I would like to share my thoughts on Dr. Christine Sheppard‚s article
on avian diets printed in the NAS January Bulletin.
I believe many people read Dr. Sheppard‚s article and took it somewhat
out of context. It is a very good
possibility that some captive species would perish if these recommendations were
taken literally. It‚s essential
to understand the context of the recommendations and then apply them to captive
raised birds. Let me explain the
reasoning behind my madness.
Captive birds in our facilities CAN NOT live on the dame diet as wild
counter parts. Dr. Sheppard‚s findings center on wild birds that are very
active Ų searching for food all day long, picking the ground and flying form
area to area, searching, searching, searching.
The heavy activity burns up excessive protein and minerals, and the high
protein content does not harm them in the long term. A wild birds diet and their protein and/or mineral
consumption varies from day to day. For
example, a bird might consume 35% protein one day and 6% the next.
Availability of food varies with the day and season plus the birds have
what I call a sixth sense that lets them know what they need to eat to maintain
their bodies requirements.
difference between captive and wild birds diet is this availability of variety
or lack of it. Captive birds are
fed a processed commercial pellet diet that supplies them with the exact same
amount of protein and minerals daily. They
are solely at the mercy of their breeders feeding program.
Because captive breeders receive such a consistent and controlled diet, a
much different diet program is required that the wild counter part.
In human beings we see the same scenario.
A professional football player requires a very different diet than an
office executive. Each person‚s
body requirements are different and must be controlled correctly for a long and
healthy life. If a diet doesn‚t
match the lifestyle, it can cause overweight, heart and kidney problems and
possibly death. There is absolutely
no difference for these birds. Matter
a fact, controlling diets in these birds is much more critical than with humans.
The key words here are „lifestyleš and „dietš.
It is very important that these two words work in conjunction for a
healthy and prosperous life for both birds and humans.
In my personal experience, I fed a very popular commercial feed for five
years until I started losing my breeding stock. Many birds died. After
a very through investigation, the results showed the birds died from Gout and
kidney failure caused from either too much protein and/or calcium in their diet.
The birds received fresh water everyday and were never without it, so the
problem wasn‚t from lack of water. The
cause was pinpointed to the commercial pelleted feed.
I sent the lab results to the feed manufacturer, and their response was
interesting. They explained ALL commercial diet today are designed for
large scale breeders who have a great number of birds in very large (10,000 sq.
feet or bigger) pens. The birds are
very active and social. The feed
also promotes offspring production. This
is the feed manufacturer‚s target market, not the small private breeder.
This was hard for me to believe.
Big breeders replace adult birds each or every other year and are only
looking for results for two years. They
are no concerned in the long-term picture of the birds.
The feed manufacturer admitted their breeder feed is not good for us, the
small breeder, and that his feed should probably not be feed to our stock.
They recommended a maintenance diet as a year around option.
But this creates another problem of insufficient protein and other
requirements during breeding season. Could
they develop a breeder feed for the small private breeder?
The answer: It won‚t be profitable enough.
I got the same reply from many feed manufacturers, but finally I found
Vandon Bosh Feeds to specialize in special diets for birds and animals.
With the help of their lab and staff of diet experts, a feed was
developed that the doctor calls the
Cadillac of feeds for the small breeder. Diet
requirements for many captive birds were researched, including the Gray peacock
pheasant and the Eared species from China which I specialize in .
The results confirmed what I
had been told by the other feed manufacturer that calcium and protein levels in
commercial feed today is not right for the private small breeder, and that
feeding maintenance diets year round wasn‚t a good option.
The calcium content in the commercial diets was too high.
As Dr. Sheppard‚s article concurred, these birds, including the hens
only require a 1% calcium level in their diet for a successfully laying season.
Anything over that percentage can only be harmful to the birds because it
can not be eliminated successfully from their digestive system.
Instead the calcium concentrates in the bird‚s kidneys and slowly kills
the bird. The silent killer can
take three to six years to be lethal. One
of the signs of this kidney problem is: fine
one day, dead the next. The 2 to
3.5% calcium content in today‚s commercial breeder feeds are designed for an
active hen laying between 60 to 100 eggs per season.
This percentage is especially too high for males who are often forgotten
when a breeder feed is selected. A
bird that lays 18-30 eggs per season requires a 1.5 % calcium diet.
A bird that lays 2-10 eggs per season requires less than 1% calcium diet
to be successful.
There are many types of calcium available.
The two most common sources of calcium in diets are Calcium Carbonate and
oyster shells. Calcium Carbonate is
used in many production feeds and is 100% absorbed by the bird‚s digestive
system. This is why very little is
needed in feed to be effective. Too
much can kill birds very quickly. In
oyster shells, the bird only absorbs 5% to 10% of the available calcium and in
reality, oyster shells are used more for a grit than for the calcium content.
Also, if oyster shell is mixed with the feed, it lowers the overall
protein level of the feed considerably. In
summary, ask you feed distributor about what type of calcium is used, the amount
used and if it effects the protein level of your feed.
As for the protein
level in the commercial feeds today, this becomes very complicated because many
breeders think protein is protein. Nothing
more Ų nothing less. Well this is
far from the truth. There are
hundreds of different combinations of ingredients that mills use in bird diets
to end up with any given protein level. The
key to a successful diet of protein for a particular stock is the breakdown of
individual ingredients in conjunction with the total protein content, not just
the total protein level.
You need to be concerned
about ingredients used to accomplish the feed‚s protein level.
the research on my Chinese stock, I closely examined diet in the wild.
I determined what they ate before, during and after the breeding season
in China. I was concerned about
what types of protein they ate, such as plant roots, bugs, leaves, etc.
But, I was not really concerned about the total protein level at this
point. Next I determined which
ingredients were available in the U.S. for
use in a manufactured feed. My
birds ate plant roots, foliage, and bugs in the wild.
Thus I added more alfalfa , fish and bone meal to their diet formula
which simulate natural ingredients but yet keep the total protein level
appropriate for captive stock. In many commercial diets, alfalfa meal accounts for about 5
to 25 pounds per ton of feed. In
the Vandon Bosh feed, it was raised to 400 pounds of Alfalfa meal per ton to
help simulate the plant roots in foliage that these birds require. Fishmeal was treated similarly, commercial feed uses about 25
pounds per ton. It was raised to
300 pounds per ton. These are
natural ingredients for the birds, instead of corn filler and other man made
ingredients in process feeds promote hens to breed and lay naturally as they do
in the wild. In turn fewer eggs are produced, and there is less stress on
the hens. Many commercial feeds
today, promote higher egg production than normal which adds additional stress
and shortens breeding stock life span.
Time to Review Feed Programs
conclusion, we must be more concerned about the feed we feed our birds.
We need to check the calcium and protein content of feed plus how
manufacturers obtain those levels. Now‚s
the time to start making necessary changes to help birds propagate successfully
and survive longer in captivity. Dr.
Sheppard‚s article should be used as a reference tool to help determine a
species diet in the wild, not to try to exactly duplicate her findings for that
species in captivity.
As always I‚d urge you to champion galliforms in captivity and in the wild by being active at the state, national and international level. If anyone has any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at (517) 871-9591. Ted Norris is an MBGBA Director and President of the World Pheasant Association-USA.
of this article elsewhere in any form without prior consent from the UPA
is strictly prohibited. © 1999 The United Peafowl Association. All rights