AWEBSA Founder Member Profile: Larkwood Aviaries
Name: Larkwood Aviaries comprising the following members: Suzanne Lucas, Johan Lucas and NiQi During. Our partnership exhibit mainly with ring code L1.
Ring No(s): L1, L55 and D23
Contact No(s): Johan – 083 334 9945, Suzanne 073 515 9175
Question: Why do you keep budgies and what type (Wild-type or exhibition) do you keep?
I have had budgies since 1963 at the age of four years old. (Now in 2015 that is 52 years later). My first pair was a wild-type light green cock (Groenie) and a cinnamon grey hen (Grysie) given to me by my late Uncle Fanie Cronje. They were mypride and joy. My dad constructed me a moveable “state of the art” aviary as just he could. During times when the family moved the budgies always moved with us.
I bred budgies in a colony setup for many years until one day… More about that later.
When I got married to my wife Suzanne, she was introduced to budgies and cared for the birds for periods when I was not around (I travelled for work and for sport) and particularly during my army camps. One particular story during those days was that one evening whilst speaking to my wife on the phone from Jozini she said that she is not sure what is going on but the birds in the one aviary were not eating as much as they used to. In fact they are eating less and less. Well it was then discovered that our dog, Leo, in his attempts to catch a cat that used to sit on the neighbour’s garage roof jumped a hole in the wire and the birds were escaping! Needless to say it was also on the hen’s side.
One Saturday in 1982 a Mr Fourie that visited next door knocked on my door and said he can hear that I have budgies. I told him that I have top quality birds and a huge variety of colours! I was proud to show him my prize possessions. He looked at them with wide eyes and then commented that he has some real budgies next door. He then asked whether I would like to see them. I was horrified but agreed to look at his so called “real” budgies! Well he introduced me to a pair of Show budgies – a Light Green Cock and Opaline Grey Green Dominant Pied hen. Needless to say, they did knock my socks off in terms of size, sheer presence in the cage and their arrogance. It was a pair he purchased from a breeder on the Bluff, the late Jannie Olivier. Little did I know that this would take me on a road of line breeding, in breeding, feather direction, size and deportment and the rest!
When I am with the budgies the world really comes to an end for me. I can spend hours in the aviary and my family knows where I am. It’s the best form of distressing for me and I can recommend it to everybody!
Since 7 September 2014 my budgie career has been revitalised when AWEBSA was formed. The enthusiasm of our young members and the love for colours has inspired me. We certainly become boring to concentrate on Grey greens for example alone. Why destroy the fun in mutation breeding? Why discourage budgie breeders that want to keep wild-Type budgies? Why?
Question: What gives you the most enjoyment in the hobby?
Breeding budgies and seeing the babies develop is most rewarding. The metamorphosis from barhead to adult feathering of budgies is often mind blowing. It gives me Goosebumps just thinking about it.
However, seeing new people starting in the hobby and also enjoying breeding budgies and helping them in the process provides us with the most enjoyment.
We have not been great exhibitioners. Often timing, distances to travel, politics and the lack of enjoyment at show have discouraged us. It has become one mad rush to and from the show and time to renew friendships, having some quality time together and sharing in the success of others has dissipated.
The final award has hardly been allocated and exhibitors are asking when they can de-bench. They have distances to travel, other commitments, and the list just grows. Heaven forbids if you don’t bend the rules. They just won’t the show next time!
Variety of colours has grown
Question : What is your favourite colour budgie and why? What colours do you keep currently?
Years ago my answer to this question would have been Light Green. I guess it has its roots in the fact that my very first budgie was light green and that budgies in the wild are mainly light green. My dream was then to win the National Show with a Light Green. However since starting the new Association, AWEBSA, in September 2014, I must admit my view has broadened. When I think back to the immense amount of fun I had building up Recessive Pieds from wild-type size to show quality and the same we are doing currently with Fallows. I always had a soft spot for lacewings and now I am intrigued by the Anthracite and many other colours for that matter.
Dark green and Violet have a special place in my heart but I will have to give the matter of favourite colour a lot more thought now! Why? Well I have not even been blessed enough to see all the colours available in budgies and that after 52 years! How can I then have a favourite colour?
Question : Please give us some background about yourself.
I am the CEO of Lucas and Associates a family business focussing mainly in accounting and taxation.
We have always been involved in farm life and animals are part of our daily lives. We have horses and I love riding with Nicolene and others. We have dogs, cats, chickens, rabbits, lovebirds, cockatiels, ringnecks and African Greys.
We are all involved and until recently my son, Matthew and his wife, Jessica, were also part of the Larkwood partnership. They have now formed their own partnership and we will soon be keen competition.
I am passionate about our hobby and our association, AWEBSA. We feel that we will make a mark not only in Southern Africa but also on the international scene in the very near future.
Question : What challenges did you experience when starting up with budgies and why? How would you suggest we address those going forward? What advice would you give to people starting out with budgies today?
I thought I knew lots about budgies and perhaps I had the biggest struggle with that. However, obtaining show budgies when I wanted them was a challenge. The same applied to decide on the colours to keep. I was advised to stay with the main line colours in order to achieve success on the show bench. Stay away from the “funny” colours. Sadly, over the years I also gave that advice.
The focus on competition made me make decisions that limited the enjoyment of the range of colours available in budgies and I for example wanted clean lines and disposed of Greywings and Suffused birds because of that.
I also looked at the many established breeders and their aviaries or birdrooms and thought that was what was required to be regarded successful. I believe we all soon get caught up in “completion” not only on the quality of birds but also the number of birds being kept, the price we pay per pair and the size of the aviary or bird room.
Now the hobby become expensive and a hindrance rather than a pleasure. We slowly strangled the fun out of the hobby. Remembering the notion that only the people winning normally are having fun!
My firm believe now is that we need to keep budgies because we enjoy them and pick the colours that inspire and motivate us to get up in the morning, prepare their food, clean the aviaries and sometimes sacrifice holiday time as the birds are breeding! We also need an Association that would enhance and foster that enjoyment.
Above it all the budgies is mainly a family hobby. Going it alone is often just not easy or possible. Many successful breeders will admit to the role their families play in the budgie breeding hobby.
Not that we are successful but after more than 30 years in the show budgie hobby I can attest that it would not have been possible without the help of my family. Going it alone is just not possible without it creating strain within the family structure in relation to time and particularly resources.
Another point is that when you begin with budgies, learn to be patient and that it can become expensive when one wants to buy your way to the top. Learning while breeding is perhaps the best way to start and for that one needs to acquire breeding birds not exhibition birds. Many people want buy the top birds at top dollar only to later realise that these birds often don’t produce to the same quantity and quality that they possess. Knowing or learning the difference is normally not that easy.
Define hobby versus winning in your own mind. Many may and will disagree with me but it should in the first place be a hobby where success is measured by the many healthy youngsters on the perch. Then when we have that sorted the icing on the cake is exhibition and improving ones stock.
Question : Tell us about your aviary, its construction, size materials used etc. What lessons did you learn during this process that would be of help to people that would start today?
I started keeping exhibition budgies many years ago in an aviary in a small servant quarters! The breeding room was the former toilet. Over the years we have grown to a larger aviary with many flights and breeding cages. Our current establishment is 11 metres long and 7 metres wide. We have three full aviaries and 50 breeding cages. 10 smaller cages complete the set-up. On average we breed between 350 and 450 budgies in a year.
Area under the perches suspended in order for droppings to fall outside the aviary and limit the access of birds to their own and the droppings of others.
Notice the birds sitting on the perches and the wire and the droppings on the floor outside the reach of the budgies.
Question: How do you deal with drafts and ventilation in the aviary? Heat and cold?
Our current aviary does become very hot in summer. We experience temperatures up to 45 degrees Celsius. Despite this the birds do breed fairly successfully during this time. However our best results are achieved during winter where the 16 to 25 degrees during the day is far more palatable for budgies and the feeders alike.We have a space under the roof around the aviary covered with fire to aid ventilation.Our aviaries are covered to avoid contamination from the droppings of wild birds. Opportunity for drafts have been reduced by fitting windows with glass and these can be closed when needed.
Question: Natural light or how do you supplement with electrical light? What happens during load shedding?
We supplement natural light with electrical light. The lights in the aviary are on from 06:00 in the morning until 20:30 in the evening. We have sky lights in the roof to supplement the lighting. When the main lights are switched off at 20:30 then we have night light that helps should the birds be disturbed during the night. During load shedding we feed later in the morning and earlier in the evening to enable the birds to eat sufficiently and feed their young. Routine is important for the birds and load shedding has an impact on that. We have on occasions placed oil lamps in the aviary in the evenings to act as night light.
Question: Feeding program: what do you feed, when and how?
Our feeding program is available on the AWEBSA webpage. Please have a look and then let me know any comments or inputs.
Question: How do you source your seed and supplements at the moment? Do you sometimes need help?
Smartryk Burger, an AWEBSA member is my main seed supplier. He resides a few kilometres away from me and his seed is priced reasonably. Our members also readily share supplements with each other and me. This is a fantastic help.
Question: Breeding cages or aviary breeding? Why?
We breed in individual breeding cages in order to be certain of the parents. The heavier show birds (particularly the hens) seem to battle having to fly distances when breeding. This is perhaps a challenge for people considering using the aviary breeding method.
Question: What are the specs for your breeding cages (if in use) and your nest boxes for example?
Interested people can contact us via our Facebook page or Webpage and we will gladly share the specifications. All the cages, trays, frames and nest boxes are home made.
Note here I made one cage the wrong way round
. Needless to say it was fixed!
I used to use hardboard for the nest doors.However these used to swell with the moisture in the nest and it made it difficult to open. Also some hen ate holes in them. I now make them out of sheet metal with not problems being experienced.
I used super wood for a batch of my nest boxes and after second season regretted my decision. It was not as durable as the shutter board we always used. Believe it or not but I still use the nest boxes made for me by my dad some 33 years ago.
Question: Do you think it’s a hobby for the whole family? Please explain your answer.
I have no doubt in my mind that it is a family hobby more than just for an individual. We have many examples where going it alone has proved to lead to the ultimate failure of the hobbyist. Sadly recently one of our new AWEBSA members had to pack it up as work commitments meant that he had to travel away from home and then the birds were neglected. It is a lot more fun when all in the family love the birds and become involved.
Question: How often to you think one must clean your aviary, breeding cages and nest boxes?
We clean our aviary one a week when the floors etc. are washed. The floors are tiled in order to help with the hygiene. In the breeding cages we mainly used a semi deep-litter and we try and clean them once a month. Nest boxes are cleaned once a week when we scrape out the droppings and replace sawdust. We normally only scrub out the next boxes at the end of each round.
Question: Do you think any purpose is served by a club structure and why?
Club structures are of vital importance to ensure a healthy Association. When clubs are inactive members become inactive and bored. Events, meetings, aviary visits, shows and marketing exhibitions are all essential to keep the club membership interested and involved. Monthly colour competitions at club meetings where members learn how to judge and see how the birds compare in quality is invaluable. Such a system run many years ago by PMBBC was instrumental to teaching me much about what I know today. Successful club life is essential and it depends largely on the energy and commitment of the management as well as the attitude of the members.
Question: What do you think of the price of birds?
I believe it is unfortunate that many beginners and even more established breeders are taken for a ride. They often pay high school fees from breeders that are not serious about the hobby and are out to make money.
I was once told the sellers are not the problem; the buyers are just stupid. As in everything else please do your homework before you buy birds. Visit many aviaries and see what is available and at what prices. Most times patience pays off. Steal with your eyes. Ask questions. Read. Armed with that you would soon have the gut feeling when someone is taking you for a ride. Then like bad insurance walk away and keep your money in your pocket. I am not convinced that success in budgie breeding can happen overnight. It takes skill and hard work (and a bit of good fortune). Beginners should not pay much more than R500 per pair of young exhibition budgies.
Question: How do you dispose of surplus birds? Do think there is merit in clubs and or the AWEBSA helping with this and why?
Most of my surplus birds are moved to beginners and other members. On occasions birds are also packaged for export. 2014 has been a particularly difficult year in that the demand for birds has been great due to the many beginners joining the Association and at times difficult to meet. We have successfully used the AWEBSA network to distribute birds.
Question: When do your budgies breed the best? Summer, winter or when? Why do you say so?
Where we are currently staying, i.e. north of Pretoria we are having our best results during winter and early spring as it is a lot cooler. The birds however breed during the entire year. Recent temperatures in our bird room have ranged between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius. Best results in terms of fertility here are normally achieved straight after the first rains. In Pietermaritzburg we did well all year round as in Winterskloof the temperature is mild.
Question: Do you give medicine to your birds? Why do you feel it is necessary?
Twice a year we put our birds through a “cleaning” out process. The program we use will soon be available on the AWEBSA webpage for information. In the main the water we give to all the birds is clean borehole water.
Some years ago we did struggle with Megabac. I have written an article about it and other articles covering the same subject are also available. Good housekeeping is as a rule better than any medicine. Know your birds and check them regularly (almost continuously). In this manner off colour birds are identified early and then can be treated accordingly.
Question: Tell us about your record keeping? Challenges and do you think a program would make that easier?
I believe record keeping is very important. Actually it is an essential part of the management of our budgies. For line breeding, in breeding and tracking of mutations one must have detailed records.
We use breeding sheets that I designed and print. These are kept is a file in the aviary. Other breeders use a card system. Our breeding sheets are available on the AWEBSA website for those that would like to have a look. You are obviously welcome to download and adapt it for your own use.
A custom designed breeding program with the capacity to evolve as our needs change is just what we need. The great thing is that AWEBSA has identified this need and a breeding program has been designed and is being tested at the moment.
The huge benefit is that the records are kept off site so to speak and should your pc crash or be affirmative shopped your records are SECURED. Those members already making use of the program are loving it and raving about its functionality. I have 18000 odd records and am waiting for a bulk uploading facility.
Question: Do you mark the eggs when they are laid or do you touch them at all? Explain what you do and why?
Yes we do with a non-toxic and low odour Koki pen. We mark the eggs on the day they are laid and then record the fact on the breeding sheet. It helps with the management of the breeding program as one can then easily identify the clear eggs and the full ones. We then are able to identify nest with potential challenges where the late eggs are full for example. It happens that when the first three to four eggs don’t hatch the hen on one fine day will smash them all and throw them out of the nest. Being vigilant means one could avoid such tragedies, for example.
Question: What is the best tip you ever received?
There is a distinct difference between a breeding bird and an exhibition bird! If you don’t realise that your school fees will be high.
Question: What makes you all excited about breeding budgies?
All the colours and mutations and the fact that there are possibly still more colours to discover make me extremely excited. Then I have made many good friends through the hobby. Many have become like family to us and that is rather special. I have told many in the last weeks that I have not have so much fun in the last decade as I have had since September 2104, the launch of AWEBSA.
Question: Would you like to exhibit the budgies that you bred in order to see how good their quality is?
Exhibiting has not been high on my priority list over the years. I was bored with the whole scene of the same old. I was almost a ring member I am sorry to admit. My enthusiasm is however back as our new show program makes provision for many more colours to be exhibited. What fun would that be? We realise it’s going to be hard work but we are looking forward to that.
Thank you for reading this profile and hopefully it inspired you to become involved and join!