Breeding has been continuous since the early Africans started in November. As their normal cycle was winding down in March, the Australian and Asian finches began their cycle. Then, on June 1, I began trials with a protein boost which started a new breeding cycle for many species. Increased activity is really taking what little time I have for article writing and making it necessary to be in the bird rooms more. Here is a summary of what we are working on as well as subjects that cropped up in groups or private emails of late.
(The following is a report on trials begun using ground hemp seed. As of January 10, 2011, I stopped the trials due to long-term problems associated with digestion of the fats.)
It has become apparent that even though most of the species have enough protein from The Green Day Diet, others can benefit from an additional amount. As many people are aware, I am not in favor of using live food in a controlled breeding environment. It contains an irregular amount of protein that can’t be quantified and is usually lower than other means of protein delivery. Egg food has sufficed for most species, but to prevent tossing of chicks by some African species, a low-cost, easily-delivered source with a known stable protein content has been our goal. With a very short time of 45 days at trials, hemp seed is showing the possibilities of being that source.
Hemp seed has 34% protein and contains all 20 amino acids. It is a very good protein source for finches. Since the size of the seed is too large for some finch species to handle, I decided to grind it with a coffee grinder and add it to the egg food mix at ¼ cup per two dozen eggs. My main purpose was to try to even out sexes with some of the breeding birds, but I decided to go ahead and give all the birds the boost. Not only did it start off a breeding frenzy, but some of the Africans that didn’t breed or tossed chicks have begun breeding and turning out nice looking fledglings. The most noteworthy were two pair of Cutthroats which until they began eating the added protein simply tossed all of their chicks.
The downside to using hemp seed is that it contains fatty oils that can become rancid. By freezing seed until needed and refrigerating any unused portions, no sign of rancidity has surfaced. The other possible problem is a weight-gain and unwanted fat during non-breeding cycles.
I am also testing a higher protein boost on a few selected birds. It is made by a breeder friend in Detroit—Kristen Reeves, aka, Meadowlark Farms. She uses it on her Gouldians and by varying the amount she uses can attain a 5:1 ratio of hens to males. After a dozen years of working with this Protein Mix she has finally packaged it to sell and my babies are the first outside the Gouldian world to use it. A pair of Yellow Stars on the program just hatched eggs so it is premature to say what the results are.
At this point, I plan to use the protein boost only during times of breeding and remove it at non-breeding times. The two-fold benefit is that it gives the finches a resting period from this regimen, while still providing a very balanced and healthy food source using The Green Day Diet. Some breeders may feel this is still not enough, but with an austerity rest period that is more than two weeks, according to some Gouldian breeders I have talked to, there is a risk for the several mutations with weaker systems to fall ill and die. On the other hand, The Green Day Diet is a staple 365 days of the year and all of the birds that have been on it since its inception two years ago are alive, healthy, and steady producers. I don’t believe a prolonged austerity program is warranted.
I'm also working on calcium and hope to have an article in the Fall. The common sources people use for calcium are all calcium carbonate, the hardest form of calcium. Of the cuttlebone, oyster shell and chicken egg shell, the egg shell is the best. The egg shell is made of a crystalline form of c. carbonate and is gingerly held together by a matrix protein. When it comes time to dissolve the egg shell, the matrix protein also helps break it down, giving egg shell a solubility that is 60% higher than the other two. The best method is through plants which have digested the calcium and made it bioavailable. Since plants can’t supply all of the calcium that is needed during egg production, the addition of another source is needed. I’ll also explain how the calcium is stored and processed. Since finches are good self-regulators and will change their total dietary intake as needed, the only time I can ever see too much calcium entering the body is when it is given in a liquid form in their water, where they have no choice but to drink it. There's still a lot of work to do on it, and this is just a glimpse of what will be a better and more detailed explanation.
There's also the subject of Vitamin A, and how the animal form is full of retinol esters, but any other form is not. Retinoids are needed for vision and bone growth. The Vitamin A in plants, for instance, has been proven in the latest research to not have as high a value as once thought. So, when calculating Vitamin A intake, it's important to know which form we are talking about. The Vitamin A in the cod liver oil is a potent form, and where my birds get most of their Vitamin A. Retinol esters are also present in chicken eggs and convert to Vitamin A. If people think there is a toxicity problem with Vitamin A in using vegetables, it basically cannot happen.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Another subject that has come up in groups or private emailings is ACV. It must be Apple Cider, and not any other type of vinegar. It is a great inhibitor of yeast in the finch’s gut and also takes care of other little bugs and puts a nice sheen on feathers. During the cooler months, I use 1 teaspoon per gallon in the drinking water, and 2 teaspoons per gallon during the hot summers. Every day.
I use as little as possible, and in the current group of over 500 finches, I have only one bird under medication, using Colloidal Silver. About twice a year I do make a general “cleansing” and run a 5-day prophylactic treatment of Trimethoprim on all birds. It is a sulfa drug and covers the most common finch ailments. If medicating in the drinking water, there is one thing you need to keep in mind. Not all birds drink a lot of water. Those that originally come from arid lands have adapted to conserve body fluids and their intake is less. This includes many African species, and I have noticed the Diamond Firetails from the Austral-Asian region use very little. You may have to resort to dusting their seed or soft food with meds or administer them orally.
Medications are best used sparingly, as they weaken the body (human, animal, bird, fish). Using methods that are not as harsh are preferable. The first preventative is a healthy diet along with a clean environment. This includes circulating air for indoor breeders. Clean water daily also cuts down on pathogens and the birds appreciate it for their baths. Using ACV in the water and some of the older sulfa drugs and Colloidal Silver are effective yet don’t have the liabilities some modern medications pose. This is not to say I don't have an arsenal of potent drugs. Sometimes they really are needed.
I think we are all looking for ways to make our birds better. The first step is understanding their needs and simply, “how they work.” As I keep refining what I do, I see the changes for the better—health, size, form, color, breeding. I had someone ask me in an email this week where he could find Zebra finches for sale and was surprised by my answer. All of my breeding stock originally came from Petsmart or Petco. Some of their birds may not look like they have potential to become show birds, but by using good husbandry, each generation does improve and I’m proud of the quality of Zebras I have. It’s there. We just have to bring it out.