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Interview Of Peter Thurn ( Aka Chookbreeder )

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Interview by Carol Gough





1. How long have you been breeding budgies and how did you start? Who was the greatest assistance to you when you started and who now?


I suppose like many current breeders, I had budgies when I was a teenager. They were colony bred along with a finches, diamond doves and quail in a large aviary. The aviary wire was "twisted" wire – like small chicken wire and over 2 nights when I was around 17, a fox ripped through the wire and killed most of the birds. I left home and went to university to study agriculture a few months after.

20 years later, in 2003 I decided it was time to get back into breeding birds but I was going to do it "properly". I built an aviary and birdroom (the dimensions largely inspired by John Scoble's book that I have had for almost 30 years) out of mainly recycled materials: a friend of a friend's old oregon pergola, corrugated iron from my father in-laws old shearing shed and some fence palings to give it a rustic look. Brian Brooks, the then Secretary of Melton helped me out with some birds and put me in contact with John Flanagan, a Champion status breeder who lives close by me. John has been the most dominant breeder of Fallows in Victoria for many years and won the hen's class the last time the Nationals were held in Melbourne. There are JF1 birds back in the pedigrees of all 4 of my National winners. These days I swap a few birds with John and other Melton club members like Dave Bates, but by and large I do my own thing.



2. What do you feed your birds in the way of seed mixture, soft food etc. Do you throw any branches, grasses etc into the flights?


Our club buys a standard seed mix (50% canary and 50% mixed millets) which I use. For the breeding birds I mix 3.5 parts seed to 1 part hulled oats and 0.5 part grey striped sunflower. I find it easier to mix the seeds together in a 5 gallon bucket and feed it in the same jar feeder as opposed to feeding them in separate dishes. Working full time and with a young family, I can't afford to muck around in the bird room too much. The birds in the flights get the same but fed in separate feeders. Breeding pairs also get niger, canola and linseed mixed and fed in finger draws as well as Murphy's Minerals. These finger draws are topped up weekly. Breeding birds get a daily mix of corn kernels, grated carrot and silverbeet with a couple of heaped table spoons of E-Powder from Rob Marshall. Added to this are a couple of cups of oats coated with "The Good Oil". The birds in the flights get branches very occasionally as they are hard to get. They often get handfuls of grass, clover, medic and milk thistles that are left to grow, much to my wife's annoyance. I also have a small patch of lucerne in the vegie garden that I cut and feed to them. Whenever we prune our roses, the birds get the prunings. After a few days, all that is left is the odd stick – no thorns, no leaves, no flowers – they devour the lot!



3. Do you give any preventative medication and if so, what is it and how often and why?


I usually treat all of the birds for canker when I am not breeding with turbosole. Apart from that, I treat the odd bird from time to time with Oxy-B or Sulpher-D.


4. How many birds do you have and what colour varieties are they?


I usually fly around 3-400. It is probably easier to list the ones I don't have! I have most of the main varieties including Normals, Opalines, Cinnamons, Cinnamon Opalines, Dominant Pieds, the odd Yellow Face and Spangles. I also have Texas Clearbodies, Albinos and Fallows. Fallows take up about a quarter of my breeding cages.


5. You were very successful at National Level this year – congratulations. You achieved a 1st in the Clearbody class: First and third in Fallows: First and second in Dominant Pied. A great effort.:


It was a big surprise. I really thought the Clearbody cock had a red hot chance and I would have been happy if the others ended up on the top bench (in the top 7 or so). Everyone has his day (or 2 days) and I guess that was mine. Ironically the Pied and Fallow that I like the most are the ones that didn't win!



6. With so many varieties it must be hard to keep improving them so we will concentrate on the Clearbodies first. How do you breed them? Is it Clearbody to Lutino or Clearbody to Clearbody?


When I was a teenager there were no Clearbodies. When I saw them at my first club meeting in 2003, I thought I have to have some of them. I like the versatility of the variety – the fact that you can have the three varieties (clearbody, ino and normal) in one line. One of the original birds in my Clearbody line was a Cobalt split Clearbody cock. He added some style and substance along with his dark factor that I am still trying to get rid of! I breed my Clearbodies to grey factor Normals/Opalines, Clearbodies and Albinos. I find Clearbodies and Albinos compatible from a variety sense and Clearbodies and Lutinos incompatible. With Lutinos, breeders try to intensify the colour through the use of dark factor birds, but with Clearbodies the dark factor leads to too much body colour. With Albinos, we try to introduce the grey factor to wash out any suffusion and this is what I am trying to do with the Clearbodies. I still bred some nice Lutinos, but they usually carry the grey factor and lack the real vibrant yellow colour you need to be competitive at the elite level.



7. With the Fallows, it is very difficult to get head quality. What is the background of your Fallows? How long have you had them? What areas are you concentrating on improving with your line?


My Fallows come from John Flanagan and I got my first pair in 2004. All of my Fallows can be traced back to this pair of which the cock bird is still alive but retired. I have worked a few different birds into the line, the latest being the father of the 1st and 2nd placed Dominant Pieds at this year's Nationals. He was paired with a big Fallow hen and they have 4 chicks just leaving the nest including a really nice Opaline grey hen. I am trying to "modernise" the face, widen the skull, increase the spot size, tighten the wing and eliminate the secondary flight issues. My Fallows have a bit of size about them so that is not a big issue.

They are a tremendous challenge and I get more satisfaction from breeding them than any variety.


8. One major problem with Fallows is the steel grey colour that comes into the wing markings instead of Brown markings. How are you addressing this fault?


It is not a problem that I believe have in my Fallows. I do find that my fallow hens are lighter in the wing markings than the cock birds, but they are still brown.

But I think the only way to correct variety problems, irrespective of variety, is to integrate birds of correct variety into your line. The idea of "fixing it with good Normals" whatever that means, has no basis for me.

Some people suggest that the variety problems we encounter in the Spangle variety is due to the use of cinnamons. But the cinnamon factor only lightens the markings; it doesn't change the definition of the markings. I have seen some outstanding Cinnamon Spangles with clearly defined wing markings and spots – the markings were simply brown instead of black. I believe that the spangle gene controls the clarity and definition of the spangle markings. The standard for Double Factor Spangles encourages us to reduce suffusion (melanin) and I wonder if our Spangle problem is a result of the reduction in melanin in Double Factors that, when used to breed single factor Spangles, results in single factor spangles with poor markings. That's my theory anyway!



9. Dominant Pieds are a lovely variety. Do you put Dominant to Dominant and if so, what do you do with the Double Factors? What is your preferred pairing?


I haven't bred Dominant Pied to Dominant Pied but I am sure I will at some stage. I treat my Normals, Opalines, Cinnamons, Pieds and Cinnamon Opalines as one line. The mother of the 1st and 2nd placed Dominant Pieds at this year's Nationals, is a Dominant Pied Cinnamon Opaline Grey, so I will tend to breed her sons to Normal hens as I prefer Normal or Opaline Dominant Pieds.



10. Do you think you are covering too many varieties?


Probably. As time goes on I might rationalise things a bit, but I am happy with the mix at the moment.


11. Consistently, I am finding now that no matter who I speak to, breeders have not got enough Normals in their bird rooms. What is your feelings about this and how important do you think good Normals are and why.


Good Normals are important because you can work them into any variety you breed. They are "compatible" with practically every variety, whereas Cinnamons or Dominant Pieds and some other varieties are not (e.g. you can't show Cinnamon Fallows). It is the versatility of the Normals that makes them important and sought after. A good normal without grey or dark factor and not split for anything is the most versatile bird you can have.


12. What is the main feature you are looking for in your birds now and how do you go about embedding it into your birds?


For me, size, shoulder and backskull are very important. If you have the frame, you can then put the feather on it. Small birds with nice feather don't cut it and they don't go that far on the bench. So for me it is simply a matter of working with the "frame" birds and hopefully cracking one with the feather. I try and make sure that at least one bird in every pair that I put down is above average for "frame".


13. How closely would you breed your birds and do you pair up visually or by pedigree. What sort of records do you keep (computer, books etc)?


A bit of both but mainly visually. I don't like to breed birds too closely and have not had a lot of success doing it. As a general rule, cousin to cousin is about as close as I go. It is well documented in other species that inbreeding causes reduced fertility and vitality (health), so while it is a useful tool, it is something that needs to be managed very carefully. Fertility is king - no fertility, nothing to show or breed from next year. I keep my records on computer and use The Budgerigar Program 2006. It's a pretty good program but I use it mainly to create pedigrees and lists of birds.



14. What is the size, material etc of your aviary (sizes of flights etc) and can you describe the breeding room for me (breeding cage construction, nest box etc. What do you put on the base of your nest boxes?


As I mentioned earlier, the aviary and bird room is made largely from recycled materials. The bird room is 10 feet by 12 feet and the flights come off the bird room and are 5 feet wide, 18 feet long and 9 feet high (sorry about the imperial measurements). I have 31 breeding cages. 7 of them are wire with ply nest boxes hanging off the front. The other 24 are made from chip board. The nest boxes are also chip board and hang off the side of the cages. I use 2 litre ice cream containers as nest box inserts and place a hardwood concave into the bottom then three quarter fill them with wood shavings. I stole the ice cream container from Robert Manvell's web site.


15. Do you trim the birds feathers when you pair up?




16. How long do you wait after pairing up to put the nest box on and why?


The nest box is open right from the word go. Nothing stimulates the birds (in particular the hen) more than an open nest box. If the nest box is closed the cage is just a stock cage not a breeding cage.



17. To improve the quality of birds, I believe fanciers should share nests more, what is your opinion of this and do you experience it now?


I have only tried it on a limited number of occasions. When I have tried it hasn't resulted in anything, not because the chicks were bad, but because of infertility. I have no problem with people that do it – it is cheaper than buying the birds that you feel you need to achieve what you want to achieve.



18. How do you prepare your show team? For example for the Nationals, when would you start and how do you do it?


Oh dear! My show preparation is not something to get excited about. I have very open and exposed flights and I feel that that encourages good feather condition. If the bird is strong and healthy it will stay in the flight until the show. This year, about 2 months before the Nationals, I cut one tail on the Clearbody cock as he still had his original tail feathers from his first moult, they were looking "ratty" and I did not want to risk them falling out 3 weeks before the nationals. The tail I didn't cut fell out a week later and he had two nice tails for the Nationals. I think this will become a standard practice for any bird I think has a chance of making the Victorian Team. The second placed Dominant Pied from the nationals (my favourite bird) was struggling to grow 2 flights on one wing so he spent 8 weeks inside in a stock cage as they seemed to get to about half grown in the flight and then get damaged. For the summer shows I will spray the birds occasionally but in the winter I will only clean stains or marks off dirty birds. Like I said earlier, people shouldn't model their show preparation on what I do.


19. I believe you were on the ABC programme Landline discussing our Dairy background and AI. A number of people AI and I am wondering if you use this system with your budgerigars. If so, how often? Do you allow the birds to mate naturally at all?


Yes I have been interviewed for Landline a couple of times in my role as Breeding and Genetics Manager at Genetics Australia. We are a farmer owned organisation and our mission is to improve the profitability of dairyfarmers by providing bull semen for artificial insemination and services to improve their herds. Ironically, I haven't used AI in my budgerigar breeding routine. I have nothing against it as a practice or the people who use it. Mario Capasso (the producer of the video that has sparked the recent interest in AI in budgies) was on the boat on the way back from "Tassy" and we had a good chat about AI and other things. It could be something I look at into the future but I would only use it for "problem" birds. AI is a great way to increase the influence of particular cock birds in your breeding program by running them over multiple hens, but at the same time the level of inbreeding increases which will need to be carefully managed.



20. Is there any other topic you would like to touch on or any advice you can give to my readers?


For what it's worth, my advice is you don't need expensive birds to be successful. The father of the 1st and 2nd placed Dominant Pieds at this year's Nationals is a $20 Opaline Grey Green purchased from Alwyn Howes at the Geelong Auction. The grandfather of the Clearbody cock that won this year cost me $20. The most expensive bird in the pedigree of the Albino hen that won at Perth was $30 and the Fallows go back to a pair that cost me $50. I have spent more money on birds, but they haven't made their mark yet. My advice is, buy the bird, not the name!



21. On a personal level,


a) What is your favourite food?


I love pasta but you can't beat a char grilled rib eye with garlic sauce.


What is your favourite drink?


I enjoy good red wine (goes great with the steak!). I often take a glass of red up to the flights and have a look at the youngsters!

c) What is your favourite sport and name of team?


I love Rugby Union (I'm originally from NSW) but being in Melbourne, I don't get to see much Rugby. My 11 year old son and I are Brisbane Lions AFL members and we go to watch them when we can.

d) What sort of music do you like?


I have fairly eclectic musical tastes and tend to listen to alternative modern bands like Augie March and Gomez and a bit of folky stuff from the likes of Weddings, Parties, Anything.




Budgerigar Nationals 2009 http://www.anbc.iinet.net.au/2009NatPict.pdf

Edited by KAZ
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