Category Archives: Birds

Exotic Pet Garden

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

ABOUT PET GARDENING:

GARDEN

I’ve kept all sorts of exotic pets throughout my life and have refined my methods of feeding and housing them over the years as I’ve learned more about their unique needs. This education has allowed me to continually enrich their environment & diet to provide the best possible care. Therefore, this article is an attempt to share my experiences in keeping and housing but can certainly be adapted to any.  In my newest article (available soon) I’ll discuses the design and build of my used to house 3 colonies of birds and a pair of box turtles.  In this article I’ll share with the reader feeding and gardening strategies for these pets.

WHY:

TURTLEVEGGIESAs owners of exotic pets we all struggle to keep our refrigerator stocked with fresh greens and veggies to provide daily “salads” to our friends.  Because I share a love of both pets and gardening I decided to plant a vegetable garden specifically to feed my birds and turtles.  An extra incentive was what seems to be the continuous recall of commercial vegetable due to bacterial and other contamination, and the high cost of organic produce.  I’ve found that I can supply my pets with safe, organic, nutritious and cost effective vegetables by growing them myself.

STEP ONE / PLANNING:

The first step in planning the garden should be to determine how much room you have available to dedicate to your garden.  This will vary for all yards and needs and no one formula is perfect.  Your garden can range from one or two planted patio pots to a raised box garden or a large garden plot.  I found it easiest to start with a small garden plot and have enlarged and expanded it over the years.  As you experiment with the size of your garden you’ll learn how much of each veggie to plant and how much food your pets will require.

For my garden I started with a small patch of dirt that I didn’t have any other plants or flowers growing on.  As an avid gardener this was unacceptable because of course all available space must be used.  So the area I placed my garden in is irregular in shape and has grown to about 9 feet x 17 feet in size.  I’ve found that this size works best for me and certainly allows me to grow enough veggies for my 2 box turtles and allows a large variety of extra vegetables to feed to the 3 colonies of birds.  The 3 aviaries include 2 Rosellas, a colony of Bourkes and a colony of male ‘fly-in’ or rescue Cockatiels.  It also supplies my 2 Goffin cockatoos with veggies.

STEP TWO / ENVIRONMENT:

The next step in planning your garden is to consider the environment in which you live and determine the best vegetables that will grow in your area and the best time for planting each type of vegetable. Also don’t forget that you are growing these for your pets so plant only items that are of good nutritional value to them and of course veggies they like and will eat.

My garden in located in the (AZ) and due to the inferno of our summers many of the more common veggies just don’t do very well here or need to be planted in the winter to prevent frying under our summer sun.  This too will take some experimenting to determine what will work best for your area.  A good resource is your local University corporative extension for horticulture.  I suggest googling your city and cooperative extension horticulture to locate a web site for your area of the country.  A good resource for AZ is:  http://ag.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/ .
Also here is a good link for a national listing of cooperative extensions:  http://cals.arizona.edu/maricopa/garden/html/general/links.htm#CE .

For the desert southwest I’ve found that many vegetables do well if planted in a good location and at the correct time of year.  I plant my garden in full sun but do create microclimates by placing more sensitive plants next to large or aggressive growing plants allowing for more shade.  As an example I have a large Wisteria growing on a garden arch and I plant my green bean plants on the east side of this allowing for cooling in the afternoon shade.

So consider your layout to provide for these microclimates.

STEP THREE / WHAT VEGETABLES?

MARIGOLDSANDTOMATOCurrently, I grow carrots, a variety of squash, beans, corn, eggplants (for us), tomatoes (for turtles), numerous types of peppers, leafy greens, zucchini, pumpkins, and of course flowers.  I’ve found that the seeds for the leafy greens must be planted in the fall in my area for a good early spring or later winter growth.  The other plants I grow by a mixture of seeds and sprouts and typically plant in the late winter to allow a good harvest over the summer.  One tip is to collect seeds from your plants each harvest to allow for easy and inexpensive replanting the next year.  Again experimentation is your best tool and you’ll find over time what does the best and what your pets enjoy.  I find that my ornate box turtles will eat just about anything but love the corn, squash, greens, tomatoes, and baby carrots – oh and they love zucchini.  My birds enjoy all types of peppers, corn, some squash, carrot tops and sprouts of everything especially the leafy greens.

As a side note, I also grown a variety of herbs and I’ve found that my birds love these and that they are easy to grow even in the heat of our AZ summer.  Some of the herbs I’ll plant in my garden plot but most of them are planted in pots by the aviary.  My aviary has misters on the outside that run during the summer and these seem to create a good microclimate for the herb pots. The pots allow for convenient plucking of leaves and stems during each visit to the aviary.  The birds and turtles now expect a ‘gift’ with each visit and my herb pots make this an easy task. While I have a large selection of herbs I’ve found that mint plants do vary well, come in a large variety of flavors and scents and are well accepted by the birds.

STEP FOUR / ARRANGEMENT OF VEGETABLES & SOIL:

Okay so being a flower gardener and not terribly organized my vegetable garden is full of flowers and definitely not organized.  I  couldn’t bring my self to have a large plot of ground with only veggies and no color so did some research and found that marigolds do great in AZ (often will live all summer) and have some natural insect repellent factors aiding in organic insect control for your garden.  I purchased some commercial marigold seeds and literally tossed them throughout the garden at first planting.  These now re-grow every year from seeds they have dropped and seem to do a great job of keeping pests away. Additionally, we grow lantana throughout our garden for the beauty of the flowers and the natural insect repellent (berries are toxic). While we don’t feed the lantana we have found that their leaves when plucked work nicely as a natural scrubber and bacterial to scrub out the water dishes with, keeping them clean and safe for the birds.

For arrangement of your veggies, I do recommend considering your access to the individual vegetable plants for harvesting.  My arrangement of a long and wide plot makes access sometimes challenging but I like the look so stay with it.  The best set-up for growing is long and narrow rows allowing access to every plant and easy watering.

Also consider how the individual plants will grow.  Veggies such as squash will be ground vines and will quickly overtake other plants and spread outside your plot.  As they are growing you can manipulate them to the area you have laid aside, but this will take daily investigation and arrangement of your garden. Another option is to have two plots with one designated for vegetable vines and one for other plants such as carrots, peppers, and tomatoes.

GARDENPUMPKINSoil is perhaps the most important thing to consider when planting and it is important to amend your soil prior to any planting. In AZ we have very poor soil but I’ve still been able to grow beautiful gardens by amending prior to planting with organic mulch and then continuing to mulch throughout the growing season.  So basically, I worked with what I had for soil with only a small amount of improving for the first garden and each successive garden, due to continued mulching, has resulted in a lovely plot with much improved soil for vegetables.

STEP FIVE / CARING FOR YOUR GROWING HARVEST:

Many options are available for you to easily care for you garden, but I enjoy the old fashioned method of hand watering and organic fertilization.  However, if you don’t have this time a simple battery operated timer and watering system can be purchased at any of the large box stores.  This method is inexpensive and I’ve used the faucet timers for my bird’s mister system and find that they work well.  Theses timers can also be connect to a drip or sprinkle system for daily watering of your garden at little expense.

In regards to organic growing, please always keep in mind that your pets and perhaps your family will be eating these vegetable so avoid all commercial pesticides.  I’ve found the best method is companion planting with marigolds & herbs. Marigolds have worked form me to keep pests away and “smelly” herbs seem to also be good pest control agents for the garden.  Here are a few links on companion planting

http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/garden/archives/006590.html

http://toadstoolponds.wordpress.com/2007/12/07/why-plant-marigolds-in-your-vegetable-garden/

http://www.n8ture.com/herbalcompanion.html

http://www.global-garden.com.au/gardenbegin_veg1.htm

http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/flowering-annuals/marigold-yellow-flower.html

One thing to remember in an organic garden is not to expect perfection.  U.S. grocery stores and produce stands have accustomed us to expecting that perfect vegetables or fruits with absolute perfect size and shape that is free of any blemishes.  I’ve learned to accept various sizes and shapes from my own garden and a certain degree of insect pests.

I do feel that companion planting is helpful but if additional control is needed I simple use a soap water spray and that also seems to curtail the pests and prevents an infestation.

STEP SIX / HARVESTING:

DSC01040-copyThe arrangement of my garden has allowed for continued harvesting throughout the spring and summer keeping all my pets well fed.  I attempt to plant vegetables with various maturation rates and continue to plant throughout the season to keep the harvest as long as possible. As a result I’m able to walk my garden daily and pull a days worth of veggies for the birds and turtles.  On a typical day I’ll harvest several squash – zucchini, pumpkin, and others, many peppers, tomatoes, beans and greens.  But of course the availability of vegetables to harvest will continually change throughout the season allowing me to provide my pets with a rich variety of nutritious organic meals daily.

CONCLUSION:

I hope this article prompts others with exotic pets to start their own garden.  As you can see with minimal expense, time and materials you can enrich your pet’s diet and lives and have the joy of watching them experience the fruits of your labor.

Bird Behavior

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

Avian Behavior

DSC04989_edited-1

1) Gaining independence: Many young birds will go through a stage in which they are learning how much force to use with their beaks and also attempting to gain some independence. At this time owners will often get a few bites. I recommend that when the bird bites too hard tell the bird no and place back in the cage. Often this is all you need to do to teach the bird not to bite from the get go. Remember that we are not trying to stop the bird from using its beak – they will often use the beak to grasp your hand while stepping up and to preen us. We are only trying to teach the bird how much force it can use.

2) Hormonal: This is a tuff one and something I commonly see in Amazons, which reach maturity, but it can occur in all types of birds. Often you will see a loving young bird suddenly turn on the individual who has raised it and “pick” another family member as their favorite. This is similar to a wild bird leaving its parents and choosing a mate. The best way of dealing with this is to 1) understand that this is a natural behavior and 2) Have the family member the bird has picked limit their interaction with your bird, spend time with the bird when that family member is absent, and ensure that only you are the one to provide all favorite treats and activities. The environment can also be altered somewhat to attempt to reduce breeding behavior. Limiting the daylight hours to mimic a winter sun will often help.

3) Territorial: This can often be linked to hormonal behavior but typically is the bird that is over protective of its cage and will bite any introduced hand. Firstly, your bird should be taught the “up” command for the start. In this way the bird is trained to always step onto your hand with this command. Often only letting the bird out of the cage by first having it step up and onto your hand will limit the development of aggression. Some people advocate teaching the bird to step up onto a perch. This can be used but only if the bird is unafraid of the offered perch. Once this bird steps up I recommend taking the bird away from the cage for any further interaction – choosing a neutral territory. Another expression of territoriality can occur as a form of jealousy in which the bird is aggressive to others and sometimes to the owner in the other family member’s presence. This behavior can be improved by encouraging the bird to interact with the other family member(s) for treats and special attention out of the owner’s presence (basically the reverse of a hormonal bird).

4. Feather Picking & Skin Mutilation: Feather picking is the most frustrating behavior we have to treat in the veterinary medical field and skin mutilation is the worst manifestation of the behavior. The first and most important thing is to have the bird thoroughly examined by an avian veterinarian. I always recommend to clients to give their bird the benefit of the doubt and first assume it is a medical problem. If medical problems are ruled out then we can safely spend the time needed to work on the behavior. Of course the easiest and best way to treat feather picking is to avoid it in the first place (see the correct beginning below). However, if you already have a feather picker there are some things we can do.

Avian Veterinarian

Little Critters Animal Hospital, Jill Patt, DVM

rosella

Your avian veterinarian should be one of the most important aspects in providing your bird with a long and healthy life. I highly recommend establishing a relationship with a veterinarian the first day you acquire your new bird. Additionally, all birds should be examined at least yearly by a veterinarian and I recommend regular lab screening as well. The lab screening will vary depending upon what the veterinarian feels is important but typically includes a fecal panel, complete organ panel, and a look at the red and white blood cells. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Birds are notorious for not showing signs of illness until they are critical and a good way to catch them in the early stages of any disease is with basic lab screening. Another benefit of lab screening is for the establishment of normal values for your individual bird. This becomes important when your bird is ill because we have those baseline values to compare the current results to. This allows your veterinarian to determine the longevity of the disease and also helps to allow them to focus on the changes that are of most importance. If I could do only one thing with this web site, it would be to enforce the importance of a good relationship with your veterinarian. Your bird will never get better care then by seeing someone who knows him/her and most importantly knows what is typical for your bird, both in behavior and laboratory results.