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Friday, 03 April 2009

ImageMay is the month when most Novices will begin to see the results of the weeks spent in preparing their birds for breeding season.  With a little good fortune, nests of healthy chicks will be clamoring for more food.  The importance of correct feeding and a routine will ensure that the breeding season goes along according to the plan.  As I stressed in an earlier article, it is wise thing to keep your management as simple as possible, and to work out a strict routine you can follow according to your circumstances.  In my case that means that all seed hoppers are replenished, the drinkers washed in hot water and filled with clean water, every day of the year before I have my own breakfast.

During the breeding season comes all the added tasks, fresh soft-food and green food, soaked or sprouted seeds for every feeding hen or pair.  In addition, every nest should be inspected to satisfy you that all is well and that no young have been dragged from the nest onto the floor of the cage.  In such cases, place the chick in the palm of your hand, then cup your hands over it, leaving a small place between your thumbs; gently and steadily breathe heavily between your cupped thumbs; in many cases after a short while you will feel the chick move, and once you feel he is strong enough, put him back under the hen.  When I inspect the nests each morning, I do not disturb the hen if she is sitting, but lay my finger gently on the nest besides her, as I like to make this check with every hen to ensure no Northern Mites are present.  I make it a practice to be in my birdroom by six o’clock in the morning whilst the birds are breeding.  I have never known a successful fancier who was of the “ it will do later “ variety, for if you wish to succeed you must discipline yourself into a routine that puts the needs of your birds paramount, for they are entirely dependent on you for their every need.  When I am away from home my wife has always followed my own routine exactly, which I am sure is of benefit to the birds.

During the breeding season, make sure your perches are not too smooth, as a hen may slip away from the cock when mating and infertile eggs can result.  I keep a bread-saw knife in the birdroom, and any smooth perches are roughed up a little by lightly scoring them with the knife.  I clean out hen’s cage before sitting her on eggs, and I do not disturb her again until the day before the eggs are due to hatch, when I clean out the cage, disturbing the hen as little as possible.  It is better to have chicks hatch in a reasonably clean cage than having her desert the nest whilst you provide a spotless one!

Plastic nest pans are inclined to hang very firmly with no “give” whereas a nest should always have some movement when the parent birds alight on it.  This movement makes the chicks aware that food is at hand, and their heads rise with the ever-open mouth agape.  In order to give some movement to the plastic nest pan, it is only necessary to purchase a quarter-inch wide roll of drought-proofing rubber tape.  Cut small squares from the roll and affix to the flat back of the nest pan, one either side of the slot for hanging the nest.  These small rubber “cushions” allow for sufficient “give” to the nest.

It may be necessary to hand feed at this time, either because a hen does not feed, but more usually, because a chick is falling behind its nest-mates.  I make up a hand-feeding sop as follows: whole meal, or wheat-germ bread, finely ground pinhead oats, a little glucose, a very light sprinkling of a vitamin and mineral powder, warm milk and mash to a sloppy consistency.  I place the ingredients in a food blender, which mixes everything very quickly, and this sop can be fed to any backward or hungry chick and is very easily digested.  Hand-feed only when absolutely necessary and mix fresh for each feed.

I usually wean the babies between 21 to 23 days old, depending on how well they have been reared, as one nest of young may stay in the nest for two or three days longer than the chicks in an adjoining cage.  I suggest the novice provides no perches for the first two or three days on removing the young, then 3/8” diameter perches can be used, but these should be only 2” from the floor.  Many fanciers put several sheets of newspaper as a floor covering, removing one each day as it becomes fouled; in my own case, they go into cages generously deep in sawdust which is changed afresh every other day.  In every cage containing chicks I place a pot of soft food, a pot of milk sop, made by using whole meal or wheat-germ bread, a little glucose, two drops of Gripe Water, the whole being made sloppy with milk.  I always boil the milk and allow it to cool until just warm before using; a little maw seed is then sprinkled on the top of each potful.   I also place a small pot of a mixture of wild seed, condition seed and pinhead oatmeal and a small pot of soaked seed.  The first day or two may see the chicks only eating milksop, but I like to give as many choices of food as possible for the newly removed youngsters, for being inquisitive, it is surprising how quickly some of them take to the more solid food.  I place the seed hopper on the cage from the first day, but the top is covered with maw seed and other small seeds.  I also give them water that contains a mineral/vitamin supplement, plus a couple of drops of liquid calcium to a pint of water, all of which helps in the development of the growing chick.  I discontinue the milksop when the young are over a month old, but the remainders are continued until they molt.

Throughout the breeding season I feed every early morning, mid-day, tea-time and a “top up” all round an hour before dusk, or if one is using lights, an hour before they are due to dim.  The young are usually run three to four to a cage when first removed from the parents, but when they are five weeks old I run them eight to a four-foot cage until the commencement of the molt, when I like to cage them in pairs as far as is possible.  A most interesting time for all fanciers is when the young canary is seven or eight weeks old, for it is then that one can spot the bird with that little extra boldness and carriage; the tail is also now grown somewhat with the feathers beginning to pipe together.  It is then that one can pick out those young birds that look full of promise.  I like to give the young any dock, shepherd’s purse, sow thistle or rat-tail plantain when I can find it unlikely to be soiled in any way; however, this is a task not very easy in London, but a good substitute to keep young birds busy are millet sprays.  I have found the young canaries enjoy ‘perching and picking’ on the sprays and it does help to deter them from the nasty habit of feather plucking.  I spray all young lightly across their backs with Johnson’s Anti-mite aerosol spray at regular intervals.  By such treatment my birds are not troubled by lice and I have not had to dust a young bird for some years.  When the young have been removed from the parents for two or three days, I provide them with a bath and thereafter on most days.  I remove the bath at mid-day and substitute it for a show cage with a small perches until they commence to molt, after which they have the bath only until the molt is completed, when full training for showing can commence.

Article by Charles Norfield

Last Updated ( Friday, 03 April 2009 )
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