Whether you breed your Seraphim year-round or establish a “season” for breeding, you will at some point need to stop and evaluate the result of your efforts. For your own sake, and that of your breeding birds, it is most advisable to designate a period of months for reproduction followed by a period of rest and evaluation. The period of rest is a great time to evaluate and finally sort your birds.
As you know by now, Seraphim and all other Fancy breeds have an annual molt at the end of the summer, generally beginning in late August in the Northern hemisphere and ending at the latest by mid-November. The winter period after the molt (October and on) is thus riddled with show schedules, culminating in the big national show in January, since the birds look their best during that period of time.
Because of the timing of the annual molt as well as the annual show schedules, most breeders will set up their mating pairs between January and March and terminate the breeding season by August. Your birds will never look better than they do for the few months after the molt, and will never look worse than they do during the breeding season attending to messy little babies day in and day out, so there is a definite method to this scheduling madness.
If there is a special annual show or two where you always like to attend and show your birds, it’s important to work around them with your breeding schedule so that your adults all look their best for the show and the annual young have had the chance to molt into adult plumage as well. It’s also important to keep in mind that feeding youngsters and molting simultaneously is pretty tough on the adults nutritionally. Either the parent or offspring can suffer from protein malnutrition under such circumstances, so additional protein in the diet will be needed, along with more fat and vitamins.
One way to get adults ready for show is to replace new eggs laid after a specific date in August with wooden eggs, preoccupying the parents but also giving them a reprieve from baby duties, allowing them to maintain their own health, feathering, and overall cleanliness. Starting this during or just after the molt in August will allow them to hold on to that pure white magnificence you want for show purposes, and all the babies hatched before August will almost always be in top form for show by December at the height of the show season. Nearly all of the birds in your loft will be potentially show-able using this schedule.
The other thing such a schedule does for the loft manager is give them a break from the work intensity of the breeding schedule and an opportunity to study and thoroughly evaluate their birds. Obviously every loft owner will manage their flock as they please since their birds can and will breed year around if given the chance, but it doesn’t hurt to maintain a reasonable and healthy schedule for all parties involved.
When it comes time for sorting the fruits of my labor each year, this is how I do it: I breed from a few pairs each year, and each pair is assigned a color to designate that family line. For instance, the SeaHorse line is pink, the James line is blue, etc. At banding time, each chick is given a numbered band on one leg and a colored family line band on the other. In this manner I can watch and study the offspring as they grow up and easily record changes that help me identify them later, including gender, without the necessity for capturing the bird.
In mid-October I go out late one night with a flashlight and pick all the birds up and put them in travel carriers. The next morning they are all placed in show cages, with the parents heading up their line of offspring for the year. The youngsters are divided by gender, and the most superior cock and hen in the line up is moved ahead to the two cages nearest the parents; these will be part of my show team and/or kept for my own breeding program. The rest are marked for sale, even if they too are high quality and intended for show. I do the same thing with the next line, and the next until I have located the best cock and best hen from each line. If any birds are identified that have faults that make them useless as breeding pairs, those birds are marked for placement in a free flock that I keep out at the farm. (Some people will euthanize such birds, but I can’t unless they are seriously ill or deformed—it just bothers me.)
I then line up the best young cocks from all lines, and the best young hens from all lines. I again compare. What I am looking for are outstanding birds, birds that are better than the parents, or in the case of exceptional parents, birds that are equal to the parents. I then decide if I need to keep any for my own breeding program, and which ones, depending upon the family lines and how they should be interbred and whether or not there are birds present now that can advance a particular characteristic in the flock that needs improvement.
Having now decided which birds you are keeping for your own loft and which you want for show competition, the “For Sale” birds are identified (the “for show” categories and “for sale” categories will always overlap, as will the “to keep” and “for show” categories) by band number in a ledger. Already you need to begin thinking about how to pair them to fill orders, taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of each bird. It’s important to know when filling orders whether the buyer is a serious breeder who will show birds, wants them for pets, or will be flying them in a free flock. The most exceptional birds adhering to the Show Standard should be reserved for serious breeders. Poor quality birds should simply not be sold, unless they will be functioning in a non-breeding situation, such as drops for Racing Homers. Of the “For Sale” birds, you should always pair family lines that are compatible genetically and will likely result in exceptional or outstanding offspring, and the good qualities of one bird or family line should offset any less than superior qualities in the other bird or family line.
Ultimately, this sorting process will also answer another necessary question: Are you producing top-quality birds with your current mated pairs? If you discover that the birds from one line are all inferior to the others, you must decide whether or not to continue that line, split the parents and pair them with different mates, or completely take those parents out of the breeding program. Sorting in the manner described can help answer that question and assure that you are constantly improving outcomes from year to year.
Finally, it’s important to keep and maintain your foundation birds. As the years go by you will rotate your older birds out of the breeding schedule to some degree. Nevertheless, if you have exceptional older birds that are the genetic foundation for your entire program, birds from which you can retrieve qualities that might be lost due to unexpected complications from breeding younger birds, you will always be okay.