Photo: The average hobby breeder will now have to consider and document any expenses incurred from their birdkeeping activities due to the Animal Activities License legislation


Are breeders cheating themselves? asks Rosemary Low. Does the price keepers ask for birds at sales adequately reflect not just their worth, but how much it cost to breed them?


IN RECENT weeks, discussion about the Animal Activities License (AAL) legislation has included the advice that breeders should keep accounts relating to the expenses incurred in their birdkeeping activities. They would also need to record their incomes from bird sales. For the average hobby breeder – rather than those with a commercial set-up – the net balance will almost certainly show a large loss.

It is easy to keep track of obvious expenses, such as the cost of food and birdroom items, including catching nets, nest-boxes or nest-pans, etc. These can be recorded in a notebook rather than logging on to the computer every time. Other expenses, such as heating, are difficult to calculate exactly. If you work out the floor area of your birdroom, add it to the floor area of your house and work out the percentage occupied by your birdroom, then perhaps divide this by two if the birdroom is heated for half the year, you can find the approximate sum you spent on heating. This is likely to be a considerable amount.

To find a realistic figure of what it really costs a birdkeeper to produce one youngster, you would need to add on a small sum per bird for the aviary and/or birdroom infrastructure and the cost of the breeding pair.

Most breeders are likely to be surprised at how much it really costs to produce one bird. Many sell their young birds at far below cost. This is only one reason why it grieves me to see birds offered for sale at very low prices. In just one recent issue of this paper, I found classified advertisements that were offering the following: zebra finches £2 each, Bengalese £7 each, greenfinches £10 each, budgies £9 each and kakariki £15 each.

How can it be that a beautiful living creature, such as a zebra finch, which can provide years of pleasure and hopefully many young, can cost less than a cup of coffee? I am sure many breeders will say that the answer is that they could not sell their youngsters if the price was higher. This can only mean that supply is greater than demand. Therefore, breeders should think about limiting the production of species for which the market is already at capacity. It will probably cost very little more to produce a less-common species for which the demand might be much greater. Only the cost of the breeding pair will be higher.

OK, so you like breeding zebra finches or budgies and you are not concerned about selling them at below cost. Then just think about the likely consequences of producing really inexpensive birds. If you sell them at sales events, they are subject to impulse buying; interest in them might quickly diminish. Due to the birds being cheap, the cage bought for them will probably also be inexpensive and, therefore, too small. If the bird becomes sick, veterinary help is unlikely to be sought, because it will be considered too expensive. It is true that all this could also apply to more expensive birds, but this is less likely to be the case.

The prices of hand-reared birds might be even more unrealistic. There are greater costs for electricity and special hand-rearing foods, to say nothing of the great amount of time needed to rear and wean a youngster.

The fact is that the prices of the more common species of cage and aviary birds have not risen in line with inflation over decades. Breeders are selling intelligent live creatures that need a considerable degree of care and attention. Prices do not reflect this. We are under-valuing our common birds.

At a sales event, a genuine buyer will not complain about the price of a good bird in perfect condition. A bird in poor condition will sell at a low price only to the uninitiated – surely not the kind of home we want for our cherished young birds?

Rosemary Low is a prolific author on parrots, as well as an experienced all-round birdkeeper.


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