July 2002 Magazine
What is weaning? and what does this mean to the chick and to you the handfeeder? Weaning is Independence. The chick now eats enough on his own that he no longer requires handfeeding formula to maintain his body weight. As a responsible handfeeder your ultimate goal is to have chicks who are independent and able to forage for food on their own. Weaning is a process. It takes time, it does not happen overnight. Weaning requires patience on the part of the handfeeder.
How can you tell if a chick is ready to wean?
Weaning indicators start very early in the handfeeding process. Between three and four weeks you will notice that your tiel chicks are pecking at the substrate in the brooder. This is instinctive in tiel chicks, since in the wild they are ground feeders. They will peck at the brooder substrate looking for food. This is a good time to introduce millet, cereal grains and thawed frozen mix veggies to beak and peck. The chicks do not eat the food. They beak it, carry it in their mouths, and play with it. Eventually they do taste the food. The brightly colored veggies also prepare them for the vibrant colors of toys and gets them use to seeing them.
The emotional and physical needs of the chicks must be met during the weaning process.
Weaning is a very stressful time for the chick. There is a greater need for reassurance and security during this time. The chick needs confidence that food will always be available. Once assured that those critical needs will be met, the weaning process will move rapidly. The chick is a unique individual who is growing and maturing at his own rate of speed. No one can accurately predict when the chick will wean. The emotional and physical maturity of the chick dictates when the weaning process finishes. Most handfed cockatiel chicks wean between 8-10 weeks of age. However its not unusual nor abnormal for the chick to wean at 12 weeks.
It is critical that the chick eat enough to support growth and sustain life. Monitoring the chick's weight needs to be a high priority. By doing so, you will be able to tell that the chick is eating enough daily to maintain his body weight. If the chick is losing weight, he's not weaned yet and needs to receive handfeeding formula so that he doesn't lose too much weight.
During this time you will need to weigh the chick everyday. If the chick looks too thin or is losing an excessive amount of weight you will want to supplement with handfeeding formula. The chick should not lose more than 10% of his body weight during the weaning process.
As the chick learns to eat his weaning foods, the amount of handfeeding formula given to the chick can be reduced. Weaning should not be hurried or forced. The primary goal is a healthy chick who is well nourished and radiantly healthy with good feather quality. Forced weaning results in a chick who is suffering from malnutrition and who is very insecure.
When weaning, my ultimate goal is a healthy, happy, well-adjusted chick who has maxed out on his weaning weight. The chick will go on a pre-flight diet between four to six weeks where he will lose weight in order to fly. This can be mistaken for weaning. Normally a handfed chick will regain his appetite around the sixth week. When this happens the chick will again eat more volume in the syringe, most of the time eating his full crop capacity at the bedtime feeding.
It is very important not to hurry the process. Many try to wean their baby birds too soon, denying them the emotional security and quality nutrition that they need. I find that instead of cutting out feedings, I can cut back on the amount fed in the syringe without compromising either the chick's emotional security or his nutrition. In the afternoon feeding, instead of feeding 12cc/ml I will feed 10cc/ml, the next day only 8cc/ml in the feeding until the chick refuses to take anything from the syringe for three days in a row. After that I no longer offer that feeding. I like my chicks to wean around ten weeks, so in the beginning of the eighth week I am down to three feedings a day. At each feeding I give 10cc/ml and then put the chick back to explore the variety of weaning foods I have placed on flat dishes in the bottom of his brooder. The chick is much more willing to explore new foods with a half-full crop than one that is empty.
It is very easy to starve a weaning chick.
As a responsible handfeeder you must make sure that the chick is receiving enough food to survive. The chick is growing during the weaning process, which means all of the vital organs need the nutrients in the formula to sustain growth. A chick that is losing weight too quickly should be checked by an avian veterinarian to make sure that the chick is not ill. Weaning a chick is hard work and requires much attention to detail so that the chick receives a quality diet. What we want to avoid is having a healthy chick die because a novice handfeeder didn't realize the amount of food necessary to feed the chick or the number of times during the day that the chick needed to eat. Chicks that aren't receiving enough handfeeding formula will refuse to eat weaning foods even though they are very hungry. A chick that doesn't recognize the foods given will starve to death rather than eat what he doesn't know to be food. A crop that is half full of handfeeding formula allows the chick to safely explore the wide variety of weaning foods that are made available to him.
A chick that is begging for food should be given his handfeeding formula. There isn't any such thing as a spoiled chick, only a chick that is very hungry and needs to be fed. It is up to you, the handfeeder, to make sure that all of the chick's needs are met. Chicks that are well-fed don't cry nor do they beg all the time for food. If you have a chick that is weaning age and seems to be having problems, even though you've done everything to meet the chick's physical needs for food and his emotional needs for affection and companionship, its time to make an appointment with your avian veterinarian. Weaning is a stressful time for the chick and it is possible for the chick to become ill during the weaning process.
Many problems can arise during the weaning process.
The digestive tract is not able to handle an over stuffed crop. As a result the chick may vomit the handfeeding formula or the crop may become impacted and require the assistance of an avian veterinarian. The chick is much more vulnerable to bacterial and yeast infections during the weaning process. Flying is a potential problem during weaning, as most chicks new to flying would rather fly than eat. Again the responsible handfeeder must be on top of things in order that the chick receives everything he needs for a happy and healthy life.
Forced weaning destroys the pet quality of the chick and emotionally scars him for life. During the weaning process there is no need for rigid schedules, no rules as to when weaning should occur, no forcing the time when weaning happens, and no food deprivation to get the chick to wean earlier. Chicks who beg should be fed even if it means that they only eat 1-2cc/ml. This will assure the chick that food will always be available. As the handfeeder, remember that the chick is totally dependent upon you for all of its physical and emotional needs. Patience is a requirement during the weaning process - the chick will wean when he is ready and not before then.
The bedtime feeding is usually the last one the chick gives up when weaning. Most of my tiel chicks will pig out on their bedtime feeding. You must remember that you don't want to overfill the crop. There is danger that the chick will vomit excess formula and aspirate it into the lungs. Aspiration usually results in pneumonia in a chick and as a result needs an avian veterinarian who can prescribe an antibiotic for the chick. Normally 10-12cc/ml is more than adequate before putting the chick to bed. I remove this feeding when the chick eats nothing from the syringe that is offered three days in a row. If at anytime the chick begs to eat, I fix formula and feed the chick. I've found that the chick will eat 1-2cc/ml and will walk away from the syringe. Usually the chick never begs again for the feeding. I weigh chicks everyday when weaning. As long as they are eating enough to maintain their weaning weights I do not offer formula. If I find that there is one who is still losing weight, I add supplemental handfeedings. A chick that is not maintaining a normal weight is not weaned and needs the nutrition the handfeeding formula supplies.
Weaning needs to be done by a breeder who has experience with the subtle problems that may occur during the weaning process. Keen observation as to what is happening with the chick is needed. Evidence that the chick is beginning to wean is demonstrated by the fact that he will feed himself. Another indicator which is critical to the weaning process is that the chick begins to drink water on his own. When my chicks are of weaning age, instead of waiting their turn with the syringe, they will perch on the edge of the formula dish and eat. This is a good sign that the chicks are learning about feeding themselves and it isn't long after that, that they are eating independently, no longer requiring any handfeeding formula to maintain their weight.
When weaning your cockatiel chicks it is important to remember that chicks just weaned and going to a new home may experience problems with weaning regression. It is recommended that you keep your weaned chicks for two weeks after weaning. That way you can monitor the chick's weight to be sure that the chick is eating enough on a daily basis to maintain his weight. Chicks going to new homes are very stressed, as there is nothing familiar to them and most will back off on eating until they feel more secure. This can be devastating for the just weaned chick who has just begun independent eating.
Warnings should be given to the new owner that if the chick begins to make static noises and is head bobbing, the chick is having problems with weaning regression. Instructions can then be given to the client as to whether he should bring the chick back for more supplemental handfeedings. It is not recommended to allow a novice owner that is new to birds to finish weaning the chick. As a responsible breeder you must take responsibility and work to wean the chick. It is absolutely vital that the chick's dietary requirements be met and that the quality of nutrition available to the chick not be compromised. Weaning is best done by those who have experience and know the subtle indications that something is going wrong. A novice may not recognize the fact that the bird is sick or not realize that the chick is actually starving before it is too late to help the bird. Weaning is a time consuming task which takes time to do it right. Even at this late time, as the chick is getting ready for independence, it is still possible for a novice to feed the formula in such a manner that the chick dies as a result of aspiration. Food can be fed with hot spots so that the crop is severely burned. Formula that is warmed in a microwave develop hot spots some of these reach temperatures over 120 degrees Fahrenheit which cause 3rd degree burns of the entire digestive tract. This is fatal to the chick. Weaning is a critical time in the life of a chick. It should be done by those who have the experience to bring the chick safely through this most critical time.
Why you should not purchase an unweaned bird
There are many reasons why weaning a chick is the most difficult process in the life of a baby bird. If you have no experience with weaning a chick you are likely to miss the subtle indicators that the chick is in trouble. Buying all the supplies that a breeder needs to successfully wean a chick can be overwhelming. If you are buying the parrot for a pet, the investment in a gram scale, syringes, handfeeding formula, probiotics, and digestive enzymes is considerable. Also you will need emergency supplies if the chick develops crop problems. Without the proper equipment and the training that it takes to wean a chick properly, it should be left in the hands of the breeder who has the training and the equipment to do the job right.
What kind of experience is it to find that you have accidentally aspirated your new baby or that you have burned the chick's crop and have to suffer the agony of watching the chick die when it could have been avoided. Or that you have followed a rigid weaning schedule and discover that you have a chick who is suffering from malnutrition and is literally starving to death.
When you change from one handfeeder to another you set back the weaning process by about two weeks. With some chicks it is possible that it will take a month.
It is important to keep good records when the chick is weaning. You want to know how much food you fed for that day, what is the weight of the chick and if the chick gained or lost weight. Weight loss that is continuous should send up red flags that the chick could have a bacterial infection or an other systemic problem which needs an avian veterinarian. Weaning a chick is hard work. For those who have dedicated their lives to aviculture and the breeding of healthy, happy, well-nourished, well socialized and independent parrots, it is a joy to send a successfully weaned chick home to his new family. Nothing compares to the joy of having your new baby fit into your family and adjust to his environment because his breeder gave him all the tools he needs to function in a family. Allow yourself to develop a relationship with your already completely weaned chick who is ready to bond with the family who chose him. You will never regret such a decision nor will you experience the heartache and heartbreak of losing a chick because he was not weaned.
Winged Wisdom Note: Iris, Bob, and their three children live in Maryland. They are owned by 19 birds. The flock consists of a bare eyed cockatoo, a Congo African grey, a quaker, a senegal, a green rump parrotlet, a lori and 12 cockatiels.
A pet bird ezine, pet bird e-zine, for pet parrots & exotic birds.
Articles on the care & breeding of pet birds, pet parrots & exotic birds Cockatoo Parrot picture courtesy of Glasgow Enterprises
Copyright © 2002 Birds n Ways All rights reserved.
Page design: Carol Highfill ---- Last update: July 1, 2002