Breeding poultry

Breeding can be very difficult or reasonably easy depending on what you chose to breed or how well you control the conditions during incubation.

Breeding chickens: The first thing you need to do is select your desired breed and spend a bit of time looking around for some good quality birds. Once you have found a good breeder you will need at least one hen and a cockerel. Two hens or more are advisable so that the cockerel has more than one hen, with large breeds in particular having more hens will prevent the cockerels from damaging the feathers and skin on the hens' back. Our preferred ratio is one cockerel to four hens.

Most cockerels are fertile; however the odd one is not. In these situations, if you do not wish to keep him, (and only after the bird is consistently proven infertile) he can either be culled or re-homed. (Providing, of course, that the new owner knows the bird cannot be bred from.)Fertility will be higher in birds given plenty of space and quality food, often fertility will be poor or non-existent in the winter or very early in the year. Older birds will be less fertile than younger ones and hens will not lay or, lay poorly if much older. For this reason it is advisably to purchase birds under a year old. Birds will generally be productive enough for breeding purposes to the age of around five, dependant on breed and size. However, cockerels have been known to be fertile at up to 10 years old and I have even seen a 15 year old hen who was still laying an egg each week!

Having successfully found your breeding birds you will need to bring them home and get them settled in (see: Keeping poultry.)

When your hens are settled enough they should begin to lay, wait for about 2-3 weeks to make sure the eggs are of good size and are likely to be fertile. If the cockerel has been “run” with the hens from before they started to lay then the eggs should already be fertile.

Breeding waterfowl: (ducks, geese etc...)

As with breeding chickens, you will first need to identify which breed/species you wish to keep. Be aware that waterfowl fall into a couple of categories: Domestic waterfowl and wildfowl.  Domestic waterfowl are the most commonly kept and are generally easy to keep, wildfowl are ornamentals and usually require a more experienced keeper  as well as often being considerably more expensive to purchase.

With domestic ducks several drakes can usually be kept with a group of ducks, it's not advisable with most breeds to have more than 4 ducks to a drake as you risk the drake prolapsing. Some breeds of duck are more prolific layers then others and some only lay during the breeding season. With some breeds the drakes are not fertile till their second year.  Most ducks will need water on which to breed, a large sandpit is usually adequate. Also be aware that some breeds e.g. Muscovy ducks are technically a different species and when bred with domestic ducks they will produce infertile offspring.  Ducks can fly, the usual thinking is that if they are happy they will stay put but often it's a good idea to clip their wings until they settle in. Ducks will make more mess then chickens and can be very loud so make sure you have enough space and choose a breed appropriate to where you live.

Wildfowl usually only come in pairs, they will need more water than domestic ducks, particularly with the types that are known to dive. Nesting habits vary from nesting on the ground, to nest boxes on poles and even in trees and a specialist feed may be required. They are often sold as "pinioned," this means that the very tip of the wing was removed at a couple of days old in order to prevent them from flying away. They are generally not tame so wing clipping is not easy and if they are not pinioned they will need a large enclosed pen.


For incubation information please see our hatching and incubation page!