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 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, elongated beaks and 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.
The backbone of my Gouldian diet is a dry seed mix containing equal parts of canary seed, white proso millet, Japanese millet and German millet, as well as half parts of red Siberian millet and red proso millet. During austerity periods I will feed only this mix with no other foods. During breeding periods, I supplement the dry mix with a tenth part of black seeds including black lettuce, niger and thistle.
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 chopped, hard-boiled, organic eggs including their shells, onto which I sprinkle an immune-enhancing, home-made vitamin/mineral green powder (see “Supplements”) and organic cornmeal (for drying purposes). This eggfood lasts about five days in the refrigerator. I serve eggfood twice per week in the non-breeding cycles (except during austerity periods), and daily during the breeding season.
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 dry seed mix in water and Nutribiotic 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 into the sprouts a home-made green powder (see “Supplements”), Zoo Med Avian Plus vitamin/mineral powder which is human-grade, and Primal Defense probiotic powder. My birds truly love this mixture! During the breeding season, I serve sprouts daily; during non-breeding and non-austerity periods, I serve sprouts twice a week. Note that if the eggfood is not well-accepted by certain birds, I will mix the sprouts and eggfood together which seems to work well for fussy feeders. This is a perishable mixture, so I will not exceed six hours before replacing the sprouts and eggs with fresh servings.
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.
I offer several mineral supplements to which my Gouldians can help themselves at all times. These supplements include:
– Kaytee Hi-Cal grit
– ground organic eggshells (from hard-boiled organic eggs, peeled, baked in the oven at 200 F for 30 minutes, then ground in a coffee grinder) or Twin Beaks “Hatched” eggshells.
As a nutritional addition to my eggfood and sprouted seed, I make a homemade green powder which contains ground eggshells, kelp and alfalfa powders, and Frontier organic garlic powder. 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 garlic powder is effective in preventing infections. I noticed a dramatic reduction in infectious disease (I would estimate 90 percent) after incorporating this green 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 ground eggshells
1/2 cup Frontier garlic powder
I mix all of the ingredients and store the powder in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator. Kelp and organic alfalfa are available through http://www.mountainroseherbs.com, a reputable herb supplier that tests all their herbs for bacterial, fungal, heavy metal and other contaminants. Frontier organic garlic powder is widely available in stores and online, and eggshells can be home-made or purchased (Hatched egghsell powder by Twin Beaks Aviary is an excellent brand).
Primal Defense Probiotics:
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. Primal Defense probiotic is available through Amazon or IHerb – make sure to order the version in the round blue jar with 81 grams of powder. Other versions of Primal Defense contain additional ingredients that may not be safe for birds.
Zoo Med Avian Plus vitamin/mineral powder:
As mentioned above, I use a very small amount of Zoo Med Avian Plus powder to supplement my sprout mixture. I find that this product must be used judiciously to prevent signs of overdosing which include overgrown beaks and nails. Zoo Med vitamins are available through Amazon.
Sprouted seeds with Vegetable Chop:
– 1 cup sprouted seed
– 1/4 cup food processor chopped vegetables
-1/8 teaspoon green powder
-1/16 teaspoon Zoo Med Avian Plus vitamin minerals
-1/16 teaspoon Primal Defense probiotics
-3 hard boiled, 13 minute organic eggs, chopped fine in food processor
-3/4 cup organic corn meal
-1 teaspoon green powder
Eggfood can be stored for four to five days in the refrigerator. If birds prefer, eggfood can be mixed with sprouted seeds right before serving. Use one part eggfood to two parts seed. Make sure to replace this food twice daily in heat or for birds who are feeding young.
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 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 dry seed, greens and softfoods. I never remove self-serve supplements (ground eggshells, Kaytee HiCal grit, cuttlebone) during an austerity period, as I never know 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.
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. Gouldians love to bathe, and will thoroughly soak themselves each time fresh water appears.
For more information please see my sister site “Essentialbird”: https://essentialbird.com/a-natural-diet-for-finches-and-canaries/