Making The Big Switch

I’ve been on and off weight loss diets since I was a teenager. My focus as a parent was on providing a nutritious food for my growing children. I researched canine nutrition throughout the years I spent breeding St. Bernards. This lifelong focus on the significance of nutrition to all living things continues. I’m always looking for the best diet for my birds. If “You are what you eat.” holds true for people, it also holds true for the numerous parrots in our care.

Most breeders would agree with me that providing precisely balanced nourishment to our birds is an ongoing issue. I understood a long time ago that we were defeating ourselves by being overzealous in our pursuit of this objective. Our birds had been severely overfed. They seldom emptied their feeding plates before a fresh supply of seed was put in front of them. The discards revealed that each was devouring just its favorites from the variety provided.

Because of the sheer number of birds we feed, their wasteful tendencies have always irritated me. Because hulls are not digested and many seeds in the combination are not eaten at all, seeds have a 75% waste factor. Feeding the wild birds who flocked to our yard for a daily feast on the parrot’s discarded food accounted for a big percentage of our enormous feed expense! We were really concerned about the possibility that our birds were not obtaining a proper food. We never scrimped on seed combinations, only the finest and most costly were good enough for our birds.

A crock pot filled with beans, maize, peas, carrots, and other vegetables is a regular presence on the kitchen counter. “Apples for birds” is a shopping list staple, while our citrus trees give an endless supply of oranges. Our supplies included dozens of additions, mineral and vitamin supplements, and so forth. “Nothing is too excellent for our birds,” has been our mantra, and we are properly proud of our gorgeous, healthy birds and their amazing chicks. But, like other breeders, we have challenges on a regular basis. Most avian doctors seem to concur that the most of these issues, as well as the majority of bird disease, have a dietary component.

We started to doubt our tactics at this point. Are egg eaters calcium deficient? Despite our dietary supplements, the rickets in a clutch of African Grays are clearly a nutritional issue. Were they deficient in phosphorus and vitamin D? Is it possible that the occasional feather plucker is deficient in iodine? Low fertility among formerly productive couples is thought to be caused by a lack of protein and lysine. We had to recognize that though we were feeding a bunch of birds the same meal, their selection behaviors meant that each was on a separate diet defined by their individual likes and dislikes.

I was long persuaded that food in pellet form, with each pellet containing a balanced mix of the necessary elements, was the answer to the issue. For years, my St. Bernards had flourished on pelleted food; why shouldn’t the birds? I attempted numerous times in vain to make the switch, experimenting with different brands, but each time I gave up in despair. No matter how good the pellets were, they were useless if the birds didn’t consume them.

I got interested in a new sort of extruded food, EXACT, developed by Kaytee, around a year ago. I promised that this time we would succeed in making the huge move. This experience has taught me that other techniques are necessary. No one approach has been successful with all of the birds. Many people found that adding a modest and progressively increasing amount of pellets with the traditional seed diet worked well. Within two weeks, this group had comfortably advanced to an ALL EXACT diet with just a few fruits and vegetables added. Many of the birds, however, refused to cooperate and extra steps were necessary. The underlying issue seems to be that the bird would perceive this weird new object as food.

It’s my practice to wander around the aviary in the late afternoon and “visit” with the birds. To preserve our contact and allow me the chance to carefully study their situations, I provide them a nut or a piece of fruit from my hand, along with a short discussion. When they see me arriving, they rush to my side of the cage for their reward. I went about for two weeks with a pocket full of Exact and discovered that they were just as ready to receive an Exact morsel as a reward as they were a peanut. When the morsels were introduced in increasing amounts to their seed mixture, the birds recognized it. It was eaten with delight rather than being plucked out of the dish and abandoned.

When pellets are not taken by the bird for a few days, friends have informed me that taking them away and then waiting approximately a week before presenting them again has proven beneficial. Most of those who first refused them embraced them a week later. I’ve also seen that if I can get one or two birds to sample the new meal, the remainder will immediately emulate the eaters and join them at the pellet dish.

Handheld snacks were not a viable option for the large number of paired, wild, imported birds we had put up for breeding. We mixed the morsels into their regular veggie mix for them. We crushed them in thoroughly at first, then doing less mixing as the formed morsels became more visible. This, together with a very slow rise in the quantity of their seed combination, proved to be an effective strategy.

Converting our family pets was a very other story. The new meal was quickly accepted by our greedy young Gray Cheeks – no trouble there. Willy, our chatty African Gray, routinely scooped that strange-looking thing out of his food dish, piece by piece, and dumped it on the floor. He didn’t think much of it as a hand-held treat, either, having grown used to much more delicious treats multiple times a day. We persevered, and Willy is now eating Exact instead of seeds.

Exact is not picked up off the floor by our small Sheltie dog. She has been enjoying them from the beginning! Gonzo, our Yellow Naped Amazon and first pet, has been totally indulged by all of us for years and is still a straggler. His position near the kitchen keeps him on the lookout for any traces of human food. He then employs all of his charms to plead for a morsel. If charm fails, his repeated cries of “Want some! Want some!” are always successful. Who can blame him for being uninterested in bird food when scrambled eggs and chunks of steak are so readily available? We haven’t given up on him just yet, but progress is sluggish.

Shula, our similarly spoilt Tritan Cockatoo, has been relocated from the kitchen area to the patio and is now in a less advantageous begging position. He began by adding a few morsels to his all-time favorite, mashed potatoes, and has now accepted them as a big part of his diet.

Surprisingly, I’ve had a far more difficult time convincing my husband to feed Exact than I have the birds. Despite reading the long list of nutrients in this dish, he is still hesitant to abandon his former eating habits. He is worried by any drop in food intake, even if it is just for a day. I know he’s still privately persuaded that birds were designed to eat bird seed and is wary of any change. Converting him might take as long as the Yellow Nape!

Watching these birds build clutches of large, gorgeous chicks on Exact is gradually winning over my spouse. We have had a very trouble-free breeding season since we began utilizing Exact as our handfeeding formula. “This is simply too simple!” I thought at first. We just added hot tap water to the Exact Handfeeding formula and in a matter of seconds, there was new formula for each feeding! We were used to the never-ending ritual of preparing a lengthy list of ingredients, worrying about correct storage, and heating it to the perfect temperature. I am pleased to announce that we have now fed over 300 infants on Exact Handfeeding formula with just one case of sour crop (which immediately cleaned up) and no issues with delayed emptying. These have been the greatest infants we’ve ever had! I am certain that the fact that they are hand fed the same food that their parents have been feeding them, with no shock of change when removed from the nest, is a significant influence.

When my children were little, I was more concerned with their nutritional requirements than with putting a dish of vegetables and a platter of chocolate chip cookies on the table and letting them choose. Children cannot be trusted to pick what is important for their health and well-being over what tastes delicious. I must admit that I have never had the nerve to convert any of our birds to Exact. I, too, cannot face the notion of them being hungry for even a single day. I am confident, though, that after being enticed into eating only a few bites, they have realized that this, too, is edible food, and it is time to take a hard position. They will not go hungry with their customary amount of fruits and veggies and a dish of Exact before them.

Our chemicals and diet supplements rack is collecting dust. Our food expenses have significantly dropped. I am convinced that our birds are being fed better than ever before.

12/01/90 **** I published this essay about a year ago, and we are still feeding Exact. Gonzo, the Yellow Nape, eventually succumbed and converted. He now loves his Exact… and would not eat a seed!

Our birds have grown at least 25% in size, and we are always complimented on their wonderful health. Their plumage is incredibly stunning, with powerful and brilliant colors. They have brilliant eyes and a radiant radiance! I’m not sure how I ever fed seeds previously… I had no idea this diet would make such a big impact. We can now convert young birds to Exact in three to five days, and my husband shows everyone how!

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