Rooster Fertility

Discussion in 'Incubating & Hatching Eggs' started by skullgrrrl, Jun 14, 2019.

  1. skullgrrrl

    skullgrrrl Songster

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    I've had a couple of different roosters and have had high fertility rates. My current rooster's fertility was good last year. He's just turned two and most of my hatches this year are crap - lots of unfertilized eggs and hatch rates of 50-70%.

    He's in with 20-25 hens which is high but that's never been an issue before.

    What have you experienced about declining fertility in your roosters? Age? Or other factors?
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

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    I assume you count hatch rate the same way I do, eggs in versus chicks out. Some people do it differently. 70% isn't that unusual for me but less than that is. Most are better. And yes, a reasonably active rooster should keep 20 to 25 hens pretty fertile. Dad kept a flock of 25 to 30 hens and one rooster and practically all eggs were fertile.

    Are you checking for the bull's eye to see if they were fertilized? Have you opened unhatched eggs to see that there was no development? Just trying to cover the basics.

    There are different things other than the rooster that can cause eggs to not develop. Flock nutrition and disease are a couple but I'd guess things haven't changed for you in those regards. Are some of the eggs pullet eggs, especially within the first month of them laying? I often hatch pullet eggs and usually do OK, but I can get poor hatch rates with them. Some of that might be that the pullet hasn't worked all the kinks out of her internal egg laying machine. Once I'm sure the pullet ran from the rooster and he never chased her down. She was too immature to do her part.

    When a fertilized egg is laid the embryo is alive. How and how long that egg is stored can kill the embryo. In ideal conditions the embryo can remain viable for two weeks or more. The further away from ideal conditions you are the quicker hatchability deceases. My storage conditions are not that ideal but I still get good hatch rates after a week of storage. Too much heat or too much cold or temperature swings from hot to cold and back can kill the embryo. Too low humidity for too long or not turning can cause hatchability problems but I'd think those should still at least start developing. One time I had a horrible hatch rate (30%) when I got designer eggs from a breeder. I transported them on a rough country road and shook them way too much. How you handle them can be important.

    As for a rooster's fertility, that can drop with age. You are not talking about a 2 year old, more like 4 or 5 or maybe older. I don't think that's a factor but it can be a matter of vitality. As they get older they have less interest. Larger roosters tend to be less active than smaller roosters but he was OK last year, I doubt this is a factor. Injury can cause a drop in fertility. Severe frostbite to the comb and wattles can cause issues. Competition from another rooster can spur activity. I'm sure there are things I missed.

    Lots of different possibilities, I don't know which might apply to you.
     
    123RedBeard likes this.
  3. Gray Farms

    Gray Farms Conserve Heritage Breed Livestock

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    Do you just have the one rooster?
     
  4. cmom

    cmom Hilltop Farm

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    One of my breeds is White Leghorns. I have been working on them for show quality. Last year I had some beautiful chicks hatched from my male. I put them with their father who was a reserve champion at a show. I was so looking forward to hatching chicks. I put my 5 top females in with my male. Not one of the eggs were fertile. I wormed them as a precaution and know that can affect fertility. I tried again and no fertile eggs. I'm sure it has to be something with the male because I can't imagine all of the females would be infertile. I had such beautiful chicks from him last year. I have seen my male mate the females. I'm sick because I was so looking forward to chicks from this mating. I had a break-in in one of my pens a few months ago. Somehow a predator got a gate opened and killed my backup White Leghorn male so now I don't have a backup male. I know a breeder and going to see if he has another male I can buy.
     
  5. UThobbyfarmer

    UThobbyfarmer Crowing

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    If I want hatching eggs, specifically for selling, I won't do more than 1 rooster to 8-10 hens max. Maybe some can pull it off just fine but if I'm charging for eggs I won't take the chance.
     
  6. cmom

    cmom Hilltop Farm

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    I do the same thing.
     
  7. skullgrrrl

    skullgrrrl Songster

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    To answer you questions:

    I count hatch rate as eggs in, live chicks out. Always had high fertility and viability. Last summer had the same rooster and @25 hens and had many 100% hatches (or close to). When the hatch rate was lower I cracked open eggs and found some early and late quitters attesting to the high fertility (but not hatchability) rates.

    I don't crack eggs for bull's eyes, but I do crack open unhatched eggs. In the past I had some early and late quitters, this season seems to be unfertilized or really early deaths (can't tell).

    No, I don't use pullet eggs. My youngest hens are 11 months old, most over a year, a few are two-three years old.

    I am using broody hens to hatch my eggs, but I've had a few people using incubators that have reported lower hatch rates as well (I've given them replacement eggs for free). The best hatch rate this year was @70%.

    Since I'm not using an incubator fluctuations in temperature and humidity aren't the issue. All of my hens are diligent sitters.

    I am using fresh eggs (i.e. laid that day). If I store eggs it is a room temp, pointed end down in an egg carton, turned daily and incubated within 4 days.

    My rooster has not had an injury or frostbite. The flock is routinely treated for parasites and I've seen no evidence of mites or lice.

    I have only one rooster. The number of hens he's with varies depending on how many are broody, but generally @20-25. This is about the same as last year (some different hens).
     
  8. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

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    Using the eggs in - chicks out method I can accept 70% as an occasional worst rate but certainly not as the best. Most of your hatches should be better. So something is not as good as it could be. And you've shot down practically everything I can think of. I'll toss out another idea, though it's kind of grasping at straws. Some breeders of thick-feathered birds like Orpington sometimes pluck feathers from the vent area of males and females. The really thick feathers might hinder the rooster hitting the target. I don't know what breeds you have. Why this would be different this year compared to last year I don't know.

    If you mail eggs or other people transport and incubate them then certain things are out of your control. I'd expect lower hatch rates from mailed eggs and not count other people's success or failure too strongly but if you are seeing the same thing with you in control, I'd be more concerned.

    Do your chickens free range? A rooster doesn't keep a little black book to keep track of which hens he has mated with, it's often a matter of opportunity. A large flock like you have will not always hang together. Often certain hens form a sub-flock and spend a fair amount of time away from the rooster and the "main" flock so his opportunities are less. Often that sub-flock is a group of hens that were raised together. Have you noticed if it is the new hens'eggs not hatching or any certain hen's eggs not hatching? Dad's flocks of one rooster and 25 to 30 hens did not stay in a tight little group but would scatter over an acre or two. Still, practically all those eggs were fertile.

    A few hatches with low hatch rates, well sometimes life plays with you but it sounds like it is consistent, not just an anomaly or two.

    If nothing has changed in the way you feed them, manage them, handle the eggs, or incubate them then it has to be something to do with the chickens, probably the rooster. Whether that is something physically wrong with him or something behavioral I don't know. It sounds like you are in the business of selling hatching eggs or chicks so hatch rate is important to you, more so than some others. I'd try adding a second rooster and see how that goes. You have to look at results and stay flexible. Whether you ever come up with the cause at some point you need to try something. To me a second rooster is a logical step.
     
  9. cmom

    cmom Hilltop Farm

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    Her hatch rate is around 70%, most likely since she has 20 to 25 females with one male. I wouldn't expect a better rate.
    I have done some flock breeding in the past when I have had 2 or 3 males in with that many females. Had no issues but the males were raised together.
     
  10. skullgrrrl

    skullgrrrl Songster

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    To further answer your questions:

    My birds are currently in a 1200 square feet pen - no free ranging. Broody hens and chicks are in another pen.

    I don't ever ship eggs over concerns of decreased viability. I handle the eggs carefully and nothing has changed in that regard over the past 4 seasons.

    My rooster is with about the same number of hens - the only thing that has changed is the decreased number of chicks hatched related to fertility.

    He is an Appenzeller Spitzhauben x Polish. Hens are Appenzeller x, Polish x, Cream Legbar, Ameraucauna, Easter Eggers. I've never clipped/pulled feathers from around their vents as this issue is new.

    I like my rooster and am not interested in getting another. I had a bantam rooster for four years and there was more crowing with two. My current rooster crows in the early morning for a few minutes and then is almost silent for the rest of the day.
     

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