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Feather Quality

Health Articles / Feather Quality

This article was written for the Scottish Zebra Finch Society and is targeted at exhibitors but it is just as relevant to all owners of pet, breeder or show birds.

Feathers are critical for show birds. They create an illusion of size and they give much of the shape to the bird. If they get damaged the bird is useless in the show cage. So anything we can do to improve feather quality will help us to improve our results.

Most of us know that feathers are largely made of protein so it is not surprising that this component is a very important part of the diet of moulting birds. What most people don't know is that feather protein is very different in its composition to the other proteins in the bird's body. Understanding this can help us to maximize feather quality and dramatically shorten the time taken for a complete moult.

Proteins are made up of about 22 amino acids. Eight of these the bird cannot manufacture for itself. We call these essential amino acids for obvious reasons. Of those eight two are particularly deficient in seed (in fact any plant based) diets. So they are called limiting amino acids. Because of the deficiency of these limiting amino acids in the diet birds can only use about 60% of the protein they consume from plant sources.

It is simple for a manufacturer to incorporate these key nutrients into a supplement and correct this balance. Unfortunately many leave them out or put just token quantities into their products. Amino acid supplements must be given to birds on food as they smell very unpleasant in drinking water!

Because this sort of supplement improves protein utilisation so efficiently it actually reduces seed consumption (and your bills) and prevents obesity which can distort the shape of show birds and reduce breeding performance.

The limiting amino acids contain sulphur and research at the Institute of Animal Nutrition in Hanover (carried out on canaries) tells us that 70% of the sulphur containing amino acids in a bird are in the feathers. So the demand for these nutrients during the moult (and for chicks) is extremely high. If there isn't enough limiting amino acids in the diet birds cannot replace feathers very quickly so they drop them slowly and the moult takes a long time. Feather quality can be compromised.

We have found that, by combining large quantities of sulphur containing amino acids with balanced protein and our unique "Maxima" source of bio-available sulphur we can give birds the key nutrients they require for rapid feather growth. Because these feathers are made from good quality raw materials they tend to be stronger too.

I cannot quantify the effect in zebra finches but, in the falconry sector, we are shortening moulting times by six weeks.  Much to the amazement of the most experienced of falconers.

From our product range this effect can be achieved by two different methods. Either use Feather-Up or a combination of Daily Essentials3 and half breeder dose of ProBoost SuperMax. It is a good idea to make sure the birds are getting enough calcium as well with once or twice a week CalciBoost.

Remember these supplements cannot be used in water so you must either add them to seed (which is inefficient) or feed a soft food like Feast (with added health promoting herbal extracts!).