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THE WELSUMMER CLUB


BREEDING FOR EGG PRODUCTION
IN LARGE WELSUMMERS
by Edward Lobb
Reproduced from the 2001Yearbook


As I keep only a small flock of Welsummers, about 20 adult birds in the breeding season, I have found it possible to record every egg laid by every bird over the last fifteen years or so. I do not use trap nests; I find that individual Welsummers lay such distinctive eggs that, once a new pullet has laid her first few eggs, her eggs can quite easily be recognised by their size, shape and colour. I hope that other members of the Club may find the statistics that I have gathered interesting.

Over the years, my first-year pullets have averaged 110 - 115 eggs each, Second-year hens average 75 - 80 eggs and third-year birds about 65 eggs.

But these averages, which I think are disappointingly low, conceal great differences between individuals. I have had several birds which have exceeded 150 eggs in the first year and the highest has laid 168. On the other hand, I have had pullets which have laid as few as 55 eggs in their first year. My best yield for a second-year hen to date has been 123 eggs, and I have sometimes had more than 90 from three year olds.

One has to bear in mind that the biggest and darkest eggs, generally are laid by the poorer layers. There are exceptions to this: I remember that a few years ago Geoffrey Johnson had a pullet that laid over 180 eggs in her first year and retained excellent dark egg colour right through the season. But if, like me, you tend to set the largest and darkest eggs, you will probably find that your production will not be breaking any records! However, I don't like the idea that Welsummers should lose their utility attributes (so highly emphasised in the Welsummer standard) so I always try to include some eggs from better producers, even if their colour and size may be slightly inferior.

In my keenness to improve productivity in my Welsummers, I have been experimenting with an outcross to a commercial hybrid strain. I hatched five pullets, Welsummer x Commercial, in 1993. These birds laid very well and I still have the best two of them, now aged eight. Of these two birds, one has laid about 900 eggs, averaging more than 3ozs (85g) in weight. The other has now laid 1100 eggs, averaging 2¾oz (78g). This bird laid 100 eggs in her seventh season!

Starting with these first-cross birds, I have bred them back to pure Welsummers for several generations so that I now have a few birds that are 1/16th, 1/32nd, or even 1/64th hybrid. As you would expect, the productivity of these outcrosscd females has been better than that of the pure Welsummers. The best has been a bird hatched in 1997 which is 1/16th commercial. She has laid 219 eggs in her first year, 147 in her second and 122 in her third.

You have to be careful, of course, with outcrossing in this manner because it would be easy to lose track of the foreign blood and just allow it to run indiscriminately through your strain. As I sell quite a few hatching eggs I always make sure that I know which birds are pure bred and which are not so that egg purchasers are not puzzled by the appearance of odd-coloured birds.

On a slightly different subject, for the past twelve months and more I have been feeding my Welsummers with a breeder's pellet rather than an ordinary layer's pellet. I also feed a little cracked maize every day to keep up leg colour and the colour of yolks. There is no doubt that the breeder's pellet has significantly improved fertility and hatchabilitv. For example, I was telephoned yesterday by a Welsh farmer to whom I sent two dozen Welsummer eggs by Amtrak. He was delighted to tell me that every egg had been fertile and that he has hatched 19 strong chicks. My own hatching results have been similar this year, and very much better than I ever achieved with a layer's pellet.



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