"How to improve the quality of birds in our own bird room"

(Valentino Cherubini)

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to prepare a manuscript on how to improve the quality of our Border canaries. I'm probably not the best person to answer this question, as I'm also wondering myself which is the right path, but I'll try to bring back some of the guidelines I'm using in my bird room.

I follow five simple points:
1. Always keep the model in your head, type and quality first.
2. To improve the quality you must be aware that there is a need for a long journey.
3. Keep the number of birds that you are actually able to improve and control.
4. Avoid mixing different bloodlines.
5. Select your cocks very carefully.

Always keeping in mind the model of the Border Canary is not as easy as it may seem but it crucial if you want to breed good Borders. The synthesis that uses the "Border Convention" to define the Border as a canary of "type and quality" is, in my opinion, extremely timely. Looking at the show around in recent years, I think we are probably still lacking in “quality”. Unlike many other birds such as Yorkshire, Norwich or Gloster, the Border is a canary in which movement is an essential and a determining element for quality. It is my opinion that unfortunately some of us are forgetting this feature today. I see too many lazy birds, big birds, with roundness but lacking leg, poor feather quality, with many splits and they do not dance on the perches. I think we should try to select more for the feather quality and for the movement. Of course, the other important feature of Border is “type”. The Border model shows elegance and roundness in a beautiful balance. Walking around the shows, I see very few birds in a good balance. Unacceptable are birds over the perch, with poor neck definition, squared body, with no flanks Yorky-type, no round cheeks, and with poor leg length are unfortunately are all too common. When selecting our Borders, we always must keep in mind "type and quality".

Some think that improving the birds can be done very quickly. Many novices coming into the hobby today want instant success and are able to go to top breeders and start with first class stock. Within a couple of these high quality birds could produce some good ones the following year, thinking they have reached the level of top breeders as well. However, without experience, in a short period of time, their stock goes downhill toward an unavoidable disaster and they need to start again. Moreover, this way of approach to the hobby often produces jealousy, misunderstanding, and scepticism against the breeders who helped them with some good birds. Novices need time to understand and learn from their own mistakes and gain experience! A step-by-step approach is the only way to go forward. You cannot expect that a breeder entering the Border fancy, too in a very short time can compete with experienced breeders. It is a hobby that require time, a long time. This is common for all of the canary breeds that are well established, like Norwich, Yorkshire or Gloster. Most beginners do not realize it quickly enough. A good way would be to go to a good breeder, start with some good birds but not first class ones, and gain experience with the breed, selecting few good hens. Year after year, after making mistakes and listening the top breeder’s advice, novices can build up experience enough to then approach the breeder for higher quality birds, always looking to establish their own stock lines.
Errors are invaluable because they allow us to identify the path to travel. I keep a notebook with my mistakes that I consult from time to time. The main errors come from a poor selection of birds and from poor attention to the birds' health. An example of my mistake, one time I put more faith in an external cock, introduced into my bird room to improve my birds than one of my own good cocks and I got too few birds from my own bloodline. I am now much more careful when introduce a new cock even if it comes from the same bloodline and it is a very good one. Firstly, I trust my own birds. This is not because the external bird is poor, only because if you want to improve first you have to work with your own birds.

The number of birds we decide to breed from affects our success or failure to improve the strain. Apparently, one would think that by raising a greater number of canaries it is easier to have birds to select. I myself thought this for a few years. However it is not so, to make a good selection you must have a good quality to choose from. I do not think we should select the least ugly among many, but the most beautiful among a few. Frequently reducing the number of canaries facilitates an improvement in quality. The main question we have to ask ourselves is, how much time do we have for our birds? Borders are selected animals and require a lot of care and attention. In our bird room, we need to spend time to clean and time to observe our birds. If we have too many birds, we probably spent time only for cleaning and cannot watch them carefully to make the most important decisions, those leading to selection. Observation of our Border is, in my opinion, very important all year round, not just before breeding.

Some breeders, especially when they are beginners with Border canaries, buy birds from different breeders and thus begin their first breeding experience. If they have good skills they reproduce the first group of Borders and, with the aim of improving, they continue to introduce birds coming from most famous breeders. In my opinion, this is a way wasting time and money. Each new blood introduction into the stock involves a mixing of genes and those canaries that perhaps come from selected breeding; produce useless birds because you cannot forecast what they will reproduce. On the contrary, to improve our own stock it is necessary to identify a good breeder, trust his suggestions and introduce birds coming from that stud only. This allows selection and improvement of the stock. Experienced breeders are very careful when they introduce a new line into their breeding and the full entry of a bird into their own bloodline is always very gradual.

We need good cocks and good hens to produce good birds this is obvious. However, if we ask a breeder, which one is of more valuable between male and female, we may have different answers. On this point I do not have my definitive answer. However, I believe we must give a lot of relevance to males. Not because they are more effective in reproducing but because they are decisive in fixing the bloodline, as they are used with more females. When I select my canaries for the next breeding season, cocks come first. I set myself the goal of establishing a list of cocks produced by my male reproducers. From the beginning of October until the end of November, I question this list, changing position of the birds until around the beginning of December, when my ranking becomes final. Only the best of my young cocks will have the chance to mate with my best females, the rest of the males are considered as reserves. In this way the bloodline is fixed gradually. Cocks that I introduce into my stock do not go immediately to my best hens, even if they are outstanding ones. Their chicks will go into my stock gradually, in this way I try to keep my bloodline closed.

Finally, in order to improve my birds, I decided to keep a couple of picture on the wall in my bird room. Next to the Official Border Model picture, I hung one of my own pencil drawings, outlined in 2017 with some Phil Warne’s support, which I intentionally modify from time to time. This sketch is my personal view of the Border model, which highlights changes I would like to put on my own Borders. I use this model for making some decisions on breeding.

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