Written by Marie Miley-Russell
©2005, all rights reserved
Males usually come into condition before the hens in
the same room do. The reason for this that part of a male’s reproductive
responsibility is to bring the hen into condition by singing lustily and
communicating to her that she needs to come into breeding condition as
there is a vital, healthy, strong male available for mating. Many
experienced breeders blame males for healthy hens which are slow in coming
One way to slow a hen down who is coming into
breeding condition too quickly is to cage her with a male who is not in
condition as this will signal to her that there is no suitable mate
available. Sometimes hens can become very testy in this situation and will
bicker with the male- watch the pair to ensure that the situation does not
progress beyond squabbling and no blood is drawn.
The most common thing novice breeders are told to
look for to determine a hen’s readiness for breeding is tearing paper.
This is only one thing hens in condition will do, and it is not the best
indicator of breeding condition as hens will sometimes begin to tear paper
months before they are completely ready. The best sign to look for is the
condition of the hen’s vent- when she is in condition her vent will be
reddened and appear swollen. Another good sign is when hens squat and
raise their tails when males are singing nearby. When these two signs are
present, the hen will usually build a nest within a day or so of being
paired with a mate. On a few occasions I have seen hens that are in peak
condition build a complete nest in less than an hour after being presented
with nesting materials!
Other signs of readiness in the hen is restless
flying back and forth, calling to males, carrying nesting material and
bits of paper towards the back of the beak, increased squabbling in the
flight cage, and an overall increased level of activity.
Males in breeding condition sing a louder, harsher
song which is referred to as “breeding song” and drop their wings when
they sing. Some males may dance on the perch, especially those with more
Roller blood in their backgrounds. As males come into breeding condition
they become more pugnacious and will sing a type of song I think of as
“fighting song”- a harsher, more forcefully delivered song than breeding
song- which they use to aggressively declare their superiority when they
see another male. All males in breeding condition must be kept separately
to prevent serious injury or death.
Different bloodlines of birds come into condition at
different times. Some lines will come into condition early while others do
so slowly. For this reason, it is often best to avoid introducing too many
different bloodlines into one’s birdroom.
Problems will only result if the breeder tries to
push the birds into condition before they are ready through the use of
vitamin E, egg food, or other dietary supplements. Healthy birds will come
into condition without these things and those allowed to come into
condition naturally will be more fertile and experience fewer problems
throughout the breeding process.
Overall, allowing the hen to decide when breeding
season begins is the best decision. For many years, experienced breeders
have told me that the patient breeder will breed just as many birds as a
breeder who starts early- but with fewer problems, better fertility, and
in a shorter period of time. A delay of only a few weeks can make an
enormous difference in the success of your breeding season.
Properly fed and cared-for hens can continue to breed
for at least four years, possibly five. Males may retain fertility longer.
With both hens and males, fertility tends to decline with age. One should
also keep in mind that the average life span for breeders is about five
years so if one breeds a hen who is five years old (and many healthy five
year old hens do insist on breeding and manage successfully) one needs to
have a backup plan in the form of a younger nesting hen to foster eggs or
chicks to in case the hen dies. Often old hens who manage successfully
through breeding season will die during the molt.