Fresh and Natural Mash Diet
by Alicia McWatters, M.S.
We all want the best for our birds, and nutrition plays a vital role in their health, happiness, reproduction, and longevity. Whether we own birds for the pleasure of their companionship as pets, of for breeding and producing quality offspring, we must consistently provide them with the highest quality and freshest foods available.
First of all, we would like to say that we very strongly believe the best diet in the world for birds is a home-made diet of fresh foods and appropriate supplements. It is really not difficult to do correctly and efficiently, and the health rewards for the birds are immeasurable. If a commercial brand must be used we can purchase one without synthetic preservatives and additives, though an enzyme supplement is suggested to promote efficient digestion. Most importantly, a quality commercial brand is preferable to a homemade diet done incorrectly. If you are not going to take the time to prepare a fresh diet right, please don’t do it at all.
Birds have a high metabolic rate, therefore we recommend a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, followed by fats and protein which can be supplied by a cornucopia of foods. Natural nutritional supplements may also be added to your bird’s diet. Foods, which contain a high-water-content, such as fruits and vegetables are ideal and provide our birds with enzymes and other life-promoting elements. Raw foods, with their abundance of nutrients and enzymes, are what our birds are biologically adapted to, therefore the best results will be attained when offering them. Enzyme sare an important part of our bird’s diet and are destroyed under low heat, between 105-115 degrees F or above. There are many types of enzymes at work in their bodies at all times. For example, they maintain proper metabolic function of their bodies, stimulate production of antibodies which fight infection, aid in the digestion of food and help to breakdown and remove toxins in the blood. They are substances which make life possible. No vitamin, mineral, or hormone can do any work without the presence of enzymes, as they are responsible for all the body’s biochemical reactions. A bird’s digestive organs produce some enzymes endogenously. However, food (plant) enzymes are necessary for optimum health, therefore, fresh raw foods should form a large part of the diet.
Energy foods are high in calories and are the main source of a bird’s diet in the wild. The amount of nutrients required by an individual bird is influenced by species, sex, size, stress, illness/injury, environment, level of activity, hormonal status, type of diet consumed (its bioavailability), and nutritional status. Also, each bird is biochemically and genetically unique, therefore their dietary requirements may vary. Lifestyles of our birds should be a factor in the quantities of what we feed, and changes made when appropriate, for the various stages they encounter throughout their lives, such as growth, molting, and breeding
Have you ever wondered how much of what you were serving your birds was actually eaten? How many times have you found most of their food thrown about, picked at, and wasted on the ground or at the bottom of their cages?
We all know birds don’t have good manners at meal time and you never really know if they are getting all of the proper nutrition. The “mash” diet will alleviate any doubt as all ingredients are minced through a food processor with the idea being that the birds cannot select only a few favorite items, but would receive a wide range of nutrients with every beak full.
Preparing a fresh diet consisting of wholesome ingredients need not require a drastic adjustment in preparation. In fact, with the mash diet, preparation is done in advance at your convenience. This method of feeding eliminates the daily slicing and dicing of fruits and vegetables. We make up ten day worth for nearly twenty pairs, which takes about one and a half hours to complete. Then, serving is as simple as scooping out the correct amount for each bird or pair. You can modify this recipe for feeding only one bird.
To begin, all ingredients are put through the food processor briefly (with the exception of certain foods eaten readily) and then scooped into a 20 quart stainless steel pot for mixing. Note: remember to always place cover over pot in between adding an ingredient to prevent oxidation. The mash is then placed in air tight containers and stored in the freezer, but must be removed to the refrigerator for thawing well in advance (30-36 hours for a 5 up container). Scheduled feeding times are at 8:00am (mash) and 2:00pm (seed mixture), simulating the natural eating patterns of birds in the wild. The 8:00 am feeding provides them with enough to fill their crops throughout the morning hours. Although each pair is treated individually, about ½ cup per pair is the average (for medium-sized parrots). As you learn how much each bird or pair will eat in each time period the amount can be adjusted so that none is wasted. Any uneaten mash should be discarded after four to six hours to prevent spoilage, which if eaten, could cause a bacterial infection. Special care should be taken in this matter, particularly in the warmer months. These frequent feeding times will also allow you the opportunity to observe your birds often, which is very important in keeping you closely in tune to their overall health. Feeding times may vary and are adjusted to your schedule: these are guidelines only.
- Frozen organic vegetables – (corn, carrots, peas) 12 lbs Fresh organic vegetables – 1 lb parsley, 5 large tomatoes, 3 chayote (fed raw), 3 medium sweet potatoes or yams, 4 medium white potatoes (fed lightly steamed, skins included).
- Bean mix – ( ½ cup each of the following beans and peas) black-eyed peas, pinto beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, green and yellow split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans , soy beans, mung beans. (Rinse and drain well, soak in cold water 6 to 8 hours in refrigerator. After soaking they are boiled for 10 minutes, simmer for 20 minutes, using only enough water so that none is left after cooking, to preserve valuable vitamins).
- Grains– (1/2 cup each, added to beans, soak, and boil) wheat berry, pearled barley, triticale, brown rice.
- Organic greens – (fresh grown) comfrey and/or mustard greens. Comfrey (an herb), which provides vitamin A, B-complex, c & E; one of the few plants known to contain vitamin B-12, normally found only in animal protein foods. Up to 33% protein is contained in the leaves and it is high in minerals. Mustard greens are high in vitamins A, B, C, calcium and iron. Frilly-leafed and broad-leafed are available. (about one dozen large leaves are used).
- Organic fruit – 5 large bananas, 5 large apples, 1 ½ lbs. of grapes fed whole, (1/4 cup strawberries or cranberries seasonally).
- Seeds – (1/4 cup each) pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, both provide an additional source of 8 “essential” amino acids which cannot be manufactured by a parrots body.
- Nutritional supplements – ¼ cup powdered kelp (contains iodine, therefore helps to prevent thyroid disorders, such as goiter), ¼ cup blue green algae or alfalfa powder (aids in digestion, strengthens immune system, contains essential fatty acids, and is nutrient dense), sprinkle of *Kyolic (garlic), *Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) and *Calcium Magnesium Liquid (* see below)
In addition, orange chunks, celery sticks, herbs, seedling grasses, ans shelled/unshelled almonds, are served regularly as well. Also, occasionally served is mashed hard-boiled egg with shell included (boiled 20 minutes), wholegrain wheat bread, and a “bird breeding/conditioning cornbread”, which is always eagerly consumed.
The above recipe can be used as a guide for a healthy diet. You may substitute an item for another equivalent food item; for instance, if a particular one is seasonally unavailable. Examples: collared or dandelion greens in place of comfrey, or zucchini in place of chayote. Some greens, such as spinach and beet greens contain calcium but the mineral is not well absorbed because of binding substances, called oxalates. The oxalates bind to the calcium and other minerals in the intestine and reduce the absorption of calcium along with these other valuable minerals. However, if your bird’s diet is sufficient in calcium, foods which contain oxalic acid, especially in the raw form, should not pose a problem if given in moderate amounts. It is also quite possible birds have the ability to break down these salts by the bacteria in their digestive tract.
*Kyolic ( garlic) can be sprinkled over the mash daily for its benefits in aiding digestion, stimulating the immune system, and keeping your bird’s resistant to infection and disease. We use Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) over the mash using a plastic squirt bottle. We use ½ tsp. for medium to large size birds, ¼ tsp. for smaller species. ACV is an immunity enhancer, its natural antibiotic action protects your birds from infections. It is rich in enzymes, potassium, and other important minerals, while also aiding in digestion and the assimilation of food. An organic non-distilled brand is recommended.
The high phosphorus ratio versus calcium inmost foods requires an increase in calcium through a quality supplement. The ratio of calcium to phosphorus, should be 2.5:1, including D3. Extra calcium is provided daily by the use of Calcium Magnesium Liquid by Nature’s Life for the requirements of the African Greys, while other species receive it regularly with frequency depending upon age, activity level, and breeding cycles. Juvenile birds (under 1 year) and pairs which are aging or less active receive it more often, as are birds prior to and during egg laying, and while raising young. Remember that birds under stress (which includes extreme heat or cold) need additional calcium, as well as an increase in all essential nutrients. We add 1 tsp. of the *CALCIUM MAGNESIUM LIQUID daily to the mash for each pair of Greys:other medium-sized birds, e.g., Amazons and Pionus use ½ tsp. per pair. Small birds, such as cockatiel size, use ¼ tsp. per pair. Large parrots, same for Greys. Adjust properly for a single bird.
The seeds, which are offered in the afternoon, make up about 30% of their total diet. Most seeds are beneficial, but you must be sure they come from a quality source. Ideally, some can be grown in your own environment, if space permits. The basis of our raw organic seed mixture is hulled millet 30%, hulled sunflower 5%, shelled peanuts 5%, rolled oats 5%, and buckwheat 5%. The most important nutritive elements of seeds are the B-complex vitamins, vitamins A and E, unsaturated fatty acids, protein, phosphorus, and calcium. For example, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are high in protein, plus all of the above vitamins as well as magnesium, zinc, iodine, and potassium. The value of seeds, nuts, and grains along with beans and peas, are unsurpassed, especially in the sprouted form. Sprouting seeds will increase their total vitamin content and may be added to the morning mash. Seeds also have a positive effect on birds by supplying quick energy, beak stimulation, and are certainly healthful in rationed amounts. Over indulgence of seed, especially fatty seed (such as sunflower, peanut, etc…) may crowd out other essential foods from the diet and can therefore result in nutritional deficiency as well as obesity. Your seed mix should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct light, and in air-tight containers to prevent rancidity caused by oxidation. Some protection from rancidity will be provided by vitamin E which is a natural anti-oxidant, and present in varying amounts in oil-bearing foods. No more than six weeks worth should be purchased in advance.
Vitamin A deficiency is common in birds. Symptoms may include allergies, sinus trouble, sneezing, susceptibility to infection, rough dry skin, as well as abnormal hormone activity, possibly creating reproduction problems. Vitamin A aids in the growth and repair of body tissues and helps maintain smooth disease free skin. Internally it helps protect the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, thereby reducing the chance of infection. To ensure prevention of this deficiency we supplement their diet with vitamin A, D, and Omega-3 fatty acids from cod liver oil. A natural source of vitamin E is provided by wheat germ oil. While vitamin E assists in greater storage of vitamin A, it has also been shown in many studies to increase fertility and reproduction, and may improve stamina. We mix 1 TBS. per lb. of seed mix, or 2-3 drops (per bird) in their soft food or seed mix, slightly less for small species ad a bit more for larger species.
For keeping our birds’ beaks active and healthy we provide them a constant supply of soft pine sticks, a variety of toys (i.e. acrylics, rawhide, wood, solid plastic loops and shapes) along with eucalyptus, acacia, and pyracantha branches. They are enjoyed for hours, fulfilling their instincts to chew as well as preventing boredom. You can lodge the thinner branches through the top of each aviary and your birds will have great fun climbing, hanging, and swinging from them. Be sure to use only safe and clean branches, plants, etc. in your bird’s environment.
Mash Shopping List
Ingredients 1 medium sized parrot For 10 pair
Frozen Organic Vegetables 1/3 pound 6 pounds
Fresh Organic Vegetables
Parsley ½ ounce ½ pound
Large tomatoes 1/8 tomato 2.5
Chayote ½ ounce 1.5
Medium sweet potatoes/yams ¾ ounce 1.3
Medium white potatoes ¾ ounce 2
Black-eyed peas ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Pinto beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Kidney beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Adzuki beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Green split peas ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Yellow split peas ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Garbanzo beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Black beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Soy beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Mung beans ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Wheat berry ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Pearled barley ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Triticale ½ teaspoon ¼cup
Brown rice ½ teaspoon ¼ cup
Comfrey and/or mustard greens 1/3 large leaf 6 large leaves
Large bananas 1/8 banana 2 1/2
Large apples 1/8 apple 2 1/2
Whole grapes ½ ounce ¾ pound
Strawberries or cranberries ¼ teaspoon 2 tablespoons
Pumpkin seeds ¼ teaspoon 2 tablespoons
Sesame seeds ¼ teaspoon 2 tablespoons
Powdered kelp ¼ teaspoon 2 tablespoons
Blue green algae or alfalfa powder ¼ teaspoon 2 tablespoons