THE BASIC PHILOSOPHY OF BREEDING SPECIALTY ANIMALS
If a choice is made to breed Seraphim, the fancier should always make every effort to breed from the best birds they have (or can get) and breed with a clear eye toward the Standard of the Breed. (Please refer to the article on the Standard.) This is true regardless of the purpose for maintaining ownership of Seraphim, and regardless of the number of Seraphim kept.
“Why?” you might ask. Good question. Let’s talk about it.
The only reason Seraphim exist is that an experienced Fancy Pigeon breeder noticed an unusual mutation in her loft and focused on it. Ten years of careful husbandry and genetic study finally led to the recognition of Seraphim as a separate breed or variety due to their particular combination of expressed genetic traits. Developed from the Old-Fashioned (Classic) Oriental Frill of the 1930’s type, Seraphim are substantially different in appearance and behavior from the Classic Oriental Frill of today due to the consolidation of their specific genetic traits by careful breeding. Like any designer “pet”, Seraphim will vanish if their particular genetic characteristics are not kept and maintained within their gene pool. This said, the Seraph gene combo is strong and breeds true. This is thanks to over 30 years now of painstaking work to refine and concentrate the genetic expression of their particular traits. In spite of the passage of so much time, the Seraph remains, however, a RARE Breed. It is one of the newest recognized Fancy Pigeon varieties in existence and is not widely available. Thus great care must be taken with the population in existence.
The message is simple. If you love the beauty of Seraphim, you simply must properly maintain the genetic pool to be able to continue to see and enjoy them. Otherwise they will vanish.
By definition, all Seraphim are related. None exist that did not originate from the original two first discovered back in 1986. Those two birds arose when the Satinette Piebald color genes were accidentally combined with Recessive Red genes, the “White-Sides” gene(s), and a “Tail-Whitening gene(s)”; this “Seraphim Color Gene Complex” made the first two Seraphim. (See articles under Genetics in the sidebar.) The Seraphim Color Gene Complex transfers from generation to generation as if it were a single inherited trait even though we know it isn’t. This fact simplifies certain aspects of breeding Seraphim. However, the details that make the perfect Seraph – like the enlarged skull, downturned pink beak, upright stance, curvy figure, long feathering, finely feathered toes, wing carriage, deep swoop and mane, huge frill, and personality are genetic traits inherited and expressed in more subtle ways that require care to maintain in the breed, and that’s the difficulty of creating the perfect Seraph. One must pay attention to all of these traits at once and carefully match up their birds to (hopefully) get babies that are as close as possible to the Show Standard. Always working toward that goal reinforces the genetic traits in the pool of breeding birds.
This can all be very difficult, and sometimes it doesn’t work as expected. Seraphim are genetically complicated. Sometimes your two overall poorest looking birds will have the most stunning offspring, and sometimes your best pair will simply throw only average young. How genes go together and are ultimately expressed can be very hard to predict. One must be prepared for failure as well as unexpected good luck. One must also be willing to experiment at times just to see what will happen if they try something new.
PAIRING YOUR SERAPHIM FOR BREEDING
The Purist Approach. This could also be called “Breeding Strictly to the Standard”, “Breeding to Win”, “Breeding for Show”, “Scientific Breeding”, “Pedigree Breeding”, and “Objective Breeding”. For those who are emotionally attached to their birds it can seem ruthless and unappealing, especially since Seraphim act as if they are in love and are generally monogamous unless split up by outside forces.
In an ideal loft, one has various rooms and compartments for their Seraphim. There is a room for Old Cocks, a room for Young Cocks, a room for Old Hens, a room for Young Hens, a room for Juveniles too young yet to be sexed, and one or more Breeding Rooms. After careful study and observation, the breeder will decide which birds he/she wants to cross each year in their attempt to create Seraphim that are as close as possible to the Standard. Those pairs will – usually in January or February, or early Spring if the loft is unheated – be taken to the Breeding Room where each pair will be temporarily locked into a breeding cage but separated by a see-through wire divider until their behavior indicates they have accepted each other and will bond to each other. Once mating has occurred and eggs are laid, the breeding cage is opened so they can fly about in the Breeding Room and outside if there is an attached aviary. This technique assures precise parentage of the offspring, exact pedigrees (lineage of the young), and a relatively calm experience for the breeding parents. The breeder will soon see which pairs produce the finest specimens, and the next year the finest specimens will be used for the next breeding season. This approach constantly concentrates the best characteristics of the Seraphim flock. Birds that are not used by the breeder may be very fine specimens of show quality. Such non-breeding birds often carry the necessary qualities to produce outstanding offspring, but the breeder has to draw the line somewhere or they will have way too many pairs up for breeding, so choices must be made. Such choices can be very difficult and might even prove to be wrong, but the advantage to a fancier looking for a pair or more of Seraphim is that the breeder with such a controlled program will choose the best birds from their non-breeders for sale, and with careful technique the new owner can expect to bring out the same superior Show characteristics as the original breeder.
What if you don’t have space, time, or money to use “The Purist Approach”? In truth, most fanciers don’t, so what are other options for maintaining a show quality flock without such intense management? A lot of fanciers have only a small one room loft, too small to divide up into segments. Or they live in town and city ordinances keep them from having what they really want. Then what?
1. “The Pretty Pet Approach”. Some people just think Seraphim are beautiful and want a few to take care of and watch. That’s great! Get the prettiest ones you can and take good care of them. The problem will be in preventing them from breeding, as the urge is too powerful for them to ignore. So let them go through the motions, as it will give them something to do and keep you entertained as well. As usual make sure they are properly housed and maintained. Make or purchase a box or shelf for each pair, with a nest bowl. Provide nesting material. Then watch as they court and establish control of their nest site, gather sticks, and settle in. Soon they will mate, and within a few days there will be two eggs. Remove the eggs and replace them with faux wooden eggs purchased from Foy’s Pigeon Supplies or Amazon via the internet. The pair will happily incubate the faux eggs for the mandatory 18 days to hatch. When nothing happens, they will leave the eggs. Remove the wooden eggs and clean the nest site and they will start over again. At the end of the breeding season when the days get short, they’ll rest until next Spring, so don’t use artificial light to extend the daylight hours in your loft during the winter months. It may seem mean, but the only other option is to let them hatch and raise babies that you don’t or can’t remove from your loft. Soon you will have a million birds; not a good situation. So be kind to your Seraphim and use birth control if you are keeping them as pets.
2. “The Ladies’ Choice Approach.” Ultimately, if given the chance, it’s the hen who chooses the cock, not the other way around. A cock will pick any hen with which to mate and bond with; a hen will watch all of the cocks while allowing them to court her, but then she will choose only one, and for no humanly discernible reason. Once truly bonded, pairs tend to be fairly monogamous and the cock will guard the hen vigorously as she prepares to lay. Yet on occasion a hen will allow herself a moment to be seduced by another cock when her mate isn’t looking. When one starts off with high quality birds, chances are the offspring will also be high quality even in this less controlled environment. Limit the breeding to only what you can sell using the wooden egg technique, and all will still be well. In a free loft environment pairs of Seraphim will squabble a bit over ideal nest sites and sometimes such battles will interfere with breeding, cause stress, and lead to infertile eggs, a down-side to the free-love open society approach in a small space. In addition, you cannot be 100% certain of pedigrees; this can be a problem if trying to produce a real show winner.
3. “The Compelled Ladies’ Choice Approach.” A combination of The Purist Approach and The Ladies’ Choice Approach that sometimes works in a small open loft. Suppose you really, really want to split up a couple of pairs and make them swap mates to get better quality offspring. You can force the issue by locking the newly paired birds together in breeding cages situated so that the pairs cannot see their previous mate; it’s even better if they can’t hear them either. This may or may not work, as original pair bonds are very strong, but usually the pair will give up if kept together long enough and go ahead with the breeding process. One can obtain special breeding cages that have a wire divider down the middle so the newly paired birds can see each other at first without beating each other up. They can sometimes fight viciously when forced together like this, so it’s wise to be very, very careful if attempting this. On occasion a hen will simply refuse to bond to a selected cock come hell or high water. You can leave them together for eternity but the hen just stares at the cock, combs her feathers, plays board games and tiddly winks, yawns, naps, and totally disses the cock. If you let her out after five or six years, she’ll flirt with every cock in sight for an hour, pick a new mate out of the bunch, and establish a nest and lay eggs faster than lightning. Don’t ask why; just go with it. You’re not going to win that battle. (Situation exaggerated for dramatic purposes. Heh heh. :-))
4. “The Free Flock.” Not recommended for breeding Fancy Pigeons, free flocks are exactly that – free. Just for fun! An example: a breeder has many extra birds due to breeding experiments to improve overall quality. The extra birds are healthy but not quality birds that can be sold. The breeder knows a farmer who has a flock of mixed pigeons he likes to keep but allows to fly free. The farmer will take the extras just to enjoy watching as they fly with his other pigeons. They interbreed and survive mostly by natural selection, but they have shelter, food and water. Whatever happens, happens. Or the breeder himself has a place in the country where his flock of extras can be kept with relative freedom and minimal care and oversight; pretty to watch, but never intended for controlled breeding.
Rather than worry about what to do with low quality birds, some breeders who have no other choice control population with deliberate culling – or euthenizing – of low quality birds.
If there is a Racing Pigeon loft nearby, the owners often like to keep some white pigeons in their loft to act as “drops” for their Racing Homers – birds that are easy to see sitting on the loft that cause the Racers to land more quickly after a race. Seraphim are certainly white enough for the job, but whether or not they’ll happily sit on a roof rather than flying off is unknown. They do not have much of a homing instinct.
At the end of the day, no matter what you do, be thoughtful about controlling the breeding process. Don’t create lots of birds you don’t have room for or don’t know what to do with. The only alternative to trickery to control flock populations is deliberate destruction of eggs without replacement by faux eggs, or culling (euthenizing) extra young or old birds if the population gets too high. This is a process that most find seriously distasteful. It’s most humane to replace newly laid eggs with faux eggs.
THE BREEDING PROCESS: How it works, and what to expect.
Seraphim can successfully breed as early as six months of age, though when starting so early they may have a couple of sterile clutches before finally having success. Most breeders would recommend waiting until 8 months of age to assure that maturation has been reached and one can expect a healthy reproductive cycle. Young cocks will generally declare their gender by four months of age when they become more aggressive and begin the classic courtship dance of pigeons everywhere, cooing loudly, standing very tall with neck feathers fluffed out, fanning the tail, and puffing up their crop. The hens, for their part, at about the same age may softly coo in response and even demonstrate a little dance themselves, bobbing their heads and lightly flicking their long flight feathers, puffing up, and fanning their tails; but their display is dramatically subdued compared to the male. It can be very difficult to determine the sex of young Seraphim up to even eight months, as both sexes will demonstrate some of the same behaviors up to that point and the cock’s cooing and dance my be a little pathetic until the full force of testosterone hits. Hens may even mount cocks at this age and seemingly go through the mating act while the cock allows it. This is why juveniles are, when possible, housed in separate quarters until it can be deduced who is whom. Once adulthood is fully acquired, a distinct height and weight difference will usually become evident, with the cock dominating in size. His head will also become noticeably larger. He will prance around like he owns the place. Hens may become very impatient with other hens, pecking them and yanking out a feather or two and knocking them off the perches when given a chance, all of them vying for attention from the cocks. As they are all molting to pure white by then, it becomes more and more difficult to identify cocks and hens at a glance, so the breeder relies on behavior and minute differences in feather and form to identify specific cocks and hens, capture them, and successfully separate them into the appropriate flights while they finish maturing.
If you purchase a single pair, they may essentially be strangers to each other, and it will take a few days for them to settle into their new home. They will explore it carefully, as they are quite inquisitive little creatures. Very quickly they (almost always) will be bonded and be looking for a nest site, so if you intend to control the location of the breeding area in the loft, be prepared to place a nest bowl or box within a week of the pair’s arrival, or they’ll pick their own spot someplace and begin building a nest on a secluded portion of a ledge. Also be sure there is plenty of grit and oyster shell calcium available at this time during the breeding cycle, and that you are using a high protein breeder mix for feed, at least 18% with added peas and safflower throughout the entire time period.
Seraphim, being a bit shy, prefer more privacy in their nest sites than some other breeds; a dark nest cavity that can be crept into is preferred, no larger than a 12 inch cube. Clay nest bowls with coconut fiber pads can be obtained from Foy’s Supplies; they have air holes in the bottom to prevent condensation and are heavy so they can’t tip over. As soon as a nest bowl is placed, the cock will fly over to inspect it and begin a dramatic display, calling the hen over to take a look. If she likes it, she’ll begin making low-pitched sounds, puff her feathers, and slink into the nest bowl on crouched feet, flicking her flight feathers. She may crawl right under the cock and remain there cuddled with him. The two of them will spend many hours cooing and billing while sitting there together. This will go on for a few days, and then the cock will begin loading up the nest with sticks and twigs while the hen stays put. She will spend longer and longer periods of time in the nest bowl.
About this time, you may notice some other behaviors. The cock will stay beside the hen closely, no matter what is going on in the loft. At feeding time, he will chase her around, pecking lightly but urgently at her back, barely letting her eat. He will aggressively chase any other suitors away from the hen. The hen will start taking more calcium. The pair will begin to spend more time away from the prepared nest and the rest of the flock, seeking a space of solitude where they cannot be interrupted. They will find a secluded place on a ledge or in a corner on the floor. Here there will be a lot of billing and posturing. The cock will walk repeatedly around the hen. The hen may crouch intermittently, flicking her wing lightly on one side. At some point, the cock will stand tall, turn his head, and reach over his back and repeatedly comb one of his long primary flight feathers. This is the sign that mating is desired and about to occur. Critically, though, the hen has to respond with precisely the same combing motion, or the invitation to mate will be deemed a failure by the cock, and he’ll once again begin walking around the hen, bowing and cooing and attempting to get her in the mood. When the hen responds back to the cock with the same head over the back combing motion, they will alternate the motion back and forth for a few seconds, and then the hen will abruptly crouch very low to the ground, head down and tail slightly up. This is the invitation to mount (tread) that the cock has been waiting for. He will carefully step up, and with a brief flapping of wings touch his cloacal opening to hers, and the deed will be done. He will then prance around like the king of the universe while she first puffs up and shakes out her feathers (much like straightening a dress, comically). The cock will then loudly fly up to the nest, wings popping against each other, and the hen will follow. A few such matings will occur in the days leading up to egg laying.
Once the hen has laid her first egg, you will notice the cock sitting – alone and unmoving – in the nest bowl during the day, even if you walk close to the nest. Don’t go any closer. He will just stare at you. You don’t want him to bolt, as his stillness is evidence that an egg is present. Mark the date, as it will hatch in 18 days, and you will need to be ready to check the youngsters soon after hatching to make sure all is going well. You can assume there will be another egg the next day, as pigeons almost always lay two eggs one day apart. Once the clutch is complete, the cock alone will incubate the eggs during the daylight hours and the hen will incubate during the night.
At seven days you may carefully flush the cock off the nest to see what is going on. By then the cock is strongly attached to the nest and will return immediately when you leave. The eggs can be examined to check for fertility. Shine a penlight through them or use the flashlight app on your cell phone. If fertile, you’ll see the embryo surrounded by blood vessels overlying the yolk sac. Put them back and don’t bother them again. If they are not fertile, they can be removed to stimulate another round of egg laying within a couple of weeks. If one egg is fertile, leave them both. On the last day or two of the incubation cycle, you might notice that the hen is sometimes on the nest during the day. She knows the eggs are about to hatch. Don’t bother the nest or parents at all at this stage.
With any luck the eggs will hatch at 18 days. The babies are tiny and covered with a light golden down. It doesn’t seem possible that they could be strong enough even to eat with assistance, but miraculously they do. You don’t have to check the nest right away. If you watch the parent for a while, you will notice him/her checking underneath periodically; you may hear peeping, and you may notice the parent shifting position fairly frequently. You might even see a little head pop up. Both parents will feed the babies a mix of “crop milk” the first couple of days, followed by crop milk and seeds they regurgitate into the babies’ beaks, and eventually just seed mixed with water. The hen will sit very tight on the young the first day or two, and then she’ll finally let the cock take over with intermittent breaks. If there is still an infertile egg in the nest, this is the time to remove it. You will need to walk carefully to the nest and flush the parent off, as you need to check the health of the baby within two days of hatching. Its little crop should be full. If it is thin and peeping hysterically, then it is not being fed. If there is an unhatched egg beside it, remove the egg now. If the baby looks fine, then leave it alone for the next week while the parents are attending to it. Within ten days both parents will check on the young periodically, but they otherwise will leave them alone except for feeding or sitting next to them in the nest at night. The young grow insanely rapidly. What was a mere fluff on day one is a big fat squab at six days and is ready to be closed banded with a size 9 or 10 band by day 9 or 10. One can order bands from the National Pigeon Association as well as other sources. Show Pigeons are to be closed banded, i.e., the band is circular and without a seam; it has to be slid over the squab’s foot onto the portion of the leg just above the foot before the foot is too large. Otherwise, the band simply won’t fit, and the bird can only be banded with a seamed band. Birds with seamed bands can generally not be shown in competition.
By four weeks the young are nearly fully feathered and almost ready to leave the nest. In an ideal world they will stay in the nest until they are five weeks old and truly fully feathered, but they often leave the nest in a controlled loft a bit early. By this same time, the cock has often already scouted out a new nest site if one is available and is encouraging the hen to lay another clutch. Once the new clutch is laid, the cock again resumes his daytime incubation duties but also attends to the older chicks which may now be running around on the floor of the loft, feeding them and teaching them to use the feeder and water source, which they learn quickly. He will do double duty until the next chicks hatch, and by then the older ones are already up on a roost and managing on their own.
Youngsters can be left with their parents for many months as more and more offspring are added. The parents tend to be tolerant of their own until they reach full maturity at eight months or more of age. As long as there are plenty of perches and the older juveniles stay away from the parental nest box, a large family of Seraphim will get along quite well. If space is tight or squabbles are noted, it is best to move the older youngsters out to their own pen so the parents can have some peace.