Dr. Walker experiments with feeding sorghum seed to zebra finches in order to get more females per hatch.
Some years ago, while doing research on the properties of sorghum seed, I discovered that a genetic female hormone was quite prevalent in these small, glossy kernels.
I had a feeling that this sorghum hormone could, perhaps, influence the percentage of hens hatched (female birds), and – to check this "hunch" – I set up an experiment using zebra finches. Because zebra finches regularly hatch up to four eggs a month, this breed seemed like the best choice available to me.
Before I began the research, these birds had hatched out a predictable half-and-half mixture of male and female finches.
I decided to keep a full dish of sorghum seeds in the aviary at all times and watch for developments.
At first the birds didn't show much interest in their new sorghum food, but over the course of three or four weeks-they began to feed on the sorghum before moving on to their regular feeders. This pattern steadily developed during both the morning and evening feedings. After two or three months, I began to notice a distinct increase in the number of female birds hatched.
By the end of the first year of sorghum-supplemented feeding, my finches produced close to four female birds for every 1 male bird hatched!
Unfortunately, other (and, at the moment, more important) matters interrupted my experiments before I could take the time to see if my "discovery" held true for larger birds, too.
I do hope to continue this research — as soon as time allows — with Marsh's Pharaoh Coturnix Quail. The Coturnix Quail are about the most prolific larger fowl that I've come across. Quail eggs hatch within 16 days, and the chicks actually begin laying eggs themselves by five or six weeks after hatching. Obviously, these qualities would help the experiments proceed quickly.
In the meantime, however, I'm glad to pass this little bit of information along to anyone who has a few chickens, geese, etc. and who would be interested in seeing if sorghum seed will increase the percentage of female chicks produced by these more practical barnyard fowls.
I can assure you that I've found nothing in sorghum that was not definitely beneficial to the health of any birds fed on this seed.
I'd appreciate it if any of you poultry-raising MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers who try this experiment with your own birds would drop me a line. I’d love to hear your results if you notice any.
Dr. N.W. Walker (D. Sc., Ph.D.) is from Phoenix, Arizona.
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