Selecting the Next Generation for Success

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Arcadian
Orchard

Absolutely everything about a chicken is decided before the egg is ever hatched, if they are in the proper environment for them to reach their genetic potential. The below writings and musings are assuming that the flock has the appropriate space, quality feed, fresh water and no known environmental concerns that could affect their growth.

In all poultry, hidden recessive traits and expressed undesired traits are common, in all breeds. The purpose of the American Poultry Association is to issue a standard of the ideal for breeders to aim at. There is no PERFECT bird! All flocks are in a constant state of development and when you buy into a flock, you're buying into where they are currently in their development, with more work to be done in order to get a large percentage of them pretty close to "The Standard of Perfection". The work never stops and selection happens with every hatch.

A flock will ultimately become the epitome to the eye of their breeder. Under their selection and guidance, the flock will evolve from one season to the next. The standard exists so that everyone is aiming in the same direction, honed in with the breeder's eye. There are numerous traits in chickens that are considered "good chicken" in a number of breeds and I'll focus on those first, along with their corresponding flaws that can occur within the same hatch.

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These girls are showing width between the legs, or the lack there of.

Body structure matters the most. It's their body that can yield breakfast or dinner. When they lay, they need to have the pelvic space and the capacity for ease of laying. If they're to be dinner, they should have the frame to carry their fleshing. The larger they are to be, the more time it will take for them to grow. The more they are to lay, the better their body needs to be equipped to handle it. The American Bresse should be of medium body... not too big and not too small. Fine boned, for an elegant look, without being fragile. A solid and well fleshed bird that is neither giant nor small.

The males will grow much faster than the females but both should feel hefty when you handle them. Both genders should have strong fleshing down the keel line and you shouldn't feel a bony breast. They should feel this way from the beginning, at just a couple of weeks old. They'll out grow just about any other breed you have them growing with, supposing that the others aren't commercial meat birds.

Width of body matters a lot, it's the bulk of their shape. It's the width that decides the breadth of carcass and the capacity for laying (in addition to depth and length) and their body shape affects how their inner organs will be able to function. Height plays a role as well, if they're too tall they may experience leg weakness, knock knees, or decreased growth speed (think of a Turkey growing for height first and meat later). I have not found issue with them being too short, besides a lack of balance in their look.

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No!

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Yes!

Since the American Bresse are a dual purpose bird, how they dress out is important. Their keel line should be well formed. Part of selecting birds is learning what they should feel like, so that you can assess birds with their feathers on. Though with the feathers off will SHOW you more. The keel should not be bent, twisted or caved in. This can happen from injury or genetics, regardless though I feel that ONLY a straight and true keel line should be considered for breeding. The examples above are 16 week old cockerels. The one with the straight and full keel line had other flaws and the other had the bowed in/hollow chest in addition to other flaws. Around here, it's our flawed birds who come to dinner, for the betterment of the future flock. The keel is the center bone of the breast and can be felt easily, unless they're buried in meat to make it trickier.

Feel on your birds often to get familiar with the shapes and sizes that they may express.

What you want to feel for in their under carriage is a good 4 finger width between their legs. This will of course vary by hand size but for when you're running through a sorting marathon, peer against peer, your hand is a handy measuring device to have on hand. Then you want to feel for straightness and fleshing and base the quality off of the other birds you handled before and after.

When you're sorting through birds, you don't want to have pictures of other live birds in mind beyond the bare basics. You want to go off of the interpretation of the standard and how the flock you have measures up against that, since no one has the perfect bird. If you aim at a picture of a live bird, you may get some things skewed by another breeder's perception of the standard. Your goal is to develop the flock to the standard and not the flock of another.

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On sort day, I like to have a scale handy. That way I can see the real number of what I'm handling. Through feel, I can assess where that weight is being carried, if the bird is heavier in the thigh or the breast or really not even weighing much of anything when compared to their peers. Females get weighed too, since they will throw their type and structure forward as well. Their type is their shape/outline and their structure is how they're put together.

Is bigger better? Sometimes. It boils down to what else the bird has to offer and what they throw forward once you start stalking the growth of their offspring from who they were paired with. Overall balance and closeness to the standard is the goal. When a variety or bloodline is a work in progress, you may have many choices on how to achieve the goal. A small male can be bred to a larger female, with balance of size achieved in some offspring, while also balancing their other traits. Perhaps the male had the great comb and tail and the female had the better wings and stance. Hopefully, at least some of the offspring pick up the best of both worlds.

It's important to note that when you're selecting your breeding groups, the birds involved should not share the same flaw/s when they're of the opposing gender. That will only serve to compound that flaw and make it express stronger in the next generation.

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This cockerel was 2lbs, 7 oz when he was 7 weeks old. We start looking at growth rate early, so that we can tag who's doing it better at that time. That way, come selection time, we know who did it faster than the others. I handle them through their growth phases and get the scale out for whom ever seems to be doing it faster, so that we can find the base line of what our peak expectations could be. Then we track those birds through the remainder of their growth and their subsequent offspring, if they happened to make it into a breeding pen.

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14wk Cockerel

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14wk Cockerel

This cockerel at 14 weeks old was the peak performer for growth, consistently since hatch, in his group. As he's been developing he has also shown excellent balance to his structure, gaining white in the earlobes, his feet have darkened and his other details have been coming in good as well. Thus far he's been outperforming his hatch peers since the beginning, which bodes well for his future.

His features are coming in more delicate, which makes him look a bit more refined than what a thicker/stouter production bird would look like.

He is 1lb less in weight vs. his peers in our production type flock, which means he'll likely finish out right at standard weight for an adult when he's 1 year old.

 

From Hatching Egg and Beyond

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The goal is to have as many eggs as possible hatch well and easily. Selecting the best eggs that the flock is providing aids in this tremendously.

Some things to consider is the shape of the egg, the shell quality and the size of the egg. To some extent, you can pick for color of the shell as well, the lighter the better. There is normal color variation in the shells, ranging from medium tan to white. Typical is a light cream/beige.

The shape of the egg should be round at the top, tapering down to a rounded bottom. Avoid using eggs that are too narrow/long, as this will make it difficult for the chick to turn for zipping out of the egg. You want them to have good "elbow room" 1/3rd of the way from the top of the egg.

Candle the egg, to check for cracks, weak spots or excessive porosity in the shell texture. If the shell is too "dotted" or "mottled", this egg may release too much moisture or allow bacteria a way in. When you candle a batch of eggs on day 7, really take a look at how the shell looks in those that didn't develop. This may indicate a particular hen is having a dietary issue or something else that is affecting her shell quality negatively.

Here is some additional reading on hatching egg selection/quality and things to look for.