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Alternative Breeding Techniques

by Jim & Marcia Halbert
Feb. 1996 Cheep Talk

  As a breeder and exhibitor of rares as well as the standard varieties, I never seem to really have a chance to set up all the pairs I would like to. Breeding takes place outdoors, year-round, even though this is New Jersey. At any given time the average number of birds stands at about 150, plus the very young still with the parents or newly fledged. Almost every variety and color from the currently used schedule of classes are represented, except for greywing, clearwing, yellow and white. The problem is that there are only 25 breeding cages, and even if every pair followed the rules, there would be time for just over 4 clutches per cage per year, or about 100 matings. This means that since 18 of the sections listed in the schedule of classes are bred, this translates into only being able to set up about 6 parings per variety type or section. This can be a big problem when you are breeding certain varieties like Texas clearbodies or lacewings, which just do not seem to want to increase their numbers for me. I would be interested in knowing if they are usually a problem or it is a problem unique to me. When varieties like these are set up and go for weeks without cooperating, it slows my progress down with all other pairings as well. Sometimes when a pair is put up to produce some offspring of an individual variety, a bonus of another one or more can appear as well instead, which can be great. Then there are the times you get plenty of chicks from matings which should produce the variety you want; say a fallow to a split fallow, but no red eyed chicks appear. Other breeders looking to buy variety birds from breeders like myself are often dismayed that we have none available and may feel that no one wants to sell them birds. It must be understood that our first priority is to not let the line die out by not keeping enough birds to replace birds that have died, are too old or are the non-breeders. If only to have some backup and be on the safe side, if the laws of genetics are working against me or I do not have any cooperation from the pairs, I am often forced to keep birds I would normally sell to a pet shop. To represent a variety in either visual, split or masked form in my breeding program, I personally feel that I must keep 6 to 8 birds as a minimum. Any less could result in that variety becoming extinct in my stud. More are kept if they are of very good quality.

  Usually more split birds are produced than visual. This is great for improvement of the variety and for breeding more in the future but they are useless for exhibiting. It would be easy to cut back on the amount of varieties and colors being currently bred to allow more pairs to be set up for the remaining varieties. This would allow for a higher number of visual variety birds to be produced and exhibited. This is not an optimum though, as I thoroughly enjoy all of the ones I keep. I have been working on improving these for many years, even if there are not enough in my flights to show. I can’t explain the rewarding feeling you get when you produce even just one outstanding, much improved clearbody, mauve, fallow, etc. The answer might then be to just add more breeding cages but this is not an option due to lack of space. Moving to a bigger house is not within the realm of reality at this time - such a dilemma for the serious budgie breeding addict.

  Well, leave it to the birds to come up with a solution to the problem. A small shed has 15 breeding cages in it. The other 10 breeding cages are located in a huge walk-in outside flight that measures about 18’ 1ong x 6’ wide x 7’ high. The 30 or so cockatiels have free flight in this cage and there are three other smaller flight or cages for the budgies. One large cage holds the young for a few weeks after leaving their parents, before sale or placement into the stock flight. Another large cage holds birds that are splits for varieties. A 3’ wide x 2’ deep x 3’ high flight holds all remaining stock and show birds.

  There was a 1992 sky headspot pied (what I call the continental clearflights that look just like normals with a head patch) that frequently got out of the stock flight. This cock delighted in sneaking out and having me chase him among the cockatiels, wreaking havoc while trying to catch him and put him back where he belonged. More than once, he got to keep his freedom for a day or two because I didn’t have time to chase him. Finally, in March, I decided not to aggravate myself anymore and just left him out with the cockatiels. He kept trying to flirt with all of the hens still in the flight and the breeding cages. Then I decided, since he was such a flirt and I would love to be able to set up more pairs, why not put up a few nestboxes and turn loose a few hens as well. This was to be both an experiment to see if the cock would mate with more than one hen at a time and allow me to work on clearflights, dark-eyed clears and harlequins, even though no breeding cages were available. In the past I had tried using one cock with more than one hen by moving him back and forth. I felt this was too stressful on the birds and an extra hassle for me. The results were not worth the effort. This seemed easy as long as I made sure no one else would sneak out to mess things up. I put up six boxes and let out five hens. A normal sky, two normal greens, a sky/harlequin and a sky Finnish pied (dark eyed clear with a few colored feathers on the lower belly or rump.

  All went remarkably well and there were no problems between cockatiels and budgies. One of the light greens and the sky had been problem birds before without any interest in breeding. I thought perhaps the large flight and the amorous cock would stimulate them to breed but it did not. They kept to themselves arid did not bother the other three hens so I let them stay. The headspot mated with all three other hens and went on to be the perfect doting husband and father for two rounds. The light green had only one fertile egg, which produced a light green chick. More importantly, she hatched two eggs that were fertile and near to hatching that were from a violet rating. They were cold when I found them and gave them to her, but they hatched three days later and became a cobalt and a violet. In the second round came three large light green and a poorly marked clearflight. The sky Finnish pied produced a sky headspot, a sky Finnish pied and a sky harlequin in the first round. In the second round there was a white dark eyed clear, a sky harlequin and a sky headspot. The sky/harlequin had one sky chick. This hen took longer to get started and was taken out of the experiment because the other two hens were almost done with their second round when this one was finishing her first. All of the birds were put back in their respective flights after the second round at about the end of July. 1 felt it was definitely worthwhile as I did get variety chicks even when I did not have any available breeding cages. The bonus is that since I put the headspot back into the stock flight, he has not escaped into the large ones.

  I have turned a new batch of birds into the cockatiel flight. My crested line is in serious danger of being lost so they are the birds being worked with now. The last two crestbred males are free with a crested (poor) hen, three crest bred hens and the normal sky hen from the last experiment. It has been almost two weeks and most of the hens were spotted going in and out of the boxes; two of which were cockatiel boxes. Two males are being used this time to ensure fertile eggs.

  This type of breeding is similar to colony breeding except that, in colony breeding, the number of cocks and hens is usually equal. I intend to continue this practice to increase my matings on varieties, with clearbodies being targeted after the cresteds. This type of mating would also be excellent for line breeding or for using one exceptional cock with several very good hens at once and getting a large number of closely related chicks before the cock dies. You would have the advantage of the young birds reaching maturity at the same time for future line bred pairings. Fewer cocks need to be kept using this method on a more widespread basis and, by using small flights for this, more hens could be used than if individual breeding cages were used in the same space. It is also no extra work for the breeder.

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