Gaining Experience in Handfeeding


"Don't handfeed without experience." I can't count the number of times I've written that to someone. But how on earth does an up and coming breeder get experience if they shouldn't handfeed without it?

By watching the parents do it!

If you breed youíll eventually have to learn how to handfeed. If you are an experienced breeder you may find handfeeding surprisingly easy. So whatís the hard part? The hard part is in knowing everything that an experienced breeder knows. The mechanics of handfeeding are simple. Family breeders, like the one running Magnolia Bird Farm, often put the kids in charge of this task. Granted, those kids probably know more about birds than you do, but they help demonstrate how simple the actual task is. Itís not like it involves super coordination with your hands or an advanced degree in physics. Feeding chicks is easy, raising them is not.

You need to go through the whole thing- watch the parents lay, watch the eggs hatch, watch the chicks go from pink blobs to feathered beauties. Even watch the parents fail. You need to know what is normal and what isn't. What should a chick look like at this age? How full should the crop be? All the other stuff- formula temperatures, brands, feeding instruments, etc., can be read in books (Parrots: Handfeeding and Nursery Management can tell you all of that). That's just technical junk and anyone can learn it. If I'm gone for a day I can have someone else feed for me. Here's the food, add water, zap for so long, stir it, test the temp, feed in this range, *demonstrate*... Would I hand my chicks over to someone else to feed from 2 weeks to weaning? Definitely not!

    Getting hands-on experience the good way:
  1. Help the parents feed in the nest. Learn the technical stuff and then help the parents by feeding the youngest chicks once a day.
  2. Breed several pairs at once so if one parent messes up you can foster their chicks under someone else. This way you can learn the good and bad signs of parenting while at the same time avoiding having to handfeed due to an emergency.
  3. If you have an emergency and absolutely must handfeed a chick (no fosters), don't go at it alone. Get another breeder to help you. Find a local bird club. Discuss normality, behavior and technical issues with them. Ask for tips.
  4. When you decide to really handfeed on your own, do not start from weaning. This is a horrible time to start! Why would you want to begin at the time when the chicks don't want to be fed? Or beg to be fed and then clamp their beaks shut? Pull chicks between the time when their pinfeathers sprout and when they open. Get a feel for normal begging and eating behavior.

Feisty Feathers
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