Tips and Tricks for Pedigree Breeding
I pedigree breed my Dutch Bantams, and have put together some simple techniques that allow me to determine
right from the start who are the sire and dam of a given bird. When creating breeding pens I work with trios, one
cock, two hens. When the hens are laying well and I am ready to collect eggs to hatch, I take each hen in turn,
and using food coloring (available at any grocery store), drop a few drops into her vent of a particular color. I
may use red for one hen, blue for the other. Then in my notebook (good record keeping is crucial!) I note which
hen has which color by her leg band, and the band number of the cock in with her.
During the first few minutes the majority of the food coloring is passed by the hens with feces, but there is
always enough left to mark eggs for the next several days. Once an egg is laid, if you use bright light, you can
see streaks of color left by the vent on the egg. This allows you to mark the egg with the hen’s band number and
date of lay. Store your hatching eggs as usual, and set within a week. Each pen will need only enough colors for
the number of hens in it, I find red, blue, and green to be the best to use, yellow can be used but is sometimes
hard to see on the egg.
Once I am ready to set my eggs, just before putting them into the incubator (I use a cabinet type), I create a log
sheet which shows the band numbers of the hens across the top, and the dates laid down the side. Then I note
each day on which a given hen has laid an egg. This gives me insight as to how they are laying and who is
producing well versus who is not. Then I arrange the eggs in groups in the racks according to who laid them.
After a week in the incubator I candle them, and note which eggs were not fertile, if any.
On the day the eggs are to move to the hatcher, I set up trays with divided areas, one area for each hen. I have
cut lengths of hardware cloth so that they create a grid, and use duct tape to affix them to the trays. The mesh
allows sufficient air to circulate and keep the eggs healthy. Before I move the eggs into their given area I make a
map, so that I know which hen’s area is which after the chicks hatch. Then into the hatcher they go.
Once the chicks have hatched, I look at my map and using food color again, I assign a two-color code to each
group, depending on their dam. I then use these codes to mark the chicks themselves for identification. With
Dutch I can mark either on their stomachs or the chipmunk stripes on their backs. For example, all the offspring
from hen 7P will have a code that consists of a blue stripe on the left, and a red stripe on the right. I map out
individual color combinations for each hen, so none are the same (even if you use just red blue and green that
gives you up to 30 color combinations, as long as you include a blank.)
Before I take the newly-hatched chicks out of their mesh grids I set up enough small bowls or boxes so that I
have one for each hen’s offspring. They must be large enough that they cannot jump out, and I make a note on
each one which is the dam. From there I pop them into the bowls, and quickly start the marking (it’s good to
have helpers at this stage to wrangle all the chicks.) I put several drops of food coloring into a small plastic
container (we save the cups single serve applesauce comes in, they’re perfect for this), and using a Q-tip I mark
each chick according to the map. Then into a box and off to the brooder!
Dutch chicks are big enough for small leg bands by about three weeks, and the color on their stomachs is still
very visible at that time. I buy legbands in two sizes, one set in a four, the other in a seven, all the same color for
a given year. Once the band is put on I make a note of the number and the dam (according to the color on their
stomachs) and enter all that data into my computer. You can, of course, just keep it in a notebook if computers
aren’t your cup of tea, either way is fine, as long as you’re keeping track.
On or about ten weeks I switch to the larger size band, with the same color and number as the smaller ones,
saving the old ones for reuse another year down the road. That way each chick has its own record of dam and
sire, tracked from the moment it is laid as an egg. This whole process sounds like much more fuss and work
than it actually is, but the benefits are well worth it. By pedigree breeding you can track problems which might
crop up and eliminate them sooner, saving yourself time, trouble and money in the long run. Best of luck with all
(Many thanks to: Jean Robocker, Ric Ashcraft, and Krys Brennan for the inspiration for this article.)
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