Photo: Norman Wallace. Brooklyn Robinson (left) and Paul Heathcote with a 2017 yellow hen. Brooklyn accompanied Norman on his Gateshead trip 

In this special edition of his North-East roundup column, Norman visits the leading Gateshead-based Border stud of Bill & Paul Heathcote to find out about the duo’s management programme, birdrooms and training techniques.

IT WAS a pleasure to visit the impressive birdrooms of Bill & Paul Heathcote in Gateshead on what was a cold Saturday in January. Formed in 1990, the Silverdene stud is considered one of the leading Border canary studs in the UK. My companion for the day was young Gloster fancier Brooklyn Robinson – and we were made most welcome.

The first stop was to Paul’s birdroom, which adjoins the extended kitchen. This L-shaped room was most impressive, with immaculate Borders, spotless cages and a healthy environment. It is well designed for breeding purposes and easy to maintain. More than 100 single cages can be converted into larger units and, with additional flights, this room has it all. Light and heat are controlled to bring birds into condition by early March. Paul retains approximately 26 hens and 13 cocks to maximise the potential of this excellent stud.

The 2017 show team was run out into training cages for us to view and what a sight – seeing yellow after yellow Border canary hen took your breath away. The training cages are purposely designed with twin larger-than-normal drinking holes. As Paul explained, it is “vital for the birds to drink at shows and this gives adequate learning with maximum opportunity”.

Next stop: Bill’s birdroom. This was again immaculate with a comfortable seat to view stock. Bill retains 20 hens and 10 cocks. Three beautiful cinnamon variegated hens caught my eye, but the overall quality of the whole stud is amazing. The birds in both rooms were bouncing with vigour and vitality. It shows that cleanliness is paramount in maintaining a healthy stud of canaries.

The feeding programme comprises a canary mix of 40 per cent canary seed and 30 per cent rapeseed, as well as other small seeds throughout the year. Condition seed and kraker tonic grains are also offered, together with oystershell grit and black minerals.

Eggfood with additional hardboiled egg and carrot is provided as the main rearing food, along with germination seed when the birds are breeding. This is given occasionally during the off period as part of the maintenance programme. Natural supplements, including calcium and protein, are supplied as directed. As for mite protection, a spot-on treatment is used on prescription from the stud’s vet.

Numerous all-Border shows have been won over the years, but the big one has so far proved elusive. Bill & Paul have had four second best Borders at the British Border FCC’s show, including at last year’s event. Other memorable show successes are the Northern Border FCC/High Spen CBS Sam Elliott Memorial Show in 2005 and at the Alex Mallis Memorial Show in 2013.

Fanciers who have inspired Bill & Paul include: Sam Elliott, the much respected mentor of many fanciers on Tyneside; Bill & Ian Wishart, who were the team to beat; Alex Mallis and Phil Warne. It has been this partnership’s commitment to quality in all aspects of canary management that has seen Silverdene Borders becoming much sort after in the USA, Europe and at home.

Paul spent time with Brooklyn giving advice on canary husbandry and the need to understand the requirements of the stock at different times of the year. When he was asked for two top tips, Paul responded with: “Cleanliness and a balanced diet. Without both you will not attain success in your hobby.” Bill also offered Brooklyn some training cages to help steady his Glosters in preparation for next year’s show season.

Bill & Paul are dedicated fanciers who have been at the top for 30 years. But as Paul said: “We are still learning.” The important features of the visit to me were the cleanliness, calmness, a systematic approach to stock management and the vitality of the Borders. It was a joy to see wonderful examples in immaculate settings.

The second part of Norman’s account of the Silverdene stud will appear in a future issue.

Norman Wallace is the chairman of the North of England Gloster Club.

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