Tube-Feeding Vs. Syringe Feeding:
Is There Really a Right and a Wrong Method?
by Theresa Jordan
One of the oldest and most provocative subjects in the world of bird breeding is the controversy surrounding tube (or gavage) feeding versus syringe or spoon feeding.
I don't personally believe that
gavage feeding, in and of itself, is "improper feeding" and that syringe or spoon feeding should be the "method of choice". And I believe that -many-
breeders who raise a large number of birds will agree. This controversy was recently
discussed at length on a mailing list for breeders.
With cases of tube or gavage feeding,
I believe it's more the -socialization-
that usually goes along with the syringe feeding that is missing, and what causes those birds that are gavage or tube fed to be lacking in friendliness and have significantly lower
For instance, babies that are syringe fed obviously receive more quality time and attention
-during- the handfeedings for the simple fact that syringe feeding takes longer; therefore the
owner/handfeeder spends more time with the bird during handfeeding. Often backyard breeders who breed only for the monetary gain have little to no interest in the actual pet quality of their birds, and want to get them weaned and out of the way as soon as possible;
tube feeding allows them to get the feeding over with in a matter of seconds for each bird.
Again, for the same reasons, these birds only get attention -when- they are being fed, and when tube fed this amounts to very little.
On the other hand, breeders who -do- care about the pet quality of their birds can tube feed and STILL produce lovable, cuddly, well-socialized babies. It all depends on whether or not the time that is taken away by tube feeding is made up for at other times.
Hand-fed is still hand-fed, regardless of what actual -method- is used. While we don't have any documented surveys to back us up, we have personally conducted an informal test of this very subject. For a long time, because of what I had -heard- about the negative effects of tube feeding, I was a staunch believer in syringe feeding, regardless of how many babies we had. My husband, on the other hand, insisted that it was the amount of -quality time- that we spent with the babies that made the difference. When we have (as we do now) a large number of babies to handfeed several times a day, it ended up being a nightmare to syringe feed 25 babies! By the time I was done with the last one, it was almost time to start with the first one again! When we utilize tube feeding, we have more -relaxed-, as well as enjoyable, time to spend with the babies, without worrying about how long it is taking to feed them all.
And as another breeder stipulated, we do not, of course, "take a 50 cc syringe and go through the brooder hitting each one like filling bottles on an assembly line." Each bird is removed from the cage/aquarium individually, cuddled, fed, and talked to before being returned.
Also, to combat my fear of raising babies that won't know -how- to swallow food, I employ a method of placing the first few cc's of formula in their mouths, and allowing them to swallow when they are ready. I do this 2-3 times at the beginning each feeding, so they -know- how to swallow. I then tube feed all but the last few drops, and when the tube is almost empty, I withdraw it and place the last few drops in their mouths.
After babies are fed, they are all placed on a clean sheet in the middle of the living room floor, toys are brought out, and we play with them for about 30 minutes to an hour. Many times it ends up being longer than this since the children in the house get such a kick out of playing with so many babies at one time! Again, this is the -extra- time that is spent with the babies that they would otherwise miss when they are tube fed.
It has only been recently that I have changed my way of thinking on this subject; after discussing it with other prominent and successful breeders of many different species. I was surprised at the number of breeders who actually -do- employ the tube feeding method. We practice both methods, but actually prefer the tube feeding method and feel that the advantages far outweigh the risks. With tube feeding there is less chance of aspirating the chicks, and the flow of formula is much more controlled, preventing the repeated scenario of birds with formula everywhere but in their mouths.
When we only have a few babies at one time, I still syringe feed. But in all honesty, when we have so many babies at one time, it simply isn't feasible. And I think the controvery surrounding this issue needs to be looked at more closely to determine the -real- reasons that so many people advocate that tube feeding is the negative method. The question of whether the actual tube feeding itself is bad is a -secondary- issue; the -main- complaint is the lack of avian social skills that people believe is -caused- by the tube feeding.
This reminds me of the "never buy an unweaned baby" controversy....... That's -basically- good advice; FOR PEOPLE WHO HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO EXPERIENCE IN BIRDS OR HANDFEEDING. But for those who are willing to learn how, who have the time and a support system and experienced hand-feeder to guide them, buying an unweaned bird is a wonderful experience.
The informal results that I found suprised -me-, and so far I've noticed no difference in the friendliness or pet quality of any of the babies that we've raised.
© Theresa Jordan
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