The 7 Target Breeds – An Ambitious Breeding Project?
Following the success of the Andalusian Breeding Project (the pilot breed) 6 breeds joined them in the quest for survival and revival of their former glory. The 7 breeds: Andalusian, Campines, Marsh Daisy, Spanish, Norfolk Grey, Old English Pheasant Fowl and North Holland Blue are embarking on a 3 year plus ambitious breeding project. The Marsh Daisy and the Spanish are leading the way with unprecedented cooperation and support between the breeders to bring enthusiasm and new members with little previous experience of the breeds to help.
Step 1 – Breed census and Breeds at Risk Register
A breed census has been conducted using social media as a platform to establish the location of lost birds, establish the number of breeding females and find new breeders keen to be involved. That census supported the recent decision to include, at least the “native” (as defined by DEFRA) breeds on the Breeds at Risk List namely: Marsh Daisy, OEPF, North Holland Blue and Norfolk Grey. Further lobbying is required to secure the inclusion of the remaining target breeds on the register.
Step 2 – Breeding Groups set up
Line breeding is the mainstay of the poultry world. It works to select for the best qualities and can be practised for many generations without the need to outcross. However, if numbers of breeding females drop inbreeding can cause low vigour, a drop in egg production and size and loss of important but rarer traits. The Marsh Daisy Breeders group is looking at a clan breeding proposal using co-operation between breeders to move cockerels between pens of hens (each a separate clan), on different sites. Cockerels could move sites in a season maximising the genetic diversity of the breeding population as a whole.
The Andalusians Breeders Group selected a few keen breeders to take part in their pilot breeding program each maintaining 3 or 4 breeding pens over the 3-year period. The Marsh Daisy Breeders Group plan to involve everyone even if they can only maintain one pen so increasing the use of the cockerels and using all of the genetic material at its disposal.
Step 3 – Marking
Critical to the success of the program is the marking of individual chicks to enable identification. Leg rings are of some use but there is difficulty in identification of chicks from hatch to 9 weeks (the earliest that leg rings can be applied) – many ways have been tried but the most consistent method is the wing tag. The target breeds have identified a supplier to offer wing tags which will be tried as a realistic alternative to leg rings in the next breeding season.
Step 4 - Culling and evaluation
It will be an important and critical part of the program to cull rigorously and select year 2 and year 3 breeding stock and replacements with care and cooperation. Zoom meetings, What’s App groups and (Covid permitting) site visits by experienced breeders will all be part of the decision making process to support the more inexperienced breeders and increase cooperation and team work.
Step 5 - Flock registration and pedigree status
Never yet achieved and admittedly an innovative approach with poultry that to date has relied entirely on phenotype as a means of establishing ‘breed status’. Using the Cloudlines purpose built poultry records system all breeding stock will be registered at the end of November following the main cull. After 3 years demonstrating the production of progeny meeting breed standard, birds will be eligible for pedigree status and breeders recognised as owning pedigree birds.
A logistical nightmare? An ambitious project?
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Breed Registrar - Marsh Daisy