Breeding and Breeds
Such proofs as the following show the reason why pure-bred fowls, especially of utility strains, are replacing the scrub fowls on farms throughout the country. This case happens to be with White Leghorn fowls; it would be similarly true were the fowls Plymouth Rock, Wyandotte, Rhode Island Red, or any other utility breed.
Fifty White Leghorns were compared with 50 mongrels for one year at the West Virginia experiment station as to cost of food and egg production, ordinary care and attention being given them such as they would receive on the average farm. In addition to skim milk used to moisten the mash the Leghorns consumed 61 pounds of food, costing 85.3 cents a hen, and the mongrels 66.8 pounds of the same materials, costing 92.1 cents. During the year the Leghorns laid 116.5 eggs, worth $2.24, and the mongrels 96.1 eggs, worth $1.78 a hen. The Leghorns gave a profit over the cost of food of $1.39 and the mongrels a profit of 86 cents a hen.
The mongrels gained in weight 1 pound a head more than the Leghorns. If this increase in weight is taken into consideration then the Leghorns still gave a profit of 40 cents a hen more than the mongrels. The highest prices for fresh eggs usually prevail between November and February. During these four months the mongrels laid only 364 eggs, but the Leghorns 1,029, or practically three times as many. Is there still any doubt as to which is the more profitable to keep?
It is essential to have a clear idea of what is wanted when breeding. In one's own yard, a desired end is easily attained by eliminating from the flock birds which lack qualities sought and bringing together those that most nearly approach a given ideal, be this egg or meat production or show points. But many who desire to improve their flocks by the introduction of new blood have been disappointed in the birds reared from eggs or purchased from breeders.
This mistake usually arises from overlooking the difference between show and utility strains of the same breed. Birds bred for one purpose are almost invariably inferior for the other, and this with no blame attachable to the breeder. It is the breeder's point of view or idea which does not coincide with that of the purchaser. Most farmers raise poultry for eggs or meat, or both. But even so it will always be safe in writing a breeder to determine as nearly as possible how his ideas of poultry-breeding approach one's own and thus narrow down as nearly to the right birds as possible. It must be recognized also that while the general purpose fowl is a universal desire, yet it has not been secured. By trying to combine show points, egg laying and meat qualities in the one bird an aspirant is almost sure to be disappointed in each direction.
As to picking out the highest scoring bird as the best layer, don't try to do it. Nine times out of ten she may prove a poor layer. Exhibition birds are forced for show, not for eggs; and it takes considerable time to get them back into breeding condition. Birds intended for laying eggs and breeding purposes on a large scale should never enter the show room. Another point is that the highest scoring fowl, if carefully and scientifically bred, is apt to be bred in-and-in for points only.
What to Select
When one selects fowls, he should take those that please his fancy and learn to care for and handle them so as to have the best results from them. Some varieties will naturally lay more eggs than others, while others are the best general purpose fowls. The advantage of one may overbalance the best qualities of the others; for these reasons select the breed or variety that pleases the fancy best and give it the best possible attention. Two faults count against success with poultry -- carelessness of management and the lack of exercise and fresh air for the hens.
Any breed of variety of standard-bred fowls will, if properly handled, do well, and return a profit for their keep. If as much care and attention were given to handling the fowls for best results as is given to the question of what fowls to keep, all would do better with their fowls. It is a question of proper care of what we have, rather than a selection of what we shall keep.
When you conclude to purchase stock or eggs, do not look for double what you could furnish for the same value. What might be called a first-class breeding bird will cost anyone who produces him from $3 to $4 actual outlay of time, trouble and feed. Take the value of the eggs set, the value of time expended and the feed consumed, and in addition to this the numbers that die or are killed for poor quality, and those that reach maturity will cost even more than is often contemplated. For these reasons, no one can sell a good stock bird for less than $4 and get full cost; the profit, if any, must come from those sold at higher prices.
Causes of Failure
These conditions furnish the real reasons why so many can make no money out of their stock. The fowls are either regarded so poorly that they will not sell for any value, or when well raised they sell for less than it costs to produce them. Good stock is always well worth full value, but when the purchaser does pay this value he should get what he pays for.
He should ponder well the fact that the world always did and always will put a premium upon the best goods and the best things. Among the thousands of breeders of standard-bred poultry very few, comparatively, control the trade in high-priced stock. These men stand for all that is really best in the respective breeds they handle. They are making money annually, while hundreds of breeders are about playing even, and many not doing that. These men have simply brought to their work a fancier's love and instinct, and by careful and systematic breeding have established strains of fowls that are the best representation of the breeds.
There is abundant room in this field for others. The field will never be filled. It is the field wherein is reaped the pleasure and the profit of standard-bred poultry breeding; and, best of all, it is where the fancier secures that satisfaction with self which comes only with the consciousness of a duty well performed.
Scientific breeding is deserving of study by every one interested in the utility side as well as by those attracted to the fancy side of poultry raising. No farmer can afford to ignore the profit to be derived from the proper handling of even a small flock. Common hens are well enough in their way and by scientific breeding might in time be developed into heavy laying strains, but practical people are more interested in what has already been accomplished along such lines. They want stock that will produce the most eggs and meat at the minimum cost of feed. Certain Leghorn strains will produce more eggs than any other known breed, because for many years they have been systematically bred for great egg yield. Under certain conditions like will produce like. A pullet from a strain of great layers should be a great layer; if bred to a male descended from a strain of great layers, the females of this progeny should be greater layers.
Listen to this experience of a farmer who kept common hens and who had read of the great egg yield of certain strains of pure breds, but could not afford to buy such stock because he needed every dollar to pay off the mortgage on his home. With a neighboring fancier he exchanged a day's hauling for a sitting of White Leghorn eggs, from which he succeeded in raising two pullets. Then he wished to buy a male of this breed, but changed his mind when he learned the price asked for the one he selected was $25.
How the Plan Worked
This man was a reader and a thinker. "It's eggs I want," he reasoned, "not show birds;" and he selected the best yearling male from his flock of common fowls to breed to the two pullets. Every egg from that pen was carefully kept and set, and that fall he had 30 pullets and 4 cockerels, each half the blood of the dams, and those half-breed pullets shelled out the eggs all the fall and winter.
In the spring he selected his best half-breed cockerel and mated him to the two Leghorn hens. The eggs from that mating were again kept and religiously cared for, and that fall he was rewarded with 50 chicks three-quarters Leghorn blood. Again he selected the best cockerel and the following spring mated him to the original Leghorn hens. That year he raised but 15 pullets and 2 cockerels from that pen, but these chicks were seven-eighths the blood of the dams, practically full-blooded White Leghorns. The half and three-quarter blood pullets had all been kept and had produced many more eggs than his common stock, and the sale of those eggs helped to pay off the debt on the home.
This system is called line breeding, which is scientific in-breeding, and may be more readily understood by reference to the chart below. The solid lines in the chart represent the course of the male blood and the dots the female blood lines. Suppose a pure-bred cockerel represented by group 1 to be mated to the pullets in group 2. The progeny of this mating would be represented by group 3.
The pullets in this group are mated back to the cock in group 1 and the progeny would appear in group 4 as three-quarters the blood of the sire.
The pullets from group 4, when mated to the cock in group 1, would give progeny in group 6, the chicks in which would be seven-eighths the blood of the sire, or practically pure bred so far as utility requirements go.
The chart is extended to show how other combinations occur. In group 9, produced by crossing a cockerel from group 6 with pullets in group 7, and also in group 13 produced by crossing a cockerel with pullets in group 10, the result is half breeds as in group 3. Group 5 results from crossing a cockerel in group 3 with the hen in group 2. The progeny in that case would be seven-eighths of the blood of the mother instead of the father as in group 6. In group 10, the chicks result from a cross of a cockerel from group 5 with pullets in group 7. The reverse of this is the case in group 8. Groups 11, 12, 14 and 15 explain themselves.
Portable run for chicks.
Should it be thought desirable to introduce a new line of blood, it is best to do this through a pullet or a hen mated to a cockerel as shown in group 8. The reason for selecting a female is that it is safer than to purchase a male whose influence might not be as desirable as hoped for. The progeny of one female could be more easily kept separate than the progeny of a male mated to several females. The proportions of blood would be somewhat similar to that in group 3; namely, there would be half the blood of the new female with 13-32 of the blood of the original cock in group 1, and 3-32 of the blood of the hen in group 2.
Poultry house, elevation and ground plan.
From the foregoing discussion it is evident that great care must be exercised to prevent breaking up the system of breeding; for by carelessness all the good results may be lost, since the progeny will be thrown back into one family and thus indiscriminate breeding result in ultimately spoiling the flock. It is highly desirable, therefore, that the plan be definitely laid out beforehand and followed without deviation in any respect.
If the best results are to be attained, the chart should be made and its tracings followed systematically from year to year. Without the aid of the chart careless breeding is sure to result and the whole system be spoiled by injudicious matings. If the lines of the chart are carefully studied and followed, a great improvement may be shown in the ordinary farm flock as instanced above. Thus flocks may be made more profitable at the cost of only a little thought and care.
Ventilating door. Door frame with two panels of oiled muslin and hinged window, protected by wire screen. Suitable by adjustment to all weathers.
There is only one more caution to be made and that will be guessed from other portions of this chapter. It is essential to select the best individuals in each generation so as to secure the largest proportion of improvement. By this system, it will be seen that while no brother and sister matings are made, the system is practically that of in-breeding. On this account any faults in the parents are likely to be exaggerated in the progeny, just as excellencies are. For this reason too much care cannot be taken to avoid mating individuals which exhibit the same kind of faults.
Common Mistakes of Breeding
As ordinarily managed, poultry quickly degenerates. This is largely due to mistakes of breeding. When a small flock is kept, the poultry raiser may purchase or select a good male bird to head the flock. This in itself is not necessarily bad, but the way it too frequently works results disadvantageously.
Suppose a case in which the hens have different ability as to good laying; some lay well, some poorly. It is likely with such a flock, unless an incubator is used for hatching and care is exercised to select eggs from the good layers alone, that when the good layers sit they will hatch eggs which the poor layers have laid. Thus the chances for rearing a good laying flock for the succeeding year are reduced at the very outset. But suppose that some of the eggs set are laid by the best layers. These eggs are by no means the best that the hens have laid; the chances are they are the poorest, because the hens may have been laying for weeks, or even months, and may be tired. Thus the chances of producing good layers are very slim. In fact, a great majority of the chicks raised will be the progeny of the poorest hens in the flock.
On this account, more than for any other reason, the grading up of a mongrel flock by the introduction of new blood through a rooster is far less satisfactory than is usually supposed. The obvious way of overcoming this difficulty is to remove the best layers from the balance of the flock and to keep their eggs separate for hatching. In order to be sure which are really the best layers, one of the trap nests should be used or close watch should be kept upon the fowls.
The same sort of thing occurs in the ordinary farmer's flock where 100 or more hens are kept, and where half a dozen or more cheap cockerels are allowed to run at large with the hens. In this case, the chances of securing really desirable eggs are greatly reduced, because there is no certainty whatever about the mating, and just as in the former case the chances are strongly in favor of spoiling the results of any breeding that may have been emphasized by the breeder of the cockerels. Very few eggs laid by the best layers mated with the best cockerels will be set, so that in this case the chances of improving the flock are far less than if the same amount of money had been spent for one really superior cockerel or cock and this bird mated to half a dozen or a dozen of the best layers on the place. It is better to put $5 or $10 into one superior cock and use this bird with the selected hens than it is to spend the same amount of money on half a dozen or more cheap cockerels to practice the foolish method herein condemned.
From these foregoing paragraphs, the importance of culling cannot be too strongly emphasized. It is much more to the farmer's interest to raise a small brood of really superior fowls which will lay well and therefore pay well than it is to raise a large number of inferior fowls which unless sold for meat will not only lay poorly but will actually eat food that might be fed to the smaller flock at a profit. It is idle to say that close culling will prevent the rearing of sufficient numbers of chicks. On the contrary, it is highly probable that with breeding stock of a superior character and in ample room, especially where well cared for, the breeder will hatch and rear a large percentage of chicks, and such chicks will be of greater commercial value because more likely to be productive.
Importance of Constitutional Vigor
There is no question that there is an intimate relation between the physical characters and the constitutional vigor of fowls. From appearance alone a careful observer can pick out weak fowls from strong ones. None but strong ones should be used for breeding, because the transmission of strong points from parent to offspring is more likely to result favorably both in the hatchability of the eggs, the livability of the chicks and the strong constitution of the offspring than where weak chickens are used as parents. For these reasons a system of the most rigid selection should be practiced in every poultry yard. This selection should begin as soon as chicks are hatched and continue until the breeding pens are made up.
As soon as weakness is observed in growing chicks, these chicks should be separated so there can be no possible mixing of them with the breeding stock and so they may be disposed of through market channels. The production of a larger proportion of eggs of strong, healthy chicks, and consequently a greater net profit, depends very largely upon the selection. This question of selection is one of the most important the poultryman has to answer. The reason is that more is being required of the flock today than formerly. We are demanding more of the hen in proportion to her live weight than from any other domestic animal. Because of this, fowls frequently break down or show lack of vigor in their offspring. Much of the infertility, the low-hatching power of eggs, weakness of chicks and mortality in full-grown stock is traceable to the impaired constitution of the parent fowls, due in a large measure to the strain of producing abundant eggs under intensive methods. Hens in commercial poultry yards are expected to lay about five times their weight of eggs annually. This means an egg at least every third day, or perhaps even every second day.
According to Dr. W. H. Jordan, of the New York state experiment station, a Leghorn fowl weighing 3-1/2 pounds and laying 200 eggs which weigh 25 pounds may be compared with a Jersey cow weighing 1,000 pounds and giving 7,000 pounds of milk containing 14% of solids during the year. If the dry matter of the hen be compared with that of the eggs there will be 5-1/2 times as much in the eggs as in her whole body. In the cow's body the weight of the dry matter to that in the milk is 1 to 2.9. Hence the hen does twice as well as the cow upon the dry-matter basis. She is therefore "the most efficient transformer of raw material into a finished product that there is on the farm." In her physiological activity she stands in a class by herself.
It is very evident that strong and weak fowls are found in nearly all flocks, and strong and weak strains in all varieties of poultry. This fact is so well recognized that it is not safe to judge of the merits of any variety without knowing how it has been bred and handled. Variation in constitutional vigor applies equally to all domestic fowls kept under unnatural or forced conditions. No matter how important it may be to secure a variety or strain with certain attributes of size or productive capacity, it is far more important to have fowls of strong constitution with appetites to consume large quantities of food and digestive power to assimilate well. Pure-bred fowls of strong constitutional vigor are especially desired.
Danger of Productiveness
Impaired vitality of flocks may be due to increased productiveness, in-and-in-breeding without regard to vigor, use of pullets instead of hens for breeding, heavy feeding to induce large egg yields in fall and winter when egg production is not seasonable, crowding of breeding stock in limited quarters, lack of exercise for the breeding stock, carelessness in methods of keeping eggs for hatching, defective systems of incubation, brooding and rearing, especially under crowded conditions, violation of sanitary requisites and failure to select breeding stock of recognized vigor.
As to increased productiveness, it is evident that there must be a proportionate increase in the physical strength to make the fowl thrive while meeting the demand for increased consumption of food and heavier production of eggs. The practice of in-and-in-breeding which is often adopted to develop high production or other qualities can be followed with success only when special attention is given to mating strong individuals. Breeders frequently lack the courage to sacrifice weak individuals which show other desirable qualities. Pullets which have produced large quantities of eggs in fall and winter may have lowered their vitality before the breeding season begins, so that the breeder will be running a risk to use such fowls as parents. By using these birds and their progeny for a succession of generations, it is thought there may be a tendency to shorten the natural life of the race of fowls and also lower the vigor. When breeding from mature fowls two or more years old, the tendency should be to increase longevity and vitality.
Trouble is likely to arise from heavy feeding for large egg yield during fall and winter, because egg production is not natural at that season. Hens or pullets so fed should not be expected to produce eggs for hatching. Fowls under normal and natural conditions, when allowed to stand most of the year storing up energy for reproduction, are almost sure to do far better. For breeding purposes they should be selected long before the breeding season, fed and housed without regard to market, but with an eye single to the production of numerous hatchable eggs during the natural mating season.
There is no question that congestion or crowding of the breeding stock is one of the most serious causes of impaired vitality. Fowls kept in large numbers should be on extensive farms rather than in crowded quarters. Land occupied by fowls should also be used for grass, grain and fruit crops; the poultry department being incidental. This method will provide ample free range and prevent soil contamination. No matter how the fowls are kept there should be extremely careful grading as to vigor and size so as to reduce the contest as much as possible between the physically strong and the physically weak. Where crowding is practiced overfeeding is common. Plenty to eat and little to do is one of the surest and strongest factors for producing infertile eggs and weak chicks. Plenty of deep litter for the fowls to scratch in and whole grain scattered in it to encourage exercise are used; preventing or reducing the dangers from over-feeding, and, to a certain extent, taking the place of free range and exercise in the open air.
Numerous experiments have shown that the fertility and hatchability of eggs can be injured or lost by wrong methods of keeping eggs for hatching, and it is presumed that chicks hatched from poorly kept eggs have a vitality inferior to those hatched from eggs properly kept. As a general rule, eggs should be kept in a cool place 45 to 55 degrees, turned daily and not set when more than a week old. Defective incubation, natural or artificial, is also likely to impair vitality. The artificial methods are probably more often at fault than natural ones; poor operators may fail with good machines; good operators may fail with poor ones; and then, of course, there is the combination of poor machines and poor operators. All three combinations will produce poor chicks. Good machines, however, and good operators can be relied upon to produce good results from properly managed eggs laid by vigorous stock. It is essential that chicks be raised in a healthy environment upon the best rations and with free range. They need not be forced on rich food with lack of exercise, but a rapid development is highly desirable. Excessive coarse feed which is slow to assimilate is likely to retard and stunt growth.
Value of Vigorous Parents
To maintain or increase the physical vigor of a flock none but the most vigorous parents should be used as breeders. The chicks of inferior constitution should be removed. Chicks conspicuously weak upon hatching should be destroyed at once, or should be marked in such a way that there will be no risk of their being selected should they seem to overcome their physical weaknesses. They should go to market at the earliest opportunity; for though they may seem to overcome their weaknesses there is the risk of transmission to progeny. Even when such a move may demand the disposal of an entire flock and the commencement with new blood, this will be found desirable and economical in the end. One of the best ways to mark such fowls is with aniline dye. The color will remain until new feathers come in.
Robust and inferior types of fowls.
According to Prof. J. E. Rice the more important characteristics which distinguish weak from strong fowls are as follows:
"The actions of a fowl probably best indicate the physical condition. The physically weak is inactive and dopey and more likely to squat than to stand. It does not scratch or forage actively. It is the last to get off the perch in the morning and the first to go to roost at night, and frequently is found on the perch during the day.
"The loudness and the frequency of the crow of the male or the song or cackle of the female is a remarkable indication of strength. The weak fowl seldom crows or sings and is less likely to do so in the presence of a strong individual of the same sex. Gallantry on the part of the male is shown in generosity and consideration toward the females as indicated by his calling them and giving them the tenderest morsels to eat. This is one of the surest indications of physical vigor on the part of the male. The shape of the body is closely related to the health and physical vigor of the individual. The deep, thick, compact body with large fluff shows greater vigor than the slender, long-jointed, more delicate body of the same variety. This is particularly noticeable in comparing strong and weak males. (See illustration above.)
"There is an interesting correlation between the various parts of the fowl. This is one of the safest guides in selecting fowls on the basis of vigor. For example, a fowl of low vitality is likely to have a long, thin beak and head; long, thin neck; long, slender body; long, thin thighs and shanks; and long, thin toes. The reverse is true of the physically strong. To examine a fowl in detail for physical vigor we may begin at the head. This in the physically strong should be medium to large, short and broad, while in the physically weak it is more likely to be long, flat and thin, with long, flat beak, producing a crow-headed appearance.
"A strong fowl should have a medium to large, bright red comb and wattles. The fowl carries its health certificate on top of its head. The eye is the mirror of the body. It shows unmistakably the condition of health and disease. A fowl in good health should be of a bright color, round eye, which should stand out prominently. The lids should not droop, giving the appearance of a snake or a turtle eye. The size and the way the tail is carried is also an indication of vigor. A fowl having a strong constitution has a full development of tail feathers. These normally are carried erect. A fowl of the same variety having a weak constitution, especially if suffering from disease, is likely to have tail feathers less developed, and to carry them on one side, or drooping. This is more apparent when the weak fowl is suffering from fright, which usually will be the case when placed in the presence of the strong. The breast should be round and full, the keel bone well covered with meat. This indicates good muscular development. A fowl shows ill-health and weakness quickly and unmistakably by a shrinking away of the muscles about the keel.
"The shanks are a conspicuous indication of the strength of a fowl. They should be of pronounced color characteristic of the variety, large and plump as compared with the faded out, thin shanks of a fowl of low vitality. Cold shanks are a very common accompaniment of low vitality. The quantity, brilliancy and nature of the plumage are very reliable indications of constitutional vigor. The feathers of a fowl of low vitality grow small. They are likely to be dull and ruffled as compared with the close-fitting, smooth, fully developed bright plumage of the vigorous fowl. The color pigment, so pronounced in the feathers of the brilliantly colored, does not develop to perfection with physically weak fowls. Fowls that lack vigor do not, as a rule, have the necessary surplus fat in their bodies to supply the gland at the base of the tail. This gland furnishes the material to oil the plumage.
"The appetite is also a good indication of vigor. A vigorous and strong fowl consumes large quantities of food. It is usually found with a full crop if suitable food is available. A fowl constitutionally weak seldom carries more than a small amount of food in the crop no matter how much may be accessible or how attractive it may be.
"In breeding fowls for high egg production, we must develop a sexual character. It is the first stage of reproduction. Hence if we would succeed in increasing production we must be skillful in recognizing and in selecting only individuals which are physically and sexually vigorous for a breeding flock. When either physically or sexually weak fowls are discovered, they should be removed from the breeding flocks. Any single evidence of physical weakness alone may not necessarily be conclusive, but a combination of several weak characteristics is absolutely reliable."
Experiments Prove Theory
To prove the truth of the foregoing statements and to show that it pays to select breeding fowls according to their vigor, Professor Rice tried three experiments at the New York state agricultural college. In one, 50 White Leghorn chickens were selected when about the size of quail. They were divided into two lots of 25 each. In the second experiment 50 others in two lots of 25 were selected in the fall and placed in winter quarters. In the third, 50 Barred Plymouth Rock pullets were divided in the fall into two pens. In each experiment there was one flock of weaker vitality than that of the other of the same variety. These contrasts were not conspicuous to the casual observer, but could be recognized by any one familiar with the characteristics mentioned. During a full year records were kept of the food consumed, the eggs produced, the mortality and health of the fowls, the fertility and hatching power of the eggs and growth of chicks. In all three experiments the fowls were kept under the same conditions as to feeding and housing. An equal number of eggs from each flock in each experiment was carefully selected and placed in the same incubator, hatched in pedigree trays, the chicks leg-banded, placed in the same brooder, fed together and allowed to run in the same corn field during the summer. They were weighed at frequent intervals, newly leg-banded as they grew, and in the fall after weighing were placed in winter quarters.
So far as records of production are concerned, the fowls selected in the spring, when chicks apparently overcame their weakness by reason of special care, gave practically the same results in production during the first year as did their sisters chosen at the same time for vigor and kept without further selection. In the other two experiments, however, in which the selections were made in the fall the contrast between weak and strong flocks was very marked, both as to the number of eggs laid, the profits for each fowl, the fertility and hatching power of the eggs and the growth of the chicks. The net results of the experiments, however, show that fowls in the three strong flocks averaged about one dozen more eggs in a year than those in the weak flocks, and produced a profit of 41 cents a hen over and above the cost of food more than the fowls in the weak flocks.
Eggs from the strong hens averaged nearly 11% greater fertility and 4% better hatching power than eggs from the weaker ones. But the most striking contrast was shown in the difference in the size and appearance of the pullets reared from the strong and from the weak flocks of fall-selected Barred Plymouth Rock fowls. The results for the White Leghorn were nearly as striking; the chickens from the strong stock averaged over 1/2 pound more than the pullets hatched at the same time from the low vitality stock. They had also larger, deeper bodies, larger bright red combs and appeared to be at least four or five weeks older.
Requisites of the Trap Nest
To be thoroughly practical a trap nest must be constructed so it will be impossible for a hen to enter without closing and locking the nest itself. The trigger, spring or treddle must never fail. These must be so sensitive that even the lightest hen as well as the heaviest will make them work. It must always lock and remain locked after it has been closed, so a second hen cannot enter while the first one is on. Preferably it should be built with two compartments -- the rear containing the nest itself and the front a vestibule in which the hen may stand after the egg is laid and before she is taken out. Without a front compartment there is danger that the hen will break the egg. There should be no danger, however, that the hen will lay in the front compartment without causing the trap to operate. Many trap nests now on the market are defective in this way. Some hens seem to prefer the front compartment to the apparently more comfortable rear one. Unless the trap closes it will be impossible to secure a proper record of the egg.
Double trap nest. When the hen steps on the nest proper the cord pulls a pin and the door falls shut.
Releasing trap nest. Door at right closes after hen. Sets itself when hen escapes through rear door into another yard.
Frame -- Coop. Canvas or paper. Top and gable on light frame make this coop easy to carry.
Simplicity of construction and operation are highly desirable. Many nests now on the market are so complicated that it would be impossible to operate and keep them in repair when working a large flock. In order to be effective, the nests, if used on a large scale and constantly, should be so easily tended as to take a minimum amount of time to empty and re-set. At best, trap nesting is expensive; hence the question of labor must be reduced as much as possible. Trap nests should always be durable and unlikely to get out of order.
Kind of Fowl to Keep
The choice of a variety of fowl for any purpose depends largely upon the preference of the poultry raiser, the purpose sought and the locality. Some people prefer white fowls, some black, some buff, some mottled; others have as decided preferences for still different kinds. The color of plumage, the size of bird and all other considerations are individual. Such being the case, no discussion will be given here as to mere preferences. The points that will be emphasized are flesh and egg production in utility points.
Probably the most popular breeds for table purposes are the Barred Plymouth Rock, the White Wyandotte, the Rhode Island Red and the Light Brahma. These varieties are all large, and the first three are at almost any age excellent for the table. The last one is slower growing, but attains the largest size of all. These remarks must be modified by saying that much depends upon proper management. Among other table breeds are various varieties of Plymouth Rock, notably the White and the Buff. Then, too, there is the Houdan, the Faverolle, the La Fleche -- all French breeds. The Dorking and the Orpington, English varieties; the Langshan and the Cochin, Asiatic fowls. These are all more or less popular, but have never gained the wide favor in America that the first four have. The only one of the last mentioned that has been gaining very rapidly in popular estimation is the Orpington. This group of varieties has not been long enough in this country to supplant our principal favorites. It may be taken as a general proposition that any variety of poultry, well managed, will produce as desirable poultry flesh as any other, though the quantity may not be as great in some cases as in others.
As to egg production, the Mediterranean class is well in the lead, and among the varieties of this group the White Leghorn stands probably first, with the Brown Leghorn and the Minorca as close rivals. Doubtless the White Leghorn is the most widely popular among egg farmers, especially in the East and in California. Though it is reputed as an excellent summer layer, it is also good when properly managed for winter egg production. The same remark applies to other breeds of the Mediterranean group. Among other noted layers are the Ancona, the various Hamburg and Polish varieties, but these have not become widely popular in the United States. The eggs of the last two are rather small. The Black Spanish, famous more than a generation ago both as a table fowl and a prolific layer, is not as popular now because it has been badly managed. Good management should make it good in both respects again, but for the egg producer this is a venture not to be recommended.
For general farm use, probably the Barred Plymouth Rock, the Wyandotte and the Rhode Island Red are the favorites, all breeds considered. These breeds when bred for utility purposes will be found useful not only for table purposes but for egg production. Whichever breed is selected, the poultry raiser should choose only those specimens that have been bred for utility purposes and true to its variety characteristics. The initial cost is not so great that one cannot afford to pay for good breeding and thus encourage himself to take the keenest kind of interest in his poultry. With poor stock, interest is likely to flag. Too much emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that there is a satisfaction which comes from the knowledge of possession of good stock that cannot be gained in any other way. It is needless to say that stock should be bought from breeders who have their reputation at stake, and that it is in the highest degree desirable not to mix strains, but to purchase new blood from one breeder from time to time so as to prevent the breaking up of strains and the loss of valuable characteristics, especially with respect to egg laying. Probably it is most economical in the spring to buy eggs for hatching and in the fall to purchase cockerels and pullets. Above all things, it is desirable to keep only one breed at a time on the farm.
In raising poultry for market or egg production the purchase of cull fowls is not necessarily undesirable. Culls are frequently fowls that show a defect only in plumage or form, and are not disqualified for anything except the show room. It is highly undesirable to do any cross breeding, because the ideals of different breeders are often so radically unlike that the cross secures few of the best points of either parent. This subject is already evident from the discussion on breeding.
The Barred Plymouth Rock
This breed is undoubtedly more extensively bred and used for general utility purposes than any other breed. It has won its way in popular favor strictly on its merit. Some qualifications which make it so desirable for farm purposes are: Size, which is the happy medium between the heavy Asiatic and the light-weight breeds. The standard weights are cock, 9-1/2 pounds; hen, 7-1/2 pounds; cockerel, 8 pounds; pullet, 6-1/2 pounds. The growing chicks possess a characteristic rarely found in such desirable perfection in any other breed. When properly managed they are in splendid table condition from the time they are eight weeks old up to maturity. It is also claimed the old fowls easily get in fat condition and are superior in quality to other breeds at the same age. The hens are excellent mothers, and will often recommence laying in eight weeks, and still continue attentively to mother their broods. They are good winter layers; and it is the winter eggs that make poultry keeping pay. The eggs are of good size and are classed as brown. The breed is a vigorous one, prolific, and the percentage of fertility of the egg is always high. The chicks are sprightly and strong from the very start.
Pullets will often commence egg laying when they are six months old; even those that are hatched late in the season will do so when their six months end as late as December, providing, of course, they have been properly cared for. One of the excellent features about their laying is that when they commence they make a business of it. They do not, like some of the Asiatics, lay less than a dozen eggs, and then persist in sitting.
For the production of large numbers of eggs, the White Leghorn is most popular the country over. The breed is a hardy one of small to medium size. The weights seldom exceed seven pounds unless the fowls are specially bred for size. Probably the generality of people succeed better in getting good egg yield from this breed than from fowls of other breeds. The reasons are because of the activity of the fowls and because the Leghorn is hardier than other varieties of the Mediterranean class. Then, too, the fowls are less likely to become fat, even when over-fed, than are the fowls of the American and the Asiatic breeds. The cockerels make excellent broilers, especially when the poultryman has aimed for size in his breeding, but where fowls for roasting are desired the Leghorn is not as conspicuous a success as the Plymouth Rock, the Rhode Island Red, the Wyandotte, the Orpington and the Asiatic breeds. Like its relative, the Brown Leghorn, the White variety has two sub-varieties, namely, Single Comb and Rose Comb. Probably the Single Comb is the more popular of the two. Besides the White and the Brown Leghorn, there are other breeds of this group -- the Black, the Buff, the Dominique, the Silver Duckwing, etc. -- but these are much less popular than the White and the Brown. They are all characterized more or less as egg producers and as good foragers. Because of their active habits, they do best on wide range. Where such cannot be given the fowls must have abundant opportunity to take exercise.
The Light Brahma is without exception the largest fowl raised. It is most noted as a meat producer, mainly because of its size, but also because it is probably the most popular variety for producing South Shore Soft Roasters for the Boston market. It is a fairly good layer of large, brown eggs, and though noted more for its meat, it will yield under proper management a goodly number of eggs while prices are highest. The standard weight of the cock is 12 pounds, that of the hen 9-1/2 pounds. The hens are good sitters and mothers, but are rather heavy and clumsy. They are often used for hatching duck, turkey and goose eggs, because they can cover more than hens of ordinary size.
Brahma chicks are slow in developing their feathers, but in spite of this they are good growers and gain weight more rapidly than many other varieties fed equally well. As farm fowls they are not as successful as many of the other varieties, because they are not quick enough to be good insect catchers and are not otherwise as good foragers as most popular farm breeds. For this reason they must be fed more carefully. These characteristics of slowness and weight favor their being kept in confinement. A low fence is sufficient. Their color is mainly white, though the hackle, the tail and the flight feathers of the wing are mainly black. They have pea combs and red ear lobes, yellow skin and legs, the shanks feathered down to the ground.
The Wyandotte has a half dozen well-known varieties. Among these, probably the most popular are the White, the Golden and the Silver, though Buff and Black Wyandottes are also well known. Probably the most important is the White, which, in the leading poultry shows, is a close second to the Barred Plymouth Rock. Not only is this so in the poultry show, but throughout the country the White Wyandotte and the Rhode Island Red are unquestionably the strongest competitors in popular favor that the Plymouth Rock has. The Wyandotte breed as a whole is a hardy, general purpose breed which lays brown eggs; the hens make good sitters and mothers. The recognized standard weights are 8-1/2 pounds for the cock and 6-l/2 for the hen, but greater weights than these are common. Like the Plymouth Rock, the fowls are good foragers, good layers and good table birds. They are characterized by compact bodies with yellow skin, and on this account are highly popular in the markets as table fowls.
Rhode Island Red
The two sub-varieties of the Rhode Island Red, the Rose Comb and the Single Comb, are almost equally popular. The breed, as its name implies, originated in New England, where its hardiness, its brown eggs and its general utility have appealed to popular taste. The hens are good sitters and mothers. The breed is noted for its ability to forage and also for the ease with which it may be kept in confinement. The sizes compare with those of its chief rivals, the Plymouth Rock and the Wyandotte. The color is a peculiar reddish buff with mixtures of black, more especially in the wings and tails. It is claimed that the chicks mature more rapidly than either Wyandotte or Plymouth Rock chicks, and that they make more meaty broilers at the same age. This is probably due more to management than to the breed itself. Some people consider the Rhode Island Red inferior to other American varieties as table fowls, but superior as layers, more especially during the winter.
The Hamburg varieties are good layers of small eggs, but, like the Polish varieties, are less seen on the farm than among fanciers.
The Polish varieties are all excellent layers. They are not only small, but they lay small eggs. They are especially fanciers' fowls and are rarely seen on farms except as pets.
Among the less widely known American breeds the Mottled and the Black Java are popular in some sections. They compare in size with the Plymouth Rock, and are good both for table and for egg laying.
The American Dominique was at one time very popular as a general purpose fowl because of its hardiness. The Barred Plymouth Rock, which it somewhat resembles, has replaced it to a very large extent.
Houdans are French fowls noted for their flesh. They are good layers, non-sitters and excellent where there is no danger of attacks from hawks and other birds of prey. Their crests are an objection where hawks are to be feared.
The White Wonder is a brown egg laying, hardy, general-purpose breed somewhat larger than the White Wyandotte which it resembles, except that it has feathers on the shanks. The variety is popular in some sections as a farm fowl because of its hardiness, ability to forage and fair prolificacy.
The Langshan is a fairly hardy Asiatic fowl which lays dark brown eggs in moderate abundance. Probably this is the best laying variety of the Asiatic class. The standard weight of the cock is 10 pounds and that of the hen 7. The hens are good sitters and mothers, less clumsy than other Asiatic fowls. The more popular variety of Langshan is the black.
The Dorking has several well-known varieties, the most popular are White, Silver Grey and Colored. This group is noted for the small number of eggs the hens lay and for persistent sitting. In England they have long been the leading table fowl. In America they are less popular because they do not lay enough eggs. This is due principally to the methods employed in breeding.
The Dark Brahma resembles the Light Brahma somewhat in size, but not in plumage, which, as its name implies, is dark, with considerable penciling as in the Partridge varieties of Cochin, Wyandotte, etc. The breed is not quite so large as the Light Brahma, but it is equally hardy. The hens are fair layers, sitters and mothers, but like their cousins are rather awkward on the nest and with chicks. Other remarks concerning the Light Brahma apply more or less generally to this breed.
The Cochins, like the Brahmas, are heavy breeds of the Asiatic class. There are several varieties, viz.: The Buff, the Partridge and the White. They all have profusely feathered legs, are very hardy, very docile but very determined sitters. On this account they are not popular as farm fowls. Like the Brahmas they are poor foragers and must be fed liberally. Most people consider them inferior to the Brahma as layers and as table fowls, but when well bred and managed they make both good roasters and layers.
Protected water pan.
The Minorca has two leading varieties, viz.: Black and White. The former with two sub-varieties, the Rose Comb and the Single Comb. These are fairly hardy fowls. The hens rarely sit.
They lay particularly large white eggs in abundance under good management, but these eggs are mainly produced when prices are low. The breed is especially valuable for the home flock, largely because of the size and high quality of the eggs. Like the Leghorns the Minorcas are good foragers, but of a reputed nervous disposition. This nervousness, however, is due more to the poultryman than to anything else; even the docile Cochin may be made nervous by bad management.
The Orpington has several varieties. It is an English breed which has been introduced in America only a short time, but during this period has become very popular, mainly because of the extensive advertising it has had. Among its principal varieties are Buff, Black and White. Some of the varieties are sub-divided into Single and Rose Comb. The Black and the Buff are most widely popular in America. The breed is of large size and compares with the Plymouth Rock, the Wyandotte and the Rhode Island Red for the table. The hens are good layers of rather large eggs, good sitters and mothers. Wherever tried the breed has proved acceptable.
Next: Chapter VII
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