Breeding

Pair nesting
Pair nesting

You need to start preparing for the breeding season in January. Help take them into condition by feeding egg food twice a week. I use CeDe egg food with a boiled egg and a little maw seed. Feed this three times a week during February, then every day in March, along with condition seed and greens e.g. lettuce and dandelions. You should also make sure they have plenty good quality grit which the hen needs to form the egg shell. A hen will often eat a lot of grit in the evening before laying an egg. A good pinch of charcoal will help to provide essential minerals.

You should wash your cages with disinfectant and I also spray mine with an anti-mite spray called Zodiac.

At the beginning of the year you should introduce the cock and hen to one another. Have the birds in cages next to each another and pull the slide away for a few minutes so they can see one another. By doing this it means when you do pair them up they are less likely to fight. Also the cock's singing helps to bring the hen into breeding condition. You'll find that the cocks will feed their feet and the bars of the cages as they come into breeding condition and the hens play about with bits of sawdust looking to build a nest. The courtship song is different from their normal singing. It's also a good idea to dust the birds with anti-mite powder before pairing them up and check their claws to see that they aren't too long. To trim their claws cut them at an angle of 45% in front of the dark part where the blood vessel is. Pair your birds up at about the end of March.

When deciding which birds to pair up look for birds that complement one another in terms of type of feather and shape of bird e.g. if a hen doesn't have a round curved back then pair her with a cock that has a high back. Pair a long feathered bird with a short feathered one. I never pair up birds that are related. Here I've paired a buff cock with a yellow variegated hen. Always pair a buff and a yellow, never two of the same kind.

After the birds have been together about a week put in a nest pan. I prefer to use nest pans on tripods as they are easier to keep clean. A friend of mine who was a blacksmith made them for me. I don't know if they are commercially available. Put a nest felt in the pan and give them nesting material. You can use squares of hesian teased out, cotton wool and moss once the nest is nearly finished.

Clutch of eggs
Clutch of eggs

A hen usually lays 4-5 eggs and doesn't sit on the eggs to incubate them until she has laid her last egg. The eggs hatch 14 days after incubation. The hen sits close on the eggs. Her open feathers on her chest go round the eggs. Only feed plain canary seed while the hen is sitting. If the cock is being aggressive and annoying it can be a good idea to take him away during incubation. Return him once the eggs have hatched to help feed the chicks.