Successfully Linebreeding Poultry
Updated: Jan 30, 2022
While genetic diversity is a core tenet here at Silver Prairie Stock & Poultry Farm there are many times when it is simply not possible to obtain the required stock to ensure it is unrelated. For many years this has forced breeders to establish linebreeding programs.
Linebreeding is, to put it directly, scientific inbreeding. Starting with a related pair or trio (two hens and one rooster), the birds are carefully bred in isolation, and the resulting chicks are thoughtfully monitored and culled as necessary (more on culling later).
Before you jump to the front, it would take many generations of unchecked inbreeding to ruin a flock. Line breeding is done all the time. There are flocks out there with no new source of genetics for over fifty years. The reason it works is due to culling any and all defects and keeping only the best birds for breeding.
As an example, let's say you only have a single pair of birds to breed together.
Breed them together but hatch more than three chicks, forty would be better. Choose the best cockerel and a couple of pullets and breed son to mother and father to daughter, the rest sell so you will not be tempted to breed from them or give a good trio to a local breeder for future sharing of stock. Choose the youngsters based on Standard Of Perfection (SOP) and vigour (early crower, growth rate, body shape etc.) If you have space keep the two lines separate. Change the cockerels every year, once you are up and running you can mix your lines or borrow a male from the original breeder.
If you have more hens, like a trio, for instance, then you would do best to try and keep each line from each hen separated to further establish options in the future and to breed to better the characteristics of the breed over time. It isn't necessary though, just observe the above directions and use each hatch year to breed accordingly, combining the offspring of the original hen group as one "line".
Providing you select only the best and which possess the greatest vigour you will see improvement and actually benefit from inbreeding making your strain purer.
Twenty from each pair in the trio should be enough to select from each year but the more you hatch the better your overall options.
If you ever need to outcross, go to a related bloodline and do not bring in more than 1/4 foreign blood at a time. Bring the blood in thru the dam's side. That way if it doesn't work out you don't have a rooster spreading seed throughout the flock. Just the offspring of one hen instead, which are easily culled.
For those aiming to refine a breed standard and save a rare breed, culling is essential. Culling is the process of weeding out birds that exhibit undesirable traits. There are many ways to go about breeding your birds and many reasons to make any series of choices. Most important to remember is, the breeder takes responsibility for the birds he or she brings into the world. Culling is not synonymous with harvesting, however. You can also cull a bird from your breeding program by putting it with other nonbreeding birds.
A good five-year plan would be something like:
Breed the girls to the boy. Hold back the best son.
Breed the best daughters to their father.
Take the daughters from that breeding back to their grandsire.
Take the daughters from that breeding back the original sire who is now their great grandsire.
Then, depending on the flocks needs, either breed the brothers and sisters from this latest generation together... Or breed the girls from this latest generation back to the son of the original rooster you held back from the first generation.
By this time, you would know the strain well enough and it will be obvious which breeding system you should choose to proceed from there.
If you are going to operate as advised, however, you need to understand that:
You must hatch large numbers each year. six chicks will not cut it. A twenty bird minimum is a reasonable target and more is most always better.
You must cull incredibly ruthlessly. No pet stock. Releasing substandard specimens only further dilutes the outside genetic and compounds your issue should you ever need to acquire additional stock.
It is much easier to start with the genes, traits, diversity, etc., that you want or need. Start with a breed already bred to a very high degree of perfection, not a breed that needs major work, unless you have no other options, a very long time to work out every deviation, the capacity and the STOMACH FOR IT. Culling is never easy and it is always tempting to pass substandard genetics along as pets or "non-breeding stock" to others instead of doing right by the breed.
Only linebreed using the most vigorous specimens.
Keep accurate records of every mating and use single matings when possible of keep track of individual birds and their offspring.
While given enough time and attention any breed can be bettered through linebreeding, it is simply far easier to start with high quality stock when doing so, in order to see the best results and minimize the amount of culling required to reach the desired Standard Of Perfection.
By keeping detailed notes and monitoring each breeding closely you will be able to tell which pairings produce the best outputs and you'll be able to repeat the successes. This also allows you to see what doesn't work as well. It isn't uncommon for a pairing to produce all undesirable offspring and if you are diligent in your record keeping you can remove them from your program altogether and save yourself plenty of headache in the future.
Hopefully this has given you plenty of information to begin your own linebreeding program. There are other linebreeding methods that we haven't touched on here like clan breeding, for example. Each linebreeding method has its own benefits but the information provided here is meant to offer simple and proven methods by which to proceed. You should see definite results given adequate time and attention to detail.
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* Some information provided herein was curated and edited from content found on the BYC Forum Online - Various Authors