Proven Birds Failure to Produce

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Q: Last year, we decided to invest quite a bit of money into cockatiels. We wanted to produce them in commercial quantities so my wife could quit her job and stay home. We made the choice to breed the new whiteface variety. We purchased a large group of proven pairs for top dollar. The breeder showed us the breeding records, and the birds had been producing well for her in a flock setup for two years.

We made the decision that we could monitor the breeding better if they were split up into separate breeding cages. We have started our first season and have not had satisfactory production. All of the chicks die either prior to hatching or are dead in the nest box (with a full crop of food a few days after hatching. We do not know of any avian veterinarians within driving distance. Is there anything that you can suggest?

A: The first thing you must do is get together some dead-in-shell chicks, some fresh dead-after-hatched chicks and some fecal samples from the parents. These need to be sent to an avian pathology lab. Since you do not have an avian vet, ask your veterinarian to contact the Association of Avian Veterinarians, and they can recommend a laboratory that specializes in such things.

More often than not, the type of problem that you describe is caused by some type of disease that is transmitted from the parents to the offspring. You and your vet must identify the causative agent and eliminate it through correct treatment. The lab will hopefully make an identification and print out a list of drugs that can help fight off the infection. This will be sent to your local nonavian vet. All he has to do is decide which of the drugs to prescribe. All you have to do is treat your birds with the medication religiously as prescribed. Once your birds are cured, there could be up to a six-month lag before they begin to produce. It is not uncommon for the stress of the disease and the treatment to take that long to wear off.

The next thing you must do is determine where the contamination came from in the first place. This will require more lab work by the same lab that handled the other work. Since your problem is widespread, look for something common to all the flights, like water supply or the food you are using. If everything tests out clean, you should consider the fact that you might have purchased someone else’s problem.

This would not be a new story. Unfortunately, there will always be those who choose to pass along their problems to others rather than tackle the problems themselves. If this is the case, console yourself with the fact that at least it was nothing that you did that caused the disease. You will actually be better off if this is the case. You can cure the birds and go on from there, knowing that you have no skeletons in the closet.