Solutions to Difficult Hens – Part 2

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.

This is the second of a two part article – you can read part one here.

Additives

I am no great user of additives. For many years, I used probiotics every week, but I use them less frequently these days and there are no obvious difficulties.

I do sincerely believe that if it is necessary to use antibiotics at any time, a good probiotic however is essential to replace the good bacteria in the gut systems after treatment.

As far as a vitamin supplement is concerned, I would use a multivitamin solution such as “Abidec” (obtainable from most pharmacies). This will bring the birds into solid breeding condition just before pairing. Used in the water a couple of days per week will make a huge difference to the hens.

Spraying Your Birds

Quality is paramount in the studI do not use outside flights these days as I believe our larger hens do not benefit from the outside stresses that can occur.

I prefer large inside flights, but I do spray the birds regularly. Once those young birds start to molt, as I have said earlier, this gives great benefits as described. Certainly their condition improves drastically.

I often visit other birdrooms and see the birds on display. Almost every time I look into a flight I think, “These birds could do with a good spray”.

Birds that are not sprayed appear to have hard, dry feathers, in contrast to a sprayed bird which appears to exhibit a softer look.

Breeding Ages

For myself, young hens always breed better than over-year hens.

I remember the late Harry Bryan telling me to use hens as young as 5 months of age when they were fit and in condition. He said at the time that they breed well at that age, but might not do so later if left after the conventional age of 9-10 months minimum.

I tried it for several seasons with success, but when used later, those hens were spoiled and became almost useless in a second season.

Today I wait longer and let such young birds mature internally and take such care with them that they breed well in their second and third seasons. A lesson to be learned when buying. Ask when were they first used and at what age?

Preparing to Breed

All the good management I have discussed, but now the trick to use, when the birds approach breeding fitness, is done by increasing the artificial lighting hours and steadily increase the fully lit day to which the birds will respond.

A good spraying on selected hens will also help advance their fitness to breed. It works!

In the winter months you can increase the heat to say 50 degrees F (10 degrees Centigrade) which is sufficient for the birds and yourself .

Pair Selection

In my opinion it makes no difference if the pairs are placed into the breeding cages together immediately.

Some fanciers prefer to select the cocks and they go into the cages first, followed by the hens later.

Others do the reverse.

I am not fixed on any system, but I do like to see the pairs reacting when introduced. I then know they are fit for breeding.

There has to be a reaction of some sort. Some mate instantly, others may just “kiss” and others may be aggressive to one another. If there is no reaction at all I leave them for a few days and watch. If still nothing, I break them immediately and try them later.

Post Breeding Procedures

Breeding a third round is excessive unless the hatching chicks are transferred immediatelyAfter breeding, your birds need rest, time to recover and re-build those muscles used during the breeding months.

I try to have two rounds from a pair, occasionally three. Feeding too many chicks by a pair is too stressful for the hens and my preference is four similar sized chicks to each box.

Two rounds of four is enough for most hens and good sized chicks will result.

Taking a third round from a hen is satisfactory, but I do not let such hens rear their chicks. If you do, then your hens are virtually useless the following season.

 

Taking down the Pairs

When I split up the birds, or what some call “taking down the pairs”, I like to put the hens immediately into a double breeding cage and this is the “Rest Cage” where they can build up their stamina again and particularly their muscle tones.

Taking them straight from the boxes and direct to the big flights gives them little chance to re-form their bodies for the next season.

Once they are well rested, then they go into the big flights and can withstand the competition and get full exercise along with top grade feeding.

The Over Year Hens

I leave the over year hens in the flights and tend not to show them.

I believe firmly they need months of rest before returning to another two rounds of breeding.

First time breeding hens (and they are often 8-10 months old) do not seem to know what to do when their first chick hatches.

A solution is to quickly put in a slightly older chick that has been fed and calling for more food and that stimulates the “novice hen” to feed both. Once she has the message, the older chick can be replaced in its original nest.

Egg Binding

I am fortunate in that I never seem to get a case of egg binding in my stud.

This is because of the preceding good husbandry that I practice.

They always have access to cuttlefish bone and oyster shell grit. I am not a fan either of calcium supplements as from what I have seen, the shells are so thick that it causes dead-in-shell because the chicks cannot fight their way out at 18 days.

Problems – Internal Layers – Prolapses and “No Interest”

The above are all serious problems, but again I say that if the hens are well prepared, they will avoid such matters and breed very well.

Good preparation avoids such problems.

Internal layers (hens that have the normal copious droppings but do not lay eggs) need to be replaced in the flights and put on standby. They are useless as breeders.

Hens that show no interest are different. You have to look at the bird and decide what the reason could be?

If she looks fit, she should breed, but if not put her back in the flight, watch her with others and it may be she has a liking for a certain cock bird and that is the reason? Think it through!

Buying Hens

Fred WrightThis is never to be recommended, but we all have to do it sometimes especially those who are starting in the hobby.

Always try to buy young untried hens, the younger the better.

If they are young, perhaps bar-headed hens and unmolted, they then molt in your aviary and breed very well as they feel they have been born there. Hens always breed better in the aviary they have been born in.

Buying over year hens has to be a process of caution. Most are unreliable. You must trust your seller, check the design of his nesting boxes and if you have the same design, but still she will not breed – make a different design and the result can be amazing.

The Last Word

My last tip about hens that refuse to go to nest is simple.

Is the nest box open?

It has happened to all of us at some time or other.

Rarely do our birds let us down, but they will if you have not followed all this advice about your hens, so be warned.

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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. Barrie Shutt says:

    Hi Fred I did enjoy your articles.

    Thanks for taking the time to telling it as it should be.

    Barrie Shutt
    United Kingdom

  2. David Newman says:

    Great articles, much appreciated.

    David Newman
    New Zealand

  3. joe stainforth says:

    A very good article.

    Thank you.
    Joe Stainforth
    UK

  4. Gareth says:

    Fred

    Excellent article, much appreciated from a beginner.

    Gareth Simmons
    Kent, UK

  5. Ellen Whatley says:

    I have studied and read many articles and have been to almost every site on the internet, yet yours was one of the very few that showed devotion to the actual birds.

    I applaud all of your hard work and will implement what I have learned.

    I applaud your devotion to your birds.

    Ellen Whatley
    South Carolina
    USA

  6. Salman Merchant says:

    Hello Fred,

    The articles served me as a recipe book to get my perfect bird.

    It was also a fun reading experience.

    The minute details you provided will be really very helpful in the future.

    Thanks,
    Salman Merchant
    India

  7. Gerick Briones says:

    Nice articles – very informative for newbies.

    Gerick Briones, Philippines

  8. Gerald

    This is excellent information – especially for new breeders – and for better understanding of hens.

    Thank you.
    Habib Ur Rehman, Pakistan

  9. Ida Nerya says:

    Very good article, thanks for investment.

    Ida Nerya, Israel

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