THE DEEP LITTER SYSTEM
By Mick Freakley (Freakley & Ainley)
Why do budgerigar breeders persist in using what is commonly known as the deep litter system? Breeding cages are set out at the onset of the breeding season, wood chippings or similar on the cage floor, iodine nibble, finger drawers, drinker etc, cages are then not properly cleaned again until the end of the breeding season.
The system allows the bird's droppings and soft food, old seed, etc to build up and create a wonderful medium on the cage floor where Bacteria can breed and thrive, couple this with the odd water drinker leaking and a heated bird room, and you have a created a disaster waiting to happen in your own establishment.
The deep litter system as far as I am aware is used in the Farming Industry, a cattle shed is filled with straw/hay and left with the cattle for the whole of the winter months, this will in time create a heat which is beneficial to the cattle, etc, during the colder months of winter.
In a budgerigar-breeding cage this is not the case, the litter is not going to create heat, because even at it's worse, it is only a matter of inches deep, and why would you want it to in a heated bird room anyway? The only reason I can see for this situation is the excuse by lazy fanciers who cannot be bothered to clean out on a regular basis.
I do not intend to upset anyone with that comment, but I can't see any beneficial reason for employing this system. Ok I have heard the arguments about disturbing the birds whilst they are breeding, but to be honest this is just another excuse, I can clean my cages without the hen even knowing about it, she will be incubating her eggs or tending her chicks in the nest box.
Most fanciers remove the copious dropping, we remove them two or three times a week, this is a simple operation, we have a piece of stainless steel under the perch, approximately 150mm wide, this can easily be removed and scraped clean on a daily basis if required whilst carrying out feeding duties, these will then be washed clean each week.
It is frightening to see what actually collects on the tray over a three-day period, imagine this times months, you can see this will cause problems. I once saw in one establishment I have no desire to ever visit again, where the droppings of the hen had actually reached the underside of the perch; she had to move along the perch to do her business.
Have you ever wondered why your best chick suddenly becomes ill and dies, or a cock bird becomes ill for no apparent reason, could it be something it has picked up on the floor of a dirty cage? I believe it happens more often than we care to believe.
When you look at some soft food recipes, they contain egg, carrot, sprouted seeds and many other ingredients that, if left in the cage for a period of time will create mould/bacteria growth on the floor of the cage, this is the problem area.
We employ at present two types of breeding cages, the all wire type which totally eliminates the problems of deep litter, the waste soft food, droppings etc, will drop through the wire bottom of the cage, into a tray, which in-turn can easily be removed, at no point can any of the birds peck around in dirty food stuffs.
Our other cages are the more conventional wooden breeding cages; we employ these as opposed to using all wire throughout, for use as stock cages for the show team during the show season. These measure approximately 24" x 18" x 15". Ian has recently altered his conventional cages to accommodate a wire bottom and tray, similar to the all wire cages. I will be converting my cages later this year.
I know some of you will be thinking that chicks like to peck around on the cage floor, granted they do, our birds also peck around, but we prefer them to be eating clean seed and millet sprays as opposed to contaminated food, this is provided on flat trays in the centre of the cages, away from the perches where the droppings accumulate.
We understand that a little more seed may be wasted in this way, as the chicks tend to scatter it about a little, some will get lost through the wire bottom, but lose your best chick/bird and the cost of the extra seed is of no consequence.
You may not wish to go to the trouble and expense of all wire cages or converting your cages in a similar fashion, but we would advise cleaning cages on a weekly basis, most fancier do remove the heavier droppings regularly, go further and remove ALL old food and seed as well.
The hen will usually stay in the nest box while you carry out this operation, and it is no problem if you get a cock bird that gets agitated, just to place him in a show cage for a short period, most times the cock will sit and let you get on with it once they get used to this routine.
The old saying prevention is better than cure certainly applies to here, and once you get in the habit it will soon become second nature. The benefits are obvious.
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