written by Marie Miley-Russell
©2005, all rights reserved
Most breeding resources indicate that chicks should
be weaned at around 28 days, but this is rarely practical for first clutch
babies as their mother becomes focused on her next round. Babies from the
last clutch can generally be given more time, but in my experience babies
begin weaning between 21 and 25 days. This is of course largely dependent
on the development of the chicks. The longer they remain with the parents
the better, but if they are pecking at food and being harassed by the
parents they can be separated. If the chicks are being plucked, but are
not ready to wean they may be placed in a cage which is hung on the side
of the breeding cage and the parents will continue to feed them through
the cage bars.
Fathers will generally feed chicks longer than hens
will. In my experience, usually the chicks fed the longest turn out to be
hens. When chicks begin eating on their own breeders should watch feeding
males carefully as they may attack young males.
After chicks have been seen eating for a couple of
days they can be removed to the weaning cage. No dramatic change to the
diet should be made when chicks are placed in the weaning cage; only foods
they have been reared on should be provided. Do not crowd weaning chicks-
no more than four or five chicks to a double breeding cage. Perches should
be placed as low as possible in the weaning cage- as chicks become more
independent the perches can gradually be moved higher. Food in the weaning
cage should be placed on the floor in shallow dishes- chicks will walk
through the food and peck at it when it sticks to their feet. Small glass
ashtrays and glazed plant saucers are good feeding dishes as they are
heavy and flat.
Some chicks able to manage on their own in the
breeding cage can regress when placed in the weaning cage so they must be
monitored carefully. Chicks refusing to leave the perches to eat can be
restricted to a single perch placed as close to the floor as possible.
Chicks being weaned which peep continuously are
starving and should be attended. They can be placed back in with the
father or the father may be placed in the weaning cage for some time.
Placing an older bird with an easy-going disposition
in the cage with chicks being weaned can help teach the young birds to eat
on their own by allowing them to mimic feeding behaviors.
Good first foods are well-cooked carrots- the bright
orange color attracts the chicks and it is easy to eat. Other foods should
include soft foods such as egg food or nestling food, shredded wheat
moistened with carrot or apple juice, cooked couscous, soak seed, and
greens. Some small pellets for finches and canaries should be offered as
well as they will be able to eat these before they can crack seed. Some
breeders scatter rolled oats directly on the clean cage floor; chicks seem
to notice it and peck at it.
Chicks will not be able to crack seed for at least
six weeks and probably will not be able to fully support themselves on
seed until a few weeks later. During this time they must have access at
all times to foods they can eat. The introduction of unlimited quantities
of hard seed too early can result in the loss of chicks- donít rush them
onto hard seed too quickly. I introduce small amounts of seed at five
weeks or so but continue providing soft foods right up until chicks begin
the baby molt.
Chicks in the weaning cage tend to become fascinated
by each otherís tail feathers. Providing young birds with plenty of toys
will help alleviate this. Chicks which continue plucking their cage mates
must be separated. Placing them with other aggressive pluckers usually
solves the problem as pluckers will generally not allow themselves to be
Some breeders insist that chicks cannot receive a
bath until they are six weeks old out of concern that they will inhale
water and develop chronic respiratory problems, but I routinely allow
birds to bathe from the start and have not seen any problems arise from
Chicks can easily be lost during the weaning period
due to illness. Careful husbandry can largely prevent such losses.
Diligent attention to ensuring that cage papers and perches are clean and
that all scattered egg food is removed from the cage is vital. Take care
to not become absorbed in the tending of second clutches to the detriment
of first clutch chicks.