Practical hints from Wout van Gils.
In my earlier articles I covered preparation and nutrition when bringing breeding birds into condition. We have established the importance of observing your birds and to start only with birds that are old enough and healthy. I also covered the aspects of lighting and nutrition –all important factors that need to be controlled and observed. Similarly our attention to the disinfecting and the combatting of vermin must never waver.
Before pairing we should check the birds for any obvious signs of illness and/or intestinal problems. It is clear that sick birds should not be used for breeding. Even though the birds may appear healthy most breeders still give them a treatment. I, myself, give them a one Gram of Baycox (or Amprolium) in one litre of water for three days. This is followed with a multi-vitamin supplement for two days and then another treatment with Baycox. The reason for this is to suppress any coccidiosis even though this may not be evident at the time. This is performed on all birds in the area in question. Another option is to use ESB3 (broad spectrum antibiotic) instead with one gram per litre of drinking water for five days, followed by two days of vitamins and finishing with further three days of ESB3.
The pairing of the birds gives rise to other factors that require our attention. I place the cocks first in the breeding cages as they need a little more time than the hens to come into condition. I know that some breeders cage up their hens first, but they must then have other methods of enabling the cocks to catch up the shortfall. The breeding cages and general area must be thoroughly disinfected and steps taken to eliminate any vermin. The cages are clean and the bottom covered with cardboard, shell grit or other depending on personal preferences. A dish with grit and bird minerals is indispensable. Take care that the nest is suspended inside the front or on the outside for better air circulation and for ensuring that the young will be more settled when raised near the front. Check that the perches are not loose or too close to the roof of the cage as this may result in infertile eggs. I also place a pre-made sisal nest in the nest holder so that the birds already have an established nest and only need to finish it off.
Before placing the cocks in the breeding cage trim those nails that are too long, but take care not to cut the central blood vein. Some breeders trim or remove the feathers around the vent, but I strongly discourage this practice as the cutting or even the removal of these feathers may cause irritation around the vent of the cock with infertility as a result. Also the stubble caused by trimming the cock’s feathers may irritate the hen again resulting in infertility. Many texts state that vent feathers of the male actually facilitate successful impregnation – another reason for not trimming or removing the vent feathers
When the cocks are placed in the breeding boxes increase the ambient temperature to about 18C maximum and adjust lighting to about 14.5 hours. Allow for the fact that the clock will need to be readjusted one more time. If you need to go to work set the times so that the light is on when you first feed your birds in the morning.
When the cocks are in their breeding boxes I place a few hens in front of them. You will see that some of the cocks will react straight away. Provide extra food and eggfood three times a week and after 1½ weeks you can place the hens with the cocks. A hen in breeding condition has a swollen vent with the low abdomen taking on a bright reddish hue, almost fiery red. You shall see that some of the birds will already attempt to pair and this is a sign that everything is going well. Other birds will take some time, but most will bond quickly.
There are times when birds continue to fight. You will then need to take action and the reasons for the ongoing fighting are various, but generally because of one of the birds not being in breeding condition or that one of the birds has developed a bond with another. You can tell the latter if the hen calls and the same cock answers from another cage. If your selection criteria allow it you can then place the hen in question with the other cock and bonding will take place.
Another course of action is to separate the birds for several days and return them in the evening, but watch out for birds that continue fighting. Nesting material can be provided after four days and the birds can start proceedings. Sound preconditioning will pay off as the hens immediately start making a nest.
Check to make sure that the nest has been properly finished or shaped it by turning a globe inside the nest. Once the hen starts laying it is recommended that you remove each egg daily and replace them with the fourth egg; store the eggs in a cool, shady spot – not in the sun. The hens will now commence their breeding and the chicks will hatch after 14 days. Keep your breeding area well ventilated, provide baths and/or spray the eggs a little. Regularly check to see that the eggs can be freely turned by the hen. Note that in a healthy clutch the pointed ends of the eggs face one another.
Wishing you a healthy brood – Wout