BRIDGET BOULTON tells Nick West about her incredible first four years in the lizard canary fancy
“2009 was the first time I’d showed at the Classic,” she explains. “I didn’t do very well, but I learned a lot. The next year I couldn’t believe what happened when I won. I was very surprised. You always hope, but I didn’t think I was in with a shout. I’ve only been doing it for four years.”
Bridget lives in the picturesque village of Osmaston, in the Peak District. Thatched cottages, a village duck pond and an old church go to making one of the nicest places you could possibly wish to live. And Bridget makes the most of it: “I’ve got a nice big garden, with a shed that’s about 5.7m x 1.8m (19ft x 6ft). It’s got about 60 cages in it with an indoor flight and I’ve got an outdoor flight as well.”
When it comes to farming stock, Bridget tells me she makes full use of the surrounding countryside. “I believe in a lot of chickweed in summer and grass seed heads,” she says. “And I also pick berries for them, which probably comes from farming. I give my lizards quite a varied diet.”
Bridget also believes her outside flight is very important for her birds. She says: “An outside flight makes a difference to your birds for breeding because it gets them fitter. It’s something I certainly believe in. I think it’s good for them to have more room to fly around. If you keep them in breeding cages too long they get too fat.
“I put my hens in the flight the other day after the show season and they just went onto the floor, as if they didn’t know what to do. The thing was, they’d been in breeding cages for so long. So my birds go into the outside flight in preparation for the breeding season, so they can use their wings and to get them fitter.”
Bridget says that not all lizard breeders use outside flights: “I’m lucky I’ve got a big garden so I can have an outside flight. I think an outside flight enables the birds to get some sunshine and get fitter. I try to make my birds as comfortable as possible. I do have some heating in the birdroom because we’re a bit exposed up here in the Peak District, although generally canaries don’t need heat. Canaries are quite hardy, but because of where I live I have heating to stop the water freezing up.”
Bridget’s farming background may well be the secret to her breeding skills. She says: “Most of my working life has been in farming and I think you just get an eye. When you’ve got beef stock, you have to have the best. I worked on a farm for years. I’ve calved cows, everything. It’s hard work and I’ve got a bad back from working in the farm, but I enjoyed it. I love the outdoors. I don’t like being cooped up.”
But she’s also very keen to learn from her mistakes: “In my second year of breeding I bred quite a few and as I couldn’t keep them all I let some of them go and then realised I’d let some of the wrongs one go. I didn’t like to say no to people. When it came to breeding I realised I was short of birds as I’d let too many go. Now, I don’t like getting rid too soon. I’ve still got lots of stuff to learn.”
She says she listens to any advice and tries to take pointers on board. “They were telling me I’d got poor ground colour,” she tells me. “Either I wasn’t feeding the carophyll right or I’d got poor ground colour in the birds. So I thought I’ve got to crack this carophyll or find somebody that had some dark-based birds.
“One of my friends put me on to Harry Slater. He’d got some lovely dark ground birds, especially golds, good rowing as well, and that’s what I needed. So I went out and got some from him. He’s based in Long Eaton, which is in Derbyshire, but close to Nottinghamshire. Albert Hallam lives there too, who I bought my original stock from.”
That trip to Harry Slater’s was well worth it. “I came away with three really nice deep gold cocks and I think I’ve cracked the feeding this year. I only got one of Harry’s cocks to go down this season, but it’s a really nice dark bird. My silvers have gone really nice and dark now. A nice blacky-silver. So somewhere along the line it’s all coming through.”
Her approach to breeding and pairing up is very much intuitive. “I don’t know about genetics and stuff like that,” she admits. “I can’t get my head around it. You hear people saying all these genetic things about birds, feather quality and whatever. I go by visual signs and just make sure they’re not closely related. I don’t believe in closely related breedings. If I like the look of a hen, I’ll find a nice cock to go with her. That’s how I’ve always done it. Simplicity is the watchword for me.”
Bridget has been warmly welcomed into the lizard fancy, which she says she greatly appreciates. “Most people in the lizard fancy are very helpful,” she volunteers. “I help out at Kimberly CBS and South Notts CBS and I also do stuff at Ashbourne CBS, because that’s where you start, your local CBS. Most of the people I know are fantastic. Some are miserable if they haven’t had any success, but I’ve got some great friends through the fancy, which I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t gone into the lizards. Most are a good bunch.”
However, she does think that more women should come to the fore in breeding and showing. She says: “One of the problems is that there are women in the fancy who do lots of the keeping, but their husbands tend to take all the glory. The chap goes out to work, so somebody’s got to be there, if they can’t get back or whatever. There are loads of women that look after the birds. They just don’t come to the shows. The women do help out in the kitchen side of it. And if it weren’t for some of the chaps’ wives there wouldn’t be anyone to do the catering side. But it would be nice if some of the women stepped forward. I think we’d show the chaps a thing or two.”
Bridget says she’s happy with the way her showing career is going, but she says she needs to improve. She says: “It’s very satisfying. The trouble is now I’m scared – can I do it again? Can I keep it up? There’s going to be great expectations placed on me. I know I need to improve certain things. I need to improve on rowings on some of the birds. That’s what you do every year, you try to improve, improve, improve. I’d love to win the Classic again.
“Last year is my last year as a novice and then I go up to champion and that’ll sort me out, won’t it? I’ve got 35 birds at the moment. I’m pretty happy with my stock, but I’ve gone to Harry again and got some gold hens, which I was short of. But I’m only sticking to Harry, Albert and Dave Allen. I’ve not got any stock from anybody else now. The bloodline is those three and that’s what I’ll stick at.”
A popular fancier
We asked Huw Evans, the former LCA chairman and current Classic show secretary, to put Bridget’s recent showing success into context for us.
He said: “What makes Bridget’s achievement so remarkable is that she not only beat all the champions at our top show, but with a bird from a line that she has been developing over the last four years. That’s not luck. That’s a combination of skill and sound stockmanship. She was an extremely popular winner.
“Also, Bridget became LCA treasurer in 2009 because she wanted the job! She’s one of those people who roll up their sleeves and help out when there’s work to be done. Everyone likes and respects her.”
Nick West is deputy editor of Cage & Aviary Birds.