Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs
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Spaniel Training Tips for the Weekend Warriorby Jim Keller
Question: I am training a couple of spaniels for Hunt Tests and Field Trials and want to setup some bird pens for training. What are some things I should consider for my training birds?
Answer: Whether you are training a first class hunting partner or the next field champion/master hunter, you will need to train at some point on pen raised birds during the off season. We spend a lot of time and money acquiring a good dog, taking care of their needs such as housing, veterinary care, food etc. The same thought needs to go into the training environment such as the birds and training grounds.
Let's start with some discussion on basic bird care and procurement.
There is a time old saying that "birds make the bird dog". Next to poor cover, poor birds have created more problems in bird dogs than I care to mention. One of the key elements of developing a good flushing spaniel is good flushing birds. I thought it would be a good idea to summarize some of the basics I have found important for our birds we use in our training program.
First, I want to make it clear that I don't raise birds. I purchase all of my game birds at the mature, flight ready stage. However, like most of us that train dogs we have found that flight ready birds need to be kept that way. Let’s discuss some basics.
Frugal versus cheap. One thing I have found over the years is that quite often cheap is as cheap does. Poor but cheap training birds usually end up costing more in the long run. Example, you are using a bunch of pigeons in training that are very weak and not getting up very well. You press through using up the birds only to develop a poor flush needing more birds to try to overcome the training you encouraged through using the poor birds.
Being frugal is important; we all need to watch our pennies. But birds have to be of good quality in order to get quality results. Buy and/or raise strong healthy birds and you will be rewarded with good training.
Caring for your birds keeps the quality of your investment until you are ready to use them in training. Over the years one of the best lessons we have learned is to keep your bird species separate. Pheasants have different needs than pigeons or chukar.
Pheasants need a good amount of space to thrive. The hotter the environment the more space you will need to reduce stress on the birds. Usually about 15 - 20 square foot per bird is adequate for long term maintenance. If you don't have a lot of space, consider buying smaller qualities and using them quicker. I prefer to train on hen pheasants until later in the summer or fall. Not that roosters are necessarily poor for training but they obviously are a lot bigger and when the temperatures of summer are hot they can be more challenging. They also are typically more cannibalistic especially during the mating season of spring and early summer. Almost as important as space is ground in which the pens is located. A well drained site such as gravel assist the birds in staying and keeping dry which in turn stresses them less.
I used to hate training with chukar partridge. We usually got great results when the birds first arrived only to get poorer and poorer results the longer we had them in the pen. The major problem was that we were not taking into consideration their needs as a game bird. Chukar seem to do well off the ground with good top shelter. Long exposure to cold and wet conditions are not good for the long term health of these birds. They are primarily a warm weather bird by origin and do better in the heat than most game birds.
We constructed off the ground pens with 1/2 x 1/2 inch bottom wire and 1x1 inch side wire. A 8xl2 foot pen can easily hold 40-50 birds. A good pellet food such as turkey grower keeps them strong.
Pigeons are pretty simple. They don't require a lot of floor space but they do like roosting options. We have an all weather building about double the size of an outhouse with multiple roosting pads attached to an external flight area. Birds can come and go to the flight area which is exposed to the weather. We encourage them to move around by having the waterers outside and the feed inside.
Pigeons are notorious for disease which is another reason to isolate them from your game birds. We have had some problems in the northeast with respiratory diseases in the last couple of years and have found Baytril to be a very effective broad spectrum medication for most respiratory problems. Baytril is reasonably inexpensive and easy to apply. The results have been great and we have seen instant results with Hocks that were not doing very well.
Cleaning your loft will require you to spray a diluted bleach solution (1 tablespoon bleach 1 / gallon water) to kill anything you may have stirred up. I like to put shavings or hay down between cleanings to keep things dry and clean.
Grit is important. Coarse feeds require it to properly digest food stuffs. We use gravel or cracked oyster/clamshells. Gravel floors need to be supplemented once in a while which aids in water absorption and helps to keep birds clean.
The less time spend in the bird pens the better. This keeps the birds spookier and in turn the birds usually perform better. We try to have enough food and water to keep from having to go into the pens for maintenance for several days. A real inexpensive watering system is the little giant bowl waterer that can be purchased for around fifteen dollars. These can be hooked up to a garden hose supply and require little maintenance. The more you are in the bird pens the tamer the birds usually become. We have seen a lot of mouth issues develop by using birds that are in poor condition. When using dip wing birds or birds you want to be picked up by the dog try to use fresh birds that are good and strong to get the best results. Remember, a good strong bird is better than a poor quality bird.
In a nutshell and investment in training, birds is an investment in training your dog.
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