8 questions to Jan Van Looy, veteran breeder

1. Jan, why are zebrafinch ?

We have always had birds at home.
My father Lucien then started with the raising of zebrafinch and I started with the Glosters. With these canaries, I always managed to sell the best ! With zebrafinch, I had an illumination.
R. Jef has been my technical adviser, when it comes to exhibitions that have been Gust U .. Gradually the exhibition results have gone up.
We did not need more stimulating. So I knew a bird, a little bird even, but that fascinated me.

Money is not the least motivation. If you do for the money, you have to get rid of the good birds and the quality of your stump drops.

"So I knew a bird, a little bird even, but that fascinated me"

2. How is a day at home with your zebrafinch ?

Zebrafinch are scattered all over the house. The breeding room is in the cellar with 100% neon lighting. There is lighting from 9am until 10.30pm, winter and summer. Breeding starts in mid-December until the end of June, then the nests are removed.
If the morning at the time of the departure to the school, it is still the darkness, the integral care begin from 16h. It takes one hour a day for care. Every day fresh water acidified slightly, necessary to raise good browns! (in my opinion) The 50 show birds. are in the garage, where they are also "trained". The young go to 4 aviaries in the garden. During the exposure period, care is more intensive.

3. What are the important characteristics to become a top breeder ?

A breeder at the top is distinguished from others by "the eye of the master". Everyone can raise zebrafinch, everyone can achieve a good level of breeding. Why so few manage to reach the top?
What does a breeder see and what does a top breeder see in the same bird ? On the internet forums, fans disapprove pictures of birds of other amateurs. And that you have to analyze it. And yet, if you see the birds of these lovers, they are even worse than the bird they commented on. They will exhibit well with their birds. A class farmer finds more positive points in a zebrafinch than a middle class breeder, even though he may be an exellent healer. To him, you can quietly sell the best, after 2 to 3 years he has nothing left.

"You must have visibility : The overall image, you must be able to see the image and the details" This, you can learn a little but it must be in you at the beginning.
Another characteristic of a class farmer is that he knows how to calculate the risk of entering into his strain a zebrafinch with a fault, a risk that another will not try.

Many of these breeders at the top select as soon as weaning young. If these are not yet beautiful in colors and drawings, the defects of form are already present and are without forgiveness. So for years, I have practically already sold my surplus birds to traders.
Now I enjoy this severe selection: Tails drooping (I'm sick) still barely reach my stam. As an experienced breeder can / is / is prepared to trade the best birds. A good one for a good one ! I think of several very good breeders with whom I could exchange.

4. What are, in increasing order of importance, your selection criteria for mating ?

Step by step: To mate, you start breeding preparation! It lasts 3 weeks and works in phases.

Any farmed bird is caged separately, I administer a cure against lice by a drop in the neck with flagellamix. After a few days, a bath is given daily for 15 minutes to all birds.
During these 3 weeks, the birds do not receive pâté at home. Only if they enter the breeding cages and the nest is placed then they receive daily 1 small tray. They will continue to obtain it during the laying and rearing period.

The male is placed first in the breeding cage, then I look for a corresponding female. Consciously, because I am a typical male breeder.
The choice of breeding pairs. Model (form) - Type - Format (size), in this order, are my selection criteria. Color is something incidental to just about every variety of color that I bring up. With this shade that in brown, color and size are also important. A top-size brown is not a good brown of color. Brown is indeed the only color where the two dyes eumelanin and phaeomemlanin must be present in a maximal way. If you are a big pup, you go to schimmel birds (with long plumage) and for the brown you just need intensive. The physical and color characteristics must go together. Once you have reached a certain level, the contribution of color is the "finishing-touch".

There is also a connection with my method of early selection. You do not see it in young birds yet, but you can feel it. Take the zebrafinch in your hand without putting pressure on it. If your fingers touch the palm then it is too small. This is at least as important as the selection on the type-format-model that are my breeding characteristics. This one too are genetically fixed. A breeder is unfortunately often too focused on his exhibition results. The strength of a breeder is formed by the reserve birds that he has kept. I even kept about thirty reserve birds that are good to sell. You must indeed change during the breeding because all do not grow.

5. What do you think about breeding online and getting new blood ?

I do not use breeding books! Of my birds, I have no knowledge and I know everything about it. I recognize and feel the qualities of my birds.
My brown masked are all for 100% family to each other. I always couple young people to adults. I avoid mating between brother and sister. I only keep the old pairs if they give young beautiful. To obtain results it is necessary for me to use zebrafinch of the same family. The problem in zebrafinch is that some family lines do not support this type of method. The result is less quality in the young people obtained. Raising the line is the shortest way to the top if it's not good genetically.

To keep your line you need at least 6 pairs per line. Less than 6 couples, it can go, but there is the risk that when one or more couples do not walk, it is harmful for your line (not enough young people to renew). If it does not work with less than 6 couples, you only have the barbecue (irony).

Per year I buy about 3 zebrafinch. My starting point for the purchase is the ideal image that I formed. The fact that my birds have a very intense family line prevents the influence of foreign birds from being huge. Mating with one of my birds gives me an answer directly to the questions I asked myself about buying.

New blood, when should it be introduced ?

when your young people have the same quality as your adults. The reason : To not progress is to delay. I do not use zebrafinch bearing. My zebrafinch have a pretty big size. Mutations mutation x mutation is not necessarily harmful for the size (size), unless there are related factors in the couple, such as white chest and orange breast, gray cheeks and black cheeks, the red eye mutation in the masked and the clear back, and the thin head and the orange breast.
Who of you still knows these relationships ?
The copies that one does not have and that one does not find, it is necessary to raise it while passing by birds carrying. It is necessary in this case to look for zebrafinch suitable for the desired action. For example a strong head.

This means that a zebrafinch of bad color is for the breeder A, a zebrafinch of less quality, but for the breeder B this zebrafinch has the ideal head. If foreign birds add what I want I keep them.

6. Your secret mash ?

Simply: 1 bag of coed mixed with 1 bag orlux. I add 10 small spoons of breedmax and 5 small spoons of optibreed. Everything is moistened with acidic water.
Why two brands ? Zebrafinch eat up to 20% of protein. He found 13% to 15% in the seeds. Orlux is the only one who indicates the quantity on the packaging. In recent years searches of both brands, have increased the quality, especially at Cede. The constant is that by mixing the two marks the zebrafinch eat more. During the school holidays (where I have more time), I give twice a day the mash, I do not see any difference with once a day.
What is important is to offer the mash not too late in the day. Spend the night with a mix of seeds and mash in the crop is ideal for young people. I am constantly experimenting. Young people in the aviary receive Cédé's fat mash.

I prefer pure pie to that where animal protein is added. In my opinion, this brings with it aggression. In addition to zebrafinch, according to studies, do not eat insects.
The dose of protein in the food is too low. Young people require more protein and the amount required increases from their 3rd to 10th day after birth. So I add Breedmax and Optibreed to compensate. I only add it to the breeding stock and the dose is half of the dose indicated by the manufacturer. A surplus causes problems in the formation of joints.
Breedmax is also an ideal product to put the zebrafinch in breeding condition.

"Give only half of supplements like Breedemax"

7. Playing the best shows is high level sport. What are the secrets that will make the judge select your zebrafinch ?

The remarks on the judgment sheet do not interest me. I am more aware of the shortcomings of my zebrafinch than the judge. But the points of the judges have an influence on many breeders and the selection that these breeders make !
I do not participate anymore in Veenendaal (International competition, special mandarin diamonds and famous in the Netherlands). The Dutch judges are very good and fill the cards in an excellent way, but they evaluate the birds in a way that is too positive. Zebrafinch receive too many points even if they have big defects. If they continue in this direction, then the quality of the Dutch birds will disappear because the breeder will always keep these zebrafinch considered favorably. Faults will then multiply in the strains resulting in lower quality birds. In addition, I saw a 93 points to a white chest corrected mechanically. That an adjusted zebrafinch wins against a slightly smaller but ideal color zebrafinch, for me that's the end.
On the other hand I do not like the COM system (World Ornithological Confederation). There are too many differences between the points compared to the points of the local competitions. Judgments must be made with a view to a standard and not in relation to the size of the exhibition. Judging towards this standard is the solution and the points obtained locally, regionally, provincially at the specialized club ... must be the same.
Take the German system as an example. There you get with a brown, for example, the score "Good" and the first place at a local show, and the 10th place at a big show with the same concept "Good".

"The remarks on the sheet of judgment do not interest him"

Let's go back to the exhibitions. During the show, we have no comrades. We can be friends, exchange zebrafinch, but during the show we want to win, otherwise we have no record. It's hard sport, so you have to train zebrafinch as athletes. How ?
Throughout the year, my birds have access to plenty of food. When selecting for shows, they are limited in seeds. A teaspoon only but every day at the same time.

It is easy to calm the zebrafinch : You have to spend time with them. For 50 zebrafinchI take 2 hours a day. I never use a spray to wash them. I feel that vaporizing removes the shine of feathers. I offer them a bath for 15 minutes each day. If he bathes much better, but he should not wash every day. If he is washing, he cares for himself.
From August the birds are put in the cages, one per cage. The first 15 days, each zebrafinch is put in a bath of warm water and caged. This is done 3 to 4 times a day. A wet zebrafinch unless afraid of the healer, because he has no way to escape. You have to talk to him, touch the gate, ... This is the beginning of the training.
Regularly zebrafinch are taken in hand to control the plumage: The broken feathers are removed. In full exhibition season it is better to cut the feathers than to tear them off. In this case they do not grow back, and the time of regrowth can cost you the show season.
Cut a feather does not cause bleeding : They are dead parts. My breeding cages are only rinsed after breeding. But during the shows everything must remain propore. The cages are cleaned 3 times a week. I do not move the cages and I do not offer music.
I prepare my own birds. Preparation is a specialization. By acting on the level of details, the total image is corrected. Align flanks, remove small feathers too much, align the line of the eye, etc ... There is a lot to align !
But you have to do it in a way that you do not notice: Neither you nor I can do it later. After the preparation, I take a distance of two meters with the birds. If I see anything, the bird stays at home.

The day of basketing is the day of finishing : Clean the legs and the beaks. The bill is cleaned from the top to the tip with a 'Stanley' and greased with petroleum jelly. I do not understand fans who encircle zebrafinch dirty beaks. To finish with a vaporizer, I cloud my zebrafinch with water Birdyl. I place the males in front of the females for an hour to let them dry.
Never place a wet zebrafinch in the dark (it needs to move to dry).

I align them for the last test. This preparation takes me at least 3 hours. I only play (concoure) with zebrafinch in good shape. I have never, like so many others, perched champions in June. It takes a minimum of 6 weeks for a zebrafinch to be in condition. My opinion of my own birds, I give it only to my wife. And most of the time, I'm close to the result.

From my kids I get about 15% zebrafinch for shows. 10% is the minimum. If less than 10%, the couplings must be adjusted. I only prepare young people. The degeneration of a zebrafinch goes fast. A zebrafinch from 1 to 2 years is no longer at the top for me, it no longer has the condition of a young zebrafinch. We can see the difference between a zebrafinch that raised young people and one who did not. It is necessary to separate the zebrafinch from exhibitions and the others.
Look at the class B zebrafinch, how many are the zebrafinch of excellent condition ?

8. What is your advice for those who want to reach the top in zebrafinch ?

I give you 2 !
The patience to learn the "zebrafinch task". No one in the active generation has reached the top in 3 years. It takes time to learn.
They must learn how to raise and select zebrafinch and take the time to manage a strain.

A breeder of suits must be able to fall back on his own line of basic color zebrafinch, a base of 6 pairs. We see so many couples of different mutations but not the classics. The classics are not only gray and brown, but also black breasts, pure blackfaces, ... (mutations not combined).
Do not limit yourself to zebrafinch, from the point of view of knowledge. Look for information on each species. Experiment.

Finally, I have a wish: I dream of a hunchbacked zebrafinch. I give myself 10 years to realize it. But I'm afraid that a zebrafinch would never be calm enough to reach the specific position of a hunchback. I start next year with 4 couples in this direction : Zebrafinch high on legs, dangling tails (a dominant shape), a long thin head and a S-shaped body (curved). you have to put everything in the same zebrafinch : to try !

Jan Van Looy
Article written in 2009.

Belgische Zebravinken Club

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