Genetics, schmenetics. Someone much smarter than me speaks.

As you cannot help but know, gentle reader, I am getting 15ish turkey poults from Porter’s Heritage Turkeys this coming May, and I am psyched. Yesterday’s post addressed my concerns that I might get into trouble breeding brother to sister, and put forth the possibility of breeding males of one batch of turks to hens of another. This would mean doubling my numbers, of course, and my efforts, as well. (And my feed costs, and my housing…)

This would have been fine had it not been for a niggling concern I could not quell: with the issues I had last year not getting expected poults due to bad hatches, what if I order hatching eggs and, you know…have a bad hatch?! D’oh!! The irony!!

So, I put on my big girl pants and wrote an email to the man himself, Kevin Porter. I told him of the concerns I had breeding brother to sister from the shipment I was expecting, and did he feel I should look to another line to add genetic diversity? It’s a tough question to ask a breeder, but I felt certain I’d get an honest, thoughtful answer. And I did.

As far as inbreeding, you shouldn’t be worried about that; after all, that is how our heritage turkey varieties were developed. Inbreeding is the fastest method in animal breeding to bring to light defects or unwanted characteristics so they may be culled (eliminated).

The key to success and avoiding the many problems alluded to in the typical animal breeding texts is simply to not tolerate the use of any breeding stock displaying questionable problems.  Most of the strains that we have today were developed by those old-time master breeders with inbreeding. That’s why they bred so true for them.

We do occasionally add new blood into lines by outcrossing, but we only do this if we feel we need to improve on a trait. As the old saying goes, don’t fix it if it isn’t broken. If you feel you need to outcross you can, but you could really mess up a line that way, especially if you don’t know the source all too well.

I myself would be much more comfortable breeding a closely-related line that has been selectively bred over years for certain traits so you know what you are going to get when you breed them.  About the only way you are going to have problems with inbreeding like I mentioned  is if you breed birds that show undesired traits, breed only the best together and that is what you can expect from the offspring.

If you ever feel you need to outcross at some point down the road, let me know as we may have a slightly less related group at that time.

Now, you’d think I’d taken up enough of the man’s time at this point, wouldn’t you? But, I wasn’t done with him just yet. I have ever been known to push my luck, when the stakes are high and I have the ear of an expert. I replied, asking how Kevin chooses which birds to breed and which to cull. What are the things he looks for? Colour? Size? What else?

His answer came very quickly, bless his heart:

The horror stories of breeding closely-related  birds you hear about were probably just willy nilly bred without selective breeding, would be my guess. I, personally, have seen that not to be true if you selectively breed for the traits you are after and cull out those you don’t want. I have strains here that I haven’t put any new blood into for at least 15 years, and they are still reproducing extremely well without any undesired results cropping up and fertility is still top rate.

But, when I first got into the regal reds quite a few years back I did have a very different experience with closely-related birds. (The regal reds being sold out there right now are very much closely related, originating from a single source). I ran into some leg problems in quite a few of the offspring I produced from the original birds I got. What I did was cull out anything that came out with bad legs and only bred from stock that didn’t produce it, now I no longer get regal reds coming out with leg issues.

But you can still get undesired traits popping out of unrelated breedings, especially if you just happen to double up on something.

As far as the selection of quality breeding stock, I select my breeders for the desired weights/confirmation, straight legs and toes and the correct feather color/pattern for the variety.

To increase size it is better to use a larger hen to do that (than a larger tom). The other way around could result in injury to smaller hens.  As far as color, you need to select that on both sexes, not just one. This can get very confusing especially for someone not understanding color genetics. You can join my turkey color genetics group to learn more.

And, so…I did. I’d be a fool not to. Thank you Kevin, for taking the time to hold my hand a bit, and I absolutely cannot wait to get your poults!

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