By Tan Bark.
If a man lives long enough the time will eventually come when he will have to cross his inbred fowl. Fowl cannot be raised under such ideal conditions, and no man is so infallible that he can inbreed fowl indefinitely and produce practical pit cocks. Generally speaking most of us expect to introduce fresh blood every 15 or 20 years.
It amuses me to have men quarrel about the purity of fowl claimed to have been inbred for 60 or 70 years, and then advertise shake cocks for sale of these same strains. I do not believe that nature suspends her laws in favor of a few chosen individuals, and it is amusing or disgusting, as you choose to view it, to see some huckster blossom forth advertising some grand old strain, that has been extinct for a quarter of a century.
Every case of this kind that has ever come under my personal observation I know to be hokum pure and simple. I have letters from some of these self-styled perpetuators written when they were scurrying around hunting all sorts of crosses. They would make a much a better hit with me, if instead of advertising Whitehorses, or Warhackles, bred from trio arriving from John Gilkerson or George Stone in1858 ,they would advertise “fowl carrying large proportion of the blood of such and such a strain and closely resembling them in appearance and pit qualities. They contain only the following additional crosses, etc.” Then I would have some confidence in what I was getting and feel that I was dealing with an honest man. If the purebred fowl did exist which they don’t, they would be fit only for museums and not for the pit.
So when the time does come for crossing, you will have had sufficient experience to know what men breed fowl that you would not be afraid to try. No man can foresee the results of a cross, it is entirely a gamble. I have known two excellent, inbred strains to be crossed and result in chickens that couldn’t whip a canary bird. It happens more often than not that a cross is entirely different from what might be expected. All you can do is make a guess and hope for the best and if it fails try again.
For crossing select a strain that has been pure bred for a number of years, as much like yours in style of fighting and characteristics as possible. Style and characteristics of the proposed cross are much more important than color. Color in itself cuts no figure, but you will probably be more apt to find fowl like you own in the same color. Most of the light reds in this country are descended from and carry more or less of the blood of the old Derbys and allied families and fight more or less alike. As a general proposition the dark reds are rushing, body cutting fighters.
The Doms all descend from the Minton and O’Neil blood and all that I ever saw were shufflers. The Pyles are descendants of Genet and Newbold blood and are sparring cocks expect of course Pyles, which are merely crosses of White Dominics.
So other things being equal, you are more likely to find what you want in strains colored like your own. Get the best individual of the strain obtainable. It is usually more satisfactory to get a cock, because you can select the kind you have seen in battle, that suits you and it is a very rare thing that you can buy a tested hen .Breed the new cock to the very best hens that you own. When old enough test some of the stags for gameness. If they are going to be bad, the sooner you know it the better. If satisfactory so far, breed the new cock to his daughters and one of his sons back over the hens. Then the next winter your original cross of your old stock so that you may compare them.
Unless the cross is approximately as good as your old family, you should go no further with them, as by so doing you will be going downhill.
It is very likely that you may be fooled by the goodness of the first cross. Sometimes a cross between two inbred strains will temporarily niche and produce chickens better than either side of the house, the stream runs higher than the source, as it were and yet the niche will not breed on when put back to either ingredient strain. That is the first cross or half bloods may be the only mistress of the two bloods that is any good. So don’t pat yourself on the back until you have fought the cocks of 3/4th your own blood and 1/4th of the new blood.
If they can fight as well as your own chickens you are on the right track. As I have said before, if your hens are intensely game, their sons out of short bred cock may act game, so you will not be sure of the deep gameness of your cross until you have tested out cocks with new blood on their dam’s side. So likewise test out some of the sons of the new cock over his daughters. If they stand the test your cross is game at any rate.
After you have bred the new blood down to 1/8, 1/16, or 1/32 you have the advantage of the cross and have chickens just like and as good as your own family with all the characteristics you have spent in developing your fowl.
If the cross is real success, put aside a few of the hens carrying 3/4 of the new blood. When they are seven or eight years old, you can go back for new blood of the same blood and can do away with all the guesswork and uncertainties of trying out an entirely new mixture.
When you have made a cross be man enough to admit it .Don’t join the band of phony old dodos who claim that nature makes special dispensation on their and who breed game chickens just as Noah had them in the Ark
One of the most talked about, but least understood, aspects of gamefowl husbandry is the subject of breeding. Let me disabuse you of one notion immediately. I am not an expert, never have been, never will be, don’t even pretend to be. So, if you decide to read further, keep repeating that to yourself. What follows are some of my observations, experiences and, yes, downright opinions, gleaned from almost thirty years of fooling around with gamefowl on one level or another.
In those thirty years, I would be hard pressed to name five real breeders that I have personally known. Yes, that’s right, I could count them on one hand. Even more surprising, less than half that number have been what I would term successful cockers, if success is to be measured by percentage of fights won. Most of the true breeders I have known have been small timers with a limited number of fowl and resources. Yet, over the years, these breeders have consistently produced fowl much sought after by other cockers. Not surprisingly, most have concentrated on one, at most two, families of fowl.
Don’t confuse a gamefowl raiser with a real breeder. Let me illustrate this point. A friend and I were discussing breeding one day many years ago, when the name of a certain individual-who had been prominent in the sport for many years and was much admired-came up. I foolishly observed that the guy must be a really good breeder to have done so well for so many years. My friend looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses. “Are you crazy? That man has run through and ruined more good families of chickens than you or I will ever own in a lifetime!” And he was right. Despite the fact that the man had been at or near the top for many years, it had been with a succession of different families, none of which he kept more than a few years, then discarded and went on to another winning family. To give the man his due, he was an excellent raiser of gamefowl and was great at recognizing and obtaining good fowl in the hands of others.
It is my contention that successful gamefowl breeding is as much art as science. Consider the following observation. Over the years, I have known many knowledgeable men whose background and education would seem to guarantee success with gamefowl-these included veterinarians and guys with advanced degrees in genetics and animal husbandry. Such was not the case, however, since nearly all were barely average-if that-as cockers. I have known guys who could recite genetics- phenotype, genotype- chapter and verse, but put them on a yard with a field of gamefowl and they didn’t have a clue.
I feel that I have told you hardly anything of value thus far, so I think I will answer some questions that a “young” cocker e-mailed me and see if they might clarify some points that you other beginners might have.
Q: Selecting brood fowl. What qualities should come from the cock’s side? The hen’s side?
A: Horse breeders have an adage, “Strength and endurance from the female, speed and action from the male.” Not a bad rule of thumb.
Thoughts on Breeding Page 2
Q: Do you believe in cross influence since genetically the offspring are 50/50? Father influences daughter/mother influences son.
A: There may be some validity to this since it is proven that some characteristics, like gray color, are sex-liked. Personally when I make a cross of a “pure” line and a crossed line, I prefer that cross to be on the female side. I have no proof this actually works, however.
Q: Why do good traits seem to exhibit themselves in crosses than pures? Is the gene selection random or a fixed pattern?
A: That last one is a million dollar question and one that geneticists would love to know the answer to. Crosses are better usually because they tend to have “hybrid vigor”, whereas closely bred fowl may exhibit poor traits due to concentration of the gene pool.
Q: What is your method of “setting a strain”?
A: One generally sets a strain by identifying an “ideal” and breeding toward that ideal, often using an individual more than twice in the line.
Q: How come crosses don’t carry on after two or three generations?
A: Some do. Otherwise, how do we account for “pure” Hatch, “pure” Butcher, etc., which were once, after all, merely crosses.
Q: How do we recognize prepotent individuals? Is there any other way other than test mating? What percentage of the offspring should show traits for the parent fowl to be considered prepotent?
A: I know of no other way than single mating and testing offspring. Look for consistency in looks and actions among brothers and sisters. As far as parents are considered, look for nearly 100% shared traits to identify prepotent parent individuals.
In conclusion, let me share this with you. The late Cecil Davis of Jackson, Tennessee, told me this. “I have only seen two families of ‘super chickens’ in my life, those Hatch of Bill Ruble’s in the ’60s and the Cantrell Greys in the ’70s.” I personally was fortunate enough to see the Greys myself and they were truly “super”. Since then, I haven’t seen their equals for all-around performance. But someday, someone will breed them. Who knows? Maybe it will be you.
If you enjoyed these ramblings, let the good folks at Pit Master know and maybe I’ll jot some more down, or suggest a topic and I’ll try to oblige. In the meantime, I would suggest you pick up a copy of “Modern Breeding of Gamefowl” by Narragansett, the pen name of Frank Shy. He had some interesting ideas on breeding, and, oh yes, he was one of the five “real” breeders I referred to earlier.
Breeding gamefowl is one of the many challenging aspects of the Sport of Kings. Numerous books and articles have been written on the subject and they all contain something of value. Over the past several decades, it my belief that the understanding of basic genetics has helped the modern breeder maintain and improve some of the great families of gamefowl that have been passed down through the generations. Maintaining and improving bloodlines is the primary goal of cockers. Some would say that cockfighting is practiced to provide an avenue for gambling or to satisfy a primitive bloodlust. After 25 years with gamefowl, I can say that the core of cockfighting is about the perpetuation of an ancient, noble and beautiful feathered gladiator by breeding the best to the best.
Cockfighting is about holding in our hands the descendents of the same birds that our ancestors held in their hands while admiring the same qualities and puzzling over the same mysteries. Finally, cockfighting is about standing in awe of nature, which has instilled an incredibly deep survival instinct in every living creature.
Just a few more notes before we jump into the subject… I am not a professional breeder. I have never created my own bloodline that whipped all the big boys, although I have bred some pretty good roosters. However, like all cockers, I have some opinions on the subject and a friend asked me to write them down. I have no chickens for sale and no axes to grind. I just enjoy getting some information out there for the beginners to think about. My opinions are based on a combination of basic genetics, my own personal experiences with breeding gamefowl, and a little common sense.
An effective breeding program is a process that requires a systematic approach. I consider the process equivalent to a road that leads to a particular destination. A cocker can choose the vehicle (bloodlines) and the route (specific breeding techniques) to take. However, a map should be drawn out before the journey starts and it should be consulted from time to time to make sure the original destination seems to be getting closer. Sometimes the destination may change, so a breeder has to remain open minded and flexible. The road is definitely bumpy, but it can be very scenic and enjoyable.
I have identified some important components to any successful breeding program. The following steps, hard work and a little luck will help a gamefowl breeder produce quality gamefowl.
The 7 steps of successful gamefowl breeding
Establishing specific goals for the breeding program.
Identifying and obtaining foundation bloodlines.
Selecting superior individuals within the bloodlines to breed.
Setting up the broodpens: choosing breeding strategies.
Progeny testing: evaluating the success of the program.
Managing the broodfowl to optimize their productivity and the health of their offspring.
Record keeping: keeping it accurate.
Step 1: Establishing Goals
In my opinion, establishing goals or objectives is the most important part of the breeding program. Goals for a gamefowl breeding program are probably most easily measured in terms of the winning percentage of the offspring (progeny testing). Having a breeding goal that is quantifiable, or can be measured, assists the breeder when evaluating the success of the specific matings and the bloodlines used in the breeding program. However, there are many factors that contribute to the winning percentage. For example, age, conditioning, weapon used (style, set, quality of steel), the level of the competition and even luck all have a very significant impact on the outcome of a contest. For this reason, I think it is important to include specific traits as goals in addition to a desired winning percentage. This is because certain traits (primary traits) are correlated to higher winning percentages, and if the fowl produced posses these traits, the chances of success in the pit will increase. Examples of primary traits linked to winning bloodlines include cutting ability, fighting style, strength, speed, body size and type, station, spur alignment, bone size, disposition, and gameness. Other traits (secondary traits) such as eye color, feather color and condition, leg color, and comb type are important but tend to have a weaker or no correlation to winning percentage.
In order to establish traits as goals, it is necessary to group the traits in order of importance. The most important traits should receive the most
attention (selection intensity) in the breeding program. More rapid progress can be made by focusing the breeding program on one or few traits. However, this tends to cause a decline or lack of progress in other areas, so a cautious and balanced approach is needed. A breeding program that is balanced will tend to make slower initial progress, but in the long term will outperform a breeding program based on intensive selection for a limited number of traits.
In the following table, I will group traits according to their relative degree of importance in my breeding program, and the degree of selection intensity I feel is merited to each group. Although the groups are arranged by relative importance, all traits in groups A, B & C are important, and all require careful monitoring and consideration. Please keep in mind that these traits, in addition to a minimum winning percentage, are the goals I have established for my breeding program, and are based on my personal preferences, observations, and experiences. Breeding program goals for others cockers will likely be significantly different. Group General Trait Selection Intensity Specific Quality
A Cutting ability Maximum Accurate; efficient; deep
A Health Maximum Resistant to disease and stress
A Gameness Maximum Tries to destroy the opponent 100% of the time
A Fighting Style Maximum Intelligent, adaptive, head back
B Strength High Capable of powerful blows
B Speed High Able to overwhelm/avoid opponent
B Endurance High Ability to give and take for long periods of time
B Body size/type/conformation High Avg 5 lb/upright/football
B Station High High
B Disposition High Gentle
B Winning percentage High 70%
C Bone size Medium Medium
C Spur Alignment Medium Low on shank/aligns with prop toe
C Eye color Medium Red or Orange
C Plumage condition Medium Flexible, long feathers
D Leg color Low Characteristic of the breed
D Comb type Low Characteristic of the breed
D Plumage Color Low Characteristic of the breed
Step 2: Identifying and Obtaining Broodfowl
Finding and obtaining the broodfowl that will meet or exceed expectations is essential to success as a breeder. The fowl the breeder starts his program with are the foundation of the breeding program. A breeder should take his time before rushing out and buying fowl, because finding the good ones is not easy. There are several approaches that can be used, although some methods work better than others.
Identifying a desirable bloodline is best determined by their offspring’s performance in the pit. Fight reports, recommendations from friends, and
attending derbies are all ways to get an idea of how they have performed for other cockers. The fowl should be very strong in the group A and B traits that were identified when planning the goals of the breeding program, and adequate or better in as many of the group C traits as possible. The closer to the goal we are at the beginning, the more quickly it can be reached. A breeder must be completely honest in his evaluation of the merits and demerits of the prospective bloodlines. The purchasing of broodfowl is a lot like getting married… make sure you can live with what you bring home. If a breeder sees something he doesn’t like, and breeds these fowl, chances are that this trait will likely be passed into the future generations of his fowl.
The most certain way of obtaining good fowl is through friendship. Often a good friend is willing to share his best, compete in a combined entry in
derbies, and to swap broodfowl in the future as needed. The advantage of getting fowl through friends is that the breeder has seen the birds compete and knows their strengths and weaknesses and can plan the breeding program accordingly.
Another method is to attend derbies and watch for breeders that show fowl that consistently display the qualities the buyer is looking for. The key is to attend derbies at the same or better level of competition than the level at which the buyer plans to compete in the future (average cocks look good against mediocre competition, but look flat-footed and slow in fast company). Once the sights have been set on a particular bloodline, it would help the buyer to become friends with the breeder. The buyer should inquire how the cocks are bred, how long he has had the bloodline, the origin of the bloodline, and the breeder’s opinion on some important traits and qualities. The breeder may or may not be interested in selling any broodfowl. If not, the buyer may be able to purchase battlefowl instead, test the battlecrosses, and if they pass the test, continue to try to get some broodstock. A buyer should always be respectful and persistent. If the buyer can find out where this successful breeder obtained his fowl, he may be able to get similar fowl from the same source.
Another method is purchasing through the magazines or from the internet. This is definitely the method with the highest rate of failure. There are excellent, legitimate breeders that advertise and those who are not; it is very hard from an advertisement or website to determine who will ship you the type of fowl the buyer wants. If hecan travel to the breeder’s farm, it would improve the chances of getting the good ones, but this, of course, is not a foolproof method.
Step 3. Selecting Superior Individuals
Once the bloodline has been identified and the breeder has agreed to sell some of his fowl, the selection of specific individuals is required. If the buyer order chickens though an advertisement, he must clearly specify his requirements to the breeder and ask if he has fowl that will meet the criteria (e.g., station, body type, fighting style). Once again, visiting the breeder at his farm is a significant advantage when selecting brood or battlefowl. There are often subtle differences between individuals within the same bloodline. For example, if the buyer has a choice between two superb physical specimens with one having a better disposition, it will assist the breeding program to start with the calmer, gentler bird.
The goals for the breeding program should be consulted during the selection process. Every cock and hen should be evaluated with respect to the goals. Selected individuals must be extremely healthy, active and in good flesh. They should be balanced, proportional and represent the characteristics of the bloodline. Both cocks and hens should be relatively calm and good natured. Although mature stags and pullets from winning families are perfectly acceptable for breeding, I prefer fowl that are 2 to 5 years of age so that I have had a chance to test them and their immediate family before introducing them into the breeding program. Waiting until cocks and hens are mature also helps identify any desirable or undesirable traits that may not be readily apparent in stags and pullets (e.g., spraddle legs, nervous personality, late developing fighting ability).
I consider what we do as cockers very similar to what happens in nature, where every individual is competing for survival each and every day. Individuals that can’t compete or adapt do not survive, thus their DNA does not get passed to the next generation. Consider how efficiently birds of prey hunt, pursue and capture their quarry. It stands to reason that the best hunters, those that can adapt to different prey, different habitats, adverse weather conditions and can win territorial disputes will have the greatest reproductive success, thus passing the good genes on the next generation. Likewise, cockers should try to select individuals that have proven their worth in the pit and/or whose brothers, offspring, immediate family have proven themselves in the pit. Only through competition can we select individuals that have the mental and physical attributes to get the job done. These individuals should be the cornerstones of our breeding programs.
Step 4. Choosing the Right Breeding Strategies
Much has been written about breeding strategies and techniques that have been used successfully to produce ace cocks. Inbreeding, linebreeding, outcrossing, and crossbreeding are breeding strategies that all have their place in the overall breeding program. These methods, when used appropriately, offer the breeder the best chance to maintain bloodlines and to produce consistently competitive battlefowl. The breeder should keep in mind that the foundation of any breeding method is to breed physically and mentally sound cocks and hens that come from winning families.
Before I discuss breeding methods, a quick discussion of basic genetics is needed. Genetics is a very complex subject. The inheritance and expression of DNA is subject to several known and unknown mechanisms of action, of which college textbooks cover in great detail. Complex genetic interactions, the inheritance of sex-linked traits, and traits influenced by multiple genes are certainly relevant to gamefowl breeding but are beyond the scope of this article.
Genes are made up of pieces of DNA, which carries the information about a particular trait. The genotype is the sum of all genes present on the chromosomes. The phenotype is the appearance of the traits, a visual expression of the genotype. Genes almost always occur in pairs. This means that each cock or hen has two copies of any given gene for a specific trait, one derived from the father and one from the mother. A bird that has two different genes for a specific trait is said to be heterozygous for that trait. A bird that has the same two genes for a given trait is homozygous for that trait.
Some genes and their corresponding traits are dominant or incompletely dominant and others are recessive. A cock that is heterozygous for a particular trait (has one dominant gene and one recessive gene) will look the same as, or similar to (incomplete dominance), to one that is homozygous dominant (has two of the same dominant genes) for that trait. Recessive genes are hidden when paired with a dominant gene. When recessive genes are in a homozygous state (both are identical), they are expressed in the phenotype. An example of this with white and yellow leg color. The gene for white legs is dominant to the gene for yellow legs, meaning a white legged cock or hen could have one gene for white legs (W)and one gene for yellow legs (y), or two genes for white legs (WW). If two heterozygous white legged fowl were bred together (Wy x Wy), the offspring would be approximately 75% white legged [WW or Wy] and 25 % yellow legged [yy] because there is an equal probability that the parent will pass the white legged or yellow legged gene to the offspring. In this case, the ratio of genes in the offspring would be 1 WW: 2 Wy : 1 yy.
Another way to say this is that 75% of the chicks would carry the dominant gene for white legs and 25% would receive a recessive yellow legged gene fromeach parent. In this case where the recessive yellow legged gene is in a homozygous state, it is expressed in the phenotype as yellow legs.
Inbreeding is the breeding of two individuals who are related to each other. Typically all fowl from the same family of fowl are related to some degree, thus inbreeding is practiced whenever we maintain a “pure” line. Linebreeding is a form of inbreeding where particularly superior individuals are used in several generations, which tends to emphasize the genetic influence of the individual in the family. Inbreeding increases the probability that the two copies of any given gene for a particular trait will be identical, or homozygous for that gene. If the cock and hen are related, there is a chance that the two genes in the offspring are both identical copies contributed by the common ancestor. Close inbreeding uncovers hidden, often undesirable homozygous recessive genes that are carried by both parent fowl. Inbreeding depression is a term used to describe the reduction in performance caused by the expression of these recessive genes in inbred individuals. Some cockers will use this as a tool to test a new bloodline by fighting year old stags from a brother/sister mating, since this intensive form of inbreeding will quickly bring undesirable qualities to the surface such as lack of gameness.
Since mating related and phenotypically-identical individuals also tends to increase the number of homozygous dominant genes in the progeny, fowl become more uniform in those traits emphasized in the breeding program. Although true with any breeding system, additional care must be taken with intensive inbreeding (breeding closely related, inbred individuals). Only the very best physical specimens should be retained for maintaining the bloodline and crossing with other bloodlines. Producing these exceptional individuals requires hatching and raising a lot of chicks to increase the probability of the right genetic combination occurring in the offspring.
Increasing homozygous genes in a family through inbreeding increases the probability of producing “prepotent” individuals. Prepotency is the ability of an individual to pass their desirable dominant genes to their offspring. For this reason, prepotent individuals are extremely valuable in linebreeding systems to improve and maintain bloodlines. Although inbreeding will increase the probability of producing prepotency, in my own experience an ace crossbred battlecock was prepotent. Nearly all of his stags were virtually identical to the cock, including fighting style, body shape and station, leg color, a plumage color. They even sounded the same as they all had his distinctive voice.
Outcrossing is the mating of individuals within the same bloodline but having no close ancestral relationships. For example, a trio of Clarets was single mated producing a dozen stags from each hen. When the stags matured into cocks, they were fought and the best multiple time winners were selected for breeding purposes. The original hens were bred to their best sons, and the original cock was used once in the third year in each family. For the next 7 years, the two lines were kept separate, and the original hen and her exceptional son were bred several times in the following generations to increase their genetic contribution to each family. After 10 years, the lines were bred together, resulting in an outcross. The offspring from this mating were tested and the best individuals were bred back to the separate lines. This method of breeding, along with careful selection and progeny testing, can be used to maintain pure families without introducing outside blood. Using linebred, prepotent individuals is highly desirable when outcrossing.
Crossbreeding occurs when two unrelated fowl are mated. Crossbred individuals have many more heterozygous dominant genes present in their genotype. In a heterozygous genotype, dominant genes mask the influence of undesirable or desirable recessive genes. Many of the most successful battlecrosses are produced from crossing two or more unrelated, inbred families of fowl. In fact, the primary reason for maintaining inbred families of fowl is to produce individuals that can be used in crossbreeding systems. This is because crossing two unrelated, inbred bloodlines often results in hybrid vigor in the offspring. Hybrid vigor, or ‘heterosis,’ is the term used when a crossbred individual outperforms the parent fowl. Crossbreeding is widely used in commercial animal production and has proven successful. Hybrid animals and plants tend to grow faster, be more productive and more resistant to stress and disease. Once again, it must be emphasized that the greatest degree of heterosis is seen when inbred, prepotent individuals are used as the parent fowl.
So how does one select the breeds to cross? Some gamefowl breeders advocate crossing fowl that complement each other, such as breeding a power cock over speed hens, in hopes of producing the ultimate combination of desirable qualities. Others advocate breeding fowl that are similar in type and action, contending that the resulting offspring are more likely to be consistent and predictable.
In my opinion, both schools of thought are likely correct because both have proven to be successful. For example, the popular cross of various Hatch and Roundhead families clearly indicate the theory of complementary families is valid. Highly competitive crosses made up of similar families like the Kelso and Albany fowl prove that crossing families that have similar attributes is also effective. The success and failure of any cross is dependent upon the compatibility of the genes and the only way of knowing if the fowl will “nick” is to breed them together and test their progeny.
Crossbred fowl can be used in the breeding program. Many breeders will use superior crosses to add new blood into one or both of the parent lines, especially if the parent lines are intensively inbred and showing signs of inbreeding depression. After the initial introduction, the new blood is bred out in succeeding generations. The introduced family should be of unquestioned quality, as the introduction of inferior genes into an inbred family is an irreversible process. Recently I was given a trio of Regular Greys from a great friend. The fowl have an excellent winning percentage in the gaff and fight a smart style that would be effective in any weapon. They are deep game, deadly cutters, have great bodies and are good natured. Their major shortcoming is that the old cock and his two daughters are medium stationed. Since my goal is to produce high stationed cocks, I have developed a plan to increase their station. Since all three of the adult fowl are medium stationed, I am not hopeful that any of the stags and pullets out of this trio will be high stationed. However, there is a possibility that a recessive gene for high station is being masked, so I am breeding them pure to see if the recessive genes will pair up and produce some high stationed offspring. As an insurance policy, I bred a high station Claret broodstag out of a solid Claret bloodline from the same breeder to one of the Grey hens this year. From the stags and pullets I raise from this mating, I will keep the best overall individuals with the highest station to breed back to Greys next season. Since the pullets of any mating often more closely resemble the broodcock, I expect several of the ½ Grey ½ Claret pullets from this mating to be high stationed
like the Claret stag. Like wise, the best performing high stationed ¾ Grey and ¼ Claret cocks (which should be carrying the genes for high station from the ½ and ½ pullets) will be bred over the pure Grey hens. If the pure Greys I’m breeding this year produce any high stationed stags or pullets, they will also be bred to the high stationed Grey/Claret crosses and back to the parent fowl. The goal is to eventually breed the Claret contribution down to a 1/16 or 1/32, while retaining the genes for higher station.
Although breeding crossbred fowl to each other is usually unsuccessful, some two-way crosses nick with a third bloodline. Some of the best fowl I have ever raised were out of a ½ Butcher ½ Lacy Roundhead cock and a Hatch hen. If all three of the original parent fowl are from inbred families, the 3-way crosses can be very consistent in appearance and style. When breeding crosses to crosses, a few excellent individuals may be produced but the pairings of the thousands of possible genetic combinations tends to produce predominantly average or mediocre individuals. An exception to the rule might be a four-way cross produced by mating a two-way cross cock out of two unrelated inbred families (e.g., Hatch and Kelso) to a two-way cross hen out of two unrelated inbred families (e.g., Butcher and Roundhead). Some animal experiments have indicated an additional boost of hybrid vigor is possible from the resulting four-way cross. This is something you may want to try if you have four inbred
All modern breeders acknowledge that the fowl used to develop today’s bloodlines were crosses. However, the successful bloodlines the great breeders in the past developed from these crosses were refined over many years through selection of superior individuals, inbreeding, testing and extensive culling.
No discussion of breeding is complete without addressing single mating, flock mating and yard breeding. The most haphazard and careless way to breed could be called ‘yard breeding.’ This is when the cocker lets his hens runs loose on the yard with cocks on strings. Yard breeding will result in chicks out of several different cocks and hens, as hens will often lay in the same nest, and the breeder will have no idea which hen and cock produced the dunghill or what combination produced the ace. Likewise, another questionable method is flock mating, when one cock is bred simultaneously to several hens of different breeds. The breeder may get some good chickens, but without trapnesting, it is impossible to know what hen laid the golden eggs. A somewhat better flock mating method is to breed a cock to full sisters. However, there are some hens
that are much superior producers than their sisters, and with this system it is impossible to know which hens are the best. I recommend for the serious breeder of inbred families, single mating a cock with individually penned hens. In this way, the best individuals are rapidly identified. Their offspring can be single mated and the best retained from those future generations. Once the best hens are identified, they can be used in a flock mating system to produce battlecocks.
Single mating can be a lot of work even if the breeder has just a few cocks and hens. It requires moving the cock every 1-3 days to each hen pen. This year I used a chain link dog kennel 12’ wide and 16’ long to single mate three hens. I built a tee-pee shelter in three corners with a roost and nest box in each one, and tied the hens out on tie-cords. I covered the pen with 2” poultry netting and turned the cock loose among the hens. The hens laid in their individual nests and I didn’t have to move the cock, as he visited each hen several times per day. Based on my hatching rate, he did a fine job, and I know exactly what hen and cock produced each chick.
In summary, consider these key points:
Inbreeding is a long-term breeding strategy. It is most useful as a way to strengthen and preserve valuable genetic information in a bloodline.
Individuals from these inbred bloodlines are valuable for producing hybrid battle crosses.
Inbreeding increases the number of homozygous genes. Remember that this applies to desirable and undesirable genes equally. If inbred fowl are mated and the progeny display undesirable traits, both parents and offspring should be removed from the breeding program because the parents are carriers for the recessive, undesirable gene expressed in the offspring. These individuals could be retained for crossing.
Linebreeding is a form of inbreeding in which superior individuals are used multiple times in several generations in the development and maintenance of a bloodline. Linebreeding increases the probability that desirable genes from the superior individuals are passed on to the subsequent generations. Care must be taken when linebreeding apparently superior fowl to other closely related individuals because of the potential for uncovering and passing on undesirable genes.
Outcrossing is the mating of unrelated individuals within a bloodline. It is a valuable strategy to maintain a bloodline with minimal effects from inbreeding depression. This strategy requires the maintenance of two or more families within a bloodline.
Crossbreeding is the mating of unrelated individuals from two or more separate bloodlines. When compatible bloodlines are used, crossbreeding often results in hybrid vigor, which occurs when the offspring exceeds the performance of the parent fowl.
Step 5. Evaluating the Progeny
The ultimate measure of success of any breeding program is the quality of the resulting offspring. The relative success of the matings is determined by the ability of the offspring to meet the criteria defined in the goals of the breeding program in Step 1. When breeding inbred families to produce broodfowl, it is only possible to initially evaluate their outward appearance, body structure, health and disposition; the ultimate test for the worth of broodfowl is their ability to produce winners and future generations of top quality broodfowl. This can make mistakes very costly considering the time and money required to determine the quality of their offspring.
Competition in the pit tests the offspring of the broodfowl and skill of the breeder. Information learned about fighting style, speed, cutting ability and other important traits should be gathered, analyzed, and used to guide the breeding program in future breeding seasons. Only through experience and being present at the pit when his warriors are doing battle can the breeder learn the weaknesses and strengths of his fowl and make adjustments to the breeding program.
It is true that superior battlecocks don’t always make superior broodcocks. However, history has proven that superior battlecocks make great broodcocks frequently enough to consider breeding a few great winners every year. I like to use great battlecocks over inbred pullets from another breed to make three-way crosses. Some of the greatest breeders of the past bought spectacular crossbred cocks at the pit and bred them into various ‘yards’ or families. They had to discard many of these yards after the offspring were tested, but some of these crossbred yards produced lines that are winning today.
The level of competition is an important factor to consider when evaluating battlefowl. It is a good idea for the breeder to compete a few times each year at the highest level of competition that he can afford. In this way the breeder can get a better idea of how his fowl measure up to the big boys.
Step 6. Managing Broodfowl
It is often said that if two cockers were given identical bloodlines, it would take just a few generations for the descendents of the original parent fowl to look and act completely different. Most of this phenomenon may be related to a different emphasis on specific traits when selecting broodfowl, and it is also related to differing environments (soil, water, climate, feed). However, another significant effect is due to management.
For example, one management technique is to supply artificial lighting to stimulate early egg production. Early eggs mean earlier chicks, which tends to produce larger adult fowl than those hatched in late spring. This simple management technique can have a significant impact on body size. Another example is the effect of the health of the broodfowl upon the health of the offspring. Since health is one of the most important traits we select for, we must manage the broodfowl to maximize health.
The following generic recommendations should be considered to optimize the productivity and performance of the broodfowl. Specific management techniques should be employed in certain situations (e.g., disease; predators; environmental conditions, etc.).
1. Employ a regular de-worming and de-lousing program.
2. Control the body weight of the broodfowl through diet and exercise. Fat broodcocks tend to produce a lower percentage hatch. Likewise, fat hens lay fewer eggs. Trim the feathers around the vent of each cock and hen to maximize the mating efficiency.
3. Provide enough pen space to minimize stress from overcrowding. In my experience, the minimum floorspace for a single mating broodpen (one cock and hen) is 4’ x 5’ or 20 square feet.
4. Provide a round roost pole, approximately 2.5 inches in diameter. In flock mating system, adequate roost space is an important detail, as the dominant hens will force the submissive hens off the roost until it is nearly dark. This is stressful on all of the fowl.
5. Provide clean, fresh and dry bedding material in the pen.
6. Provide a nest that is big enough so the hen can turn around freely and is protected from the weather. Use clean straw, shavings, or other material in the nest. In a flock mating system, use one nest per 3 hens if the eggs are picked up daily.
7. When using an incubator or a surrogate mother to hatch the eggs, eggs should be picked up at least once per day, kept clean and stored between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Discard undersized, oversized and odd-shaped eggs.
9. Wash dirty eggs soon after gathering. Use hot water and soap or plain hot water and dip in a diluted bleach solution.
10. Feed a breeder pellet if available. The breeder diet is balanced to promote optimum fertility and hatchability, as well as good egg shell quality.
Laying pellets are formulated for the commercial production of eggs without consideration of the requirements of the developing embryo or newly hatched chick.
11. Provide oyster shells free-choice for strong eggshells.
12. Feed fruit and vegetables to penned fowl.
13. Always provide clean fresh water and use a high quality vitamin/electrolyte product 1-3 days per week or more often during extreme
14. During the off-season when fowl are not breeding, allow them access to grass.
15. Practice biosecurity. Keep visitors to a minimum, and require shoe disinfection for those who do visit.
16. Minimize the introduction of new fowl onto the premises. New fowl are potential disease carriers. Isolate new fowl for at least two weeks before
introducing them into your breeding program.
Step 7. Record Keeping
To keep track of the specific individuals and matings used in the breeding program, it is necessary to keep accurate records. This will help when the breeder needs to go back and figure out exactly how specific fowl were bred or to determine the degree of relationship between certain individuals within a family or bloodline.
Records should identify the individuals used in the brood pen, including their bloodline, toe mark and wingband number. The toemark and wingband numbers for the chicks produced from this mating also needs recording in the record book. I also record the number of eggs set, chicks hatched, and date hatched.
During the growing period, I also record mortality caused from predators, disease, culling or other reasons, and note the broodpen number. If I use medication or vaccinate, I record what, when, and why it was used and the results.
Most cockers probably breed a family of fowl 5 or 6 years before they lose the ‘pure’ individuals and can’t maintain it or the fowl do not measure up to their standards and are discarded. Probably most gamefowl families out there don’t measure up to the requirements of a serious, top-level competitor. However, numerous stories exist of cockers discarding or losing families of fowl only to realize later that they were, in fact, a great bloodline. I have had this experience and I’ll bet most cockers with some breeding experience have also had this unpleasant realization.
Recognizing ‘diamonds in the rough’ is a challenge. If the breeder is starting with deep game cocks, he’ll have a great foundation and with some luck and intelligent breeding decisions, he’ll have something to be proud of. A breeder has to have patience and stick with it. He must breed as many as he can, cull them hard, keep accurate and detailed records, and spend as much time as possible just observing the fowl. Over time, some cockers even develop a ‘gut feel’ for mating individuals or crossing specific bloodlines. Regardless if you become a legendary breeder or stay down to earth on the backyard level, the point is to enjoy the process of creating extremely competitive, awe-inspiring, and absolutely beautiful feathered warriors.
by John W. Purdy