This is a continuation of a seven-part series that we started during the World Cockfighters Day.
Single versus Group Breeding. There are two different methods of breeding when creating or maintaining a strain. There is single breeding and there is group breeding.
Single breeding is exactly how it sounds – a cock bred with a single hen or rotating that cock with three or four hens that are individually penned. This should be done about every two or three days. Single breeding can be easily tracked since you’ll know for sure which cock fertilized which hen’s eggs. You have to know where that great individual came from so that you can reproduce him if need be.
Group breeding is breeding a cock with a group of hens. It is similar to flock breeding except a smaller amount of hens are bred to only one cock at a time. Group breeding is purely meant to collect eggs. There’s no way to pedigree that family on the hens side unless you can identify which egg comes from which hen. The offspring can only be pedigreed on the cock’s side.
Breeding Techniques. The first thing to consider when taking on the job of a breeder of fine quality game fowl is to specialize in one or two breeds at the most. It’s too hard to raise a large number of different families and be successful. There is so much to know genetically about every breed that branching out too widely will weaken your efforts. The best have tried, and failed. So how do you maintain and improve your family for years to come? Well, it’s done by line breeding, inbreeding, outcrossing, semi outcrossing and Infusion.
1) Line breeding is the most common form of maintaining a strain. This is when a cock is bred to his mother, grandmother or even his great-grand mother while a pullet is bred to her father, grandfather or her great-grand father. Breeding to their aunts and uncles or even to their cousins will work too. These are all considered line breeding. By breeding within its own bloodline and concentrating the genes, the offspring will eventually become predictable. After the third year, your successes as well as your failures can be seen as both desired and undesired traits become concentrated. This is when your patience has to take control because this is the time when the inexperienced breeders are most likely to get discouraged and quit. It’s good to start with the best cock and four best hens available. Then use each hen as its own line. The more you separate the lines in each family, the less you will become discouraged. This will also increase your chances that at least one line will become successful. This way if family #1 fails, you can fall back on family #2, #3 or #4. Most beginners fall on their faces because they fail to establish more than one line. They tend to breed themselves right into a corner. Eventually they have nowhere to go and the family is ruined.
2) Inbreeding is the breeding of brother to sister. It’s probably the closest of all the breeding techniques. You can maintain a strain without breeding this close. You must avoid the practice of inbreeding because it brings out many of the weaknesses that they may carry from past generations. They may be smaller in size, shorter in station or they may have many different color variations. Then there is an issue of their mental and physical well-being such as health. These are birds that are always sickly or have bad temperament and lack the most valuable asset that cockers depend on – gameness. This is a phenomenon called “Inbreeding Depression.” Inbreeding itself does not cause these problems. The problem is that it accentuates any tendency toward them by concentrating the genes. To reduce the effects of “Inbreeding Depression,” you must avoid breeding brother to sister. Instead, breed to their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles or even to their cousins will work. Inbreeding does have its place though, for instance, when starting your own strain. By inbreeding and with the proper use of selection you can accentuate and lock in those good genes.
3) Outcrossing is when you bring in new blood. There are many reasons to outcross such as improving the general health of your flock or because of lack of improvement in your present breeding program, which is an indication that your birds are simply lacking the right genes. Probably the most common reason to out cross is to produce battle cocks. This type of breeding can be an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Although out crossing can improve health, appearance, performance, etc., it can also bring in new weaknesses that you didn’t even know were there. When you bring in new blood, you may not see the changes you’re looking for until the second or third generation. So until then, you are taking a big risk of introducing new weaknesses into an otherwise good family. The hazard can easily be minimized by out-crossing your strain with distantly related birds. This is called a “semi outcross.” A semi outcross is extremely important if you want to improve body type. Since confirmation cannot be improved by outcrossing, this is just another reason to establish more than one line of the same family. You can maintain the same family for 30 or more years by infusing blood from one of the other lines every few years or so. To further reduce the risks of outcrossing, select new blood from a strain that isn’t deficient in any of the properties you have been working on and make sure that they have been properly inbred.