It can be argued that the partnership of Chris Huxley and Alan Marchant has had the greatest impact on the modern UK exhibition budgerigar than any other individual breeder or partnership of their era. So after four years in production, the partnership’s eagerly awaited DVD is finally ready for the hobby to enjoy. The trend for top breeders to produce their own video or DVD has been with us for the last few decades but there are few that have been so anticipated as this one. And having watched this publication several times, I am delighted to report it’s been worth the wait. Lasting about two hours the DVD is divided into six chapters making it easy to serialise viewing time or to select particular subjects to review.
Introduction & Aviaries
Section one provides an overview of the aviaries of Alan and Chris together with some of their fabulous birds. The partnership, which was established over 25 years ago, demonstrates how childhood neighbours and livestock enthusiasts became budgerigar breeders and exhibitors before joining forces as intermediates and progressed into the breeding talent to influence the creation of the modern-day exhibition budgerigar.
The size of both aviaries is revealed in a way that enables us to understand why the partnership can breed super birds in numbers, emphasising how they both have similar setups enabling birds to be swapped from one aviary to the other without causing any undue stress.
The key theme of this chapter is budgerigar management and it is clear that both partners see themselves as feather sculptors able to utilise their unique “eye” for potential in order to select key breeding pairs and constantly assess and reassess the quality of their birds. Alan describes how their young stock is observed in fine detail and recorded meticulously so as to monitor the progression and maturity of each generation. This involves a grading system used as the youngsters are taken from the breeding cage.;
- big powerful birds with buff feather quality;
- solid birds with intermediate feathering;
- fair to good with a yellow to intermediate feather;
- average birds with reasonable feather quality but lacking any one outstanding feature;
- pet trade type bird.
All are subjected to several stages of quality assessment before being integrated into the stud. No birds of less than grade 3 are retained and one footage section of a young bird flight shows just how effective this approach really is.
Feather assessment is discussed in more depth than I have ever witnessed – even at first hand from Alan. A major focus is “balance” and category 3 birds are used as a natural control of buff feathering. This is depicted as a working practice by using various illustrations of matched feather type pairings which are justified for maintaining the fertility and vitality in the stud. This is highly commendable indeed. A Yellowface Pied cock is a particular highlight for any budgerigar enthusiast to admire, together with a selection of 2012 young birds that sets a new bar for what we should all be aiming to achieve.
Throughout the DVD the viewer is reminded that this is a stud of budgerigars built up and managed on the premise of maximizing breeding potential so as to achieve longevity.
The partnership uses a vast array of products and suppliers in their feeding regime on the premise that although we have faith in our suppliers, there will always be a risk for batches to be contaminated (especially in transit). Therefore, the aim is to minimise the affect from one product by only allowing a single ingredient to form a small part of the overall programme rather than dominate the mixture.
The soft food mix is shown in detail integrating essential ingredients such as those that provide trace elements, basic vitamins and protein. With regard to seed, Alan discusses how some of the seed is soaked and allowed to germinate. This involves 20 different seed types and a 3-day process, which avoids the pitfalls some fanciers have experienced. It is also explained why the seed mix can be altered depending upon the stage of the cycle of particular birds.
Supplements and additives including those from the pigeon world and homeopathy allows the viewer to really appreciate how comprehensive the overall feeding regime is and how much thought and effort is required to sustain breeding super birds year after year. The use of wild seeds and herbs gives an insight into the the ethos of mimicking the natural environment of the birds so far as possible.
This is perhaps the most striking section of the DVD because it illustrates just how unique the approach taken by these two fanciers is compared to their competitors. The examination of feather qualities is something I would challenge any breeder to discuss with more precision than that which is set out in abundance here. A sliding scale of 10 feather categories is used ranging from yellow to buff characteristics.
With such close inspection of feathers, the partnership have been able to moderate enhancement of their birds and control the impact on the shape of any one bird that they can seek to optimise by selecting an appropriate counterpart. Quite simply, feather is the number one factor that influences the shape of our birds and this point is really emphasised. It is also emphasised how types of feather can distinguish a show bird from that of a stock bird. In particular, a grey Pied cock shows how a supreme exhibition budgerigar can be engineered rather than bred by means of pot-luck.
It is true that one bird will never make a stud. However, one bird can have a huge impact on the future direction of a pedigree. The legendary “Four Bars” is such a bird. In his own right, he was a truly magnificent bird bred by Chris in 2004. His name derives from the fact that his head was the width of 4 bars on a show cage.
The feature shows “Four Bars” in all his glory as a 6 year old feather perfect father of no fewer than 46 chicks. Rather than being an end of line bird as most supreme specimens are, this budgerigar had a phenomenal influence on the Huxley & Marchant line. Alan is able to document this by showing many examples of descendants that have taken the legend’s features further down the line and enhanced the visual aspects of their birds to date.
Outcrosses are also discussed from the Wilson stud as well as that of P & D Spruce so as to show the viewer how the partnership have been able to select such outcrosses based on their wider show and breeding pedigree.
Breeding pairs are examined so as to prove how this team have mastered the art of feather without taking their birds too far thus avoiding feather problems and reduced fertility.
As fanciers who do not consider themselves “showmen” their record on the bench of achieving multiple best in show awards every year for over 20 years is probably unsurpassed in the modern era. This includes four best in show awards in 2012, which are not highlighted in this DVD, three of these were achieved with the Cinnamon Light Green and Grey Green young cocks featured in the section “using feather for show birds”.
The 2008 season is one that was clearly a vintage year and the trophy haul on display is an impressive testament. There follows many more current examples in this segment of the DVD of some amazing show specimens at various events surrounded by their many accolades.
In addition, Alan explains how the partnership prepare the birds for the show bench with a visual demonstration of trimming the mask which minimises the need for pulling spots throughout the show season.
In the final part, Alan showcases the studs of Paul & Dennis Spruce and the Bowker partnership.
The Huxley & Marchant duo has been working closely with these two studs over the years and the reciprocal benefits are shown for all to see. It is a unique opportunity to witness how people possessing supreme quality budgerigars can cooperate with each other for the mutual benefit of their respective pedigree lines.
The tone of the DVD throughout invites you to your own personal aviary visit to two of the leading fanciers in the world who willingly offer a comprehensive master-class in developing a stud of exhibition budgerigars. I feel that as they have done with their birds, this feature will raise the bar and set the standard on how future DVD’s will be presented to the fancy.
To buy the Huxley and Marchant DVD, send a cheque for £22 to Alan Marchant,33 Horatius Road, Chesterton, Newcastle Under Lyne, ST5 7QG or by PayPal from the Exhibition Budgerigar Forum – www.exhibitionbudgerigarforum.co.uk
“This article has been re-edited for The Budgerigar and is reproduced by kind permission of Cage & Aviary”.
Photos by Mick Freakley