is our belief that calcium problems are the most common and
important nutritional issues facing modern bird keeping. Calcium
(or a lack of it) is so important and affects so many things
that bird keepers who improve their calcium supplementation
get huge benefits.
many of the other articles in this section and you will find
calcium coming up time and again. Articles on bird behaviour,
egg binding, breeding performance, chick problems and many more
are involved in a discussion on calcium.
purpose of this article is to explain how CalciBoost
uses a novel approach (mimicking nature much more closely than
cuttlebone and grit) and provides far more effecient calcium
their are implication of this method and the main one is that
this sort of supplement should not be used every day.
April 2002 a discussion occurred on the National Finch and Softbill
Society discussion group on this subject and I was invited to
explain the reasons for the on/off application of this particular
product. Here is my e-mail which applies just as much to any
other bird or mammal:
contributor to this discussion has described the calcium regulation
process in some detail but I am certain that she is wrong that
the body will not lose the ability to regulate calcium if it
is routinely bombarded with highly bio-available calcium. Let
me try to give an answer based on both theory and many years
of quite diverse experiences.
first exposure to this was many years ago when I used to breed
cows in Australia. Feed pregnant cows on a diet high in calcium
(just good quality grass is enough) and you will get "milk fever"
immediately after calving. This is a very badly named problem
as it is not a fever at all.
happens is this. After calving the cow has a dramatic demand
for calcium as milk production is quickly initiated. This calcium
is removed from the blood by the mammary glands. If they have
had a great deal of calcium in their feed they simply don't
mobilise enough calcium from the bones quickly enough to cope
with this demand surge. The body has lost the ability to do
this simply by lack of use. The feed doesn't provide enough
either. So the blood removes calcium from nerves and muscles
which then fail to work properly. Cows with milk fever stagger
around and fall over in a state of partial paralysis!!
dairy farmer or dairy vet will tell you the treatment for milk
fever is an intravenous injection of calcium. Sometimes they
will give both calcium and magnesium.
is far better than treatment as it causes far less stress. Dairy
farmers feed low bio-available calcium foods to their stock
prior to calving and don't have the problem as they have exercised
the bone's ability to mobilise calcium quickly when required.
Milk fever can occur in any mammal.
we first started to sell our CalciBoost
product we were being advised by bird vets. The recommended
regime was to feed the product daily. I recall one canary breeder
who took that advice (in conjunction with lots of high calcium
brocolli) and had 14 egg bound hens in his first round!!! He
probably had just 20-30 breeding hens making this a disaster
of mammoth proportions. Here the process is almost the same
except as the mammal one except that the sudden calcium demand
comes from egg shell production. Again the nerves and muscles
are starved of calcium and the hen is unable to expel the egg
(which may or may not have a soft shell).
like to think of ourselves as a firm that tries to understand
how our products are working or failing our customers. The similarity
to milk fever was obvious so, at that point, we changed our
recommendation to incorporate breaks from CalciBoost.
Our general recommendation is 1-2 times a week for non breeders
and up to 5 times a week for breeders. However CalciBoost
on alternate days or four days on three off or anything similar
will be fine.
amount of calcium (hardness) in your water will also influence
the requirement. I know of a budgie breeder from a very hard
water area who uses CalciBoost
once a week for non breeders and just twice a week for breeders.
He doesn't use cuttlefish or grit but he has fit hens and large
clutches. In very soft water areas five days a week at full
dose may not be quite enough!
reports egg binding problems on these various regimes yet we
do get larger clutch sizes and far fitter hens capable of producing
more rounds with no stress to their system.
on/off calcium system works very well. It exercises the body's
ability to regulate calcium levels. It give plenty of calcium
to maintain high bone calcium levels (and hence the ability
to make plenty of eggs*). Yet gives plenty of opportunity to
remove excess calcium from the body and causing damage to the
kidneys or other organs.
an aside the bones of a small bird (work done on canaries) contain
about enough calcium to make 3.5 eggs. So it is obvious if we
want clutches of 6-8 (I can think of plenty of our zebra finch
breeder customers producing 9-10 fertile eggs in some clutches
from selected hens) that the calcium regime has to be excellent.
like to think that nature has designed perfect systems. Unfortunately
this is not true. And when we keep animals in captivity we sometimes
push the biology to the limit without realising it. Let me quote
a human example:
years ago my wife, Sally, used to work for Mars. There was always
free confectionary available in the office all day long. We
lived 45 minutes from her office and, by the time I had driven
her home she was shaking. She couldn't do anything until she
ate a biscuit! What was happening was that, by constantly bombarding
her blood with sugar and glucose, she was losing the ability
to control her blood sugar level when she needed to. When the
blood sugar level dropped on the way home she couldn't replace
it from her glycogen reserves. The process (which is well understood
and involves the hormone insulin) simply failed to adapt to
didn't have diabetes. When she stopped stuffing herself with
candies the problem went away.
problems occur because nature cannot afford to waste resources.
If we are not using something the body reduces the resources
allocated to it. I can think of many examples. People taking
little excersise lose bone mass and muscle mass. The reverse
is that athletes gain bone and muscle mass. Move to high altitude
and you will produce more red blood cells to get better value
from the low levels of oxygen in the air. Go back to sea level
and the process reverses.
the need to remove calcium form the bones and the body reduces
the resources allocated to making the parathyroid hormone needed
for the job.
changes can lead to dramatic effects when we stress the system.
A non athlete is far more likely to break a bone if he plays
a game a soccer. People die of altitude sickness if they climb
too quickly. Birds get egg bound if their calcium regime isn't
my view is that the miracle of life is fantastic. But we can
easily push it beyond its limits. Traditional bird keeper calcium
sources (cuttlebone and oystershell grit) don't provide enough
bio-available calcium. Our bird's bodies are not designed to
take calcium from inorganic sources like that. Small clutches,
egg binding and rickets are the common results. Wild birds get
their calcium from naturally chelated sources in fresh green
seeds and foods. Humans get theirs from fresh foods and chelated
sources like milk. CalciBoost
mimics these more natural systems which is why it is so effective.
But the wise use it with care and follow the manufacturer's
hope this has helped to explain the dilemma and answer Sue's
this one member of the group asked if there was any scientific
data behind the dose rates we now recommend for this product.
The simple answer is that we have achieved these recommendations
by a process of trial and error. A more complete answer is quoted
from the NFSS discussion group below:
course I would love to be able to say that there was rigorous
scientific data on this subject. But there isn't. Unfortunately
the cage and aviary bird market is just too small for much genuine
science. Indeed even big industries like poultry etc rely mostly
on 'field trials' which are of questionable scientific value.
we do have is many years of experience, initially with customer
trials, and then with market experience selling the product
that show that our recommendations cover almost all circumstances
of the dilemmas we have is that nutritional information tends
to be given in terms of the percentage of a nutrient in the
diet. Unfortunately this becomes relatively useless if the bio-availability
of the nutrient is different depending on the form in which
it is supplied. Calcium is an excellent example of this.
general 'rule of thumb' for calcium is that it should make up
1% of the bird's diet. I have seen extremes as high as 3% in
things like poultry pellets and ostrich pellets. Even these
high levels can fail if the bio-availabilty is poor (we regularly
fix calcium problems in turkeys on these high calcium diets
with short bursts of CalciBoost
- the same was true of ostriches when we had them in the UK
a few years ago).
calcium is added to pellets (poultry or parrot or finch) as
calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate. Cuttlebone and oystershell
grit are also calcium carbonate. These are both very low in
bio-availability (by which I mean they are difficult to absorb
into the blood stream and difficult to manage once in the blood).
The level of calcium we originally used to recommend in the
technology was about 0.08% every day (1/12th of the accepted
norm). We now suggest a range between 0.04% and 0.08% but only
between one and five days a week depending on the time in the
breeding cycle (and on species with African Greys and Eclectus
parrots requiring slightly more) so this is between 1/35th and
1/175th of the 'rule of thumb'.
wouldn't like anyone to think I am criticising pellet manufacturers
for not using better calcium sources. Clearly they cannot use
this technology in a food that is fed daily - it could create
broad ranges may seem very vague. But we must remember that
animals' nutrient requirements are not incredibly precise. Nature
has designed its systems to tolerate a significant variation
in nutrient inputs. Problems only arise if high or low levels
are either very extreme or very prolonged. So long as we keep
our calcium inputs within the tolerable range (and cope with
seasonal variations in their requirements) the birds will be
healthy and productive.
traditional problem with bird keeping is that the calcium sources
we have always used are very unnatural. So it is not surprising
that they fail so often. Most wild birds get their calcium from
their green and fresh foods not from eating cuttlebone. The
is far closer to mimicking these natural (low level but high
bioavailability) food sources which is why it works so well.
is worth making a point about extremes. There is still a need
for a bit of stockmanship in extreme situations. If drinking
water is VERY hard (contains LOTS of calcium) CalciBoost
requirements will be lower. I can think of one UK budgie breeder
who has very hard water and he uses no grit and no cuttlebone.
Most of the year he uses Calcivet just once a week. For breeding
he only increases this to twice a week - very economical. He
has excellent clutch sizes, no egg binding and very fit hens.
A very few people (perhaps six people from about 20,000 customers)
have claimed slightly too thick egg shells using CalciBoost
in addition to very hard tap water. These people simply cut
down on the amount and/or frequency of supplement and the problem
seems to go away. Despite the very hard water these people still
had problems with egg binding and smaller clutches BEFORE they
so they continue to use the supplement now - they have just
modifed the amount they use. At the other extreme some people
in very soft water areas may use a tiny bit more than our recommended
is one thing that I am certain about and that is that calcium
deficiency is the biggest and most common problem in modern
bird keeping. Most of the behavioural and breeding problems
related to calcium have been assumed to be 'normal'. We now
know they are not normal. One of our challenges is to raise
the expectations of people with regard to issues such as clutch
sizes, egg binding, number of rounds that can be safely taken
etc etc. Not surprisingly many people are very sceptical of
something new like this. In the end there is only one way to
see if it is going to help you and that is to try it yourself.