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Interview With Brian Sweeting


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Fancier Profile

 

Brian Sweeting

 

THE UK's NO 1 CHAMPION EXHIBITION BUDGERIGAR BREEDER SINCE 2000 INCLUDING FOUR YEARS IN SUCCESSION

 

Interview very kindly supplied by permission of Mr Brian Sweeting. Thankyou very much Mr Sweeting

Background

 

1.Please tell us where you live and in which country, what the climate is like and the type of area in which you live. Tell us about your background in the hobby. When and how you started, what your first set-up was like. Take us from those early days through the various stages through to today and then describe your current birdroom and birds. Do you have any special gadgets?

 

I live in Somerset which is in the southwest corner of England. The climate in this area is quite good compared with the UK in general. My home is in the small market town of Bridgwater, which is sheltered by surrounding hills and protected from extreme weather conditions.

 

My father was one of the West Country’s leading pigeon fanciers and also kept canaries and British birds. This led to my early interest in birds. When I was a child in the 1950s a friend gave me a few budgies from which I colony-bred budgerigars which were popular as pets at that time. I enjoyed owning and caring for these creatures that were completely dependent on me for their well-being. At this time I knew nothing of the Budgerigar Society and the huge interest that there was in exhibition birds. Later, other hobbies came to the forefront in my life and I stopped keeping birds. However, I always had an ambition to start up again one day when circumstances allowed.

 

As a teenager one of my many interests was fishing. This led me to keep tropical fish and Japanese Koi carp in my early-married life. After keeping fish for many years I was in great demand for advice and information about keeping them healthy and about the technicalities of water filtration systems. Surprisingly, this was how I was re-introduced to bird keeping. After I had moved into a new house, Ken Spraggs (a work colleague) visited me to see how my Koi pond had been constructed and, in particular, to find out about the design of the filtration system. During the visit I mentioned that my next project would be to build an aviary as part of the landscaping in my new and barren garden. I had it in mind to construct a small inconspicuous flight in a corner of the garden. Ken was keen to build a Koi pond in his garden and I offered to help him. On my first visit to Ken’s, in the spring of 1986, I saw, in his garden some wonderful budgerigars, the like of which I had never seen before, so, needless to say, I ask if there were any for sale.

 

The following day I started to build a bird room similar to Ken’s, which bore no resemblance to my original concept. This contained fourteen breeding cages with an inside and outside flight, and measured twelve feet by ten feet, with a six-foot square outside flight. As I was living on what was little more than a building site, I had a great opportunity to solicit materials from the builders in return for cups of tea. That bird room was constructed for just £29-00.

 

During the shed construction period, I adapted a section of my greenhouse to take a few breeding pairs by replacing some of the glass with wire and making up a block of six cages. I bought three pairs from Ken and bred with them, using plastic rings to identify the chicks. During the following year, 1987, I joined the BS and used the official rings. I also moved from the greenhouse into my new bird room ready for the serious breeding of exhibition budgerigars.

 

I purchased more birds from Ken every time I visited him, which was often, as I was helping him to construct his pond. From an initial fourteen pairs I produced one hundred and eight chicks by May 1987. The bloodline of the birds I acquired from Ken was Eric Lane and Arthur Piper as well as his own. I didn’t realise until I started to exhibit that these three were amongst the best breeders in the country at that time. Ken lent me a few show cages for my first show season and, needless to say, I did a lot of winning finishing up as top beginner in the Western Counties area at my first attempt.

 

In the Autumn of 1987 I managed to buy a pied cock from Ken bred from Eric Lane’s best dominant pied which had won many Best in Shows all over the country. I checked my stock purchased the previous year and found a related hen to pair him with. This pair produced many good young birds, the best of which was a sky-blue pied cock, which won many Best Beginner Young Bird awards and Challenge Certificates. This bird and its siblings bred prolifically and my whole stud can now be traced back to that family. It was never beaten by another pied at any show over two show seasons culminating in Best Pied in Show at Doncaster in 1988 - my first success at the BS Club show. This was one of many good birds that I bred and exhibited that year, resulting in me being top Beginner in the whole country in 1988/89.

 

The unfortunate result of my early success was that many doors were then closed to me. I was unable to buy an outcross of any consequence for several years. Luckily I then met Pat Suter and Ken Burt who both live within an hour’s drive of me. We became, and still are, very good friends. Neither of them keep birds nowadays but at that time but they owned excellent stock. They both let me have the type of birds I needed to improve my stud at very reasonable prices. I continued to succeed through all the statuses, winning many major awards at local, area and national level. My first year as Champion, in 1996, was amazing. The first show was at Worcester where my idol Eric Lane was exhibiting and was congratulated by many fanciers for the excellent young pied that had won Best Young Bird in Show. They were, however, mistaken, as the bird was not Eric’s, it was mine. This was a great compliment to me as I had always aimed to produce pieds like Eric’s from the day I first saw his birds. Eric paid me the finest compliment I could receive saying that he wished he had as much Lane blood in his stud as I had in mine. I went on to win the Harry Bryan trophy for Best First Year Champion at the Club Show that year, as well as many other trophies.

 

Nowadays I have two bird rooms in use. The main birdroom was constructed four years ago and it is my breeding room, it adjoins my house and garage which allows me to enter without going outside. It has fifty five breeding cages and three flights of varying sizes; it also contains storage cupboards for all the seed, equipment and show cages. The second, older birdroom is twenty-two feet square. It contains just 10 breeding cages and four inside flights of various sizes, which are used to develop young birds before they ultimately enter the largest of the flights. This bird room is only used during the summer months to allow my young birds to have more space to grow on in and to provide space for visitors to see my birds.

 

Approximately ten years ago I was fortunate enough to be in a position to take early retirement from work. As an engineer one of my many responsibilities had been to look after the environmental requirements of the factory where I worked. As a consequence I learnt many good practices to improve working conditions in line with new legislation. I have adapted some of these ideas to suit my birdroom. The most significant of these was the installation of a homemade vacuum system (my own design), which is piped around the birdrooms to give full accessibility. I never sweep up as this action causes dust in suspension. The system has reduced the dust to approximately half of what I believe to be normal for the number of birds I keep and means less cleaning of working surfaces is necessary.

 

2.How do you think the hobby has changed in those years - good and bad, and what fanciers have had the greatest influence on you through the years?

 

The main difference in the hobby here in the UK is the decrease in the number of fanciers. However, there are signs that some are returning to the hobby. I have been approached for birds many times during the last few years by breeders who left the fancy some years ago and now find they have the time and money available to return. These tend to be people approaching retirement and as the long-standing fanciers are also getting older (myself included) the average age of fanciers seems to be quite high.

 

On the positive side, the Budgerigar Society World Club Show has improved significantly in recent years, mostly brought about by the need to encourage more people to exhibit. The team who organise and run this event deserve the greatest praise and gratitude for their hard work. Several years ago the venue had to be changed and, although still in Doncaster, it was moved to ‘The Dome’, a very impressive leisure complex. However, in my opinion, it has lost some of the incredible atmosphere generated in previous years at the Race Course.

 

My mentor was Ken Spraggs and I adopted many of his ideas in my early days in the hobby but since then I have developed my own procedures. I was lucky enough to know Harry Bryan and count him as a friend. I often find myself quoting the snippets of advice he gave me.

 

Management

 

1.Please describe your daily routine outside of the breeding season. What is your non-breeding diet? Tell us about any supplements you may use.

I use George Bucktons seed mixes, which are specially prepared for the Budgerigar Society membership. In addition to the basic diet, I add a treat each day. I don’t like to think that the birds have to endure a boring diet of seed alone. I provide dishes of groats, niger, sunflower, soft food, egg, apple, carrot, broccoli and chickweed. They get one of these treats every day according to availability. Vydex Growrite is fed daily to all breeding pairs and to the show team whilst they are caged. I add Calsure (a calcium supplement) to the water weekly during breeding and occasionally during the year. I also add the complete range of Vydex products (Entravian, Ascorbovite, MVS 30 and Carbosol) to the water twice a week. These supplements provide all the nutrients required to produce high quality healthy budgerigars. My stud is renowned for the size of the birds, which could be attributed to the extra nutrients and vitamins they receive from the Vydex range of products. I also provide iodised mineral blocks and a good selection of grit. I consider it important to buy grit from as many sources as possible to give the maximum chance of providing the minerals the birds require. The grit is changed in all cages and flights every week. Kilpatrick’s minerals are also available to all breeding pairs, as I believe this helps prevent feather plucking, as it is very salty. I fill the finger drawers up as soon as they are emptied. On one occasion I found a pair whose finger drawer was empty starting to feather pluck their chicks. This stopped when the supply was restored.

2.How are your birds flighted - mixed sexes or separate and what ratio of cocks and hens do you keep?

 

I generally fly cocks and hens together, keeping young birds and adults in separate flights. This prevents the young birds causing trouble; they are just like young children who annoy adults. I like to keep between eighty and one hundred top quality cock birds of breeding age and as many as one hundred and fifty hens. For the coming the breeding season I am also keeping about fifty or sixty late breed youngsters that will make lots of noise in the flights adjoining the breeding area of each bird room.

3.How important do you think outside flights are?

 

I must confess that I like outside flights even though I don’t have one at present. I love to see the young birds out in the spring sunshine, I’m sure it helps them to develop quickly. However, I think it advisable to cover the roofs to prevent contamination from wild birds.

 

The Breeding Season

 

1.Describe your breeding cages and nest boxes. Have you ever tried other types of box or cage?

 

All my breeding cages are identical throughout both birdrooms. Each cage is twenty-four inches wide, twenty-one inches deep and eighteen inches high. All cages are constructed from white-faced furniture board with the backs tiled for easy cleaning and no maintenance. The nest boxes are all the same apart from the top cages in my new birdroom which need to be box within a box to remove the necessity to stand on a stool to see inside them. The boxes are made from far-eastern ply and measure 10” x 9” x 7”and have removable top lids which are weighted to prevent them being knocked off. I have tried most designs of nest boxes and cages over the years and have settled for quite small cages and large nest boxes.

 

2.Please describe your daily routine through the breeding season? What is your breeding season diet? Provide full details of any supplements you feed.

 

My daily routine begins at around 8.00 am with a check of all nest boxes. I check each cage for any problems making sure the birds are well and whether any chicks are chipping that might require a little help to break through the egg shell (you need a laser torch for this). I check the seed hopper levels and look for any build up of droppings. I make a mental note of which cages require any special attention, as my first priority is to make sure all the breeding pairs are okay. As I breed with a few pairs throughout the year I do not really differentiate between a breeding and non-breeding season, however, the breeding pairs get the added supplements more frequently.

 

3.What influences the atmosphere of a birdroom the most and what have you done about it? How do you know the birds are in breeding condition?

 

The atmosphere is generally kept very good and very fresh by using two twelve-inch wall mounted vent axia fans which run on a timer in conjunction with the radio. The timer is set to run from 07.00am until 10.00pm every day of the year. The use of the fans combined with the vacuum system ensures that the birdrooms are always very fresh, a feature necessary to promote vigorous activity and plenty of chatter. I like to hear a lot of noise in the birdrooms, I feel that this is an indication that the birds are happy and the ambience needed to kick start the breeding season has been created.

 

The breeding fitness of my hens is determined by their body weight. I don’t worry about feather condition provided the hen is coming through a moult and has got to the point where she is starting to regain her full weight. This, I feel, is paramount to successful breeding. The colour of the cere of hens at this time is usually very pale straw. This is just an observation; I do not think the colour is very important. At this stage I pick out hens and cocks in a similar stage of their fitness cycle and put them together in a small flight. The cocks have to be very alert and chasing everything in sight. I don’t care what they look like; they could have blood all over them due to feather quills being split. Another clue to the cock’s readiness is that the cere should be very pale blue in colour, never dark, as I believe this indicates the non-fertile time in their cycle or poor health.

 

4.How much do pedigree and visual attributes influence your pairing decisions? How do you actually pair up?

 

Visual attributes are always the most important factors, pedigree obviously plays its part but it is no problem to me as I have always line bred. A tip for successful breeding that I try to impress on all who seek advice is “Look at two budgies and imagine them as one”. I always pair birds that compliment each other.

 

When pairing for breeding I allow approximately five cocks and ten hens (all of which I would be happy to breed with) in a small flight together. From there I let them choose their own partners. This usually provides me with successful breeding pair (a love-match if you like!).

5.Do you handle or mark eggs or use fosters, and if a complete clutch of clear eggs is laid what do you do?

 

I handle the first four eggs in each box and mark them 1 to 4 using a non-toxic pen (water based is best). I am always moving eggs around for various reasons. Firstly, I use very young hens (from six months) which are generally very fertile but sometimes do not know what to do with the eggs once have laid them. I move the eggs as soon as I suspect that the hens are not sitting properly and give them infertile eggs from elsewhere so as not to upset them. Secondly, I move eggs when there are only one or two fertile in a box. This maximises my chance of taking another round quickly. A completely clear clutch of eggs is disposed of as soon as possible. For example, if a hen lays six eggs, by day sixteen the last egg should have started to turn. If it hasn’t they are removed on day seventeen or eighteen. I usually split the pair at this time as I have seldom found that a good second round follows a clear one. Bear in mind that I only pair up if the birds are fully fit and ready to breed and they have usually selected their own partner.

 

6.Do you handle the chicks in the nest very much, if so how? Also, do you grade your chicks while they are still in the nest and how do you spot a promising youngster? How do you wean your chicks? Do you make any diet changes?

 

I handle my chicks from the time they are rung. Their feet, rings and beak are checked each day. The chicks that look particularly good are handled much more than the others. Some of my best young birds have become finger tame before leaving the nest box. The chicks are assessed from around three weeks when the head quality can easily be judged. The head needs to be full and completely rounded with a small beak. The width of the back can be assessed once the birds start to feather up properly. I like to see chicks with big feet standing upright in the box; these will generally be the “typey” ones on the perch. I help the chicks wean by putting pieces of millet spray in the nest boxes. Once they leave the box I give millet sprays morning and night. I also make sure that soft food is always available. Quite often I pick chicks from the floor of the cage and get them to have a drink. I find this helps the weaning process and prevents dehydration. The diet is much the same for youngsters once they have been removed from their parents and they also get the daily treat.

 

7.Tell us about your record keeping.

 

My records are kept firstly on the nest box card (my own design) which is pinned to each box and updated as required. Each egg is recorded as it is laid and later marked fertile or infertile. A record is made of any eggs that are moved. A note is made of chicks as they hatch below the egg record in question. Each ring number is noted on the card and then transferred to my stock record book. The record book details description/variety, sex, rating, box, foster box (if applicable), date hatched and comments if required. All the books and nest box cards are retained indefinitely. I can find a record of every bird I have ever bred.

 

Exhibiting

 

1.Give details of show successes. How many birds would you typically show?

 

To date I have won approximately eight hundred Challenge Certificates and numerous Best Young Bird and Best in Show Awards. This is quite a high success rate as I usually only enter seven or eight shows each year. Last year was my best show season ever, as I won eighty-seven CCs with over thirty different birds, averaging over almost ten CCs at each show. I only exhibit at Championship Shows, as the lesser shows tend to be in the autumn, which interferes with my breeding plans. The only exception is the Club Show at Doncaster, which I feel is where every serious exhibitor in this country should go to assess his stock. I have had success at this show frequently over the years, winning CCs in almost every year since first exhibiting there. I have been the UK’s top champion breeder for the last nine show seasons. I have also won Best Young Bird in Show at the BS Club Show three times since 2004 and best opposite sex twice. I currently hold every exhibition show record possible having won the most challenge certificates at one show (21) as well as the most in one year (87 at 9 shows) see link for further details: http://www.sweeting-budgerigars.co.uk/personal%20profile.htm.

 

In the West Country the exhibitors support each other’s club events very well as we live in quite a low populated area. We have to do this to maintain our championship show status, which is regulated by the Budgerigar Society. For this reason I usually exhibit between fifteen & twenty birds and at our own show in Somerset it could be as many thirty.

2.What preparation would your team have? Do you use any specific training methods?

 

I often select young birds for my show team as soon as they have feathered up, sometimes when they are still in the nest box. They are handled often and put into stock cages that have a show cage fitted at the end containing a millet spray (fresh every day). When they go into the larger flights to develop I keep an eye on the promising youngsters and remove any damaged flights as they occur. The team is caught up and checked early in June. If they have completed their first moult they are checked again for broken feathers. If the baby tail has not come out naturally I remove the tail feathers one at a time about two weeks apart. At this stage I give them a few minutes in the training cages each evening while I carry out my chores.

 

Before a show, the pieds and redeyes (clear flighted birds) are washed with baby shampoo as soon as they settle in the show team stock cage. Stock cages and perches are cleaned regularly to stop the birds becoming soiled from their droppings etc, this avoids too much handling nearer the show time. Spraying with boiled rainwater to which plume spray has been added commences about three weeks before the first show. I have several stock cages in use at the same time and the birds are prepared in batches so that I can alternate the teams. The ones being shown need less preparation than those coming into condition so they are sorted in that manner. My show team consists mostly of young birds. Adults are only exhibited when they are in good natural condition and are removed from the flights about two weeks before they are taken to a show.

 

Heads are washed two days before the show and checked the evening before. Spots are cut as well as plucked, the cutting starts from the time I start spraying or washing. I like to do it little and often. A final check is carried out as they are put into the show cages.

 

During the preparation period, feeding is increased to put weight on the team. They are fed with the same soft food as the breeding team. The addition of tonic seed to their normal mixture is stopped at this time, as I believe too much tonic will cause a soft moult. This is due to increased body temperature induced by the rich seed mix. Millet sprays are fed morning and night to help build up the birds’ body weight. I add Vydex supplements (Entravain, Ascorbovite and Carbosol) to the drinking water for two days prior to the show and also for two days after they return home to achieve peak condition and reduce stress.

3.What do you do when you return from a show?

 

As soon as I get home the birds are fed and watered. They are placed in clean stock cages with a fresh drink and a few new millet sprays. Once they are back in their cages I disappear and give them time to settle and eat and drink in peace. All show cages are roughly cleaned and put away that evening. The birds get two days rest from spraying etc, then the routine starts again. Spraying is carried out daily when the weather is hot, otherwise every other day.

 

General

1.How and when do you choose what to keep and what to sell?

 

This is one of the most difficult tasks but one that I enjoy very much. I receive far more requests to purchase my birds than I can possibly cope with. Generally, I allow a few of my breeding team to go, so long as I am happy with their youngsters. As I am not very keen on opaline cocks, they pick themselves for passing on. They are few and far between, however, because the way I pair up does not give many chances of producing them. Young birds are never sold until they are fully moulted out. I do not like breeding with too many used hens in November, the critical breeding period. Those used hens that I do keep come to the fore after the first round is completed or if any hens have to be replaced.

2.What is the best tip that you have ever been given?

 

There are so many that spring to mind that it is difficult to pick the best one.

Therefore, the best three are

 

“Never sell your best birds”,

 

“Put your youngsters in the flight and forget about them until June” and

 

“If you liked them in the nest box you will like when they grow up”.

 

 

See my website which covers most of my activities complete with photographs, also many aspects of the hobby here in the UK

 

 

Website: http://www.sweeting-budgerigars.co.uk/

Edited by KAZ
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