Sustainable breeding with small numbers?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by triplepurpose, Feb 12, 2017.

  1. triplepurpose

    triplepurpose Chillin' With My Peeps

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    So, Clearly I'm rather new to the topic (though I have kept chickens for decades, different breeds as well as mutts, and done a few different hatches). I've been doing a bunch of research into different breeding stuff but there are some things I'm unsure of. If anyone feels they may able to shed some light on any of these concerns, I'd be very grateful.

    The goal: to keep a small flock of dominiques (hatchery stock, yes I know, not always optimal, but when there are no breeders locally and you live on a rock in the middle of the ocean with onerous import restrictions hatchery stock is often your only/best option). We are not very concerned with specific standards or improvement breeding, we just want to be able to maintain a thrifty, decent laying/dual purpose flock frugally and humanely and without having to buy new blood for as long as is reasonably possible. So I envision a strategy that minimizes inbreeding, allows a little room to cull for obvious flaws like deformities, personality disorders, poor laying performance, etc.--but not to breed show-quality or the next great record-setting line of dominiques (which would require a larger pool and much larger hatches with a lot more rigorous culling). And if at all possible, we would like to also preserve/improve the autosexing features of the flock as much as we can, since when working with small numbers especially this is a useful feature to us and one of the reasons we chose a breed with that nifty sexlinked barring gene in the first place (the other draw being the future possibilty of easily producing a few black sex links on the side). We also would prefer to hatch the smallest number of chicks possible really, that would still allow us to do this, because feed is expensive and slaughtering is a chore--which is why we have meat rabbits to augment our familty food supply (because the entire herd can be kept for $1 a day and I can slaughter three rabbits in the time it takes to do one chicken, and with less equipment to assemble and then clean).

    The circumstances: We have 19 straight run chicks. I have done my inexperienced best to make a guess at sexing in their first few days and I think we have about a 1-1 split, but my margin of error is large enough I could be way off (I also suspect this stock was not bred with an eye to maintain the auto sexing features of the breed, but again it could just be my unpracticed eye). anyway, they are still quite young so I have no way of confirming my accuracy. We have a brand new Brinsea Mini advance 15 egg incubator (because we were tired of monkeying with the cheapie styrofoam POS's we'ved dealt with in the past and didn't want to rely on broodies which (though we love doing that way) just makes arranging breeding even more complicated (and after all, means less eggs).

    The possible plan?:

    Three clan system with 3-4 hens per clan and only one rooster--maybe a few extra layers, but we would only breed the best. The first mating may have to be with only 2 hens, depending on how many we get and the quality--or we mayy even have to breed only one rooster and then divide into clans later. (Which also begs the question, which would be a better way to go?!)

    Ultimately, our adult flock would be limited to about 15 to 20 chickens. We would breed only one clan per year. I've been consiering rolling matings too, but it seems like with such a small flock you would have a lot of mother-son/father-daugher matings going on, whereas with clans, the gene pools might still be tiny but at least it avoids those close matings. Three clans and one mating per year means the breeders would all be at least three years old, but from what I've read thats not all bad, because it selects for longevity/health and gives you plenty of time to really evaluate and selct good layers and other qualities. But would setting 15 eggs from each clan = ~12 chicks = ~6 pullets = ? new breeders for that clan actually be enough for some kind of sustainability---given the modest above goals?

    Also, most sources I have read recommend keeping at least one back-up rooster for each clan. But couldn't your C clan rooster also serve as a back up breeder for your B clan hens if something happenned to your A rooster, and then you simply raise a new A cockerle from that mating? Nothing I read suggested this, but as far I can figure, this would still serve the purpose of avoiding close matings. If so, then each rooster would already effectively serve as back-up for one other rooster as a worst case fallback, anyway...right?

    I do understand that larger breeding population is always "better"---but what if circumstances or means dictate smaller, but you still want to be as sustainable as possible? Could it work, how, and how well?

    Thanks for any constructive feedback, answers, or critiques you may have! Sorry for such a long post, but I figure folks abilty to offer answers is only as good as the information I give them, so since this is an important subject to us I thought it worth being thorough...
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    Interesting concept. It’s basically Spiral Breeding, but hatching only one clan a year. Good breeders can keep their flocks going practically indefinitely with that method so it has promise. You are right, the more you hatch the more you have to choose from so you can improve quality faster, but you are talking more about genetic diversity than pure quality improvement. It should work for genetic diversity.

    One possible issue, especially early in your breeding process, you may have trouble getting many hatching eggs from that small number of hens as they age. Instead of hatching all you want at one time, you may have to have two or three hatches. Maybe a little inconvenient.

    If you only keep one rooster or cockerel to become the rooster per clan, at what point do you choose which one you want? The earlier you make that choice, the more you are limiting your comparison.

    With numbers that small, a serious predator attack can instantly put you back to square one. That happened to me once with two dogs, so I started over. Life happens.

    I can’t really come up with anything basically wrong with your basic idea. I imagine you will find logistics problems as you go along, but it should work.
     
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    I am doing it with American Dominiques and American Games.

    You can protect against catastrophic loss by never having all birds together. Breeders in my setting are penned most of the time. Breeding groups are kept in discrete pens. Young birds not essential to a given years breeding effort are allowed to free-range much to all of the time.


    Loss of genetic variation can also employ line breeding. With my games line breeding is done for four or even five generations before I select new birds with which to line breed on. The selecting is where alleles of value can be lost.

    More lines the better. Through concept of optimal hen to rooster ratio out the door. For broodstock upon which you conductive linebreeding, I keep sex ratio closer to one to one. Within each line I keep backups (second breeder) in case something happens to first. With my games I keep 2 or 3.

    Periodically cross lines to restore lost alleles to a given line.


    My situation closer to yours more than you know. I have Voter strain American Dominiques that are a closed flock. Now eight years into selective effort with them. A parallel effort involves development of Missouri Dominiques that are bred to be more like pre-civil war American Dominiques. To achieve that end I started with Cackle Hatchery American Doms in 2009 and infused American Game into them which greatly increase genetic variation I could work with. A little Voter strain to be used later. With exception of one white-legged game rooster, the Missouri Dominique effort has been closed with no replacements coming from outside in the eight years since project started.
     
  4. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

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    Your planning on having cock bird of pen B mate to hens of pen A in the future right? In reading I'm seeing three different pens and no shifting of genetics. If each pen is closed then your inbreeding a very small closed flock. Not heard the term rolling but assume that means a B cock mates A hens to maintain genetic diversity. Mother/son and father/daughters are not a bad thing at all. It's the many generations of such matings that can lead to problems of many faults showing up due to the close gene pool and in the long run leads to low fertility or hatchability. But these things take decades to achieve. One could easlily maintain two pens and every 5th or more year cross the pens to infuse genetic diversity and go another 5 or ten years and cross again. You'd be line breeding each pen and infusing genetics every so often from other pen. It would take decades for that to need even further infusion of new blood.
     
  5. Egghead_Jr

    Egghead_Jr Overrun With Chickens

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    Sexing of barred birds just takes practice. After a few hatches and watching them it will be second nature for you to sex them visually. After many years I'm amazed how accurate I am with non barred birds just with leg size and stance. Back when we hatched barred birds it was 99%. There is always one that keeps you guessing no matter.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2017
  6. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    I can use sex-linked barring to distinguish sex by crossing any female American or Missouri Dominique with a male that is not barred. All females resulting from such mating's are solid black on back and head at hatch.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2017
  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    I'm glad you've chosen Doms. I love that breed. I really have nothing to add to your breeding plan, because it sounds like you've done quite a bit of homework. If you choose an other breed to augment your Doms, you would be able to produce quite a lot of sex links. You might have a ready market for those, which will most likely offset all of your flock expenses, and perhaps bring in a little bit of extra cash as well. My flock is set up with an EE roo (see my avatar). He produces wonderful BSL chicks that have walnut or pea combs, and lay green/olive eggs. Unfortunately, I only maintain one roo, so am not able to keep a line of Doms propagating forward. If I had more land, so the crowing would not be an option, I would definitely be keeping a line of Doms, as well as a second breed of birds so I could produce pure Doms, pure ?, as well as the BSL.
     
  8. triplepurpose

    triplepurpose Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you all for the responses! I'd scanned them once or twice on my phone and pondering things more, but was too busy to respond at all...

    It's reassuring to know we aren't that far off with our general ideas....

    buuuut...


    Honestly, neither of these points had occured to me at all... so thank you! I've been giving them some thought since...
    Sorry if I wasn't too clear in my effort to "get it all out" while typing (without writing a book, haha). I meant that the hens/pullets stay in the mother's clan for life, but the cockerels (barring predator attacks or disease incidents necessitating using a different male) only ever mate with the pullets/hens of the next clan over... So genetics would be shifting each breeding (it seems that genes on the male side would slowly circle around through each clan while the female side just moves straight down the line). So it prevents mating between siblings, also between parents and offspring (unless cocks are kept more than one mating, in which case they could/would mate their daughters). I mean, it certainly does seem to provide the least amount of inbreeding for the number of birds possible of any of the simpler methods I've read about... There are other variations on this theme (alternating line breeding and interclan breedings, alternating which of the other clans mate, changing number of clans, etc, of course). I discarded the idea of mating every clan every year because that is just more hatching than we want/need to do each year (hopefully). And mating one clan each year seemed like it might be easier to keep track of anyway, and would allow for more careful selection of replacement for each clan, or so it seems..?

    By "rolling matings" I meant an arrangement where you have two pens and mate the older cocks to the first year hens/pullets and the first year cocks/cockerels to the older hens, then regularly cull the older birds and let the younger birds take the place of the older groups. It seems that ideally anyway offspring are hatched from BOTH groups each year to become the new pullets and cockerels.

    Honestly, I'm still tossing around the idea of a ''rolling matings" system, especially after thinking more about some of the issues RR raised. So I'll outline my thoughts on it as it pertains to our situation.

    Because, frankly, I'm having a really hard time comparing the two---it's like some kind of multi-level geometric math problem which I just can't QUITE find a way to conceptualize in a way that allows me to compare them in terms of results on the gene pool.

    Advantages to "rolling" INSTEAD OF the "clan" (for us) seem like they might include:

    1. each breeder gets to breed twice, and with different mates each time--so more opportunity for genetic "shuffling around" (is that the technical term, haha?!) or potentially more chances for good traits to manifest/be inherited? Since for practical, non-breeding purposes we would want to hatch and cull a similar number of birds each year regardless of the method we choose, isnt this actually, sort of, a LARGER selection pool--despite the fact that many of these selections would be half-siblings (though half-siblings would never be mated to each other ordinarily)?

    2. We wouldn't need to keep breeders for longer than two years, although the system certainly allows for the possibility of keeping older, high quality hens (or even a top-notch older rooster if his "replacement" doesn't measure up)--such birds could simply be kept in the "old breeding group" and bred for as long as desired before being culled (marked appropriately to keep track of their age, of course).

    3. It could would be easier to collect enough eggs for a full hatch (while still preserving some genetics from older hens, if desired).

    4. having two groups would require a minimum of only two roosters, an old and a young, which could make for simpler and more harmonious flock management the rest of the year--as with luck it might negate the need for a separate rooster pen yearround. If disaster struck and a roo was killed/died, We could still mate the other the next season with his appropriate group, resulting in a less diverse hatch--but... since each breeder has the opportunity to breed twice in this system, in the case of the older roo his genes would not be completely lost to the flock and in the case of the younger roo at least you would still have his sire (with his same genetic potential) for breeding.

    Which brings us to the Big Potential Disadvantage, and why I, especially initially, wasn't so keen:

    1. It would be guaranteed to involve A LOT of parent-offspring matings--and even more so with a smaller breeding flock. By my calculations (which could be totally off, but I think I've got it right), assuming one rooster per group and roughly equal number of eggs hatched from each group in a given year, average 25% of the rooster-pullet matings would be father-daughter. If more eggs are hatched from the older hens in the previous breeding season, this rate would be higher. Mother son matings would also occur frequently--with four old hens of the same age, for example, at 25% in the that group.

    With a larger flock, the mother-son matings at least would happen much less, so I could see it working for some generations, but I'm concerned about the effect with our small numbers.

    So what it really comes down to is a decision to weighing the effects of so much close breeding (and the degree it shortens the self-sustaining potential of the flock or otherwise weakens it) against the potential management and other advantages. If, as Egghead suggests, some regular parent-offspring matings aren't that big a deal, maybe the advantages outweigh things for us? But I'm afraid that I simple don't have the knowledge about the mechanics of genetics and inbreeding to really assess this problem! And my head is hurting! [​IMG]

    So, any insights, anyone...?! [​IMG]
     
  9. triplepurpose

    triplepurpose Chillin' With My Peeps

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    That's reassuring to hear, thanks! :)
     
  10. triplepurpose

    triplepurpose Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm excited about the doms too! I like much of what I've read about them. And these seem like lively little chicks so far. I like that they are a piece of history; that they aren't overly large birds, and so should be more thrifty; that they have a reputation for being active and intelligent yet not overly flighty (one hopes anyway); and are somewhat auto-sexing!

    I'm also excited to produce some BSLs at some point! Lazy G, we also have a nice EE rooster currently which we hope to use, and someone on another thread mentioned to me that you had done a similar cross! We were hoping to maybe sell some in the future to people as layers, since I'm not really interested in selling chicks that I can't sex 100%. I know someone locally who was running a humane little hatchery for a while, and there was huge demand and appreciation for the service--but she was constantly dealing with having to take back unwanted cockerels from people with tiny backyard flocks, because they could keep them and couldn't/wouldn't eat them, and she had no truly accurate means of sexing. They fed their family on those unwanted roosters, but that just sounds like a pain in the butt and a biosecurity nightmare to me! :) Plus, I feel like with BSL pullets one could ask premium price.

    And perhaps in the future I could even undertake a breeding program to try to produce an auto-sexing purebred cross between Doms and EEs (the latter of which are fairly easy to come by around here)! A bit like Cream Legbars but without the "leg," I guess! But that's getting a little ahead of myself at this point... :)
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2017

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