Every One Counts

The title of this article refers to the saving of as many chicks as is possible during the annual breeding season. It particularly applies to the newly hatched tiny day old chicks and those unaccountable deaths that occur, without reason, in a few adults when they are in the breeding cages.

I take a laid back attitude preferring to look at the end of season total rather than getting depressed about losses over which I have no control. By the same token I am obsessed with good husbandry throughout and certainly this has a direct bearing on the end results.

Feeding

BiovitThis is where it all begins. There is a familiar adage that “You only get out, what you put in”. So very true, but, as I have written before, this can be overdone or conversely underdone – both with disastrous results.

I do not propose to dwell on this, suffice to say that if you have a copy of my publication “The Challenge”, then I urge you to really spend time on reading the two most important chapters – both are on feeding. The chapters are pitched in lay terms so my advice is to read both above all the other “glossy popular chapters”. They are the basic key to success without which you cannot achieve success in the hobby and these chapters also contain examples of International diets that have proven themselves over years of trial and error.

Bad feeding and poor husbandry both combine to give a poor season. Remember that.

Starting The Season

There is no doubt that the start to any season is the most difficult. I can tell that the birds are ready to breed by looking at the behaviour of the hens as well as their condition. All my flights have the sexes mixed year round. This is because the current year stock learn their sexual habits very early. If you keep the big hens separate they just sit in the flights and get overweight with predictable poor results. Mix them and keep them active.

You will have gathered that I ignore the fixed ring issue date we have in the UK (1st January), which I have tried to alter for 20 years (to no avail) because of the climate changes that have affected the start up period dramatically. However, there is hope on the horizon as the Budgerigar Society Exhibition, which is our most important show, is now held annually in the last weekend of September, resulting in a 3 month gap before our rings arrive and our birds, as a generalisation, need to be paired immediately after the show.

Pairing

Aviary at TanglewoodThe larger the stud the less the losses, whatever they are, affect you. If you are in livestock you have to expect tragedies – especially during the breeding season.

My pairings are made in a strict procedure. I place four birds to a show cage, sexes separate, all down the full length of the birdroom three cages high. This puts all under slight stress and shows up the faults particularly with type and stance faults.

I also select each pair on the basis of ideal choice first and pedigree second. Never the other way round. I certainly never pair birds by selection from the flights. I want the show cages to reveal their true qualities if they have any. Not all do and that applies to every aviary!

Laying

Inner nest boxI have, like many other breeders of top quality birds, found that, unlike the post second world war birds which laid in 7-10 days, the massive birds of today take longer in many cases. Indeed, 21 days is not uncommon before the first egg appears, especially with maiden hens.

I have also established that with modern feeding techniques one can pair such birds earlier than the advocated 10 months minimum age. I can often see hens at 8 months that are raring to breed – so up they go and are successful. The downside is that such hens are difficult to start feeding their young due to inexperience and relative age, but I will come to that later.

Remember, I, like many other breeders, have totally enclosed aviaries and no outside flights.

The First Clutches

I now assume you have nests in with eggs everywhere. Fertility is the big hurdle and the worrying time. Bad fertility and you can suffer.

Again, coming from long experience, this is caused by you and your feeding and your poor husbandry. You are the provider. This cautionary comment applies to very low fertility over 60 per cent of your pairings – at least.

Looking on the bright side, let us assume the reverse situation and all has been done that can be done and 60% of the stud is fertile – perhaps even 80%. You will never achieve much more and certainly I always have to carry out what I term a “Cabinet Re-Shuffle” a couple of times in the early stages of any season for a variety of small reasons.

Disturbance

I recently had an e-mailed video from an airline pilot (Liam McGuiness). He has fitted up a webcam on a nest box to watch the habits of a pair. It was highly noticeable that the cock is a real interference as eggs are hatching, treading all over the place and on the small chicks and on the top of the hen.

Cocks that tend to sit outside the box are much to be desired. McGuiness stated that:

“The cock does feed the chicks, one is a day old chick and the other a three day old.

The hen has to work hard to protect the chicks when her partner flies in. You can see her leaning into him as he tries to barge into her to get at the chicks. She tries to keep the chicks beneath her while he is treading everywhere. In his attempts to get close to her he wraps his wing around her while he bullies her into submitting into being fed.

He gets very frustrated and disturbs her far more frequently than is necessary. Sometimes he rushes into the box, climbs all over her and then rushes out again. Chicks can easily be crushed at any time through these disturbances.”

Transferring Eggs

Do not handle eggsSome advice – do not handle eggs unless absolutely necessary. Your hands possess germs on them all of the time. They are one of the most infectious parts of the human body and will pass germs on to the egg surfaces – these are porous and you then wonder why some eggs have been addled, or dead-in-shell has occurred just as hatching is starting.

If the transferring of a clutch is unavoidable, wash your hands in warm water first.

Then take full note of two areas.

  1. Where the eggs are positioned in the clutch to one another. Careful examination with a laser torch will show that the earlier fertile eggs are located on the outside of the clutches where they are placed by the hen to allow more gaseous exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen to take place. Moving those eggs to another nest, without thought, into the middle of the receiving nest, can result in the death of the embryos.
  2. Before I move eggs I mark each with a felt pen dot on the top surface so that that are placed in the same correct rotational position in the new nest.

We have begun to start chasing for our chick target result at the end of the season.

Hatching

ChicksStarting with dead-in-shell as the negative possibility, that again is poor feeding coupled with perhaps the Australian dryness requiring regular damping down in your birdroom. However a dry atmosphere is only about 10% of the dead-in-shell problem, at most. The rest is diet input.

We can have irregular hatching – by which I mean some chicks arrive bright red in colour and full of strength to call for food. Others can just emerge, pale in colour but they are exhausted and do not call. A hen faced with this will just ignore them until they are flattened. Not her fault – in this case it is yours! There are occasions where you find an egg(s) just struggling to hatch which requires help by you to assist. There is a chart in “The Challenge” advising you when to intervene safely.

If your chicks are red and active and get full crops you have your diet correct. Make a note of every mortal item that you are giving and the methods you have used to achieve such success. You will need that list in later years. Be sure of that because you will inevitably forget something that had brought you to such a high pinnacle earlier. I know that from my earlier years.

So, the hens are feeding and they are being fed but in a nest of five or more there are problems arising. I personally like four chicks per-round-per-pair – so moving chicks to less occupied nests has to be done. I do not like to do this as the crop milk from the original parents is different to the fosters – but one has no choice.

Keep a close eye under a nest of four chicks that have one or two late bred day olds underneath them. Again they are red, perhaps fed well and survive under the weight of the bigger chicks. But you have to move them both to save them, and if you do not the larger chicks will eventually be the first to be fed anyway and your small ones will go backward.

Returning to other nests, you will see the chicks are becoming scrawny in appearance. This means the hen(s) have a nutritional factor (F) missing from their crop milk. Exactly which factor one doesn’t know, but as soon as you see it in the oldest chick, move all out elsewhere. I mark my records with (F) for future reference.

I do recall that Robert Manvell wrote me a letter years ago in which he said he found that if there were too many nests with scrawny chicks, the addition of vitamins within a syrup base, such as vitamin B12, if overdone, can give rise to this problem. I agree with that.

Changes

Nest BoxI have made changes to my nest boxes periodically but based around the box-within-a-box principle. Some seasons ago I felt that the shallow boxes, some 8 inches deep, were too shallow. The chicks would exit too early and the hens were laying their 2nd round too soon.

Chicks were having to be returned and eggs were thus scattered and lost. With the end target in mind, I made the boxes 11 inches deep and the problem was solved. The chicks cannot reach their exit until old enough and the hens delay their cycle. More eggs saved!

Conclusion

If you want the results, and remember you need a full nest of chicks from which to choose the two best and sell the rest, then you have to work for it.

The aviary has to have priority in your day and time given to it.

I trust some of these practices that I employ at my home in England prove an incentive as well as giving all readers some sound tips on reaching their annual target year-in-year-out.

Remember – write it down when you have it spot on.

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About the Author: Gerald Binks began breeding budgerigars when he was 12 years old and is now arguably the most knowledgeable budgerigar fancier in the world. He has bred his fair share of Best in Show birds, judged in no less than 20 countries, founded the World Budgerigar Association, and has published two of the three classic books on the hobby. His stud in the UK attracts fanciers from near and far and is always high on the list for those wishing to purchase BA23 quality budgerigars.

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