If you have backyard chickens, you may consider breeding them at some point, so you’ll want to learn about your options and choose which chicken breeding methods can work for you and select the best.
The best method for you will depend on how many chickens you have, if you have more than one breed, and know why you are breeding. You could just put a hen with a rooster and see what happens but there are ways that will make the whole process more productive. Let's take a look at the most common breeding methods.
Breeding in pairs, trios or in large or small flocks covers all the basic methods. Each has its own benefits and downsides, just decide which is easiest or most efficient for you.
Backyard chicken owners tend to prefer the flock chicken breeding methods and often have just one rooster, but there are benefits to breeding in pairs or trios, as well. Pair and trio mating require housing the best hens and roosters away from the others.
This allows a much more controlled mating environment making selective breeding possible. You know which hens have been bred by which roosters, if that’s important to you. Numbered and color coded leg bands will help identify who is who.
No matter which method you select the chickens will generally just do what comes naturally for them and leave the details to you. All you need are healthy chickens, enough room for all, good breeder food and water, a safe coop, and yard or pen.
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Chicken breeding methods using a flock involve housing a group of hens with one rooster for every 12 hens. This requires much less space or divisions of space than small groups. It also allows you to feed and water fewer groups and clean fewer cages.
Sometimes several roosters may not get along unless raised together. Raising and keeping roosters housed in bachelor groups, away from hens when not breeding, may cut down on rooster aggression. With 12 hens for every rooster there should be little to fight about and will ensure less stress on each hen.
The roosters will divide their attention to all available hens. If you are trying to carefully watch the genetics of your chickens this may not be the best idea. For those who simply want more chicks the flock method may be ideal.
No matter which of the chicken breeding methods you use you'll need to think about what you're going to do with the chicks and you'll need a way to hatch and raise them.
This could involve an incubator and brooder or you could allow the hens to raise the chicks themselves. Either way collect the eggs and store them in a cool place for up to two weeks, gently rotating them daily to prevent the insides from sticking.
You can place your eggs in an incubator or give them to a hen that is ready to set once you have eight to a dozen eggs. Placing fertile eggs under a broody hen all at once will help ensure all eggs hatching within hours of each other. This takes about 21 days. Putting too many eggs under one hen can lead to poor hatch rate as some eggs may not get enough incubation warmth.
Chicken breeding methods include everything from strong shelled fertile eggs to successful hatching and rearing of young. If natural hatching takes more than a day, a hen will have to leave the unhatched eggs to lead her chicks to food and water.
Any live chicks still in eggs will die when the eggs get cold. Hens with chicks can be housed separately to allow the chicks to grow up successfully. In an incubator or brooder you can raise chicks of similar size and age all together.
A simple large cardboard box works well as a homemade brooder. You'll need a heating lamp to warm them making sure the set up is safe for chicks and you have no fire hazard.
Use chick feed starters for either method of raising them. Chickens are remarkably easy to breed so you should have few problems no matter which of the chicken breeding methods you select.
One important point to seriously consider is: how you will house and care for all your chickens of different ages. Adult chickens may pick on and kill chicks that are not theirs.
Some hens will gladly adopt any chick that needs a mom and others flat out refuse. Some hens refuse chicks that they have hatched. You never know what to expect so you always want to be prepared.
Having an incubator and brooder at the ready can save lives if a hen suddenly abandons her eggs or chicks or is killed by a predator while protecting her chicks.
Having one or more brooding cages or pens, where small chicks can grow safe from other animals that may want to harm them, is always the best idea no matter which of the chicken breeding methods seems best for you and your chickens.