The Fresh Food & Vitamin Program ~ Does it work in pieces?

Ioford multivitamin supplement from LG (

Ioford multivitamin supplement from LG (

If you’ve browsed the pages of TWFA then you’ve read over many recommendations and articles pertaining to fresh organic foods as well as the Avian Veterinarian Dr. Rob Marshall’s vitamin supplement program. I’ve always been told by vendors and hobbyists that these foods don’t need to be used all at once – it’s okay to simply use bits and pieces.

I was fairly skeptical of this method and thought that even with the fresh organic foods, the vitamin programs needed to be used as a whole. However I relayed the vendor and hobbyist recommendations that even separate elements of the nutrients are better than none at all.

Because this topic was brought up by multiple adopters at the end of the 2012 & beginning of 2013 seasons I decided to try it on behalf of our fans and visitors as well who come to this site for care advice. Their Finches rely on this advice to be correct after all! So in order to make a proper recommendation I needed to try this method with my own flock to really put it to the test.

Using pieces of the program
The results that came from this little experiment so to speak were stunning. I chose a minimal change so it would not be noticeable – removing Dufo while still providing Ioford, Megamix and all of the other organic fresh foods (F-Vite, Herb Salad, Miracle Meal, Hatched! Eggshells, Tonic Seed Mix and Avian Trio Bee Pollen). This change – which took place in the middle of the season – was very small and did not have any effects for months – until towards end of the season when things are especially taxing. None of the effects were fatal or continued for more than a couple or few hours at the most. After these effects were noticed within a few weeks of each other, the experiment was put to an end and the Dufo was reintroduced.

The larger the flock, the more issues you’ll have
When you have a small or medium sized flock of anywhere from 2-10 or so Finches, it is needless to say that you’re going to experience less issues during any given breeding season. However, when you start to get into the 10’s, 20’s, 30’s and beyond which is very common with most large scale hobbyists, the issues start to pile up at a much higher and sometimes overwhelming rate.

This is when people will start to say “Zebra Finches are fragile and I cannot take how many issues they have.” The real reason they are encountering issues is the large size of their flock or their lack of nutrients, not because they are weak or fragile birds. Zebra Finches are actually considered to be hardy and easy to care for under the proper conditions which replicate their natural environment. A common mistake that results in illness and often death giving the appearance of fragility is placing an indoor-raised bird in an outdoor aviary without getting them properly adjusted to the local climate.

A puffed and most likely egg bound or sick Gouldian Finch (photo from Google Images)

A puffed and most likely egg bound or sick Gouldian Finch (photo from Google Images)

A snowball affect
Towards the end of the season is when I encountered my first and only real issue while using only half of the nutrition system. This was surprising to me since anyone using the program in the same way only reported positive results. In comparison to no results I guess a little bit better is still better than nothing!

The issue I encountered multiple times: egg binding. When the aviary first began I must have treated dozens of cases of egg binding with a little heat, Calcium Plus and TLC for hobbyists who either surrendered their Finches or had planned to if they couldn’t be cured. After introducing the Dr. Marshall program to my flock, I never saw the issue again except with birds I adopted from other breeders. Until the experiment this season!

Though it is infuriating and highly fatal in most cases, egg binding is very common and also very easy to spot as well as to treat. Breeders see it on almost a constant basis and need to be equipped and experienced enough to take care of it.

Egg binding treatments for Zebra Finches
About 1-1.5mL of Calcium Plus (or Liquid Calcium, etc.) per 4oz of drinking water is how I treat it. That is usually when I start noticing the symptoms – fluffing as if in pain, slower movement or less mobility, scruffy or stressed appearance, laying 1 or 2 eggs but unable to lay any more, etc. In this case if it is caught early it can be difficult to notice a change or a break in their symptoms. If they are doing the same then it is best to wait, but if they start to take a turn for the worse or “one step forward, two steps back” sort of behavior, then they may not be accessing the water and drops will have to be force fed to them.

If the hen is already showing signs of great pain (i.e. fluffing, closed eyes, not moving) then I will give her about 2 drops of Calcium Plus from a syringe. It’s easy to do if you press the syringe over the tip of their beak and slightly tilt the head back to force them to swallow. Be very careful if attempting this not to cause drowning or asphyxiation accidentally! Gurgling, coughing and other signs of choking are indicators that you either need to give them more time to breathe or a smaller drop dose.

Getting back on track
Egg binding aside, I didn’t notice any other real issues as a result of the change in nutrients. The egg binding itself however was frustrating enough after a handful of cases and obviously a result of this change. Everyone finished the season with their regular nutrients and will continue to receive them into the resting season. Their high protein foods have been removed to help discourage breeding and to encourage resting behavior.

The bottom line is if you are using anything in pieces or just parts of a full program, you’re probably going to keep experiencing some (or all) of the same issues as the people who provide a seed only diet that lacks other nutrients. You may have far less issues that are far less severe, but they can and still will happen unless you’re using the full system or range of foods. Sorry to say, vendors!

Realistically, we cannot hold everyone to the same standard when it comes to caring for their Finches. Not everyone can afford each of these food products, or 100% of them 100% of the time. In the end however it may be less expensive than veterinarian bills or having to repurchase new birds to simply prevent any issues from arising in the first place. If you’re having issues providing the expensive items that may help your flock in the long run, one option might be to downsize your flock to a more manageable number.

Dare to share our negative experiences
As all of our followers know very well, I do not openly or publicly talk about illnesses or deaths in the aviary. They don’t happen enough to be “news worthy” and it is something that is usually kept private unless its necessary to mention. In my opinion it is best left for family and friends unless it affects our followers or their birds. Sharing negative aspects of bird keeping can not only draw negative attention to your flock, it can also paint an inaccurate image of how things are on a day to day basis.

The reason I am sharing these experiences now is not only because it is the first time in a long time that we have seen egg binding here, but also because I feel it is vital for all Finch owners to know (even at my expense). It is my hope that in sharing my story that others can make informed decisions about the diet they provide for their beloved birds.

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Jessica Kenley

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