The Weaning Process

Even for those enjoying a successful breeding season, problems arise when chicks are weaned. In many cases, everything goes like clockwork; the youngsters come out of the nest at four weeks, the cock feeds them and teaches them how to feed themselves, the hen continues with tasks inside the nest box, and all the fancier has to do is to remove the chicks as they become self-sufficient..

Conversely, in some cases, all sorts of difficulties arise which the fancier has to spot and remedy promptly. Here are some of the problems the fancier should be prepared to deal with.

Ignored or Treated as a Sex Object

The cock completely ignores the chick, or treats it as a sex object when it leaves the nest box, even though it may be calling for food. This means that the youngster could well starve, or become retarded through insufficient nutrition. It may be that the chick can be switched to another pair that has chicks of a similar age, but this does not always work. One possibility is for the fancier to put such chicks with others in the nursery cage who may feed them, but if this fails, I hand-feed with the help of syringe, three times a day, with warm milk and a trace of multi-vitamins. In a couple of days the chicks normally begin to feed themselves, and the problem is solved.

Attacking Hens

Quite frequently the hen, perhaps seeing the chick as a rival, will attack the youngster. The only course is to remove the youngster and treat as described previously. Should this be the last round of chicks from a particular pair, an alternative would be to remove the hen and leave the cock to bring up the youngsters.

Reluctance to Feed

Some chicks of four to five weeks are extremely immature, and refuse to feed themselves; instead, they spend their time calling for food and re-entering the nest box. Frequently, this seems to enrage one of the parents and an attack takes place. I had one such case where the chick was attacked, but not fatally. It was immediately removed from the cage, and after three days with the other youngsters, plus feeding with the syringe it was fully weaned.

Not Enough Food

In some cases, the parent birds give less food than is necessary for youngsters to maximise their potential. Instead of crops which are bulging, they are only partially filled. The chicks merely “tick over” and don’t really develop. If this occurs while they are still inside the nest box, the answer may be to transfer them to another nest. I try to help by placing a 3″ piece of millet spray in the nest box to encourage the hen to eat more, and hopefully feed better. When these youngsters leave the nest, it is essential to boost matters by either, switching to another nest or, giving additional food as previously indicated. Provided the parents are not attacking the young they can be left in the breeding cage.

A Critical Stage

The removal of chicks from a comparatively small area to larger units is a critical stage. When chicks leave their parents they tend to “go back” a little, in that they cease to be fluffy and become rather sleek. This is partly due to the change in feeding; previously they had food pumped into them. Whereas in the stock cages, they have to forage for themselves in competition with their peers. Thus it is essential not to put young birds straight into large flights, but rather into stock cages of 4 to 6 feet with one perch quite low down.

For the first couple of weeks I am happy to see them learning to fly efficiently, and to cope with the stress of their new surroundings. A very careful watch is kept, and I look out for chicks standing around looking miserable, as this could well indicate enteritis. I also watch for bullying, and if necessary, I remove the culprit to another cage.

First Moult

When the chicks are in their first moult at about 10 to 12 weeks, I transfer them to a flight together with a couple of adult birds. Vigilance is still maintained, and I look out particularly for the well-being of any “star”birds; if I feel they are becoming stressed I move them to a quieter location.

Weaning is an eventful stage of the breeding season, and similar to the harvest time for the farmer. We are finally reaping what we have sown, and we will be able to assess the success or failure of the preparation we made a few months before. There are few more enjoyable moments than those spent surveying young stock, particularly those stormers which appear to have the potential to win at next season’s shows.

The Split-up

When the time comes to split up the breeding pairs, the hens in particular are at great risk. I prefer them to tell me when they have had enough rather than decide myself. The cocks can safely be returned to a small flight, but I keep the hens in the breeding cage for several weeks after the separation, during which time I observe them carefully for signs of stress, the vent area in particular is an indication of their condition.

One has to remember that for some months they have been confined to a very small area, with high temperatures and humidity. Much of their time has been spent in a crouched position, and a great deal of energy given to regurgitation. Many hens are lost each year because fanciers fail to recognise the need for a period of rehabilitation before returning the hens to the flight. Good hens are extremely valuable assets and need as much care as the youngsters when they leave the nest box.

Original text: Copyright 199, Bernard Kellett

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