Pellet Conversion

Have I Told You Lately by Rod Stewart

This was posted in TielTalk and since it is such a great article I had to add it to my page.

Hi everyone, Here is an article I wrote for one of the cockatiel sites on pellet conversion if anyone is interested in it. It also includes much of the research I have done on pellets in the last year. Two issues I am currently researching are consistancy of vitamin levels and metal fragments in pellets. I've only started getting responses, so I can say that Hagen and Kaytee both check every single batch of pellets to ensure vitamin levels are consistant. And I can say that Scenic and Kaytee both use magnets to remove any metals that end up in the pellet mixture during the grinding process. Anyway, here is the article, and the results are kind of mixed in with the article, it's a "my experience..." article.

The first conversion method I tried was the one on the Kaytee pamphlet using 25% pellets and 75% seed for three days, 50% pellets and 50% seed for three days, and then 75% pellets and 25% seed for three days, and then 100% pellets for three days. Every attempt using this method failed. When we got to the 50% mark, Gretta would stop eating entirely and we would have to back up a step. We tried this probably 5 times. Then I got some Kaytee samples and the information packet recommended that the above method only be used for conversion from one food to a similar food. For example, converting from seed to Kaytee Fiesta - not from seed to pellets.

Next I read the article on conversion at the National Cockatiel Society by Five Bees Aviary. This article basically says that one cockatiel will eat 1/4 cup of food in three days. It is a convenient amount because 10 tablespoons makes a three day supply. This conversion method also uses percentages, but spreads the time over a month instead of under two weeks. First you measure the food in three day supplies into zip lock baggies. Baggie number one is 9 tablespoons seed and 1 tablespoon pellets, and you feed this for three days, always removing any food that remains at the end of the day. Baggie number two is 8 tbsp seed and 2 tbsp pellets, and you feed this for three days. You continue adding one tbsp of pellets and subtracting one tbsp of seed for each baggie until you get to 100% pellets. You should monitor your bird's weight at least every two days during this time, and if (only if) the weight drops by 10%, should you start over with 90% seed and 10% pellets. The author had excellent results with this method, and every bird he used this method on converted in a month. However, Gretta did not convert with this method either!!! We tried it three times, and every time at 50 or 60%, he quit eating.

By this time, I was beginning to despair, but my vet said that cockatiels are one of the most stubborn birds about converting to pellets, and it is normal for it to take 6 months to a year to be successful. Then I read in an issue of Bird Talk that had an article on cockatiels by Diane Grindol. She mentioned that she had never been able to convert a cockatiel using a percentage method. The only way she ever was able to get a bird to eat a new food was by serving the familiar food for only an hour at a time, twice a day. This works for any food, if your bird eats pellets, and you want him/her to eat more vegetables, you offer the pellets twice a day for an hour at a time, and give veggies in between. Eventually the bird will get hungry in the middle of the day and nibble on the unfamiliar food, whether it is pellets, fruits, or vegetables. Then I read at the Mickaboo website that this is the conversion method they use too, and it is usually successful within two weeks! This method is absolutely safe because the bird has the opportunity to eat enough seed in a day to maintain his/her weight. This is the only method I would try without a scale at home, or weighing your bird at the vet frequently. Expect to waste a bunch of pellets at first with any conversion method.

So, this is what I did. I gave Gretta seed for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. Whenever I was home, I also gave him pellets moistened with apple juice (which need to be changed at least every 3 - 4 hours, depending on which article you read). After two days, he was eating some pellets, mostly the moistened ones at first. He lost a few grams the first two days, but then gained them back. By the end of a week, he was eating seed for about 5 minutes when I first put it in, and then went and ate pellets for the rest of the meal. By the end of two weeks, he was only eating about a teaspoon a day of seed, and eating mostly dry pellets. I normally offer fresh foods like vegetables, fruits, bird bread, and soak and cook recipies once or twice a day too. I omitted them during conversion so he woulden't fill up on all of the other available foods instead of trying the pellets. Most articles recommend feeding only pellets for the first month after conversion, to reinforce conversion, and make eating pellets a habit. After the month is over, you can decide what percentage of pellets you believe is the best amount and add fresh foods back into the diet. I have used this method to convert three birds now, and all converted to over 80% pellets by the end of two weeks. When your bird converts, you will notice the droppings become plumper and creamier in consistancy. If you feed non-colored pellets the droppings will be brown or tan. If you feed a colored pellet, the droppings will be brown, or one pellet color if your bird eats mostly one color. Birds eating seed have green droppings. If your bird is eating pellets in the middle of the day when the seed is unavailable, you will see green droppings from the morning, with brownish droppings on the paper too by the time you offer the evening seed.

Many vets recommend either 80% pellets and 20% fresh foods with a small amount of seed. Other vets prefer a 50% pellet diet with 25% fresh vegetables and fruit, and 25% seed. I like the 50% pellets, 25% vegetables / fruit / soak and cook, and 25% seed the best for two reasons. First, there is some evidence that in smaller birds, a too high % of pellets can cause kidney damage because of the level of protein in some pellets. Secondly, in the wild cockatiels do eat seeds as a portion of the diet, so it makes sense to give them some in captivity too. Another advantage is that your bird is less likely to suffer from vitamin overdose. Some breeders I have talked to have had problems with gout as well as kidney damage in cockatiels that eat over 80% pellets. Most pellets have a vitamin D3 level between 400 IU / Kg and 1000 IU / Kg. Excessive vitamin D3 can cause calcification of internal organs and death. In the early 1990's some pellets had levels over 2,200 IU / Kg,then the research showed that too high levels could be dangerous and most manufacturers lowered their levels. Birds that get sunlight (or full spectrum lights) frequently need less vitamin D3 than indoor birds or birds in the shade.

When you are choosing a pellet, there are three types around, extruded pellets, steamed pellets, and cold pressed pellets. Kaytee Exact , Harrison's, Hagen, Scenic, Pretty Bird, and ZuPreem are examples of extruded pellets, they are very hard and when you soak them in liquid they puff up but still retain their basic shape (kind of like a sponge). Extruded diets are pasturized by the high heat. Some people believe that the high heat damages the natural vitamins and enzymes in the food. Lafeber and Roudybush are examples of steamed pellets, which are softer, less homogenous pellets that look similar to rabbit pellets or crumbled rabbit pellets. The heat in this process could also damage vitamins and enzymes in the food. There is only one brand of cold pressed pellets that I know of, Breeders Blend. Many people believe this method of processing is the best because the natural food properties are maintained. This is the method the poultry industry uses for their pellets.

Other things to consider are that different birds prefer different textures of food. If you have been using an extruded pellet without success, you might have better luck with a steamed pellet - or visa versa. Another thing to think about is pellet size, some cockatiels do better with the parakeet size pellets - in most pellets the recipes are the same and only the sizes are different. Some birds like colored pellets, and some like plain ones best. This raises the question of, "do you want to feed your bird food with added color?" Only you can decide what is best for you and your bird. You can always gradually change your bird to a non-color added pellet later using the percentage conversion method if you want.

Different pellets also use different methods to preserve them. Some fill the bag with a certain gas (CO2), which preserves the pellets (Scenic and Hagen and I believe Breeder's Blend). Others use vitamins as antioxidants to preserve pellets (Hagen and Harrisons add vitamin E). Some use no preservative at all (Harrison's only uses vitamin E) and must be refrigerated. The most controversial preservative is ethoxyquin (in Lafeber, Kaytee, Roudybush, and I think in ZuPreem and Pretty Bird - but I don't have a bag of either handy). Half of the articles say it is safe when used in small amounts, others say it is a poison in any amount. It is used in dog and cat foods also. The only thing everyone agrees on is that a food that sits on a shelf in a store is safer with any preservative, than one without any because of the risk of spoilage. Before feeding pellets, it is a good idea to smell the pellets to be sure they smell fresh, and remember to check the expiration date on the container.

To find out more about pellets and diet, the book "Feeding Your Pet Bird" by Petra Burgmann, DVM is an excellent source of information. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me.

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