Controlled Feeding System provides Balanced Diet

How often it happens that a chance observation leads to the development of an important new product. Perhaps the mostquoted instance is Alexander Fleming’s observation that “a mould colony had anti-bacterial properties”. That observation, followed by much hard work, gave the world the antibiotics industry, and has saved millions of lives.


What follows describes the development of a feeding system for Budgerigars which also started from a chance observation.

The Budgerigar was first introduced into Britain by Gould in 1840. These birds were small, weighing about 35 grammes and measuring only 6.5 inches in length.

With the founding of the Budgerigar Society in 1925, by a group of far-sighted enthusiasts, came the stimulus to develop the potential of this remarkable bird. Today, while theBudgerigar Society Standard for an exhibition bird is some 8.5 inches in length, this feature is not the only one which has changed. There are others – width of face, thickness of shoulders and solidity of body, the whole frame coated with feathers, whose form ranges from what is technically called “Yellow” through Buff to double-Buff. The birds have lots of underdown, and directional feather is now also a feature.

The fanciers continue to develop the great genetic potential of the species, always seeking for that extra dimension, which will guarantee success on the show bench. What this means, of course, is that to-day’s show bird is very different from Gould’s originals. We must recognise these changes and the metabolic requirements they may have created, if we are to continue to develop the species.

We need now to look at the wider changes which have been taking place as that little Light Green bird has been developing into the show bird we know today.

The human population of the planet has increased at an alarming rate. In any other species it would be described as a plague, but since it concerns us, we try to ignore that fact. The result of this explosive increase has been the need to produce more food. That increase in output has often had to come from a reduced acreage of land. The increased output has been achieved by the use of more intensive farming methods.

New varieties of cereals yield many times the yield per acre of the older varieties; heavy use of artificial fertilisers increase further the output from the fields and these coupled with rapid re-use of the land for the next crop, all add to the pressure on nature.

Without doubt, the quantities of food have been produced to meet the demand, but what of the quality? Can we be sure that today’s high yielding cereals and seed crops are supplying the same balance of nutrients that was to be found in the older varieties under a gentler farming system?

In part the question is academic, because without the new varieties and higher yields we would not have fed the human population to the extent we have. Many more people would have died of starvation. The question remains however, “Is the total nutrient from seeds and cereals as it used to be?”

The answer to such a question is doubly important to a Budgerigar fancier, since it not only could concern his or her own diet, but also could be of importance to the well-being of the birds.

For a possible answer to such a question, we have to turn now to a company, Murphy & Son Ltd whose founder was running a bureau of Biotechnology at the beginning of this century, long before the word biotechnology became the buzzword that it is today.

The company has been closely associated with the fermentation and food industries for some 102 years. It’s laboratory has monitored products and given technical advice over that time and has developed skills in the management of yeasts and their fermentation behaviour.

Some years ago, in the course of their routine work, it became evident that from time to time, fermentations were slowing down, yeast vigour was being affected and yet it appeared that there was an adequate supply of main nutrients.

Careful investigation revealed that there were, at times, slightly lower levels of trace nutrients and minerals. These were not large differences, but since very low amounts of certain trace metals play a very important part in the living cell, the effects of adding trace nutrients to the growth medium was tested. The results were in many cases quite dramatic. Yeast was re-invigorated, fermentations returned to normal, yeast cells multiplied rapidly and produced healthy new cells.

So Murphy & Son Ltd has a new product which continues to serve the fermentation industry when it has problems. The “Wisdom of the Yeast” might have remained there, if it had not been for a Budgerigar enthusiast joining the company, namely the author of this page, John Bell.

It was not a quantum leap in thought to see that if yeasts, which depend for their nutrient on the products of cereal grains, can suffer from deficiencies in their feeding, the same might be happening to Budgerigars and other grain and seed-feeding birds.

The slow, painstaking investigation and observational work which followed the initial thought will not be described here, but the study has led to the development of a controlled system of feeding which provides a balanced diet for the birds and is straightforward for the fancier to operate.

It is most important to recognise that Pro-System provides a balanced diet, and additional feeding of supplements is both unnecessary and undesirable. The author is always willing to discuss matters of feeding with fanciers who may have a favourite nutrient.

To give some ideas of the straightforward nature of the diet, the main breeding trials were carried out using the following menu:


Category Amount
Plain Canary seed 50%
White Millet 25%
Yellow Millet 7.5%
Panicum Millet 7.5%
Japanese Millet 7.5%
Niger 2.5%
Mineralised grit with oystershell Available at all times
Pro-mineral Supplement Available at all times
Vitamin Supplement Solution: 1 tablet to 1.5 litres water (renewed daily)

N.B. This liquid is used to supply the drinking water for the birds. A fresh solution is made up of each day and drinkers are cleaned and replenished with fresh solution each day, as a matter of good hygiene.

It is also important as a general principle to ensure that all utensils and equipment such as nest-boxes are kept in a high state of cleanliness. Where practicable, boiling for several minutes in a suitable disinfectant solution is desirable.

Some observations made during the course of the trials are particularly noteworthy.

  1. Levels of fertility and hatching rate were excellent, this even applied to older hens whose age ranged from four to seven years. Several very obese birds which had been acquired, were placed in the main flight, where Pro-Mineral and Pro-Vitamins were available. The majority of these birds slimmed down, became active fliers and returned to breeding.
  2. The occurrence of adult birds failing to feed their chicks was almost eliminated.
  3. Excessive swelling of breeding hens was not encountered, even on leaving the nesting-box in the morning, hens appeared to be comfortable and passed firm fces.
  4. The fces from the breeding hens during egg-laying and incubation, were small, firm and free from objectionable odours.
  5. All nest-boxes were completely dry during egg-laying, sitting and rearing of chicks. This in itself is a very important feature, since it does not encourage the multiplication of bacteria.
  6. Within minutes of introducing the birds to the feeders containing Pro-mineral, they were sampling it with obvious enjoyment. Earlier observations and calculations with regard to consumption of cuttlefish, had created a puzzle, since the amount consumed was far in excess of what should be required for egg-laying needs. After the introduction of Pro-mineral it was clear that the birds had been consuming the cuttlefish for the trace mineral requirements and, in doing so, had been taking in an excess of the main minerals in the cuttlefish.
  7. As mentioned above, one feature of this system is that it makes it possible for the birds to live on a diet closer to that of their original desert habitat. The dry droppings are part of their natural water conservation and are a sign of normality.
  8. A good additional supplement to give to breeding birds is Whole Groats soaked in Cod-liver Oil and allowed to soak prior to feeding, for 24 hours. Give 1 oz per pair per day only. Rate of usage: to 1000 g Groats add 4000 I.Us Vit A (the ratio of vit A to vit D should be 10:1). N.B The above has been added in order that those who use this may check the ratio of A to D on the particular brand of Cod-liver Oil they use as this can vary widely.

A possibly interesting diagnostic feature may arise from the state of the droppings, since during the extended period of the trials, only two birds continued, for a period, to have wet droppings. This was diagnosed as due to a small infection of Trichomonas, though it had not reached the point of causing “reaching” which is normally associated with this problem. It may be that having established dry droppings as the normal, a deviation can be taken as a warning to examine the bird closely.

Good routine

As a matter of good practice, it is recommended that Dr John Baker’s finding on Trichomonas and his treatment using Emtryl be adhered to and the whole flock treated once per year as a matter of good routine.

Breeders who have already used the Pro-System for a complete breeding season, have reported that fanciers visiting their aviaries, comment on the increased level of noise and activity. A sure sign of well-being.

Having seen the marked improvement in the Budgerigars, we are left with wondering how far we humans are suffering from trace nutrient deficiencies.

Editor’s note: Dr John Baker, who has done some research into this question, says that modern intensive agriculture may have reduced the amount of micronutrients in seeds and this may occasionally happen with certain types of excessive fertiliser use, but it is equally likely to arise when crops are grown on naturally deficent soils. In addition a seed diet alone is insufficient for peak performance as seeds are naturally low in some micronutrients regardless of the type of soil and fertiliser use, so that some form of supplementation is required.

Original text Copyright 1995, John Bell.

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