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Interview With Ken Yorke


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INTERVIEW WITH KEN YORKE................many Thanks Ken :)

 

Q1. AT WHICH POINT IN TIME DID YOU FIRST DEVELOP AN INTEREST IN BUDGERIGARS ?

 

As a child I had friends who used to breed and exhibit canaries, and I had a pet canary. As a teenager I built an aviary for budgerigars, as I preferred the different colours in budgerigars instead of canaries. I went to many local budgerigar club shows as a visitor and used to ring my birds with club rings but didn't actually join a club and start exhibiting until my late teens.

 

Q2. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST AVIARY/BREEDING ROOM LIKE ?

 

My first aviary was a colony breeding aviary 12 feet long x 6 feet wide and 7 feet high. After a couple of years I added a second aviary and a breeding room which tripled the original size of the aviary complex. This enabled me to start breeding in cabinets and thus start selective breeding of pairs and commence breeding exhibition style birds more seriously. (Although I had previously had a very good success rate with a technique I devised of forcing particular cocks and hens to pair up even in a colony aviary.) This setup existed for about two decades until I moved house and built the much larger purpose built setup mentioned below.

Q3. WHERE DID YOUR FIRST BIRDS COME FROM AND OVER WHAT PERIOD OF TIME DID YOU CONTINUE WITH THESE LINES ?

 

My early birds were a hotch potch of varieties and bloodlines from numerous breeders both well known and obscure. As you can expect the results were very mixed in quality. It is interesting that even to this day the absolute most outstanding individual birds I have ever bred always come from completely unrelated outcrosses. The disadvantage is that such birds are generally one-offs and do not lend themselves to producing consistent future offspring and are difficult to produce lines of birds. The genetic reasons for this is, of course, well known.

 

I have always been a specialist variety breeder and as such, different varieties in my aviary tend to be descended from completely different lines. Over many years of breeding and selection, each variety has tended to be descended from a very small nucleus of particular ancestor birds. But each variety (with some exceptions) has a different nucleus of ancestors. For example, my Clearwings are all descended from a very small set of original birds several decades earlier and my Darkwings are all descended from a different small set of ancestors. In summary, different varieties are different lines of birds. For the more common birds (and those more likely to win grand champion etc awards) such as Normals, Cinnamons, Opalines, Aust Dominant Pieds and Spangles these birds tend to have more diverse backgrounds but predominantly date back to the first legal English imports in the 1990s many of which were Lane or Pilkington bloodlines.

 

Q4. ARE YOUR PRESENT BIRDS FROM THESE SAME BLOODLINES, IF NOT WHAT BLOODLINES HAVE IMPACTED MOST WITHIN YOUR STUD?

 

The specialist varieties such as Clearwings and Black-eye Selfs are still the same bloodlines I had 30 years ago. By keeping the same bloodline in these varieties I have maintained the desireable colour and marking features very well. The disadvantage is that type characteristics are slower to improve. For example, I have not introduced any visual or split clearwings outcrosses into my clearwing line. Any outcrosses are always Normals with no clearwing heritage as I don't want anybody else's poor coloured clearwing traits introduced. Similarly, the only outcrosses into my Black eye-selfs are Cinnamons (with only a couple of exceptions).

 

The less specialised varieties dating back to English imports generally have had more outcrosses, as in these varieties I am looking to maintain and improve predominantly type rather than colour and markings. In these cases one has to keep nudging a line in a particular direction by purchasing those feather and type features that your own lines cannot produce. As such it is no longer fair to call these birds a line unless all your outcrosses are from another similarly based line.

 

In my experience, there are very few true "lines" of birds in Australia as even the winningest breeders in the country are continually introducing outcrosses. The only advantage in aiming to keep a "line" of birds is the tendency for more consistent offspring, but it also means you get less new features appearing.

Q5. HOW DO YOU PREPARE YOUR BIRDS FOR THE BREEDING SEASON?

 

Cocks and hens run together in the aviary all the time. Birds in the aviary do not undergo any particular pre-breeding ritual.

 

Q6. DO YOU SET YOUR BREEDING SEASON BY THE CALENDER OR BY SIGNS OF THE BIRDS BEING READY ?

 

I breed all year round, non-stop. I do this primarily because I have so many birds that I need to cycle pairs through the limited number of cabinets continuously. I generally pair up birds by variety. Most of the clearwings for example will be paired up at the same time, then say all the Fallows will be paired up then perhaps all the "less specialised" higher quality show birds etc. Within these variety groups, if individual birds are not in breeding condition, then these individual birds will be held back to a later time when they are in condition. I do not breed to suit the show calendar. I breed to suit the birds and my own schedule. I also prefer to give experienced hens at least six months off after a breeding period and I do not like to use juvenile hens under 1 year of age. As such, sometimes the lead time between pairing up a variety can be slightly longer than 12 months and this means that once every few years one variety will be either not available to be shown at young bird shows or at least in very reduced numbers.

 

If I kept fewer varieties and birds in total, then ideally I would pair up in spring each year. Budgerigars in captivity will breed at any time during the year, but breeding results are always slightly better in spring than other times. It is important not to pair birds up during, or just before, each of the two major seasonal moults. Pairs will breed through a moult season if they are paired up significantly before the moult begins as they actually substantially delay that moult until they finish breeding.

 

Q7. WHEN PAIRING UP DO YOU GO BY PEDIGREE OR VISUAL APPEARANCES OR BOTH?

 

It varies. When I pair birds I have to make a decision as to what feature I want to maintain or improve. I then choose the birds firstly on visual characteristics and then pedigree to focus on that feature. I check pedigrees to avoid mating too close in families. If a pair of birds has the right visual appearance AND has a compatible pedigree this is all the better as this generally gives more consistent offspring.

 

Where I have deliberately introduced an outcross into a line the previous year then I will pair on pedigree because I want to maximise the use of that outcross to determine its good and bad traits.

 

In some cases where the particular feature has a known genetic reproducibilty then simple genetics determines the pairings completely independent of visual or pedigree traits.

Q8. HOW CLOSELY DO YOU MATE YOUR BIRDS AND WHAT RELATED MATINGS HAVE BEEN

THE MOST SUCCESSFUL?

 

I have tried all sorts of closely related matings such parent/child, siblings, uncle/niece, grandparent/grandchild etc but tend to avoid most of these accept for uncle/niece, aunt/nephew and half brother/ half sister. Closer matings need only be used if you are trying to increase the probability of producing a particular trait from a new outcross or are establishing a new mutation from a single bird. (Even in these cases the "master bird" with this trait or mutation should still be outcrossed to unrelated birds as well) Remember that mating closely related birds makes offspring more homozygous for both good and bad characteristics and rarely creates new characteristics. New characteristics more often come from outcrossing to unrelated birds or from a new mutation. (We as breeders have no control over when/if a new mutation appears.)

 

Q9. WHAT VARIETY MIXES DO YOU USE FOR IMPROVEMENT IF ANY OR IS IT BEST TO BEST?

 

Mate the best cock with desired characteristics to the best hen with compatible characteristics.

 

The notion of using a particular colour variety to improve certain type characteristics is loaded with myth in the hobby. To give an example, many very old budgerigar books say that a cinnamon bird has a certain type of feather quality. This may or may not be true. Many genes have pleiotropic effects (i.e. one gene produces several different visual effects simultaneously) so it could possibly be said that the cinnamon gene produces brown pigment and produces a certain feather quality. However, these old books also said that you use a cinnamon to put that feather quality into other varieties. With current genetic knowledge this is ludicrous. If these two characteristics are provided by the one gene then you cannot tear these two characteristics apart and add one to another bird, you get both together or none at all. Conversely, if this special feather quality is caused by a different gene to cinnamon but just happened to first appear in a family of cinnamon birds then the two traits can be inherited independently and thus the feather quality gene can be introduced to other varieties. This however also means that many cinnamons will not have the feather quality gene and cannot pass it on so the original statement about always using a cinnamon to pass on feather quality to other varieties is still incorrect.

 

Another example, when the spangle was first introduced to Europe from Australia, many stories came back saying that the spangle improved the type qualities of many of there other varieties and had improved fertility. This actually had nothing to do with the spangle gene itself, but more to do with an introduction of new genetic material and exposure to lots of very minor mutations that the European bloodlines didn't have. In other words it was the benefit of a totally unrelated outcross and "hybird vigour" not a single spangle gene.

 

For the colour and variety breeder there are some varieties that can be used (or more to the point, avoided) to improve the colour (not type) characteristics of the offspring. For example if you are a clearwing breeder you avoid Grey factor and Dark factor outcrosses because these varieties accentuate wing markings and tail colour, the exact opposite of what is desired in a clearwing.

 

With the possible exception of the Feather Duster gene I cannot think of any recognised budgerigar variety which directly affects type characteristics.

 

So in general, use of a particular colour variety does nothing for altering type features in other varieties, but the use of some colour varieties can be beneficial (or detrimental) to other colour varieties. (Also remember that some of these compound varieties are illegal in some show standards)

Q10. HOW MANY CHICKS AND ROUNDS DO YOU ALLOW YOUR BIRDS TO HAVE?

 

I prefer two rounds (or three rounds if not many chicks were produced in only two rounds) from hens but I have in highly unusual circumstances gone up to seven rounds. Cocks can usually take more rounds than hens and sometimes for this reason I will give a cock a second mate after the first has finished breeding. It is important to be aware of the condition of the breeding pairs and look for the signs of stress, exhaustion etc. Every bird is an individual and there are always exceptions, such as a seven year old fallow cock which produced 50 chicks in one season from two hens and looked as fit and healthy on the last day of breeding as the first.

 

I prefer not to have more than six chicks in a nest, but again it depends on how well all the chicks are being fed, growth rates of the chicks and exhaustion levels of the parents.

 

Q11. WHAT FEATURES ARE THE HARDEST TO PUT ON A BIRD AND HOW DOES ONE GO ABOUT ESTABLISHING THAT FEATURE AND RETAINING IT, THE DIRECTIONAL FEATHER, STRAIGHT BACKLINE, SHOULDER & LENGTH?

 

In all animals and birds, size and shape characteristics are polygenic, meaning a complex mish mash of lots of genes are involved. The more genes involved then the more variations in size and shape are possible and hence more complex to work out and control. Alterations in feather shape tend to be simpler (often driven by single genes) and therefore are easier for the breeder to control. So, in summary it is generally easier for a breeder to change the shape or size of a bird by selecting for feather types than by selecting for skeletal or muscular traits.

 

Having said that, in the absence of any better genetic knowledge, then to control skeletal or muscular traits, then it is simply that one has to obtain outcrosses which have these desirable traits and use the principles of not breeding two birds together that have the same undesirable fault.

 

Q12. WHAT IS YOUR FEEDING PROGRAMME DURING THE BREEDING SEASON AND DOES THIS DIFFER DURING THE NON BREEDING SEASON?

 

My seed mix is constant i.e. equal parts of canary seed, white millet and jap millet. Lettuce once a week and continual access to mineral blocks or powder. Occasional soaked whole oats and native gum tree branches.

 

Breeding pairs get the above plus soaked whole oats three times a week, sprouted mung beans once a week and water soluble vitamins twice a week. Once a week a mix of soaked oats and my standard seed mix soaked in cod liver oil. Millet sprays are given to fledgling chicks to encourage them to self feed. Any leftovers I give to non-breeding birds in the flights.

 

Q13a. PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT AVIARY DESIGN, SIZE, FLIGHTS, BREEDING CAGE DESIGN AND NUMBER OF CAGES ETC?

My current aviary design is a prefabricated colorbond steel shed 18m long x 9m wide x 3m high with power and running water. The space was originally designed to take 100 breeding cabinets and 10 flights (with the intent of housing 700-1000 birds) but I have only built 40 cabinets and 8 parallel identical flights and the remainder of the space is used for storage, photographic work and open space for viewing etc. Each flight is 1.8m wide x 2.3m high x 6m long and has three zones, a fully sheltered zone, a fresh air zone with a roof, and a zone completely open to all the weather. Each flight backs onto a breeding room which is 18 m long by 3m wide (but is only partially used at present).

 

Each breeding cabinet is 24" wide x 12" deep X 15" high with bolt on nest boxes mounted outside the cage front. Nest boxes are 7.5" long x 5.5" wide x 7" deep internally. I prefer smaller nest boxes as it helps to retain heat inside and also chicks and eggs cannot wander too far from a sitting hen.

Q13b. WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT YOUR SETUP IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO DO SO ?

 

Recently added an extra window for more light and ventilation in the breeding room but I am happy with the setup.

Q14. DO YOU USE PREVENTATIVE MEDICATION DURING AND PRE BREEDING SEASON AND IF SO WHAT AND WHY.

 

Over the last decade the most prevalent health problems in budgerigars in Australia have been coccidiosis and mega bacteria so several times a year I put all birds on "Coccivet" for coccidiosis and apple cider vinegar for the megabacteria. About once a year I will worm the birds but this has not been a problem for me for many years. These precautions are generally independent of the breeding season, however there can be some advantage in treating pairs for megabacteria before mating as even a mild dormant dose of megabacteria in parents is very easily transmitted to chicks which are much more vulnerable to the symptoms.

Q15. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE GREATEST ASSET OF BEING IN THE HOBBY AND WHERE DO YOU SEE THE HOBBY HEADING WITH SO MANY BREEDERS LEAVING TODAY?

 

The greatest asset of the hobby should be the friendships formed. However, particularly since the 1990's, I have seen too much of the win at all costs attitude coming into the hobby at a local, state and national level. The good of the hobby and the welfare of the bird seems to have taken a back seat to a trophy. To keep existing people the hobby needs an increase in the social aspects of clubs and less of the competitive aspects. The price of reasonable stock birds needs to come down for the enthusiast while actually keeping up the value of low quality cull birds for the pet trade, otherwise the hobby becomes too expensive.

 

Without new people there will be no hobby into the future. A trophy doesn't get many people into the hobby, but promoting social activities might.

Q16. WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER TO BE THE MOST IMPORTANT VALUE ABOUT FRIENDSHIPS FORMED AND FELLOWSHIP WITHIN THE BUDGIE BREEDING FRATERNITY ?

 

It's the common hardships and rewards and shared experiences.

Q17. DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON HOW TO PROMOTE THE HOBBY TO GET MORE PEOPLE INTERESTED IN JOINING OUR CLUBS ?

 

Clubs have to advertise and self promote in the general community. The hobby also needs to promote the pet bird and non-exhibition backyard colony breeder, because you are far more likely to convert someone to exhibition birds who has already been exposed to non-exhibition budgerigars than you are someone with no "heritage" at all in birds. The more budgerigar owners then the greater the potential pool of future budgerigar exhibitors.

 

The future of the hobby is the small family (typically the 40 year olds with young teenage kids) as the parents (with suitable encouragement from clubs) usually keep interested in the hobby for 10- 20 years. Their kids have exposure to the bird hobby and usually leave the hobby to follow other interests, BUT it is usually these same kids who rejoin the hobby as 40 year olds because they had that early exposure.

 

Another demographic of potential new member is the retiree with time on their hands. Australia has an aging population so this pool of potential people is actually increasing and older people are more likely to be in tune with more "traditional" hobbies than younger technophobes.

Q18. WHAT IS THE BENEFIT OF HAVING A NATIONAL SHOW?

 

The national show as it is currently arrranged is a good concept. The fact that local and state clubs fund all the travel arrangements for birds to attend the National means that even the small breeder of limited means still has an equal opportunity to have his bird compete no matter how far flung the venue may be. The elimination process along the way in order to compete at the National also means that the quality of bird is generally maintained and consequently the prestige of the awards is worthy to the winners. The fact that it is a variety show with no outright Grand Champion should be maintained as this is a major stimulus for breeders to foster ALL varieties.

 

A minor criticism, if any, is the slight overemphasis on the State team point scores which for some people is more important than the birds or people themselves.

Q19. HOW WOULD YOU GO ABOUT POINTING A NOVICE BREEDER IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION TO ENABLE THEM TO REACH THE TOP BENCH IN AROUND EIGHT YEARS?

 

See question 24 on how to start. Eight years is a fictitious number. Many novice breeders do it in two years with large cheque books but very few can maintain it and leave the hobby dejected. To reach the top bench and stay there can only be achieved by doing the hard yards, making mistakes and continually learning. One has to start with some foundation pairs from one or two top breeders. Breed with those to determine their good and bad points. Work on eliminating their bad points and where possible buy in outcrosses from one other top breeder who consistently has birds with a particalur trait that your birds are lacking. Fix that trait in your birds then look for another breeder who consistently has birds with the next desirable trait that your birds lack and fix that. By definition, this is a slow process but results in long term stability and quality. Taking shortcuts only creates "flash in the pan" results.

Q20. WHAT DO YOU DO WITH BIRDS WITH FEATHER DISORDERS?

 

It depends on severity. Minor problems that are caused by injury or temporary illness are irrelevant. Permanent feather disorders of a genetic nature can be treated like any other exhibition fault, i.e. penalised, culled and/or discouraged as required according to severity. That said, an increasing trend in recent years in many aviaries is the appearance of large numbers of birds that cannot grow a normal tail or cannot fly, or fly poorly, or are too lethargic to fly as it is too difficult for them to do so. Most of these are due to feather diseases and genetic predisposition to growing feathers that are not conducive to normal flight. It is common to see in some aviaries tens of birds on the floor who cannot, or do not wish to, fly and owners have coddled such birds with the provision of ladders etc so the birds can get to the higher perches. I personally see this trend as detrimental to the ongoing future of the healthy vital budgerigar (no matter how good it looks in a show cage) and as such I ruthlessly cull such extreme feather traits that affect the ongoing viability of the breed.

Q21. WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU THE MOST IN THE FANCY?

 

I'm not sure I have ever been inspired as such. Those people in the hobby who are prepared to serve, educate, foster, promote and sacrifice for the hobby earn my respect.

Q22. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR LOWEST AND HIGHEST POINTS IN THE HOBBY ?

 

Very few low points apart from the passing of some great friends and breeders of the past. One of the highlights was actually many years ago and strangely was a story of "the one that got away" rather than one of my more prestigious wins. I have always bred rare and "lesser varieties" as well as good normals etc but at one show I was told by the judge that I owned the best bird in the show but it was an Opaline Black-eyed Yellow hen. In those times this variety was non-standard and thus was ineligible to win Best in Show, but it was satisfying to know that such a "lesser variety" was good enough to be Best in Show. These days, this variety is standardised but it has never won a Best in Show at any show I know of in this country, so this particular hen was truly a unique super bird that missed out on a Best in Show on a technicality.

 

Q23. WHAT IN YOUR MIND WAS THE BEST BIRD YOU EVER BOUGHT THAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE IN YOUR STUD AND WHAT APPROXIMATELY WAS ITS COST ?

 

It's not about cost, I have had world class four-figure birds that drop dead or wouldn't breed or threw pet shop runts and yet an obscure $20 hen discarded by its breeder as no good has produced stacks of chicks, everyone one of which was far superior to herself and far superior to any cock bird mated to her. These sort of birds are the ones you die for. Because I have so many varieties and therefore so many varied bloodlines then no one freak bird stands out over the whole aviary.

Q24. IF YOU WERE JUST STARTING OUT ALL OVER AGAIN AS A NOVICE IN TODAYS WORLD, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU DISPENSE BASED ON WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNT ?

 

If a novice has no prior experience in breeding birds then spend your first two years with a dozen pairs of cheap and nasty pet quality birds or dreadful exhibition cast-offs. Learn your husbandry techniques and make all your mistakes with these birds and meanwhile attend club meetings, shows and visit experienced breeders aviaries and pick their brains. Read everything you can. After two years get rid of all these pet birds and then buy the best quality pairs you can afford from no more than two different successful breeders. Make sure you have good normals and if you also want to specialise in some other variety then only pick one variety for starters. These birds should be the foundation of your exhibition birds and hopefully you will have made all your mistakes before this on the cheap birds.

Q25. WOULD YOU HAVE A PHILOSOPHY TO SHARE THAT HAS HELPED YOU IN DAILY LIFE WITH YOUR BUDGERIGARS ?

 

Do what you enjoy doing with your birds irrespective of pressures to do or be something else. Enjoy your hobby your way and let others enjoy it their way.

Q26. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE MUTATION OR VARIETY THAT REALLY INSPIRES YOU ? AND WHAT VARIETIES ARE YOU SPECIALISING IN AT THE MOMENT ?

 

I have always bred the rarest of the rare varieties and those varieties that others find "too hard". Although the probability of winning major awards will always be better with "normal or common" varieties, they also are less of a challenge and less interesting to me. I like to breed Black-eyed Selfs and I have recently decided to ramp up my Clearwings to a better standard.

Q27. GIVEN ALL OF THE ABOVE, DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER TIPS OR HINTS ON HOW TO IMPROVE AND SUSTAIN AN EXHIBITION BUDGERIGAR STUD?

See Q19 and 24

 

 

Q28. IF THERE WAS ONE MAIN THING YOU HAVE WANTED TO SAY THAT ENCOMPASSES YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT BEING INVOLVED IN BUDGERIGARS AND CLUBS WHAT WOULD IT BE ?

 

With the right attitude you can make long lasting friendships, which have nothing to do with quality of birds or trophies and the like. You can get out of the hobby whatever you want, be it a collection of pretty birds, social activity, duty, education, a sense of achievement (or frustration sometimes), a trophy or commitment.

 

PROFILE - KEN YORKE

 

At time of writing I have been breeding budgerigars for about forty years. I am based in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia on a small acreage in a semi-rural area near Newcastle. I usually keep about 300 birds flying and typically breed 100-300 birds per season. Over the years I have bred pet birds in a colony system, award winning exhibition birds and also some of the rarest birds available. I have bred Normals (including Dark factor and Violet factor), Cinnamon, Black-Eye Self, Clearwing, Greywing, Opaline, Fallow, Yellowface, Lacewing, Ino, Darkwing, Saddleback, Faded, Dusk, Aust Dominant Pied, Dutch Dominant Pied, Danish Recessive Pied, Dark Eyed Clear, Crest, Polydactyl, Stargazer and Feather Duster. (Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of some of those as some are very rare)

 

In the exhibition arena I have won a couple of Grand Champion of Show awards, Best in Status, and so many Best of Variety in Show awards that I have lost count.

 

I have been involved in the administrative side of the hobby for several decades being a member of numerous clubs around the world, office bearer (numerous positions up to President) of local clubs and a Senior Panel judge in NSW. I am an author of one book on budgerigars and numerous articles published worldwide. I am also the designer/programmer of several worldwide bestselling computer programs for bird breeders, bird clubs and hobbyists.

 

Ken Yorke website http://users.tpg.com.au/users/kyorke/contents.htm

Edited by KAZ
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