Weaning Young Jacobins

by Clint Robertson


Weaning young Jacobins is always a critical and stressful time for both the young birds and the fancier. Many fanciers experience difficulties when it comes to separating the young birds from their parents and introducing them to a new environment where they are forced to fend for themselves. Some fanciers find that a percentage of young birds refuse to learn how to eat or drink on their own and will simply die if not hand fed. I have found that there are things you can do to minimize the stress on the young Jacobins and ease the transition. Do not try to wean your young Jacobins before they have learned how to eat and drink on their own.

It does make a big difference if you are using foster parents and the process of weaning then becomes much easier. I will discuss the weaning process with and without the use of feeders. When using feeders I let the foster parents feed the young Jacobins for a much longer period of time and I never rush to separate the young Jacobins from the feeders. Once the young Jacobins are 3 to 4 weeks of age I find that they will often end up flying (or falling) down from the nest box to the floor where they will stay. This is why it is important to give your birds lots of space and never crowd them. When using foster parents I do not put feed or water in the nest boxes but rather allow the young birds to venture onto the floor and find the feed and water on their own. If the young birds have not ventured onto the floor by the time they are 3-4 weeks of age I will put them down myself. By watching the old birds they will learn where to find the feed and water and they will be stimulated to eat by watching the old birds. It is very important that your feeders are quiet and do not pick on the young birds when they reach the floor. I have culled all of the aggressive birds out of my feeders over the years and this is very important or you will end up with scalped babies. Once I see the young Jacobins eating and drinking on their own I remove them and place them in a young bird compartment. Usually by this time they are about 6 weeks of age. It is very important to use the same type of watering and drinking containers in all compartments so the birds are familiar with them and will quickly adjust to their new home. Also try to keep the feed and water containers in a similar location in each compartment so they will find it more readily. Remember the vision of the Jacobin is impaired due to the chain feathers and they may have trouble finding water and feed if things are changed around. However they are birds of habit so if you keep things in similar locations and in similar containers they will adjust quickly. Watch your young birds closely after you move them. Pick each one up daily, later in the day, to make sure there is feed in the crop and to inspect body condition. You may find it necessary to dip some birds beaks in the water to make sure they are drinking and to show them where the water is. If you notice droppings on the beaks of certain young birds this may be because they have not found the water and are picking the droppings on the floor for moisture.

Some breeders trim the feathers around the face of the young birds so they can see to eat and find their way around easier. I do not do this. I like to see my young birds with all of their feathers and I have found it is not necessary to trim in my management system.

Try to wean your young birds in groups. That way you can avoid certain young birds from claiming territory in the young bird compartment and picking on the new arrivals. Weaning new young birds into a compartment with older ones that have been there for a while can be trouble and result in scalping, or the new arrivals may be too scared to go eat and drink because they are getting picked on.I prefer to have several smaller young bird compartments rather than one large one. This way I can keep young birds of the same age together and wean in stages filling one compartment at a time. My young bird compartments are 6ft X 8ft each with a walk in fly pen the same size. I put 16 to 20 young birds to a compartment. I will often remove very aggressive young birds later in the season and put them with the unmated mature cocks or hens so they do not pick on the others. It is important to provide plenty of perches so the birds can find their own space.

I also delouse each young bird before I place it in the young bird compartment.

When you are letting your Jacobins raise their own young in an open loft system you must be very careful if you let your young birds down onto the floor. Jacobins are an aggressive breed by nature and old cockbirds will often attack unattended youngsters on the floor causing serious injury or death. When allowing your Jacobins to raise their own you may find it works better to individually pen your pairs. If you do not want to do this make sure you have lots of space in your loft. Provide feed and water in the nest boxes so the young Jacobins can learn how to eat and drink in safety. On the floor you can provide a 4 or 5 inch high crawl space just high enough for the young Jacobins to get under to avoid scalping. In this system you may want to wean your young Jacobins more quickly. I remember about 25 years ago my mentor Dave Loewen sold me the most magnificent Red cockbird. I bred many young birds from him, however, he was the most aggressive Jacobin I have ever owned. The first year I had him he raised 5 babies of his own and killed 3 others. He was great for going into another pairs nest and attacking and killing the half grown babies in the nest and young ones on the floor didnít have a chance. One day I walked in the loft and he was scalping a young bird. He paid with his life. I only wish I had culled him sooner. If you are going to let your Jacobins raise their own you will want to do some culling for aggression. Unfortunately you will find that many of the most aggressive ones are also the most fertile.

If you find that you have young birds that are not eating properly when they are first weaned you may want to return them to the breeding pen and hope that the parents will continue to care for them for a while or start hand feeding. To hand feed I like to sit down in a chair with the bird on my lap. I take small amounts of feed either in the palm of my hand or in a teaspoon and I hold the birds beak open with the other hand. I then place small amounts of grain in the birds beak while holding the beak open letting the grain fall down into the birds throat a bit at a time. After placing a small portion of grain in the birds throat I then dip its beak in water and give it a chance to swallow. I then repeat the process until I can feel a sufficient amount of feed in the birds crop. If you do not feel the bird is getting enough water you may want to use a syringe with a soft piece of surgical of aquarium hose fitted over the end to insert directly into the birds crop and inject 10 to 15ml of water.

Another option you have with these difficult young ones is to remove them from the weaning pen and place them in an individual nest compartment or pen of some type and place another young one with it that has already learned to eat. I like using a young homer or roller for this that will not pick on the baby. By watching the experienced bird eat the baby will often learn how to eat. In these cases you may want to trim the feathers around the young ones head so it can watch and learn more quickly.I have also used a product called Kay-tee Exact Parrot hand feeding formula which is a powder you mix with water and feed through a syringe. I mostly will use this to feed much younger birds still in the nest that are not getting enough to eat. In fact I have used this product to feed newly hatched babies that did not get fed right off by their parents. I do this by placing the mixture in a small syringe with a 16 gauge needle on the end. I file the point off of the needle and make it smooth and round. I can then use this to feed the baby. I have saved many tiny little ones this way. The product has all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals as well as the natural gut bacteria the young birds need. I always keep some on hand.

Feed the newly weaned young Jacobins morning and evening giving a variety of healthy grains to stimulate them to eat and increase appetite. Provide only clean, fresh water and a good grit mixture to aid in digestion. I like to give vitamins in the water a couple of times a week. It is extremely important at this time to keep the environment the young birds are in dry with lots of fresh air without drafts and allow them as much sunshine as possible. Dampness and darkness breeds sickness.Watch for signs of canker (trichomoniasis)in the young birds at this time. It will often show up as cheese like lumps or growths in the birds mouth and throat. This can easily be treated if caught in the early stages. Just contact your nearest pigeon supply dealer and they should have a product to treat this.

This is only my experience with my breeding and conditioning system. In the past several years I have had no problems getting my young birds weaned. I have not had to hand feed any of them and they have remained healthy through the entire weaning process.

††††††††††† I have seen many different breeding systems that work. My friend Guy Perreault does not even wean most of his young Jacobins. Feeders raise most of them and the young Jacobins just stay with the feeders until fall when he splits up his breeders. Guy always raises lots of young Jacobins and his birds are always in top shape.

Find out what system works for you and stick with it.

Clint Robertson Email: clint@jacobins.ca