Tips & Tricks for Pedigree Breeding

Tips & Tricks for Pedigree Breeding
Laura Haggarty
article © Laura Haggarty

(Please note: I did not develop the following techniques, what follows
is a compilation of information gathered from three experienced
breeders, to whom I owe a debt of thanks for their hard work and
willingness to share their results. Many thanks to: Jean Robocker, Ric
Ashcraft, and Krys Brennan.)

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 recordkeeping 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

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 your hatches!

Laura Haggarty