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THE WELSUMMER CLUB


SELECTIVE BREEDING FOR EGGS
by Geoffrey Johnson
Reproduced from the 1997 Yearbook


People choose to keep Welsummers for a variety of reasons. Some are attached to the beautiful plumage of the adult males and females and others to the unique brown eggs which are unsurpassed by any other breed of fowl. The ideal, of course, is the bird which combines the best of all the sought-after standard points. But very rarely does one find perfection in every detail. I recall an uncle of mine, who was a top breeder of Ayreshire cattle, saying that when he bred the perfect animal it would be shot and stuffed!).

Whatever your objective, be it birds for exhibition, or eggs for showing, it is necessary to give some thought to selecting your breeding stock and then to identifying the birds which produce the greatest number of eggs of the best colour and shape.

When small numbers of laying hens are kept, then it is perfectly possible for an observant poultryman to spot which birds lays which egg and to mark the eggs for hatching, so that emerging chicks can be tagged, or otherwise marked, and their parentage recorded. Fortunately, no two hens lay identical eggs and, after paying close attention for a week or two, and maybe isolating a bird which is found on the nest until it has laid when its egg can be seen, it will become possible with absolute certainty, to tell which hen has laid each egg.

Where more than about six breeding hens are kept, it may be necessary to install trap nests and provide each hen with a numbered or coloured ring. One is then in a position to record, whether on a daily or weekly basis, the production from each flock member, and to ascertain the exact number of eggs from every bird. It is then possible to remove the ones which either lay too few eggs, or eggs of inferior shape or shell quality. These are all inherited faults and should be avoided. It is interesting, if recording can be carried out systematically for several weeks, to see the pattern that emerges. The poorer layers will only lay every other day or so. The best producers have longer sequences of maybe three eggs and miss a day, then three and miss another day, giving a possible five or six eggs a week.

Each hen normally follows the same sequence, with the first egg being earlier in the day and slightly heavier than the last. This is much more obvious with commercial hybrids which lay over 300 eggs a year, as the sequences are very long, maybe twenty to thirty eggs, with only a day's break in between them. The first egg will be laid early in the day and the last egg late in the afternoon with the shell colour of pigmented eggs being noticeably paler as the sequence advances. It is worth remembering this when collecting Welsummer eggs for showing, as the colour can vary, making it impossible to get a matching six, or even three, without a great deal of patience. I had a hen which laid sequences of two and her first egg was a marvelous deep matt brown and the second always somewhat paler, and also mottled. This made it surprising that they were all produced by the same bird. Eggs almost always fade as the lay progresses, so that the deepest brown eggs are produced in winter and e arly spring, and the paler eggs follow in summer, until the moult starts.

Obviously, if one hopes to develop a dark egg strain, one should reject birds which lay light-coloured eggs early in the year, as they lack the gene for depth of shell colour. It is important to use cockerels hatched from the best eggs as the brown egg factor is easily lost. Unfortunately the deepest brown eggs are often laid by the poorest layers as the porphyrin pigment, which colours the shell, is being concentrated on a smaller surface area than the eggs coming from a heavy layer. One must decide one's priorities and decide whether to have birds laying larger numbers of paler brown eggs, or relatively poor layers giving super dark eggs. Only infrequently does a hen turn up which will churn out 180 eggs of an even dark colour that does not fade, and if you find that one, then cherish it!

It has been my experience that, usually, my best dark egg layers are not correctly marked for the show cage, but I am reluctant to part with them as I value egg colour more than correct feather markings. But that is just a personal preference, and other breeders will set great store on ensuring that their stock conforms to the requirements of the standard.

Other points to look for when trap nesting pullets, are egg shape and size, as well as texture. Birds which regularly lay eggs with ridges or abnormalities should be discarded, as well as ones which constantly lay small eggs after the first twenty or so, as this can become fixed in a strain. Poor shell quality is to be avoided at all costs and no cockerel should be used which is bred from a hen with this fault, however desirable he is in every other respect.

Hatching eggs, to give the best results, should be a good shape with sufficient width at the large end in proportion to the length. In other words, avoid long narrow eggs and round ones. The ones to use should have smooth strong shells, without ridges or pimples on them.

We have to remember the Welsummer, unlike the majority of other breeds, offers a dual challenge. It is admired for its eggs and appearance, where, in the majority of other exhibition breeds, the egg is solely a means of reproduction, and the birds rely on their physical attributes to make them popular.



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