Improving your strain
OK, so we have all just had a read of the Breed Standard on the last three pages, and you are probably not on your own if you are thinking, where do I start? Firstly, don’t be outfaced by it—the perfect Lincolnshire Buff doesn’t exist, we are all just trying to breed something as close to the standard as possible.
Secondly, there is no quick or easy way to do it. After keeping Buffs for 19 years I feel qualified to say that. When you do breed a ‘belter’, it will go and die on you… Remember that success isn’t permanent and failure isn’t fatal. Anyone who has bred other livestock will know that it takes dedication and perseverance coupled with attention to detail, ‘eyes and ears lass’ as our Vice President Peter will tell you, as he told me.
Natures way—the best way, isn’t it?
How many of us started off breeding our Buffs ‘natures way’, let them run together all year round, the good the bad and the ugly? Wait while it is summer and they start going broody, sit a clutch under a hen and wait with excitement… Allowing for a few infertile eggs, then of course the egg the hen stood on, we are left with say 9 chicks. They then grow up to be every shade of Buff (since the eggs were laid by all the hens) not the ‘peas from the same pod’ you were hoping for.
But by then they all have names, don’t they! “We can’t get rid of Pickles and Prancer’……. So your efforts at breeding haven’t given you the results you had hoped for, just more mouths to feed. We have all started at this point in the beginning, it is part of the learning curve. I took my first Buffs to a show and came last, and came away wondering where I had gone wrong?
Setting up your breeding pen
As Socrates once said ‘In any undertaking the beginning is the most important part’, remember that and you won’t go far wrong. Your first step in breeding to the Standard is have a real good look at your adult birds. Lets say you have a small flock of half a dozen hens and a cock bird. Have a good look through them, handle each one and compare them to the Standard. You may find a few of them have serious faults, but three of the hens look quite good. In this case, breed from the best you have; be selective. This is where you set your breeding pen up, you will need another shed and run for this. Separate the ones you are breeding from and check them over for lice and mites, treat if necessary.
Ideally you will be setting your breeding pen up in January so they have time to settle into laying for February/March and hopefully, chicks in March/April, giving the young birds all those long summer days in which to grow in. Don’t forget your breeding pen will need extra daylight to bring them into lay (I know, another job on the list, put electric in the hen house…)
Eggs and Incubating
Ultimately you are aiming to get as many fertile eggs from your best hens as you can, and if you are serious about breeding that show winner you will be hatching as many eggs as you have space and time to rear. This is where your incubator will come into its own, I love using a broody hen as much as the next person, but they restrict the amount of eggs you can hatch and the time of year you can hatch in.
I could write pages on incubating and rearing, maybe these are good areas to cover on our Society open days this year? But I want to focus on improving your strain by selection so I will move on.
The first selection
Lovely, the eggs have hatched and you have an incubator full of fluffy chicks, this is where I begin selecting—on day one. Maybe we are hard country folk but if the chicks have not got 5 toes (or even badly separated/deformed toes) they don’t even make it into the rearing pen. Save your feed and space for those without obvious faults. After this first selection it’s a case of running them on until they are at least 8-12 weeks and you can start to see the cockerels from the pullets.
This is where the dedication part comes in, rearing a number of chicks takes time, effort and money. On a Saturday when you want to be off doing something else, you will find yourself at home cleaning the sheds out. Your eye for details will notice them hung about if they are unwell (think hot weather—Coccidiosis). There are no secrets in rearing good, strong birds; plenty of room (in the hen house and also outside in the run), plenty of short grass when they are old enough and plenty of good feed.
At 8-12 weeks they have grown and space is maybe in short supply so it’s a good time to have a look through them. Its too early to tell what their type will be like, but you can perhaps have a look at colour, maybe there is a couple of dark cockerels which need culling, maybe one with very feathery legs to go? Any white feathers coming through?
As they keep growing you will keep looking through them, you only want to keep the best, this is how you build your strain. The first year you may only have 2-3 good ones to put back into your flock (perhaps keeping a few second best as your insurance policy). The next year maybe a few more to keep back. When you are getting them something like you can start to focus on particular areas, such as combs or toe separation. After several years of selective breeding, your youngstock will be more consistent and look like peas from the same (good) pod, this is where your hard work will start to pay off.
The sad but hard fact is that they don’t all make the grade. Unscrupulous people will sell these on, but that doesn’t do the buyer or the breed any favours. You may wish to fatten the cockerels up or sell pullets with faults as run of the mill laying hens to a friend. To give you an idea on numbers, I try and hatch at least 50 each year, to end up with say 6-8 good cockerels and 20 good pullets, allowing me enough to keep for myself and some to sell on to members. Breeding by selection applies to all livestock, not just Poultry so don’t be alarmed by this.
Funnily enough I don’t breed for showing, I breed them as I love to watch my Buffs pecking about in the paddock every day. I would much rather look at a good ‘un as a bad ‘un!