Seeing Quality in the Nest Box

The achievement of breeding a stormer or a nest of quality chicks must start with a good feeding and management routine that runs all the year, from when the bird is a youngster right through its adult years. With the build-up to the breeding season, good mixtures of seeds, grits, iodine or pigeon blocks, plus titbits which your birds may have been used to, will all help to add that extra weight and breeding fitness we all look for when selecting our chosen pairings.

Soft Food

We give soft food to breeding pairs but recommend that it should be introduced before the breeding season starts. This is provided to the birds in the flight so that they get used to it. We do not feed soft food all year through, as the show birds would be affected. In our experience, soft food keeps the birds in a soft moult and not in tight feather condition. It is a known fact that the body temperature increases when extra protein is given, and this would not he good for potential show birds.

Our Golden Rule

Our golden rule is – stick to routine and not make any sudden changes in feeding etc., whilst the breeding season is on.

Laying

Once the pairings have been made in the respective breeding cages we patiently wait for the first eggs to be laid after 10 days. Eggs come in all shapes and sizes, from the standard egg shape, some are large, small, round like marbles and a few may have pointed ends. Even the structure of the shell can be different. A few can be imperfect, being either porous or soft. Some eggs can be double-yolked, or you can get some eggs with weak yolks which are not visible to the eye when being candled. Personally, we have never had any joy of double-yolked eggs hatching, so these, along with the small marble type eggs plus any soft shell or porous eggs, are discarded. If any of these were fertile and were left in the nest, there would be a high probability that they would addle, or be dead in shell anyway.

Hatching problems

Hatching time can cause some problems in the case of eggs with pointed ends. Chicks chipping, find turning difficult, and will often end up dead-in-shell. Sometimes, problems can occur for a large chick in chipping round the top of an egg. As it finds turning difficult, this causes stress to the chick. We have learned to recognize the problem signs and usually give a little help by gently slitting the egg, but leaving the top still intact, so the chick can escape from the shell in its own time when rested. We have saved a number of chicks this way over the years.

When you are pairing up, put several pairs down at the same time with both maiden hens and adult hens in the pairs. This helps if anything goes wrong when the chicks hatch, for example, hens with no crop milk , or illness in a cock or hen. In these circumstances, chicks can be moved to another nest and saved. If you are stuck with no chicks hatched elsewhere, a little warm milk with glucose can be given to the hatchling via a small dropper. This will often help a youngster survive until the hen gets her crop milk or another nest has hatched a chick.

Observation

Once the season is underway with chicks in their different stages, observations must be made on the appearance of chicks. Full crops containing rich coloured crop milk in the very young, to full crops of mixed seed in the older ones is the order of the day.

As the days go by, hopefully our fancied pairings will have produced chicks. Observations are made on several factors. Firstly, the chicks should be healthy-looking and be well fed. Quality factors can be seen in the size of feet, as larger feet and legs indicate a potentially larger than average bird. Our main consideration and priority is the skull size and width. We look for this extra dimension as it will indicate birds having good width between the eyes, plus the benefit of all-important back skull. This quality can be seen even before the bird has feathered.

The next quality-factor stage is feather growth – buff, medium buff or fine feather. We aim to try to breed birds with what we term as interemediate feather, (medium buff). This is excellent for the modern show bird. There always appears to be a coarser layer of down, like a sponge, on the young chicks with medium buff feathering. We also breed pairs to incorporate directional feathering over the eyes and back over the future capping, and this is an essential feature to see at this stage.

When you have chicks showing these qualities, this is a time to keep close scrutiny on their development. Often, we have heard cases of fanciers losing their best chicks following an attack by their parents after they have come out of the nest box into the breeding cage. We feel that four or five week old chicks who show potential and are large, with the full blow of their head feathers, must look an imposing threat, just like another adult bird, to either of their parents, and this could be contribute to some birds being attacked. Even with all the desired features, the overall quality of a chick or nest of chicks will only come to the fore if both parents are good in the brooding and feeding of their offspring.

Poor Feeders

One experience we have had with this situation was when a quality pairing hatched four chicks. Both parents did not seem to feed them with a good variety of seeds. It appeared that only certain millets were taken and subsequently the chicks were not developing as we hoped. The youngest chick was transferred to another box which only housed two chicks. These parents were excellent eaters and feeders and their original two chicks were very well fed and developing well. At the time all the chicks left the nest boxes, the transferred chick was head and shoulders in size above its original three nest mates. We therefore, decide, if we have promising chicks and the feeding is inadequate, to take them from their own parents. They will be transferred to nest boxes where we have very good feeders. Hopefully, the original pair will then go down to lay another clutch of eggs, and when hatched and the chicks rung, these will also be moved on if the feeding has not improved.

Breeding quality youngsters comes down to a “bit of luck” in your pairings, but also patience, good aviary management and knowledge of your birds. This takes time, and this was our main aim, to breed good quality youngsters in depth, when we first came into the hobby nearly fourteen years ago.

Original text: Copyright 1997 Bill and Christine Heale

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