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Conditioning For Breeding



With the bad breeding results in 2018 a lot of breeders are now seeking and demanding a fool proof conditioning programme for their birds. However before embarking on a new programme breeders should look carefully at their own circumstances and how much time and commitment they themselves can commit to the hobby.    


The number of truly successful breeders the Fancy at any one time can be numbered on the fingers of one hand and their success can be put down to one thing Dedication, and in most cases a dedication to succeed bordering on the obsessive.


They say Genius is 1% inspiration 99% perspiration this is the same for bird breeders the ones who work the hardest at the hobby become the more successful hobbyists


Where you have livestock you have deadstock is a phrase often quoted, whilst this is inevitably true, the dedicated stockman does everything he can to adapt his system to reduce mortality to a minimum.


Cleanliness is next to Godliness, if you want to be at the top of the game breeding birds especially when you are selectively breeding ( linebreeding, inbreeding ) who often have a weakened immune system reducing the number of harmful bacteria your birds are subjected to is paramount.


The biggest risk of infection come from its own faeces and that of other birds.

The second biggest risk is the water supply and the containers it comes in.

The third biggest risk is soft food by its very name it has a high percentage of water 30 - 40% This added to higher temperatures during summer will soon develop moulds and bacterial cultures.


Seed providing it is purchased from a reliable source and stored in a dry vermin proof environment is of minimal risk to your birds.


Stockmanship is all about being proactive rather than reactive in other words you observe your birds looking for small signs of abnormal behaviour and address these issues before you have a problem, rather than waiting until a problem occurs and looking for a solution.

Whilst we try to treat our stud on a flock basis the birds are still individuals and occasionally some need slightly different conditions or treatment to the rest of the flock.


Time available is often the main limiting factor to the successful breeding of a stud of birds, if too many birds are kept the routine chores can account for most of the time available cutting down the time  to observe (and enjoy) your birds. This can result in the law of diminishing returns i.e.: the more you keep the less chicks you breed.


Observation doesn’t just apply to looking at your birds it applies to looking at everything in the environment you provide for your bird. The main of these are light, temperature, humidity, food, water and disturbance. In this respect no two fanciers will have the same environment therefore one breeding programme will not fit all.


Therefore before just adopting another management plan, sit down and critically examine what you did in 2018, and look at what did not work and list how you failed your birds.

Unless you are super critical of your own system, and ready to admit your failings, adopting another fancier’s successful system will not succeed unless he looks after your birds for you.

 Ronald Sillitoe’s System


In the following article is what works for me personally and my average number of chicks over the last 10 years has been 4 per hen


Over the past 20 years the seasons as we used to know them have changed to the point where we can have as nice a day at Christmas as in August, we can have snow at the end of spring, damp summers or as in 2018 a dry summer meaning we have no idea what weather will be from one week to the next. It is now only the length of daylight that determines our bird’s world.

With most breeders having light in the bird rooms we can now confuse them even more by having the lights on to suit our needs rather than theirs.


Therefore to breed the modern day Border a higher level of commitment is required.

This begins with creating the seasons for them

You must consider lighting, heating, humidity, ventilation, cage floor covering, diet, water products and perches which all together will result in the improved welfare of your stock.


You must also consider how much time you can commit and how to manage that time wisely.  


Canaries thrive in a dry well ventilated environment and this is our aim by using a dehumidifier to keep the level of moisture in the air down to 70% any higher and bacteria and fungi starts to grow which will affect our stock  especially during the breeding season it is also very important to try to keep the humidity up to 70 % as any lower can make the membrane in the egg shrink and limit the chicks ability to hatch, any higher and bacteria can enter through the porous egg shell and when the chick breaks into the air pocket the bacteria can kill it causing dead in shell. Keeping the humidity at 70% can be achieved by a humidifier or by hanging wet towels up or wetting the floor with water and leaving buckets of water(covered with mesh) around the bird room.

Humidistats to check the moisture level can be purchased for a modest outlay, a number of these should be used placed around the bird room at different heights to give a true overall picture of the humidity level


The next most important thing is air flow. I have air vents at low level and a fan also blowing in at low level, an extractor fan is also fitted at roof height on a timer coming on 15 minutes per hour rising to 30 minutes per hour during breeding. The low level fan is thermostatically controlled coming on at 20 degrees. I also have a inner mesh door so I can leave the main door open all the time I only close it during heavy rain . Keeping a steady airflow makes the bird room fresh and the birds healthy


I only use heating in preparation to breed and during the breeding season using 3 tubular heaters set on a thermostat to 16 degrees this makes it comfortable for the birds. (However due to personal circumstances I start breeding earlier in the year than many other fanciers)


Cage floor covering is sawdust as this absorbs moisture better than some other coverings in my opinion.


My seed is Countrywide champion breeder which I have used for a number of years


Perches are important as bad ones can make the birds get corns and loose ones can make treading fail, I prefer twist on wood perches which I smooth with sandpaper to create an oval type perch





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Breeding Season Update 1


As the breeding season approaches it’s time to look for problems we might encounter.

Birds carrying to much fat will get you off to a bad start so check each bird and adjust the feeding because we are giving egg food, conditioning seed and other bits and bobs as well as the seed in the hopper, some hens will put fat on and some won’t so it’s important to check their weight. If they are fat remove seed hopper through the day replacing one hour before lights out but continue with the conditioning program.


Keeping your cages and perches clean will stop bacteria getting a foothold, I change my perches every week as the hens scrape their beaks on them and pick up bacteria then feed the chicks.


Egg storage is another important thing:

I store my eggs in millet seed as its not oily so won’t transfer anything to the egg and won’t absorb any moisture out of the egg.

It’s also important to store eggs laid on the side, I turn each egg when the next one is laid.


Nesting material can wrap around the birds legs and cause problems, so be aware of this and cut it into short lengths.


My feeding program is:

Hens incubating only get mixed seed and plain water and a teaspoon off egg food once a week.


1.Chicks one to five days old egg food only (nothing added it’s a balanced mix)


2.Chicks five to seven days egg food and green food (mine is broccoli and kale, finely chopped but only small amounts)


3.Seven days to weaning egg food, green food and sprouted seed




Once a week multivitamins

Once a week Prolyte C

Once a week calcium

This is given through all stages after hatching  

Other days plain water


Ronald Sillitoe 26.03.2019

                             2020 Updates Initiated By Questions From Fellow Breeders


For the fanciers following the breeding conditioning plan here are a few more things to consider.


When I start increasing the light I begin by setting the lights at 10hrs (using LED tubes which I find are much brighter)   I also  set the tubular heaters to 10 degrees ,every second move of the lights I move the heaters an extra degree ie 11hrs 11 degrees 12 hrs 12 degrees etc. when I reach 13 hrs I assess the birds and decide whether to hold the light at 13 hrs as sometimes the cocks or hens are not quite ready and an extra week or two helps them catch up, when I am happy that most of the  cocks and hens are in the right condition I move the lights up to 13 ½ hours.

The condition I am looking for at 13 hrs is cocks singing vigorously dropping their wings and moving from side to side and the hens flying from perch to perch and picking at the soft string I tie to their stock cages and tighten up when the cocks are singing at them .

When I see this I continue with the light moves to reach 14 hrs and 14 degrees.

The reason for the light and heat being in conjunction is it's a gradual increase to get the birds to feel like spring is coming and it’s consistent for them as canaries like consistency, also the use of electrical heat reduces the humidity by drying out the air you must still check the humidity levels as too low causes eggs to dry out and too high causes at 70% bacteria to grow and at 80% mould and fungus to grow both of which contribute towards poor breeding seasons.


Controlling the humidity is not easy as I've said too much humidity causes bacteria /, mould and fungus to grow and too little humidity causes eggs to dry out.

I use a dehumidifier and electric tubular heating and check the humidistat (gyro meter) and record it 4 times per day.

I try to get the humidity to 65% which I find works well if the humidity goes lower than 55% I use a humidifier which blows a plume of moisture out humidifying the air alternatively cutting a piece of old carpet 3ft x 3ft and placing it in the centre of the bird room then pouring water on it works quite well also keeping the dehumidifier on and set to 65% stops the humidity getting over 65%.


When the hens are carrying nesting material and flying from perch to perch (not picking a bit up and running it through their beaks and dropping it) I place a nest pan in the cage and wait for them to starting building with earnest.

When the nest is part formed I introduce the cock by hanging the show cage  on the hens stock cage and waiting to see his and her reaction if he's singing vigorously and she's squatting for tread  I let him in, and when he has treaded her I take him out, and rest him for a couple of hours. If the hens don't react by squatting I leave him hanging on the hens cage for an hour then remove him back to his stock cage and try again tomorrow. I never leave a cock in the stock cage with the hen as they may bond and the chances he won’t tread any other hen as he will want to be back with his partner.


Ronnie Sillitoe 01.02.2020



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