Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Plucking Babies

Preventing Hens From Using Baby Down Feathers to Make Their Second Nest

Sunday I received this e-mail, "The baby canaries started coming out of the nest on Saturday the 6th. Mom has promptly tried to take over the nest and lay again. Her and Dad have been feeding the babies and taking great care of them. Today, Mom started plucking the down feathers from the babies to make new nesting material in the old nest. All the old nesting material is gone from the nest. I wasn't sure what to do so I took out the nest to try and discourage her from making a nest and thus picking the feathers off the babies. The babies aren't weaned yet and I don't know what to do. She hasn't completely stopped the plucking. Should I put the old nest back in for the babies (they were still using it at night) and give Mom a new nest with new nesting material? Will she continue to feed the babies if she is laying again?"

Several people lately have ask me about hens who pluck their babies. Seems like it is fairly common in many breeders aviary but when I went to try and find a chick who had been plucked to photograph for this blog, there was not a single one in all of the couple hundred babies I have raised this year! Even Margaret, who I gave four roller hens and three cocks, commented on how her new roller hens were picking their babies. So it must not be genetic, these are my stock.

So what about my methods prevents plucking? Several things are likely responsible. First, I feed high protein and lots of egg until the chicks are banded or nearly banded. After banding, I continue egg food but do not reintroduce quartered hard boiled egg until the first chick leaves the nest which is around 18 days. My egg food contains hard boiled egg but only six eggs in the enormous Tupperware bowl. It is about 60% cous cous with quinoa and it has extra soy protein.

Second and perhaps most importantly, I put a second nest in the cage around the 14 th day. This is when the hen normally is thinking about her next clutch and when she is again receptive to mating with the cock. Usually she prefers to nest in her old nest, so I move the chicks to a new clean nest.

If I have enough nest, I might put a third nest in the cage if she has three or more chicks, to give them more room. I make sure the chicks nest have a normal amount of nesting material in their nests and the hen's new nest, which will be placed in the same position as her old nest, is loosely crammed full with a generous handful of nesting material. I cram nesting material the same way in her first nest because I found that when the hen gathers and carries nesting to build her nests, there is considerable more waste.

Instead of the hen searching for nesting material and choosing chick down, she immediately starts to tidy up this messy full nest that Big Bird left for her!! I imagine she has a few choice words about Big Bird and how she makes such a messy nest that she must reconstruct it to even make it usable!

Lastly, in answer to your question, even nest building or laying eggs will not interfere with the hen feeding her chicks , although she expects the cock to do more of the feeding for her!



Anonymous said...

Howzit Linda and everyone in the BLOG,

In SA this feather plucking is also common especially among new colour canaries. Very seldomly have I had it with my Borders. I agree that some of the best ways to prevent it is the early introduction of the new nest and also ensuring that the hen has plenty of nesting material to work with. I like the idea of stuffing the new nest so that it distracts the hen from looking for more nesting material. I have also heard that using cotton wool helps to reduce the hens desire to line the nest with the soft down feathers! The method is to break off pieces of cotton wool and process it so that it becomes finer in texture and light. The hens seem to like the soft lining for the eggs/ new born chicks.It is for this reason that I prepare my hessian a little differently now, I cut into pieces and then soak in pool chlorine for a day or two. This makes it softer. Then to improve it further I soak in some fabric softner. When I offer it, it comes out nice and comfy!
I agree that many times the amount of available protein in the diet can increase the hens desire to pluck, but I have found this especially true during the moult, and only when I did not feed enough animal protein. The birds would pluck each other and then almost try to get the animal protein from the plucked feather! Now that I feed lots of protein, I have not had this happen in the my last two moults!
For the writer, if possible, I would move the birds to a double breeder and separate the parents from them with a wire divider, so that the hen will continue to feed the chicks through the holes, but will not be able to get to them to pluck them. If they are badly plucked and only after they are weaned, I would put them in a hospital cage and provide some heat so that they dont get a chill whilst they grow their new feathers.


Anonymous said...

my canary babies have just fledged. but they have very little feathering apart on thier wings, and i am worried the mum is plucking them?