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Is soaking seeds

for pet birds

a good idea?

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Why Soak Seeds?
by R C McDonald
Copyright 2004

I first encountered the notion of soaking grain fed to livestock years ago. In the midst of a domestic crisis, I faced having to sell my beloved poultry due to lack of money for feed.

"Well, what're ya feedin' them that stuff fer?" one of my neighbours inquired, waving her hand at the bags of layer pellets stacked in the barn.

"Well, I tried feeding them mixed grains, but they weren't doing very well on it, and there was a lot of waste..." my voice trailed off. She was regarding me with the gently patient look she usually reserved for young children or idiots.

"Dry?" she inquired, folding her arms. One foot was beginning to tap, I noticed. I had a feeling I was missing something.

"Of course, what other way is there?" I responded, struggling not to squeak."- what other way?! Oooohhh!" she exclaimed, obviously at a loss for words. Finally, she asked, "You mean you've never heard of soaking grain before you feed it to your poultry? I can't believe it! I thought everybody knew to do that. They can't digest it properly, dry, unless it's ground or rolled, and soaking it's so much easier..." her voice trailed off. This time it was my turn to give her 'the look'.

"Why on earth would 'everybody' know that?" I demanded firmly, not realizing, of course, that what she was about to tell me would be useful to me (and used by me) for the rest of my life.

The concept was simple. You took a mixture of grains selected so their nutrient value would balance as much as possible. This mix was placed in a bucket with twice the amount of water and left overnight. In the morning the water was strained off and dumped on the garden, and the soaked grains rinsed, strained again, and then fed to the chickens.

Her father and grandfather had always done this, she said, and they always had a 'fine fat flock', with little to no problems with sick or unproductive birds. Crushed oyster shells were offered separately, to provide the calcium needed for producing eggshells, and the birds would be allowed to roam in a pasture in the afternoons, where they could glean insects and munch on greenery.

The biggest advantage to me was that this mixture of grains supplemented with the oyster shells, gave my birds a good diet at about half of the cost I'd been paying, or less. Thanks to my neighbor's advice, I was able to keep my flock.

Perhaps due to this background, when I first began keeping canaries it was natural to feed them soaked seed. The mixture that had served my chickens, doves, geese and ducks would not do for the canaries, however - they did not seem to like the taste of some of the grains in the mixture, and would not eat everything I served them.

I felt that it was important to find a mixture of grains that would be acceptable to them that would still supply adequate amounts of the nutrients needed during breeding and moulting - especially during the critical period when they were raising their babies - and so began a series of experiments.

It wasn't long before I found a mix of soaked grains and seeds that my canaries would eat reliably, but I wasn't entirely happy with the nutrient content, nor was I thrilled with the fact that my birds loved these soaked seeds so much that they would eat them exclusively to all the other foods they were offered, if given the chance.

I could see where this could cause problems, particularly during the critical nesting period when they were spending so much energy raising babies. Add in the fact that canary babies require constant supplies of nutrients at a high enough level to support their rapid rate of growth, and I could see the potential for problems.

Finally, I did not like the fact that the damp, soaked seeds would go sour fairly quickly if offered in amounts greater than the birds could eat in a few minutes.

How could I create a food high in the necessary nutrients that would remain stable reliably enough to offer in quantities large enough to provide steady nutrition for growing babies?

This was a bit of a quandary, in particular because some days I would be gone at work for 9 hours or more. Add in the fact that towards the end of breeding season in particular, the weather would be getting consistently quite warm, and you could have a recipe that could add up to disaster unless I could find a way to prevent the soaked seeds I offered from going sour. The problem was less significant when feeding adult birds who required some extra nutrition throughout the rest of the year; say, through the moult, or to help allay stress. I would be feeding only once a day in such cases, and all I had to do was to serve a small enough portion so that it would be eaten quickly.

In the end, I settled for a combination effect. My soak seed mix has varied a little over the years, but nowadays usually consists of something like 50 lbs each of canary grass and black oil sunflower seed, 40 lbs of canola, 20 lbs each of wheat berries and safflower seed, 10 lbs of buckwheat, and 5 lbs each of mung bean and raw sesame seed. (I include the sesame seeds because they are one of the few seeds high in a necessary protein factor rarely found in other seeds.)

These seeds would be soaked for 12 to 24 hours or so, rinsed well, and offered to the canaries, but first, they would be mixed with equal portions of either a good commercially available nestling food mix, or my homemade nestling food.

My homemade mix was based on ground whole-wheat breadcrumbs, rolled oats, and (depending on if there were babies in the nest or not) varying amounts of baby cereal. It always included powdered vitamins, minerals, and probiotics. To eat the soak seed, they would also have to eat the dry mixture the damp seeds were mixed together with, and so they would get more complete nutrition than if offered soaked seed alone.

The final factor in my multi-pronged approach was to buy cheap paper plates on which to serve the birds my soaked-seed and nestling food mixture. These plates would help absorb any excess moisture so the mixture tended to dry out, rather than go sour.

This meant that parent birds with babies to feed would be able to offer edible food to their youngsters for an hour or two longer than if I served their food in the usual dishes, where it would go sour quite quickly on a warm day. As long as I made sure that there was also plenty of dry seed, pellets, and greens available, the parents would have plenty of food to offer their youngsters, even when I was gone for most of the day.

Before leaving for work, I served generous portions, leaving some prepared soak seed already mixed with the nestling food in the fridge. When I got home, the birds would have cleaned up everything, and be hungry but not overly so. All I had to do then was go to the fridge and get out some fresh soak seed and nestling food mixture.

The babies grew rapidly and well with this approach, normally fledging at 17 or 18 days, and to my delight, they also weaned very easily, and were usually eating enough of the soaked seed and nestling food mix to support themselves without their parents by the time they were 25 days old, sometimes less.

The same soaked seed and nestling food mix, without the extra proteins of the baby cereal, helps to speed the moult and add a little extra nutrition and interest to my adult birds' diet throughout most of the rest of the year. It may only be served once a week or so during some periods, but the birds stay familiar with it and always seem to regard it as a treat.

I have been using this method of serving soaked seeds with nestling food for over a decade and a half now, and have found that this habit has eased many obstacles along the way. So if you are not currently offering soaked seeds to your birds, why not give it a trry?

If your birds are anything like mine, they will thank you with increased health, vibrance, vigour, breedability, and song.

by R C McDonald
Copyright 2004
Reprinted with Permission

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