At the request of some folks on Facebook, I’m posting my recipe for chop’n’freeze. It varies based on seasonal availability and, to some extent, my whim. However, there is a method to the madness and a certain amount of infrastructure. I have, after all, been making this for 15 years now, so I’ve had plenty of time to tweak and figure out what works for me and my birds and what doesn’t. I’ll go over the general ingredients and instructions first, then I’ll discuss particular points of interest. But first! Here’s a picture of a recent batch:
Vegetables: I don’t know what resources you have available to you, but I like to utilize locally grown, organic veggies. You can volunteer at a local organic farm, join a CSA, go to a farmer’s market, or just go to your local grocery store. I do any combination of the above to get seasonally available veggies.
For the batch in the photo above, the veggies included: fennel, arugula, radishes and radish tops, spinach, chard, kale, carrots and carrot tops, green beans, celery, broccoli, brussels sprouts, baby bok choi, beets and beet tops, tomatillos, red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers, jalapenos, thai chili peppers, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash.
For my most recent batch, which I neglected to take a photo of, I used: Beets and beet greens, arugula and arugula seeds, broccoli and broccoli greens, radishes and radish tops, dandelion greens, and chard from my garden. I also added loquats that a friend had given me, but removed their seeds first, as they are toxic to birds. From the store I bought: baby spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, cilantro, asparagus, brussels sprouts, carrots and carrot tops, red/orange/yellow/green bell peppers, jalapenos, poblanos, yellow squash, zucchini, acorn squash, and sweet potatoes.
Grains: I stay away from corn, wheat, soy, and most rices, and stick with whole oats or oat groats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, and wild rice, or any combination of the above. When I can find teff I get it, but in Austin it’s hard to come by the whole grain vs. the flour.
Legumes: I use an organic 13 bean soup mix.
Sprouted seeds: I will either use the Dr. Bird Sprout Mix from sproutpeople.org, or I will make my own sprout mix from a local grocer’s bulk bin. The Dr. Bird Mix is more comprehensive than what I can make on my own, but also more expensive. So I vacillate between the two.
Herbs: I order the following from Mountain Rose Herbs: French Green Clay (better known as Montmorillonite), Acai, Anise Star Pods, Bee Pollen, Chamomile, Chia, Cinnamon, Cordyceps, Dandelion, Echinacea, Elderberry and Flower, Eucalyptus, Flax seed, Ginger Root, Goji Berry, Hibiscus, Honeysuckle, Hyssop, Lavender Flowers, Milk Thistle, Red Clover, Rosehips, Spearmint, St. John’s Wort, Turmeric, and occasionally I’ll throw some other goodies into the order as well. The above are just the things I buy regularly. When I get in my herb order, I dump them all out into an unused tray from the top of the macaw cage, mix them thoroughly, the re-bag them. One order will last me a whole year.
Supplements: Red Palm Oil and Coconut Creme Concentrate from Tropical Traditions (one of only two brands of RPO that is organic, fair trade, sustainably grown and ethically farmed, the other brand being AviX Sunshine Factor. I feel that this is an extremely important distinction to make, as RPO harvested in other ways by other companies is extremely damaging to the local ecosystem and destructive to indigenous peoples as well), and occasionally Flaxseed Oil from Vitamin Shoppe (one of only a few brands of Flaxseed Oil that passed consumerlab.com‘s third party, independent testing) and sometimes shaved Cuttlebone.
You will need a very large mixing container. I use the top tray from my macaw cage (I don’t like having those trays on the cages anyway because they block too much light), but I have friends who line their bathtub with saran wrap and mix it in their tub, or other friends who just clean their tub really well and mix it straight in the tub, and still other friends who bought a trough from a feed store and use that. Do whatever you want to do; just make sure the mixing container is clean.
Day One: Start sprouting 1-2 Cups of the seed mix.
Day Two: Continue caring for the sprouts
Day Three: Continue sprouting and soak 1 Cup of the bean mix
Day Four: Wash all the foods thoroughly (except the herbs and supplements, obviously). In one pot, cook the beans until soft. In a separate pot, cook the sweet potatoes and squash in 10 cups of water. When the potatoes and squash are done, remove them from the pot, then use that water to cook 1 Cup of each of the grains: wild rice, barley, oats, quinoa, amaranth. The nutrients that bled from the potatoes and squash into the water will get cooked into the grains, reducing nutrient losses due to cooking. While everything’s cooking, chop all your veggies (I generally have 10 – 15 lbs of veggies, which means that the ratio of veggies to other foods varies, but that’s ok). Chop up your cooked sweet potatoes and squash. Combine the veggies, grains, legumes, and sprouts. Add 8 – 10 Cups of herb mix, depending on how many veggies you have. Melt 1/4 Cup each of the Red Palm Oil and the Coconut Cream Concentrate, then drizzle it into the mix. If you’re using shaved cuttlebone to provide added calcium for birds who need added calcium (as per your vet), shave 2 cuttlebones into the mix. Mix the whole shebang thoroughly, then pack into containers or baggies that are small enough for you to use the entire contents of each one in 3 days or less. Toss ’em in the freezer and you’re set for a good long while. You just let a container thaw in the fridge for a day or two before you’re ready to serve it, then spoon it out into their bowls. Easy peasy.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
* Spinach, chard, beets, almonds, sesame seeds, and to a lesser extent, kale, are all high in oxalates, which bind to calcium and pass it through the body without being absorbed. This can cause birds to get an insufficient amount of calcium, becoming hypocalcaemic. For this reason, I offer these foods in smaller portions relative to other ingredients. Some people elect not to feed them at all, but I feel that the other nutrients they provide, as well as the enrichment that their flavors, colors, and textures provide, are worth the balancing act. Since the other dark leafy greens, broccoli, flax seeds, chia seeds, beans, quinoa, and many of the herbs in the herb mix are high in calcium, I haven’t ever had a problem with any of my birds being hypocalcemic.
* I should mention that teff, quinoa, and amaranth are pseudo-grains, not coming from grasses, and are therefore higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than true grains. Quinoa and teff are in and of themselves a complete protein, and amaranth combined with oats or barley also make complete proteins. So, if you have birds who are sensitive to high protein, like my Ekkies, or if you have birds who need a lot of protein, be mindful of the amount of pseudo-grains you are using.
* My reasons for giving the herbs, flowers, and other supplements from Mountain Rose Herbs are many and varied, but each one has a purpose (some of which, I admit, are simply enrichment). If you’re really super curious, you can go a little internet search to discover the benefits of each one on your own.
* There’s been some concern on the interwebs lately about RPO, but I personally feel that they are largely unnecessary/unfounded. RPO is rich in tocotrienols, tocopherols, beta carotene, and CoQ10, and being fat soluble nutrients, they are much more efficiently assimilated from an oil than, say, a carrot. Furthermore, CoQ10 is not readily available from other plant-based foods, and since feeding large amounts of meats and dairy to captive, caged parrots is generally a bad idea, RPO is a really great way of getting that into your bird. RPO can also be a great tool for getting more weight on an underweight bird, but conversely, supplementing too much of it can cause obesity and heart disease, so be mindful of that and don’t go overboard. The 1/4 Cup amount is not arbitrary. The recommended daily dosage of RPO for my birds (who range from 125 – 500 grams) is 0.2-0.4 mLs, so adding 1/4 C of RPO into 20 lbs of food provides approximately that amount per individual serving. Having said all of that, this is just what I do. It’s my personal choice. I’m not saying you have to use RPO–or any of the ingredients I use, for that matter. I’m simply explaining why I use what I do.
* Coconut Cream Concentrate is simply the meat and the milk of the coconut blended together in one easy-to-serve blob. Coconut is an incredibly nutrient dense food, and is also helpful for assisting birds with weight gain. More info about the nutritional composition of coconut can be found here.
* Flaxseed Oil is an excellent source of Omega-3s, and again, being in an oil makes it more efficiently assimilated than otherwise. However, a lot of brands do not deliver what they promise, and some even contain harmful ingredients they shouldn’t have. You don’t have to use the brand I use, but I would recommend investing in a subscription to consumerlab.com to make sure you are getting good brands, or ask your vet which pharmaceutical grade brand they recommend. Otherwise, you may be wasting your money and not giving your bird what you think.
* Oversupplementing calcium can be just as bad as undersupplementing, so in general I’m not a fan of adding calcium to foods. HOWEVER, I do add it when the birds are going through a moult, or if a bird is laying eggs, as those are times when they are in need of some extra calcium.
* Buying all the ingredients up front can be pretty costly (If you buy veggies instead of volunteering for them or growing them yourself, they tend to cost an average of $70-80. The grains and legumes total no more than $20. The sprout mix can cost $10/lb or thereabouts, plus shipping. The herbs cost $150 or so, but that’s for a whole year’s supply. And the RPO and CCC from Tropical Traditions are about $70, but again they will last you for a year or more.), so to defray the cost, I will sometimes go in with a friend or a few friends to buy and make chop’n’freeze together. Plus, socializing while doing it is really fun. But even if you did it all yourself, it breaks down to about $7/lb, which really isn’t that expensive. It just seems like a lot to pay all at once.
* The whole procedure of cooking, chopping, and packaging it up takes an average of 6 hours, so make sure you set enough time aside to do it.
* Depending on how many birds you have and how much they eat, you might need to either go in with friends or sell part of it to other bird owners, because I’ve noticed that after 3 months or so it starts to get freezerburn, so you really want to make sure that your fids can finish it in under 3 months. I have 6 fids who eat chop’n’freeze as the majority of their diet, and the whole batch lasts me about 2 months. Here’s what my freezer looks like when a batch is done (this is my most recent batch):
* People have asked about the size/texture of my chop. My answer is: it varies greatly–not just from batch to batch, but within each batch. I like to provide a variety, and also I’m too lazy to chop everything uniformly. However, the size and consistency of the food can be changed based on your birds needs and preferences. It really doesn’t matter. If you’re worried about finickiness or if you’re feeding a tiny bird like a budgie, you can run it through a food processor and turn it into a pesto/mash consistency. If your bird prefers big chunks, chop it up less. It’s all good. All of my birds, and every bird I’ve fostered, have learned to love it, and none of them are finicky. Although they’ll occasionally go through a phase of not eating one thing or another, they mostly clean their bowls. So I like to leave it as it is for added enrichment.
* I feel I should mention that the birds get this and only this in their bowls. I hang any fresh fruits I give them in their cage as it would be in a tree, and all their dried goods (which, for all the birds except the Ekkies, who can’t eat pellets, includes Harrison’s (High Potency for the Red Bellied and the Hawkhead; Lifetime for the Brown Headed and the Pionus), TOPS, Phoenix Foraging’s UnPellet mix, as well as an organic seed and nut mix) goes in their foraging toys. I will also weave leafy greens in their cage bars, and will hang fennel tops, carrot tops, bamboo shoots, and any other long, frilly greens in their cages. As much as possible I want them to work for their food. And they love it! I’ve never kept or fostered a bird who hasn’t become enthusiastic participants in this way of life.
OH MY GOD, THIS WAS SO LONG. I’M SO TIRED. Going to bed now. If you read all of this, I owe you, like, a cookie or something.