Ask the Expert: Breeding

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Inbreeding

Are there any complications that come from inbreeding? I currently don’t have any roosters so not an issue but just wanting to know for the future.

Damien Farris

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Hi Damien,

Yes, there are issues. Just as we breed for a specific trait, and pair a hen and a rooster that already have that trait so it can continue and strengthen in the future, the same can happen with the bad traits. Say you have a rooster with a strong genetic tendency toward blindness. All of his offspring have a 50% chance of having that gene. If you cross his daughter with another rooster without the gene, her offspring will have a 25% chance. Keep diluting like that and the potential offspring have even less of a blindness risk. But if you cross the daughter back with the father, her offspring have a chance of getting one blindness gene from each parent … which means a blind baby. Does this make sense?

I see it a lot in some (human) tribal structures I work with. A friend married a woman from his tribe, though not even direct cousins, and they both had the albanism gene so both of their children are albino.

Marissa

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Hen Developed Rooster Traits 

Hello! 

First of all, I just want to say I enjoy BYP tremendously! I have a Black Star Sex-Link that is about three years old. I ordered her as a day-old pullet. For the first year and a half, she laid nice brown eggs almost daily. I noticed she stopped laying all together at about two years of age.  

She’s developed saddle feathers and spurs. However, she doesn’t crow, nor attempt to mate my other hens. My Silkie rooster, as well as my young Plymouth Rock rooster, allow her to live peacefully in the flock. Far as I’m concerned, she can live her days out on the farm.  

What causes this? I’ve raised many chickens over the years. This is definitely a first for me. Thank you for all the good info! 

Jessica 

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Hi Jessica, 

You’ve experienced a phenomenon that has always fascinated me. Jen Pitino explained it best in our December 2014/January 2015 issue of Backyard Poultry

“A hen is born with two sex organs. One of these two organs is an ovary that functions somewhat similarly to a female human’s ovary. Normally, this functioning ovary is found on the left side of a hen and grows and develops as the chicken matures. It is this left ovary that produces the necessary estrogen in a hen’s body that regulates the production of ova (though these are called oocytes in chickens) and their release into the oviduct tract. The sex organ found on the right side of a hen is not an ovary at all. Rather it is simply an undefined gonad (yet to be determined as an ovary or testes). Unlike the left-side ovary, the right-side gonad in a hen will typically remain small, dormant and undeveloped throughout the bird’s life. 

“A spontaneous sex reversal occurs in a hen when her left ovary becomes somehow damaged or fails to produce the necessary levels of estrogen. Usually, it is a medical condition such as an ovarian cyst, tumor, or adrenal gland disease that causes a hen’s left ovary to stop working. A hen’s left ovary is the primary organ producing estrogen in her body. Without the left ovary properly functioning in a hen, the estrogen levels in her body will drop to critically low levels, while conversely testosterone levels will rise. Without proper estrogen levels, the hen will no longer produce eggs.” 

“More disturbing though, a hen, whose left ovary has failed and consequently has elevated testosterone levels in her body, will actually physically transform to take on male characteristics. Such a testosterone-addled hen will grow a larger comb, longer wattles, male-patterned plumage, and spurs. Moreover, this hen will also adopt rooster-like behaviors such as crowing.  

Your hen is still very much a hen, but with more rooster-like characteristics. You can read Jen’s entire article here: https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/feed-health/spontaneous-sex-reversal-is-that-my-hen-crowing/ 

Good luck! 

Marissa

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Breeding Results

If I’ve bred a Delaware and a Golden Sex Link, will I be able to tell the sex when they hatch?

Samuel Burton

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Hi Samuel,

Thanks for your question about crossing a Delaware with a Golden Sex Link. The following advice is from one of our writers, Doug Ottinger:

“In this particular case, you would not be able to get true results. The Delaware’s white color is known in poultry genetics as silver. It is not a true silver as we think of the color, but is a dominant white color carried on the Z (male) chromosome. In chickens, mama has one Z chromosome and daddy has two Z chromosomes (ZZ). Golden Sex Links are the result of crossing a silver female with a golden or red-colored male. The resulting females are the little red hens we know as Golden or Red Sex Links. They have the golden or red color of their fathers. The males from this cross all turn out to have the silver color pattern of their fathers. If you were to cross a pure-bred Delaware male with a Golden Sex Link female, all of the chicks would, in theory, be silver like their father. If you crossed a Golden Sex Link male with a Delaware female, the Sex Link male is actually white or silver and the hen is also the same color, so that would not give the desired results either. However, crosses like this are still fun, especially to experiment and see what you actually get. Because so many different genes are involved in color patterns in fowl, you can actually get more variations in tones and patterns than you might think. It is also fun to compare growth rates, body conformation, and other variables. Both birds are wonderful producers for home flocks and the offspring should be calm, useful, dual-purpose fowl that you can be proud to have in your flock.”

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My Black Copper Hen is White?

I have a Black Copper Marans chick that hatched from a pure Black Copper Marans egg, but she is white. This does not surprise me because the lady that has these chickens says it is rare, but it does happen. I wanted to read more about this and see what you have to say.

Nikki

Black Copper Hen

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Hi Nikki,

Isn’t genetics fun?

We would guess the line isn’t completely “pure,” though that’s not terribly unusual in poultry. One could argue that no line is completely pure if you go back far enough in the pedigrees.

Most likely, your rooster and at least one of your hens are carrying a recessive color trait. It could be recessive white, or it could be one of the many alleles (different forms) of the “e” gene. This e gene has several different forms, and each produces a slightly different color pattern. For example, E usually produces black chickens. There is also e(+) or wild-type, e(r) or brown-red, e (WH) or wheaten and others. (These can also be modified by other genes, which is where the fun really comes in!)

When your chick starts to grow feathers, it will give a better hint as to the genetic makeup. If the feathers grow in white, it’s probably recessive white.

If they grow in salmon-colored, or even darker, the chick is probably a wheaten variety, and will be a lighter version of the brown copper birds (loosely speaking).

My guess is that, sometime in the past, some other genetics were mixed in. It may have been a mistake, or it may have been done purposefully, in an effort to enhance some trait. It may have been to get darker shell color, for example, or possibly to lighten up a dark line of birds.We wouldn’t worry too much about it — it adds to the fun of breeding and hatching your own birds. Enjoy!

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Inbreeding?

I love your magazine. My question is: I have three bantam roosters and 11 hens from I believe the same family. Do I have to get rid of my roosters and get different ones so they don’t interbreed? Thank you.

Don and Sharon Ramberg

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Hi Don and Sharon,

This is a good question and it really depends on what your goals are for your flock. If your goal is to have eggs for eating, then there is no need for separation. If your goal is to breed your flock, then it might be nice to separate the related birds. Since it sounds like you may be unsure of who is related to whom, it may be good to add some new unrelated hens to your flock. That way you can separate the unrelated hens and roosters when it’s breeding time to make sure your hatching eggs are not from interrelated birds.

We hope this is helpful. Good luck with your flock.

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Mating Question

How do chickens mate?

Linda Champlin

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Hi Linda,

The process is very interesting. Roosters do not have external sex organs. So a rooster will first try to entice a hen by puffing his decorative feathers and “dancing” in front of her. If the hen is receptive then she will squat.

The rooster climbs on the hen’s back while holding onto her neck or head with his beak and balancing his feet on her back. The rooster sweeps his tail to move her tail feathers to the side. And the actual act of mating is just the touching of cloaca to cloaca. At this time, the female inverts her cloaca to receive his sperm.

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Strange Chickens

I own 13 chickens. Five are older, and eight are new layers. There are three particular chickens I am confused about. I have two White Leghorns and one beautiful Light Brahma. The Leghorns are what’s known as a Mediterranean breed, which usually means that they don’t take to humans well. But my duo of Leghorns are extremely friendly!

And that’s not the end of it. Brahmas are large breed, and those are supposed to be friendly, right? Bock O’Brahma (that’s the Brahma’s name) hates us and won’t stand to be within 10 feet of any humans. We raised them from one day old. Why are the usually-intolerant Leghorns friendly, and the usually-friendly Brahma mean?

Will Geddes

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Hi Will,

As with people, we’ve found that each chicken has a distinct personality no matter its breed. We’ve also found this to be true no matter if two chickens are raised together and in the same way. For instance, Pam Freeman has two Buff Orpington hens, and writes: “They are supposed to be a friendly breed. One is just that — she’s very friendly and loves to be petted. The other is awful. She pecks at people and never gets petted. But I do have to say, that I have had White Leghorns, and like you, I find their personality to be wonderful. My white leghorns were some of my friendliest chickens. I even had one that would lay upside down in my hand and fall asleep.”

We hope this sheds some light on your chickens and their personalities. Have a great day!

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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