"As Dedicated as They Come"
By Simon Degenhard
After several conversations with my good friend, Robert “King Parrot King” North I was in no doubt that I had to visit Hunter Valley finch breeder, John Lane and his lovely wife Beryl. Robert will tell you that it took some convincing to get me to finally make the trip 4 hours down the Pacific Highway, but I’ll always maintain that it was fitting the visit into my schedule that was the problem!
Arriving at John and Beryl’s, I was greeted with a hearty hello and welcomed through the side gate and out the back of the property. Here I was confronted with a magnificent bank of finch aviaries that backed into a huge shed. They were well planted, yet immaculately kept, with everything a finch could want incorporated into each flight. We then walked in to the shed, where John showed me his indoor flights, food storage and hospital cages…..even prior to entering the shed, it was obvious that John wasn’t your run of the mill finch fanatic; finch breeder extraordinaire and nothing short of that mark is a more fitting description!
John has tried his hand at breeding many different birds and animals over the years, from racing pigeons and show poultry to his beloved finches, and has reached the pinnacle of each discipline without fail. His dedication to whatever he turns his hands to is inspiring and no doubt the reason for his amazing success.
Before moving to the Hunter Valley Region of NSW, John and Beryl resided in Cowra for many years, this is where they maintained a large collection of show poultry - John had a particular soft spot for Wheaten Old English Game Bantams and Beryl for Pekins. Prior to this, whilst living on the Central Coast of NSW, they were very well known in the racing pigeon fraternity. They raced their birds with the Newcastle Racing Pigeon Federation, among other clubs, where they achieved great success. I am very reliably told that John had a prominent plaque that sat on top of his racing pigeon loft that simply read “You Snooze, You Loose”! During this time they took on the best in both fields and came out on top. In fact, Robert tells me that “whether it was showing chickens or racing pigeons, John and Beryl’s birds were simply the best!”
In fact I am reliably told that John and Beryl’s chickens were so far ahead of the pack that they simply cleaned up at every show that they entered, including taking out the top prizes at the Sydney Royal Easter Show on numerous occasions. It is rumoured that their birds were so unbeatable that the powers that be came to the conclusion that the only way they could level the playing field again was to change the show standard, which subsequently happened……however, not willing to go down without a fight, John and Beryl immediately began breeding birds to suit and you guessed it, were back at the top in no time at all! When they eventually sold up prior to their move from Cowra to their current residence in the Hunter Valley, they had poultry breeders from wide and far attend the auction of their birds, so envied was their line of show chooks that other top breeders virtually stopped at nothing at the chance to acquire some.
Without a doubt it’s John’s attention to detail that is the driving force behind his success with all things feathered. He is a stickler for routine – the finches get certain supplementary foods spread out across the week, but always fed on the same days from one week to the next and this obviously suits the birds to a tee, as John’s results speak for themselves. He is meticulous in every aspect of his finch husbandry and seemingly never misses a beat along the way. When it comes to supplementary dietary items, John speaks incredibly highly of numerous products produced and/or sold by a small, true blue Aussie company from south of Sydney, by the name of Avian Vitality. John considers the Avian Vitality products to be second to none and believes without a doubt that they contribute significantly towards the great success that he has achieved with his finches. I will go into detail with regards to which products John has used in part II of this article.
As can be seen for the accompanying photos, John’s aviary setup is fantastic, both from a functionality point of view and that of being very suitable for the birds in question. John has utilised a very large shed that incorporates large planted outdoor flights, which lead into the shed at the rear to provide the birds with totally weatherproof shelter sections, along with a row of smaller indoor flights inside the shed. The outdoor flights feature an extensive electrified wire installation, which is incredibly efficient at deterring both cats and troublesome wild birds, such as Noisy Miners, and a very worthwhile addition to any finch setup. The aviaries also feature an extensive vermin wall, which is another imperative inclusion for any finch setup, if you’re serious about success with this wonderful group of birds.
Each of the outdoor flights is very nicely and thoughtfully planted. The species of plants used are all of benefit to the birds one way or another, whether it is as shelter, suitable nesting sites or a food source. From grasses to shrubs, they all work tremendously well together and provide the perfect environment for the birds.
As already mentioned the shelter sections are situated within the main structure of the shed, which both keeps inclement weather at bay and offers a cooler place to retreat on hot summer days. The concrete shed floor also stays dry this way and provides easy to clean, vermin proof inside quarters for the birds.
Some of the smaller indoor aviaries are used for breeding, whilst others serve as holding facilities. The birds held in these smaller aviaries are carefully selected for both compatibility and suitability with regards to being housed indoors, and the number of birds kept in each flight is kept to a minimum, as overcrowding is a sure way to limit success.
Each aviary has been fitted out to enable easy maintenance whether it is in regards to the day-to-day feeding routine or from a cleaning point of view. They incorporate smaller feeding doors, as well as larger doors for access into the flights, and all open into a fully wired walkway within the large shed, so that any potential escapees are stopped in their tracks well before they have access to the wide blue yonder!
What species of finch does John keep, I hear you ask? Well, as can be seen in the accompanying pics, whilst there’s certainly a variety of different finches, he doesn’t have them all, nor does John aspire to. Instead he has always preferred to keep multiple and unrelated pairs of a select number of species, which are both compatible when housed together and also well suited to the climatic conditions of the area in which he lives. The thought process behind this is simple, yet so very important if you wish to be well placed to achieve the greatest possible success with the birds that you keep. Firstly, by carefully choosing species that are compatible with each other, you will minimise the chances of the occurrence of problematic incidences of aggression amongst the different species housed. Secondly, by selecting species that are well suited to the climatic conditions of your particular area, you will lessen the chances of numerous health issues affecting the birds in your collection. And thirdly, by keeping multiple unrelated pairs of each species that you choose to have in your collection, you will be better placed to be able to offer unrelated young pairs when it comes time to move some of the birds that you breed onto other breeders.
So, back to the species found in John’s aviaries, at the time of writing the following were present: the Red-browed Firetail, Diamond Firetail, Painted Firetail, Yellow-rumped Finch, Black-throated Finch, Crimson Finch, Red Strawberry Finch, Napoleon Weaver, Tri-coloured Parrotfinch, Green Singing Finch, African Firefinch and Tri-coloured Nun. A great little list of species if I may say so myself; a wonderful mix of colours, birds that display a wide variety of different behaviours, that require a similar diet and that thrive under the natural climatic conditions encountered in the eastern Hunter Valley region of NSW.
Whilst I certainly have more to share from my visit to John and Beryl’s, I will leave the finer details of John’s routine for a future AvianLife Blog post. So stay tuned for part II of this article, which will feature a rundown of his feeding regime, including his finch diet staples and the various and very beneficial supplements given to the birds in his collection on particular days each week; info that you won’t want to miss!