Basic feeding - seed
Always feed the best possible seed you can afford, it is false economy to buy cheap seed as in most things in life you get what you pay for. You will find there is a lot more waste when you use the cheaper seed, and a lot of it will be dead and dry, therefore the nutritional value is very poor. A lot of fancier’s test the seed by sprouting, and if the majority of the seed sprouts, then the nutritional value should be good. I use a good quality budgerigar breeder mix and add to this an equal weight of a good quality white millet. In foreign finch mix the individual seeds can be too small for Bengalese who in my experience seem to refer the larger seed in mixes such as Budgerigar Breeder or 50%/50% budgerigar.
Bengalese love paddy rice this can be fed all year round, but care should be taken about feeding to very young chicks whilst they are still in the nest, because when the parents start to feed hard seed to the young there is the fear the young may choke on the larger kernel of the paddy rice.
Feeding mixed seeds in open bowls can lead to lots of waste as the birds sort through looking for their favourite seeds, feeding different seeds in separate dishes can save a lot of waste, but of course is much more time consuming, but it does give you the opportunity to observe what your birds are eating and therefore adjust the balance of their diet, by adding or holding back certain seeds.
Softfood is an excellent way of supplementing feeding hens, in addition to seed, when they are rearing youngsters. It’s easy feeding for the parents while they are rearing, and a high protein food, which will help the youngsters to grow. There are lots of softfoods on the market that are easy to use some of them are ready mixed and moist whilst others just need to be mixed with a little water to make them into a crumbly mixture, Softfood/eggfood should be fed every day during the breeding season and once or twice a week for the rest of the year. Eggfood will provide your birds with most of the added nutritional requirements lacking from just a diet of hard seed.
Chickweed is the most popular greenfood for me. But take care where you collect it from make sure it is not contaminated by traffic fumes or cats and dogs. Collecting green stuff from the side of busy roads is not a good idea, all green foods should be washed carefully before you feed to your birds. Both young Zebras and Bengalese love to pick at chickweed when they leave the nest. Broccoli is a good dark green vegetable and provides an excellent source of vitamins and nutrients. Milk thistle has fresh leaves that are enjoyed by all the birds but it needs to be collected and fed to the birds quickly. Dandelion leaves, roots, and seed are also popular. Lettace should be feed sparingly as to much can give them loose/ wet droppings, but they enjoy it.
Mung beans are another good green food to feed but these have to be soaked for 24/48 hours, but after soaking they need to be rinsed well under a running tap.
To sprout them place the soaked beans in a polythene bag, push a few holes through the top of the bag and hang in a warm place. If the airing cupboard is used for this purpose, they would sprout in about 12 hours. They will need to be rinsed under cold running water again before feeding.
Using a liquid calcium supplement with added Vit D3. can be a great advantage to those of you who breed your birds in cages that are away from natural sunlight.
The use of cuttlefish in flights is a good source of Calcium where Vit D3 can be absorbed from the natural sun light to assist your birds in using the calcium to grow healthy bones.
Cod liver oil is mixed, one teaspoonful to a pound of seed, leave it to stand for 24 hours. This is then offered to the birds in a separate dish and the birds can decide if they need to take it. Most of the birds love it!
Conclusions about feeding
As youngsters get older - four or five weeks, the parents tend to feed more seed, and less softfood. This of course means your the birds can be offered less softfood at this time and increased again at the weaning stage. I continue to give egg food to the young once they are weaned.
Weaning takes place at about 40 days. I am more likely to leave them a few days longer, if I am not totally sure they are feeding themselves. They are not removed from the parents until I am sure they are feeding.
Type of nest box and nest-building materials
Most fanciers use a 5in x 5in x 5in wooden nestbox with a half open front and lid that opens. This allows for nest inspection and enables you to reach the young when they are due for ringing. Some fanciers use a cardboard box and this needs no storage and can be burned at the end of the year. It reduces the risk of any infections being carried from one year to another and no mites can be encouraged. These boxes come flat and can easily be assembled. They are available on mail order.
Time of the year for breeding
All this depends on your set up, but most serious breeders like to start their breeding program in late December or early January. This means the breeding season is completed before the first shows, and the young have been through their moult and have reached their adult plumage. I pair up later now, starting sometime in April, putting down a few pairs at a time over probably a three-week period.
Recognising breeding condition
As long as the birds are in reasonable good physical condition, they can obtain full breeding condition in about six or seven weeks. Remember there is a great difference between breeding and show condition for example birds will breed with a damaged tail but are useless on the show bench. Diet and increasing the hours of daylight and temperature in your birdroom, is the main method used to bring birds into breeding condition. Extending the length of the day and keeping the temperatures a degree or two above the natural weather will help to advance breeding fitness.
One of the main additions to the diet is vitamin D. This is needed so that calcium can be absorbed for the purpose of egg production. I use a calcium supplemet with added vitamin D. Cod liver oil mixed with ordinary seed is feed to my birds for two days then miss a day, then again for two days and so on. When the cocks are noisy and singing and the hens are jumping from perch to perch and calling to the cocks, they are in breeding condition. It is not especially difficult to recognise breeding condition with Bengalese but it is important to wait for all the signs before any birds are paired together. Birds that are not in full breeding fitness will result in problems – losses and clear eggs.
The method of preparing cod liver oil seed is to take the quantity of seed that will be eaten by the birds over a three or four day period, add the cod liver oil in the ratio of one teaspoon to a pound of seed. Mix thoroughly and leave to stand over night, the prepared seed should then be feed to your stock as described. Once your birds are in breeding condition you should stop feeding cod liver oil and feed a plain seed diet for a few days before pairing up.
Select pairs that complement each other. If one is small and of good type, pair with a mate that has a bit of size, My main criteria is head quality and type. Birds with small, pinched heads do nothing for me. The head should be in proportion to the body with a bit of width across the scull and a slight rise above the eyes. I also try to pair birds with the required markings as I think it gives a better chance of breeding well matched birds.
I look for birds with a slight rise in the back as I don’t like boat-shaped birds.
When to expect the eggs, number of eggs
If your birds are in breeding condition you can expect to see the first egg after Seven to Ten days after pairing up.Any eggs produced before seven days after pairing are unlikely to be fertile.The number of eggs to a clutch varies from three, to six or seven eggs. The number of eggs to a clutch is said to reflect the breeding fitness of the hen. The larger the number of eggs, the fitter the hen will be. It is one of the reasons why fanciers get the hens breeding fit before the breeding season.
Weaning your young chicks
Youngsters are ready to be taken from their parents at 40 days. Most youngsters are feeding themselves before this but I would rather be safe and leave the youngsters with their parents for the extra few days. I continue with eggfood, seed, grit, water, and some sort of greens for them to pick at. It is a very important time to keep a careful eye on the birds at this stage as something can go wrong and might need fancier intervention.
Fertile and clear eggs
After about seven days it is possible to distinguish any fertile eggs by the change in colour. Fertile eggs have a kind of matt finish and you can also see the embryo starting to form if you hold the egg to a bright light. If you do decide to handle or move the eggs great care must be taken it is very easy to damage the shell, once the shell is cracked there is little to be done to save the chick as the egg will dry out. While clear eggs have a pink see through appearance, its always best to leave those clear eggs an extra couple of days. Most hens do not start to incubate from the first egg, they are more likely to wait until she has produced the second or even the third egg before she begins. If the full clutch of eggs are clear they should be removed.
If however there are one or two clear eggs in the clutch I like to leave at least one clear egg in the nestbox. I think it stops the breeding pair from sitting to tight and squashing the young. If there are only one or two fertile eggs you can try to move them to another pair with only one or two eggs, the same can be done with chicks. This allows most of your pairs to raise a full nest of four or five chicks. Nest with just one or two chicks never seems to be as successful as a full nest. Although Bengalese are renowned as good parents they are what I term on demand feeders, that is to say the chicks have to asked to be fed rather than the parents forcing the food on them, so it is logical that out of a nest of five or six chicks one of them is bound to ask for food thus stimulating its nest mates to beg for food. In my experience single chicks rarely reach their full potential.
Dead in shell
Dead in shell is when a chick is fully formed but fails to hatch. This can be due to a number of reasons such as lack of humidity, eggs are too dry and the membrane inside the egg sticks to the chick, stopping it from chipping out of the egg, and it dies from exhaustion. Make sure there is always water for bathing and this will increase the humidity in the breeding room. Some fanciers like to spray on a regular basis throughout the birdroom during the breeding season.