The Gamecock - Basic Breeding Concepts and Considerations
Breeding gamefowl is one of
the many challenging aspects of the Sport of Kings. Numerous books and
articles have been written on the subject and they all contain something of
value. Over the past several decades, it my belief that the understanding of
basic genetics has helped the modern breeder maintain and improve some of the
great families of gamefowl that have been passed down through the
generations.Maintaining and improving bloodlines is the primary goal of
cockers. Some would say that cockfighting is practiced to provide an avenue
for gambling or to satisfy a primitive bloodlust. After 25 years with gamefowl,
I can say that the core of cockfighting is about the perpetuation of an
ancient, noble and beautiful feathered gladiator by breeding the best to the
Cockfighting is about holding in our hands the descendents of the same birds
that our ancestors held in their hands while admiring the same qualities and
puzzling over the same mysteries. Finally, cockfighting is about standing in
awe of nature, which has instilled an incredibly deep survival instinct in
every living creature.
Just a few more notes before we jump into the subject… I am not a professional
breeder. I have never created my own bloodline that whipped all the big boys,
although I have bred some pretty good roosters. However, like all cockers, I
have some opinions on the subject and a friend asked me to write them down. I
have no chickens for sale and no axes to grind. I just enjoy getting some
information out there for the beginners to think about. My opinions are based
on a combination of basic genetics, my own personal experiences with breeding
gamefowl, and a little common sense.
An effective breeding program is a process that requires a systematic
approach. I consider the process equivalent to a road that leads to a
particular destination. A cocker can choose the vehicle (bloodlines) and the
route (specific breeding techniques) to take. However, a map should be drawn
out before the journey starts and it should be consulted from time to time to
make sure the original destination seems to be getting closer. Sometimes the
destination may change, so a breeder has to remain open minded and flexible.
The road is definitely bumpy, but it can be very scenic and enjoyable.
I have identified some important components to any successful breeding
program. The following steps, hard work and a little luck will help a gamefowl
breeder produce quality gamefowl.
The 7 steps of successful gamefowl breeding
Establishing specific goals for the breeding program.
Identifying and obtaining foundation bloodlines.
Selecting superior individuals within the bloodlines to breed.
Setting up the broodpens: choosing breeding strategies.
Progeny testing: evaluating the success of the program.
Managing the broodfowl to optimize their productivity and the health of their
Record keeping: keeping it accurate.
Step 1: Establishing Goals
In my opinion, establishing goals or objectives is the most important part of
the breeding program. Goals for a gamefowl breeding program are probably most
easily measured in terms of the winning percentage of the offspring (progeny
testing). Having a breeding goal that is quantifiable, or can be measured,
assists the breeder when evaluating the success of the specific matings and
the bloodlines used in the breeding program. However, there are many factors
that contribute to the winning percentage. For example, age, conditioning,
weapon used (style, set, quality of steel), the level of the competition and
even luck all have a very significant impact on the outcome of a contest. For
this reason, I think it is important to include specific traits as goals in
addition to a desired winning percentage. This is because certain traits
(primary traits) are correlated to higher winning percentages, and if the fowl
produced posses these traits, the chances of success in the pit will increase.
Examples of primary traits linked to winning bloodlines include cutting
ability, fighting style, strength, speed, body size and type, station, spur
alignment, bone size, disposition, and gameness. Other traits (secondary
traits) such as eye color, feather color and condition, leg color, and comb
type are important but tend to have a weaker or no correlation to winning
In order to establish traits as goals, it is necessary to group the traits in
order of importance. The most important traits should receive the most
attention (selection intensity) in the breeding program. More rapid progress
can be made by focusing the breeding program on one or few traits. However,
this tends to cause a decline or lack of progress in other areas, so a
cautious and balanced approach is needed. A breeding program that is balanced
will tend to make slower initial progress, but in the long term will
outperform a breeding program based on intensive selection for a limited
number of traits.
In the following table, I will group traits according to their relative degree
of importance in my breeding program, and the degree of selection intensity I
feel is merited to each group. Although the groups are arranged by relative
importance, all traits in groups A, B & C are important, and all require
careful monitoring and consideration. Please keep in mind that these traits,
in addition to a minimum winning percentage, are the goals I have established
for my breeding program, and are based on my personal preferences,
observations, and experiences. Breeding program goals for others cockers will
likely be significantly different. Group General Trait Selection Intensity
A Cutting ability Maximum Accurate; efficient; deep
A Health Maximum Resistant to disease and stress
A Gameness Maximum Tries to destroy the opponent 100% of the time
A Fighting Style Maximum Intelligent, adaptive, head back
B Strength High Capable of powerful blows
B Speed High Able to overwhelm/avoid opponent
B Endurance High Ability to give and take for long periods of time
B Body size/type/conformation High Avg 5 lb/upright/football
B Station High High
B Disposition High Gentle
B Winning percentage High 70%
C Bone size Medium Medium
C Spur Alignment Medium Low on shank/aligns with prop toe
C Eye color Medium Red or Orange
C Plumage condition Medium Flexible, long feathers
D Leg color Low Characteristic of the breed
D Comb type Low Characteristic of the breed
D Plumage Color Low Characteristic of the breed
Step 2: Identifying and Obtaining Broodfowl
Finding and obtaining the broodfowl that will meet or exceed expectations is
essential to success as a breeder. The fowl the breeder starts his program
with are the foundation of the breeding program. A breeder should take his
time before rushing out and buying fowl, because finding the good ones is not
easy. There are several approaches that can be used, although some methods
work better than others.
Identifying a desirable bloodline is best determined by their offspring’s
performance in the pit. Fight reports, recommendations from friends, and
attending derbies are all ways to get an idea of how they have performed for
other cockers. The fowl should be very strong in the group A and B traits that
were identified when planning the goals of the breeding program, and adequate
or better in as many of the group C traits as possible. The closer to the goal
we are at the beginning, the more quickly it can be reached. A breeder must be
completely honest in his evaluation of the merits and demerits of the
prospective bloodlines. The purchasing of broodfowl is a lot like getting
married… make sure you can live with what you bring home. If a breeder sees
something he doesn’t like, and breeds these fowl, chances are that this trait
will likely be passed into the future generations of his fowl.
The most certain way of obtaining good fowl is through friendship. Often a
good friend is willing to share his best, compete in a combined entry in
derbies, and to swap broodfowl in the future as needed. The advantage of
getting fowl through friends is that the breeder has seen the birds compete
and knows their strengths and weaknesses and can plan the breeding program
Another method is to attend derbies and watch for breeders that show fowl that
consistently display the qualities the buyer is looking for. The key is to
attend derbies at the same or better level of competition than the level at
which the buyer plans to compete in the future (average cocks look good
against mediocre competition, but look flat-footed and slow in fast company).
Once the sights have been set on a particular bloodline, it would help the
buyer to become friends with the breeder. The buyer should inquire how the
cocks are bred, how long he has had the bloodline, the origin of the
bloodline, and the breeder’s opinion on some important traits and qualities.
The breeder may or may not be interested in selling any broodfowl. If not, the
buyer may be able to purchase battlefowl instead, test the battlecrosses, and
if they pass the test, continue to try to get some broodstock. A buyer should
always be respectful and persistent. If the buyer can find out where this
successful breeder obtained his fowl, he may be able to get similar fowl from
the same source.
Another method is purchasing through the magazines or from the internet. This
is definitely the method with the highest rate of failure. There are
excellent, legitimate breeders that advertise and those who are not; it is
very hard from an advertisement or website to determine who will ship you the
type of fowl the buyer wants. If hecan travel to the breeder’s farm, it would
improve the chances of getting the good ones, but this, of course, is not a
Step 3. Selecting Superior Individuals
Once the bloodline has been identified and the breeder has agreed to sell some
of his fowl, the selection of specific individuals is required. If the buyer
order chickens though an advertisement, he must clearly specify his
requirements to the breeder and ask if he has fowl that will meet the criteria
(e.g., station, body type, fighting style). Once again, visiting the breeder
at his farm is a significant advantage when selecting brood or battlefowl.
There are often subtle differences between individuals within the same
bloodline. For example, if the buyer has a choice between two superb physical
specimens with one having a better disposition, it will assist the breeding
program to start with the calmer, gentler bird.
The goals for the breeding program should be consulted during the selection
process. Every cock and hen should be evaluated with respect to the goals.
Selected individuals must be extremely healthy, active and in good flesh. They
should be balanced, proportional and represent the characteristics of the
bloodline. Both cocks and hens should be relatively calm and good natured.
Although mature stags and pullets from winning families are perfectly
acceptable for breeding, I prefer fowl that are 2 to 5 years of age so that I
have had a chance to test them and their immediate family before introducing
them into the breeding program. Waiting until cocks and hens are mature also
helps identify any desirable or undesirable traits that may not be readily
apparent in stags and pullets (e.g., spraddle legs, nervous personality, late
developing fighting ability).
I consider what we do as cockers very similar to what happens in nature, where
every individual is competing for survival each and every day. Individuals
that can’t compete or adapt do not survive, thus their DNA does not get passed
to the next generation. Consider how efficiently birds of prey hunt, pursue
and capture their quarry. It stands to reason that the best hunters, those
that can adapt to different prey, different habitats, adverse weather
conditions and can win territorial disputes will have the greatest
reproductive success, thus passing the good genes on the next generation.
Likewise, cockers should try to select individuals that have proven their
worth in the pit and/or whose brothers, offspring, immediate family have
proven themselves in the pit. Only through competition can we select
individuals that have the mental and physical attributes to get the job done.
These individuals should be the cornerstones of our breeding programs.
Step 4. Choosing the Right Breeding Strategies
Much has been written about breeding strategies and techniques that have been
used successfully to produce ace cocks. Inbreeding, linebreeding, outcrossing,
and crossbreeding are breeding strategies that all have their place in the
overall breeding program. These methods, when used appropriately, offer the
breeder the best chance to maintain bloodlines and to produce consistently
competitive battlefowl. The breeder should keep in mind that the foundation of
any breeding method is to breed physically and mentally sound cocks and hens
that come from winning families.
Before I discuss breeding methods, a quick discussion of basic genetics is
needed. Genetics is a very complex subject. The inheritance and expression of
DNA is subject to several known and unknown mechanisms of action, of which
college textbooks cover in great detail. Complex genetic interactions, the
inheritance of sex-linked traits, and traits influenced by multiple genes are
certainly relevant to gamefowl breeding but are beyond the scope of this
Genes are made up of pieces of DNA, which carries the information about a
particular trait. The genotype is the sum of all genes present on the
chromosomes. The phenotype is the appearance of the traits, a visual
expression of the genotype. Genes almost always occur in pairs. This means
that each cock or hen has two copies of any given gene for a specific trait,
one derived from the father and one from the mother. A bird that has two
different genes for a specific trait is said to be heterozygous for that
trait. A bird that has the same two genes for a given trait is homozygous for
Some genes and their corresponding traits are dominant or incompletely
dominant and others are recessive. A cock that is heterozygous for a
particular trait (has one dominant gene and one recessive gene) will look the
same as, or similar to (incomplete dominance), to one that is homozygous
dominant (has two of the same dominant genes) for that trait. Recessive genes
are hidden when paired with a dominant gene. When recessive genes are in a
homozygous state (both are identical), they are expressed in the phenotype. An
example of this with white and yellow leg color. The gene for white legs is
dominant to the gene for yellow legs, meaning a white legged cock or hen could
have one gene for white legs (W)and one gene for yellow legs (y), or two genes
for white legs (WW). If two heterozygous white legged fowl were bred together
(Wy x Wy), the offspring would be approximately 75% white legged [WW or Wy]
and 25 % yellow legged [yy] because there is an equal probability that the
parent will pass the white legged or yellow legged gene to the offspring. In
this case, the ratio of genes in the offspring would be 1 WW: 2 Wy : 1 yy.
Another way to say this is that 75% of the chicks would carry the dominant
gene for white legs and 25% would receive a recessive yellow legged gene from
each parent. In this case where the recessive yellow legged gene is in a
homozygous state, it is expressed in the phenotype as yellow legs.
Inbreeding is the breeding of two individuals who are related to each other.
Typically all fowl from the same family of fowl are related to some degree,
thus inbreeding is practiced whenever we maintain a “pure” line. Linebreeding
is a form of inbreeding where particularly superior individuals are used in
several generations, which tends to emphasize the genetic influence of the
individual in the family. Inbreeding increases the probability that the two
copies of any given gene for a particular trait will be identical, or
homozygous for that gene. If the cock and hen are related, there is a chance
that the two genes in the offspring are both identical copies contributed by
the common ancestor. Close inbreeding uncovers hidden, often undesirable
homozygous recessive genes that are carried by both parent fowl. Inbreeding
depression is a term used to describe the reduction in performance caused by
the expression of these recessive genes in inbred individuals. Some cockers
will use this as a tool to test a new bloodline by fighting year old stags
from a brother/sister mating, since this intensive form of inbreeding will
quickly bring undesirable qualities to the surface such as lack of gameness.
Since mating related and phenotypically-identical individuals also tends to
increase the number of homozygous dominant genes in the progeny, fowl become
more uniform in those traits emphasized in the breeding program. Although true
with any breeding system, additional care must be taken with intensive
inbreeding (breeding closely related, inbred individuals). Only the very best
physical specimens should be retained for maintaining the bloodline and
crossing with other bloodlines. Producing these exceptional individuals
requires hatching and raising a lot of chicks to increase the probability of
the right genetic combination occurring in the offspring.
Increasing homozygous genes in a family through inbreeding increases the
probability of producing “prepotent” individuals. Prepotency is the ability of
an individual to pass their desirable dominant genes to their offspring. For
this reason, prepotent individuals are extremely valuable in linebreeding
systems to improve and maintain bloodlines. Although inbreeding will increase
the probability of producing prepotency, in my own experience an ace crossbred
battlecock was prepotent. Nearly all of his stags were virtually identical to
the cock, including fighting style, body shape and station, leg color, a
plumage color. They even sounded the same as they all had his distinctive
Outcrossing is the mating of individuals within the same bloodline but having
no close ancestral relationships. For example, a trio of Clarets was single
mated producing a dozen stags from each hen. When the stags matured into
cocks, they were fought and the best multiple time winners were selected for
breeding purposes. The original hens were bred to their best sons, and the
original cock was used once in the third year in each family. For the next 7
years, the two lines were kept separate, and the original hen and her
exceptional son were bred several times in the following generations to
increase their genetic contribution to each family. After 10 years, the lines
were bred together, resulting in an outcross. The offspring from this mating
were tested and the best individuals were bred back to the separate lines.
This method of breeding, along with careful selection and progeny testing, can
be used to maintain pure families without introducing outside blood. Using
linebred, prepotent individuals is highly desirable when outcrossing.
Crossbreeding occurs when two unrelated fowl are mated. Crossbred individuals
have many more heterozygous dominant genes present in their genotype. In a
heterozygous genotype, dominant genes mask the influence of undesirable or
desirable recessive genes. Many of the most successful battlecrosses are
produced from crossing two or more unrelated, inbred families of fowl. In
fact, the primary reason for maintaining inbred families of fowl is to produce
individuals that can be used in crossbreeding systems. This is because
crossing two unrelated, inbred bloodlines often results in hybrid vigor in the
offspring. Hybrid vigor, or ‘heterosis,’ is the term used when a crossbred
individual outperforms the parent fowl. Crossbreeding is widely used in
commercial animal production and has proven successful. Hybrid animals and
plants tend to grow faster, be more productive and more resistant to stress
and disease. Once again, it must be emphasized that the greatest degree of
heterosis is seen when inbred, prepotent individuals are used as the parent
So how does one select the breeds to cross? Some gamefowl breeders advocate
crossing fowl that complement each other, such as breeding a power cock over
speed hens, in hopes of producing the ultimate combination of desirable
qualities. Others advocate breeding fowl that are similar in type and action,
contending that the resulting offspring are more likely to be consistent and
In my opinion, both schools of thought are likely correct because both have
proven to be successful. For example, the popular cross of various Hatch and
Roundhead families clearly indicate the theory of complementary families is
valid. Highly competitive crosses made up of similar families like the Kelso
and Albany fowl prove that crossing families that have similar attributes is
also effective. The success and failure of any cross is dependent upon the
compatibility of the genes and the only way of knowing if the fowl will “nick”
is to breed them together and test their progeny.
Crossbred fowl can be used in the breeding program. Many breeders will use
superior crosses to add new blood into one or both of the parent lines,
especially if the parent lines are intensively inbred and showing signs of
inbreeding depression. After the initial introduction, the new blood is bred
out in succeeding generations. The introduced family should be of unquestioned
quality, as the introduction of inferior genes into an inbred family is an
irreversible process. Recently I was given a trio of Regular Greys from a
great friend. The fowl have an excellent winning percentage in the gaff and
fight a smart style that would be effective in any weapon. They are deep game,
deadly cutters, have great bodies and are good natured. Their major
shortcoming is that the old cock and his two daughters are medium stationed.
Since my goal is to produce high stationed cocks, I have developed a plan to
increase their station. Since all three of the adult fowl are medium
stationed, I am not hopeful that any of the stags and pullets out of this trio
will be high stationed. However, there is a possibility that a recessive gene
for high station is being masked, so I am breeding them pure to see if the
recessive genes will pair up and produce some high stationed offspring. As an
insurance policy, I bred a high station Claret broodstag out of a solid Claret
bloodline from the same breeder to one of the Grey hens this year. From the
stags and pullets I raise from this mating, I will keep the best overall
individuals with the highest station to breed back to Greys next season. Since
the pullets of any mating often more closely resemble the broodcock, I expect
several of the ½ Grey ½ Claret pullets from this mating to be high stationed
like the Claret stag. Like wise, the best performing high stationed ¾ Grey and
¼ Claret cocks (which should be carrying the genes for high station from the ½
and ½ pullets) will be bred over the pure Grey hens. If the pure Greys I’m
breeding this year produce any high stationed stags or pullets, they will also
be bred to the high stationed Grey/Claret crosses and back to the parent fowl.
The goal is to eventually breed the Claret contribution down to a 1/16 or
1/32, while retaining the genes for higher station.
Although breeding crossbred fowl to each other is usually unsuccessful, some
two-way crosses nick with a third bloodline. Some of the best fowl I have ever
raised were out of a ½ Butcher ½ Lacy Roundhead cock and a Hatch hen. If all
three of the original parent fowl are from inbred families, the 3-way crosses
can be very consistent in appearance and style. When breeding crosses to
crosses, a few excellent individuals may be produced but the pairings of the
thousands of possible genetic combinations tends to produce predominantly
average or mediocre individuals. An exception to the rule might be a four-way
cross produced by mating a two-way cross cock out of two unrelated inbred
families (e.g., Hatch and Kelso) to a two-way cross hen out of two unrelated
inbred families (e.g., Butcher and Roundhead). Some animal experiments have
indicated an additional boost of hybrid vigor is possible from the resulting
four-way cross. This is something you may want to try if you have four inbred
All modern breeders acknowledge that the fowl used to develop today’s
bloodlines were crosses. However, the successful bloodlines the great breeders
in the past developed from these crosses were refined over many years through
selection of superior individuals, inbreeding, testing and extensive culling.
No discussion of breeding is complete without addressing single mating, flock
mating and yard breeding. The most haphazard and careless way to breed could
be called ‘yard breeding.’ This is when the cocker lets his hens runs loose on
the yard with cocks on strings. Yard breeding will result in chicks out of
several different cocks and hens, as hens will often lay in the same nest, and
the breeder will have no idea which hen and cock produced the dunghill or what
combination produced the ace. Likewise, another questionable method is flock
mating, when one cock is bred simultaneously to several hens of different
breeds. The breeder may get some good chickens, but without trapnesting, it is
impossible to know what hen laid the golden eggs. A somewhat better flock
mating method is to breed a cock to full sisters. However, there are some hens
that are much superior producers than their sisters, and with this system it
is impossible to know which hens are the best. I recommend for the serious
breeder of inbred families, single mating a cock with individually penned
hens. In this way, the best individuals are rapidly identified. Their
offspring can be single mated and the best retained from those future
generations. Once the best hens are identified, they can be used in a flock
mating system to produce battlecocks.
Single mating can be a lot of work even if the breeder has just a few cocks
and hens. It requires moving the cock every 1-3 days to each hen pen. This
year I used a chain link dog kennel 12’ wide and 16’ long to single mate three
hens. I built a tee-pee shelter in three corners with a roost and nest box in
each one, and tied the hens out on tie-cords. I covered the pen with 2”
poultry netting and turned the cock loose among the hens. The hens laid in
their individual nests and I didn’t have to move the cock, as he visited each
hen several times per day. Based on my hatching rate, he did a fine job, and I
know exactly what hen and cock produced each chick.
In summary, consider these key points:
Inbreeding is a long-term breeding strategy. It is most useful as a way to
strengthen and preserve valuable genetic information in a bloodline.
Individuals from these inbred bloodlines are valuable for producing hybrid
Inbreeding increases the number of homozygous genes. Remember that this
applies to desirable and undesirable genes equally. If inbred fowl are mated
and the progeny display undesirable traits, both parents and offspring should
be removed from the breeding program because the parents are carriers for the
recessive, undesirable gene expressed in the offspring. These individuals
could be retained for crossing.
Linebreeding is a form of inbreeding in which superior individuals are used
multiple times in several generations in the development and maintenance of a
bloodline. Linebreeding increases the probability that desirable genes from
the superior individuals are passed on to the subsequent generations. Care
must be taken when linebreeding apparently superior fowl to other closely
related individuals because of the potential for uncovering and passing on
Outcrossing is the mating of unrelated individuals within a bloodline. It is a
valuable strategy to maintain a bloodline with minimal effects from inbreeding
depression. This strategy requires the maintenance of two or more families
within a bloodline.
Crossbreeding is the mating of unrelated individuals from two or more separate
bloodlines. When compatible bloodlines are used, crossbreeding often results
in hybrid vigor, which occurs when the offspring exceeds the performance of
the parent fowl.
Step 5. Evaluating the Progeny
The ultimate measure of success of any breeding program is the quality of the
resulting offspring. The relative success of the matings is determined by the
ability of the offspring to meet the criteria defined in the goals of the
breeding program in Step 1. When breeding inbred families to produce broodfowl,
it is only possible to initially evaluate their outward appearance, body
structure, health and disposition; the ultimate test for the worth of
broodfowl is their ability to produce winners and future generations of top
quality broodfowl. This can make mistakes very costly considering the time and
money required to determine the quality of their offspring.
Competition in the pit tests the offspring of the broodfowl and skill of the
breeder. Information learned about fighting style, speed, cutting ability and
other important traits should be gathered, analyzed, and used to guide the
breeding program in future breeding seasons. Only through experience and being
present at the pit when his warriors are doing battle can the breeder learn
the weaknesses and strengths of his fowl and make adjustments to the breeding
It is true that superior battlecocks don’t always make superior broodcocks.
However, history has proven that superior battlecocks make great broodcocks
frequently enough to consider breeding a few great winners every year. I like
to use great battlecocks over inbred pullets from another breed to make
three-way crosses. Some of the greatest breeders of the past bought
spectacular crossbred cocks at the pit and bred them into various ‘yards’ or
families. They had to discard many of these yards after the offspring were
tested, but some of these crossbred yards produced lines that are winning
The level of competition is an important factor to consider when evaluating
battlefowl. It is a good idea for the breeder to compete a few times each year
at the highest level of competition that he can afford. In this way the
breeder can get a better idea of how his fowl measure up to the big boys.
Step 6. Managing Broodfowl
It is often said that if two cockers were given identical bloodlines, it would
take just a few generations for the descendents of the original parent fowl to
look and act completely different. Most of this phenomenon may be related to a
different emphasis on specific traits when selecting broodfowl, and it is also
related to differing environments (soil, water, climate, feed). However,
another significant effect is due to management.
For example, one management technique is to supply artificial lighting to
stimulate early egg production. Early eggs mean earlier chicks, which tends to
produce larger adult fowl than those hatched in late spring. This simple
management technique can have a significant impact on body size. Another
example is the effect of the health of the broodfowl upon the health of the
offspring. Since health is one of the most important traits we select for, we
must manage the broodfowl to maximize health.
The following generic recommendations should be considered to optimize the
productivity and performance of the broodfowl. Specific management techniques
should be employed in certain situations (e.g., disease; predators;
environmental conditions, etc.).
1. Employ a regular de-worming and de-lousing program.
2. Control the body weight of the broodfowl through diet and exercise. Fat
broodcocks tend to produce a lower percentage hatch. Likewise, fat hens lay
fewer eggs. Trim the feathers around the vent of each cock and hen to maximize
the mating efficiency.
3. Provide enough pen space to minimize stress from overcrowding. In my
experience, the minimum floorspace for a single mating broodpen (one cock and
hen) is 4’ x 5’ or 20 square feet.
4. Provide a round roost pole, approximately 2.5 inches in diameter. In flock
mating system, adequate roost space is an important detail, as the dominant
hens will force the submissive hens off the roost until it is nearly dark.
This is stressful on all of the fowl.
5. Provide clean, fresh and dry bedding material in the pen.
6. Provide a nest that is big enough so the hen can turn around freely and is
protected from the weather. Use clean straw, shavings, or other material in
the nest. In a flock mating system, use one nest per 3 hens if the eggs are
picked up daily.
7. When using an incubator or a surrogate mother to hatch the eggs, eggs
should be picked up at least once per day, kept clean and stored between 55
and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
8. Discard undersized, oversized and odd-shaped eggs.
9. Wash dirty eggs soon after gathering. Use hot water and soap or plain hot
water and dip in a diluted bleach solution.
10. Feed a breeder pellet if available. The breeder diet is balanced to
promote optimum fertility and hatchability, as well as good egg shell quality.
Laying pellets are formulated for the commercial production of eggs without
consideration of the requirements of the developing embryo or newly hatched
11. Provide oyster shells free-choice for strong eggshells.
12. Feed fruit and vegetables to penned fowl.
13. Always provide clean fresh water and use a high quality
vitamin/electrolyte product 1-3 days per week or more often during extreme
14. During the off-season when fowl are not breeding, allow them access to
15. Practice biosecurity. Keep visitors to a minimum, and require shoe
disinfection for those who do visit.
16. Minimize the introduction of new fowl onto the premises. New fowl are
potential disease carriers. Isolate new fowl for at least two weeks before
introducing them into your breeding program.
Step 7. Record Keeping
To keep track of the specific individuals and matings used in the breeding
program, it is necessary to keep accurate records. This will help when the
breeder needs to go back and figure out exactly how specific fowl were bred or
to determine the degree of relationship between certain individuals within a
family or bloodline.
Records should identify the individuals used in the brood pen, including their
bloodline, toe mark and wingband number. The toemark and wingband numbers for
the chicks produced from this mating also needs recording in the record book.
I also record the number of eggs set, chicks hatched, and date hatched.
During the growing period, I also record mortality caused from predators,
disease, culling or other reasons, and note the broodpen number. If I use
medication or vaccinate, I record what, when, and why it was used and the
Most cockers probably breed a family of fowl 5 or 6 years before they lose the
‘pure’ individuals and can’t maintain it or the fowl do not measure up to
their standards and are discarded. Probably most gamefowl families out there
don’t measure up to the requirements of a serious, top-level competitor.
However, numerous stories exist of cockers discarding or losing families of
fowl only to realize later that they were, in fact, a great bloodline. I have
had this experience and I’ll bet most cockers with some breeding experience
have also had this unpleasant realization.
Recognizing ‘diamonds in the rough’ is a challenge. If the breeder is starting
with deep game cocks, he’ll have a great foundation and with some luck and
intelligent breeding decisions, he’ll have something to be proud of. A breeder
has to have patience and stick with it. He must breed as many as he can, cull
them hard, keep accurate and detailed records, and spend as much time as
possible just observing the fowl. Over time, some cockers even develop a ‘gut
feel’ for mating individuals or crossing specific bloodlines. Regardless if
you become a legendary breeder or stay down to earth on the backyard level,
the point is to enjoy the process of creating extremely competitive,
awe-inspiring, and absolutely beautiful feathered warriors.
by John W. Purdy
The Gamecock - Basic Breeding Concepts and Considerations
View my other gamefowl blog on Gamefowl Poultry and Cockfighting