The following questions were put to Robert Manvell by Joy Boorman.
Joy B.. When did your interest in Budgerigars commence?
RM. I have kept birds for many years, probably 30 years in total. When I was younger I had finches, parrots, canaries and Budgerigars of exhibition quality, however I bred them in and aviary situation. I had a break from birds for about eleven years whilst I was the manager of OLí55, the Fifties revival band. When I gave the entertainment industry away to raise a family, I decided to take up birds again. Budgies exclusively this time, that was about sixteen years ago. So, I have had a smouldering interest in our feathered friends almost all of my life.
Joy B.. Once you established your interest in Budgerigars, how did you start off ?
RM. Like most people I guess, with a few pretty ones when I was a kid. Iíve had a few stops and starts in the hobby. This time around though, instead of buying birds all over the place, I waited until somebody was selling out and I grabbed the whole stud. Keeping the top dozen or so birds, then flogging the rest through Peteís Pets in Raymond Terrace. I knew from previous experience only to use the best.
In a sense I started from scratch again, when the first imports arrived in my aviary. I sold all of the birds, I may have been tempted to breed with. Then concentrated on consolidating and improving my new acquisitions.
Joy B.. Now youíre an established breeder, what advice would you give to a newcomer to the Fancy?
RM. The first thing is to be patient, a know this is a bit of a clichť but, "good things come to all those who wait". When you buy birds always do so for a reason. Then give your purchases the opportunity to prove their worth over a couple of seasons, before purchasing anymore. Hasty purchases invariably prove to be useless. Also learn to look after your birds and learn the fundamentals of feeding, breeding and keeping your birds healthy before digging too deep into your pocket. Above all else, donít make your enjoyment of the hobby revolve around wins on the show bench. Develop a genuine love for the birds. Saviour all the wonderful things that happen from owning Budgerigars.
Joy B.. Do you have any tips for those in the fancy wishing to source and purchase stock?
RM. There are many variables when sourcing birds, like how much you are prepared to spend, the quality of your existing stock and most importantly do you have the knowledge to understand the type of bird necessary to enhance your birds and do you have the ability and skill to utilise your purchases. Your aspirations are a very important considerations when purchasing stock, that is how successful you would like to be and how quickly you would like too get where you want to go.
Too make this brief is very hard, but I will say at the outset, in many aviaries I have seen around Australia and elsewhere, I believe the fanciers would be far better off getting rid of all their birds and starting afresh with a few pairs from and outstanding aviary. That has got to be the best option, rather than trying to fix the endemic dominant problems that they were currently trying to contend with.
As far as sourcing birds goes thatís also a real hard one. I think you should keep an eye out at shows for breeders who are exhibiting the type of birds you would like to breed. Check their other entries in the show to ensure they have the quality you like in more than one bird. Then make an appointment to have a look at their stud and if they have the quality you admired in numbers, then this is with out a doubt, the place to buy from. If they only have a few good birds, realistically they are struggling themselves and therefore will not have the ancestral homogeneity to help you. Buying from shallow studs is a waste of time.
Also I would suggest you make enquires yourself, to whom ever you would like to visit. Donít believe what other people tell you about particular breeders, most of it will be hear say and at worst, straight propaganda. The prices you hear some fanciers charge for birds is a good example, ask for yourself then you will know for sure.
My final comment on this subject would be, if you are do wish to build an outstanding stud of birds, you must acquire your foundation stock and/or out-crosses from a stud that is outstanding in itself and nothing less. Doing it any other way is too hit and miss for my liking.
Joy B.. How do you pair your birds visually, pedigree or both?
RM. When you first acquire birds I think you probably are relying more on the backgrounds or pedigree if you like. Then once you start to produce a few promising youngsters, then I think the appearance of the birds comes more and more into play. The longer you have been working with a line of birds, the more important visual pairing becomes.
My line of birds has been built up through progeny testing. That is, my pairing decisions are based on the birdís ability to produce quality in itís offspring. Therefore, both visual and pedigree do play some part. It is usually the second and sometimes the third breeding season before I can identify the best way to pair some of my birds.
Having said that, background is most important when wanting to make progress, this is especially true when it comes to the use of hens. I will not pair two birds together solely on their visual appearance.
Joy B.. Do you believe in line breeding, inbreeding or both?
RM. In my view, there is really no difference between the two, both are inbreeding only differing in the way you utilise your birds. But to answer the question, YES, I do believe in both, but not for just the sake of inbreeding. If your foundation stock is not first class you are absolutely wasting your time pairing closely related birds. You will fix undesirable faults or substandard qualities in your birds, which are near impossible to get rid of or improve at a latter date.
Joy B.. Do you think fanciers should buy in out crosses continually From different Breeders?
RM. No No No, definitely NOT! Many fanciers go to whom ever is flavour of the month/year/week, purchasing birds. Very few are ever really successful building an envied stud through this process. To make continuous purchases work, you must have a lot of money, always buying in outstanding birds to keep you going. Of course when the money runs out so does your quality and thus your winning streak.
The sensible thing to do is to find one astute breeder and continue to buy from them. The fanciers who imported birds from many different aviaries have proved the above to be correct. I think those who stuck to one or maybe two suppliers, coupled with a modicum of ability, have been the most successful long term. Added to this I believe, pairing together many different lines of birds can cause a clash, resulting in the cancelling out or confusing each birds desirable qualities.
There are a couple of very famous fanciers who have had continued success with buying in birds. However they were very special people and their secret was they did have a good foundation of birds to work on and they took the time to get to know their birds.
Joy B.. How many rounds do you let your hens lay & why?
RM. You would not believe me if I told you!
Joy B.. Do you believe in running a single cock bird over a number of hens at the same time?
RM. Early in the piece I did run one cock to a few hens. This is an excellent idea if you have an outstanding cock bird. It will not work trying it with a hen. You must be very careful when doing this as sometimes the hens will leave their young or eggs. Also I have had one cock start eating every egg in sight. Beware, you could render a good bird useless by pushing them to hard.
Joy B. What would your full feeding program consist of?
RM. Good mixed seed, lots of millet sprays, clean fresh water with no additives, plenty of various grits and gravel, sand, char coal etc.. A bit of fresh fruit, tree bark, vegetables and the odd bit of grass with the dirt left on. I keep me feeding system very simple. Most importantly you must make sure that whatever you feed is clean and free of contaminants, like pesticides, mouse droppings/urine and chemicals.
Some of the well know seed suppliers, have dropped the ball, lost the plot, their seed is now atrocious. Ring up and complain, if you are not happy with the quality. Smell all bags of seed, if you get one that smells Ďfunnyí, donít use it! Loosing many birds because of bad seed, would have a devastating effect on a dedicated fancier.
Joy B. Do you think there is any benefit in handling chicks in the nest to quieten them, if so at what stage would you commence this?
RM. My line of birds are very quiet and steady anyway. My hens let you inspect the nests without squawking or biting and I think this is an inherited trait. I play with the babies a lot in the nest from ringing time onwards. This must help them realise I am not a danger to them and of course this must help in some way. I get a great deal of pleasure checking out the youngsters on a twice daily basis. Thatís why the breeding season is easily my favourite part of the hobby.
Joy B. When do you start and how do you prepare your birds For Shows?
RM. Iíve never been one for doing many shows. I have a business which operates six days a week, I lecture at TAFE and I have a young family. So I do not have the time or the inclination for that matter to show extensively. All that is without taking into consideration how far from the action I live.
The type of bird I breed is very hard to get into feather condition to exhibit. Therefore, I usually just take whatever is close to being right at the time. Spraying will not make the feathers grow any faster, it probably does put a shine on them through extra preening as a result of the spraying. If the birds are dirty I will spray them with baby shampoo in warm water about four days before the show, then dress them two days prior to the exhibition.
As I said earlier my birds are steady and the birds showiness is bred into them, consequently I donít show train as such. When attending shows, some of my birds still show signs of stress/fatigue and play up, I do not believe any amount of show training will stop this. Although show training may delay its onset at the show.
Joy B. What changes have you noticed over the last few years when it comes to the exhibition budgerigars?
RM. When you think about it, the first imports had a dramatic effect on the quality of birds around. Better heads, bigger shoulders, larger wider faces and a look of strength. The problem was many of the birds were in the hands of inexperience fanciers. Subsequently no improvement has been made on the initial birds, in fact many of their wonderful qualities have been lost.
Breeding consistently high quality birds is not easy and many fanciers do not learn from their mistakes. Because of this, overall feather quality and distribution has been on a continuous decline. Feather quality and distribution, is of course the basis of top quality birds.
Some misguided fanciers blame the weather conditions in Australia for their loss of feather quality. Ironically, birds bred in Countries like Brazil, Zimbabwe, South Africa and even Southern Germany do not loose their feather quality. These countries all have weather similar to ours or in some cases much hotter. In fact it could be said these areas produce some of the best feathered birds in the World. Therefore it would be ridiculous to blame anything but the breeders for the decline in feather. Apart from the occasional exceptionally good bird that pops up, most birds are only a little way ahead of what they were before the imports arrived.
Joy B. Do you have a Favourite variety or varieties?
RM. I love to see and breed big, powerful, bold headed birds of what ever variety. My aviary is very colourful, I have a few Pieds, Yellow-faces, Spangles, Albinos, Dilutes and now some Greywings. Apart from these I have the usual normals , cinnamons and a couple of Opalines. These are all varieties I like without a particular favourite. My opinion of different varieties changes, for instance I never liked Greywings, however some have popped out of some imports and they are of very good quality so I now like them.
There is nothing worse than looking in a cage which is wall to wall grey greens, I make sure each year I breed a good percentage of colourful birds, by ensuring the grey factor does not get the upper hand.
Joy B. Speaking as a breeder and exhibitor of budgerigars do you think that priority be given to the breeding of a budgerigar or breeding a bird that is a perfect example of the variety but not a quality budgerigars?
RM. The quality of a bird must in my mind always come first. Then the variety next. I know there are probably a lot of fanciers who will disagree with this statement.
Some fanciers say the bird must be of good variety, like clarity of wings on a clearwing etc. I donít wish to be disrespectful to those who take on the lesser varieties. But it is almost as though they are making a distraction from the fact the bird is of Ďpet shopí quality, by continuously referring to the birds other attributes. There some very good individual examples of the lesser varieties about, however as a generalisation many varieties of birds fit into the above category, like Crests, Clearwings, Blackeyes, Lacewings, Fallows and Recessive Pieds. Even the Lutinos, Albinos and unbelievably the Opalines seem to be loosing ground. There needs to be a compromise, give a little bit away on the variety side of the equation to breed a better outline bird. It is the Judges who should lead the way.
Joy B. What are your feelings on the present day prices of budgerigars?
RM. Many fanciers whinge about the price of birds. Or claim Budgies are a hobby to them and they will not pay or can not afford high prices. There is nothing wrong with that, however they should not shun others who look upon the fancy with a different perspective and who are prepared to speculate on higher priced stock.
The suppliers of seed, hardware, wire, medication, Books and Magazines, Aviary appliances etc. are all making money either directly or indirectly from the fancy. These costs continue to escalate. Justifiably if you are in a position to recoup some or all of your budgie expenses, because of the demand for your birds, then why not? If you were in that position you would be silly not too, donít you think? Perhaps some of the whingers are jealous because they donít have the ability to put themselves in such a position.
At the end of the day the purchaser sets the price. If you pay top dollar for a bird, there is only one person to blame and thatís the buyer every time. No body holds a gun to your head and says you must buy. Do they? Unfortunately, many fanciers have more money than sense and do not think before they buy. This allows some breeders to wrongly get top dollar for their birds by praying on the gullible or inexperienced.
Another problem or trap for the inexperienced is there is no, correlation between price and quality when it comes to purchasing stock. Because of this, I do not envy the position many beginners find themselves in today. Climbing the ladder can be a very hard slog for some.
If you want good stock birds you must expect to pay for them. The better the stud or bloodline the more you have to pay for birds. If you donít want or canít afford the best then buy birds from some body who will sell you birds at a price you are prepared to pay.
Joy B. What problems do you see if any within the Fancy that may effect you in the future?
RM. It worries me to see councils thinking of putting restrictions on the number of birds we can keep. That would have a terrible effect on our hobby.
I do not like Judge criticising and the rantings of some sore losers at shows. What must the new comers to the fancy think of such behaviour? There is no possible good can come from it.
Notwithstanding the above, some of the Judges need to understand their importance to the future direction of the birds and the hobby. Often you will hear very experienced fanciers say "the Judge has never owned a good bird so how could he/she possibly Judge to current standards". There is probably an element of truth in that statement and some of our Judges are definitely hindering the progress of the birds and by extension the fancy itself.
To alleviate these criticisms maybe all Judges should have to be successful on a continuing basis. Not just winning occasional specials with the lesser varieties, but perhaps they must figure in the overall results at a major show, say every two years. This should be no problem, if the Judge is really worth his salt. After all judging is not an academic task; the Judges should have an intimate knowledge of the birds they adjudicate over.
It is very important for the fancy to be absolutely ruthless regarding the selection of fanciers who are endorsed to stand with the pointed stick in their hand. Iím sure many would agree, there are some Judges around whose successes are very ancient history indeed. We must have Judges with a contemporary eye, who also currently breed up to date birds. Failing this a person has absolutely no right to dictate the direction our birds should be heading, by masquerading as a Judge. Many of the current Australia judges need to be retrained or relegated to very minor shows until they become competent with the new style of bird we have in Australia
Joy B. Any parting comments you would like to add?
RM. My birds are my relaxation and give me a great deal of enjoyment. Although I take breeding quality birds very seriously and I like to be competitive, I do not take the "fancy" as such all that seriously. I enjoy nothing more than to be surrounded by fanciers who enjoy a good laugh. Correct me if Iím wrong, but isnít that what keeping budgerigars should be about! It would appear that in some cases fanciers have lost sight of the enjoyment this wonderful hobby beholds. The fancy can do without the politicking and backbiting which has infiltrated many sectors of this hobby.
Regards to your readership! Have a great season. Robert Manvell.