Do it yourself! Preparing a fresh diet, consisting of wholesome ingredients, need not require a tremendous amount of time and preparation. In fact, with the "mash" diet, preparation is done in advance for convenience. This method of feeding eliminates the daily slicing and dicing of fruits and vegetables. I make up ten days worth for nearly twenty pairs of birds; which takes about one and a half hours to complete (less time for fewer birds). Then serving is as simple as scooping out the correct amount for each bird or pair.
BENEFITS OF HOMEMADE DIET
First of all, I believe very strongly that the best diet in the world for birds is a homemade diet of fresh foods and appropriate supplements. It is really not difficult to do correctly and efficiently, and the health rewards are immeasurable. If a commercial brand must be used, one can purchase one without synthetic preservatives and additives, though an enzyme supplement is suggested to promote efficient digestion. Most importantly, a quality commercial brand is preferable to a homemade diet done incorrectly. If you are not going to take the time to prepare a fresh diet right, please don’t do it at all.
Birds have a high metabolic rate, therefore, I recommend a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, followed by fats and protein which can be supplied by a cornucopia of foods. Natural nutritional supplements may also be added to your bird’s diet. Foods, which contain a high water content, such as fruits and vegetables are ideal and provide our birds with enzymes and other life-promoting elements. Raw foods, with their abundance of nutrients and enzymes, are what our birds are adapted to, therefore, the best results will be obtained by offering them. Enzymes are an important part of our birds’ diets and are destroyed under low heat, between 105-115 degrees F or above. There are many types of enzymes at work in their bodies at all times. For example, enzymes maintain proper metabolic function of their bodies, stimulate production of antibodies which fight infection, aid in the digestion of food and help to breakdown and remove toxins in the blood. They are substances which make life possible. No vitamin, mineral or hormone can do any work without the presence of enzymes, as they are responsible for all the body’s biochemical reactions. A bird’s digestive organs produce some enzymes endogenously. However, food (plant) enzymes are necessary for optimum health; therefore, fresh raw foods should form a large part of the diet.
Energy foods are high in calories and are the main source of a bird’s diet in the wild. The amounts of nutrients required by an individual bird is influenced by species, age, sex, size, stress, illness/injury, environment, level of activity, hormonal status, type of diet consumed (its bioavailability) and nutritional status. Also, each bird is biochemically and genetically unique, therefore, dietary requirements may vary. Lifestyles of our birds should be a deciding factor in the quantities of what we feed, and the changes made when appropriate, for the various stages they encounter throughout their lives, such as growth, molting and breeding.
PREPARING THE HOMEMADE MASH DIET
Have you ever wondered how much of what you were serving your birds was actually eaten? How many times have you found most of their food thrown about, picked at, and wasted on the ground or on the bottom of their cages? We all know birds don’t have good manners at meal time and you never really know if they are getting all of the nutrients necessary for proper health. Well, the mash diet should help alleviate any doubts as all ingredients are minced through a food processor with the idea being that your birds cannot select only a few items, but will receive a wide range of nutrients with every beakful.
To begin, all ingredients are placed through the food processor briefly (with the exception of certain foods eaten readily) and then scooped into a 20-quart stainless steel pot for mixing. Note: Remember to always place a cover over the pot in between adding an ingredient to prevent oxidation from exposure to air. The mash is then placed in airtight containers and stored in the freezer, but must be removed to the refrigerator for thawing well in advance (30 to 36 hours for a five cup container). Scheduled feeding times are at 8:00 AM (mash) and 2:00 PM (seed mixture), simulating the natural eating patterns of birds in the wild. The 8:00 AM feeding provides them with enough to fill their crops throughout the morning hours. Although each pair is treated individually, about ½ cup per pair is the average (for medium-sized parrots). As you learn how each bird or pair will eat in each time period, the amount can be adjusted so that none is wasted. Any uneaten mash should be discarded after four to six hours to prevent spoilage, which if eaten, could cause bacterial infection. Special care should be taken in this matter, particularly in the warmer months. These frequent feeding times will also allow you the opportunity to observe your birds often, which is very important in keeping you closely in tune to their overall health. Feeding times may vary and are adjusted to your schedule; these are guidelines only.
MASH INGREDIENTS (ONE MEDIUM PARROT/TEN DAYS)
- Frozen Organic Vegetables: (corn, green beans, carrots, peas) 1/3 lb
- Fresh Organic Vegetables: ½ oz parsley, 1/8 large tomato, ½ chayote (fed raw), 3/4 oz sweet potatoes/yams, 3/4 oz medium white potatoes (fed lightly steamed, skins included).
- Bean Mix: (½ teaspoon each of the following beans and peas) black-eyed peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, green and yellow split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans, soy beans, mung beans. (Rinse and drain them well, soak in cold water 6 to 8 hours i8n the refrigerator. After soaking, boil them for 10 minutes, simmer for 20 minutes, using only enough water so that none is left after cooking, to preserve valuable vitamins.)
- Grains: (½ teaspoon each, added to beans, soak and boil) wheatberry, pearl barley, triticale, brown rice.
- Organic Greens: 1/3 large leaf of (fresh grown) comfrey and/or mustard greens. Comfrey is an herb providing vitamin A, B-complex, C & E; and it is one of the few plants known to contain vitamin B-12, normally found only in animal protein foods. Up to 33% protein is contained in the leaves and it is high in minerals. Mustard greens are high in vitamins A, B, C, calcium and iron. Frilly-leafed and broad-leafed are available.
- Organic Fruit: 1/8 large banana, 1/8 large apple, ½ oz whole grape, 1/4 teaspoon strawberries or cranberries seasonally).
- Seeds: (1/4 tsp each) pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, both provide calcium along with zinc, which aids in fertility. Sesame seeds also provide an additional source of the 8 "essential" amino acids which cannot be manufactured by a parrot’s body.
- Nutritional Supplements: 1/4 tsp powdered kelp (contains iodine, therefore, helps to prevent thyroid disorders, such as goiter); 1/4 tsp Blue Green Algae or alfalfa powder (aids in digestion, strengthens immune system, contains essential fatty acids, and is high density nutrition); sprinkle of Kyolic (garlic); Apple Cider Vinegar and Calcium Magnesium Liquid (all three supplements can be purchased at a natural foods store).
The recipe above can be used as a guide for a healthy diet. You may substitute an item for another equivalent food item; for instance, if a particular one is seasonally unavailable. Examples: collard or dandelion greens in place of comfrey or zucchini in place of chayote. In addition to the mash diet, orange chunks, celery sticks and almonds are served regularly. Also, occasionally served is mashed hard-boiled egg with shell included (boiled 20 minutes), whole grain wheat bread, and a natural cornbread, which are always eagerly consumed.
Supplements: An aged garlic extract can be sprinkled over the mash daily for its benefits in aiding digestion, stimulating the immune system, and keeping your Greys resistant to infection and disease. I use apple cider vinegar (ACV) over the mash using a plastic squirt bottle; ½ tsp for medium to large birds, 1/4 tsp for smaller species. ACV is an immunity enhancer; its natural antibiotic action protects your Greys from infections. It is rich in enzymes, potassium, and other important minerals, and aids in digestion and the assimilation of food. An organic non-distilled brand is recommended.
The high phosphorus to calcium ratio in most foods requires an increase in calcium through a quality supplement. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus should be 2.5:1, including D3. Extra calcium is provided daily by the use of a calcium magnesium liquid, while other species receive it regularly with frequency depending upon age, activity level and breeding cycles. Juvenile birds (under 1 year) and pairs which are aging or less active receive it more often, as are birds prior to and during egg laying, and while raising young. Remember that birds under stress (which includes extreme heat or cold) need additional calcium, as well as an increase in all essential nutrients.
The seeds, nuts and grains are offered in the afternoon and make up about 30% of the diet. Most seeds are beneficial, but you must be sure they come from a quality source. Ideally, some can be grown in your own environment, if space permits. The basis of my raw organic seed mixture is hulled millet 80%, hulled sunflower 5%, shelled peanuts 5%, rolled oats 5% and buckwheat 5%. The most important nutritive elements of seeds are the B-complex vitamins, vitamins A and E, unsaturated fatty acids, protein, phosphorus and calcium. For example, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are high in protein, plus all of the above vitamins, as well as magnesium, zinc, iodine and potassium. The value of seeds, nuts and grains along with beans and peas, are unsurpassed, especially in the sprouted form. Sprouting seeds will increase their total vitamin content and may be added to the morning mash. Seeds also have a positive effect on birds by supplying quick energy, beak stimulation and are certainly healthful in rationed amounts. Over indulgence of seed, especially fatty seed, such as sunflower, peanut, etc.. may crowd out other essential foods from the diet and can therefore result in nutritional deficiency as well as obesity. Your seed mix should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct light, and in airtight containers to prevent rancidity caused by oxidation. Some protection from rancidity will be provided by vitamin E, which is a natural antioxidant, and present in varying amounts in oil-bearing foods. NO more than six weeks worth should be purchased in advance.
Vitamin A deficiency is common in birds. Symptoms may include allergies, sinus trouble, sneezing, susceptibility to infection, rough dry skin, as well as abnormal hormone activity, possibly creating reproduction problems. Vitamin A aids in the growth and repair of body tissues and helps maintain smooth disease-free skin. Internally it helps protect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, lungs and gastrointestinal tract, thereby reducing the chance of infection. To ensure prevention of this deficiency we supplement our Greys’ diets with vitamin A, D and Omega-3 fatty acids with cod liver oil. A natural source of vitamin E is provided by wheat germ oil. While vitamin E assists in greater storage of vitamin A, it has also been shown in many studies to increase fertility and reproduction, and may improve stamina. We mix 1 tablespoon per pound of seed mix, or 2 or 3 drops (per bird) in their soft food or seed mix, slightly less for small species and a bit more for larger species.
Foods fed in the "live" (mostly raw) form certainly are superior and come the closest we can get to a natural diet. It will help our Greys become more resistant to infection and disease, by giving them a higher immunity level. It surely represents the basis of "preventive medicine."
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without permission of the author.
This article was revised and has been published in the Winter 1996 and Spring 1998 issues of The Grey Play Round Table Magazine.