The next ambitious step from the keeping of a few backyard pullets or hens is breeding. For this the poultry keeper must provide himself with a good cockerel, which should be not less than ten months old when put in the pens with the hens. It is extremely important to choose a good .cockerel. Remember that he is the father of every chick born, and it is unwise to use for breeding any bird that has the slightest defect. One cockerel can be mated to ten hens. On larger farms two cockerels will suffice for forty hens, but we are not here dealing with large poultry farms.
It is as well to become familiar at the outset with the terms used in this connexion. First crossing signifies the mating of a pure-bred male of one variety to a pure-bred female of another variety. Experiments have shown that in many cases the chicks so reared can be separated definitely into male and female directly they are hatched, which is, of course, an advantage. This is referred to as “ sex-linkage,” the idea being that the colour of the down on the newly hatched chick is linked with its sex.
For instance, if a gold cock of the breeds Rhode Island Red, Bilff Rock, Buff Leghorn, etc., is mated with a silver hen of the breeds Light Sussex or White Wyandotte (but not a White Leghorn), some of the chicks will have golden-brown down, and these will prove to be females, while some of them will have creamy-white down, and these will turn out to be males. Other clearly defined characteristics are found to be linked with sex in first crossings of other breeds, though sometimes if the cross is effected the other way round (e.g., a silver cock with gold hen) there is no distinction in the chick down.
Out-crossing means going outside your own run, to some source not related in any way to your own chicks and hens, to obtain a mate of the same variety.
If you decide to go in for breeding, you must choose your times wisely. The best chicks are produced from the middle of February until the end of April. The influence of the male lasts for a week after he has been removed, and the male should be introduced at least a week before eggs are wanted for hatching in spring. In the case of mating during winter only, exceptionally vigorous young cockerels should be used, and they should be introduced a fortnight before eggs are required for hatching. It is necessary to isolate hens for three weeks before introducing fresh cockerels.
Hens selected for breeding should be thoroughly examined. They must not be too fat, for a fat hen is often incapable of producing fertile eggs. If breeders cannot have free range, which is the ideal for’ them, they must be given plenty of green food, and a special mash should always be mixed for them. This can consist of: five parts (by weight) of wheatings; two partt bran; two parts maize; one part meat meal; one per cent each cod-liver oil and salt.
Most small poultry keepers prefer to set a broody hen rather than use an incubator. As a matter of fact it is rather better to set two or three broodies at one time, so that if the hatches are bad ones, the chicks Can be shared out and one of the broodies dispensed with.
If you decide to set a broody hen and have already obtained fertile eggs, store these large ena up in a temperature of forty to fifty degrees until you are ready. When ready to set the bird, find a roomy box, 15 in. square or larger, and ‘cover the bottom with -in, mesh wire netting, to keep out rats. Set this nest on the floor over a couple of shovelfuls of earth. Make a saucer-shaped nest using straw, or if straw is not available, any soft dry material that will completely pack up hollows and corners.
Use dummies in the nest for a day or two, but when the broody shows that she will settle down on the eggs in the nest, replace the dummies with the eggs, about thirteen in number. Food and water must be given regularly, a handful of maize, and clean water once daily. Leave the, hen off the nest ten minutes for this feed at first, and increase to fifteen minutes and then in the third week tg twenty minutes. On the nineteenth day chipping of the shells should begin, and the hen should- then be left quite undisturbed until the morning of the twenty-second day, when she should have completed the task of hatching.
The health of the broody will be improved if she is kept free from parasites. A dusting of sodium fluoride just before setting will help in this matter. Green food should be available also if she will take it, but not too much should be given. On the tenth day of the hatching period, remove the eggs and the nesting material and just dampen the soil below; then replace the nest and eggs. Apart from this, keep an eye on the eggs, clean them if they become soiled, and remove any breakages.
Chicks just hatching from incubated eggs.
Remember to use eggs not more than seven days old and keep the incubator in a room where the temperature does not vary very. Much. A cellar usually answers quite well for small machines, or even unused living-rooms. Draughty sheds of match boarding should be avoided unless it is possible t,d line them. Inside. Earth or concrete floors are quite good but do not select rooms with too much window space as they may admit too much sun heat and cause more variation in the’ room temperature than is desirable.
A popular way to obtain chicks for rearing is to buy day-old chicks from a large poultry breeder. These can easily be reared by a broody hen if care is taken over their introduction. Wait until the hen has sat on a nest of dummies for a week. A quiet hen, not a pullet, is best for this. Then, when the chicks arrive, keep them cosy and warm until the evening, and then take one chick and place gently beneath the broody’s breast. Wait an hour, and after that time, if the hen has “ taken “ to the chick, give her the others.
To rear chicks with the help of a hen, which is the most convenient way for the amateur without experience, the essentials are a good coop and a small run. The coop is the familiar sloping-roof structure, 21 in. high in front, and a little lower at the back, roughly2 ft. square (according to the size of the hen and brood) and with slats at the front. Of these slats, which are arranged vertically, one is loose and projects through the roof front, and when raised it allows the hen to pass through. When closed the slats leave only 2-in. Spaces, through which the chicks can pass while the hen is confined.
A night shutter is also needed, and this is a wooden affair that is secured by a thumb catch. There is, in addition, a ventilator, usually made by leaving a narrow opening horizontally at the top of the front, this opening being covered with wire netting.
The run is just a small run for the chicks. It fits against the front of the coop, and may be perhaps five or six feet long and the height of the coop shutter. A hinged lid forms the part of the roof that is next to the coop. Two wide boards run the length of the coop and along the end at the base, and so protect the chicks from cold winds. The upper part of end 4nd sides and the remainder of the roof is covered with sparrow-proof netting.
Both the coop and the run are moved daily, and should be used where there is grass if possible.
COCKERELS AND PULLETS
Cockerels are weeded out at different ages, but should be distinguishable at the age of eight weeks. They are saleable for table at the age of three months, when they weigh from 2 lb. to 3 lb. according to breed. Pullets are generally retained for egg production by the small poultry keeper, but if there is a surplus, the pullets can be looked over, and their good points noted. The best pullets will then be selected for keeping and the remainder sold. Instructions for feeding of the older pullets have already been given, and should be sufficient guide.
In large poultry farms, special rearing arks are used, with roosting slats, and in these the pullets are more or less crowded, with the great advantage in cold weather that they keep one another warm. Space allowed is gradually increased until twenty pullets occupy a 6 ft. by 3 ft. ark and should have access to twenty or thirty rods of land. This, however, is a matter which concerns the experienced, large-scale poultry farmer, and need not be discussed here.
An important point to the poultry keeper is the question of telling male and female chicks at an early age. Above we have mentioned the subject of sex linkage and it may be of interest to readers to know rather more about this matter. To distinguish chicks at a specially early age, it is necessary to know something of the strain from which both hen and cockerel come. Mating purebred strains in certain ways will give certain results. Here are facts concerning this which I am able to quote by courtesy of the Editor of Feathered World:—
1. Crossing a gold cock—Rhode Island Red, Buff Rock, Buff Leghorn, etc.— with a silver hen—Light Sussex, White Wyandotte, etc.—will produce female chicks of gold-brown down colour, thus taking after the sire, and male chicks of creamy-white down colour, thus taking after the dam.
2. Mating “black-red” males—Brown Leghorn, Barnevelder, Indian Game—to silver hens of the first group produces buff to bnown pullet chicks, with dark brown markings, and males with grey or lemon down with black and brown markings.
N.B.—Mating a silver cock with a gold hen produces chicks that cannot be distinguished by the sex down.
3. A black or brown cock—Black or Brown Leghorn or Rhode Island Red—mated with a barred hen—Barred Rock or Cuckoo Leghorn—produces cockerels black with a light patch on the head top, and pullets entirely black on the back of the head.
4. A dark-shanked cock—White Bresse or Silkie—mated with a light-shanked hen—Light Sussex or Wyandotte—produces cockerels that have light shanks and skin at two weeks old, while pullets of the same age have dark shanks.
5. A quick feathering cock, such as White Leghorn, mated with a slow feathering hen — Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, or Sussex—produces quick feathering pullets and slow feathering cockerels. At a day old the pullets will have feathering extending well beyond the down; the cockerels shoW no feathering at all at this age, and no tail until after the sixteenth day.
When special mating of pure-bred stock has not taken place, the poultry keeper may have to wait rather longer to tell the sex of his chicks. Light breeds can, however, be safely separated at a month old and heavy breeds at seven or eight weeks.
You can easily tell the difference if you look for these points in the chicks:— Light breeds. At one month the combs will be sprouting rapidly on the cockerels, and these birds will have a somewhat cheekier appearance than the pullets. Their tails are longer, their legs long, necks held well up, and their faces red in colour.
The pullets will have smaller combs of yellowish colour, shorter tails, and longer, lower bodies. Their manners at the food table are generally shyer.
Heavy breeds. The cockerels of the heavier breeds are larger, coarser, and with more thickset, heavy bodies than the pullets. Legs are, stout but also rather long. The birds are upright in carriage, and stand very erect when alarmed. Some signs of the comb may be visible when the separation of sexes takes place at seven weeks; backs will be rather bare, or showing pin feathers. The cockerels are always more aggressive and greedy than the pullets.
Pullets of the heavy breeds have small neat heads with practically no comb showing. They are well feathered, specially on wing bows, back and sides of crop. Tails are longish, and well formed, bodies long, legs short and rather fine.
Although all the information previously given is designed chiefly for the small “ backyard “ poultry keeper, it applies equally to those rather more fortunate who can allow their chickens and hens a grass run. I am not writing here for the large poultry farmer who occupies acres of ground, but merely for the home gardener who is prepared to allot a part of his ground to poultry.