but to keep the flock going. They've been good birds and certainly good layers.


Edited by 777funk - 5/5/16 at 6:31am
post #5 of 9
777Funk, I’m not sure how to address your question without writing a book. A lot of my posts are too long to start with. I’ll try to not ramble too much.

At some point man domesticated chickens. Over time, they learned by selective breeding they could enhance certain traits, egg laying, meat production, or just keeping pretty chickens for decoration like chickens with strange feathers or funny things on their heads. At first these were not really breeds but just types. Say a type that lays well versus a type that puts on meat quickly.

Over time they did develop into certain “breeds” but not breeds as we know them. They became pretty specialized, but their specialty was more laying eggs or producing meat or looking weird. And they learned they could control color and pattern. People have always liked pretty things. Some of the traits they were enhancing at this stage might be a light color for a meat bird so you get a prettier carcass when you pluck or maybe better egg size or frequency of laying. Production traits.

Then some people decided they wanted to compete in who could raise the best bird. Before you can compete you have to give the judge some rules to judge by, so they developed rules to define a breed. Today we call these rules the Standard of Perfection (SOP). Thus a breed was created. In addition to the production traits they included things like specific colors and patterns, eye color, number of toes, skin color, type of comb, and very specific body shapes. Some of these things were a directly related to the function the breed was supposed to fulfill, like body shape, but some really didn’t. How does eye color affect egg laying ability? Does it really matter if they have a single, rose, or pea comb, or whether a single comb has exactly five points and whether that comb is upright or flops over. But all these things became very important to a show quality chicken. The wrong leg color can get it disqualified in a show.

Something important with chickens is that unless you enhance a certain trait continually with each selection of breeding birds, you can lose that trait fairly quickly. Quality breeders usually carefully select one or two specific hens to go with one specific rooster to try to get the best possible show chicken. Even after they get their line well established I’ve read that most quality breeders still only get about one on five that hatch as show quality. The rest just aren’t good enough. It’s not cheap or easy to develop a quality line of show chickens. It takes a lot of knowledge and a lot of dedicated work. These chickens are not cheap when you buy them.

On the other hand, hatcheries are not about breeding show quality birds. They are mass-producing birds that pretty much look like the breed they are supposed to be, but at competitive prices. They do not carefully select which specific birds get to breed, they might put 20 roosters in with 200 hens in a pen and let them randomly mate. You don’t get or maintain show quality chickens that way but you can charge fairly low prices.

Something about pure breeds. There is not genetic requirement in how you make a breed. It’s all about the judging. What does the judge see? Some breeds have to have certain things, a Delaware has to have Columbia and Silver, but there are different ways to make a solid white bird. You can use Dominant White on a black base, you can use Recessive White on any base color. You can use both. Some people may add Silver to help get a whiter bird (probably female), some add barring to make the white look whiter. You can get a solid black bird using Extended Black, but you can also get a solid black bird using Birchen with Melanizers (a color modifier). Some breeders keep different flocks to make show quality males versus a flock to make show quality females. Owen, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the requirement for a flock to be considered “purebred” they have to breed true for five generations. It doesn’t matter what the specific genetics are, they just have to have stabilized for five generations. Even them you can get some recessive genes to pair up. It’s hard to totally eliminate recessive genes. Dominant genes are a lot easier to eliminate. It is not easy to produce show quality birds.

You are exactly right. Some people conjure up some mythical god or goddess when they hear the word “breeder”. Breeders come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Some produce show quality birds that actually have the production traits and personalities the breed is supposed to possess. Several years back, a certified APA judge said there are probably three flocks in US that have this quality of Rhode Island Reds, a fairly common breed. His flock was one of them. Many people breed show quality birds but mainly concentrate on the qualities the judge sees. Then you go all the way down to people that get hatchery birds, don’t have a clue what an SOP is so they have no idea how to select breeders, and sell those as purebreds. It’s a jungle out there.

I suggest you first decide what your goals are for your chickens. Do you want or need show quality? Those chickens are expensive. Unless you know what you are doing when selecting your breeders, you will probably lose a lot of those traits in a few generations anyway. If you want show quality stock, see how many ribbons they are wining at shows.

It sounds like your goals may have more to do with meat or egg production than winning ribbons. This can be a challenge. If you can find a breeder that knows what they are doing and are breeding to your goals, you have it made. I have no idea how to find that person though. Maybe go on your state thread in the “Where am I! Where are you!“ section of this forum and chat with your neighbors. But it boils down to knowing what your goals are and talking to the breeder to make your own assessment of their birds relative to your goals.

I took hatchery birds and bred my own flock toward my goals. If you want good egg layers, hatch eggs form hens that lay a lot of good eggs. If you want larger bids eat your smaller ones and breed your larger ones. In a few generations you will be getting closer to your goals if you select good breeders. The fewer goals you have the faster you will get there. I made that mistake.

For pure meat birds you cannot beat the broiler specialists. For pure egg laying you cannot beat the commercial egg laying hybrids. But for a dual purpose flock you’re going to have to work at it to get what you want.

Like I said, my posts are too long. Hopefully you can get something useful out of all this.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

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When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

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post #6 of 9

5 generations is probably right.  Not certain, but I looked at it recently and know there is a number of generations to breed but for me to recall off the bat - now way..  ;)  

 

Ridgerunner is pretty much spot on with their advice and highlighted some points I'd forgot to mention with exhibition birds and such in that breeding is a pain.  My Dick Horstman example above - by all accounts, he produces a quality line of birds, but that doesn't mean all of his birds are 'show/exhibition' quality so there is certainly still some risk when buying from even well established breeders if you're looking for the 'perfect' bird.  Ridgerunner's points on genes and all - you can have a flock of great looking birds that could all go in a show ring, and still occasionally (more often than one would like) hatch out a bird that wouldn't come close to catching a judge's eye.  It's all quite irritating! (yet interesting and potentially addictive)

 

Like RR mentioned, I'd look at your expectations from your flock.  If you simply want egg production there are a few breeds that you can't go wrong with (Leghorn, RIR, Production crosses) and will give you an egg a day - every day.  Same with meat (cornish x's, etc) and the middle of the road dual-purpose birds.  For the most part, the commercial hatcheries have them categorized correctly and if you read the description it will essentially tell you if you're getting a great layer/broiler/dual-purpose bird.  Sometimes a barnyard flock of mutt's can surpass personal needs better than any heritage breed (and that is why these commercial lines exist - most hatchery bird breeds for example, will be better layers than a line that has been closed off for generations - because somewhere along the line, they may have had a leghorn or such added to their gene pool)  Not to say that heritage lines can not, and are not good layers - just saying that commercial breeds have their purpose as well.  I'd love to have a Svart Hona that laid like a commercial leghorn.  ;)

 

Barnyard mixes often contain my favorite birds and you can learn a lot (on accident) from them.  I had a broody hatch out some chicks and my small(ish) Faverolle mixed with my medium(ish) white plymouth rock and created a giant mixed rooster.  I understand the logic of mixing rocks as commercial broilers after the eye witness result of crossing them...  Same is true with the new 'Super Blue' egg layers which is essentially a legbar (blue egg layer that has some leghorn somewhere in it) crossed again to a leghorn (egg factory) to essentially introduce a layer of colored eggs that produces daily.

 

Difficult debate on which route to go.  My Horstman rocks are coming just because through a barnyard mix, we learned we liked Barred Rocks and my kid wanted to show them.  Same with the Svart Hona - they're more like RR mentioned above - eye candy added to my flock more than any grand breeding plans (although I'll certainly hatch a few - but I'll also likely hatch a few that cross with a legbar or a leghorn.  I know this is sacrilege to some, crossing a breed that has small overall numbers, but what can you do).

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post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the great insight. I certainly noticed some bigger birds from Cackle. I suppose with any flock I could do just what you said, keep the good ones around in hopes of more good ones.

 

I'd guess from a hatchery, I'd probably get future generations related somehow to my previous generation but far enough away to be ok a year or two later. It's probably not good genetics to let related chickens produce more chickens, correct?

post #8 of 9

Actually inbreeding is common practice (see 'line breeding) in producing lines.  Sometimes it's the best option if, say, your rooster/hen mating doesn't produce a quality rooster again - you'd breed them back (sometimes again, and again, and again) through different generations.  On a small scale, it's perfectly fine to do for several generations and I'm not sure there would be any adverse effects during the life of a flock.  Eventually, you'll throw enough good roosters and hens that through breeding - they'd be far enough removed from one another that it doesn't matter - certainly not in one's lifetime.  I know it doesn't sound logical, but think of it as sort of creating your own landrace flock in your backyard...

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post #9 of 9
One of the reasons the hatcheries use the pen breeding method is that it keeps genetic diversity up. Yes, eventually they are all related but most of them not all that closely. With a large enough flock they can keep the flock going indefinitely without inbreeding becoming a big problem. Of course, you select your breeders to eliminate defective chickens. It does take some work.

Once a “line” has been established, usually through line breed and very selective breeding, many breeders use the ”spiral breeding” system to help maintain genetic diversity. That way they are breeding second cousins, not siblings or first cousins. A good breeder, carefully selecting the breeding stock, can keep those flocks going a long time. This takes more work.

There are other techniques to maintaining genetic diversity. One very common one used on small farms around the world is to bring in a new rooster every four or five generations or whenever productivity shows you need to. This is basically for a flock that has just one or two roosters.

Over time uncontrolled inbreeding can lead to problems, but there are techniques to handle it. I would not worry about chickens of the same breed from the same hatchery, especially if they are separated by a few generations. I do not worry about it from the same generation.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

Reply

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

 

"If you make every game a life-and-death proposition, you're going to have problems. For one thing, you'll be dead a lot." — former North Carolina coach Dean Smith

 

http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/how-much-room-do-chickens-need

Reply
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BackYard Chickens › BYC Forum › Raising BackYard Chickens › Meat Birds ETC › How do you really know you're getting good chicken stock? Lots of distain for hatcheries, but how do I know a small breeder's stock is better?