January is an important month for catching up with all the big cleaning jobs and repairs. It is the best time of year for checking all the wire mesh and roof netting, and patching up any holes, as they are easier to see and mend now there is less greenery about.
This is a good time to top up any muddy areas in the aviaries with sand, wood chippings or gravel, with a bit extra sand for the birds to dust bathe in. Perches are also checked for cracks, and changed if necessary, in case birds claws get caught in them which can result in a nasty injury. Repair work done now is better for the birds, and our breeding results, as disturbing the birds too much during the spring and summer can put them off laying. It is also handier for us as we will be much busier later in the year with eggs and chicks to tend to. Now that we have more time we're less likely to miss something and no doubt manage the job better when haste, to complete it, is not an issue.
Although most nestboxes have already been removed, any still remaining will be taken out for a thorough clean and dry, in plenty of time to be replaced, before the breeding season commences.
Our incubation room is the one which always has to be spotless. It is vital that it is scrubbed and disinfected along with all the incubators. We already make sure everything is cleaned after use but we treat the incubators to a second wash and then fumigate them in our incubation room. Then it is time to test every piece of equipment to make sure it is all in working order. The incubators are left to run for a couple of days and thermometers are checked to make sure all readings are the same. This tends to be done late in January (or at least started towards the end of the month) so we still have time to order spares and have any damaged machinery repaired or replaced in plenty of time before eggs are laid. We will also run our generator again, if this has not been in recent use, as it would be a terrible tragedy to lose a lot of eggs or small chicks due to a power cut.
Due to plants being rather bare we make sure we have extra cut branches in all the pens for the hens to hide among. The cock pheasants can often turn aggressive on a sunny day, in late winter, even though daylight hours are still rather few. Playing on the safe side is best where pheasants are concerned and this experience has taught us to always be prepared.
We will have sold off some of our breeders the previous year to make room for young poults we were rearing and new birds we were buying in. Now we have some decisions to make. Although when we buy them our intention is to breed from our new birds there are always some that don't live up to the standard we want to keep. It's tough at times to have to reject birds we had high hopes for. If we've come to the conclusion they're impure or there's a health issue or even a minor fault which is likely to be carried on to the next generation we have to be ruthless and not use them as it's going to make breeding good birds unlikely at least in the majority of cases. At the time we sold our adults (during late spring and summer) we will have known we had those bloodlines continued by their progeny, which we will have kept back a few of. If we've not already done so, we will now pick out the birds we think, have the traits, which will benefit us the most to keep. I do feel at times that, I should be a judge on a tv show stating why this bird should go through to the next round and why this one is not quite good enough. To an experienced breeder most of our choices are probably obvious but it can seem strange at times if we sell a very tame bird and keep a wild one because he has one feature we like or keep a one eyed bird and sell off what looks perfect but the one eyed girl just happens to be a strong big bird despite her injury so is likely to be genetically sound and have a placid nature. We can't keep everything and sometimes I do regret selling a particular bird but it's lovely to hear from a customer who appreciates what we've sold whether that's one we've considered keeping for ourselves or a youngster we've reared from those we did. We want people to be pleased with their birds from us and we want to do the birds themselves justice. It's an important part of our job.
With so much to do, the dark and cold days of January soon disappear and the promise of a new and exciting season is just around the corner.