Every bird keeper knows they must supply calcium to their birds because seed diets are deficient. There are no arguments that birds don’t require some form of supplementation of their diet. Where the differences of opinion occur is in what supplement to use- is it cuttlefish bone, shell grit, oyster shell, calcium carbonate or liquid calcium sources.
Calcium was first recognised as a critical mineral for birds back in 1842. We have had 165 years to work out what is the best way to prevent calcium deficiencies in our birds, yet we still can’t agree!
In our vet clinics we still see many birds presented with symptoms of calcium deficiency that are related to their diet. The most commonly seen condition is fledglings with deformed or fractured legs, wings or skulls. These young are the proof that the diet available to their parents is calcium deficient – why do we do this?
Egg bound hens are another sign that the calcium supply may be a problem.
There is a great variation in the requirement for calcium throughout the life of a bird. Beginning as a chick where they need about 1% of their diet, dropping to around 0.3% of the diet as a non breeding adult and then skyrocketing through the egg laying cycle of a hen. To accurately deliver the day by day requirement is impossible, so what do we do?
Luckily nature has an answer – and that is “some”.
The bird has evolved to take calcium on board when available, to store it in the bones for future use and to prevent uptake when the diet is in excess. But it all relies on there being “some” calcium in the diet.
To ensure a constant source of calcium it is best to give the bird access to a range of things that supply calcium:
D-Nutrical – used as a powder that is dusted over soaked seed, fruits and vegetables. The unique mixture of types of calcium allows for much better absorption than just calcium carbonate. Simply put the powder in a flour shaker and lightly dust any damp foods. It is not suitable to add to seed or put in the water.
Calcivet – a formulation of liquid calcium where the calcium is bound to a type of sugar. The liquid will mix in water and can also be given via a crop needle if necessary.
True Grit – contains crushed oyster shell that is coated with a vitamin and mineral supplement. The easily utilised oyster shell and the extra vitamins in True Grit are another way of adding nutrients to the diet. True Grit is put in a grit container for the birds to eat as they choose.
Cuttlefish bone is a traditional calcium source used widely. Birds love to chew the cuttlefish but how much they actually consume is questionable. In line with the concept of “some”, you can supply cuttlefish when it is available.
Remember that it is the small birds that require the most calcium in relation to their body weight. Small hens (budgies, finches, canaries) have proportionally larger eggs than large birds (cockatoos), so require a greater calcium intake. A finch hen, for example, will completely exhaust all the calcium in her skeleton in laying only 5 eggs – therefore she must have a constant calcium intake during egg laying.
Don’t rely on one source of calcium – give the birds access to a number of sources and don’t get too concerned about actual dose rates – “some” is good!
many thanks to Vetafarm Australia for this article.