Photo: Tony Edwards. Tony uses clear, plastic or ceramic dishes to offer eggfood and soaked seed to his Bengalese finches. These ones are part of a mixed group currently being assessed.

While Bengalese can survive on a basic diet, TONY EDWARDS has chosen to feed his birds a varied mix of eggfood, vegetables and different seeds to ensure they are in top condition for shows.

I KEEP the diet of my birds basically the same, but I do regular tweaks. For some years I have used rehydrated vegetables (carrot, spinach and broccoli) mixed with a proprietary brand of eggfood. I normally refresh my dried vegetable supply at various Stafford events, but I missed the Stafford Spring Bird Show this year.

Subsequently, I decided to find an alternative and returned to frozen vegetables, something I haven’t used for quite some time. Frozen peas, carrots, sweetcorn and green beans are brought to the boil, left to cool and then brought back to the boil a second time. Frozen spinach is added and again left to cool before being diced. I restocked with proprietary dried vegetables in July, so based on the time I have available I am now using either dried or frozen.

Wheatgerm oil and/or cod-liver oil are often added to the vegetable mix with a small amount of a calcium powder, and also a new ingredient for me that contains oregano oil. After being well mixed and left for a few minutes, the dry eggfood is added. Occasionally, protein powder or spirulina is also added (both bought from a human fitness website). Normally I lose about five per cent of chicks in the period after they have been closed-ringed (at about 20 days old) until they reach six months old. But losses this year have been substantially reduced, which I think may be due to the inclusion of oregano oil.

I am a strong believer in using soaked seed, which is given to my breeding pairs when it starts to chit. I use my normal mix of various millets and canary seed. Currently, I am also adding niger, peeled oats and hemp. I soak the seed for about 24 hours in warm water with a broad-spectrum virucidal powder added, and then drain it. I will do a minor wash after another 24 hours and wash again thoroughly after a further 24 hours, and then feed it to the birds.

To stop it drying out too quickly I feed it very wet, which also helps young chicks that are not yet able to find their drinking water easily. On the subject of water, I continue to use a water sanitiser, although with my current work patterns I could change the water more frequently. A vitamin powder is also added to the water giving it a yellow colour. I continue to soak mung beans on a regular basis – I don’t add any chemicals, but I now normally wait until they are well sprouted before giving them to my Bengalese.

My main seed stockist is a major outlet for pigeon supplies. A few months ago, I noticed a pigeon mix without large seeds, so I decided to buy a large bag and soak the seed until it was well sprouted. What I didn’t notice at the time was that the mix contained my pet hate, linseed, but there is another similar mix without this so I will probably try that next. 

In a previous article (see November 25, 2015 issue), I reported that I was using some relatively rare types of seeds including green and Siberian millets and other small seeds, but I am not able to source these easily on a regular basis. As it was usually taken well by my birds, I will restock at the next opportunity because I like my Bengalese to have a varied diet.   

In addition to oystershell grit with coral, I am now feeding an all-in-one pigeon mineral supplement, which contains many different ingredients, in a separate dish. The birds in my aviary also have constant access to oystershell grit because the floor is covered with about an inch of it.

Unexpectedly, one major change I found this year was the number of eggs being laid. I would estimate, on average, an extra two eggs per nest (usual number per nest for many years has been five to six). Due to fertility levels, these extra eggs weren’t usually converted into chicks; six chicks in a nest being the maximum. As I have indicated previously I don’t like large clutches but an improvement to four or five chicks per nest would be pleasing.       

What’s next? I have seen good reports about bee pollen, which cost me £22 for a kilo of human-consumption quality. By the time this article is printed I should be adding small quantities into my eggfood mix.

People may say, “Why bother? You can breed and keep Bengalese on a basic seed and water diet.” This is true, but I want to maximise the potential of my stock. I travel widely to shows, at a significant cost, so for me diet will not be a contributing factor if my birds lose.   

Tony Edwards is vice chairman of the National Bengalese Fanciers’ Association.

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