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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