Doing things the hard way 

Up until now all, the information provided on this website has been supplied by Richard, Michael or from me.

My role is to assist with the day to day running of the stud and keeping the website up to date.

With the start of the 2014 season under way, I suggested to Richard and Michael that I do things differently with regard to the website. Essentially, I wish to share my first-hand experience of the work I do and what I see happen within the aviary in the context of breeding exhibition budgerigars.

As part of this idea, I have been tasked with being responsible for a block of breeding cages, which I must monitor and operate in the same manner that Richard & Michael do and have done for some considerable time now. Therefore, this would enhance my role from that of cleaning and feeding to actually being involved with the breeding program.

I have picked up a few things over the years, and therefore had some degree of confidence in taking on this enhanced role. The block I am operating has been paired up by Richard and Michael taking into account their long term plans for the stud. In addition, it goes without saying that they have kept a close eye on everything I have done so far this season. However, rather than “spoon feed” me information, they have given me time to spot things on my own to raise with them. 

This was going to be easy… wasn't it???

Those experienced fanciers amongst you are no doubt already laughing having read this far. I can certainly now empathise with those who are learning their craft in the hobby as we clearly have so much to learn from breeders who are able to do so much as though it is second nature to them.

I have observed Richard and Michael for almost 2 decades and witnessed their system of running the stud (which now is of a considerable size). They operate the breeding, rearing, resting and show preparation routines in such a way that is designed to work (and appear) as simply as possible.

One minor example of this relates to the breeding cards. When the hen lays an egg the date is marked on the card. If this is fertile, a red tick mark is placed next to the date. If it hatches (and is fed), a green tick is marked next to the red tick. When the chick is rung, it is recorded in a draft breeding register. Therefore, for me to follow this cycle with my block of cages, I genuinely thought; “how hard can this be?”

Well, to start with, I never realised just how much information is kept inside their heads!

Within the breeding pairs, there are some older stock birds with previous experience of rearing chicks. Therefore, looking at the breeding cards for each pair, I kept coming across little notes being added such as; move eggs, move chicks, do not disturb hen, call Richard when hen lays first egg etc.

In addition, the level of craft attained by decades of experience really stands out sometimes. For example, Michael can check eggs with a torch and determine an egg to be in the process of fertilising after I’ve checked it and see nothing!

The partnership is also used to ringing their birds in a certain way (facing upwards and on the left leg). In addition, I’ve learned that counting days as a means of determining when a chick can be rung doesn’t really work. Ring dates have varied in my boxes from 7 days to 14 days.

In the last 3 months, I’ve moved eggs, fostered chicks, helped chip out chicks from their egg, found dead chicks both in and out of shell, had eggs punctured/broken/eaten/thrown out of the nest, found dead chicks (for no apparent reason), had older chicks attacked by their parents, pairs that have bred lots of chicks, pairs that have bred nothing… and until yesterday, bred what I hoped would be a real contender for a future world champion! The bird in question was a spangle grey that to me, looked perfect. Unbelievably big compared to other young birds. It was almost a month old and whilst out of the nest started to lose some body weight. Therefore, I removed the bird from the breeding cage and passed it to Dyanne (my wife), who has hand reared a considerable number of birds for the partnership and saved some real stormers along the way!).

The bird was eating, had plenty of warmth and was constantly monitored. It looked like everything was fine… until we woke up one morning to find it dead on the cage floor.  I've seen both Richard and Michael upset at losing a bird, and to be honest I just thought “it’s a bird; you have loads, what’s the problem?” But yesterday, I finally understood how they felt.  It reminded me of the little star (feather duster, as described in an earlier blog on this site), which broke our hearts.

It’s not the fact I thought (we thought) it was a potential champion of the future, but more to do with the fact that it was my responsibility. I did all I could to make sure the bird would survive and yet, I failed. It was old enough to support itself, feeding, cracking seed, flying around the cage, looked healthy and yet, it died. With this experience, I learned one of the most painful lessons that breeders of exhibition budgerigars must endure: when you have livestock, you have deadstock.

Considering the number of cages I have been allowed to look after (small number), I think I've learned so much in what has been a very short space of time.

I still prefer Motorcycle Racing to Exhibition Budgerigars. However, I have a new found respect for what Richard and Michael have spent so much time doing.  The highs and lows that come with breeding budgerigars certainly provide a rollercoaster of emotions. In addition, I've found there is so much more involved in the breeding program than what I could possibly convey either in an article/blog or via this website. All I can do is promise to try and pass on as much as I possible can as the season continues – wish me luck!


Barry Proctor (Proc)