Line Breeding

Line Breeding Chart

by Dr Charles R H Everett & Craig Russell

My personal research in breeding has led me to begin gathering and collecting articles and books by cockfighters (cockers) of long ago; these men of the past preserved several different breeds of chickens for hundreds possibly even thousands of years. During that time they maintained type and vigor to an unparallel degree. It is my belief that their methods of breeding should be examined in detail to be utilized by the modern preservationist. Let me add, however, that this article is not an endorsement or defense of cockfighting; neither will I belie them in any manner. Instead, it is a heartfelt acknowledgement to men who perfected the art of breeding chickens. Further, I believe the modern preservationist can learn much more from the breeding techniques of cockers than he/she can from textbooks on commercial poultry breeding. (Note* It should go without saying that at all times you must select for vigor and type regardless of the breeding system utilized. Cocker Tan Bark states, “Good breeding is only a matter of intelligent selection of brood fowl…” (Tan Bark, Game Chickens and How to Breed Them, 1964, p. 27). What the ole time cockers strove for was prepotency. They desired to be able to predict with reasonable accuracy the outcome of any particular mating. For this reason, no cocker worth his salt would have consistently used the out-and-out system. Granted, at times they did cross, but very carefully. Their records consistently indicate that when they did cross they did so using the same strain of fowl they were hoping to improve. Of course, they were looking for gameness, but using their methods a breeder can breed for type, fertility, egg production, etc. The first system I would introduce was utilized by William Morgan, of Morgan Whitehackle fame, and some of the English cockers. It is a form of breeding known as “3 times in and once out.” This system was used to produce, in cockers’ terms, a “pure strain.” The following chart will explain how the system works. First Generation Hen Cock ½ hen ½ cock

Second Generation Hen to son Cock to daughter ¾ hen ¾ cock

Third Generation Hen to grandson Cock to granddaughter 7/8 hen 7/8 cock

Fourth Generation Hen to grandson Cock to granddaughter 15/16 hen 15/16 cock

Now in the 5th generation you breed the 15/16 hen to the 15/16 cock. Then, choosing the best hen(s) and cock(s) you begin again (Narragansett, The Gamecock, 1985, pp. 44-45). C. A. Finsterbusch recommends the same breeding strategy in his famous book Cockfighting All Over the Word page 152—153. If they chose to continue line breeding these fowl were what they termed “seed stock.” Seed stock was never pitted. Instead, they were crossed to a different strain to produce their “battle cocks.” Battle cocks were never used in breeding pens if this system were employed. Or, at this point you choose the three to five best hens and begin the clan mating system. Alva Campbell who created the “Campbell Blue Boones” during the early years of the twentieth century line bred his outstanding pullets to one cock, “Daniel Boone,” for eleven straight years (Histories of Game Strains, Grit and Steel, no date given, p.26). D. H. Pierce claimed his “Wisconsin Red Shufflers” were line bred for 35 years with no loss of vigor or gameness. (Histories of Game Strains, Grit and Steel, no date given, p. 20). How did these men accomplish this when so many modern textbooks on poultry genetics maintain this is impossible to do? I have discovered several key answers. First, “an inbreeder must breed only from his most vigorous… specimens” (Tan Bark, Game Chickens, 1964, p. 28). Second, they culled ruthlessly. Third, in any form of line breeding the youthfulness of the stock used cannot be overstated. Fourth, they often carried on the same mating (One cock to one hen) for four or five years. Thus, in twenty years it was possible to have only produced four or five distinct generations. When cockers happened upon a cock and hen that produced winners in the pit, then they mated these two year after year. Fifth, they kept accurate records of every mating and often practiced single matings. Sixth, they only attempted close inbreeding on free range giving the birds every advantage of producing constitutional soundness and vitality (Tan Bark, Game Chickens, 1964, p. 28). These six keys allowed the cockers to be greatly successful at the art of breeding game fowl centuries before the advent of modern genetics. Many cockers practiced variations of the rolling-matings and clan-matings systems. When practicing the rolling-matings they would often include side matings of line breeding. When using the clan system the large breeders often kept five to seven clans. (They called them “yards.”) With the clan matings they most often used the matriarchal system as advocated by Dick Demansky. At times they would create “new” clans or yards of full sisters when a particular hen within the clan produced exceptional sons. Thus, this one hen became prepotent in the new yard through her daughters. Like those of traditional farmers, for whom poultry was an important part of the subsistence, the methods of cockers have often been disparaged by modern experts. But for serious preservationists and small flock owners in general their tried and true methods are among the surest ways to turn simple reproduction into serious breeding and systematic flock improvement. One of the truly wonderful things about raising chickens is that you the breeder can choose your own system of breeding to create your “own strain.” Yes, you can even experiment! Regardless of how you personally feel about the sport of cockfighting, these men of a by gone era have much to teach us. So, why not learn from the original preservationist: cockers?


10 Responses to “Line Breeding”

  1. 1 marie white
    March 16, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    This system has also been recommended by canary breeders. I think Roller canary breeders use it.

  2. 2 vidal chavez
    October 6, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    thanks so much for this article! I have kept fowl since I was a kid and have heard people talk about all the different breeding techniques. But no one ever put them to paper. (at least not where i was able to find it it) Ill begin employing this info this up coming spring. And yes, hats off to the cockers of olden days….. where would our modern strains be without the initial influences and hardiness bestowed on them by the game fowl?

  3. 3 mildrick balaba
    December 17, 2009 at 3:14 am

    thanks for the tips, im very curious of line breeding,, coz i have a broodcock and broodhen from america,,, and im looking for the methods that fit for my line breeding.im about to combine the pinoy style(philippines)and the american style.tnx a lot you guys help me a lot,,,, more power

  4. 4 john pacaldo
    January 4, 2010 at 12:05 am

    thanks for sharing of knowledge i can’t wait to apply this method on my beloved gamefowl.. sir, we been raising for more than a decade. we keep this unknown bloodline until now without crossing to other bloodline because of being a strong line, however as the years progress we noticed their size,power and gameness start to deteriorate. what is the cause for this? the first generation until couple of generation which i cant accounted are very awesome it looks like all the characterestic of a rooster is present, what shall i do to get them the way they are in the first generation. please help me.. thanks and more power!

  5. 5 l0rdsservant
    February 1, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you so much for posting this. Our family is just beginning its journey into heritage breeding. Up until now, I had been unable to find any documentation describing the process so well.

    I look forward to keeping up with the blog (now that I have discovered it) as a valuable reference tool!

    Kirsten Zoellner

  6. 6 Bev Joiner
    February 20, 2010 at 5:26 am

    My father and grandfather, who bred poultry from 1870 onwards always used the Line Breeding method and we have English books dating back to 1840 where this method was used. It is still the right way to breed poultry, as in seven years you should be back to the same bloodlines you originally started with.
    A must for all serious poultry breeders.

  7. 7 mannix palloms
    April 14, 2010 at 3:25 am

    thanks for this great knowledge… as for me a small time starting breeder, this will be a great tool in my breeding career. this will definitely help a lot…

  8. 8 Tyson Campbell
    January 22, 2012 at 2:21 am

    i have just ordered a breeding pair of Rhode Island Reds in Queensland Australia, I am very Intrigued and interested in using the above line breeding chart in my own breeding system. The one thing im not clear on is after you get to the 5th generation and you have 16 breeding pairs and 32 individual birds, the two best birds that you choose to start again, are they;
    – the best breeding pair in the diagram or
    – the best individual cock and the best individual hen irespective of where he or she is on the diagram

    hopefully this makes thanks any information would be muchly Appreciated

    • 9 Howard Crawford
      August 21, 2012 at 2:36 am

      The line breeding is more than just lines on a chart, you have to have sound stock in each generation for it to be successful and it is not necessary to keep each generation, as once they are mated back to the original, you may choose to disguard them, if you want. I would suggest you also read Finsterbusch and his comments on fecundation (which in simplistic terms describes allele effects) and look up Alleles on the Internet, which should give you an idea why certain line breeding programmes are successful and other fail. In short look at Aa to aa allele combinations and what percentage of dominant (A) are required in a flock to keep it ‘healthy’.
      Good luck with your breeding and use the internet to look up some of the basic breeding terms such as fecundation, allele, homozygous and heterozygous.

  9. 10 Eddie Isles
    August 23, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    My system in breeding is group breeding of same family and test all offspring male performance. Then I select the best performer and mate them with3 hen. If the offspring is better than the cock, I breed them agaw on the hen side. If I am satisfied with the style, it is time to lock by line breeding. I have only two families as my seed stock in the farm. They are very uniform in color, legs, color of feather and comb. I breed them for breeding purposes and planning to sell trio in the future when my 1st is in full opetation

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