What is too young to breed, and how do we know when our birds are old enough?
- First and foremost, you need to understand that our birds are CAPTIVE. They’ve been domesticated and, through domestication, weakened. They are not wild birds who’d get ample exercise flying miles in a day and who are able to eat what would be perfect natural nutrition for reproduction. Exercise in the wild allows younger hens to strengthen the muscles needed to push the eggs out of her body. This is why many species will breed in the wild before they are a year old, and even sometimes in the same season they themselves were raised. Birds in captivity get a mere fraction of the exercise they require to build those muscles.Unless your birds are in majorly large flights (walk-in size minimum), you should rethink breeding your birds before at least 1 year of age.
- Any bird you wish to breed should have completed its juvenile molt.When I say completed, I mean every single juvenile feather has been fully replaced. In aviaries receiving optimum nutrition, this should be within 4 months of age for most species, but will often be much longer – all dependent on light, heat, humidity, nutrition and species. Regardless of how long it takes, the birds should not be bred until they’ve completed that molt. The molt requires energy and lowers the immune system. Breeding requires much more energy, and when combined with breeding hormones, lowers the immune system even further. When you combine the two, you’re setting yourself and your bird up for failure. This is especially true for mutations. Mutations are inherently weak. When producing mutations, you remove the bird’s ability to express color and perpetuate weak genes. EVERY mutation is weaker than its NORMAL counterpart. You may have never had problems with them, but they ARE weaker and always will be. When you breed them too young - and especially before they complete their juvenile molt - you weaken them further which in turn produces even weaker offspring. Birds who are “stuck in the molt” are best held off for an additional season and until they’ve completed that molt.
- There are many species that will breed while still quite young and do so successfully. These species are often opportunistic and not held to a specific season. HOWEVER, just because you’ve heard they CAN breed young, doesn’t mean they SHOULD breed young. Most species do not reach their full body size until they are at least a year old. If you allow a hen to produce eggs before she is full size, you could easily end up with an egg bound hen. The birds (both hens & cocks) need at least a year to store the calcium they need to produce eggs. Birds (both hens & cocks) that have not stored enough calcium will sit low on the perch and may be unable to sit UP on their legs as a healthy and in-condition bird should. Here, we consider anything less than 1 year of age to be too young to breed, regardless of species, but we prefer to wait until they are AT LEAST 14 months to 2 years old.
- If bred too young, many species will abandon their eggs or young, or pitch their chicks. Even if they’ve watched their parents raise siblings, young birds don’t always get it right. They may build a nest over the top of eggs already laid, or neglect their chicks. In Gouldians, the 2yr mark is almost like a charm. If you can hold off until your Gouldians are 2yrs old, you should find they have absolutely NO problems nesting and raising chicks. They will be full size, more mature, and ready to rock n’ roll once in condition. I know it’s hard to wait that long, but you will be rewarded for your patience!
What are some of the problems we may see when breeding the birds too young?
- Egg binding in hens
- Hormonal overload and death in cocks
- Lack of calcium or inability to metabolize calcium, hence low sitting birds
- Weak and friable egg shells
- Clear, infertile, soft-shelled or shell-less eggs
- Small eggs that may or may not hatch, or conversely, eggs that are too large for a young hen to pass
- Balding in Australian species, though it will sometimes occur in other species as well
- Weak immune systems in the offspring
- Pitching of eggs or chicks
- Abandonment of eggs or chicks
- Inconsistent brooding
- Stuck in molt
All of these issues are usually remedied by allowing the birds to mature before breeding them. I don't make these claims lightly. I have recorded decades worth of "issues" that confirm my words. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule, and I'm sure there will be folks who want to argue the point and they are welcome to - show me the decades of proof, and we can talk - but if you want to keep your birds healthy and productive, please think twice before breeding your birds too young.
WHAT IS TOO YOUNG TO BREED?
KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.