Why is a fresh diet superior to a processed one? And if it is, then why do a majority of avian veterinarians recommend you feed pellets?
Let me preface this by saying you can’t just say “I’m not going to feed pellets” with the idea you can dump some other “easy” food in their bowls and be done with it. Store-bought dry mix – even the “good” ones – and defrosted frozen mixed veggies (you know, the peas/carrots/green beans/corn mixed ones) are NOT nutritious enough to allow your birds to thrive. Feeding a nutritionally complete fresh diet is HARD. It’s HARD work. It’s HARD studying to learn how to cover the entire spectrum of nutrients. It’s HARD to afford — fresh organic food is NOT cheap. But if you truly want to do the absolute best for your feathered family members, it’s the way to go.
And that brings us to the reason that so many vets recommend pellets. I have been told by more than one veterinarian that while they agree with what we feed, they have to be realistic. The “average” bird owner just wants something easy and cheap that they can pour into the bowl and feel like they’ve done right by their bird. I understand that. I really do. But we are trying to RAISE THE BAR here, not lower it just because it might be more “the norm.” If we accept pellets as inevitable, we are doing a great disservice by not encouraging and educating people who share their lives with birds to aim higher! And that’s why exactly why this article is being written.
Our message is aimed at those who we are hoping wish to not only raise the bar for standards of care of their birds, but desire to #GiveTheBarWings – take those standards to new heights! One very helpful step in achieving a commitment to feed your birds in the best way possible would be to join this group on Facebook:
Avian Raw Whole Food Nutrition
It’s an “on topic only” group that is heavily moderated to keep the focus on healthy, raw feeding. Note, they DO NOT cover baked or cooked foods, but we will discuss that further on into this article.
Our number one reason for feeding a primarily fresh-foods diet is we KNOW it’s got bio-available raw nutrients that will actually benefit the birds who eat it and it DOESN’T have artificial chemicals that may not benefit the birds and some that are actually harmful. One of these, menadione, is particularly odious as it is cytotoxic (cell-killing) to liver cells, negatively affects the immune system, and is banned from human consumption in the United States. It’s in a great many processed animal diets including dog kibbles, cat kibbles and many pelleted diets intended for parrots. The fact that it’s illegal for human consumption is reason enough for us to avoid it. This is something we know we do not want in our birds’ diet!
Another reason we feed a fresh diet that it tastes better. Would you want to eat a Cheerios or Grape-Nuts as 80% of YOUR diet? I surely would not. We like variety in our foods and so do parrots. Most pellets are not very appealing. All you have to do to see proof of this is browse Internet groups or forums where people are posting questions about how to “make” their birds eat pellets. If they tasted good, converting birds over to eating them would be easy. Manufacturers often resort to making them less healthy in order to encourage birds to eat them. After all, if your bird absolutely refuses to eat them, you will stop buying them. Zupreem adds artificial colors to some varieties, and sugar to their pellets to encourage birds to consume them. Roudybush sprays their pellets with PEANUT oil so that they will be more appealing. Yuck. Fresh food is already colorful and appealing if you are feeding a variety of produce in season. That’s what is natural to birds as their food choices change with location and with the seasons. The key is convincing birds who were hatched and not allowed to grow up as birds that natural foods are indeed foods.
That brings us to another point: how do we convert a bird who has eating an “all seed” diet or a pelleted diet to eating fresh, raw and wholesome foods? Sometimes we have to resort to the using what we like to refer to as a “bridge” food. Some refer to these as “gateway” foods as in “gateway” drugs that lead the user to try other drugs. We like to think of it as building the first steps of a bridge to healthier eating. Our bridge food, and one that seems to have universal appeal, is organic sweet corn. Corn isn’t as nutritious as some other foods, but it’s starchy and sweet and that appeals to picky little beaks. Even budgies will often recognize corn as food the first time it is presented. So this gets them to dive into the dish where, as they pick through to find the corn, they will taste other foods and develop likes and dislikes for other fresh foods.
We feed ONLY organic corn because conventional corn can often be GMO and this means it is “RoundUp-ready” which means it was genetically altered to be resistant to the killing effect of glyphosate – brand name “RoundUp”. No one wants their birds to eat food that’s been saturated in toxins. While pesticides are used in organic farming, they must meet certain criteria and be on a list of allowed substances. The absolute best strategy is to grow your own food but we understand not everyone can manage that. We have situation in that we know and trust our farmers that provide a large percentage of our produce. We have a good relationship with our food suppliers and are reasonably sure of the quality and purity of the foods we offer.
We also use breads and grain or grain/legume casseroles to introduce foods to our birds. If you have ever eaten pasta in your bird’s presence you may have already experienced their urge to try that spaghetti, macaroni or tortellini! What is it about pasta that makes it so tempting? I don’t know but I have seen an overwhelming percentage of birds that will taste pasta when they shun just about everything else. So the pasta becomes the bridge or “gateway” food, to allow introduction of veggies! Just toss some fresh (or frozen) vegetables in the pasta just prior to serving.
The same goes for breads. We prepare everything from cake-like breads (one is actually an adaptation of carrot cake, no frosting and baked as muffins), to cornbreads. We have added everything from cauliflowers, corn, greens and even sweet potatoes and squash! It never fails to amaze me how birds that shun anything that looks like a fresh vegetable will devour the same if baked into a bread. Do we feed breads every day? No. There are healthier options for every day feeding. But if this gets our picky eaters to try new veggies, it can’t be all bad!
The main point here is that feeding your birds an APPROPRIATE DIET is NOT EASY. If you want to take the easy route, then we recommend you follow your vet’s advice and stick with pelleted foods. If you want to do what’s healthiest, then prepare for lots of hard work, and lots of learning about avian nutrition!
Coming up, we will address SPROUTING in great detail, because it’s a VERY important part of a natural diet – as are living foods and greens. But for now, we strongly recommend at least browsing the group: Avian Raw Whole Food Nutrition — as an excellent learning resource on your journey to a healthier diet for your beloved avian companions!