Whilst the easiest way to increase your chicken flock is to buy already fertilized eggs and hatch them, buy young chicks, pullets or adult chickens. There is nothing more exciting and rewarding for a chicken owner than to be able to breed your own.
BEFORE YOU START
Before jumping in feet first and rushing off to get a rooster, incubators or broody coop/nursery there are few things to consider.
Does the area you live in allow you to own a rooster?
This may not be the most likely first question to ask. But it is the one I asked before deciding to breed chickens. Because if you cannot own a rooster it is unlikely that you will be able to start breeding your hens. Unless you can find a poultry farm that are willing to help you out with a rooster. Which is not easy task to come by as it has to be from the correct breeding stock. In some cases, color matters, etc.
Do you have enough space in your garden to breed chickens?
Breeding chickens will require you to have a separate coop this can double as both the broody coop and nursery coop.
It would have to be one with a nice size run and able to house the number of chicks to be hatched.
It should also be portable so when the time comes to socialize the new birds with the flock it is easy to relocate.
You cannot mix ages in a flock because of diseases and adult chickens are brutal. They love to pick on chickens that are weaker and smaller than them. So, the younger chickens are going to get terrorized. This can lead to health issues and really dire consequences for the younger/smaller chickens. So, it is really important to have separate housing for the two flocks.
Are you able to afford a second flock?
Ultimately you will have two separate flocks until such time as the younger birds have fully matured and have been socialized with the older flock.
Therefor you are going to need a whole new coop, run, feeders, waterers, etc.
You will also need equipment such as heating lamps, maybe even incubators and so on.
Are you allowed to have temporary structures or more than one temporary structure on your property?
Some city ordinances for whatever reasons usually have strict rules about structures in a person’s garden. This may include temporary and permanent structures. It is best to find out about this, so you do not get penalized.
How many chickens/roosters are you allowed to keep on your property?
Another important factor is some cities limit the amount of poultry a person can keep.
Once again this must be checked to avoid penalties.
THE NEXT THINGS TO CONSIDER ARE:
Which of your current flock you want to breed?
What you are going to do with any male chicks in the flock as you should not really keep more than one rooster for a certain amount of chickens. When breeding you can expect to have 50% male chicks. Keeping in mind that in certain areas you may not be able to keep more than 1 roosters. Roosters really only have one function and that is to fertilize eggs or for meat production. Roosters also consume more food than hens and are a lot noisier.
Will you be willing to sell any chicks that you may be required to for various reasons?
Once you are sure you have all these questions answered and you are still keen to breed the chickens it is time to move on to the next section.
If you have a pure breed such as a Plymouth Rock, it is only natural that you will want to breed her with a good quality rooster.
It is important when selecting the hen that she has no deformities or abnormalities. As these genetic traits will get passed along to her offspring which will dilute the gene pool.
The same can be said when selecting the rooster to mate with her.
Check both the rooster and your chosen hen for:
Clear bright eyes
No mucus around the eyes
Red comb that stands correctly (you can check these with APA)
Wattles should be a nice red color
There should be no mucus in the bird nostrils
They should breath clearly with no obstructions
Check for aggression levels in the rooster (especially if kids are going to be in close proximity to him)
There should be 1 rooster to a maximum of 10 hens
Check for pests and parasites
Check for deformities such as:
Wry tails or necks
Skew or strange looking beaks
Check to make sure the hens’ eggs are normal
Check the birds breeding lineage. If you are buying a rooster that is still in its prime but has mated before most poultry keeper will have a record of this.
As with the hens there will be records of their parents and which roosters they have been mated with before.
If you are not showing the birds, selling them for revenue and just purely to increase your flock then as long as the rooster is fit and healthy with no genetic anomalies or deformities. It does not really matter what breed you pick. As long the rooster will fit in with your flock!
Some breeds are dependent on the color of both parents. You will have to do some research on this. You are sure to find breeders at places like the American Poultry Association, various poultry farms that sell the breed and or the breeders clubs.
SOME GUIDLINES FOR BREEDING YOUR CHICKENS
Start a log book for your hens and rooster(s)
Some Ideas for the Hens log book:
Date of Birth/Age
First Breeding Date
Rooster she was bred with
No of eggs produced
Viable eggs hatched
Eggs that were not viable
Conditions of chicks
Tag each of her chicks
Some Ideas for the Roosters log book:
Date of Birth/Age
First Breeding Date
Hens he fertilized
Start the breeding program in the spring
You can really breed chickens throughout the year, but most hens are at their broodiest during this period. The rooster is also at his best.
You do not want to try and start breeding during their molt as the hens and rooster’s reproductive system shuts down in order to sustain the chicken through this period.
Start a good feeding program for both the hen and rooster
Let the rooster mingle with the hen(s)
If you are wanting the rooster to fertilize all the hens in your flock, you can let him mingle with all them and let nature take its course
Choose a specific breed of hen(s) or hen(s) of choice
If you are only wanting specific hens to breed you will have to separate the hen(s) and rooster to be bred.
This can be done in a separate coop with its own run. See our “Housing Chickens” series of articles on the different coops.
They will need to be kept together for around 14 days or until you find the hen(s) has viable fertilized eggs.
To hatch naturally or incubate?
Decide whether you are going to let the hen(s) hatch the eggs or if you are going to incubate them
Deciding to hatch naturally
If you decide to let a hen hatch the eggs you still have an incubator and brooder ready. Sometimes the hen for whatever reason may give up on hatching the eggs. You will have to be ready to incubate them if this happens. You can either buy the incubator outright or there could be places that may rent them. Please check with your local poultry suppliers and or poultry farmers for information on buying or renting incubators.
If you decide to incubate you will have to collect eggs three to four times a day.
Viable fertilized eggs should be stored for at least 24 hours in a temperature controlled and sterile environment.
You can test for a viable egg by candling, please read our, Hatching Eggs article for more information on the candling procedure.
The ideal temperature for storing fertilized eggs is 55 degrees Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) with a high humidity.
Storing the fertilized eggs
Always store fertilized eggs with the pointed side down
If storing eggs, you will have to ensure you turn the eggs at least once a day.
Helpful tips on hatching eggs
Please read our article on “Hatching Eggs” for more information on incubation.
Helpful tips for letting the hen hatch the eggs
If you are going to let the hen hatch the eggs you will still need to collect the eggs each day. Check them for viability and store them.
This gives you time to mark the eggs, especially if they are from different breeds.
Put the date the eggs were collected, you can have symbols for which hen laid the eggs.
Some breeds are just not good broody hens and will not sit their eggs. Then you get those that are very broody and will sit eggs as well as foster the chickens. Read our article on Broody hens for more details on the best hens for the job.
To test for a broody hen you can put fake eggs beneath the hens and see which ones will sit them. If a hen sits on the eggs for entire day there is a very good chance she will go the full 21 days.
Separate the hen(s) from the rest of the flock and place only the amount of eggs beneath her that she an fully covers. Some hens can cover up to 12 eggs at a time. You can judge this with the fake eggs.
The best time to place eggs beneath the hen or move her nest to another place is at night when she is asleep.
Be warned though that some hens do not take kindly to having their nests disturbed and may abandon their eggs.
Caring for the sitting hen(s)
Keep a close eye on sitting chickens. Make sure they have enough fresh food and water each day.
Put the food and water in close proximity to their nests as some hens will just not budge and 21 days is a long time for them to go without sustenance. You must keep a very close eye on her eating and drinking to ensure she remains healthy.
Give her only good quality food to help her during the period
When the eggs start to hatch with a hen
When the eggs start hatching DO NOT INTERFERE let the hen do her job. She instinctively knows what her chicks need
Let the hen raise the chicks she hatched
Unless she starts to attack the chickens, it is best to let her raise the chickens in their separate coop
Coop, nest and run maintenance
Keep the coop, nests and run clean at all times from when the hen is first put in there right through to the raising them. Good coop hygiene means strong healthy chicks!
Deciding to breed chickens regularly
If you are going to continue breeding it is best not to breed second or third generation chickens.
If you want to breed chickens it is best to either keep the rooster isolated to the original flock or buy a new rooster each year.
This ensures there are no abnormalities due to inbreeding.
END OF THE BREEDING CHICKENS ARTICLE
Breeding chickens can be very exciting and rewarding. But remember there is also the side where you can lose eggs, hens and even the baby chicks.
It can also be quite a costly exercise so way up all the pros and cons carefully as well as any rules/laws/regulations that may prohibit it in your area before diving in.