Feeding

For the past sixteen years, I have fed my Gouldians a natural, home-made diet which includes a judicious use of “austerity feeding” during which only dry seed and water is offered for short intervals throughout the year. Wild Gouldians live in a grassland habitat where food availability is highly cyclical. During the breeding season, nutritious food is abundant, whereas during the dryer periods of the year, the birds are often forced to rely on a primarily dry seed diet supplemented by mineral rich water and soil. Gouldian researchers Mike Fidler and Stewart Evans introduced me to the concept

Dry Seed:

The backbone of my Gouldian diet is the Birds R Us “maintenance blend” available through www.fabulousfinch.com. My birds adore this seed mix, and the manufacturer, Bill Van Patten, in cooperation with Mike Fidler from Australia, goes to great lengths to supply only the freshest and highest quality seeds for the Birds R Us blends. Of all the seed mixes I have tried over the years, this one has been the most popular with my birds.

Soft Foods (eggfood and sprouted seed):

I have experienced excellent results by using home-made eggfood and sprouted seed as my primary protein sources. My eggfood is simply mashed, hard-boiled, organic eggs with the shells, onto which I sprinkle an immune-enhancing, home-made vitamin/mineral green powder (see “Supplements”) and organic cornmeal (for drying purposes). I serve eggfood once or twice per week in the non-breeding seasons (except during austerity periods) and daily during the breeding season.

Dark greens:

In addition to the minced vegetable medley that I add to the sprouted seed mix (described above), I offer dark green leafy vegetables to my Gouldians every day (except during austerity periods). Healthful choices include kale, collards, bok choy, dandelions, chard, turnip greens, beet greens and mustard greens. I consider these greens to be one of the most important aspects of my Gouldian diet, as dark greens are extremely popular with my birds, and they also offer innumerable health benefits in terms of disease prevention and easily-absorbed vitamin/mineral content.  I serve dark greens clipped up near a perch with a clothespin, and I often find the birds waiting by the perch for me to install the greens each morning. One of the best clutches my birds ever produced came from a redhead normal pair that fed their young absolutely nothing but dry seed and dark greens. I felt certain the babies would die on such a sparse diet, but they grew to be large, robust adults with lovely plumage.

 

function best when they receive rest periods from complex nutrition. Whenever my birds develop fatty abdomens, or when they are overdue for a molt, I will place them on a diet of dry seed and water for a two to four weeks, which quickly eliminates excess body fat and much of the time induces the molt. As soon as the birds begin to molt I restore my normal diet of greens and softfoods. I never remove self-serve supplements during an austerity period, as I never know whether a hen might need to lay an egg, or whether any given bird might need access to calcium/iodine etc. It is my understanding of Mike Fidler and Stewart Evan’s work (mentioned above) that austerity feeding used just before the breeding period will ensure a more productive breeding season; but I have not tested this application as I have only used austerity feeding for the purposes described above.

of austerity feeding in their book The Gouldian Finch, and their subsequent Australian field research has shown the tremendous health and breeding benefits of implementing two to six week periods of sparse feeding for captive Gouldians. It has certainly been my experience that the health

and vitality of my flock is maximized when protein foods and vitamin/mineral supplements are used with restraint. Some of the more noticeable indications of over-feeding are calcified (encrusted) beaks, long toenails and fatty abdomens. All of these problems are resolved by

lightening the load of dietary protein and vitamin/mineral supplements, particularly during non-breeding and non-molting periods of the year.

Austerity Feeding:

In my aviary, I use the term austerity feeding to mean an interval of two to four weeks during which my Gouldians receive only dry seed and water. It makes sense to me that Gouldians are not physiologically adapted to eat nutrient-dense foods year round, and that their metabolisms


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Supplements:

I offer several mineral supplements to which my Gouldians can help themselves at all times.  These supplements include:


- Kaytee Hi-Cal grit

- cuttlebone

- ground organic eggshells (from hard-boiled organic eggs, peeled, baked in the oven on warm for two hours, and then ground in a coffee grinder) or Twin Beaks eggshells.


 

Green Powder:

As a nutritional addition to my eggfood and sprouted seed, I make a homemade green powder which contains eggshell powder, kelp and alfalfa powders, and Avian Trio (bee pollen, propolis and royal jelly). The eggshells provide plenty of calcium carbonate; the kelp and alfalfa provide a vast supply of easily absorbable vitamins and minerals including iodine, as well as excellent immune system support; and the Avian Trio contains numerous additional nutrients as well as powerful disease prevention properties. I noticed a dramatic reduction in infectious disease (up to 85 percent) after incorporating this powder and the Primal Defense probiotics into my softfood protocol. Here is the recipe:


1 cup organic alfalfa powder

1 cup kelp powder

3/4 cup eggshell powder

1/2 cup Avian Trio


I mix all of the ingredients and store the powder in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator. In addition to the green powder and the Zoo Med vitamins/minerals, I add (Garden of Life) Primal Defense probiotics to my sprouted seed mix. I feel that Primal Defense works substantially better than other brands of probiotics because it is made from probiotic micro-organisms that live in soil. Wild Gouldians have unlimited access to these type of beneficial soil organisms, which affords them excellent natural protection against microbial pathogens. I have heard that Gouldians may not carry probiotic organisms in their digestive systems, but one way or the other, Primal Defense has dramatically reduced the occurrence of infectious disease in my flock.


For the green powder I prepare my own eggshell powder by boiling organic eggs for fifteen minutes, peeling the shells, baking the shells for a couple of hours at 200F, and then grinding the shells in a coffee grinder. The Avian Trio is available from multiple vendors online, and the kelp and organic alfalfa are available through www.mountainroseherbs.com, a reputable herb supplier that tests all their herbs for bacterial, fungal, heavy metal and other contaminants.

Water:

Since 1992, when I began breeding Gouldians, I have lived in three different homes. Each time I move, I thoroughly test my drinking water for microbial, metal and volatile contaminants. If the water is not completely safe to drink, I install a reverse osmosis water filter to ensure total purity for the bird’s drinking water. This eliminates the likelihood of chronic disease caused by parasites, coliform bacteria or other common drinking water contaminants. I consider birds’ fecal material left in drinking/bath water to be a major source of chronic disease in Gouldians; therefore, I place water dishes outside of the reach of overhead perches, and I change and wash drinking/bath water bowls twice daily.

I particularly enjoy serving sprouted seed since this is a food source that Gouldians find in the wild as dry seeds fall to the ground and sprout in rain-dampened soil. Sprouting dry seed increases the enzyme, vitamin and protein content of the seed, making it an ideal softfood for nestlings. My sprouts are prepared in a mason jar by soaking the Birds R Us seed mix in water and grapefruit seed extract (a non-toxic germ-killer) at 6 drops GSE per cup of water.
I set them to soak in the morning, leave them on the counter until just before bed, rinse several times, continue letting them sit them on the counter, and rinse again in the morning just before serving. I then mix organic vegetables (chopped in a processor) into the sprouts, including carrots, broccoli, dark greens, zucchini, yams, pea shoots, green beans, red peppers and cabbage. I find that while my Gouldians will barely touch the finely chopped vegetable medley when served on its own, they do seem to eat the vegetables when they are mixed with the sprouts. With all the health benefits that vegetables provide, I feel that the effort to prepare these foods is worth it. I also sprinkle a home-made green powder (see “Supplements”), Zoo Med (human grade) Avian Plus vitamin/mineral powder and Primal Defense probiotic powder into the sprouts. My birds truly love this mixture! During the breeding season, I serve sprouts daily; during non-breeding and non-austerity periods, I serve sprouts once or twice a week.