Photo: Donald Skinner-Reid. Donald (right) has seen his career in birds go from strength to strength, with numerous wins on the show bench over the past few years.

Two years ago was an eventful time for then-novice DONALD SKINNER-REID with canary pox popping up,
a mentor taking ill and numerous wins on the show bench.

ALWAYS keen, as a novice, to listen to advice, I had an outdoor aviary built onto my birdroom during the winter of 2014-15. I really do recommend that you do this. The exposure to the elements and exercise afforded is excellent for the birds’ well-being. Ideally, I’d leave the hens out all winter, giving them shelter, too, which they use instinctively in the coldest weather. Keep their feed in the shelter and they will go there to roost.

The one drawback is that it exposes the birds to the wild and hence to disease. We seldom talk about the illnesses that can affect our birds and finding you’ve lost six good hens to disease is alarming.

In late 2015, this happened to my stock. At one point it appeared that I might lose the entire collection. Some
of my overwintering hens had acquired a virus called canary pox (it doesn’t just affect canaries), which affects birds kept outside more so than indoors. I suspect the wild birds calling at the aviary had brought it with them.

Sadly, around this time one of my mentors took very ill and had to give up his birds. I was extremely fortunate in being the beneficiary of his kindness and acquired some excellent replacement hens. Thankfully, the viral outbreak stopped. I have had no recurrence and the new hens brought my birds on by leaps and bounds.

I lost my best hen in February 2015, but her son fathered a couple of good stock birds – one of whom I have four chicks by at the time of writing. My show season got off to a flying start. I was runner up to best in show and the judge gave me a good explanation as to why I missed out – a missing tail feather. I hadn’t noticed that this otherwise excellent buff hen didn’t have this vital feather, so I rested her for the show season.

An interesting aside: the Scots fancy is meant to be a long bird. The standard says 17cm (6¾in). The adult tail is at least 1.2cm (½in) longer than the nest-feather tail. This may not sound much, but the length adds symmetry to the bird. I first noticed this when a hen had stripped a youngster’s tail and back for nest material.

I won best Scots fancy at the National Exhibition in 2015 with a yellow hen, whose length and slimness of body had struck my eye when she was first on the perch. You can always tell your winners early on, though I would say that the Scots do tend to mature to be better birds when flighted than an unflighted. A piebald (this is what the variegated is called in the Scots), small overall but of excellent shape, won runner up to best in show at the Northern Counties Scots Fancy Club show that year. At the North of England Gloster Club, a green won (for the Old Varieties Canary Association event); and at the Gouden Ring Show abroad, I took a bronze medal for a buff hen.

In 2015, I suddenly realised there wasn’t just one winner in my birdroom. Across the colours, my birds were coming together. Most folks will tell you that you need to breed by families and build them. When starting out, in my opinion, you should gather stock from a variety of sources. Selecting the best-known breeders, whose birds are of the type you favour, and melding that stock over time will allow you develop your own bloodline.

● Future articles will continue to describe Donald’s journey from novice to champion.

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