It's sad but true that most of the research on the diet of avian species has been conducted on chooks. So presumably what we must deduct from that is if you want your birds to breed give them layers pellets and presumably nestlings will do best on growers mash !
Fortunately things are not quite that bad and in putting together a diet for the birds in the University of NSW Gouldian Research Station we have been able to come up with some facts to complement the 'street knowledge' that aviculturists have picked up over the years.
Furthermore, I am happy to announce that the Gouldian Project scientists of the University of NSW are working on the nutritional requirements of the Gouldian and two other finches, which is the first time that comprehensive research has ever been conducted on the dietary requirements of finches. This of course will be of tremendous future benefit to all branches of aviculture and is a world first for Australia.
In the meantime, if you dig around hard enough, there is research out there that can solve some of our commoner problems and one of them is egg binding.
Egg binding can be caused by a number of factors. It could be congenital,
in other words a birth defect, or age - the hen is too old or too young, or it could be disease in the reproductive tract. But these are relatively uncommon and in the main there is little you can do about it.
A far commoner reason is temperature. Cold nights or cold days tighten the muscles of the abdomen and make it difficult for the hen to pass the egg. This is particularly true of a virgin hen, although it may even occur in an experienced female when faced with a sudden drop in temperature.
Fortunately there is a simple solution to this. Whilst visiting S.Africa I had the pleasure of visiting Eelco Meijers aviaries. Now whilst there were probably many good points about his set up, there was one idea that was so simple and so obvious that it upset me to think I had never thought of it myself ! But then all the best ideas are blindingly obvious once some one else has thought of them !
The idea ? Well it's REALLY simple, just string an electric extension along your aviaries and hang up a 100watt infra red globe in each one approximately 350mm from the ground. I installed them in all our aviaries as soon as I got home and it has been a fantastic success. On a cold morning the whole aviary goes for a warm up before starting the days activities.
The fledglings and any sick birds stay there. As an extension to Eelco's idea, I am going to set traps up around my lamps which will make catching sick birds a synch.
And of course, heat is the cure to egg binding caused by muscle cramps.
There is another more complex, but unfortunately common cause to egg binding and that of course is calcium deficiency.
This is a little understood problem with many aviculturists believing all they have to do is to stuff more calcium into their poor birds. Unfortunately this is more often the cause of the problem, and the worst syndrome of this tactic is the practice of adding a calcium supplement to the birds drinking water. This is bad because it does not give the bird any control over its calcium intake and frequently leads to overdosing. The effect of overdosing of this type is to cause lesions of the liver and ultimately death.
Now this is the bit we all have to thoroughly understand.
Calcium can only be absorbed if:
1) There is 1 part of phosphorous to 2 parts calcium
2) The birds have adequate vitamin D3
This can either be provided by a minimum of half an hour per day of direct sunlight or via a vitamin supplement added to their diet.
3) There is manganese, zinc, copper, magnesium and possibly other trace minerals in their diet.
GET ANY OF THESE RATIOS WRONG AND YOU WILL GET EGG BINDING !
In other words, if there is a ratio of 1 part calcium to 1 part phosphorous or say no phosphorous at all, then the calcium will not be absorbed ,etc.
There are a number of homespun cures for egg binding, most of which can only make matters worse. One of the worst things to do is to increase the calcium level in the diet by adding it to soft foods, sprinkling on the greens, etc. This not only increases the imbalance but can also lead to lesions of the liver.
By far the easiest cure is to avoid the problem in the first place. This is best done by providing a calcium / mineral grit mixture and allowing the birds free choice. The birds, given the choice, will only eat as much as their body needs at the various stages of their life cycle. Obviously, when they are laying, they will need more calcium, but during austerity will need only sufficient to maintain their immune system [ Yes, they use calcium in other body functions too! ] so it is important that we allow them to vary their intake.
It is also important to provide a separate container of inert grit. That is, a grit which is virtually mineral free, so that the birds are not forced to use the calcium/mineral grit for normal digestion. This is important as finches need grit in their crop to grind up their food. For them it is the equivalent of our teeth.
This grinding process is particularly important when they are feeding newly hatched nestlings as at this stage, they grind the food up into a fine porridge and mix it with an oral secretion which partly digests the food before feeding
it to their young. You will have noticed the grit dishes go down much quicker in the breeding season.
To my knowledge, there is no commercially available calcium free grit in Australia, so at the University of NSW Gouldian Research Station we do this by providing a separate tray of washed river sand. Europeans and Americans are luckier and can buy purpose manufactured grit.
The calcium/phosphorous mineral grit we give the birds contains all the trace minerals needed, but we also provide cuttlefish bone which is rich in iodine as well as having many trace minerals.
Charcoal is a good source of phosphorous and of course, egg shells which have been sterilized by one and a half minutes in the microwave, or have been baked in the oven, have by definition, the correct balance of all the minerals including calcium and phosphorous. The only problem is, crushed eggshell is easily absorbed so you still need a grit.
Preventing egg binding is not just about calcium and phosphorous, it is also important that all of the body is functioning properly and that the birds are in good condition and have good muscle tone.
To achieve this you need to provide a good, balanced diet and an important part of this of course is your basic seed mix. Cheap, dusty seed mixes can lead to fungal infections or even worse and you need to be aware that the nutritional values of the seeds decline with age. A good fresh seed mix is worth its weight in gold - in fact we use just that - Golden Cob !
After researching and trying out many other brands we settled on Golden Cob Premium Finch seed mix because we thought it was the best as well as the cleanest and so minimised any health risk. All their seed is first graded and then goes through numerous screens to remove major foreign materials before going through a thorough cleaning process.
All this is done on site with modern equipment, they only use fresh seed and they also coat the seed with the oil based series vitamins A,D3 and E which ensures the correct uptake of calcium and the other minerals ensuring no egg binding even in aviaries which are shaded from sunlight.
A side benefit is that they also clean all the codling moth out of the seed !!
We used Golden Cob for over a year before we approached them to see if they would sponsor the research programme - so now I am delighted to say that not only do we feel we are getting the best seed available, we also get it free!!! Thankyou Master Foods !!
For a good part of the year. we also provide a complete soft food which also contains vitamin D3 as well as all the other elements needed to ensure a healthy and balanced diet.
We buy all our foods from Birds R Us who also sponsor the Save The Gouldian Fund by donating a dollar for every kilo of Complete Soft Food they sell. So you could do yourself and the Gouldian Fund a good turn by giving the Complete Soft Food a go !
Before any one says it - we do not recommend the above brands because they sponsor us. We had chosen and used them for a long time before we were sure we were happy with the products and only then did we approach them to sponsor us!