The following series of articles from our friend, Wout van Gils, in Belgium is particularly relevant to our fanciers at this time of the year. Wout's website has been an overwhelming success with over 2.5 million visitors!
Preparing for breeding - Courtesy Wout van Gils
Although many articles have been written and presentations given on the subject mistakes are still often being made. Here then are some pointers for fanciers to follow.
Before starting your breeding season ensure that the breeding cages are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. This is very important to eliminate all germs and vermin still residing inside the cages. The cages are washed out with dettol or other similar products. Also treat the surroundings in a like manner and limewash if appropriate. In the Netherlands it is also common practice for breeders to remove their birds and follow up with Koudijs Smoke disinfectors a few days after the cleaning to eliminate fungal spores.
After a number of weeks the cages can be treated with products (Baygon, Birdspray,etc) that maintain the breeding cages free from blood mite and vermin on a long term basis.
With breeding pairs it is best to visibly separate the males from the females but so that they can still hear each other. You will soon notice when there is still a male amongst the hens or vice versa, but the males and the females will come into breeding condtion more readily when heard rather than seen.
The birds must have reached an age of at least 9-10 months and be in good health. It is quite ok if the birds carry a little fat - easily observed when blowing the feathers and revealing a buttery-yellow fat layer.
Any birds with intestinal loops, enlarged liver and spleen are immediately excluded from the breeding programme. Soiled tail feathers will also require extra attention. Timely check these points. Also examine the bird's eyes as these are also an indicator of overall health. Watery or squinty eyes indicate that the bird is not in 100% condition and it is advisable to treat such a bird, eg, with Baycox. Remember to keep some breeding birds in reserve in case one of the selected birds becomes injured or proves no longer suitable.
The onset of the breeding season is dependent on the number of hours of light. The number of light hours are very important in bringing birds into breeding condition.
Different methods are used. The pituatary gland of the bird is activated when the light hours are increased. One approach is to increase the daily light hours. Automatic light switch with dimmers are now available which enable you to gradualy switch on and off in time increments of five minutes.
In this way you will have healthy birds in prime breeding condition in 5-6 weeks time. Whichever method you adopt be aware that the males will take more time to come into breeding condition compared to the hens otherwise some nests will prove infertile.
It should also be clear that the temperature should also be increased somewhat with the extending light hours. The temperature does not need to be too high but preferably at 14-15C. When it is time to transfer the birds into the breeding cages the temperature may reach around 18C - this is more than adequate..
Males require more time:
As mentioned above males require more time than hens. This should be recognised and proper action taken. Wout does this by placing the males in the breeding cages after 5 ½ weeks. The temperature is increased somewhat and some hens are placed in conest cages opposite the males. In this way the males reach breeding condition more quickly and will fertilise better. The period of time for which the males are kept separate is dependent on how they respond and start whistling, usually about 1 ½ weeks.
Feeding during the breeding preparations
Besides lighting, warmth and fresh air breeders must also include other important requirements which the birds need.
The birds should appear clean and healthy; regular baths to which a little bath salt is added are a must even when the weather is cold. Never give baths towards the evening as birds need to be completely dry when lights start to dim.
Eggfood should be increased. Our birds are seed eaters and it is important that during the winter they extract all they need from the seed mixture as proper preparation for the breeding season. During this rest period eggfood can be provided not more than twice a week, and an amount that is fully consumed within three hours. A piece of apple and/or carrot is also recommended. Also think about a slice of white bread soaked in milk (milksop). And besides do not forget to give birds with a recessive factor extra Vitamin A every 14 days.
From the time the birds are given extra light hours extras should be added to the food.
Increase the eggfood to 2-3 times a week. Provide every two days some extra hemp seed and also some extra rape seed and hulled oats. What must not be forgotten is the addition of wheat germ oil to the eggfood 2-3 days a week.
Pairing of the birds
Prior to pairing the birds are given a checkover for any signs of disease and intestinal disorders; sick birds must clearly not be used for breeding.
Although birds may appear ostensibly healthy most breeders still administer a course of antibiotics (Baycox) to prevent an outbreak of coccidiosis amongst the nestlings.
Other matters will require our attention. A container with fine shellgrit and bird minerals must always be available. Also take care that the nest boxes are suspended from the front of the cage. This enables better air circulation and also ensures that the young will be more at ease after being raised.
Also check that the perches are not mounted too high or are loose fitting as these may lead to infertile eggs. Wout's preference is also for a sisal pre-nest so that the birds will always have a base nest only requiring finishing off by the birds. Before the males are placed in the breeding cages their nails are cut if too long taking care not to cut the little blood vessel. When the males are placed in the breeding cages the temperature should be raised to 18C maximum and the light hours at 14 ½. Note that the number of light hours will need to be extended at a later date. Do this in the morning when you go to work and when you first feed the birds in the morning.
The males are in the breeding cage and in front I place a few females., You will see that certain males will react very quickly.
As described earlier provide extra food, eggfood three times a week and after about 1 ½ weeks the hens are added. A hen in breeding condition has a blunt vent in the form of a chicken egg!!!
You will see that some healthy birds in good breeding condition will pair soon after. This is a sign that everything is going according to plan. You may find that some other birds will pair later, but the majority will do so quite quickly. There will also be instances where birds continue to fight. In this case the breeder needs to intervene because one of the birds is not yet in breeding condition or one of the birds is bonded to the call from another bird. You will note that when the hen calls the same male will reply. If suitable from a breeding point of view the hen can be placed with that particular male and all will be well. Another possibility is to remove the bird for a few days and replace it in the evening. This may help. But take care with birds, which continue fighting.
After four days introduce nesting material so that the birds can start making their nest. Again here you see that with proper preparation the hens will start their nest building straightaway.
Ensure that the nest is properly shaped by turning a globe around the nest. When the birds begin making their nest Wout collects each egg as it is laid and returns them on the fourth egg being laid; do not store the eggs in the sun, but in a shadowy place.
Soon thereafter the hens will start to breed and 14 days later the young will hatch. Ensure there is adequate air and oxygen in the birdroom and provide baths at regular intervals or lightly mist the eggs. Check the eggs regularly for free movement so that the hen is able to turn them.
Realize and note that the eggs in a healthy clutch are glossy and have the pointy ends facing inward.
Hatching of the young
Some breeders swear to the use of greenfood or sprouted seed when there are nestlings but Wout does not support this. If you do give greenfood during then definitely not for the first few days of life and then only enough to last one hour. Any more will most likely lead to intestinal disorders. When giving sprouted seed make sure that the sprouts are as small as possible; large sprouts will trigger large problems. If greenfood is given do not do so in the evenings and also not during periods of warm weather. But again Wout does not provide the young with greenfood under any circumstances!!!
Depending on the number of young in a clutch and their age more eggfood will need to be given as well as more seed. Check the excretions closely and if watery take direct action. This is highly unlikely to happen if the birds are given apple cider vinegar and Megabactin mixed in with the eggfood.
A period of greater alertness is called for when it becomes time to ring the young. Most hens will not throw their young out of the nest when there is a ring of excreta around the rim of the nest. This occurs when the hen stops cleaning her nest because the young have started throwing their excreta on to the rim of the nest. But with some hens extra care needs to be exercised as they will still often continue cleaning their nests with all the consequences. If a young is thrown out of the nest do not be in a hurry to throw the apparently lifeless young away, but hold it inside the closed palm of your hand for a while and direct your warm breath on to it. Quite often the "lifeless" body begins to move again.
When the young have reached the age of 16-18 days depending on how the young have been fed and have grown Wout places the nest on the floor of the cage and at the same time provides a new nest in the old location. After a short time the hen will start making a new nest while still continue feeding her young.
Using this method the hen has usually laid her first egg when the first of the young is ready to jump out of the nest. With this method featherplucking is kept to a minimum. It must be acknowledged however that feather plucking may still occur. It is then ideal if the breeder has baby cages in the breeding cages or baby cages which can be suspended from the front of the breeding cage. The method described above is for single pair breeding
In recent years another method of pair breeding has been introduced. After 10 days the male is removed (often immediately after the eggs are laid). The hen raises the young by herself and when these are 18 days old they are moved to a baby cage containing a number of other nests. The hens come together in front of the baby cage and they will feed the young until they become independent. This method virtually eliminates featherplucking with no trouble from fat males, which remain in the flight.
The method results in fewer unfertilised eggs, less damage to eggs or eggs covered in excreta when the young remain in the nest. This method of raising young has many advantages but requires a little learning and becoming used to.
Once the young have become independent do not place them directly in the aviary but first transfer them to a transition cage where they become familiar with their seed and drink.Once the birds have developed a proper V in their tail and have been independent for at least a week they can be moved without causing any damage.