One of the biggest challenges that comes up when using selective breeding techniques while raising chickens is trying to keep track of which chicks came from which breeding pens.
It always sounds easy – just put some kind of unique mark or tag on each animal and record the details. But in reality, keeping a unique mark on tiny little chicks is extremely difficult. Usually everything that could go wrong – bands falling off, bands getting too tight, bands that are unreadable for their ID feature, bands that restrict the leg, etc – seems to happen all the time.
I keep a lot of small groups of birds on the farm, and I keep several generations of breeding lines. It is a lot to track over a long time. I usually try to keep the marking system as simple as possible up until the birds are mature (making them much easier to mark) or I have chosen the individuals that I plan to add to my long term breeding flock.
I have tried a LOT of different tagging options over the years. Most fail for one reason and another. However, my favorite brand of marking products comes from Chicken Hill. These products continue to impress me with how functional and durable they area.
I particularly love their Chick Leg Bands, which appear to have sold out for now in 2020 (a good reminder to buy them early so they are on hand!). These little tiny colorful elastics slide easily over delicate chick feet and rest on the legs. I have them to be very durable. I order mostly the small and medium sized bands, small for just out of the incubator and medium for a few weeks later. You can use the Search link below to check and see if the chick leg bands have been restocked on Amazon.com.Search for Poultry Leg Bands
By the time the chicks out-grow the medium elastic leg band they are usually big enough to allow for a simple spiral band if I still need to keep track of particular birds. I use sizes 9, 10 and 11 in different colors to help track which chicks come from which hatch or from which rooster. At this stage, the spiral is pretty easy to get on. Although I have purchased smaller spiral bands, I have found them too stiff to easily put on a delicate chick leg and as a result those smaller sizes just collect dust. But bands in the 9 to 11 size range work pretty well. They can sometimes twist and dig into a chicken’s leg, so it pays to get into the habit of checking them frequently.
Once I have identified the very best of the group of birds I am working with, I replace any existing leg bands with the Chicken Hill Chicken Charms. I was skeptical at first, but once I tried the charms I just loved them for how easy it to pick out my favorite bird in the flock. I also tend to shift the rest of my mature birds over to Chicken Hill ZBands as well since the birds have stopped growing and so there is less concern that the zip will get too tight. Just make sure to clip the extra length off so it doesn’t accidentally snag on something and tighten more.
If you are using leg bands of any kind to identify your birds, always make sure to check them on a regular basis to make sure the band has not grown too tight and not inflicting any kind of pain or restriction to your chicken’s leg.
One of the marking strategies I use that has worked well for me is to choose one color for each rooster’s offspring for a season. For example, I will mark chicks from Rooster A with Blue and those of Rooster B with Red. Since I have records of which hens were with each rooster, this keeps the marking very simple. Only after I am down to picking out my favorite birds do I worry about numbers, charms or unique colors.