Editor of " The Encyclopadia of Poultry," etc. Contineud from page 1689, Part 14
We will first consider the mating up of breeding stock for the production of spring table chickens. Such breeds as the Orpingtons and Wyandottes should be mated together early in December, the object being to get as many chickens as possible hatched out in January and February.
The production of well-fed chickens, weighing from two and a half pounds to three and a half pounds apiece, is no doubt a remunerative branch of poultry-keeping, where adequate shelter is available and the necessary appliances for hatching and rearing are properly managed. To produce and rear chickens very early in the year necessitates the use of incubators and brooders, as at this period broody hens are likely to be scarce, and, in addition to these appliances, there must be available a roomy shed under which the brooders can be placed in stormy weather, and under which the chickens can run for shelter when artificial warmth is dispensed with. The breeding stock intended for the production of early chickens should consist of a well-grown and vigorous cockerel mated to four or five two-year-old hens that have not been forced in any way for the production of winter eggs. Pullets should not be used for the breeding of early chickens, as they either produce infertile eggs, or eggs containing life-germs too weak to develop into chickens capable of battling against inclement conditions in the winter rearing quarters.
Where there is a good number of hens, it is likely that some of them will have passed kindly through the moult, and will be reddening up for laying some time in October, and a sufficient number of these to form a breeding-pen should be carefully selected, due regard being paid to size, and these should be relegated to a well-sheltered run on which is erected a roosting-house and scratching-shed. If the birds are placed in the winter breeding quarters before they commence laying, they will have time to settle down to their new surroundings, and will produce eggs at a desirable time, whereas if they are shifted to new quarters whilst in lay the change will, as likely as not, put a stop to egg production, and much valuable time will be lost. The object of the attendant should be to get the birds in their winter quarters early in October, and to get them in lay before the beginning of December, when the male bird should be introduced, and as many chickens as possible should be hatched from eggs produced during January and February. It is essential that the birds should be well fed on nourishing foods and allowed to exercise as much as possible in the open whenever the weather is fine, whilst in inclement weather they should be kept under cover and well exercised under the scratching-shed, otherwise many of the eggs produced will either be infertile or low in germ vitality.
We will now consider the mating up of the heavier breeds of fowls with the object of producing chickens intended, when matured, for the production of winter eggs. The chickens should be out of the shells some time in March, when they will have ample time in which to develop before the arrival of October, during which month they should begin to contribute to the egg basket. If hatched out before March the young pullets are likely to produce eggs in August or September, lay a few, and then drop into moult. If hatched out after March, the birds may have to be kept till the new year before they begin to lay. March is the ideal month in which to hatch out the heavier breeds of chickens, when the object in view is the production of winter eggs. A good time to mate up the birds will be the middle of January, and as to how many females may be allowed to run with a male bird will depend to a great extent upon the size and nature of the run on which they are kept.
If the birds are confined to earth runs, such as have been described in the article dealing with combined vegetable and poultry culture (see page 1329), then the male bird must not be allowed more than seven hens; and to ensure strong fertility in the eggs, it is essential that, during fine weather, the birds be well exercised in the open. If the run is dug over in sections and the grain fed to the birds lightly buried in the soil, there will be offered ample opportunity for healthy exercise, whilst in inclement weather the grain can be buried in the litter under the scratching-shed. Should the bird be running on orchard land the male bird may be allowed from nine to twelve females, the conditions being more conducive to egg fertility than those referred to above.
The light breeds, such as the Leghorns represent, should not be mated up before the middle of February, the object being to get strongly fertilised"eggs early in March.
An ideal month in which to hatch out the lighter breeds of chickens is April.
If the chickens are hatched out earlier in the year they will be in lay during August or September, and will then moult and remain fruitless during the winter months. The light breeds mature quickly, and if the birds are intended for winter egg production, the middle of April will be a good time to hatch them out with the expectation of getting eggs from them in October.
With the light breeds it is as well to allow the male bird a full complement of females-that is, if they are to run in the orchard. Eleven to fifteen hens may be safely mated to a male bird. Should the birds be confined to earth runs, nine females will be a good number to run with a male, and the management of the birds should be such as I have recommended for the heavier breeds kept under similar conditions.
As pointed out in my last article, it is not advisable to secure male birds for breeding purposes long before they are required for use, as nothing can be gained
A breeding pen of White Wyandottes. This variety is mated in December with the object of securing as many chickens as possible during January and February by such a procedure. If the birds are bought in the autumn they will not only have to be kept singly in separate runs to avoid quarrelling, but they will entail much in the way of food and attention.
A Hint on Purchasing:
Having secured a good laying strain, the cockerels mated to them should also emanate from parents that have been carefully bred for egg production, and no scruples should be made about the price paid for such birds.
Pullets, as a rule, lay better through the winter than hens, and probably many will stock the land with these with the object of getting, in the way of winter eggs, some immediate returns on the outlay, but if the pullets are to be bred from they must not be forced for winter eggs, but must be rationally fed, and when the time for mating arrives, they should not be mated to cockerels, but to cocks about a year older than themselves, as the mating together of cockerels and pullets often accounts for weakness in the chickens. Care should be exercised in securing cocks for breeding purposes. They must not be more than two years old, and should be kept by themselves for several months before being bred from. To secure cocks that have been running with hens throughout the autumn and winter will be to experience failures in breeding during the months when chickens are mostly required. It is advisable that all male birds purchased should emanate from different strains to those of the hens or pullets, as breeding from related stock will result in weak progeny.
In addition to the males necessary for the breeding pens a few reserve birds should be secured. An eye should be kept on the males after mating them with the hens, and should any bird prove spiteful to his mates and drive them from their food, he should be removed without delay, and one of the reserve birds put in his place. Sometimes the best breeding males become so affectionate as to allow their mates to eat all the food, with the result that they lose condition rapidly. Such birds are generally the best breeders if properly managed. They should be taken from the roosts each night, and placed in small houses by themselves, well fed each morning, and then returned to the breeding pens. The reserve males not used in the earlier months of the year will prove ideal breeders for the production of late chickens for table use if they are of the heavier breeds, whilst it will pay to keep the lighter bred reserve cockerels till the following February, when they will prove ideal breeders if run with pullets, but they should be kept out of sight till required.