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By Debra Maneke

Before pulling your babies for hand feeding some preparation must be made. First, the hand feeding formula that you plan to use must be either purchased or made. Second, the brooder you plan to use should be sterilized and warmed to the proper temperature. Third, you need a hand feeding tool, either a syringe, spoon, pipette or dropper.


When I first started hand feeding baby cockatiels in the early 1980’s there were not many prepared hand feeding formulas on the market. I originally used a formula that required mixing monkey chow biscuits and baby foods. I spent many hours mixing and freezing the mixture into individual packets. As I starting raising more baby tiels I started looking for an easier formula. I tried several that came on the market, some I didn't like, and others were very expensive. One of the formulas that I really liked was very hard to find here in St. Louis. Finally, I decided to try the "Pretty Bird" brand hand feeding formula. I’ve used this brand for several years now and can safely say that I have not had any problems such as formula separation (which I encountered with one of the earlier brands I tried), formulas that are temperature sensitive, or those that tend to be slowly absorbed in the crop (which can lead to impacted crops.)


Once you have decided which hand feeding formula you plan to use it is time to prepare the brooder. I use a 5 gallon glass fish tank, before putting the chicks into the brooder I sterilize it with a disinfectant such as "Roccal D", "Nolvasan," " Wavicide" or "Clorox" bleach and soap water , (make sure you rinse the brooder thoroughly to remove any disinfectant residue). After the brooder is clean and dry I put about 1 to 2 inches of pine shavings on the bottom of the tank and cover that with layer newspaper and an absorbent toweling. The shavings will help to distribute the heat evenly over the bottom of the tank and the newspaper and toweling will help to absorb the moisture from the chicks droppings.


Some breeders will use a wire rack on the inside of the brooder to keep the chicks up off their droppings, but I prefer to use a softer flooring. I then place a heating pad on the outside of the tank half way under the bottom and half way up the one end of the tank, I use duct tape or masking tape to hold the heating pad in place. I will then use a large bath towel to cover the top of the tank leaving an opening on the opposite end from the heating pad for air circulation into the tank. "Preheat" the brooder before you put the newly pulled chicks in. The temperature will vary depending on the age of the chicks.


The following chart is what I use:

  • 1-3 days- 95-97 degrees F

  • 4-7 days- 90-93 degrees F

  • 7-21 days-85-90 degrees F

  • Pin feather stage-80 degrees F

  • Fully feathered- room temperature (70-75 degrees F )


I usually pull my babies at 2 to 3 weeks of age. I have hand fed chicks as young as 2 days old but, I prefer to wait if there are no problems that require me to intervene at that early age. If you wait much longer than three weeks its a real battle to get your chicks to accept you as the mother or father "bird". One of the main purposes for hand feeding is to imprint the chicks on humans instead of their feathered relatives if you wait until the chicks are older than 3 weeks they have already identified themselves as birds. Hand fed babies make wonderful pets and for those of us who raise babies for show the hand fed birds seem more steady in the show boxes, because they have no fear of humans. When I’m ready to take the babies away from mom and dad, I have a few items near the brooder, ACS bands (if the babies haven’t already been banded in the nest box), and my record book to record the babies band numbers on the parents breeding record sheet.


I will not start hand feeding until the chicks crops are empty from the foods that mom and dad have fed. Once the crops are empty its time to begin hand feeding. I prepare the formula according to the directions on the container and use a thermometer to make sure the formula is 104 degrees before I start feeding. I use a syringe for feeding. I begin by placing the baby on the table in front of me, I place the tip of the syringe into the left side of the chicks mouth with the tip pointed toward the right side of the chicks mouth. Carefully with a slow even pressure on the syringe plunger begin feeding the formula. You want the formula to be fed slowly so the formula goes down into the chicks crop and not the windpipe. The amount of formula depends on the age, weight and how long it takes the chicks crop to empty between feedings. If you watch your chicks crop you will see it filling as you feed, you will not want to fill the crop so the food comes up into the chicks neck nor to the point that the crop feels over expanded. A good rule of thumb here is try a little at a time until you determine what is enough. You can always feed more, its hard to take out formula that has been over fed. Most breeders have a hand feeding schedule the schedule I use is as follows:


  • 1-3 weeks- 7:00 am, 11:00 am, 3:00 pm, 7:00 pm, 11:00 pm

  • 4 weeks- 7:00 am, 12:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 10:30 pm

  • 5 weeks- 7:00 am, 3:00 pm, 10:00pm

  • 6-7 weeks- 7:00 am, 10:00 pm

  • 8 weeks- 10:00 pm


As the chicks begin to feather I place them into a "weaning cage", this is a cage with perches positioned low in the cage so the chicks can reach them easily, wide variety of foods and seeds and of course fresh water are placed within easy reach. As the chicks get older I add more perches at higher positions to encourage them to fly and exercise their wings. The hand feeding schedule I use hopefully will gently encourage the chicks to start eating on their own without too many problems. It is very important to check your chicks weight during the hand feeding and weaning process. If you notice you babies not gaining weight or losing too much weight you may need to backtrack and offer formula more often.

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