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A Interview with Ray Podger: A Budgerigar Fancier
with Bird Fanciers' Lung

Nigel Tonkin

Australian flag Ray lives on a farm with his dear wife Cathy near Camperdown in Victoria, and they grow gladioli for the cut flower market. He classifies himself as a reasonably fit 60 year old.

Ray, how long have you been involved with the fancy and what got you interested?

Approximately seven years ago, our lad became interested in parrots, including the Neophema family. Because of this interest. I built him an aviary which included 20 flights and suggested to him that I might keep a few budgerigars for interests sake.

Very soon, I became quite engrossed with our little feathered friends, Danish Pieds being the main attraction. Shortly after this, I joined the Geelong & District Budgerigar Club and found that the "pet shop" style of bird I had, would not achieve much on the show bench. I was aware that a number of the club members had been to your establishment in Mount Gambier to purchase birds, so I asked a friend to take me along on his next buying trip. The intention was to just look, but I purchased four birds initially, and came back twelve months later and topped up with some more.

If I recall correctly, you had not built a breeding room.

That is correct, I realized that if we were to breed Budgerigars successfully, we would need to upgrade our facilities.

We built our new breeding shed 9' × 15' with a 5' indoor flight area, divided into two at one end. Along the northern side, we have a long window complex that is covered with bird wire. The room is lined as well as insulated, nine exhaust fans at each end take away dust etc. The first year was damned cold and to try to keep the inside warm, we made frames covered with clear plastic and placed them over the windows. This certainly made things a lot warmer inside - also stuffy and humid. The floor is concrete and is hosed out regularly

OK, this is where things started to go wrong for you with regard to personal health.

Yes, three years ago I was diagnosed as having Bird Fanciers Lung. The above mentioned conditions in the breeding room, we believe, helped to cause the problem. My immune system had broken down and I became allergic to the protein that came off the birds excretia. A slight head cold, a heavy work load and a little too long at night in the bird room put me at risk. I was told that folks who keep pigs, pigeons and rabbits also run the same risk of contracting this problem.

It took some time to diagnose just what was wrong, and it was only when I told my doctor I kept budgerigars that he realized this was no ordinary virus, flu or asthma that this boy had. Next thing I was told was to get to Queensland (warmer climate) for 3-4 weeks and away from the birds, no medication was prescribed for me at this time. Fortunately, in the cut flower and gladioli industry, we have made some very close friends right across Australia, so a few pleasant weeks were spent with some of these friends just north of Brisbane. Only about a third of my lungs were useful at this stage and I was told not to even carry my suitcase. A short walk down the hallway of our house used to leave me totally exhausted.

On returning from Queensland, a visit to the doctor revealed a huge improvement, but not complete. A course Of Prisneselon? was prescribed to knock it right out. No way was I to go near the birdroom - "Get rid of them one way or the other" was the message. Being a determined cuss, I thought "Hell, there has to be a way around this" and I realized that the problem lay with the air-intake into my lungs, so I thought, why not bring in clean air via a compressor, an air hose and a full face mask? Fantastic, I can now hold my breath for quite a long time till I get things connected - that in itself is good exercise. This system has worked really well for me and while I have some scarring on the lungs, I am still able to do a pretty good day's work as well as keep an eye on my budgerigars.

We start picking flowers a little after daybreak and finish about lunchtime; catch up with spraying, planting, digging etc., whichever needs to be done. At the present time, we are driving to Melbourne three nights a week delivering flowers, a distance of 120 miles each way, five and a half to six hours in time.

Have you done anything to improve the problem in the breeding room?

Yes, we have taken away the window coverings and we run nine air purifier/ionizers with filters, as well as the existing exhaust fans. This has really helped the breeding room environment and I do really believe this it has helped the birds' health a lot - although we did move onto Murphys Pro System about the same time.

Your feeding regime?

We do not feed soaked or soft food the way a lot of people do, but we do give our birds fresh Lucerne daily; they love it and will not eat any other greens if they can get Lucerne. We also hang a few carrots in the flights during winter; these are soon demolished. They are also fed plenty of sunflower seed plus Bandicoot oats in separate dishes. Our main seed mix consists of:

Also included are plenty of cuttlefish bone and fresh grit.

Are the birds always housed in the internal flights?

No, we have six external flights for youngsters and spelling adults some 30 yards from the breeding room.

What about showing your birds?

Showing has been limited because of the inconvenience this problem has created, plus our shows are mainly held during summer and autumn and business must come first. However, we try to show at our Club Championship nights plus the Mount Gambier show is held in early winter when our work load has slackened off, thus we attend there.

What successes have you had on the show bench?

We have been reasonably lucky at these shows.

In 1993 at Geelong & District:

Mount Gambier:

In 1994 at Mount Gambier:

Camperdown & Colac Derby & Oaks Show:

In 1995 Mount Gambier:

In summary then Ray, what do you think is the best way to achieve positive results?

I do believe that if one is to be achieve anything of distinction or approaching perfection, you must line-breed to the best possible specimen you can find. Keep your ultimate goal in mind and try to fit the right pieces of the jigsaw together, whether it be Budgerigars or Flowers. You will get a lot of disappointments, but when you crack some good ones, the satisfaction becomes the height of something. Just finally, I hope that this interview may help other individuals that may be at risk or are suffering this problem. Oh! By the way, watch that cough Nigel!

Original text Copyright © 1995 Nigel Tonkin

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