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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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Reprinted with Permission
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