Upgrading Your Stud
“This article was compiled from notes George Duffield used for his presentation at the March 2000 General Meeting of the North East Budgerigar Society. I felt that the content was important enough to be made available to those who missed the meeting. George has been involved in budgie breeding for many years and is always prepared to pass on his knowledge on to anyone who is interested enough to ask a question. While this is a scheduled presentation, he has been available at the shortest of notice to fill in as the ‘entertainment’ for many a General Meeting over the years when the scheduled speakers failed to turn up, and has always come up with a helpful and enjoyable offering. He claims to be getting too old to relish doing this type of work anymore, but I sincerely hope we can continue to drag George out from retirement and harness him up for another night’s work every so often, because he does it so well.”
Mick Hacklin (Editor of Budgie Bulletin)
With over 30 years in this wonderful hobby of keeping and breeding budgerigars, the failures and mistakes that I have made far outweigh the achievements, but one tends to forget the things that go wrong and only remember the things that worked. It was my wife Edna who unknowingly at the time started my initial interest in breeding these birds when she asked me to build an aviary in our front garden.
At that time we lived in Woodside, in South Australia, and our house was in the main street. Now Edna had green fingers and our garden(no thanks to me) was always bright, cheery and green. People would stop and comment about Edna’s garden and I thought her idea of an aviary in the background would be another asset to it. So, in due course, I built and installed an aviary in the garden.
How long that took me is another story but, if you think that a year was ‘a long time’, try adding another three onto that. Not that I was building it for three years, but it just got put off time after time. Anyway, as soon as it was ready, Edna bought some budgies and put them in it. Now, prior to that moment, the thought of breeding and keeping budgies or any other bird, for that matter, had never entered my head; but when I saw their colours, watched their antics and heard their chirping I determined that I would try and breed some. Little did I realize then that this would be the beginning of a hobby that would turn into an art and last for so long.
When you start in this hobby you tend to buy birds that catch the eye with their colours. So it was with me. But after a visit to the Royal Show in Adelaide where the budgie people had a stand with over 200 birds on display, I quickly realized that together with the colour there were many other facets to consider, and it wasn’t long before I joined a Club. There I found two things – the fellowship, friendly advice and social atmosphere together with a rivalry to breed and show birds that would win.
Winning was a word that appealed to me and it wasn’t long before I had a bird on the top bench. Three years, in fact, and in those days, one win put you amongst the Open breeders or Champion breeders as they are called today. Winning is one thing, staying on top is another, and to endeavour to stay on top the method I chose was the one that I will speak on today.
There are many ways to upgrade your stock and I guess if you were to ask a dozen breeders here today you would get a dozen different answers, and the chances are, they would all work. I have used various ways to keep breeding winners but this is a good method and is worth repeating.
Let us assume that we have been in the hobby two or three years and have bought birds from various aviaries and have managed to breed up numbers of birds that, generally speaking, are unrelated. By this time you should have developed an eye for a bird and now is the time to start putting your mark on your stock. Breeding time is at hand and you must cull your birds. Select tow or possibly three of the best cocks in your aviary and the best eight to ten hens. There are some things to remember when making these selections and, as we have been breeding for a couple of years we should know the fertility of the birds. It is unwise to use any bird that was a singleton in an otherwise nest of clear eggs, or a hen that lays mainly clear eggs with an odd fertile one. You are breeding in trouble; you are breeding in infertility if you use this type of bird. They may look the best birds in type and feather, but if they won’t produce full clutches they are no good to your. Discard them and go for the next best they you know came from a full clutch of fertile eggs.
Another thing I think is very important is to keep long cock birds. It is my experience using this system, to use short cock birds at the start, will result in perpetuating the breeding of small cock birds. To date, we have selected for fertility and size of cock birds, now add to that a combination of normal, opaline and possibly cinnamon and you have a chance of breeding not only more than one variety, but also birds which will give certain features to one another in the future.
We have spoken of remembering the fertility of birds; well, we also have to remember a lot more about our birds. To be able to breed birds of substance and winning qualities we must condition 0urselves to remember birds of at least two generations back from the families of the one you are using now and be able to recall their strengths and weaknesses. For those of you with computers this should be easy. For the rest of us like me, who rely on the old brain, take notes. It is most important to be able to recall this information no matter what system of in-breeding you use, because somewhere down the track, traits that were in your birds two to three generations back will pop up – they will resurface.
Now, our selections have been made. We have the best two cock birds and the best ten hens we can find using the information already stated. We now take the best cock and the best hen and put them into a breeding cage and ,at the same time, or even a day or so earlier, we put a pair of feeders into another breeding pen(fosters, we call them). Provided that the pairs lay within a day or two, or the fosters are first to lay, transfer the eggs from the good pair to the fosters. Use the same method with your second best cock but use the third best hen.
After the good hen has laid four or five eggs, remove the number one cock and put him together with the second best hen remembering to put up another pair of fosters, and repeat the process. Do the same with the second cock bird and the fourth best hen bird. When the good hens have completed their laying cycle, fly them and, after the second choice hens have laid four or five eggs, the good cocks can be returned to their original partners and you can repeat the process, or let them rear the second round.
Some breeders will use this method and put one cock over four hens, but for the purpose of this article, we will surmise that we have been reasonable successful and,. At the end of the season, there are in excess of fourteen young birds from each cock bird. After the first moult we cage up the birds form each cock and assess their quality as a whole. We decide that, overall, the stock from the best cock we issued is the best, so they are the birds to carry on the next step in this exercise. There is no reason why the best birds from the other cock can’t be used elsewhere in the stud. Now, the following year, we mate the half-brothers and sisters produced from the best cock together and also mate the best hen back to her father. Year three will see you with birds showing a likeness to your original cock and, in the main, they will produce similar stock.
It is time to upgrade your stud. For the sake of this article, we will assume that overall, the birds lack deep masks and spots. We have been to the Shows and have observed that whenever ‘Joe Blow’ shows his birds, they have all got good depth of mask and from ‘good’ to ‘very good’ spots. So we approach him about buying a cock bird with these attributes. He agrees and we arrange a visit to his aviaries. Before buying this bird, we look at his stock overall and satisfy ourselves that he has this trait of good mask and spot throughout his birds. We are satisfied and a deal is struck and home we go with our purchase. At this juncture, I would like to make a point. Remember, with this system, you will not be buying in a lot of stock, only one or two birds every two or three years so buy the best you fan, even if you have to pay more at the time.
So now we start again with the same methods we used to begin with only this time we try to put the new cock over three of our best hens. Don’t be disappointed if the fist chicks you get from this new cock do not appear to have improved in the mask and spot area. It could be a recessive trait and the following year, when you mate half brothers and half sisters together you will find it reappearing in about 25% of the chicks. These are what you keep.
By now you have a line of birds that should have good fertility, good outline and good mask and spot and, of course, you have been breeding other birds at the same time, buy this line should form the back bone of your stud and you can continue to build this line, using these methods every time you introduce a new feature.
In conclusion, you may well ask why have I suggested keeping so many hens in the first place when it appeared that you would only use four. Well, if for one moment you think this method will run as smoothly as I have written it, believe me you live in a world of fantasy. More things can, and will, go wrong than you throw a stick at and it is usually connected to the hens. Hens won’t lay, hens have clear eggs, hens reject the cock and hens die. You’ll need ten hens and if you don’t take a ticket in Lotto.