HAMILTON & DISTRICT BUDGERIGAR SOCIETY INC.

HOW TO BREED WINNERS & IMPORTANCE OF STRAIN

If I had headed this article "How to Establish a Strain of Your Own" the advice which follows would have been unchanged. If an owner desires to form a stud of Budgerigars which can consistently produce winning specimens, then he must evolve a strain, unless he be content, and has the means, to expend goodly sums of money annually on birds capable of breeding high-class youngsters for him.

If the latter is the procedure adopted, then the fancier is not depending on his own abilities as a breeder. He is obviously making use practically always of material provided by those from whom he purchases his birds. Although the buying of good foundation stock is essential, and although the introduction of fresh blood to improve certain qualities in one's own birds may be necessary from time to time, the ambitious Budgerigar breeder should set out with the intention of eventually founding a strain of his own and then being able to produce virtually all the birds he requires in his aviaries both for breeding purposes and as exhibits at the shows.

Such a person will discover that the need for introducing new blood will diminish as the standard of excellence of his own stock increases. He who strives to establish a strain places the greater reliance when breeding on home-bred birds. He who makes no attempt to found a strain has to pin his faith mainly to those specimens which he buys, which, truly, we all have to do in the first or second year after commencing in the hobby, though this reliance should not persist indefinitely.

The apex of a fancier's ambition should be to own a collection of home-bred specimens practically all possessing high merit and all bearing a family likeness to each other, in fact, all distinguishable as being of a certain ownership. When a breeder has reached this point in his operations, then his strain will become linked with his name in the public mind, and people will talk of Mr. so-and-so's strain of Greens, or whatever colour (or colors) the birds of this family may be produced in. But even though you may not be honored to that extent -- and few are -- it does not follow that you will not gradually evolve a magnificent winning collection of Budgerigars, all bred in your own aviaries, if you apply intelligently the methods which I describe below, and if reasonably good luck attends your efforts.

Great success in exhibiting does not alone warrant an owner to claim to have a strain of his own. He may have won most of his prizes with birds which he has bought, or he may have frequently won with home-bred specimens, but ones which differ greatly in characteristics and which probably are not even slightly related. In other words, they are not members of a family evolved to a high standard of excellence by the owner's own efforts as a breeder for a number of years. In livestock circles few Fancy terms are more erroneously employed than is "strain". Stock is frequently advertised as being of Mr.So-andSo's strain, when the advertiser does not own a strain to which other breeders place his name. I appreciate the fact that many of my readers will not desire to own very large establishments, possess several hundreds of Budgerigars, or become so famous as to have their names handed down to future generations. Well satisfied are the majority of people who pursue our hobby to own small or medium-sized studs -just as many birds, in fact, as they can look after themselves in their spare time without assistance - breed a number of good specimens, exhibit occasionally and win prizes. This type of fancier is most desirable and there is none more worthy of encouragement. And it is such breeders as these who often breed some of the best birds in the country.

THE SMALLER BREEDER
I refer to these owners of medium-sized collections at this juncture because I want to point out that although this article aims so high as to apply to those who wish to earn undying fame by establishing strains which will bear their names, the principles which are enunciated are just as applicable to the "smaller" people. Similarly all that I shall say in in-breeding and line-breeding should be as valuable to them as to those who may breed several hundreds of chicks per annum and who keep practically every known colour variety in which the Budgerigar is bred. The small stud owner should not come to the conclusion that he cannot evolve a strain. It is quality not quantity that is the touchstone. Some of the best families of Budgerigars have materialized in small establishments, but they have always been produced when the owners have specialized.

I must emphasize the fact that the founding of a strain of one's own is a difficult proposition and it takes years of skilful endeavor to accomplish it. In the first place the owner must be a man or woman of unlimited patience and great determination to overcome difficulties, which they must always face cheerfully. They must be a genuine livestock lover. They must also be continuously observant, and use common sense, and develop in the course of time something of an intuition as to how to mate correctly and to know at a glance those birds which will be of assistance to him/her and those which will in no way serve their purpose.

They will have acquired what is known as a "fancier's eye." No written instruction can alone provide any of my readers with this trait. Some men and women develop it quickly. To others it never comes. I cannot claim that the methods which I am about to describe are complete. In a contribution of this character one can only deal with basic principles and tendencies. There are exceptions to all livestock breeding theories. In dealing with the production of living things we have to contend with influences which are not fully understood even in these enlightened days when so much biological information and the written teachings of the experience of many breeders are available to us. We are not considering a problem so concrete as, for example, a problem in engineering. Living things do not function with the precision of a machine. And the individual's application of the theories of breeding has a great bearing upon results. Some do the job properly; some do it badly.

KNOWLEDGE OF THE IDEAL
At the outset the fancier must have a thorough understanding of that which he is aiming to obtain. In other words he/she must have a perfect knowledge of what is required in an ideal Budgerigar. Their interpretation of the standard must be absolutely accurate, and the ideal must be ever kept in mind. They must, in short, know perfectly well just what kind of birds will win prizes under the best judges, and similarly they must be familiar with those cardinal faults which make a specimen unworthy of a place in his aviaries.

It is your ambition as years succeed year to produce more and more Budgerigars approximating to the ideal as you visualize it. It is obvious that the better the Budgerigars purchased as foundation stock the better will be the youngsters produced, and the sooner will the owner be on the road to great achievement. Therefore, as I have said elsewhere, if your means and accommodation are limited, it is far better to buy a few really good birds than a large number of inferior birds. In short, quality before quantity must be the maxim, although, naturally, the more birds of good quality the breeder can afford to buy, the more chances he has of breeding both show birds and desirable stock birds.

The Real Test
It is frequently stated that the fancier with small or moderate financial resources is at a disadvantage compared with the wealthy man. I agree with this assertion if the wealthy man concerned couples with his money ability as a breeder. But in the long run a working man armed with correct knowledge as to how to mate his birds will beat the man of money who lacks this skill and who has to rely on his cheque book to keep his name in the forefront at the shows. Many fanciers in different sections of the livestock world, who have won for several years with valuable specimens purchased at high prices, have then ceased to lead the classes because they have got tired of writing out cheques and have not established strains capable of continuously producing animals or birds worthy to maintain their reputations.

In livestock culture it is an axiom (basic assumption) that one gets out of it what one puts in--plus a little more and the fewer the faults and the more numerous the good properties in the original pairs, in fact in all the birds used on all occasions when mating, the sooner will success be achieved. Obviously, therefore, it is most desirable to buy the best specimens procurable when laying the foundations of a strain.

"Something Behind Them":
It goes without saying that not only must the original purchases be birds of good quality but they must be healthy, and they must have "something behind them" -- in other words, bred themselves from good parents and not what are termed "flashes in the pan." Occasionally an inferior pair of birds will breed a winning youngster even though all its brothers and sisters may be bad ones. When such a product -- an oasis in a desert -- is used for breeding purposes it is usually a disappointment. The beginner must realize that he cannot buy perfect specimens, and naturally owners will not often be willing to sell their very best birds except at fantastic prices. All that the beginner can do is to obtain the best procurable for the money which he can afford to spend.

Obviously a great deal depends upon the fancier's ability, or the advice which is given to him when buying his foundation stock. If he buys badly more ruthless elimination will be necessary later, and time will have been lost. Whenever one procures birds or animals it is always very helpful if one can not only have an authentic pedigree supplied with them but also knowledge as to the properties of the parents and even the grandparents, though this is, of course, not always possible. As time rolls on the disadvantage of not knowing all about antecedents disappears because the owner is using mostly, if not entirely, birds bred by himself and he is, therefore, completely familiar with their pedigrees. In my opinion, pedigree plays almost as important a part as does the appearance of the birds themselves, and, of course, in applying the principles of in-breeding ancestry is of vast importance, as my readers will learn from.

Sources of Trouble:
I have referred above to the "flash in the pan" and its being often valueless for breeding purposes. Such a specimen is the outcome of luck. Budgerigars in this category are occasionally to be found in consignments intended to be sold as pets or they are produced by unskillful breeders who merely mate birds together haphazardly. These are not the sort of birds with which to establish a strain. The introduction into an establishment of these flukes is often followed by the production of faulty offspring and the retarding of the breeder's progress towards the attainment of his ideal.

For the purpose of this chapter I am assuming that the original pairs are not related, though I should not have the slightest objection to purchasing related specimens if I knew that the owner was a skilful breeder, bred his own winners with regularity, and had an established strain of the colour variety concerned. In fact, I should prefer them. As I shall explain more fully in an out-cross, even when birds of merit are employed, frequently brings together latent failings which come to the surface in the progeny. Therefore, great care has to be exercised in examining the first season's youngsters when one has to decide which birds to breed from in the following season and which to dispose of.

Because several of the chicks bred are obviously inferior to their parents and disappointing to the eye, the young fancier should not instantly come to the conclusion that the sellers have not treated him properly. He should realize that this is only his first season, that distinct out-crosses may have been made, and that second season results may cause him to form a very different opinion as to the breeding abilities of his foundation stock.

Towards the end of the first year when all the chicks are in adult plumage the owner should bring into his bird room all the young stock and their parents. Each pair of adult birds should be put into cages, and alongside them there should be caged all the youngsters which they have bred. The owner's task is to select those birds which he must retain for use in the following breeding season and those which he must dispose of. It is necessary for him to set a certain standard of excellence, only birds attaining that standard to be retained; all the others to go. In the first year this standard will not be set so high as it will be in subsequent years. Every year a higher standard should be fixed. Thus every year better and better breeding pairs will be employed, until the time arrives when all specimens which are bred from are of very high quality.

The selection of the breeding team for the following season should not be left until the time for breeding is actually at hand. It is a good idea to "mate on paper" many weeks before breeding commences. In other words, make a list of the males and hens (there should be more hens and males) to be retained, and how, broadly speaking, you will mate them together. By adopting this method the breeder knows exactly if his breeding stud is complete or if it is necessary to make any new purchases to fill up gaps. I admit that bringing in new birds in this way, unless they are related to one's present stock, will cause further out-crossing in the second season (with the consequent efforts of out-crossing as a possibility) but this may be unavoidable, and it is better to act in this manner than to in-breed with inferior stock merely for the sake of in-breeding.

Although I believe in in-breeding I never in-breed unless the birds mated are essentially suitable both in appearance and pedigree. Therefore, it naturally follows that in the earlier seasons after commencing, in only a proportion of the pairs are the members related. If all goes well, as year succeeds year more and more pairs will consist of birds related to each other, and as the stud develops so the necessity for out-crosses will diminish.

The sooner it disappears altogether so much more pleased should the owner be. In the early stages of the development of a team of Budgerigars it is absolutely essential to have in your possession individuals possessing all the good properties which you ultimately desire to combine in the majority of the birds you produce; and if you do not bring in all these points with your original purchases, then you must do so with later purchases. I have already said that you get out what you put in. Therefore, obviously, you must ensure that all the qualities are there before you blend them together by sensible in-breeding. Without in-breeding it is impossible ever to reach a stage when all your birds possess the same family characteristics to which I have referred earlier in this article.

Now to return to our breeder standing in his bird room in the early winter following his first breeding season with the birds in the cages before him which he has been breeding from and the youngsters which they have produced. I postulate that he has a good understanding of the ideal Budgerigar, is familiar with the faults which occur in these birds, and has acquired the necessary knowledge as to what is good in-breeding and what is bad in-breeding. He must also decide there and then--and this determination must never leave him-- that he will not be tempted to make use of any bird "just to complete a pair" if it does not reach the required standard.

RUTHLESS ELIMINATION ESSENTIAL
So his first step is obviously to put on one side all those specimens which are not capable of assisting him to progress. Ruthless elimination in this manner is essential to success, because whether one is in-breeding or not in-breeding the keynote of successful livestock production is undoubtedly Selection. The whole story revolves round the breeder's ability to select mates wisely and never to mate two birds .together unless there is a definite purpose for so doing.

Our first-year enthusiast, who has now to decide how he will mate those birds which are in the cages in the following season, should take the best male and select the most suitable hen for it, then the second best male and the best available hen for it, and so continue to the end of the matings. In other words he should not, as some breeders do, "average the pairs". This practice consists of mating a very good male to a hen of inferior quality, or a valuable hen to a moderate male, based on the theory that the bad properties of one bird should be set off by the good qualities of the other. This system is only likely to yield youngsters of average merit and will never improve the stud.

A really good male is wasted on an inferior hen, and vice versa. To put it simply, if a bird is high-class then its mate should be high-class. It is only then likely that the progeny will be as good or better than the parents. To apply my remarks to actual major properties, a male with a large head, lot example, should be mated where possible to a hen with a large head with the object of breeding birds excelling in head. Now if we made use of the "averaging" method we should mate that male to a hen with a small head to correct her failing in that property. The chances are that the outcome would be moderate-headed chicks. The only method of consolidating good points is to have those good points in both mates, and if we can also have them on both sides of the pedigree, so much the better.

Mating on Appearance:
I consider it wise to mate the birds on appearances only in the first place, and then consider if there is anything in their breeding which makes any of the "appearance" matings undesirable. We may find that we are mating daughter to lather or son to mother.

That is alright providing we have not the same faults on both sides of the pair; but even if we are out-crossing we must not have the same faults in both birds. Just as by mating the two good-headed parents together in the above example we expect better heads, so if we mate two parents nipped in neck (say) we shall be likely to breed youngsters nipped in neck. Our whole object in selecting mates is to consolidate the good points and eliminate the bad points, and that is what I want to instill into the minds of my readers as the principle to which they must ever adhere, not only at the end of this first breeding season but every year when deciding upon the matings for thc following year's brooding.

Discard Bad Specimens:
With further reference to the ruthless elimination of birds which must not be used for breeding purposes, just as those which fall below a certain standard of excellence as regards their exhibition properties must be put aside, so must the owner discard any specimen which has suffered from an illness or which has been a "bad doer" as a chick. Ill-nurtured youngsters or birds which have been seriously indisposed, even though they may appear to have become normal, should never be used for breeding purposes however good they may be as Budgerigars. If all fanciers would adopt this advice without the slightest variation, constitutional troubles sometimes encountered would almost cease to exist. It is impossible to maintain good health and continue to produce strong, virile stock if we fall to the temptation of employing in the breeding aviaries birds which we know cannot be physically sound.

After the Second Season:
At the end of the second season the fancier is once again in his bird room and has in the cages all the birds from which he has been breeding and all the youngsters which he has bred from them, the latter in adult plumage. Even more ruthless elimination is now necessary than that which was exercised in the previous winter. In fact, every year the test which the birds have to pass in order to qualify them lot retention has to be made more severe.

The owner will not now find his task of mate selection so difficult as he did after the first season, and in the third year it will be easier still. The position will have become clarified. The breeder will be able to observe from which lines the best youngsters are coming and he will have more knowledge as to the predominant good properties and faults in the different families. A procedure which is most helpful at the end of the second breeding season, and which should be carried out annually afterwards, is the grading of the parent birds and their progeny in the following manner:.

Take a sheet of paper and classify all the breeding pairs and all the youngsters from them into first grade, second grade, and third grade. The adult pairs in the first grade will be those which have bred your best youngsters and the fewest inferior youngsters. The second grade adult pairs will be those which, judged in this way, have been moderately successful. The third grade adults will be those whose offspring as a whole do not satisfy you. In this grading the appearance and pedigrees of the parent birds themselves must also be taken into consideration. Grade all the best youngsters, too, according to the grades in which you have put their parents, their own merit, and the quality of their brothers and sisters. It is possible that in the third grade there is a pair which has bred a most attractive youngster but whose brothers and sisters entirely fail to satisfy. This odd swan amongst the geese would not cause me to place its parents in a higher grade, and whilst I might retain that youngster for breeding I should not have the same confidence in it that I should have in one that had better nest mates.

Having finished this grading, if you have in the first grade sufficient adults and youngsters to complete the number of breeding pairs which your aviaries will accommodate, so much the better. Failing this, select the best birds in the second grade, and you can include--with the reservation I have made above--that very good youngster which may have come from grade three parents. In practice we sometimes put the male of a pair in one grade and the hen in another. This is done in cases where we come to the conclusion that the failings in the youngsters are due to one of the parents and that if the other parent had a more suitable mate it would breed much better chicks.

FOUNDATION BIRDS
Some Budgerigars which not only excel in show properties but which consistently produce high-class youngsters are "starred". Such birds are worth their weight in gold and become "foundation" birds. Correctly employed, a Budgerigar of this kind can itself found a famous family. It is a bird of this quality which occupies a key position in a line-breeding or in-breeding scheme. You want to breed as many relatives of a "foundation" bird as you possibly can, because your aim should be to consolidate its own good visible properties and, which is even more important, the power to reproduce them consistently.

If it becomes quite obvious that your Budgerigars generally are failing in any particular property, and it is clear that you have nothing in your own stock to correct the weakness, then, in my opinion, the proper procedure is to purchase a number of birds excelling in that point. If, for instance, too many of your youngsters are coming regularly small in head, some big-headed out-crosses must be brought in. Later, whbly the hen, will let you down, and another mate has to be provided. To control these possibilities it is advisable to have alternative mates for every male, which is the reason why it is desirable to retain for breeding purposes more hens than males.

The situation described is capable of upsetting a breeding plan to some extent, but it is one of those things which in Budgerigar culture we have to grin and bear. I wish Budgerigars were like racing pigeons in so far as breeding condition is concerned. After pigeons have completed their moult in the autumn you know that they will remain in full feather until the following breeding season is over, and that when they once attain good breeding condition they will retain it until the time comes to break the pairs. Consequently, when these pigeons are "mated on paper" I know full well that the pairs will stand as I have written them, and that there will be no changes such as are forced on the Budgerigar breeder. This assists greatly in the devising and carrying out of a breeding plan.



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