Daniel Lutolf: The Stud that Defines the Future
By James Yangzon
In every generation the exhibition budgerigar industry yields a stud master that is quite unique, creative and perceptive that it seems at first glance the person do not belong to his generation. It is only after a while when the consistency in breeding and show performance yields phenomenal result that the crowd realizes that they are dealing with a stud master that is one step ahead of everybody.
Daniel Lutolf started early breeding his first pet/small budgies at the age of 11 and soon got infected by a certain virus he called ‘show budgie’. After purchasing quality birds from different top studs, he never looked back and is now considered the top stud master of Continental Europe.
Lutolf’s goal is not just to reach the top bench, he wanted something bigger, and he wants to create his own style that everybody will recognize immediately. In the last twenty years he was able to do this through perceptive experimentation and uncanny ability to engineer feather structure that now bores his signature.
Most breeders dreamed of having his best birds as part of their own stud but Lutolf has this practice of not selling his top birds, and in what others consider as act of desperation on the part of those who wanted Lutolf’s best stock, on November 2008 ten of his best birds were unbelievably stolen. A reward of 10,000 Euro was put up immediately, but this only goes to show that other breeders will go to such lengths just to catch up with Daniel’s achievement.
Daniel’s nutritional regimen is scientific while his artistic inclinations helped greatly on feather engineering. If you are still wondering whether exhibition budgerigar is a science or an art, then experience Daniel, the stud master who keeps to his routine like a seasoned scientist while weaving his wand like an artist.
Below are some questions that tried to probe the mind of a stud master that lives in the present but is definitely trailblazing the future.
1.) It is known that your closest mating pair is cousin to cousin. Is this your practice since you started establishing your stud or you resort to this pairing when you noticed that the fertility of your stud is declining?
I always had my best results with letting the birds choose their partners by themselves, so called Love-Couples. I realized that often they look for the right opposite. Never would I breed two birds with the same faults, like missing tail feathers or “fleckies”.
You always need to find the balance in the couples like big cock, small hen; long feather with a yellow feather combined; bird with “fleckies” with small spotted and clean bird and so on. I also always mix the different colours like for example a cinnamon grey green cock together with an opaline spangle sky hen etc. In every couple I try to bring in as many different factors and features as possible.
2.) At least ten birds a year are introduced to your stud as outcrosses, is this to improve some features of your stud or was it all about fertility?
It’s hard to find birds to buy in a better overall quality than my own ones. But there is always a special feature to look after. Such as a special blow, bigger spots, wider shoulder, longer feathers, higher sitting position, better show behaviours and so on. But the main reason to bring in a few outcrosses every year is to keep the stud fertile and not getting to closely related.
3.) You are very particular in selecting breeding hens; can you cite some features that you think are crucial in your selection process?
For being honest, I am not that much selective with my breeding hens. Any smaller hen can breed super budgies again, as long as she comes from a top family and carries the right genes. Sometimes it’s unbelievable, how a small hen can reproduce a super bird almost twice as big as herself. Some years ago, I always tried to breed mainly with all the big hens, but with little success. From the big ones you are happy to get 2 or max 4 youngsters a year and they do not necessarily have to be in top quality again. With the smaller hens you got easily 15 chicks in 3 round and are able to make a selection. So some youngsters are always in top quality again.
4.) You do not encourage a pairing of super birds to super birds but you also let your birds naturally pick their mate in your flight cages; what if two of your best birds paired naturally, will you break the pair apart?
That’s true, as told before; I put a small cock to the big hens and vice versa. If you breed two big and very buffy birds, you end up with clear eggs or often with feather dusters. But a Love-Couple that is not too close related, I would let them give a chance.
5.) You have said that separate flight cages for cocks and hens results to homosexuality and cocks being afraid of hens, thus resulting to infertile eggs. Do you avoid a pairing where the hen dominates the cock?
In every couple, there is a dominant partner. Mostly this would be the older and more experienced partner. The same phenomena you can find among humans, 🙂 I also like the pairings of a young bird with an older one, mainly older cocks with young hens. That might be a reason why I breed every year about 60 to 65 % hens.
6.) Spangles and greys are used across the colours in your stud; do you think they have the propensity to become big and well proportioned?
To make birds bigger and more powerful, I always use in almost every couple a grey or a grey green. I also bred Spangles into Texas clear bodies, Dilutes, Greywings and Recessive Pieds to improve these varieties.
7.) Some veteran breeders have a hard time improving recessives or rares, however your stud boasts of quality texas clear bodies, dilutes, greywing and recently clearwing, have you also experience difficulties before you reached the desired quality of your rares or was it just a matter of pairing?
Many veteran breeders do not want to change their behaviour and still breed like they did it 30 years ago. I visited the UK last summer and was surprised how many top breeders put strange couples together, in my opinion. They mainly put a cinnamon grey to a cinnamon grey, a light green to a light green, a sky to a sky and so on. Like this, you will never achieve a higher level.
Of course you can just make the rares better when you are using your best birds for improvement, and that might hurt sometimes. At the moment I try to breed melanistic spangles.
8.) When assessing your birds you go for big feet and big bone structure especially in the neck area, do you encounter young birds that are rather small in size but have big feet and become super birds when they mature or all young birds that have big feet are naturally big in their first months?
Normally I know already at the age of two or three weeks after hatching whether I will rather keep a bird or sell him. By studying the bone structure on the feet, you can tell already at very early stage the future phenotype of the bird. Of course it also depends, how the feather will be growing. At the end it’s always the feather that makes the big difference.
9.) In your experience, do you think stance is in the genes or can it be acquired through training?
I think, it’s a mixture of both. If a bird looks very stressed in the exhibition cage from the beginning, there is no sense to try to train him. He will always be stressed and might die after the show. So you better leave him at home and maybe show the natural show birds with a little lesser qualities.
10.) When you were just beginning your own lineage, what is the feature you find the most difficult to establish in your stock: back skull or facial width, directional feathering, length, width of shoulder, length of mask and spots, stance, etc.?
Hard to say. I mean, all the features you are mentioning must be acquired for a top class show budgie. I guess, the most difficult part is probably the directional feathering. That’s also the reason, why everybody wants to get it.
11.) You are an advocate of organic feeding; this is why you carefully choose your vegetables and fruits. Is there a method in your choice of what vegetable to feed your birds in terms of their nutritional content?
The birds get regularly organic vegetable, just as me and my family too. You can use any kind of veggies or foods, depending from the season and availability at the markets, like spinach, carrots, finocchio, red beets, Broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, different salads and others more. Don’t forget to use olive oil at the same time; otherwise the birds can’t get the vitamins out of the vegetable.
I also like to put fresh orange or lemon juice into the water drinkers. That’s good for the crop and contains lots of vitamin C.
I also like to put fresh tree leaves into the flights. Birds like to play with it and chew on it and they love to break it.
12.) Your lighting goes on at 7:00 in the morning and the day ends at 11:30 in the evening, a total of 16 and a half hours at first glance, however, you have the peculiar practice of turning the lights off by 1:30 in the afternoon before turning it on again by 3:45; do you think this is a very effective anti-stress practice?
For being honest, I go very late to bed, that’s why my birds have to stay up until late in the night. I am also a night-owl.
The light-break in the afternoon causes that the hens comes out twice a day from the nest box for pairing. I learnt this from Brian Byles from the UK. Like that I think you get higher fertility.
13.) You mixed colours continuously and are not keen on pairing normal to normal, is this your method since you started or you do this because the size and proportion is already firmly established in your stud?
As I told you before, I had to learn this by myself and saw that in this method I got better results.
14.) Are you an advocate of ‘phenotype before genotype’ principle? Or would you rather go for an average bird with good solid background than for a top budgie from a family of lesser quality?
It’s hard to answer this. You always have to try before you can give the answer. Normally you make better results with an average bird with a good solid background. But when you are able to buy the best bird from a beginner who stops breeding just do it! At least I wouldn’t be afraid.
15.) Any additional advice for your admirers from the tropical paradise we call Philippines?
Don’t forget, our beautiful hobby need a lot of time of patience and don’t celebrate too early. Its normal, that’s your best bird is dying before having chicks and so on. You will have to make that bad experience at least once. Don’t believe everything, what’s written in the books and make your own experience. A hobby is for making pleasure and good feelings and shouldn’t cause any trouble and pressure.