Did you know that there are no laws or restrictions governing the production of commercial seed mixes??
That means that everything from the quality of the grains used to chemical additives goes without supervision. Did you ever notice the handful of “dust” at the bottom of your pre-packaged mix? While a certain amount of dust is to be expected as seed hulls break apart, much of the dust in these bags are due to the disintegration of old, dry and brittle product, non-food related shop dusts and “whatever else”. When I found this out years ago, I almost fell over.
Seed is an essential part of the diet for my cockatiels and quaker, so I decided to take matters into my own hands. I called my vet and asked her what she feeds her cockateils and she told me she uses only human-grade grains. The production and processing of these grains ARE subject to government regulation.
All of the grains I use in making my seed mix are human-grade and organic. They can be found in the bulk bin department of Whole Foods, or a similar establishment. The directions are easy: Buy ’em, put ’em in a bowl and mix ’em up! I usually keep a pound or two ready for use in an air-tight container and freeze the rest.
If you take the time to get as much air as possible out of the bags, they will keep for about six months. Vacuum sealers are great for this purpose. These are the grains I use (clockwise from top left): whole wheat berries, pearled barley, quinoa, hulled barley, whole spelt, rolled oats, oat groats, hulled millet, rye flakes, whole grain rye berries and steel cut oats. You are not limited to just these ingredients.
Note: Be sure to stir your mix up before serving as the smaller grains like quinoa, millet and steel cut oats tend to fall to the bottom.
Seed comprises about 50% of the diet of many small birds. The rest is made up of organic pellets and fresh fruit and veggies. Given this balance, you can see why it is so important to provide them with the healthiest and freshest product available. Take a look at the difference between a store bought product and my seed mix. Note the difference in color. The lighter colored homemade mix on top is clearly fresher and offers more variety without any unnecessary ingredients.
Note: The homemade mix at the top contains only fresh, organic, human-grade grains. The colored seed at the bottom is a non-organic store bought seed mix.
To my surprise, my cockatiels had a problem with switching to this new blend. They were accustomed to and comfortable with their old store bought brand. My feelings were hurt when they shunned my mix. So, I did what any good mom would do: I tricked them into eating what was good for them! I added a 1/4 lb of my mix to 1 lb of their old mix to start with, slowly upped it to 50/50, and eventually weaned them completely off of the old seed. They love it now.
While I don’t recommend seed in the diet of many birds, it is the largest part of the diet for some species in the wild and access to seed provides them with emotional as well as physical well-being. If the seeds are fresh, many will sprout and are really beneficial to to the diet of any sized birds. Cockatiel seed can sprout into a delicious, healthy treat for your large parrots.
One super easy method of sprouting is to spread a thin, sparse layer of seeds over a damp (not quite “soaking wet”) paper towel before you go to bed. I put the paper towel and seed mix on a plate or in a shallow container and cover loosely with a dry paper towel. Leave it on the counter in a warm spot over night and you will have the beginnings of sprouts in the morning or afternoon.
The key to success in this is finding just the right spot in your kitchen (or wherever) to place the paper towel. Try different locations if your kitchen counter isn’t working for you. It is not necessary for the seed to have a plant growing out of it. The benefit of sprouts begins at the first stages of germination. The tiniest little nodule coming out of the seed means is has sprouted and is ready to eat. Don’t leave your sprouting mixture out beyond the afternoon. The wet paper towel can easily pick up bacteria the longer it stays in the air. Have fun!
Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.