Saturday, June 9, 2012

Operation Mash in the Details

Since Suzanne asked several very good questions in a comment on my last post, so I decided just to answer them here!

Her comment:
"I have never made mash before so I have a few questions...
How much water to mash mix do you use when cooking?
About how long should it cook for?
How much mash do you feed the birds a day? My smallest bird is a green cheek Conure, my largest is a Green wing Macaw.
Do you feed any pellet or seed or does the mash replace all of that?"

I do not measure the water for my mash anymore. Since I soak everything first, it takes much less water than is recommended on the package. By now, I just have a feel for how much water I need, covering the legume/grain mix by about 1-1.5" of water. The first time you cook it, start there, but monitor it and add more as needed. Bring the mixture to a boil, and keep it at a steady simmer until done. I bring it to a boil with the lid on, of course, and cook it with the lid cracked. If near the end it has a lot of water, I may take the lid off and bring it to a boil to get rid of the water. On the other hand, if it seems hard near the end, I may put the lid on fully to steam it a bit more. If you seem to have a lot of extra water when you are near done, you can try boiling it off, which will get rid of some of the water, although will give you a slightly mushier texture- which many birds prefer, anyway! Never worry about having too much water, since you can always strain the extra as you would pasta. I have done that in the past, works very well, so if you are nervous about it, take that route.

Cooking Time
I would say that mine is done in about 40 minutes, but I do not time it. I check after about 25-30 minutes, to know how close I am and when to add the quinoa. Test the largest legume you have, which in my case is chickpeas. They are done when they still have texture, but smash easily and are no longer white in the center, but light tan. Try smashing one after 10-15 minutes of cooking time if you want a comparison. They can take extra cooking, although I would not feed any under-cooked legumes, so if you are unsure, err on the side of caution and give it a few more minutes.

Amount to Feed
The amount to feed will vary not just depending on size but also your individual bird's activity level. My ekkies get about a 1/4 cup at a meal, while Linus, my single tiel, gets about 1.5 teaspoons. Feed a bit more than you think they will eat, and see how much is left at the end of the day, including that which is tossed. Gradually decrease (or increase, if needed) until you are feeding a few small crumbles more than they will eat. This way, you are not wasting any, and you know they are getting as much as they need. As a bonus, this puts more value on the food, so far less is tossed, and you know they are getting all that you are feeding, and not just picking out some of it.

What Else is Fed
I feed mash as one meal a day, although you can certainly feed it as both meals. Since mine is just one meal, the other meal is dry mix, fresh foods, and perhaps some special treats like birdie bread, etc. If your parrots are picky about the mash, try putting the whole thing, veggies as well as legume/grain base in the food processor until it is quite fine.

Anything that can grow a plant is a seed. This includes grains, legumes, things like sunflower, safflower, canary seed, and nuts. Yes, all of those are seeds, and not all are that high in fat. So actually, the grain/legume base could count as part of a "seed mix".I personally would never knock fattier seeds out of the diet completely. If you feed mash twice a day, they would already be getting the grain portion of seed mixes, but all parrots, just like people, still benefit from the nutrients in things like human-grade sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, canary seeds, nuts, and so on. How much of those you offer as treats will depend both on species and an individual parrot's needs. Since I feed mash once a day, I have a basic grain/seed mix, and a larger grain/seed/dried fruit/veggie mix. The cockatiels get more dry mix than the ekkies, who get very little. I leave sunflower seeds, hemp seed, nuts, etc, separate, and feed those as treats or in foraging toys, so I can more easily monitor how much each parrot gets.

I do not feed pellets to my parrots. There, I said it! I found through personal experience that my particular parrots, though they improved initially with pellets as part of the diet, do far better getting a very nutritious whole food diet. If you are unable to prepare, or your parrot will not eat, a good diet, I say include pellets, by all means. Keep in mind, though, that if you do not include pellets, it is a good idea to give a *small* amount of egg every week as a B12 boost (modern soil is often depleted of nutrients even in organics, so any B12 is very minimal), and you need to be able to get them outside for Vit. D. Vitamin D is stored in the liver for 20-30 days, so you do have some lee-way on how often they get out during cooler months. Try to get them out as much as possible whenever you can. There are also supplements with Vit D for parrots you could try during the winter, but do not go overboard. Here is another post you might be interested in, along with those two I just linked to, about pellets and vitamins.

Hope that helps, and feel free to ask any more questions you may have! I also highly recommend you check out the Feeding Feathers yahoo group for more information (read the files) as much of my mash is based on that, with a few changes.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Operation Mash

Today, folks. Today is the day. The day to make my bird mash base. It takes preparation. It takes stamina. It takes a tolerance of hot, humid conditions in the kitchen. It takes planning. And it will make your kitchen look like a disaster area.

Also, it gives me several months worth of cooked grain/legume mash base, so I can just take a container out of the freezer, add all the fresh produce I have, any supplements, and go! I consider it worth it, most definitely.

17 quarts from this batch!

I was inspired this time to get some pictures for you. Not the best, but my camera has an issue with randomly deciding it is out of battery, even when it is not, and today was one of those days. So not the best pictures. And no, there are no pictures of the whole disaster area. Sorry, but I do not want a picture of my cute little *clean* kitchen preserved on the internet as a terrible mess. Just picture pots and mixing bowls full of water, grains, and legumes all over, with strainers and spoons, other MASSIVE bowls to mix the cooked mash in, water spilled everywhere, rebel amaranth coating every surface, and one large boiling dutch oven. Yep, that about covers it.

Just a small sampling of some of the mix, pre-cooking.

A plus of mash base making day? The house smells soooo good! I love the smell, fresh, earthy, the quinoa a bit spicy almost. And if you add oat groats, it is just taken to the next level. Seriously. Oat groats smell so good cooking, sweet and yummy, liked baked goods! If you like your house to smell like "Fresh Waterfall at Sundown 32 Degrees from the Equator Exactly 20 Minutes after a Rain Storm" or "Cucumber Dancing the Tango with Hybrid Melon while Rose and Lavender look on Jealously" you might not be impressed. But I personally think it smells wonderful. Unless you burn it. Then not so much.

Also, please do not get discouraged by the massive size of this undertaking for me. I have many parrots, I like to make a lot at once. For those of you with fewer parrots, you can make considerably less and still have a couple months worth.

Quinoa and Amaranth soaking. I assure you the foam is 
perfectly normal and not a result of strange bad grains. 

The ingredients:
- amaranth                                                        
- quinoa
- kamut
- barley (hull-less, not pearled)
- black rice
- long grain brown rice

- mung beans
- split peas
- garbanzo beans
- lentils

-However it looks in the pictures, I can assure you that there are not, in fact, more legumes than grains. Actually, excluding the quinoa and amaranth, there is a 2 parts grains to one part legumes (so 1 cup legumes to every 2 cups grains); I do not include the quinoa and amaranth in my measurements, since they have all the amino acids.
- I really cannot remember specific amounts of each grain and legume, except that I use very very little rice, since it is so starchy and not as healthy. In fact, I rarely use brown rice in my mash.
- I always include a bit of black rice in my mash, though it is still starchy. As you should know from the press blueberries and blackberries receive, that dark purple/black colour is an indication of the very, very high levels of antioxidants it contains. I love purple corn, black quinoa, black rice, etc, for this reason.
- Notice I have a very short list of legumes. I stick to the most digestible legumes: mung beans, lentils, garbanzo beans, peas, and adzuki beans. These contain the fewest anti-nutrient toxins and are the safest to use.
- You can use any grains you like and that you have on hand. I mix it up every time, although never any wheat berries, since Chester is allergic to them. He seems to do fine with things like Barley and Kamut (gluten containing, closely related to wheat), no noticeable difference in the times he gets those and when I have made gluten-free mash. Many parrots, however, are fine with wheatberries, as are the rest of mine.

The soaking water from black rice can be rather alarming
the first time you see it. However, it is normal.

- The night before I plan to cook my base, or the morning before, I measure out all my grains and legumes and put them to soak in as much water as I can fit in the container with them- which should explain my references to bowls, pots, and water above. Basically, I am getting them to start sprouting, and in the process, release many of their anti-nutrients and toxins into the water. Before cooking, I strain them and rinse very, very well with clean water.
- Owing to the industrial scale at which I make my mash, I take an equal measure from each bowl or pot, rinse, and cook it in batches in my (cheery yellow!) dutch oven. I first put all grains and legumes save for the quinoa and amaranth. Once the other grains and legumes are mostly cooked, I add the quinoa and amaranth.  They normally take very little time to cook, and take just a few minutes after sprouting.
- A benefit of soaking: everything takes very little time to cook, even the garbanzo beans, and needs far less water! Saves energy, time, and pot space, three very important benefits in this endeavor.
- Once each pot is cooked, I empty it into one of my super huge massive mixing bowls and add the next batch to the pot to cook.
- Once the cooked mash has cooled some, I packaged it in quart freezer containers.

After cooking

To Use:
- Each quart container lasts me from 5 days to a week.
- I take a quart container out of the freezer when I have about a day left of my current mash, so it can defrost in the fridge.
- Once defrosted, I mix the grain/legume base with an equal or slightly greater amount of chopped or minced (depending on preference) fresh produce. I do not include fruit, as any fruit is served separately. I always include one or two types of dark leafy greens, often my greens powder, something dark orange like sweet potato or squash, and whatever else fresh produce is in season/I have. I change the type of produce around each week, so while each mash does not have a huge variety, they do get variety in their diet as a whole over time.
- I also add some Omega 3 source, such as hemp or flax oil, or flax meal. Other supplements may include various spices, some form of sea vegetation like kelp, alfalfa powder, etc. I never include other supplements (vitamins, etc) unless needed, and then I just add the correct dose to each bird's dish. Even with the kelp, alfalfa I use sparingly, as a little goes a  very long way.

Please Remember!
While this diet is based on the quite large amount of research I have done, it is also based on what I have found to work for my parrots, my specific parrots' special needs, and I suppose what you could call my (educated) opinion- since that is all there really is in regards to parrot diets, anyway.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

If you have questions about behavior problems.....

You might want to ask Lara Joseph! I really love the post she did today helping out a woman that wrote her about her trouble with her young macaw. Anyone that has even glanced at any of my other posts knows that I could go on and on and on and on for ages about behavior and training. I know you just read that sentence and  changed the word "behavior" to "absolutely anything in the world" but that is not true! Besides which, I am talking about behavior now, and will not be going on and on, since I think Lara said it all perfectly. And if you have a parrot, or are thinking about getting a parrot, or have had multiple parrots for many many years, I highly recommend you head over to Lara's blog and read not just today's incredible post, but also the rest of her blog!

And just in case you somehow missed all the links I peppered that short paragraph with, I will give you one more chance to get there-