In the last issue of the Rares magazine, Colin Putt made reference to the way in which manage to breed English Fallows alongside a "normal" exhibition stud. He made reference to the fact that I stagger my breeding seasons. At least I think that that is what he meant, and not that I stagger from one breeding season to the next! I thought that it may be of interest to other members if I were to go into a little more detail.
Firstly, I have two cabins. The large cabin is 20ft long × l0ft wide. Attached to this cabin is an outside flight measuring llft × 8ft. Inside are two flights measuring approximately 7ft × 4ft each. These flights are from floor to roof with the seed provided at floor level and the lowest perch about three feet from the floor, thus forcing the birds to use their wings. Flight "A" has access to the outside flight through a small bob hole. I will refer to the other flight as Flight "B". A removable partition separates the inside flights which means I can have a 14ft × 4ft inside flight with all birds having access to the outside flight if I wish. There are twelve breeding cages measuring 36in wide, 15in high and 20in deep. These cages can be converted to six large stock cages measuring 72in × l5in × 20in by removing partitions. There are a further fifteen breeding cages measuring 30in × 15 × 20in. These can be converted to three stock cages measuring 14ft × 15in × 20in. I know that this does not add up but they go round a corner utilising space which is not available when they are in "breeding mode". This cabin is referred to as my main cabin because this is where I breed the exhibition birds which includes the Lacewings and Dilutes.
The small cabin is l0ft × 6ft. This has eight breeding cages measuring 28in × 15in × 20in which can be converted to two stock cages approximately l0ft long. Above these is a flight cage measuring l0ft long, 3ft high and 2ft deep. I will call this Flight "C". I also use this cabin to store my supply of seed which I buy in bulk to reduce costs. This cabin is referred to as my rares because this is where I breed the Fallows, a few Greywings and one or two other oddities.
In October the exhibition cocks are in Flight "A" and the hens are in Flight "B". The rare cocks and hens are in Flight "C". The breeding cages in the main cabin are repainted during October and November ready for pairing up in December.
In December I put up between 24 and 27 pairs of exhibition birds. Once I am satisfied that all the pairs are going to lay eggs the remaining exhibition birds are then all put in Flight "B" and the rares brought into the main cabin to spend about 3 months in Flight "A". There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it gives the rares a chance to stretch their wings and have access to the outside flight. Secondly, they provide that additional noise in the main cabin so desirable during the breeding season. Thirdly, it means that all my birds are housed together during the winter months makes life a lot easier for me! I usually have between 35 and 50 youngsters hatch in early January. These are in one of the 14ft stock cages until they are between 10 and 12 weeks old.
During January and February the small cabin is completely refurbished ready for the rares' breeding season. In mid-March the rares are transferred back to their cabin. If they are in breeding condition I will take the opportunity to pair some up at this time rather than risk them "going back" due to the change of cabin. This is where the "stagger" comes into it's own. Like most exhibition breeders I keep back more hens than I need and there are always some useful birds that have not been used during the breeding season. These are the outcrosses for the rares which is vital if the exhibition standard is to be improved. By waiting until the end of the standard breeding season I do not have to worry that I am "wasting" a good bird on the rares. The exception to this rule is the Lacewings, which get first pick of two normal hens in December.
Flight "A" which the rares have just vacated, is then washed down and repainted. The non-breeding exhibition birds are then moved from "B" to "A" and then Flight "B" is washed and painted. The flights are then opened up and the first round youngsters are introduced. This can take several weeks because I will only release a maximum of 5 youngsters to the flights at once. I have found that introducing too many young birds causes chaos in the flights especially for the first few nights.
By early May many of the exhibition pairs are winding down their breeding and are being returned to the flights. I now begin the annual culling operation using the vacated breeding cages as stock cages. Any adults which I have decided to let go and first round youngsters which are not meeting my quality level are brought out of the flights for me to study in more detail before making the final decision to depart company. This process continues throughout the summer months as young birds mature.
I also use the 6ft stock cages to prepare birds for the shows although I do not exhibit too often, probably six shows per year.
Also in May the rares will have babies, and the first round youngsters are brought down into the main cabin to be housed in a stock cage for about six weeks prior to going into the flight cage in their own cabin. The second round youngsters use the breeding cages (converted to stock cages) vacated by their parents which will have been returned to the flight cage. I usually cull the rares in September just in time to start the annual cycle all over again in October Come to think about it, Colin was right when he said that I stagger from one breeding season to the next!