One hundred birds? Twice a day? And I thought taking care of three African greys was work! The Parrot Garden at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah maintains a beak count of about 120 birds, give or take depending on how the adoptions are going. They keep this level because they know that they are able to look after that many properly with their staffing levels and the existing facility. I actually saw them do this and even helped out when I went out to volunteer at Best Friends.
Normally, cleaning bathrooms and scrubbing baseboards is my fort?hen I’m out there, but when they need help with the birds, I’m game.
One of the things I know they do is make Chop for their flock. They even have a printout of suggested ingredients and how to make it for the families to take with them when they adopt the parrots.
Just like me, they make a large batch in a large plastic tub and freeze it to be used over the next two months. When it’s gone, they get the assembly line going and make it again. This has cut their food bill by about 75 percent. Naturally, the founders and the administrators are doing cartwheels about the cost savings.
I contacted Jacque Johnson, the manager at the Parrot Garden and asked her what their method of madness is to get this seemingly Herculean task completed twice a day.
Jacque, how do you get this done with only four people?
Organization is the key to our feeding methods. We have 2 identical sets of food/water bowls for each bird, including a bowl for chop. Every morning all bowls are pulled and replaced with fresh pellets and water in clean bowls. Bowls are hand-washed and then put through a sanitizing cycle on our commercial dishwasher. Each area (main building, cockatiels, cockatoos, macaws, Amazons, greys) has it’s own container for bowls, which are stored in the same place in a cabinet every day. That makes it easy to grab and go. Each caregiver is responsible for feeding/watering at least one and as many as three areas. We get the morning feeding done before 9:00 a.m., all dishes washed and put away. In the afternoons when we feed chop the process is very similar, although we only leave wet food with the birds for an hour, while they have pellets and water available at all times.
What has Chop done to streamline the process? Is making the large batch all at once a timesaver for you?
Previously we fed a mix of frozen and fresh vegetables which were prepared every day. Not only did that limit the amount of ingredients the birds were exposed to, it took precious time to prepare the food. By making chop every two months, we have eliminated daily preparation time. In the same amount of time we can create more than a month’s worth of meals. But more importantly we can provide a much larger assortment of fresh foods to the birds, than we could if we were preparing food every day.
Do you go grocery shopping for them, or is their food delivered?
I do the shopping for our Chop-fests! I like to go to Costco, because they have such a large selection of organic produce. But we also shop locally. I look for what is fresh, seasonal and on sale.
What do you do that’s different from the way you feed your five birds at home?
My birds at home get chop every day. At the sanctuary we feed the little birds (cockatiels/budgies) and any bird with health issues every day. But the majority of the flock gets chop 3 times a week. We have found that they actually eat it much better if it is seen as a treat. The process we use to make chop is identical at home and at the sanctuary. All of my staff feed chop at home as well, and we have a “chop swap” going on. It keeps our birds from getting too bored!
I know that the cockatiels took to Chop right away. How tough was it to convert the rest of the flock?
It is surprisingly simple to get a bird to try chop. In most cases it is easier to convert them to chop than it is to convert them to pellets. Once in awhile we have a hold-out, but when he sees the rest of the birds enjoying their fresh food, it doesn’t take long for him to try it himself. Eating is a social activity, and no one wants to be left out!
Do you have any tips or time saving tricks to offer the Psittacine Cuisine blog readers here at BirdChannel?
There is no right/wrong way to make chop. Have fun with it and don’t stress. We try to add something “special” in each batch: unsweetened nuts or coconut, pomegranate seeds, spaghetti squash. Every single batch we make is different, which is much closer to the way birds eat in the wild. There is no other way you can expose your birds to that many different foods in a timely and economical fashion.
Thanks so much Jacque for taking the time out to do this interview. And to everyone interested, you can volunteer at Best Friends by signing up here.