Monday, February 11, 2013

2013 Top Ten List For Breeding Borders

Young Border Hen Flapping Her Wings Getting Ready For Breeding
Special Request: Christel writes Perhaps it is time to write a new top ten list for breeding borders.

Big Bird's Response: Thanks so much for asking, I really appreciate hearing from you. Unfortunately, I can't find the original, if you have it please copy me or tell me where to find it, for now I will just write an update. Christel sent me a link:

2013 Big Bird's Top Ten Tips For Breeding Borders

1. Breed Only the Healthiest Birds. Be selective with your stock and only breed birds that do not exhibit any hint of neurological problem. Watch out for wide tails that never pipe down to a healthy narrow appearance (many will have wide tails at weaning but this should quickly fix at least by eight weeks, problem birds tails never pipe), poor wing carriage (another clue that the bird is not up to fitness), squinting eyes when stressed (approach the cage and challenge just a bit and watch the eyes, does the bird half shut its eyes? Do the challenge test before you buy any bird and no matter how great they appear, under no circumstances should you buy a bird that squints or freezes like a trance when challenged as in time this gorgeous bird will not even be able to perch!), exclude any with hints of balance problems (improve balance with swings and or ferris wheels) but do not breed any bird that is unsteady.

2. Provide Healthy Diet All Year Long. Work for peak health and fitness all year long. Although all breeds need a healthy diet, each breed has needs for extra nutrients but the best supplement level varies greatly by breed. Borders, need a much higher vitamin and mineral supplementation then most breeds, perhaps because of poor absorption. If you supplement all of your different varieties the same, you will have years when some breeds do well and others are big flops so learn each breeds needs and respond to them appropriately. Certainly, my German Rollers need a lot less vitamin and mineral supplementation than my Borders. When supplemented the same, one or the other variety will do well but not both without adjustment for breed.

3. Monitor Weight. Cocks that are too fat will have great difficulty fertilizing the egg. They should not have a large yellow fat layer around the vent. If they need to reduce, drop oily seeds and feed canary seed mixed with untreated grass seed (Connie Gahman), make them exercise by flying longer distance by decrease the number of perches and separating the food and water stations and perches. Also make sure there are at least three cocks in the same cage to encourage them to move.

Often when birds fail to come into breeding condition the problem is that they are too thin. Any thin birds should be separated from others. Even young birds need to separated by sex as soon as possible. When you find a thin one separate it out and only house with similar thin ones. Being thin can simply be a less aggressive bird not getting food or it can be a sign of a genetic deficiency in absorption of nutrients especially selenium.

Thin birds have a very sharp breast bone and their pelvic bones stick out, cocks sing rarely if at all, and the vent development is so poor that it is hard to tell a hen from a cock. Often they are sexed wrongly and only a year or two later does the breeder discovered that they have a cock in the hen cage. Too fatten increase the oily seeds especially thistle (nyjer) and sunflower pieces, offer soft bread, decrease greens and no high protein foods (egg). Decrease flying by putting perches every few inches. Make food and water readily available at perch height and use multiple food dishes to make grazing easy.

4. Start Conditioning Cocks First. As a general rule it takes about six weeks to bring a cock into full breeding condition but only three or four weeks to bring a hen into full breeding condition. Three things bring cocks into breeding condition.

First, sensitivity to longer day light hours. Being light sensitive is lost after birds have been in extended light for a period of time, so it is important that during the summer and fall that birds be on shorter days of 10 hours or less to redevelop light sensitivity. A change in day length changes hormones levels and results in  cocks producing more sperm. It is most effective when the day length changes suddenly. If I had two separate aviaries, I would change the cocks suddenly first but with one aviary, I start six weeks before breeding by increasing the day length by 30 minutes per week. Then on the fourth week I suddenly change forward to 14 hours plus 30 minutes dimmer. My overhead lights are on programmable timers which I set for 14 hours and then I plug another light on a stand into its own separate timer so that it overlaps by an hour and extends the single bulb light 30 minutes after the overhead lights are out.

Second, territorial fighting. House cocks together as territorial fighting also raises brings them into breeding condition. The exception to this is when the cocks are too thin, then first priority must be to getting them to a normal weight.

Third, vitamin E and other foods. Vitamin E and selenium are very important for conditioning and Borders and a few other varieties need a very high level to stimulate them. If you use ABBA Fertility E, start cocks on this product six weeks before breeding and on their fourth week start the hens. This is given as the only water on one day a week. Cocks can receive it throughout breeding season but the hens receive it only till they lay their first egg.

5. Start Food Conditioning  with Vitamin E Coated Seeds. Six weeks before breeding start all birds on wheat germ oil blend (horse supplement with extra vitamin A, D and E) coated seeds. For  50 lbs of seed mix: take 5 lbs of the mix and add one cup wheat germ oil blend and mix several times daily for a couple of days then mix into with the 45 lbs uncoated seeds. Use this as your regular seed mix throughout breeding season.  The regular seed mix can contain a variety of seeds and should include some flax (linseed) as they are high in phytoestrogens.

6. Supplement the Diet with Vitamin and Mineral Products. Be sure to use products with additional calcium and also those with selenium and amino acids. A number of good products are available. For calcium I use the calcium gluconate and during laying Avitech Cal-D-Solve. Other multiple vitamins products include Pro-vital, Orlux, Biodecken with immune support for extra selenium are all good products. For amino acids I use Miracle (ABBA: AAMiracle made in Italy).

7.Facilitate Feeding Behavior. The very best predictor of fertile eggs is seeing feeding behavior. When the cock feeds the hen, mating will usually follow shortly. When I see cocks in the flights or hens in their flights feeding each other, I know that they are fast approaching full breeding condition.

To encourage feeding behavior, I feed wheat germ mixed with brewer's yeast and also MannaPro Poultry Conditioner along with nyjer (thistle) and sunflower pieces. Once they are paired they also get softfood to encourage feeding behavior.

In difficult cases, I use a wire divided cage and give the cock the goodies and let the hen beg him through the wire to feed her. When this happens for a day, I remove the divider. It is also a good technique when the cock is trying to bully the hen.

8. Use the Hatching Trick As Needed. Fertile eggs that fail to hatch by noon of the 14th day should be moved to a foster hen who has good incubation temperature. If the chick is alive when the egg is moved, they will hatch within two days, usually the next day. During incubation feed the hen dishes of hemp to help her maintain a good incubation temperature.

9. Rise Early and Feed the Hen As Soon As the Light Comes On. Offering fresh nestling food first thing in the morning will save a few chicks as mom will likely fill up on the fresh food and be ready to feed her chicks as soon as you leave the room.

10. Figure Out the Problem When No Chicks Hatch Before Resetting the Hen. It is disappointing when no chicks result but take a few minutes to figure out how to fix it before pulling the infertile eggs.

Are the egg shells too thin and dehydrated? Then fix the calcium problem and add a humidifier. When the eggs are too thin, do not remove eggs as they are laid.

Good eggs but no chicks? Then let the hen set as long as she will but start giving her nestling food and wheat germ/brewer's yeast and watch to see if the cock will feed her. Check the cocks vent and make sure you have trimmed well around the vent and on the sides so that feathers do not obstruct mating. The cocks vent should be red in color and bulging on the sides so that they are rounded out.


Anonymous said...

Hi Linda,
Do you remember your old "top 10 hnts for breeding Borders".
Maybe time for a new top 10.
Just thought about this...

Linda Hogan said...

Great Idea Christel! Not sure where to find it. I have written so many articles. Will check the search on the blog.

Anonymous said...

My birds are all too fat, and the breeding season for me starting in about 7 weeks, 10 hours of light now, in well covered and protected outside flight.
Can I risk to cut the already given softfood? If yes, how long?
Thank you for your help.

Linda Hogan said...


I never worry about the hens being too fat does not interfer with mating and once they feed chicks they will slim down.

In an outside flight, you would not think the cocks would be too fat as a certain amount of fat would be necessary just to keep warm. I have never used an outside flight as weather here is quite cold but it seems to me that extra oats would be fed to try and keep a fat layer.

Perhaps you could take out some of the cocks perches so they fly more. I am reluctant to cut back on conditioning food once it is started as it sets the birds back about a month before they re-cycle. I think that birds move toward breeding and reach a peak and then go slightly out of condition only to re-cycle again in about a month. Have any of you noticed that too?

Can some breeders with experience in outside aviaries give us a hand here with this question?

Linda Hogan said...

I think cocks in an outside aviary would show some fat layer under the skin in the lower abdomen but it should not be a "beer belly".

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your new top 10!

Always handy re-reading it from time to time.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your blog, it's very helpful. I have a couple of questions as a relatively new canary owner.

1) I have a male who seems to have long feathers and you mentioned that you sometimes find trimming near males' vents helps. How do you do this? A small electric beard trimmer or scissors or ? I'd be afraid to zig when I mean to zag!

As well, I'm noticing that many websites state that it is very difficult to breed red factor canaries, but do not mention why. I have a young red factor female I'd hoped to someday breed. Can you please shed some light on this for me?

Thanks so much!

Linda Hogan said...

I trim the feathers with scissors around the vent and on the his sides on all breeder males. I hold the tail back with my left hand and with slow small snips being careful not to cut the males flesh or his legs or his privates I slowly work away. This makes it easier for the male to make connection.

Red factors are not especially difficult to breed. Larger varieties are more challenging. When we begin breeding, they all are difficult as we have a learning curve.

When I first started breeding, I bought a male who never sang well but after looking sick to me for a day or so, laid an egg. So I bought another male. I was surprised when both parents tried to sit on the eggs at the same time and when the clutch was completed it had 12 eggs (two hens). When I finally got a chick to hatch, I would get up at 2 am to offer food to the hen for a night feeding! Imagine how if she wouldn't feed at 2 am, I would hand feed the chick and then hope she would get back on the nest. When she didn't, I would be wondering around in the dark and gently putting her back on her nest and take a flashlight to make sure she had not jump off again. My first chick was hatched in Sept. Now how many things did I do wrong, all of them!

The most important lesson was do not meddle. Get in take care of them and leave them alone to do the raising and be a facilitator not a micro-manager.