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Canary Nutrition


In the past, canary breeders have developed various soft food and sprouted seed recipes in order to produce robust and healthy chicks. These recipes have been very successful but are often complex requiring time and special care to prepare. Strict hygiene during the sprouting process must be followed to prevent the potentially harmful effects of fungus and bacteria that often contaminate the seeds used for sprouting. With current scientific knowledge these recipes can now be simplified by using products researched and developed by Dr Marshall. This article discusses nutrition for breeding canaries and outlines the value of these products.

In nature, insects and protein rich seeds provide songbirds with the protein required for breeding. For canary breeders various egg food (now known as soft food) recipes have traditionally been used to provide this additional protein. At first the recipes were quite simple. They consisted of a crushed boiled egg mixed with bread or biscuit crumbs. Over time, they became more complex as new protein sources (Farex protein cereal, powdered eggs, wheatgerm and so on) became available. The soft food recipes were further modified with the addition of more bread or carbohydrate products as observant fanciers noticed feeding parents leaving the egg food in preference for the biscuit or bread crumbs. Finally, the soft foods were combined with soaked seed to produce even better breeding results.

Now, with improved knowledge of canary nutrition, it should be possible to make a simple but effective soft food recipe. From a nutritional point of view the soft food recipes must contain both protein and carbohydrate for the feeding parents. The addition of vitamins, minerals and trace elements to these recipes then completes the nutritional needs of the breeding canary.


Protein Requirements for Breeding




Boiled eggs provide the best quality protein for breeding birds. Dr Marshall believes Turbobooster is the next best source of quality protein. It may substitute or be combined with eggs as the sole source of protein for breeding birds. Soaked seed may also be used as a source of protein for breeding birds but its most important role is as an energy source. It provides instant energy during every part of the breeding cycle (courtship, nest making, egg laying, incubating and feeding) but unfortunately is often the cause of breeding failure when contaminated with mould or bacteria.

It is also possible to design a soaked seed mix that also provides a good balance of protein for growing babies. The protein balance refers to the ratio of essential amino acids in the seed mix and for the best growth rate and breeding results all of these must be provide in the correct balance. To achieve this aim it is necessary to calculate the amino acid content of each seed type and then design a mix that balances the amino acid requirements. Lysine and methionine are the most difficult amino acids to balance because they are not found in many seeds. These are known as the "breeding amino acids" because of their importance for breeding success. Lysine is found in groats, wheat and rape. Sunflower and Safflower are rich sources of both lysine and methionine. Groats, rape, wheat, sunflower and safflower are therefore the best "protein" seeds for sprouting. Millets, plain canary are very low in these two important amino acids but are high in energy. They may be sprouted for energy but not as a protein source.Turbobooster and an energy supplement may be used instead of, or added to, soaked seed. Turbobooster is a rich source of protein and energy, but is especially used because of its high levels of both methionine and lysine. Dr Marshall's energy supplement has been developed primarily as an instant supply of energy for breeding birds.


Energy Requirements for Breeding


Breeding canaries use nine times more energy than canaries housed in a flight. The fast growing canary chicks need energy more than anything else and above all, it is the energy content of the food that determines breeding success or failure for canaries. Perhaps too much attention has been placed upon the protein content of the food and not enough upon the constant supply of energy required by them. Knowing the energy content of each seed helps to design a high-energy dry seed mix. Millet varieties, plain canary, groats and rape are high-energy seeds hat should be incorporated into the dry seed mix. A dry seed mix may provide the breeding canary with a good source of energy but not enough for the chicks to develop their full genetic potential and traditionally soft foods and soaked seed have been used to fulfil these energy requirements for breeding canaries.

There are, however, potential dangers associated with soaked seed as a source of energy. When seed is soaked in warm water the germinating process transforms the starch inside the seeds into a sweet form of immediate energy. The warmth and moisture changes the sour taste of the starch into the sweet taste of a simple sugar that the breeding birds love so much. Both the growing babies and parents thrive, because the energy requirements (nine times higher during breeding) are satisfied rapidly. The feeding process is a very physically demanding process for the parents and the instant energy provided by the soaked seed allows them to rear clutches without tiring. The process of soaking seed, however, invites the contamination of the seeds with harmful germs. The potential dangers of contamination may outweigh the benefits of using soaked seed, unless stringent hygienic measures are taken during its preparation. Poor soaking technique is always the cause of E.coli related chick deaths.


Soft Foods & Soaked Seed for Breeding


The following soft food recipes offer the canary breeder with quality soft foods that are also simple to prepare. The very nature of soft foods requires that uneaten remnants should be removed within 6 hours. Alternatives to soaked seed must be considered because of its potential danger to growing chicks. Soft foods combining Turbobooster, Energy supplement and vitamins/minerals should provide the answer to the problems associated with soaked seed.

Firstly, however the soft food/soaked seed recipe must always provide the breeding birds with an extra source of quality protein and energy. As well as an increased need for energy and protein during breeding canaries also need extra vitamins, trace elements and minerals and soft foods and soaked seed offer an excellent vehicle by which vitamins, trace elements and minerals can be added. Without these additional supplements, breeding birds tire easily and do not feed their young vigorously.

Soaked Seed Preparation Technique


The seed selected for soaking must be pre-tested for cleanliness by culture testing or sprouting on cotton wool. Seed that bubbles excessively, smells bad or grows fungus must be rejected. For safety no more than three seed types, preferable sunflower, rape and wheat should be chosen for sprouting.


  • Soak seed mix in a 4 litre plastic ice cream container overnight. Add 1 teaspoon of Water Cleanser to the water added to the container.


  • Wash thoroughly through a 25 cm (10 inch) sieve with tap water, then final rinse with Water Cleanser. Allow sieved seed to drain thoroughly before placing in an oven or on a warm surface for 24 hours. Wash or soak sieve in Water Cleanser after use.

  • Next morning wash out with Water Cleanser again.

  • Wash again in the evening with Water Cleanser. Make sure it is drained well. Repeat morning and night until seed shoots appear or seeds are opening wide enough for birds to pull sprout out. The amount of time to germinate varies upon the air temperature. Make sure the soaked seeds are not too wet nor too dry.

  • Seeds should have a short sprout only. Turbobooster, Dufoplus, Ioford and Energy supplement may then be added. F-vite should not be mixed with sprouted seed but should be made available in finger drawers at all times.

  • A soft food may then be mixed into soaked seed.

  • Sprouting equipment must be thoroughly sterilised between use.

  • Reject seed that smells "off" at any stage or develops a mould.


Alan Simpson's soft food recipe uses hard boiled eggs, breeding crumbles, and Dr Rob Marshall's health supplements to produce excellent breeding outcomes.

A comprehensive guide to achieving a superior level of health and happiness in both the exhibition and pet canary.

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