SELECT BIRDS YOU FANCY:
Almost invariably the first thing beginners ask is advice on what breeds to keep. To them all there can be only one reply--visit shows and make your own choice. You will also be well advised, when inspecting the various exhibits, to ask well-known judges, breeders or showmen the advantages and difficulties of any variety that pleases your eye. There is almost unlimited choice--and great charm in them all. The most exciting, of course, are the difficult ornamental breeds, which you would do well to avoid until you have gained experience. Nevertheless, the beginner is likely eventually to do best with the variety he most admires, so long as he sticks to it and is not easily disheartened by early set-backs. All the more fancy breeds, however, are not difficult. Some of the old breeds, possibly crested and feather-legged, such as Silkies, Pekins and Belgians breed very true if you start with good stock; but don't choose varieties that require very heavy show preparation. Above all, don't follow the usual beginner's practice of keeping too many kinds. One breed will do to start with. Don't add a second for a year or so, when you will have gained experience with the first. This advice will almost certainly fall on deaf ears, but it is the best in the world.
Your choice of breeds must depend entirely upon your own personal outlook. If you are chiefly interested in showing, you will select from genuine fancy breeds which are mostly very small, highly inbred, and of ancient lineage. If your main desire is for a useful hobby that will provide the household with eggs, you will choose a more modern variety, larger, more vigorous and bred for production; and if you merely want pets to run about the lawn your choice is almost unlimited, from that dashing cavalier the Old English Game Cock through all types of soft-feathered, motherly but tiny breeds, all with their own claims to charm.
If you buy breeding stock, get them in Autumn. They will cost you less than if (like most beginners) you wait till spring, when breeders have carried their birds through the winter months and perhaps severely culled them. If however you buy hatching eggs, get them in the Spring.
The golden rule in breeding is to hatch as many chicks as possible from your best birds--which will usually be few; and having reared them, select your females very rigidly for future breeding. You will then, if you are wise, mate a cockerel to hens the next year, possibly sending to the original source for a male of the same strain but not closely related. However, it may be that amongst your own chicks are two or three obviously sturdy suitable cockerels, so you must be guided by events.
Fairly close in-breeding (line breeding) is almost invariably practised in bantams, particularly in highly-developed show stock; so you may perhaps wait a year or so before purchasing another male. Either alternative, carried out sensibly and carefully, will set you on the road to success; and from then on your achievements will only be limited by your knowledge and your flair for the game.
If birds are to be of maximum usefulness, good fit stock is essential. Fanciers should look for:
1. Condition--overall fitness and sound plumage.
2. Colour--complying with standard (critical in some breeds).
3. Conforming to type.
Remember, it costs no more to keep top-class birds than it does poor specimens.