The importance of raising heritage breed chickens to ensure the birds retain their historically beneficial…
The importance of raising heritage breed chickens to ensure the birds retain their historically beneficial characteristics is described in the article Raising Heritage Chickens: Why Not Count on Chicken Hatcheries. If you want to start raising your own herd, you have several options for managing the breeding project. Here I describe and illustrate the three-clan system I use to raise my Icelanders (a landrace I have worked with for several years). You can conclude that a similarly managed breed improvement project is also within your capabilities.
A clan mating system begins by assigning the initial breeding stock to separate “clans” or “families”. The minimum number of clans is three – four or even five would be possible with more management.
Imagine that we have six breeders at the start, three females and three roosters. We assign each hen and rooster to one of three clans – suppose we call them Red, Green and Blue (in this order). We may have good reason to assign spawners to one clan over another, but the initial assignment may be entirely arbitrary. Once assigned, however, each bird remains in its designated clan for life.
All the birds can be managed as one undifferentiated flock until we prepare for the breeding season, at which time we isolate breeding hens and roosters by clan. We mate male and female from the same clan during the first breeding season only.
When the chicks hatch, assign them all to their mother’s clan. I indicate clan assignment by punching each chick – i.e. punching a hole in the webbing between the toes, with the exact location of the punch coded for a specific clan. If done well, the punch is permanent – the assignment to the clan is for life.
When we prepare for the next breeding season, we again isolate all the hens by clan – all the red hens together, all the green hens together and all the blue hens together. But in this breeding season — and in all future breeding seasons — we place roosters with hens from the “next clan”: red roosters mate with green hens, green roosters mate with blue hens, blue roosters mate with red hens. As long as we continue to follow this pattern, there will never be a single mating between siblings and half-siblings.
Now we understand why I pointed out that the chicks are assigned to their mother’s clan: In this second breeding season, the chicks from Red hens, for example, have a Blue male as a father. But all red hen egg chicks get hit as red clan.
Although clan mating can be confusing at first, it boils down to two very simple rules: (1) Chicks are always assigned to their mother’s clan and remain there. And (2) after the first season, the roosters always mate with the hens “one more clan”. Roosters and females of the same clan do not mate (so never red rooster with red hen), and roosters never mate with hens other than “the next clan” (so red rooster with green hen , but never a red rooster with a blue hen).
One last important point to note: careful selection is as much the key to success in a clan mating system as it is in any other approach to breed improvement. In this case, however, the selection of the best traits takes place within the clan. Imagine that we have already selected our best red rooster to serve in the next breeding season, and now it’s time to select our best green rooster. But our best green rooster is not as good as one of the “leftover” red roosters. In this case, we would forgo selecting the significantly superior red rooster and select the best green rooster we have to maintain the integrity of our mating system.
Visit my website for a more detailed description of this three-clan system.
Harvey Usseryis the author of The small flock of poultry (Chelsea Green, 2011). Harvey’s goal for 30 years, working with dozens of heritage breeds of chickens, ducks and geese, has been to integrate his flocks into the total food production effort and make them more independent of purchased inputs. . Find it online at The modern farmand read all his messages MOTHER EARTH NEWS here.