Survival Plant and Animal Breeding
July 31, 2007
I want to grow the very best animal or plant I can, adapted to my own needs. With vegetables, an early large crop is usually the best eating, and what you will want to be preserving also. You want to have enough to fill your drying racks, dehydrator, or canning kettle FULL several times. My pressure and water bath canners are the common size, and take 7 quarts or 10 pints in each batch. An excellent canning guide came with my pressure canner from Lehman's Hardware, and there are great books available to guide you, but the USDA recommendations for canning times have been made safer, so use information that is from recent years.
You may also want varieties that bear over a long period of time, so you can simply pick and eat them fresh. You will really get to appreciate this after you have put up a lot of food. It is common to plant several different kinds of sweet corn at the same time that have maturity dates at least 10 days apart, so they won't cross pollinate.
You can also work with a single variety that can be planted every two weeks to stagger the harvest. Maybe just one variety that bears over a longer period of time. That makes three different breeding goals you might choose, just for corn. Some varieties will mature 3 or more good ears from a single stalk. You select the ears that were the best for your goal, and let them fully mature. At my hilltop farm, I have to avoid corn that blows over easily. With the wet Fall weather I have, I prefer to dry corn seed in a dehydrator, but keep the temperature low, probably less than 110 degrees. Leave it on the cob, which will draw moisture from the kernels, and it's easier to shell after it's dry. The average yield for sweet corn ranges from 1 to 3 good sale able ears, per foot of row. I have been able to approach 4 ears/foot with Golden Bantam and Country Gentleman after only a couple years of seed saving. Either of these can also be grown to full maturity, and ground into flour. But the much larger field corn varieties produce a lot more. My favorite dent field corn variety now is Krugs, but flint corn varieties make better flour, so you may want one of those. For Spring greens like lettuce and spinach, you want to collect seed from the last plants to bolt (go to seed).
If you have a laying flock, you can improve it the same way, by choosing the biggest eggs from the best layers. The next step up, is to put your best layers individual pens, so you can compare them. It's not really fair to compare birds of different ages. A chicken lays an egg every so many hours, around 23 to 32 when they are young. Once the hens are used to their new cages, count and weigh the eggs daily, and in a couple weeks, you will find your breeding stock. For roosters, I look for a protective one, who is not mean. If you have a group of young cockerels together, one will become the boss. He will often be to aggressive, it's the second and third ones after him I choose from. As soon as they start fighting, its time to cull them out. The rooster is half your flock, genetically, so by introducing one from a variety known for your breeding goal it goes much faster. It is much more efficient to hatch eggs in an incubator, and you certainly don't want all your hens to go broody at once, so the instinct to set on eggs has been bred out of most varieties.
Smaller versions of older breeds, called Bantams, are less likely to have this bred out, and the hatchery will identify others that may set. When the broody hen gets up to eat, you can replace her eggs with the ones you have saved. The smaller Bantam eggs are easy to spot and remove. Don't put more eggs under her than she is big enough to cover. They act as a surrogate mother, and are not genetically related at all. Breeds that lay white eggs are usually more efficient at converting feed to eggs, but they are not as hardy. Brown egg layers are sold as combination breeds, good for both meat and eggs. You can crossbreed them.
The old varieties like Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire's, and Wyandotte's, are excellent to work with, and I like a sex linked cross called Comet too. A sex linked cross produces chicks that are easier to tell if they are hens or roosters, which is a big money saver to a hatchery. A skilled person can tell by carefully examining each hatchling, but that costs more. I tell you this only because it helps explain the price differences you will see when you order. The newest commercial varieties need very high protein feed and antibiotics to survive, and are not suitable for a survival flock, or anything else in my opinion.
Although most people refrigerate eggs, they keep for a month or two in a cool room, with an EVEN temperature. They keep better unwashed, as long as they are clean. They should be cooled to storage temperature, and if needed, washed [then dried] with a mild soap that rinses easily, like is used for hand washing of dairy utensils, or a special egg wash from a farm supply catalog or store. An insulated picnic ice chest is a good place. Move it to the root cellar in hot weather. Eggs saved for hatching under a broody hen, or in an incubator, should not be refrigerated. An occasional egg will spoil early, so when you are cooking, break into a separate cup, to check them. If this bothers you, or you are selling them, you can candle the eggs to inspect them before eating. While commercial hatcheries offer stock from recognized breeds, you can cross them, and make your own better one.