Whether you just want more chickens in your flock or you want to turn a profit by selling chicks, you’ll need to learn how to breed chickens.
In general, most of the work is done by the rooster, but when it comes to the logistics of breeding chickens, there are certain things you can do to control the end product (chicks) and make sure the actual breeding process goes smoothly.
I’m assuming you already have your breeding flock chosen, so we won’t go into genetics here. Instead, this article focuses on how to plan to breed your chickens successfully, and safely:
First a Special Note About The Birds and The Bees
To have a baby chick, you need a rooster and a hen. I know this is probably pretty obvious to most, but just in case you weren’t sure, an egg produced without a rooster mating, will not be fertilized, and will never produce a chick.
1. Practice Selective Breeding
When you chose your breeding stock, you probably had a plan in mind. It may have been dependent on whether you were just breeding your two favorite birds or you want to increase, or develop, a certain breed further.
It doesn’t matter why you want to breed your chicken, but what does matter is the selections you choose to be your breeders. Birds should be healthy, meet your production goals, and hopefully, have decent temperaments.
If you are looking to promote a certain breed, choose specimens that represent the desirable characteristics of your chosen breed. See our chicken breeds guide here to make your breed selection.
In general, don’t breed birds that have poor characteristics or health and you’ll be golden.
2. Plan for Spring
Chickens can produce fertilized eggs year-round, but they tend to be more prolific during the springtime. This is especially true if you live in a cold climate. Chickens spend most of their energy keeping warm during the winter months, and less time mating.
3. Rooster to Hen Ratio
Common knowledge will tell you that keeping more than one rooster in a flock is a big no-no. Usually, this is due to the competition more than one roo creates for hens.
However, if you’ve raised your roosters together, they can probably coexist just fine as long as you’ve given them enough hens. Generally, each rooster should have access to 4-5 hens of their own.
There is a benefit to having more than one rooster in a breeding flock, and that’s a higher fertility rate.
4. Keep Your Rooster With Your Hens
As soon as you’ve decided which roosters you want to breed to your hens, make sure you remove all other roosters before adding your chosen roo. Leave your rooster with your hens indefinitely.
He will dance for the ladies, win them over, and eventually mate with them without any extra effort from you.
If your rooster is lazy, obese, or injured, he may not mount your hens. Keep watch and make sure he is doing his job. If he’s not, something may be wrong.
5. Wait Time
For the next 2-3 weeks, your hens will continue to lay eggs fertilized by any previous roosters you’ve housed them with. Furthermore, if you’ve just introduced a rooster, don’t expect fertile eggs for at least 2 weeks. That’s just how a hens reproductive cycle works.
6. Monitor Your Rooster’s Behavior
Some roosters are more aggressive than others, and some are just overly eager to be the man of the coop. In other words, they may unintentionally harm your hens with their spurs and beaks.
In reality, the breeding process is fairly aggressive in appearance. The rooster will jump on the hens back, hold her still by grabbing her comb, or back of her head with his beak, and using his feet to stabilize himself.
Don’t worry, it’s normal. But, if your hens are getting bloodied up by your roosters, or if they are losing feather, or appear extremely stressed out, you may have an overeager rooster on your hands.
Consider ceasing the breeding program and introducing a different rooster. Your hens physical and mental health is extremely important, so you need to keep her safe.
7. Check Eggs for Fertilization
After about two weeks, you will start to notice that your eggs will look a little different when you’re preparing breakfast. Eggs that are fertilized will have a small white splotch the resembles a bullseye.
Bullseye…your eggs are fertile. If you wait longer you will begin to see red splot and veins. Check our guide on how to know your eggs are fertilized here.
8. Store and Set Eggs
It’s tempting to start putting every egg into the incubator immediately, but doing so only creates problems come hatch day.
You see, eggs must be rotated, chicks must be removed from the incubator when dry, and opening the incubator when other eggs are in the hatching process may actually kill unhatched chicks. In other words, all eggs need to be at the same stage of development. The moment you start incubating them, they begin to progress.
The solution is to store eggs for about a week and place them all in the incubator at the same time. The eggs will all start developing at the same time. Storing eggs is like putting them in limbo for a short time.
If you store your eggs at 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit for a week, pointy end down, you should still have a fairly decent hatch rate. Anything longer than that, the rate starts to drop.
And there you have it! If you need more details read our incubation guide!
Breeding chickens is actually not very difficult, because most roosters do the work eagerly and without issue. Ensuring the safety of your chickens from breeding to incubation is the most important aspect of breeding chickens.
These simple tips will ensure your new breeding program runs smoothly with little to no errors or injuries!