Improving breeding outcomes for budgerigars by dr rob marshall

Notes from a lecture by Dr Rob Marshall BVSc(Hons) FACVSc(Avian Health)
Lecture given at Wynnum approx 5 years ago and reprinted for the benefit of our
newer members
Rob Marshall does not and never has bred budgerigars. He has bred and raced pigeons
since he was eight years old. When the budgerigar was imported from England, RM’s
clients came to him with problems he could not answer. He chose not to treat the
problems with drugs but to resolve the problems in a natural way. Research into the wild
budgerigar was to provide some answers. There a lot of difficulties in breeding exhibition
budgerigars. Use knowledge of the wild budgerigar to improve the breeding outcomes of
exhibition budgerigars.
The budgerigar in the wild has evolved over 3 million years. It survives by breeding on
the run. The Australian continent has a dry interior with unpredictable rainfall. The
budgerigar adapted to survive these conditions; in survival mode during the dry and
breeding prolifically when it rains.

In order to breed, the wild budgerigar needs:
1. correct climatic conditions
2. nesting holds
3. water supply
4. calcium and mineral supply
5. trace elements and vitamins
The modern budgerigars are inefficient breeders compared with wild budgerigars.
Reasons include:
1. mutations are a mistake of nature 2. large size means increased nutritional demands 3. buff feathers create flight and insulation problems 4. show quality leans towards infertility and disease 5. poor breeding selection Example of point 3 – breeding hen disease – hens with a lot of buff feathers cannot provide enough energy for incubation. Hens use a lot of energy when sitting on eggs, they don’t just sit there and take it easy. On a very cold night if a hen can’t incubate properly she may suffer from cold stress. Climatic conditions – Wild budgerigars breeding activity is stimulated by sequential pattern of rain. This ensures completion of the life cycle of plants and grasses needed for rearing young. In order to breed cage birds successfully, start breeding at the right time of the year and provide the right nutrition. It is advantageous to breed just after rain. Need to provide a high level of calcium. Calcium and minerals are an underrated part of nutrition. Calcium deficiency causes egg binding, weak babies and adult mortality. Grit doesn’t provide adequate amounts of calcium and minerals (they would have to eat too much grit to get required amounts) so need to use a mineral supplement. The energy content of food determines the rate of growth. If it is insufficient the parents get tired and don’t feed well. Wild seed are high in protein (eg Kangaroo grass). Cultivated seeds are not – they are low in protein and the protein is out of balance. Soaked seed does not provide enough high quality protein. Additional energy is necessary to rear fast growing, healthy and robust exhibition budgerigars. (Turbobooster, E Powder and F Vite are products developed by RM to provide the extra nutrition required in breeding exhibition birds.) Good nutrition allows the bird to reach it’s genetic potential. Vitamins and trace elements are needed for 1. increased fertility (eg iodine) 2. healthy eggs 3. counteract the stress of breeding So, to have a successful breeding season you must: 1. ensure your birds are healthy prior to breeding 2. start breeding at the most appropriate time of the year for your area 3. select the fittest birds for breeding 4. pair birds when they are in breeding condition 5. feed the highest level of nutrition Noise levels in your aviary tell you when your birds are under stress (you should be able to recognize this in your own aviary). Three main diseases that decrease breeding outcomes are psittacosis, polyoma virus and French molt and feather and nest mites. Psittacosis • Many aviaries use a doxycycline/megamix treatment before breeding. • Can be the underlying cause of most illnesses. • Look for lost feathers (flights and tails). If you must use these birds, use for one generation and select the youngsters that are resistant to the disease. • Also watch out for birds with bent feathers, poor feather quality or dry feathers. • Polyoma is only a disease of babies, not adults. Adult birds can be carriers of the disease. Carrier birds cannot pass this disease on to other adult birds in the aviary but they can pass it on to babies. One of the biggest problems with these carrier birds is that they are weak links and are prone to other diseases. While they cannot pass polyoma on to other adult birds in your aviary, they are likely to come down with another disease and pass this on to your healthy birds. The ideal solution is to get rid of them. Mites – feather mites, nest mites and quill mites • Examine your birds carefully and use a prebreeding or breeding treatment. • Can be a major problem in hot areas. • They irritate the birds so they cannot sleep at night. The birds become overtired, lose vitality, are susceptible to disease and can’t breed properly. This leads to infertility. • Streptococcus is often a byproduct of mites. Budgerigars carry strep naturally in the wild. Stress causes birds to get sick from it. Eg dirty feathers above the nostrils. You can control strep by ensuring your birds are not under stress. Breed in Autumn and Spring. Aviary birds still live by the natural biological clock. If you pair birds up at the wrong time, they are not in top breeding condition. When you pair up/start breeding is important. In Queensland it is possible to breed during winter but inadvisable to breed during January and February. Birds in the wild moult once a year. They moult during December/January/February which are the hottest months of the year and will not breed then. Aviary birds are moulting all year, because they are bred at the wrong time and not allowed to moult at their natural time. In the wild, breeding is ruled by selection of the fittest. When you are selecting birds for breeding, pick up the bird. You don’t want birds that are too fat or too thin. Obesity is a common cause of infertility. Fat deposits usually appear below the crop or above the vent. Strong birds are the most prolific breeders. Strong birds can pump chicks full of food, allowing the physical appearance to match the genes. If birds are in good breeding condition you can limit the mount of failures. The conditions in you stud must be appropriate to support breeding. Hormones/breeding condition allow calcium to come out of the bones to produce eggs. When the sex hormones become active, hens deposit additional calcium in their bones and use this when they lay eggs. Don’t pair up birds if they aren’t in breeding condition. Cock birds need a lot of energy for courtship, decreasing their resistance to disease. Weak birds can fall sock when put down to breed. Cock birds come into condition quickly, hens more slowly. The cock birds will stimulate the hen into breeding condition. Look for: 1. increased vitality and noise (screeching calls) 2. brighter and tighter plumage 3. shiny beak and cere colour 4. chewing behaviour of hens Cock birds are in a head moult (pin feathers on head) when coming into condition. The release of male hormones weakens the immune system of the male budgerigar, exposing the weaker birds to illness. This is nature’s way of ensuring only the strongest males breed. Vital cocks remain strong for long periods. Highest level of nutrition is necessary to maintain the condition of both adults and chicks during breeding. Soft food with Turbobooster added is a high quality protein food. KD powder in the water decreases the abnormal bacteria in the body. ER formula by crop needle for weak birds provides heat and energy, rehydrating and restoring body functions. French Moult Very visible disease – young birds losing feathers in the nest or in the nursery. • If they lose feathers and regrow them all they have a good level of immunity to the disease and will pass on that immunity to their young. • If they don’t grow their feathers back ever, they will be carriers of the disease, infect their young and become susceptible to other diseases and in turn pass these other diseases onto other strong birds. • If they lose their feathers in the nursery they carry the disease but stress makes it take hold. This is low grade polyoma. • If you get some chicks in the nest with it and some without it, the ones without it are resistant to the disease – survival of the fittest. • Wash your hands between handling different nests of chicks. Circovirus – birds with blood quills. This disease infects adult birds and wipes out their immune system. Megabacteria doesn’t exist in wild budgerigars. Consequently they have no immunity to that disease. Coccidiosis is a disease of humid conditions. It does not affect wild budgerigars as they do not live in humid conditions. Points raised in question time afterwards Quill mite. Use a spray on the birds. There is a good Vetafarm one available. Spray the aviary with Coopex. Put S76 in the drinking water. Use pyrethrin sprays in preference to malathine sprays. Turbobooster is an RM product originally developed for racing pigeons. Most seeds are deficient in lysine. Protein quality means the different proteins are balanced. Methionine is the fertility amino acid. Wild birds eat native grasses high in lysine and methionine. Turbobooster has fatty acids, often neglected in feeding birds, which stimulate the immune system and improve feather growth and feather quality. The genetics of the bird determines it’s potential feather quality
but you need to provide the nutrition to grow that feather.
Soaking seed changes the starch in the grain into sugar. Birds with “wet eyes”. Eyelid problem or feather in the eye. This is a genetic weakness. Change the pairing and see if they still produce it. Find out which bird produces these young and cull it. Grain eating birds need a ratio of phosphorous to calcium of 1.2:1. If you just feed grains you could get soft eggs. You need to add a calcium supplement. Need to balance the nutrition, can give too much vitamins, minerals and protein. You can’t give too much energy – that is what growth is all about.


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