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South African Show Poultry Organisation

Breeding & Selection

"Ultimately breeds will be conserved only to the extent the economic traits for which they were originally developed are valued and used." American Breeds Livestock Conservancy

The American Poultry Association (SASPO's sister organization in the USA) inter alia issues the following advisory to it's Judges:

"Poultry bred according to a Breed Standard is practical poultry, because most of the different breeds produce eggs, or meat, or both, to greater economic advantage than non-Standard Bred stock. The purpose of the Standard of Perfection (or Breed Standard) is to establish these ideal types that are not alone the most beautiful and symmetrical but also the most useful and productive."

The Effect of the Environment

"Phenotype is the product of Genetics and Environment"

Understanding this important concept is to understand the role genes play in producing the final product.

Put into layman's language:

The genes of an animal is its potential and it will depend on the environment if the desired outcome, or Phenotype ("form" in Greek), will be achieved.

Breed Standards

The art of breeding is about selection and breeding according to a Breed Standard.

This means that one must only select superior stock without serious faults for breeding described in the relevant Breed Standard. Unfortunately, in South Africa most breeders of so-called show quality poultry ignore the need to select for production and fertility and breed only to win in shows. And in shows, it is all about beauty and looks. Both sexes must conform to the official Breed Standard and, within practical norms, none should exhibit any disqualifying faults.

In the South African Show Poultry Organisation (SASPO), there are firstly General Disqualifying Faults that apply to all poultry and then disqualifying faults specific to particular breeds which are listed in their respective Breed Standards. In practical terms, many of the General Disqualifying Faults have little or no impact on productivity and can be safely ignored in a commercial environment.

The official Breed Standards specific for each breed should, however, be adhered to as far as possible. This is the only way one can be sure of maintaining pure bred chickens which is essential for successful breeding.

Unfortunately, many SASPO Breed Standards do not conform to the Country of Origin Breed Standards, which is the overriding international norm. This means that many breeds in South Africa vary from the same breeds internationally. The major downside from this is that the breeds breeds become genetically isolated and cannot be improved through imported genetics.

An example is the various colours of South African Australorps. These colours were established by cross-breeding and the coloured breeds are technically no longer pure-bred in terms of the Country of Origin Breed Standard, in this case Australia. Internationally, only black Australorps are recognised. In addition, the SASPO Bred Standard calls for a bird generally 30% heavier than the Country of Origin Breed Standard. Alarmingly, SASPO has recently decided to remove upper limits on weights and this decision may have devastating consequences for the breeds affected in the long term.

The now regular occurrence of SASPO changing Breed Standards to accommodate important members who breed outside a Breed Standard, such as breeding chickens that are heavier than allowed by the relevant Breed Standard, is a potential recipe for disaster.

Text emphasisHowever, since all the breeds we have were originally developed for production purposes, these genes are still there and only have to be recombined in the correct combinations in order for the productive origins of the birds to be re-established. And this is why initial progress in selection for production can be can be so rapid in pure breeds. It is herein that lies the key for the small poultry farmer to successfully compete against the big boys in the poultry industry.

Breed Breed Standards of the breeds we breed

Australorp

SASPO
Australia

New Hampshire

Plymouth Rock

Potchefstroom Koekoek

Rhode Island Red

Comparison of weight standards required by SASPO Breed Standards and the relevant Country of Origin Breed Standards of the above breeds.

SASPO Breed Breed Standards for all South African breeds are available on the websites of the national organisation SASPO.

Pure-bred Breeding vs Cross Breeding

Why show?Go top buttonPoultry Show

Showing is the public forum for selection and obtaining objective opinions. Only by comparing your stock to those of others and obtaining objective opinions from experts can you be sure of the quality of your birds. It is in the show-ring where the old adage comes true "Talk is cheap, but money buys the whiskey!" Breeders that don't show cannot claim to have quality pure bred chickens.

Generally we don't show our hens & pullets that are in production. The stress involved will cause most of then to stop laying for a while. We actively show our cockerels and cocks as well as preproduction or post-production females.

Other advantages of showing is that it is within this sphere that one has contact with fellow enthusiasts and knowledgeable people. To be able to show your birds effectively, you must become a member of a club affiliated to the Southern African Show Poultry Organisation (SASPO). SASPO lists all their local clubs together with contact details on their website. We belong to the Rustenburg Poultry Club.

SASPO allows members of the public to show un-ringed birds at agricultural shows, but for most shows the birds need to be ringed. Rings can be obtained through a SASPO local club and are only available to members. If you don't ring your birds, effective recognition of individual specimens, necessary for selective breeding, will be difficult if not impossible.

Poultry ShowIn addition, it is also advisable to join a local poultry club or a specialist club for your breed if you really want to get serious. Contact details of these clubs can be obtained through the websites of the national organisations referred to above.

 

General 

A general rule of breeding is that “The average quality of the offspring is always lower than the average quality of the parents”. Only here and there will one find a specimen that is better than the average of the parents. It is the selection of these superior individuals and breeding with them that improves on what one has; and ultimately the breed as a whole.

Therefore, if one wants to be assured of breeding acceptable quality animals, one must ensure that the average quality of the parents exceed the qualities one aims to breed. Only then can one be sure to produce New Hampshire acceptable quality offspring consistently.

One should always be stricter in the selection of the males than the females. This is because one male can generally, depending on breed and age, successfully service seven to ten hens.

Too many hens per cock leads to more unfertilized eggs. As cocks get older, their fertility declines and the number of hens per cock need to be reduced.

In chickens, fertility rapidly declines from 18 months of age, generally from the first moult. That is, when they change their feathers.

Selection CriteriaGo top button

Practical selection in chickens is concentrated in four areas:

 

In chickens primarily used for egg-production, Fertility and Production cannot be separated and must be seen as one.

Ignore any of these aspects and your breeding will not ultimately be successful.

Overall quality

Both sexes must conform to the official Breed Standard and, within practical norms, none should exhibit any disqualifying faults.

In the South African Show Poultry Organisation (SASPO), there are firstly General Disqualifying Faults that apply to all poultry and then disqualifying faults specific to particular breeds which are listed in their respective Breed Standards. In practical terms, many of the General Disqualifying Faults have little or no impact on productivity and can be safely ignored in a commercial environment. The official Breed Standards should, however, be adhered to as far as possible. This is the only way one can be sure of maintaining pure bred chickens which is essential for successful breeding.

Unfortunately, SASPO Breed Standards do not conform to the Country of Origin Breed Standards. This means that many breeds in South Africa vary from the same breeds internationally. The major downside from this is that the breeds cannot be improved through imported genetics.

An example is the various colours of South African Australorps. These colours were established by cross-breeding and the coloured breeds are technically no longer pure-bred in terms of the Country of Origin Breed Standard (Australia). Internationally, only black Australorps are recognised. In addition, the SASPO Bred Standard calls for a bird generally 30% heavier than the Country of Origin Breed Standard. Alarmingly, SASPO has recently decided to remove upper limits on weights and this decision may have devastating consequences for the breeds affected in the long term.

It is with the males where our selection is strictest. We use only the top 7% of males for breeding or sell them as breeding stock. The rest are sold on the commercial meat market.

Females with minor disqualifying faults, e.g. a white feather in in a New Hampshire or a Rhode Island Red or a "split wing", are reared and sold as point of lay pullets. These types of faults will not negatively influence the production quality of the bird in terms of meat and egg laying, but such Split Wing birds should not be used for breeding as the problem in a breeding flock can quickly become serious. There is still a very good market for such pullets as layers.


Health

We make no special effort to cure sick chickens: We let the strong and healthy survive and cull the weak and those predisposed to disease.

FertilityGo top button

EggThe selection for fertility is built into our system. The fertile hens produce more viable eggs and thus more offspring, thereby increasing the frequency of the genes for fertility in subsequent generations through the female line. We run the hens in groups of up to 28 together with at least four cocks at a ratio of maximum 7 females :1 male. The most fertile cocks and cocks with greater libido will of course service more hens and fertilize more eggs, producing a greater proportion of offspring with their genes in the next generation. Altogether, fertility will increase, or at least not decline, over time.

Hens running with more than one cock will be mated by all of the cocks at some time or another. This results in eggs by one hen being fertilized from different cocks which not only increases genetic variation, but also protects us against infertile cocks. In the event of there being an infertile cock in the flock, a hen will sooner or later be mated by a fertile cock. Cocks with lower libido will also mate less hens and the frequency of their genes will reduce in the next generation.

We also carefully select the quality of the breeding eggs and do not hatch eggs that are too small, misshaped or show any kind of deformity or deviation from the norm. Such eggs, if they hatch, can lead to chicks being hatched that are too small or misshapen.

Fertility Go top button

To the breeder, fertility is not only about the number of eggs produced: it is also about how many of those eggs eventually hatch a viable chick. Eggs that are unfertilized, or fertilized and do not develop, or within which a developing chick dies, are lost production. After 20 days or longer in an incubator such eggs cannot really be used economically. We feed unfertilised eggs that have been in the incubator for up to 18 days to our dogs.

Chicken fertility rapidly declines after the first moult. This is usually around 18 months of age. When females loose the feathers on their backs, it is NOT a sign of being hurt by cocks as is popularly believed, but that the hen is moulting. During this time the feathers are loose in their follicles. Then, when the male mounts the female, the feathers fall out and leave the hen's back bare. This is the first sign that the hen's economic breeding-life has come to an end.

The external sign that the male is loosing fertility, also at around 18 moths of age, is when the spur starts to curve.

Seasonal breedingGo top button

Breeders of pure Standard-bred poultry traditionally have a breeding season and generally do not breed in winter. We do not subscribe to this practice as far as our dual purpose birds are concerned, as we believe that year-round production must be the aim. Flocks selected to breed only on a seasonal basis will be even less commercially viable and another reason why small-scale poultry farmers may ignore the advantages of Standard-bred stock and switch to commercial crosses.

Taking cocks away from the hens may also reduce egg production as it is a relatively established biological principle that copulation stimulates ovulation, and thus egg production. We keep cocks with the hens the entire year.

Cock sizeGo top button

Cocks may weigh 20% above or below the weight specified in the Breed Standard for that breed. Cocks outside this range are disqualified. We select out cocks in the weight upper weight range, i.e. between the weight specified in the Breed Standard up to 20% above.

It is not a good idea to breed cocks that weigh more than the 20% allowed above the weight specified in the Breed Standard for that breed. This could lead to cocks being too large and too heavy to effectively mate the females, thus not only leading to a reduction in fertility, but too heavy cocks may also damage the hens.

Meat Production
Chicken carcass

We use only males on the upper end of the weight scale as prescribed by the relevant breed standard. The end result is that even our females are much heavier at the end of their laying cycle than commercial egg laying crosses, which on average weigh only 1.2 to 1.4 Kg.

We believe the somewhat smaller bird with a more natural growth curve raised on pasture is far healthier and more flavour-full than the current commercial Cornish cross sold in supermarkets. We recommend the article by Harvey and Ellen Ussery for a more in-depth discussion on the pro's and con's of fast growing commercial meat crosses versus Standard-bred duel purpose pure bred chickens.

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© Frikkie & Sonia van Kraayenburg 2018