Your birds are finished or nearly finished breeding and you have a number of birds in the flights for the summer. Many of the babies are warbling away and tuning up their songs. The older hens and males are relaxing and taking it easy after months of hard work. Weary breeders are looking forward to several quiet months before the beginning of caging up males in late summer for show training, but now is not the time to relax.
Young birds will continue to grow for a month or two after they are feeding themselves. They continue to need all the good nutrition they received as chicks and weanlings during this growth period. Hens and males which have fed chicks are tired and their physical reserves have been depleted- ensuring that they receive great nutrition before the molt begins will help them renew their bodies and stay strong.
Soon your birds will enter the molt, which is one of the most stressful periods of their lives and how they are cared for during this time will greatly impact their performance during the upcoming show and breeding seasons.
Additionally, conditioning your birds for breeding should be viewed as a year-round process which begins in the egg, continues through a bird’s maturation period, and peaks during breeding season.
There are as many methods of caring for birds during the molt as there are breeders- some are better than others, however. Certainly a healthy bird can get through the molt with a minimum of care; however, they may make you pay for your neglect later in the year by dragging through the molt, having feathers which are brittle and lusterless, being slow to come into breeding condition, having decreased fertility, or even dropping dead.
This is my method of caring for my birds during the spring and summer- it works well for me. Feel free to adopt those things that you like and leave what you don’t.
After breeding season is finished, all hens and young birds are housed together in a large walk-in flight, where they receive the same diet until the molt begins in earnest in early summer. The males receive a lighter diet as they are housed in individual flight cages until they are molting heavily, when they are moved to the walk-in flight.
The lights during breeding season are usually on 13 - 13.5 hours a day. Once the youngest birds have reached the age of 8 weeks, the lights are dropped all at once to 9.5 hours of light. Nearly all birds will begin molting within a few weeks.
From the time they are placed into the weaning cages until they all begin molting, the young birds and hens receive a high quality, fresh canary seed mix and pellets daily. Additionally, every day they receive a dry commercial nestling food mix which has been mixed with fine sunflower chips and small amounts of wheat grass powder, alfalfa powder, kelp powder, spirulena, ground anise and flax seed, dried oregano, and dried dandelion. On top of the nestling food a little bee pollen is sprinkled.
Twice a day the young birds and hens are also offered a dry homemade nestling food which has been moistened with boiled eggs (with the shells on) and finely chopped broccoli and carrots. When the youngest chicks are about 7-8 weeks old, this nestling food is alternated with couscous moistened with warm carrot juice or couscous which has been cooked and then mixed with sweet potatoes (I use the sweet potato baby food) or finely chopped carrots and broccoli. Occasionally the birds are offered a cornbread- based bird bread in place of the nestling food or couscous.
Older males in flight cages receive only canary seed mix and pellets on a daily basis until they begin molting. Once they have dropped a feather or two, they are given the commercial nestling food mix a couple of times a week until they are molting heavily, when they go into the flight and are fed what they young birds and hens are given.
Once molting begins in earnest and all the birds are in the walk-in flight, the birds receive moist nestling food once a day and a fruit or vegetable once a day. Fruits offered include sliced cantaloupe, oranges, or the occasional handful of raspberries from the garden. Vegetables include zucchini, cucumber, chopped broccoli and carrot. I add a sprinkling of the nutritional supplement The Missing Link to the top of the moist nestling food 2-3 times per week as I find it produces and very nice sheen on the new feathers.
Near the middle to the end of the molt, I add a handful of rolled oats to what is offered to the birds daily- a handful is enough for 70-100 birds- to speed the molt along as a quick molt is healthier for the birds.
It is vital during this period to maintain your bird room as cleanly as possible –cast off feathers and dust from the molting process can be very unhealthy for both you and your birds. Your flight must also be kept clean to prevent the spread of illness and disease through your flock.
As the weather warms, you must be diligent in making certain that your birds have access to plenty of clean drinking water and that no spoiled food is left in their cages. Bathing is vital during the molting period and a daily misting with a spray bottle would be greatly appreciated by the birds as well.