Choosing the Right Rooster – Backyard Poultry

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Adding desired production traits to your flock.

By Doug Ottinger.

Whether you have a purebred flock or a mixed flock, choosing the right rooster (or roosters) will certainly add more than just a “real farm” feeling to your property. While many of us enjoy hearing a rooster crow throughout the day or seeing a beautiful boy strut across the yard, there are also practical reasons to breed specific roosters for your flock. Breeding for particular physical and personality traits allows you to incorporate high-quality genetic material into your flock management plan.

There are many different approaches to breeding depending on your goals. Some folks breed to preserve purebred lines and meet breed standards. Others focus on landrace adaptability or flock harmony. In this case, I am looking at breeding specifically for production goals.

Most young, healthy roosters can mate with seven hens, who will then routinely lay fertile eggs. Numbers can vary, but this is the ratio used in the commercial hatchery industry. Roosters are most fertile and sexually active from the start of puberty through about two years of age. The lighter-weight breeds reach puberty at about four and one-half months, while heavier breeds take six to eight months. Pullets and hens usually produce eggs with the highest fertility and hatchability rates during the first year of laying.

The importance of choosing and keeping only the highest quality roosters for perpetuating production flocks cannot be emphasized enough. If you are breeding to maintain high egg production in new pullets, using a sire from a poor or mediocre production strain will significantly impede production for several generations.

Buying chicks from hatcheries or farm-supply stores is fairly easy these days. So why hatch your own? I’ll speak to the need to control the genetics in your flock below. But there are also many places without access to hatcheries, rapid mail systems, or nearby farm stores. This issue became very clear to me as I spoke to individuals in the more remote regions of Canada. Several small-farm producers told me they were in the process of breeding their own mixed-breed replacement pullets because of the prohibitive cost of buying new baby chicks, delivery issues, and inaccessibility to good choices of breeds and laying strains. People in remote areas of Alaska reported the same problems.

Rooster Traits Can Affect Eggs

Increase (or decrease) both egg size and laying rates in female offspring. Roosters from high production strains and breeds can help increase and maintain egg production in female offspring. Roosters from low-production strains or breeds will decrease production in the resulting offspring. By some industry estimates, up to 70% of a hen’s egg size and production can be attributed to her male parent.

Choosing the right (or wrong) body conformity and size will affect your flock for many generations.

Size and body shape are important not only in meat birds but also in laying hens. Large fowl mated to small fowl generally produce offspring with a variation of sizes between the two parents, most being intermediate in size. Selecting the proper body type and size for your intended goal, including overall muscle mass in the right places, is often more important than making sure superficial phenotypes such as feather color, comb style, or leg color are exactly perfect.

Choosing the right rooster means deciding if heritage or hybrid chickens are right for your flock. Golden Comet pullet. AdobeStock/Lisa.

Egg color is greatly affected by a hen’s father.

Egg-shell color is affected equally by both male and female parentage. The depth and concentration of brown pigmentation in a hen’s eggs can be greatly affected by her male parent. Breeding a white egg layer to a brown egg breed will result in offspring that lay light brown or tinted eggs. Breeding prized, dark-brown egg layers to males coming from light-brown egg breeds will greatly lessen and destroy the genetics that produce the coveted dark-brown shell color. Crossing hens that lay pure blue eggs with brown egg breeds will result in offspring that lay green and olive eggs. Unfortunately, unless a rooster from a blue egg strain is also kept for breeding with such hens, the pure blue genetics can be easily muddied and lost. Analyze male parentage closely when breeding for a new laying flock. Once the genetics of shell color are muddied or diluted, they can be difficult to reestablish.

[H2] What Are Sex-link Traits

All male birds, including roosters, have two male sex chromosomes called “Z” chromosomes. Females have one Z chromosome and one “W” chromosome. A sex-linked trait is any trait or characteristic that is regulated by genes directly attached to a sex chromosome.

In chickens, there are several inherited traits directly attached to the Z chromosome. Many of these have to do with plumage colors and patterns. Hybrid crosses are often made using sex-linked traits. The sex of these chicks can be immediately identified at the time of hatching. These birds are referred to as sex-links or sex-link crosses. The resulting offspring are often noted for hybrid vigor and the females are generally excellent layers. They are a mainstay of many egg producers.

Silver and Gold

Some of the most common sex-linked crosses today are developed by crossing “silver” hens with “gold” males. Silver and gold are terms used in the poultry world and do not necessarily mean a pure silver or gold color as one might think. All chickens are separated by their color into one of these two groups. Both silver and gold are controlled by genes attached to the Z chromosome. Silver is dominant and gold is recessive. This means for a bird to have “silver” plumage, it only needs to have one gene for silver on one Z chromosome.

A silver Leghorn rooster. Mircea Costina/AdobeStock.
Light Brahmas have the “silver” dominant gene. Aleoks/AdobeStock.

When a silver female is crossed with a gold male, the resulting offspring can be separated at the time of hatching by the down color. Female chicks will have darker or reddish-buff down while males will have lighter yellow down. Because the male offspring received the dominant silver gene on one of their Z chromosomes from their mother, they will be silver like their mother. The female offspring do not receive a gene for silver, so will be red or gold like their father.

Gold fowl include most breeds that are red, black, buff, gold, and reddish-brown in color. These include such breeds as Rhode Island Reds, Brown Leghorns, New Hampshires, Buff Orpingtons, and Black Australorps. Silver fowl refers to most breeds of white chickens or those having black designs on white plumage (the “Columbian” pattern and black lacing or penciling are good examples). Silver fowl include breeds such as the Delaware, Light Sussex, selected strains of White Rock, Rhode Island White, Light Brahma, and Columbian Wyandotte. (White Leghorns are not used in sex-linked breeding because their white color is controlled by a dominant white gene that is not sex-linked.)

This Rhode Island Red rooster is a great example of “gold” dominant plumage. Carina Gilb/AdobeStock.

Today there are numerous sex-link crosses available. Most are extremely good layers and are often known for sweet, friendly dispositions. Many are also known for hybrid vigor. The various resulting hybrid birds are sold under a myriad of trade names, including Golden Comets, Cinnamon Queens, Sil-go-links, Red Sex Links, and Gold Sex Links.

Another well-known sex-linked trait is barred plumage. Barring is a dominant trait, meaning a chicken will have barred — striped — plumage if it only carries one “barring” gene. Breeds that have this pattern include Barred Rocks, Dominiques, and Cuckoo Marans.

Crosses using Barred Rock hens and Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire roosters is a common sex-linked breeding cross. The baby chicks can be sexually identified with ease at the time of hatching by the color and pattern of down on top of their heads. Mature female offspring have black plumage with a few red blotches, and male offspring have barred plumage like their mothers. This hybrid cross is known to produce females with excellent laying potential. Pullets from such crosses are often sold as “Black Sex Links” or “Black Stars.”

Taking care to choose only high-quality roosters for your flock is very important. Choosing and maintaining roosters from high-production lines can — and will — give you untold advantages (including the possibility to create your own sex-linked hybrids) as you perpetuate your own production flock.

raises chickens, ducks, and geese on his small hobby farm. Doug’s educational background is in agriculture with an emphasis on poultry and avian genetics. Doug recently lost his wife and companion of 40 years, following her long battle with Multiple Sclerosis, and he is continuing writing and working from his small hobby farm in far-Northwest Minnesota. 

Source link

Leave a Comment