Rachael Hurd Anger
One reader asked if he could breed his rooster with the rooster’s offspring, and the short answer is yes, but only in the short term. In livestock husbandry, what we’d usually call inbreeding is termed linebreeding. This method is how breeders dilute a variety of possible characteristics to produce the very best-looking and -performing breeds and even to create new breeds over time.
However, short answers aren’t always the most revealing. Here’s my long answer, which should help answer a few more of your questions.
Pros Of Linebreeding
Linebreeding is a genetics game, but it’s what’s given us our favorite breeds: the Australorp for her prolific egg laying; the Orpington for her friendliness; the Barred Rock for her meat production and reliable laying. Beauty, foraging, meat flavor, and tolerance for confinement, heat and cold are other characteristics that have been linebred into the breeds chicken keepers love.
Linebreeding will also help save many of our endangered breeds that were originally created with linebreeding. These are breeds that have since fallen from popularity.
When it comes to breeding your own chickens, linebreeding with your very best stock will preserve their most desirable traits. A friendly and protective rooster is likely to produce more friendly and protective roosters. A good forager and reliable egg layer can produce more of the same.
Cons Of Linebreeding
For linebreeding to ensure that offspring will exhibit certain desirable characteristics, it requires that the genetics lack variety, aka possibilities. While guaranteeing a certain type of comb, feather color or personality trait, linebreeding will reduce the offspring’s ability to fight disease by copying resistance of the parents, as disease-causing microorganisms evolve in the environment around them.
One disease that can devastate a flock is avian influenza, or bird flu. When flu hits a flock with genetics that are similar year after year, genetics that have not evolved along with the evolution of disease, a flock can be decimated. We’ve seen this with flu and warehouses of egg layers. These birds have been bred for confinement and prolific egg laying only, and they’re fed antibiotics because they have little to no defenses of their own. One whiff of bird flu—a virus, so antibiotics are ineffective—and the whole building’s egg layers are destroyed.
When flu hits a backyard flock with diverse genetics and healthier living conditions, they’re more likely to survive. Some birds might still be weaker than others and die of the illness, but this flock has a better chance of leaving some survivors. Surviving the illness strengthens the potential for disease-fighting ability of the flock and of the survivors’ offspring. This is evolution!
Introduce New Stock
When practicing linebreeding, it’s necessary to introduce new, unrelated breeding stock every so often to increase the flock’s genetic diversity. New blood in the line will strengthen the flock.
Dig A Deeper Gene Pool
The most genetically diverse flock is either mixed with different breeds (although each breed’s parents could have been related), or the flock consists of chickens so mixed between breeds that it has no recognizable breeds at all.
Breeding two chickens with the most desirable traits but with the least genetic similarity will create offspring with the strongest potential for survival. While you can breed your chickens with their offspring in the short term, diversity is a must in the long term.