WHY DO WE FEED EGGFOOD

KRISTEN REEVES, MEADOWLARK FARMS AVIAN SUPPLY, INC.

One  of our readers has asked some VERY good questions. So good that I felt I should make sure my response was shared for all to see. 

It is important that you know I don’t do ANYTHING in my aviary without researching both the benefits and potential detriment FIRST. I have spent YEARS doing nothing but test and research. I have seen the results of each test or trial, and base MY actions on my findings. I trust myself to know, not because I have some kind of fancy degree, but because the proof is in the pudding.

When I first started out, I did the same thing a lot of other breeders have done - I read everything I could and considered it FACT. But when I started seeing a reason to QUESTION those so-called "facts", I began to do my own studies. When you produce healthy, robust, prolific and LONG LIVED birds, you know you are doing it right.


Get the nutrition right, and you'll see very few issues in the aviary....

Every single bird keeper may have a differing opinion, and that’s okay as long as they know WHY they do what they do. If you merely read it somewhere and are just following along, you should seriously rethink what you are doing.  You need to know WHY you do what you do. If you can answer that question with facts and back your answer with PROOF, then by all means, keep doing it! But if you don’t know WHY you are doing it, it may be time to question your own methods!

Below are MY answers. I know WHY I do what I do and have explained below:

Question 1 - How long have been breeding finches?

Answer - I've been keeping finches since the very end of 1998. I didn't start breeding them until the end of 1999 (and consider that when I actually started keeping them) and went about it very slowly at first because I had no clue what I was doing. And while I now breed Australians almost exclusively, I've kept and bred just about every type of finch available to us in the USA.

My intense journey of observation and research started when I panicked and thought one of my very first chicks had tumors in its throat (it was a Zebra finch and had seed in the crop) and was laughed at by a local bird store owner. That was when I realized I needed to RESEARCH everything about these birds so I never sounded like an idiot again - so that I was never laughed at again!

That research has led me to disprove many of the myths surrounding our captive finches, and has pushed me to further my research and expand it into the diagnostic. I have a need. I NEED to know what makes them tick, and I WILL figure it ALL out, even if it takes me years longer.

I will never consider myself an expert. There is and always will be far too much more to learn! It may take me years to learn all I want to know, but I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life doing so! The questions in my head lead to research projects. Those research projects sometimes lead to more questions, but more often lead to answers. Those answers are backed by consistently documented hard fact.

Reading books and listening to other more experienced breeders is a fine way to get a very basic understanding, but witnessing first hand the results of each action IN YOUR OWN FLOCK is the only way to prove or disprove what you've read.

Keeping impeccable records that include everything from food & supplements, when they were given, how long they were given, every feather change, every weight change, every measurement at each age milestone, and dates for every change - the finest details - is the only way to prove anything. And of course CONSISTENCY IS KEY, so that is what I've done consistently since that first embarrassing mishap with the Zebra chick and throughout my birding career.

Question 2 - Has egg food been part of your finch's diet throughout?

Answer - Egg food is and has been a part of my finches diets since the beginning.

At first I didn’t know WHY because I was just following along and doing what I had read. I offered it daily throughout the year. But my birds started to become obese. I had READ egg food was a must, yet it was not explained that there are bodily cycles for each species OR that each species has different requirements. When that little light clicked on in my brain, I began an extensive project. Through trial and error, research, and detailed record keeping, I realized there was a correlation to my healthy chicks, but also my fat birds.

Because of that research, I know WHY I feed it, but I also learned WHEN to feed it. They receive it throughout their lives, but daily ONLY during the critical periods of breeding & the molt. BECAUSE - in captivity, they require access to high protein foods (amino acids) to build muscle, produce eggs & feathers, and remain strong during the rigors of both breeding and the molt. In the wild, they won't have consistent access. Seasons change, and with that, the quality of the food sources change.  Egg is an excellent source and an easy way to provide it. But not every bird would find the appropriate quantities of quality protein sources in the wild year round, therefore they should not receive large amounts of protein year round in the captivity either.

I DO use substitutes like chitted seed for the quality of the nutrients, but it is often mixed with egg - whether in fresh or dried form - and it is only given during the cycles when it is most needed. It is NOT offered daily year round. It is only offered during the periods in which their cycles REQUIRE higher protein.

Consider this as an example: unless we live in Australia with Gouldians and can see what they actually eat in the wild, have the space to plant the actual seeding grasses they eat in the wild, have a massive open air outdoor aviary in which they have access to those items, and can simulate their natural surroundings in the wild, we cannot meet their nutritional needs without some kind of compromise.

The seed we feed them is often a poor substitute. There is very little nutrition in white proso millet - it is empty calories - yet unless you hand-mix your seed, proso is often a large portion of the finch mixes we find (at least here in the US), and the seed we purchase to feed them is far from fresh. It is rarely able to chit let alone grow - the nutritional value has far depleted by the time we have access to it.

But not only is the seed barely similar to what they'd eat in the wild, it just isn't going to give them what they NEED. That is why, in addition to egg food, I also supplement with calcium, iodine, a good vitamin supplement, and a fine grit mix. I have studied finch nutrition and have studied every brand of supplement on the market to compare their contents. I have my preferences as to which work best for MY aviary. I can see that if they are not supplemented, they will be lacking.

Egg food is a good way to supply some of what they need. But it must be fed at appropriate times. Too much protein can actually affect their internal organs. You must research each type of finch you keep or breed, find out what their cycles are and what they'd eat or "need" during each cycle, and feed according to those cycles.

A mixed flight containing finches from different continents will require a broader range of diets in order to keep those birds in peak health. Seed mixes are very different for each species, as are the nutritional requirements. Feeding all species the same diet can lead to obesity in some, while often causing malnutrition in others. Certainly they may look healthy outwardly because they are getting "enough" to survive, but they won't be getting what they NEED to thrive. If you are having poor breeding results in a mixed flight - or any aviary - take a close look at the nutrition. Chances are you'll find all of your problems may be corrected right there through diet.

Question 3 – How would you respond to someone who is voicing out against egg food and says it is not part of their natural diet so it should not be fed?

Answer - In the wild, Gouldians are foragers and long distance flyers. They spend time flying in flocks and on the ground sorting through tall grasses and sipping from what essentially amounts to puddles in some cases. They'd eat newly ripe seed heads, small insects, and even some green stuff - and feed it to their chicks - all dependent on what is available at the time.

They pick up grit from the dirt, and drink water that is high in minerals. Because they live in an area close to the ocean, their foods, the soil, and water they drink are higher in iodine content than that of birds who live inland, but there is a very fine line between too much and not enough. We must research what they need to know what to feed. The foods we feed them is often nutritionally deficient. If we don't fill that absence of nutrients - especially since many captive birds have been maintained from limited stock and now produce mutations that would have NEVER survived in the wild to begin with - we will end up with already genetically weak birds that are also nutritionally deficient.

The person questioning the feeding of egg food is absolutely CORRECT! They would NOT receive egg food in the wild. HOWEVER, they WOULD find foods to fill the void WE use egg food to fill! Egg food is a good way to get that much needed protein to breeding and molting birds. There may be times when we need to avoid it, but during breeding and molting is not one of those times! You must know your species and know what they need for each cycle of their lives in order for them to remain happy, healthy, and prolific! 

Again, get the nutrition right and you'll see very few problems in the aviary!