Hi all BCM lovers! I am new to chicken keeping and after much research, we built a coop over the summer and purchased 9 day-old FBCM chicks this summer, hatched at the end of July. They are the GFF new French imports line. Out of the 9, I ended up with 6 cockerels and 3 pullets. So far, I've been impressed with the size, personality, and productiveness of the birds. They all have very correct shank and eye color. One of my pullets laid her first egg yesterday at 21 weeks old and she laid another gorgeous egg this morning! However, I've seen quite a few different faults pop up on most all of the cockerels. We processed the two smallest cockerels last weekend. Our decision to cull those two was based on the fact that they were the two smallest birds; one was very overly copper colored on the breast; the other was extremely slow to feather, probably at least 3-4 weeks behind the rest of the flock.
Now we are left with 4 cockerels. I am trying to decide on 2 to keep for the sake of genetic diversity, and because they are free ranged daily and do a good job of watching over the girls. My main goal is to raise healthy birds that produce beautiful eggs and to use my culls for meat birds. Although I do not necessarily plan on showing any of my birds, I may eventually try to sell excess eggs as hatching eggs. Of course, I would ideally produce productive birds that did their best to exhibit the standard of perfection. However, good body type, hardiness, and egg laying capacity is my first priority at this point. As I said, I am very green to raising chickens, let alone breeding them. We may purchase a small coop to keep the cockerels in for a while, so we can possibly put one cockerel at a time in with the girls to get fertilized eggs from them. So I am not against growing out my current boys for a little while longer to do some test mating.
My question is, which "faults" or "disqualifications" can be worked with in a breeding program and be bred out? From reading through the forums, I am sure most of the serious breeders on here would say to cull anything with a "disqualification." However, I have also seen breeders say not to throw away a good bird just because of that. For example, an article from Backyard Poultry magazine stated, "This Black Marans Cockerel, owned by Kathleen LaDue, is superior in type, degree of shank feathering, and color, but has a small side sprig on his comb. When developing new varieties and bloodlines in rare breeds, simple faults like this can be overcome with strategic breeding if the bird excels in other desirable traits."
I hope to post some pictures of my 4 boys for you all to evaluate and help me decide on what is worth trying to breed or not. I have one cockerel with side sprigs and one who is starting to show some white in the earlobes, both of which I believe are "disqualifications." I have another that has a small amount of white under fluff at the base of the feather under the hackle feathers (the entire feather is NOT white, just at the base of the feather where it comes out of the skin). None of them have white wing or tail feathers. They all appear to have some shafting on the copper breast feathers. Some of them have small amount of white feathers on feet (only part of the feather is white). None of them have the yellow halo. Please do not tell me to eat them all and start over. I plan on working with what I have. After all, my goal with getting chickens was to be more sustainable, for the eggs, and to provide my chickens a more humane and loving environment than factory farmed poultry.
Overview picture of the 4 boys:
He has side sprigs. He is top of the pecking order. He is my biggest boy, with the lowest tail angle, and darkest copper hackles. Fastest growing, first crowing (a month before rest). Least amount of shank feathering. Very open tail from behind. No white anywhere. Easy to handle/hold, but recently slightly aggressive. Was the friendliest growing up until now. Can the side sprigs be bred out? Or is it not worth it to try to get some offspring from him? We can either test mate him or eat him.
Cockerel 1 is the bird on the right
Was born with red earlobes, but has recently developed white on earlobes. Has better body type than cockerels 3 and 4. He is the widest bird in the hips. His legs are stocky and widely spaced apart. Very open tail from behind. He's the least aggressive bird and easy to pick up. He has heaviest feathered shanks of all birds. 3rd in pecking order, 3rd in weight, only an ounce less than cockerel 3. Of note, he was born with a tiny copper dot on his head. Tiny bit of white on feet feathers. Cockerels 2 and 3 have probably the most correct copper colored hackles of the 4 (cockerel 1 more mahogany, cockerel 4 slightly lighter than 2 and 3).
Cockerel 2 is the bird on the right.
View from behind, cockerel 2 is on the right, on the stairs.
Close up of cockerel 2's head/earlobes.
This bird is 2nd in pecking order and weight, but only slightly heavier than cockerel 2 above. He has the least amount of copper on the breast, but has shafting there. He has a higher, more vertical tail angle. He has small amount of white under fluff at the base of the feather under the hackle feathers (the entire feather is NOT white, just at the base of the down feather where it comes out of the skin). No white on wings or tail or anywhere exposed. He has narrower hips than cockerel 2. Tiny bit of white on feet feathers.
Cockerel 3 is on left.
Side view of cockerel 3, behind on the left.
Back view of cockerel 3, on left. All 3 of cockerels 1, 2, and 3 have a nice wide open tail like this, with cockerel 2 probably being the widest legs.
He is 4th in pecking order and also the smallest in weight of the 4 (but is still bigger than the 2 we already culled). He has a slightly different body type, his legs appear longer, his body taller than the rest. When looked down at from above, he "appears" narrower towards the hips compared to the wings. I say "appears" because despite all this, he has a longer back than cockerels 2 and 3, who are stockier, but also seem to have shorter backs. However, his tail is the least open and slightly pinched at the top, but still open at bottom. He has the most evenly serrated comb of them all. He has the reddest eyes of all the marans we have. He is the most aggressive of the 4. I was possibly going to cull him just because of his aggression, but I am willing to work with him on it if you think he should be bred. Or I could keep him just until I get fertilized eggs from him. He is slightly slower feathering than all the rest of the boys. He was the first boy to start mounting the pullets, long before he knew what he was doing. He has the lightest colored hackles of the 4, but still not straw colored. Although, the coloring could be due to his slower feathering? He has the most amount of copper on breast. No white that I could find.
Side view of cockerel 4 in middle of screen (bird on left).
Just for fun, and to allow you to see the type of pullets I will be working with, here is a picture of one of my pullets, the one who started laying yesterday at 21 weeks:
So there are the pictures of the 4 cockerels I have to work with. If someone can please clarify which defects (side sprigs, earlobe color, white feathers) can be worked with and bred out over time, I'd love some concrete answers. I'm unsure which characteristics are heavily passed down through genetics. I've read conflicting threads on breeders using birds with defects. And even Backyard Poultry Magazine endorsed using certain birds, despite major flaws, as cited above.
Honest and constructive criticism, delivered in a respectful and considerate manor, is highly appreciated. As a chicken newbie, I feel like I know my birds enough to describe what I see to you all. However, I don't have the experience to really know what to do with all that information at this point! I am willing to keep all 4 long enough in a separate coop to do planned breedings to see what the offspring look like if that's what some of you recommend? I'd like your opinions on which birds to definately keep, try, or cull. Please rank them as you wish and provide any explanations you see fit. Ideally, I would keep 2 for the long run, but I don't mind test breeding more of them for their offspring and then culling them. I apologize for the long post. I wanted to give you guys as much information as possible, as their fate literally rests on it.
Thank you for sticking with me through this long and informative post. I look forward from learning from you all!