Clan Mating Year by Year

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Flock of Buff Cornish in the chicken tractor with Foghorn the Delaware rooster – a crossbreeding experiment that didn’t work out.

This is the second of three posts on clan mating in chickens. Here’s how it looks in year-by-year format:
Remember, chicks – male or female – always take the clan of the mother! This is for a three-clan rotation. Manage each clan according to these instructions.

1st year
1. Get your chicks and let them grow. You can get a single order of chicks from one source, like a commercial hatchery. Avoid this if you possibly can, as your chicks may all come from a single source and already be slightly inbred. If you go this route, I recommend you order at least 40 birds for straight run. If you’re getting sexed chicks, order at least 18 to 20 females and 10 males. Be prepared to cull ruthlessly if you get your birds from a single source, because your genetic diversity is more likely to be limited. Ideally, you should get your chicks from three different hatcheries or sources in different parts of the country, as this should give you the most diverse bloodlines. Hatcheries typically send a minimum order of 25 chicks per batch, plus a couple of extras, so they stay warm during shipping. If you order from different sources, you may have as many as 75.
2. If you have one flock of 25 to 40, select the best five cockerels and divide the remaining hens into three equal or roughly equal groups. The extra two cockerels are your back-up birds, just in case a predator comes calling. If you got your birds from multiple sources, select a minimum of six but preferably at least 10 pullets from each source. Select two roosters from each group so you have a back-up rooster for each clan.
3. Within each clan, band each bird with the clan initial and the number 1. This allows you to know the age of each bird, and marks them as a member of the A, B or C clan (chickens can get out!). If you start with chickens from a single source, it doesn’t matter what initials you band the roosters with, as they all have similar genetics. You can just choose a clan at random when you band the roosters. Put one rooster into the matching clan (A rooster/A clan, etc.) and keep the back-up roosters in a separate pen. If you’re going to raise chicks for breeding, remember that each rooster only gets one breeding go-round with the hens in each clan. You can leave a rooster in his clan of origin for a year or more as long as you butcher, sell or give away all the chicks you hatch. I don’t recommend this unless you’re really anal about identifying all offspring and getting them out of the flock; the chance of having him breed his daughters is too high,
4. Butcher all excess roosters. You can also butcher excess pullets, but your original clans should ideally have at least 10-12 pullets. More is better; you may lose a few to predators or disease.
5. If you got your chicks in the spring, the hens will be starting to lay in the fall and will hopefully start setting the next spring.

Incubator chicks.


2nd year
1. Last year’s hens should be setting in the spring. Give the hens that set an additional band – S for setting.
2. Butcher or sell the cockerels and excess pullets from this year’s hatch. Don’t save any for breeding; you want older birds as parents to raise chicks for your home flock.
3. If none of the hens set, raise as many birds in the incubator as you want to eat or sell. Alternatively, you could keep a few banties around just to set the eggs.

In my experience, the Australorps set better than the Barred Rocks.

3rd year
1. Your #1 hens are two years old this year. This is the first year you should try to raise replacement chicks; if longevity in your flock is really important, you can wait another year. The older hens won’t lay as well, but there’s something to be said for having birds survive to the third year from the standpoint of flock vigor.
2. You want your eggs for setting to come from two-year-old or older hens, and ideally at least half of the setting eggs to come from #1S hens – the hens that were setters last year.
3. You want at least 2 dozen eggs for setting; use the incubator or a banty hen as a back-up, especially if your hens aren’t setting reliably yet. Make sure each incubator or banty batch is from a single clan and return the birds to their clan.
4. Add S bands to any #1 hens that set this year.
5. Keep the six (10 or 12 is better) best pullets from this year’s hatch; band them with the clan initial and a #2.
6. After you raise your chicks for the year, move the A rooster into the B clan, the B rooster into the C clan and the C rooster into the A clan.
7. Select your best cockerel from this year’s hatch in each clan (three roosters altogether), band him the same as the hens and put him in the rooster-only separate pen. Butcher or sell the other cockerels and excess pullets.
8. If you still have the original three backup roosters, you can add a little wrinkle to the typical clan system. At the end of the year, move your backup rooster from the first year into the pen with your hens. You can do this because your backup rooster is no more closely related to your hens than the first rooster was. You now have multiple sources of unrelated genes in each clan: the original hens, the first rooster and the second rooster. You also have an older rooster to breed to the young hens you’ve hatched as well as the older hens. Remember, older birds are a better choice.
9. Butcher or sell your original rooster from each clan.

Be prepared for unexpected losses, like the bear that gets into the chicken tractor.

4th year
1. You may have too many hens for one rooster in each of the clans this year. Most large-breed roosters can handle at least a dozen hens, and I’ve had one rooster with as many as two dozen. If there are more than 24 hens, he probably won’t be able to keep them all bred. Although some breeders keep both their main rooster and their back-up rooster in the flock, it can lead to fighting, and it means you have to keep breeding records. One way to handle the too-many-hens problem is to divide your flock during the day so the rooster is unquestionably breeding the #1 hens. After a week or so, put only the #2 hens in with him during the day. The hens will still have fertilized eggs up to three or four weeks later, although hatchability is best in the first week or so after breeding.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from the #1S hens and the other half from the #2S hens. You want at least 2 dozen eggs from each group for setting; use the incubator as a back-up, especially if your hens aren’t setting reliably yet. If any of the #2 hens set, give them an S band.
3. Select the best six (10 or 12 is better) pullets and one rooster from the #1/#2 hatches and band them with the clan initial and a #3. Put the roster in the roosters-only pen. Butcher or sell the cockerels and excess pullets.
4. At the end of the year, move the A rooster into the C clan, the B rooster into the C clan and the C rooster into the A clan.

Excess chickens go in the freezer.

5th year
1. Use the same technique to divide your hens in each clan for breeding as in the 4th year so you can assure all the older hens get bred.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from the #1S hens and the other half from the #2S hens. Eat the #3 eggs from the youngest hens. If any of the #3 hens set, give them an S band.
3. Select the best six (10 or 12 is better) pullets and the best cockerel from the #1/#2 hatches and band them with the clan initial and a 5.
4. Put the selected cockerels in the roosters-only pen.
5. Butcher all the #1 hens; although they may have a few more years of laying left, their productivity is slowing down and your pen is getting crowded. Butcher the excess cockerels and pullets from this year’s hatch. If you don’t want to kill them, you could sell or give them away.
6. At the end of the year, butcher, sell or give away the breeding rooster in each clan. Put the oldest of the A roosters in the separate pen into the A clan, the oldest B rooster in the B clan and the oldest C rooster in the C clan.

Next year’s eggs and fried chicken.

6th year
1. Use the same technique to divide your hens in each clan for breeding as in the 4th year so you can assure all the older hens get bred.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from either the 2S or 3S hens; unless you want the whole flock to be broody (which means they’ll quit laying eggs while they raise babies) some of your eggs for hatching should come from non-broody hens. Eat the #4 eggs from the youngest hens.
3. If any of the #4 hens set, give them an S band.
4. Butcher all the #2 hens, excess pullets and cockerels from this year at the end of the year. Move your best rooster from each clan into the roosters-only pen.
5. At the end of the year, move the A rooster into the B clan, the B rooster into the C clan and the C rooster into the A clan.

First three all hatched within about two hours, now resting and drying off.

7th year
1. Use the same technique to divide your hens in each clan for breeding as in the 4th year so you can assure all the older hens get bred.
2. Try to get at least half of your eggs for hatching from either the 2S or 3S hens; unless you want the whole flock to be broody (which means they’ll quit laying eggs while they raise babies) some of your eggs for hatching should come from non-broody hens. Eat the #4 eggs from the youngest hens.
3. If any of the #4 hens set, give them an S band.
4. Butcher all the #3 hens at the end of the year.
5. At the end of the year, move the A rooster into the C clan, the B rooster into the A clan and the C rooster into the B clan.

Continue this pattern until you start to see signs of inbreeding in your flock – fewer eggs, even from young hens; hatching problems; crooked beaks or feet; susceptibility to disease, etc. It will probably take a while – 20 years or more. If you have enough room, it’s beneficial to have a fourth or even fifth clan, but three clans will take you a long way. Since this post is already long, I’ll tackle common questions about this system in the next post.

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