When we are actually breeding, and we are breeding birds that are a sum of their parts, there is a lot to sort through. Hypothetically, we have a pullet that has this particular strength. On that specific point she is stronger than the best bird you have. A breeder is looking how to strengthen that point in his or her line. This may mean doing this or doing that. Breeders have always done this, and from hundreds of years ago. How do I strengthen this trait? How do I introduce this trait (no line or strain has it all)? When and if you get into the "meat of it", there becomes a lot to consider. There is a lot to consider. If one wants to keep it simple and merely perpetuate what they have, there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not breeding for improvement.
And if we are finished culling now, then we are missing a lot. I have reduced myself to my winter pullets, and the cockerels that I will hold over. Culling is on going however. We should be evaluating hens, and not pullets. Proving cocks.
A hen is not fully evaluated until her pullet year is through and into that next spring. Not as a pullet in her first fall. Now you prove her. She is only beneficial if she contributes her desirable characteristics to her offspring. In this respect, one hen is better than another. A cock is not fully evaluated until his offspring are evaluated, after he has been bred as a cock.
Many of the traits that we concern ourselves with are not visible. We have to "prove" their existence. This is a necessary part.
If we are interested in the longevity and survivability of our birds, we do not merely replace pullets with pullets. We breed cocks and hens. Not cockerels and pullets. We breed cocks and hens that have been proven by their offspring, and continue to emphasize them until they die, are no longer functionally fertile, or they have been replaced by something better. If a proven cock is still producing 50% fertile eggs at five years old, and produces birds as well as anything else that you have, then I assure you that he is the most valuable bird on the farm.
We complain about the longevity of commercial production strains that by default are not bred for longevity. Then we repeat the same process with our own birds.
Breeders are most concerned with the survivability and longevity of their line. There is nothing more important than health and vigor. Health and vigor is proven with the passing of time. The evaluation on this point has only begun in their first fall.
Culling is not that simple. It is an ongoing process that never ends. Over the course of a pullet year, and into the first spring as a hen, we should be evaluating who that year's breeders should be.
This is not taking a trip to "Build a Bear". This is a long term project that requires patience. There are numerous things to consider and we are always considering. Always looking. Always evaluating. Always culling. Always mentally setting up breeding pens, and pairs, and trios etc. Even for flock mating, we are always scheming. We never quit learning a bird or birds. We have a pretty good idea what we MIGHT have in their second spring. Then we prove them worthy or unworthy by their offspring.
We have only begun evaluating birds in their first fall.
I am so glad you posted this! I was just about to ask for advice on when is the best time to evaluate a female for culling or retaining as I've yet to venture down that path.
In maintaining my pure line of NN Turkens I keep an eye on the SOP, but ultimately I'm still breeding for good production of eggs or meat, depending upon the line, and overall hardiness. My NN flock hatched in January of this year so that one year anniversary is quickly approaching and I've been watching my girls closely. I'm really impressed by their body density...very meaty breasts and legs...and I'm actually quite impressed with how well they lay too. Right now they're in the middle of a pretty aggressive molting process and I'm still averaging 4-6 large eggs per week from each of them. I only have four pure pullets and I'm down to two pure cockerels, but just performed a hatching using primarily a third cockerel that I have since culled due to temperament in order to add diversity and work towards some improvement in comb and color conformity. I'm hoping to get a couple of really clean buffs out of that mating.
Patience....yeah, that's always been one of my weak points, but managing these birds is teaching me a great deal about the virtues of being patient.
All of that said, my two favorite chicks out of the last hatch have been "surprises". The first is this gorgeous guy....the progeny of my two favorite NNs. Daddy wasn't the buff cockerel I culled, but my gorgeous black cockerel I had been planning to breed next. I guess he sneaked in when I wasn't looking. He's a very solid pure NN with the most impressive growth rate in the group and a very confident demeanor.
The second surprise is an Austrolorp/NN cross I had been expecting. I crossed my Aussies with my Bielefelder cockerel, but one of my NN boys must have gotten to my best Australorp layer when I wasn't looking. Frisky, sneaky little guys. This chick has really been impressing me with very rapid growth, outstanding temperament and vitality, and a healthy dose of smarts.
So I went for buff and fell in love with the black chicks.