Feeding For Breeding|
Many people wonder how to take care of their birds when they are expecting eggs or young in the nest. In fact, one of the most common questions I am asked is, "What should I feed a baby finch?" In most cases, you will not need to feed any babies directly, but rather provide the parents with a nutrient rich diet that is adequate for rearing their young. However, in order to breed birds successfully, good nutrition must be provided weeks before the first egg is ever laid.
A hen requires an adequate diet to allow her to meet the stresses that reproduction places on her body. The degree of this reproductive stress is directly related to how many eggs she lays.2 Usually a small number of eggs is laid and the nutrients required to produce them are taken from body stores.2 However, reproduction and hatchability will suffer if supplementation is not provided and body stores of vitamins become depleted.2 Each egg produced consists mostly of fat, protein, and calcium--the three nutrients that represent the largest increase in dietary demand during production.1 Therefore, in order for a hen to lay healthy eggs, higher levels of protein as well as higher levels of calcium are required in the diet.1 Providing calcium is important for minimizing the decalcification of bones as well as for preventing soft shelled eggs from forming.1 The hen will eat enough food to meet her energy (fat) demands, so you probably will not need to increase the fat content of the diet.1
In addition to amino acids, energy, and calcium, other nutrients (namely vitamins and minerals) are also required for healthy egg production. Together, these nutrients meet all of the embryo's needs for normal cell division, growth, and maturation.1 However, if a diet which allows for production is still deficient in any of these nutrients, embryo development may be abnormally affected1 or even ceased. Un-supplemented seed diets fed to hens which are experiencing vitamin deficiency often result in eggs that develop to a point but never hatch due to early embryonic death.1,2
If a nutrient-adequate diet was fed to a healthy, producing hen, fertilized eggs that do not experience any other problems (such as contamination, improper incubation, or breakage) will hatch. Shortly prior to hatch, the remaining portion of the yolk sac is absorbed into the abdominal cavity of the embryo.1 For the hatchling, this yolk sac acts as a temporary energy reservoir which may adequately supply nutrients for the first 1-3 days of life.1 Once the yolk is depleted, the chick must be fed an adequate diet by the parents in order to survive and grow. Because growth places such a heavy demand on the chick, nutrient requirements are now at the highest point they will ever be during the bird's normal life.1 The diet fed to chicks, therefore, must be formulated to meet the chicks' growth requirements and not the requirements of the parents.1,2 Nutrition during chick rearing is important for the health of the chicks, not their parents.2
In fact, the main reason for dramatically increasing the plane of nutrition given to the parents during breeding is to provide them with an adequate diet to feed their young.1 In addition to meeting the requirements for chick growth, other benefits should result from providing such a rich diet during breeding. For instance, proper daily feeding for optimal chick growth will decrease the duration of the chicks in the nest.1 Additionally, a moderately high plane of nutrition should optimize the parents' body stores by allowing for the ready repletion of depleted stores.1 This, in turn, promotes the rapid recycling of the hen through preparing her physiologically for laying a second clutch.1
As altricial birds, parent gouldians consume food and water which is stored in their crops until it is regurgitated for their chicks. Through their begging behaviors, chicks stimulate their parents to retrieve and deliver food back to the nest.2
In conclusion, here are some feeding tips for when you are expecting eggs or young in the nest:
- Preferably starting before any eggs are laid, feed the parents-to-be a high quality egg mix or appropriate, nutrient-rich soft food. Also, provide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily while breeding. Continue providing these supplements daily after the chicks hatch to act as a nestling food.
- Have a calcium source (such as cuttle bone, cooked & mashed eggshell, or ground-up oyster shell) available at all times.
1. Ritchie, B. W., Harrison, G. J., & Harrison, L. R. (1994). Avian medicine: Principles and application. Lake Worth, FL: Wingers Publishing.
2. Rosskopf, W. J., & Woerpel, R. W. (Eds.). (1996). Diseases of cage and aviary birds (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.