Solutions to Difficult Hens – Part 1

Gerald Binks has approached me to contribute my thoughts on hens who get to the breeding cage and then do nothing!

Personally I would prefer “looking after the hens” in the first place as being a far more positive way of looking at this problem.

Caring for Your Hens

Fred Wright at Dorset BS 2010In my opinion, it is a matter of caring for your hens really well if you want success in the nest boxes.

You have to allow them to develop properly after they leave the nest as young chicks. Wean them slowly and allow them to molt in small flights where they are not stressed. Be patient and let them grow and build up muscle and never keep them in the stock cages too long, thinking you are preparing them for shows.

Remember never, never over show hens! Always think about showing the cocks and have a reluctance to benching your valuable hens, which are the key birds for your coming breeding season.

Hen management is not easy –it does not just happen without effort. And it`s not entirely about feeding lots of additives, but rather giving natural foods, good lighting, exercise, and heat during cold periods when necessary. We all want to produce top quality budgerigars in good numbers, so forget showing week in week out.

Care for those hens and they will reward you well.

The Weaning Process – Part 1

I always think about weaning the chicks from the moment they are about to learn how to feed for themselves.

At three weeks of age, I start to put pieces of soaked millet sprays in the appropriate nest boxes. This allows them to learn to feed much earlier than usual and once they leave the nest box, they know immediately what a millet spray is and feed straight away.

A sure sign is that they do not lose that weight they have acquired in the nest box quickly – a big advantage. Fast self feeding retains their weight. If they lose weight, their development is checked and they are quite simply knocked back for a long time.

Care and management is everything from the start of weaning.

I take chicks away from their parents earlier than most other breeders. I do this to reduce the chances of them being attacked by either of the parents. I use double breeding cages as weaning cages with about 8-10 birds in each section.

It is here that they will stay until they are almost three months old when the “bars” on their heads are starting to disappear and break. The first molt is making its appearance. It is now that I transfer them into a small inside flight.

The Weaning Process – Part 2

As I transfer these young babies, I check their flights and tails, removing any broken ones. They then get sprayed early in the day and then dry off in their new small flight, placing them on the perches as I do so.

I prefer inside flights and never longer than 8 feet (2.44 metres). Anything longer is too stressful for them.

They are then sprayed at least twice per week. Never a thorough soaking – just a light spray. This allows the water to assist the new feathering to grow through by keeping them soft and clean. It also encourages the birds to preen themselves by training them in this essential operation.

Obviously both hens and the cocks are treated identically at this point in their growth – it’s just good husbandry and aviary management.

It is the exception rather than the rule for me to run such young babies into show cages so early. I think it causes stress far too much and the only time I run a baby into a show cage is when I have a visitor in the birdroom and I want to show him something special.

My aviary is about producing breeding stock for the following season and not birds for the show bench.

Perhaps I have the emphasis wrong but showing never seems to improve my stud, but a successful breeding season, by contrast, takes me forward.

The Early Months

In the small inside flights the birds are molting steadily.

Keep up the spraying and never be reluctant to handle your birds at this time, running them through your hands so they are used to it. Check each bird as you do so for broken feathers and remove appropriately. This applies particularly to the tail feathers.

Massive flights tend to result in “wild” young birds that are unsteady when we do want to show a few or even start them breeding earlier than usual.

The modern post millennium budgerigars are bigger and more densely feathered than the birds of the past and are certainly more difficult to breed with – especially the hens of course.

Such big hens can be reluctant to fly from end to end in the big flights. It is not that they cannot fly at all, they just like to climb and perch rather than using their wings. I encourage such hens to perch by having perches closer to the floor area.

Many birdrooms have the lowest perches about 4 feet (1.2 metres) from the floor. Lower perches at least encourages these bigger hens to perch rather than gain too much weight on the floors.

Over Showing

Over showing seems to knock back your budgerigars.

It takes a lot out of a bird being out of its normal “home” and this is one reason that one-day shows in the UK have become more popular.

If the birds are really fit and well, the cocks can recover quickly, but the hens take far longer.

Show a hen several times in a show season, especially on consecutive weekends, and it is enough to jeopardise its breeding performance.

It is the experienced fanciers who show the cocks frequently. They protect their hens and only bench them at the top shows when necessary.

My Feeding Practices

This is really not the right place to discuss feeding, but its importance is obvious.

I do not believe that a simple mix of 50% canary and 50% millets is enough.

If you decide to feed what we call a 50 / 50 mix, it’s important to supplement it with a tonic seed containing a variety of other seeds including hemp and rapeseed, but I prefer a basic mixture that includes the seeds found in a tonic seed.

I am not a fan of feeding soaked oats, but I do feed them dry, or even unsoaked, as groats.

Softfood

I feed a quality commercial softfood throughout the year.

I use, what I believe to be the best that I can buy and then add hard boiled eggs and grated carrot.

Some breeders just feed this “extra” during the breeding season, but I feed it throughout the year on a daily basis.

Our heavier birds (and that of course includes the hens which are buff feathered) need more protein, and that begins with the eggs that are laid.

Hard boiled egg also improves the feather quality and colour of the finished articles.

Good sound feeding helps to build up the hens and combined with exercise, it gives muscle rather than just added weight which can be just fat.

Throughout the year, my birds also get an amount of spinach twice per week.

Part two of this article can be read here.

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Fred Wright About the Author:

Fred Wright has been breeding budgerigars for more than 45 years.


He started breeding these birds as pets when he was at school in 1961. Within a year or two he joined a local club and was soon breeding exhibition birds – but continued to breed pets to support his exhibition interests and still believes that this is an ideal way to start with budgerigars. Even if the interest is just in exhibition stock, he believes the way forward should always be to breed and sell ten, to buy one good one!


Fred’s aim has never been to breed two or three super birds a year – it’s been to establish a very large stud of top quality budgerigars. Usually, in excess of 300 budgerigars are bred each year. He loves to show his birds to visitors and one of the comments made by many people is that it’s one of the better studs in the country, but disappointingly, they rarely get seen on the show bench.


Some 20 years plus ago, he was encouraged to write for magazines about budgerigars. Since then he has become a prolific writer and has articles published all over the world. Together with Roy Stringer, Fred wrote a series of books – the “All About …” series of nine books about all the colours and varieties of budgerigars. These books have become extremely popular.

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  1. Peter Finn says:

    Fred,

    I have just read your articles regarding difficult hens.

    As a beginner, such information is enormously helpful and I feel reassured that my husbandry is good enough!

    I have some hens that do not seem to adhere to any of the specific problems – but I take heart that they are simply individuals, and that perhaps not every bird wants a family!

    Thanks very much for taking the time to put pen to paper and sharing the enormous wealth of knowledge that you have accumulated over the years.

    Best wishes,
    Peter Finn

  2. John Cave says:

    Thank you Fred for the important information to new breeders like myself.

    I’ve found a good quality hen is hard to come by, and it is best if bred out of my own bird room.

    I must have read some where, where feeding a good quality soft food as you described because that is what I feed year around to ALL my birds.

    The part about soaked millet sprays I found very interesting. How long do you soak them and then do you rinse several times? How long do you leave it in the nest box?

    Any information on this would be appreciated.

    John Cave, Indiana, USA

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