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Reducing Chick Mortality

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REDUCING CHICK MORTALITY

 

by Terry A. Tuxford

 

For most Budgerigar breeders the first red streak indicating fertility in a clutch of eggs is an encouraging start to the breeding season. When the first chicks begin to hatch on schedule and at regular intervals we really believe we are getting somewhere. From January through to April each year in the UK and at similar intervals, though different months, throughout the world, the first questions and answers exchanged between fanciers relate to the numbers rung, with individuals measuring their success and progress more on numbers bred than any other criteria.

 

Those with failing numbers will seek advice from others having a "good season" with questions relating to temperature, light, humidity, feed and a multitude of other subjects, in an attempt to identify the secret to success - this year. While we all recognise that at the end of the day it is quality that will outweigh quantity it is still most re-assuring to know that, "I've rung 143 chicks, while old Sid at the Club has only rung 7".

 

One of the most frustrating occurrences which we all experience during the breeding season is to reduce last evenings "success rate" due to the untimely loss of chicks at various ages. We all pair up with the aim to improve our stock and to breed Best In Show at our countries major events and for all we know that small squashed dead chick was in fact just that bird.

 

Reasons For Chicks Dying

 

The reason why chicks die are many and varied and an example of some of them are:

 

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Chicks being crushed by the hen sitting too tight. This in reality is quite a rare occurrence and the discovery of a flattened chick is not necessarily the fault of the hen. More often than not the chick has died from another cause and has been flattened after death.

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Chicks not being fed soon after hatching. This problem can occur with maiden hens not being sure what to do. Another cause is hens out of condition and not being in their correct breeding cycle. With maiden hens many breeders give then a three or four day old chick after their first chick has hatched. This youngster will be far more persistent in its cry for food, which the hen will usually respond to. For out of condition hens the only remedy is to foster the young.

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Suffocation by the hen may occur with day old chicks when a cold spell forces her to sit tighter or if there is no other eggs or chicks to keep her up. The fostering of an older chick will not only encourage feeding as previously mentioned but also raise her a little and allow air circulation.

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Genetic weakness, although rare, can be the cause of total chick mortality for which there is no remedy other than to re-pair the parents with new partners.

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Poisoning resulting from feeding sour soft food or rancid soak seed is the sole fault of the breeder and although it happens, it never should.

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Chills can be the cause of death in chicks and may result at the time of ringing. It is important that the breeder has warm hands and the chick is out of the nest box for a minimum amount of time.

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Pneumonia may occur in wet nest boxes. Sawdust should be added to soak up some of the moisture and changed at regular intervals.

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Chicks are sometimes found with inflated crops due to an incorrect feeding technique adopted by the hen. To deflate the crop one can either lay the chick on its back and gently force the air from the crop with the fingers or conversely the crop can be punctured with a sterilised needle. If the hen does not get the feeding method correct the best course of action is to transfer the chick to a nest with chicks of a similar age.

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Inexperienced hens will sometimes feed the youngest chick on neat seed rather than crop milk. Of course the youngster will not be able to cope with this and die. Not much can be done to prevent this, other than to transfer, if it is a re-occurring problem.

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Feather plucking can be a real problem and although death seldom results the outcome very often leaves the chicks unsuitable for exhibiting due to permanent feather loss. Feather plucking can be hereditary and if you suspect this, you should attempt to eradicate it from your stud with all haste. Another cause for this problem is boredom and many breeders put millet sprays into the nest box to give the hen something to do, other than looking after the chicks. It is also suggested that feather plucking can be an over attentive mother.

 

My experience is that the cock bird can also be at fault. If it is not the cock and the chicks are fairly well feathered they may be removed from the nest box onto the cage floor for the cock to feed them. If they are not very well feathered it is best to try and foster them to another nest.

 

If fostering is not possible you can try Anti-peck Spray, which is in an aerosol. The danger of this is that it reduces the body temperature of the chick by up to 10 degrees, which in itself may cause stress and eventual death. Some breeders rub Nivea cream in liberal quantities on to the afflicted youngster.

 

This list is by no means conclusive and the most effective way to reduce chick mortality is to be ever observant and watch for unexpected occurrences. With this in mind plus one of my earlier suggestions, hopefully all your chicks will survive and enable you to fulfil your ambitions.

 

©Terry A Tuxford 1999

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Very Good Kaz I think I have that one somewhere ;)

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Grat Kaz, thanks, a good read at this time in my first breeding.

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:D

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