Veterinary Expenses for New Breeding Birds?

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Q: I recently thought that I made an intelligent decision to begin building up breeding stock with the hope of becoming a professional breeder. Unfortunately, I was initially scared away by my veterinarian. He outlined a list of tests that I must pay him to do on every bird that I buy. He claims that if I don’t have them done, I could lose every bird that I own. His “must do” list would cost about $500 per bird. There is also a “you should do it if you’re smart” list that totals another $300. I find it difficult to believe that “smart” commercial breeders, like yourself, spend $1,600 in vet bills every time you wish to add a pair of birds to your breeding program. Should I be looking for a new vet? There are not many qualified avian vets to choose from. Should I forget about trying to become a commercial breeder? Please advise!

A: One of the truly wonderful things about the country that we live in is that everyone has the right to go out and seek his or her fortune. Hopefully, you can find someone who is not intent on making it entirely on you. The only thing that you “must do” is make your own decisions as to how far you wish to go in order to protect what you have.

I realize that there are conflicting views on this subject. For this reason, we at Voren’s Aviaries have studied this very carefully.The value of diagnostic tests on birds that appear healthy upon gross examination is not only a function of how much you have to protect. It also depends on how much you know about the history of the birds that you are buying, as well as how capable you are at recognizing disease problems if and when they occur. For example, when the last shipments of imported birds were coming into the United States, I made the decision to purchase 100 nanday conures from one of the import stations. I certainly did not run out and spend $80,000 in diagnostic tests. Fortunately for me, through several personal contacts in the local veterinary community, I was able to discover that while the birds were in import quarantine, there was no incidence of disease. I was also able to discover that two other professional breeders purchased small lots from the same shipment when they were first released and had no problems. This information, coupled with the fact that I was able to set them up for breeding on a separate piece of property and, therefore, not expose the rest of my collection to them, allowed me to make the decision to “roll the dice” and take my chances. I had no tests performed. I also have enough experience to be confident that I could recognize any problems that might occur and deal with them in a timely matter.

On the other hand, if I had an indoor facility with a full collection of breeding birds that I would be exposing to them, I would not have purchased them regardless of how many diagnostic tests they had passed. In the August 1994 issue of BIRD BREEDER, Dr. Margaret Wissman and her partner Bill Parsons give an excellent overview (“Disease Prevention in the Outdoor Aviary”) of the different tests and procedures that are available. Nowhere in the article do they claim that you have to do all of the things that they outline. They are, however, living up to their responsibilities by letting you know that all of these tests are available if you should choose to use them.

There is plenty of room for more responsible commercial breeders. Do not allow anything or anyone to scare you away from something you really desire. I would recommend that you consider looking for a vet who is more in tune with the commercial side of aviculture, rather than one who focuses his practice around pet bird medicine. It is from veterinarians who specialize in working with commercial breeders that you will be able to receive the “quantity discounts” that are necessary to make commercial aviculture cost effective. Call some of the larger commercial breeders in your area and inquire as to where they find competent, yet cost-effective, veterinary care. At the prices that you are now faced with, it would be cheaper to fly in one of the top professionals from Florida or California. From what I am led to believe, as long as the vet personally visits your facility and examines your birds a couple of times a year, the rest of your business can be handled via telephone and overnight mail.