"Ideal" composition of a breeding flock?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by WesleyBeal, Mar 20, 2017.

  1. WesleyBeal

    WesleyBeal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apologies if this topic has been discussed elsewhere - my searches weren't returning the answers I was looking for.

    The question in the title of my post I realize could have hundreds of different answers based on what a person was trying to do, so specific to me, I am:

    +keeping no more than 30 birds over winter
    +breeding long term for utility, which for me means good egg production, especially over winter, winter hardiness, excellent foragers, good longevity, good predator avoidance (behavior and coloring), self-sustaining (broody enough to be able to hatch and rear new chicks).

    Those are a lot of characteristics to breed for: I look at this as a 30 year hobby. I'm just starting out, currently have 22 hens and 2 roosters, and am figuring out what to add to my flock this spring.

    If I breed any of my current flock this spring, it will be to learn the process. I currently have 3 Wyandotte hens, 3 Plymouth Rock hens, 16 Orpington hens, 1 Plymouth Rock rooster, and 1 Orpington rooster.

    My dilemma right now is figuring out what to add to my flock. I plan to reduce my current hen population by 6, leaving room to add 12 more birds, after fall culling, for the winter.

    And finally, my current specific question: how many of those 12 I keep should be roosters??

    It would be easy, management wise, if none of them were, but I worry that will damage my ability to have diverse enough genes down the road. The 2 current roosters are maturing, which makes for much happier hens (all my current birds are 40 weeks old right now). I worry about keeping an extra cockeral this fall, having 3 roosters to 27 hens for the winter.

    On the other hand, I worry about not having the best roosters to mate next year.

    In general, for a winter flock of 30 birds, how many roosters are necessary to have a varied enough population for an effective breeding program?

    Make sense? I hope?

    With 30 birds year round, how many hens to roosters to be able to mate and breed effectively?
     
  2. WesleyBeal

    WesleyBeal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Ever wish you could re-do a post? I shouldn't have been trying to multitask while writing this.

    My much simpler overall question is this:

    To have a good hen-to-rooster ratio for breeding, among an over-winter / after culling population of 30 birds, all housed together, how many roosters should one have?
     
  3. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I’ll refocus my response but have a little fun first. Abra Cadabra, Shazam, Open Sesame, Yaba Daba Doo. There, I just took all magic away from hen to rooster rations. Now we have to deal with reality. Sorry but I do not like magic numbers, mainly because there is nothing magical about them to start with.

    How are you planning to manage them? How much room do you have? There are a lot of different ways you could manage this. I’ve seen one rooster in a free range type setting keep 20 to 25 hens fertile. That normally takes a reasonably young active rooster, say no more than three or four years old. That’s going to vary by rooster. Each has its own personality and vitality. Some can manage it, some can’t, and that’s not just because of age. That’s one reason there are no magic numbers.

    If you have a lot of room and access to the outside you can probably keep three or four roosters with the flock, though being in Minnesota may make that harder. They may be snowed in sometimes. How much room they have available is really critical to this. Some roosters will get along great, others are more likely to fight. Personality has a lot to do with it. The more space they have the better your odds.

    Another option is to create a bachelor pad. House the roosters together but away from the hens. They are a lot less likely to fight if there are no hens to fight over.

    Another option, split them up. Fence your facilities so you can put one rooster with a group of hens. Just keep them separated.

    You can keep as many roosters as you wish, as long as your facilities and management techniques can handle it.
     
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  4. Molpet

    Molpet Chillin' With My Peeps

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    magic answer is 8-12 hens per roo... but depends on the space, hens, roos and if they will all get along
     
  5. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    A ratio of 8 to 12 hens per rooster has absolutely nothing to do with how rosters will get along confined in a limited space in a Minnesota winter, will they fight to the death or serious injury or not. If they are going to fight, they will fight over one hen or one hundred hens.

    It has nothing to do with whether hens are over-mated or barebacked. Plenty of people on this forum report bare backed hens with one rooster in a flock of over 20 hens. Breeders often keep 1 rooster with 1 or 2 hens during breeding season without any problems. These are called breeding pairs or breeding trios. I consistently overwinter one rooster with 6 or 7 hens and don’t have those kinds of problems.

    That magical mystical ratio comes from hatcheries that use the pen breeding method. They monitor the fertility of the eggs and adjust as necessary, but somewhere around a 10 to 1 ratio will pretty much assure that all eggs are fertile in that method with large fowl breeds. Say if they house 20 roosters with 200 hens, all eggs are normally fertile. One member from Kenya said the hatcheries there often us a 7 to 1 ratio. I’m not sure why there is that difference. 12 or even 15 to 1 is more normal with bantams in the pen breeding system where the goal is fertile eggs.

    I know a lot of people on this forum really believe in that 10 to 1 or similar ratio. It makes a really nice flock. But it is not a requirement, there are too many examples that prove otherwise.
     
  6. WesleyBeal

    WesleyBeal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for responding!

    Finding more information since posting, I'm hearing a ratio of 8-12 more often, with 10 being about right, for fertility concerns.

    If I make no changes to my housing situation over the summer, I've got 182 square feet of space inside my coop after removing generous totals for accessories, nests, roosts, & etc.

    I hope to come up with something to make it more likely my birds get outside more during the winter, but for planning purposes, I don't count on that until it's done and it works.

    I think with regards to square footage I could keep 3 roosters and 30 hens, to make the ratio look good on paper.

    Of course, individual temperaments could throw that ratio right out the window.

    But it seems to me that this ratio of 10 to 1 has more to do with fertility of all eggs hatched by all the hens than anything else. I envision myself choosing which rooster to mate to which hens, and separating them from the rest of the flock for a period of time to make that happen. So fertility isn't my chief concern right now.

    I'm concerned about having sufficient genetic diversity - enough good roosters to choose sires from - balanced against keeping the overall flock happy, and not suffering from there being too many roosters running around. Which takes me back to the "magic" number of roosters to hens, which of course you don't know until you know how your roosters behave.
     
  7. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    Were I you, I'd aim for two roosters. Unless you have a rooster with some type of issue, you'll have great fertility for years. That gives you a primary and a back up, in case you lose a rooster for some reason. The fewer roosters, the better IMO (says the woman who currently has 15 [​IMG] ). Remember, if you're going to be hatching, you'll be having potential keepers each year, so you'll have to constantly be re-evaluating your goals and who fits your needs.

    Genetic diversity, not so much of an issue with birds. Mating relatives (parent-offspring, half siblings, etc) is done quite a bit with no issues. You have plenty of birds to spread the diversity around for several generations before you'd have to worry about that. And by then, who knows? Your goals may have changed completely and you're ready to bring in new stock for a new project.
     
  8. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Reading your first post I was going to suggest a spiral breeding system. You can do some research on it, but the simplified version is to divide your flock into three families, ay A, B, and C. it takes good record keeping but any pullet born into a family stays with that family forever. Then each year you take your best B rooster and put him over your best A females. Take your best C rooster and put him over your best B females. Of course, the best A rooster goes over the best C females. Rotate roosters like this every year, best over best.

    When they are first developing their show quality flock, they often use line breeding to get to where they want to go. But once they are there, show quality breeders often use spiral breeding to maintain good genetic diversity for a long time.
     
  9. WesleyBeal

    WesleyBeal Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Reading up on it, that's exactly the method I planned on following.

    Right now I'm working on getting my starter-flock together. I theoretically could start with the birds I have now, but given my goals, and what I've learned the last (not-quite) year, I'd like to get some other breeds in the flock that more closely represent my end goals before starting out.

    Shoot, I guess my questions are in part coming from concerns whether I want my 2 current roosters to be included in the breeding program, or not.

    The Orpington rooster was the runt in the beginning, and would have been culled had my nieces not named him and demanded regular updates on how he's getting along. He's grown up nicely now, but I don't know whether his original "runt-i-ness" was in his genes or environment.

    The Plymouth Rock does an outstanding job of roostering - always looking for food for the hens, putting himself in between any threat and the hens. But, he looks like he's missing one breast. Sort of a chicken hunch-back.

    Without knowing that these traits aren't genetic, I suppose I know my answer and I shouldn't ever breed them. That means I need more roosters to breed from. So if I want to do that, and don't want to cull these two, I'm going to need more housing. Could probably add 1 this year without new digs, depending on temperament.
     
  10. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    My advice with that much breeding and hatching. You are going to need multiple facilities. I think if you hatch birds, you need a second set up for a bachelor pad. A bunch of juvenile roosters need to be kept away from the flock. Their harassment can lower egg production, and cause a great deal of strife and fighting with the flock masters. Just easier to separate them. When you hatch you can get a lot of roosters. Last year, I got 9 roosters and 3 hens...seriously.

    The other point, roosters are a quick and cheap investment, with a large genetic influence. They are one of the easiest adds to a flock if there is not an established rooster. So, while it is fun to plan, I have never really had it all go according to the plan. People often have extra roosters for free or low cost, an easy way to change up the genetics, if you are loosing egg laying or if your carcasses are too thin, or you don't like the feather pattern.

    While having an ongoing operation is an admirable goal, it does not always go that way. However, getting and adding different roosters is easily done.

    Space is critical, being able to pen off birds is also important.

    Mrs K
     
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