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Calcium Deficiency In Budgerigars

Lack of Calcium in the diet causes more problems in budgerigars than any other nutrient. The reason for this is that many people do not recognize the symptoms of calcium deficiency in their birds.

Calcium is used in the formation of bones and eggs, and is needed for normal nerve and muscle functions.

Since vitamin D is involved in calcium absorption and management it is not surprising that we see so many problems related to this mineral, especially in areas where budgies are kept indoors and do not have access to direct sunlight.

Many breeders think they have no problems if their birds have access to cuttlebone or they get oyster shell, grit and crushed egg shells. They are wrong! These do contain large quantities of calcium carbonate, but this type of calcium is very difficult to absorb.

Wild birds get their calcium from mineral sources like green seeds or other vegetable products that contain calcium in forms that are far easier to absorb. Unfortunately dry seeds are not a very good source of such 'chelates' of calcium.

Modern liquid calcium products, like Calcivet produced by Vetafarm in Australia, mimic this natural approach. The calcium is already dissolved and is linked to a molecule the gut absorbs naturally. This product also includes vitamin D3 which is essential for the maximum calcium to be absorbed.

Because these modern products have such good bio-availability the quantities of calcium the bird actually absorbs is far less than the normal 'recommended daily dose', but they work well. In fact the way to use these products most effectively is to give them less frequently rather than just in smaller quantities. For most birds once a week is fine.

Symptoms

Breeding birds tend to show the most obvious symptoms.

One of the most obvious signs of calcium deficiency is a soft shelled or thin shelled egg, or eggs with a chalky texture. According to avian scientists a hen has about 3-4 eggs worth of calcium stored in her bones. So, if you want bigger clutches, you need a good quality supplement. Highly productive birds may see clutches increase from 4-5 up to 7-9 without stress on the hen! This can lead to a dramatic increase in the number of healthy youngsters you produce in a breeding season.

Hens that are struggling to make egg shells often become egg-bound. This occurs when the bones have failed to provide enough calcium for the egg so the body has 'taken' it from other organs. When the nerves and muscles run low on calcium they stop working properly. Egg bound hens simply cannot push the egg out. They tend to show other symptoms of poor nerve and muscle function too. They can't fly well, their wings droop and their legs are apart.

Traditional remedies include warmth (good), oiling the vent (a waste of time and very stressful) and holding the bird over a steaming kettle (absolute torture). Giving a liquid calcium supplement directly to the beak will often work very quickly. Of course using the supplement routinely could prevent egg binding from occurring in the first place.

A third breeding problem is splayed legs and/or rickets in chicks. With splayed legs the issue is lack of nerve and muscle function preventing the chick from holding the legs together under the body. It is not hens sitting too tightly! Correcting this problem requires constant adjustments to splints and taping. Again prevention is a far better approach!

Another problem experienced by some breeders that is a sign of calcium deficiency is feather plucking. This is not restricted to budgerigars but is also common in finches, canaries and parrots.

In early stages of feather plucking the hen will strip the down from the body of the chick as it starts to feather up. The hen chews the down and small feathers so rarely are there any left in the nest.

Sometime the rigors of breeding and demands of feeding chicks takes over and she will stop. If not, feathers will stripped from the back, head and wings. While feathers on the head and body will usually regrow any feathers stripped from the wing butts do not, leaving the bird useless on the show bench. Unfortunately some hens become aggressive and the result is scalped or mutilated chicks.

In non-breeding birds we see both physical and behavioral problems. Because calcium is involved in nerve function a lack of it may lead to nervous symptoms. Fear and aggression are both common.

In pet birds these behavioral issues vary from fear, biting, to self-mutilation. All plucking birds should be given extra calcium.

Other pet (non breeding) bird symptoms are poor co-ordination, flying and perching. Extreme cases lead to fits that are often incorrectly diagnosed as epilepsy. Budgerigars may have difficulty getting themselves off the ground!

How much and how often?

Traditional calcium sources like cuttlebone, oyster shell and grit should be available throughout the year. These are excellent sources of calcium carbonate, but this type of calcium is very difficult to absorb, so it is important to provide the mineral in other forms.

There are a lot of different factors that affect the amount of supplemental calcium your birds may need. Obviously egg laying hens and growing chicks have higher requirements. Different foods have different levels and absorbability of calcium (all seeds are poor). Tap water around the country can vary dramatically in their mineral content. If you filter your water you are removing virtually all the suspended calcium it contains. People in soft water areas should use far more supplement than those in hard water areas.

It helps to understand how the body manages calcium. The bones have the important role of controlling the blood calcium level. When blood calcium levels rise the bones suck it out. When it drops they pump it back in. This sounds simple but it is actually quite a complex process involving vitamin D and a hormone called parathyroid hormone. This process works best if it is well exercised. Giving the calcium supplement some days and not others ensures the bones have lots of practice at this job and they respond very well to the surges in demand from egg laying. This is all part of the process of preventing egg-binding.

It is recommended to give the supplement just once a week to non-breeding birds and twice a week in soft water areas. For breeders 4-5 days a week. People in hard water areas may do fine with just 2-4 days.

There is no doubt in my mind that the introduction of highly bio-available liquid calcium supplements has been the most important bird keeping innovation for decades. It has revolutionized breeding by increasing clutch sizes and maintained hen health so they can safely produce more rounds each year.

Liquid Calcium Products I have used...

Calcivet Liquid Calcium

Products from Vetafarm Australia and The Bird Care Company UK are offered is a variety of sizes... and also contain Magnesium and Vitamin D3 which is essential for the absorption process.

And a new product I plan to try soon from my friend Maarten Heylen and JOELS.be

ProLine Fertical D3

After using a calcium supplement for several years, I have not had a single hen that has become egg-bound, or a hen lay a soft-shell egg, or eggs with chalky texture,or even displayed the symptoms of having trouble passing her egg…. And importantly the average number of eggs laid per round has icreased.

 

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