A large part of farming is raising your own chickens for eggs and/or meat. In a lot of cases, farmers may purchase eggs or day old chicks to raise, but beyond that many take interest in raising their own chickens. A necessity to the egg raising process is a virile rooster, of course, and he needs to be fertile in order for eggs laid to be able to hatch, but how do you know if your rooster is not only ready and willing but also able to hit the mark?
One of the main reasons it is vital to have a fertile rooster is for the successful hatching of chicks. If you intend to raise future generations of egg layers or meat birds without purchasing those individuals, both your hens and rooster will need to mate successfully. It is unfortunate to have a hen lay eggs and then waste the 21 day incubation period sitting on those that will not hatch. This wastes precious egg laying time not only during those 21 days but also during the time it takes a broody hen to start laying again afterwards, which can vary amongst birds.
Squad Rotation!
Just like any good premiership manager rotates and rests his top scorer don’t let your randy rooster over do it. The ratio of hens to rooster needs to be realistic, which is typically about 10-12 hens per rooster. Try though he might to mate with all hens present, there may simply be too many for him to mate with each hen in turn, or he may play favorites, mating mostly with those he prefers.
Early Retirement
It is also possible that a rooster could be faced with infertility due to age. It may appear that he is doing his part to ensure egg fertilization when in fact he is just going through the motions which results in egg waste. It will then be necessary to retire that rooster should you wish to continue raising chicks.
A quick and easy way to check the ability of your rooster to continually fertilize his hens is through candling. This method has been practiced for many years through the use of specialized lights (sold at farm and garden stores) held up to the egg. The goal is to locate the embryo to confirm a life is growing inside. In some cases, instead of being able to the see the actual embryo, the egg will instead appear opaque, which is another sign of a successful mating. This may be the origin of the saying ‘can’t hold a candle to him’.As you candle eggs over the course of a few days, it will be possible to observe a growing embryo and shrinking air sack, although soonest visible are blood vessels. If the egg is not fertilized, the yolk will appear to float free and have a more uniform coloration.

After mating, fertilized eggs will be laid as soon as two days and hens can go on to lay fertilized eggs for up to three weeks from that very same mating. In the event that you wish to pair a certain rooster and hen, it will be necessary to keep that hen free of rooster exposure for three weeks in order for her to lay eggs from the future pairing you desire. Then, once that mating is complete, arm yourself with the proper light and candle resulting eggs for confirmation of a successful mating. Though candling can be a tough skill to master, once you have some experience under your belt, it is sure to save disappointment down the road as well as egg waste at the same time.

Don’t Get Bogged Down

Keep your chicken run in good order which will help chickens and roosters. Keep your chick run well drained especially in winter. Boggy areas or puddles should be avoided. Chickens love drinking from puddles which might might be contaminated by droppings.
Add sand or grit to prevent standing water and if it’s a big area dig it over. Hard wood chippings work as ground litter in wet conditions. Don’t use ‘bark chippings’ these may encourage fungi.

Windbreaks – Create a sheltered area

Shelter from the elements, other than your coop is essential. A piece of corrugated roofing leant against a fence or wall facing towards the prevailing wind or take a couple of legs off an old table will create a freestanding shelter. This has the added benefit of reducing the amount of muck been brought back into the coop.

Moving your Coop
If you are lucky enough to have the space. Move your coop to a drier area in winter.
Poultry Vitamins
Multivitamins for poultry come in many different types, from the pleasant smelling “Poultry Spice” powder which can be mixed in with the feed (use cod liver oil to get the powder to stick to the food if you use a dry feed), to the rather smelly “seaweed tonics” that can be added to the drinking water. Poultry keepers have different preferences, however most are agreed that these natural vitamins and minerals definitely give the birds a boost both during the moult and throughout the winter.

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