How to Breed Chickens

By Chicken Pets on
How to Breed Chickens

Welcome to the exciting world of chicken breeding! In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of mating, egg incubation, and raising healthy chicks for your backyard flock.

How to Breed Chickens

To breed chickens successfully, start by selecting healthy birds with the desired traits, ensure a balanced male to female ratio, and provide a comfortable environment. Once eggs are laid, collect them and incubate at the correct temperature and humidity levels, then care for the chicks as they hatch and grow.

Choosing the Right Chickens for Breeding

Before you begin breeding, you should decide which characteristics are important to you. Look for healthy, strong, and friendly birds that show the traits you desire, such as egg production, meat quality, or specific feather patterns. When selecting your breeding stock, consider their:

  • Age
  • Size
  • Weight
  • Temperament
  • Egg-laying capabilities

Creating the Ideal Mating Environment

Chickens need a comfortable and low-stress environment, which encourages breeding. Ensure that your chickens have:

  • Adequate space
  • Clean and comfortable nesting boxes
  • Perches for roosting
  • Access to high-quality food and water

Determining the Proper Male to Female Ratio

Having the right male to female ratio is crucial for ensuring optimal breeding results. A general rule of thumb is:

  • One rooster for every 10 to 15 hens

This ratio helps prevent aggressive behavior and ensures that each hen has the chance to mate without being overworked by the rooster.

Understanding Chicken Mating Behavior

Before breeding, it’s essential to get familiar with the chicken mating process. This usually includes courtship, wherein the rooster dances around the hen and makes specific sounds. If the hen is receptive, she will crouch down, allowing the rooster to mate with her. After mating, the hen will lay fertilized eggs, which can be incubated and hatched.

Collecting and Storing Fertilized Eggs

For successful breeding, you need to collect, store, and handle the fertilized eggs properly. When gathering eggs for incubation:

  • Collect eggs 2-3 times a day
  • Check for any cracks, dirt, or damage
  • Set aside only clean and smooth-shelled eggs for incubation
  • Store them at 55°F – 60°F with 70-80% humidity in a cool, dark place
  • Place them pointed side down
  • Do not store for more than ten days before incubating

The Incubation Process

Setting Up the Incubator

Incubators come in various styles, but there are key elements to consider. Ensure your incubator has:

  • A built-in thermometer and hygrometer for monitoring temperature and humidity
  • An egg-turning mechanism
  • Adequate ventilation

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and set the temperature at 99.5°F and humidity between 40-50% for the first 18 days of incubation.

Turning the Eggs

Eggs need to be turned regularly during incubation to prevent the embryo from sticking to the shell. This can be done:

  • Manually, 3-5 times per day
  • By using an automatic egg-turner

Mark a small “X” and “O” on opposite sides of the egg to keep track when turning manually. Remember to stop turning eggs on day 18 because this is the beginning of the chicks’ hatching process.

Monitoring Temperature and Humidity

The temperature and humidity levels in the incubator are critical factors impacting the hatching success. Check them at least twice per day and adjust if necessary.

  • For forced-air incubators (with a fan): maintain a temperature of 99.5°F
  • For still-air incubators (no fan): maintain a temperature of 101.5°F at the top of the eggs
  • Maintain humidity levels between 40-50% for the first 18 days and increase to 65% after day 18

Candling the Eggs

“Candling” involves shining a light through the eggshell to monitor the embryo’s development. This is performed around day 7 and day 14 of incubation to check:

  • Egg fertility
  • Embryo development
  • Potential issues

Remove any clear (infertile) eggs or those with signs of unsuccessful development to avoid contamination and maintain a healthy hatch.

The Hatching Process

At around day 21, the chicks will begin the hatching process. During this time:

  • Listen for peeping sounds within the eggs
  • Keep an eye out for pipping (small cracks in the shell where the chick is starting to break out)
  • Avoid opening the incubator to maintain a stable temperature and humidity
  • Remain patient, as the time it takes to hatch can vary, sometimes lasting up to 48 hours

Post-Hatching Care

Moving Chicks from the Incubator

Once the chicks have hatched and are dry and fluffy:

  • Carefully move them to a brooder
  • Ensure that the brooder has a heat source, like a heat lamp or heating pad, set at 95°F for the first week
  • Gradually reduce the temperature by 5°F every week until chicks are fully feathered

Feeding and Watering the Chicks

Healthy nutrition and hydration are necessary for the chicks’ growth and development. Provide them with:

  • A balanced chick starter feed, containing 18-20% protein
  • Fresh, clean water in a shallow dish or specifically designed chick drinker
  • Finely crushed eggshells or commercial grit to help with digestion

Monitoring Chick Health

Keep an eye on your chicks to ensure they are healthy and thriving. Watch for:

  • Signs of illness or disease
  • Potential injuries
  • Proper weight gain

By following this comprehensive guide and valuing each step’s importance, you’ll soon be a backyard chicken breeding expert, raising a flock of happy, healthy chickens.

Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock

When expanding your flock, integrating new chickens can be challenging. To ensure a smooth transition, follow these steps:

  • Quarantine new birds for at least 2 weeks to prevent the spread of disease or pests
  • Introduce the birds gradually by keeping them separate but visible to each other, through a fence or mesh, for a week
  • Allow supervised mingling during free outdoor time to promote natural interactions
  • Provide ample space, food, and water to reduce competition and aggression
  • Monitor the flock for signs of bullying, illness, or stress and intervene if necessary

Understanding Chicken Genetics

As a breeder, having a basic understanding of chicken genetics can help you make informed decisions about mating pairs and desired traits. Certain characteristics can be affected by the dominant or recessive genes inherited from both parents. By researching different breeds’ genetic traits and the principles of Mendelian inheritance, you can make informed decisions when selecting your breeding stock and predicting the offspring’s traits.

Preventing and Managing Inbreeding

Inbreeding, or having closely related chickens mate, can negatively impact the health, vigor, and quality of your flock. To prevent inbreeding:

  • Keep detailed records of your chickens, noting parentage and lineage
  • Separate related birds or rotate them with others of similar breeds
  • Introduce new and unrelated birds to your flock to diversify the gene pool
  • If inbreeding occurs, observe the resulting offspring carefully for signs of weakness or health issues, and avoid breeding from them in the future

Protecting Your Flock from Predators

Backyard chickens are prone to predator attacks, and hence, it is crucial to provide security and safety for your flock. Consider these tips:

  • Install secure and predator-proof fencing around the coop and run area – use hardware cloth instead of chicken wire
  • Lock your birds in the coop every night and close windows and doors securely
  • Add a coop apron, consisting of a buried strip of hardware cloth, around your chicken run to deter digging predators
  • Consider installing a motion-activated light around the coop as a deterrent
  • If predators remain an issue, think about employing guardian animals – dogs, geese, or guinea fowl, for added protection

Legal Requirements and Regulations

Before you start breeding chickens, it’s essential to stay informed about the zoning laws, local ordinances, and any regulations that may apply to your backyard poultry. These regulations may have restrictions on:

  • The number of chickens allowed
  • Roosters
  • Size and placement of coops and runs
  • Waste management

Contact your local government office or inquire at your county’s agricultural extension office for complete information and follow the regulations to avoid penalties and maintain good relations with your neighbors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here, we’ve gathered 13 common questions and their answers related to chicken breeding, covering a range of topics that backyard chicken breeders might find helpful. These questions touch on the key aspects—from breeding environment to end-of-year roundup— to offer you a quick reference when needed.

1. How old should chickens be before they start breeding?

Chickens should be at least 5-6 months old before beginning to breed, as this is typically when they reach sexual maturity. However, this can vary depending on the breed, with some taking a little longer to mature.

2. How can I tell if my eggs are fertilized?

You can detect fertilized eggs by “candling,” a process involving shining a light through the shell around day 7 and day 14. You should see spider-like veins and an embryo if the egg is fertilized. Infertile eggs will appear clear or show no signs of development.

3. Can I mix different breeds of chickens for breeding purposes?

Yes, you can mix different breeds of chickens for breeding. This creates crossbred offspring, which may inherit various traits from both parent breeds. However, it’s essential to research and understand genetics and desired traits before creating hybrid chickens.

4. How long does it take for a fertilized egg to hatch?

Most fertilized chicken eggs will hatch in approximately 21 days. However, this may vary depending on factors such as the incubator’s temperature and humidity, as well as the specific breed of chicken.

5. Can hens become aggressive during the breeding season?

Hens can sometimes become aggressive or assertive during breeding season. Establishing a pecking order is normal behavior in chickens, and it can sometimes be more evident during the breeding season. If aggression becomes a problem, consider separating the chickens or providing additional space and hiding areas.

6. How long does it take for a chick to become fully feathered?

Chicks generally become fully feathered around 5-7 weeks of age. Until they are fully feathered, chicks are susceptible to cold temperatures and require supplemental heat in their brooder.

7. How often should I clean the chicken coop?

Chicken coops should be cleaned at least once a week to maintain a healthy environment for your flock. However, this frequency may vary depending on the size of your flock and the coop’s design. Spot cleaning and removing soiled bedding daily can help keep the coop cleaner between deep cleanings.

8. Can my backyard chicken flock have too many roosters?

Having too many roosters in your backyard chicken flock can lead to problems such as excessive crowing, competition, and aggression. Generally, aim for a ratio of one rooster for every 10 to 15 hens to maintain a balanced and peaceful flock.

9. How can I increase the chances of successful hatching?

To increase the chances of successful hatching, make sure you provide optimal conditions during incubation, including the proper temperature, humidity, and turning frequency. Additionally, select only clean, undamaged, and well-shaped eggs for incubation, and monitor their development through candling at appropriate intervals.

10. When can chicks be moved from the brooder to the chicken coop?

Chicks can be moved from the brooder to the chicken coop once they are fully feathered and able to handle the outdoor temperature, typically around 6-8 weeks of age. Ensure that they have easy access to food, water, and adequate shelter in the coop.

11. Is it okay to keep the mother hen with her chicks?

Yes, it’s okay to keep a mother hen with her chicks as she will provide warmth, protection, and teach them essential behaviors like foraging. However, it’s important to monitor the mother and chicks to ensure they’re getting along and that the chicks can access food and water.

12. Are there any vaccinations I should give my chicks?

There are several vaccinations available for chicks to protect them from common diseases such as Marek’s disease, infectious bronchitis, and coccidiosis. Consult with a veterinarian experienced in poultry care to determine the appropriate vaccinations for your flock and the recommended schedule.

13. How should I prepare my chickens for winter?

Preparing your chickens for winter involves making sure their coop is well-insulated, dry, and draft-free but well-ventilated. Provide fresh water daily, ensuring it doesn’t freeze, and increase their feed quantity, as chickens require more calories to maintain body heat during cold months. Additionally, keep an eye on your flock during this time, checking for frostbite or other cold-weather-related issues.

Like what you see? Share with a friend.


Popular posts from the hen house.

Egg-cellent job on making it to the footer, welcome to the egg-clusive chicken club! At, we are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and other affiliate programs. This means that, at no cost to you, we may earn commissions by linking to products on and other sites. We appreciate your support, as it helps us to continue providing valuable content and resources to our readers.