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The art of breeding
Practical Poultry

The art of breeding

Posted Thursday, July 9, 2015   |   1461 views   |   Family & Home   |   Comments (0) Part 2: Andy Marshall continues his guide for would-be pure breed breeders, with a look at housing needs and stock assessment.

Having thought about the options available to you and decided that keeping your own chicken breeding flock is what you want to do, getting the housing right is a vital requirement.

Poultry houses for breeding chickens need plenty of ventilation, to be well lit and provide lots of floor space so that the birds get the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviour. Birds kept in conditions where they’re unable to exhibit natural behaviour will become stressed, which is far from ideal in
breeding stock.

Important choices
Nowadays, of course, there’s a huge range of hen houses available to buy, but other options including building your own or converting a garden shed. Internal space is important and, while the traditional recommendation for floor space is 0.28m? (three square feet) per bird for breeding stock, I prefer to give them a larger area for daytime activity. This helps reduce the risk of vices developing, which is always a good thing.
Some hens – and males for that matter – can take a personal dislike to one individual in the pen, and will bully them incessantly if space is limited. As a result, the bullied hen will be less capable of producing eggs containing good, viable germ cells.

If hatching times aren’t important to your breeding programme, then giving the birds a house and grass run is probably all they need in terms of housing.

However, if you want to hatch chicks earlier (late winter) then, for chicks  during January-March, the breeding birds should ideally be mated in October and November.

Chickens are known to be long-day breeders (breeding when the days are longer than nights). Sheep, for example, are the opposite and shortening day length provides the stimulation for them. So the houses for breeding chickens need to be very carefully considered if early chicks are required.

Access to grass
Preferably the birds will need access to a grass run when the weather is dry and sunny but, during the prolonged wet and windy days we have in the Northern Hemisphere, a good breeding house should allow to scratch around inside happily on deep, dry litter.

With this in mind, a useful feature to go for is a specific type of window known as a ‘floor light’. These are positioned low down on the side walls, and are designed to allow light and sunlight directly on to the floor during the winter.
Breeding house location is another important consideration, and there are a number of fundamentals you need to get right. The back of the house should always be faced into the prevailing weather, to avoid the wind and rain driving in through the windows and making the litter wet.

The side with windows should face the sunny side of the location, normally the South West in the UK. Every location is slightly different, though, so study you own situation carefully before making the final decision. Where the breeding house is a portable structure, it should be raised off the ground to improve floor ventilation. This is another key factor, as winter air humidity is often close to 100%, so anything to help keep the fl oor litter dry is important.

Current chicken keepers will know that litter always lasts longer in the summer than it does in the winter. This is because dry litter straight from the bag will absorb moisture from the air over time, more so in the winter when the relative air humidity is higher.

Of course, raising the house on blocks and floor purlins can increase the risk of rodent activity underneath, so allowing your cat or terrier regular access to that gap to fl ush out any interlopers is advisable. Alternatively, you can use weldmesh sections to close off the space and keep the vermin out that way.

Some house designs are set well above the ground to provide space for the birds themselves, and this can prove very useful if overall space is limited.

However, which houses of this type, my advice is to make sure that they retain easy access for you to get inside; there’s nothing worse than scrabbling about trying to catch a specific bird who knows exactly where to go to stay just out of reach!

Read the full article in issue 137 of Practical Poultry

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