Selective Breeding in Backyard Flocks
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Tracy DeLore- If you’ve kept a number of chickens for any time, you’re bound to have said, “I wish that chicken had a smaller comb” or “I wish I had more chickens that laid blue eggs.”
Here’s the good news! If you do any hatching at home, whether in an incubator or with a broody hen, you can do some selective breeding to get the traits you want in your flock. It just takes a little bit of flock research.
Picking traits for selective breeding
A lot of this comes down to personal preference. I breed selectively for two traits – smaller combs/wattles and more green eggs. Why? First, our winters in Central New York are pretty cold, and chickens with smaller combs and wattles are less prone to frostbite. Two, I think the green eggs are pretty.
I’ve been somewhat successful toward this goal. I have several Australorp crosses that have either very small combs or even a rose comb. And I’ve added several new green egg layers to the flock.
Your traits might be different. It doesn’t really matter what the traits are. The general method is the same.
Here’s the number one rule for selective breeding in your backyard flock. You need to have a good general idea of which chickens lay which eggs. This isn’t an issue if you have blue or green eggs and want to hatch those knowing any hens from those eggs also have a chance of laying blue or green eggs.
It’s a little harder when you have a bunch of breeds that lay similar colored eggs. It took me about two years to really learn the differences between my eggs. Lighter tan to almost pinkish eggs likely come from one of my Buff Orpingtons or their offspring. Slightly darker brown eggs are most likely from one of my barred rocks. Rich brown eggs with darker speckles are probably from one of my Australorps.
You need to spend a little time with your flock around egg laying time and start to learn which eggs go with which hens. Then you’ll know which eggs you want to hatch and which ones you’ll have for breakfast instead.
Ok, if you’re hatching at home, a rooster is kind of a critical part of the process. So make sure you choose your rooster wisely for selective breeding in your backyard flock. Don’t bring in or keep roosters that have undesirable traits.
Right now I have four roosters. One bantam cochin named Oreo who is four years old and my daughter’s pet. He’s also shorter than everyone else and isn’t really a successful breeder because of it. We can rule him out of the breeding equation.
Out of the other three roosters, only one has all the traits I want.
Before the frisky spring and summer season, I’ll need to evaluate the three and decide who gets to stay and who needs to go before I do any hatching.This is a huge part of selective breeding in backyard flocks.
The olive egger rooster is beautiful and I’m tempted to keep him to bring more green egg genes into the flock. However, he has a huge comb and wattles, which are traits I’m trying to get away from. Same thing goes for one of the boys that hatched here. He’s pretty handsome, but sports a very large comb and wattles.
My third rooster is a handsome cross that has a lovely small pea comb and almost non-existent wattles. Perfect for what I’m looking for! This spring, I’ll watch what ladies he seems to favor and make sure I collect eggs from them to hatch.
Let’s hatch some eggs!
It will take a little detective work on your part, but you too can do some selective breeding within your backyard flock.
Traci DeLore grew up around chickens on her family’s farm, but didn’t start keeping her own chickens until she was in her 40s. Her desire to keep chickens came from a desire to have her own fresh eggs from chickens she knew were well cared for and happy. Traci started with six chickens – and then chicken math took over. These days, she has about 60 chickens — and three “rotten” ducks. (I say this because having ducks is like living with toddlers.) Traci also raises and processes her own meat chickens on occasion. Follow her on Instagram.
Originally published on Community Chickens and regularly vetted for accuracy.