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Forming A Stud

Alf Ormerod

by Alf Ormerod

There has been a lot written about breeding budgerigars. Many beginners get the impression that all they need to do is buy the birds, cages and nest-boxes, and books to produce youngsters.

I agree that breeding pet birds is easier than building up a team for show purposes. The better the quality the more difficult it becomes to retain it and produce big winners regularly.

To me this difficulty is what makes the hobby: a challenge to breed one better than ever before. It is quality first, not quantity, that counts yet one must not lose sight of the fertility potential of your stock or else you very soon get good looking birds that cannot produce their like.

Ormerod Dark Green

Alf Ormerod's Dark Green Cock - The first bird to Win the BS Club Show TWICE - was considered a bird way ahead of it's time. So outstanding exhibitors still talk about it today.

How do I start my breeding season? First of all, during the show season I have been looking for new blood, birds with certain good points to introduce into a stud that I thought could be improved by them. You must never be satisfied with your stock unless you cannot find any better.

In most cases when you get to the top the bird you want cannot be bought, but sometimes by exchanging a good one for it you gain your objective. A number of years ago I exchanged three good birds to get the one I wanted and that was a move I never regretted.

By the middle of December my pairings are complete on paper. First of all I select my best hens of each color; good hens are essential for success but they must have the pedigree as well as the looks. Next I select the cocks. First of all I weigh up and fault or point I wish to improve in the hen and find the cock that can or should improve thess failings. Then I check relationship and pedigree.

Having made a note of my best pairs I follow with the second best, but I never put up any pairs for the sake of breeding youngsters. The object is to get some improvement and if I do not think a pair can do that I do not pair them up.

I am one of the early breeders. I do not intend to argue with the late breeding school, my only comment being I prefer to breed early.  I get the results in time to have a holiday (vacation), before the show season gets underway. My early youngsters are through the moult for the mid-year shows.

Pairs are generally put together during the first week of December but before this all breeding cages are thoroughly cleaned out and floor and cages washed out with hot water to which plenty of antiseptic has been added. The birds are introduced according to my prepared list provided they are in breeding condition. I do not worry if a bird has no tail, spots are missing or a few feathers are lacking on his or her head. If they are bright in the eye, active and alert they are ready.

It is generally written that if the hen does not have a good brown cere she is not ready for breeding. This is a point I have not agreed with for a number of years. In fact, I have one family of hens whose ceres turn whitish when they are in peak condition.

I would never mate a cock if his cere was not a good blue, even if he seems to be in breeding condition, otherwise, generally only clear aggs are the result even though he has been treading regularly. The pairs are put in their breeding cage and a record card pinned to each cage with the color of each bird, ring number etc.

Ormerod Birdroom in Preston

Alf's birdroom in Preston.

Having put pairs together I like to stay for a while to noate such reactions as hens going down for treading, the pair feeding each other etc. Make sure if using cages that are separated by slides that these are secure. I like the slides to make a good fit as some birds want to pay more attention to the birds in the next compartment than their own partner. If a slide is loose and a bird forces its way through, when you arrive home from work you may have a dead or injured bird on your hands.

If using birds from which I bred together the previous year, I prefer to give them new mates. I put the birds concerned in cages far away from each other as possible but even so, in some cases, you will hear them calling to each other for a few days. They then settle down to the new partner in most instances, but I have had cases where they would not do so and I have eventually put the two back together again.

Usually it has been possible to make up another pair from the other two birds, but where they are unsuitable for each other, I have had to find new partners from the birds kept in reserve. Some pairs may fight each other but start feeding each other soon afterwards. These birds need watching if left together as while some, after a fight or two, settle and make excellent breeding pairs, others will not give in.

Both want to be boss and even though the eggs are fertile, they may fight in the box and smash the lot or even kill the youngsters. You have to split them up or take a chance. Generally I take the chance but put eggs as laid under another pair and let the pugilists have some clear eggs to see if they will settle better when sitting the second time. If that happens, I then try with a newly hatched youngster transferred from a pair that has four or more. If all goes well they are allowed to keep their own in the next round.

If hens have not laid two weeks after the nest-boxes were put up, look for heavy swelling at the vent. The hen may not be passing her eggs. If so, do not leave them unattended too long or they will die. Such a hen is usually finished, but occasionally, if given twelve months in the flight, will lay an odd egg or two the following year then swell up again. If she is a really outstanding hen and you can get one youngster from her it might well be worth the trouble.

Other hens may not lay with one cock but will with another. A cock can be seemingly infertile with one hen but a very good breeder with another. During the sitting and feeding period watch the hens for swelling in the legs. If this occurs and the rings are tight, dip the legs in clear iodine, witch hazel or a similar lotion available from chemists. If the condition is very bad it may be necessary to cut off the ring or rings rather than lose the bird.

Do not be afraid of inspecting your nest-boxes. Get your hens used to you doing so before they have laid. From the time I first put up the boxI make a regular habit of looking in every day. This lets the hen know she is not in any danger and then when she starts sitting and you opan the box, she is not scared, and does not scatter the eggs. All my hens while sitting and feeding just walk gently out of the box when I wish to check eggs, or ring chicks etc.

It is not necessary to use heaters in your breeding room, but I have one for my own comfort. If you do have one in the room be sure you have a container of water over them to preserve a degree of humidity. More chicks, I believe, die in the shell through the skins getting tough and dry following the use of electric heaters without water, than anything else.

During the hot summer months, when we keep the containers filled up, damp the floor or occasionally dip the eggs in luke warm water. Make sure your eggs are kept reasonably clean as some hens are dirty in the box and if your eggs get covered with excreta the chick will die.

Mine are normally alright as I renew sawdust should any hens carry it out. If your eggs are dirty, clean them with warm water, using a piece of soft cloth or a shaving brush. Then replace them in the box. When ringing your chicks be careful not to damage the toe-nails. Many really outstanding birds have this fault and have to be penalized when in a hot class. It is much easier to ring a bird twice because a ring came off than miss ringing it or damage it by leaving it too late.

While your young are in the box inspect their claws and beaks often. Excreta gathering around the nails stops their growth and can join the toes together. When this happens your youngsters leave the box with a faulty foot and cannot grip the perches properly. Be careful when removing dirt that you do not pull out the nails. A damp soft cloth is all you need to clean them.

Keep the outside of the beaks clean by the same method, but also clean out the inside. Food clots inside, sets hard, and stops normal development, resulting in overshot or undershot beaks. Clean them with a pointed match like you may use for ringing.

During the first few days watch out for youngsters with wind. A lot of birds die through this but it is easily recognized and can be cured. If you see a youngster with a swollen throat like a water blister, that is wind. Just lay it on its back and press the “blister” gently between the finger and thumb until the bird opens its beak. Relieve the pressure for a second then repeat the process until the “blister” is gone. The hen can then feed the chick alright, but sometimes it needs to be done again the following day.

This generally happens with young hens. They will not leave the youngsters to come out and feed and, having nothing in their crops they go through the motions of feeding and the youngsters become filled with air, as happens when a baby sucks on an empty milk bottle.

Look for feather plucking as time goes on. Some hens will pluck one color and not another; if so, remove those of that color in a mixed nest, but before doing so decide which nest you are going to transfer them to.

When I move a chick I make a habit of rubbing a little olive oil on my hands and stroke the others in the nest I am transferring it to. In this way all the youngsters will smell alike. I am convinced a hen knows her own by smell, but always transfer to a nest of the same color if possible.

If a hen has four youngsters with others to hatch I try to put the other eggs under another pair that are hatching, but pick a nest of another color so you can pick out the transferred birds. Alternatively, you can transfer a ringed chick to another nest of similar size.

Save your clear aggs. I find them useful to put in a nestbox where a hen has hatched all her own eggs. I usually put in a couple. They help to keep the small chicks from getting crushed.

When your youngsters begin to leave the nest see that the cock does not attack them. I generally find that this occurs when only one comes out and the cock thinks it should be in the box. Generally if you put another youngster with it on the bottom of the cage the cock settles down and begins to feed them.

Do not be in a hurry to remove your youngsters from the breeding cage even if they are feeding themselves so long as the parents are happy with them. I leave some until they are eight weeks old. Do not move any under six weeks unless forced to, but even then, be sure they are feeding satisfactorily.

When you transfer them, transfer them to show cages to start their show training. I find that putting two together is best; they are company for each other.

Alf Ormerod and Eric Peake

Alf chats with Eric Peake during our visit to Preston in the 1980s. Many of the top studs today have Ormerod birds in their background.

How would I form a stud? I say a ”stud” because in Budgies there is no such thing as a strain comparable to those we have in Pigeons. Budgies do not behave like other forms of livestock when inter-breeding over a period of years. I do not know why, and to keep on top one must always be on the look-out for a new bird or two each year, preferably from a different part of the country.

I have always told beginners and novices that I have been careful to see I use only matched pairs. Follow my advice for three years then you are on your own.

First of all, decide what you can afford to spend. If capital is limited (and mine certainly was when I started as a lad) get two matched pairs instead of buying a lot of cheap birds. Buy from a fancier who has proved over the years that he is breeding good youngsters. Tell him what you can afford and let him match the birds. He knows his birds and what will do best for you. Good birds cannot be bought cheaply. Quality both in pedigree and looks control price as in anything else.

Keep your mated pairs. Select the following year the best cock and hen from each pair. Pair father x daughter and mother x son. Again select the best and for the third year pair the best from line one to the best from line two.

By now you should have a number of winners around you and will need another bird or two. Having some good birds you can sell or use them to affect exchanges. You can go back to your same breeder; he will still have birds to suit your needs.

Alternatively, you can go elsewhere and breed from your new stock on the same lines as before, always keeping your best together. But watch out for infertility, poor layers, bad feeders, etc…, and rectify these points by using birds that are good in these respects.

Interesting Note: When we visited Alf & Doris in Preston Alf had me sign his guestbook. The names directly above mine were a couple of breeders from Germany who had been there to buy birds.. The names were not well known then, but they are today.... Jo Mannes, and the young chap with him... Reinhardt Molkentin. ~ Bob Wilson

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