Chop: all things good for birdie
Chop is one of the many innovations that resulted from the increased desire to better feed captive parrots. Chop is a feeding concept more than anything. You can also say it’s the “everything but the kitchen sink” meal of the parrot world. Essentially, it consists of whatever appropriate ingredients you want to use or have on hand. It can be as simple and cheap or complex and expensive as you desire. Chop is not just for parrots, the chop concept can be applied to all birds and in a broader since to feeding any animal, providing you follow that individual organism’s natural diet/nutritional needs.
You will have to look at the arguments and make your own decisions, but I can give you a place to start and at the bottom of the post are links to some sites with excellent information from people who have been at it for a while.
Things to consider
Your bird’s size
How much chop your birds will eat will change. When you first introduce them to chop they will likely eat only a tiny bit until they get a taste for it. When our boys have a new batch of chop they eat more, then they must get burned out on that batch because about the time it’s almost gone they stop eating it as well.
To figure out how much to feed start with a tbs for small birds or maybe a 1/8 of a cup for large birds. Adjust the amount until you find what they can eat in two hours, that’s about the window of time for food to be out unrefrigerated and safe.
Your flock composition and number
It’s a great idea to look into specific nutritional needs of the species in your flock, that way you can tailor ingredients to their needs.
I have a large silver kitchen bowl, my batch of chop fills that and lasts us about two months with once a day feedings of about two tbsp per bird- we have two cockatiels.
|This is parchment paper/ foil, we bought it and realized we can’t use it in our oven so we are trying to use it up|
It’s really important that you remove as much air from the container and make sure it’s airtight before freezing. If you decide to freeze in ice cube trays I highly recommend moving them from the trays into another airtight container. The chop will get freezer burn quickly being uncovered in the trays. Also make sure you have a really nice set of trays, ones that you never have trouble getting ice out of because the one thing you don’t want to have to do is run the trays under hot water to get the chop cubes out. Melting the outer layer will invite freezer burn. Personally, I used trays in the beginning and quickly decided there had to be a better way. Experiment until you find containers that work for you.
Three days is about the maximum that my chop lasts in the fridge. I go off how it smells; once it smells at all weird it gets tossed.
I rarely refrigerate our chop at all anymore. I discovered a while back that our birds will eat chop while it’s still frozen/ thawing out. Now their little chop balls go straight from the freezer to their bowls, no thawing at all. I think this allows them the freshest chop I can give without making it every day. Check out this post on flash freezing and this one that’s even more applicable to food for birds. This is how I freeze all our chop now and I will not be going back! It lasts longer, thaws faster and retains better quality and it works better since I can just remove what I need for the day from a large container in the freezer.
Birds current eating habits/ diet
If your bird has any health conditions you should talk to an avian vet who understands the chop concept about possible modifications.
If you are introducing chop to a bird who has little to no experience with fresh foods you need to first find a few things they like. Offer little bits of different veggies, fruits, greens and grains. When you make their first batch of chop have the things they liked best in higher amounts than the other ingredients so they will recognize some of the ingredients and be more willing to try the chop. Then they have a chance to learn to like the other things as well.
I also add fruit. Many people advice against adding fruit because it doesn’t freeze well, adds wetness to the chop and makes it spoil faster. I add it because it’s something that gets my boys to eat their chop better. I only add one type and one piece, so either it’s a banana, mango apple or pear. Just enough that the taste is there and only their most favorite fruits.
Wetness of chop
The smaller your veggies are chopped,
the more fruit you add,
the less dried goodies
adding hot, not thoroughly drained cooked legumes/grains
|These are all home dried|
Make it drier by:
dried peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, veggies
*adding dried fruit is generally not advised since they are so high in sugar and usually treated with sulfate to maintain color. Make sure whatever dried goodies you use haven’t been treated with sulfate*
oatmeal, or other rolled grains
flax and chia seed ( when these get wet they make a gel, so they work great to soak up liquid)
nuts, they can help but won’t as much as the other ingredients and you have to be careful not to add to much since they generally add a significant amount of fat.
Methods to make drier chop:
allow your cooked things to fully cool before adding them.
cook the night before you make chop so everything can cool in the fridge- starch -which the things that you will cook are high in- can soak up a lot of water when it’s cooled. Think about how much liquid you have to add to reheat pasta, rice or beans without turning them into dry scorched nastiness- yep, they can help out with wetness issues a lot.
Drain your ingredients well after washing and/or cooking. Some people also advice draining your chopped veggies but I think you loose a lot of nutrients from that. I try to soak that good juice up with the dried goodies. Concentrate on preventing liquids from the cooked things, sprouts and washing veggies from getting in the chop.
Dry your ingredients. You can use paper/ real towels to dry things or a blow-drier that you know isn’t coated with none stick, such as this one
. I use a blow drier all the time since I rarely plan ahead enough to cook the night before. I use a salad spinner for any of the veggies that need drying.
Wet chop is a concern because it will freezer burns faster, spoils faster and some birds aren’t as interested in eating it.
The Don’ts of Chop:
Foods You should never feed:
tea- herbal teas without actual tea leaf in it are fine and often beneficial.
All of these are undigestible and or toxic to your bird.
All the Alliums leaves/bulbs- garlic, onion, chives, green onions…
peanuts/ peanut butter
Things to use with thought:
spinach, parsley, rhubarb, cranberries, celery, beet root and greens, swiss chard
These have high levels of oxalate, a compound that binds calcium and other minerals, that are then excreted in the urine. They can contribute to kidney stones, kidney disease and low calcium levels. Their possible ill affects can be easily mitigated by feeding foods high in calcium, such as:
kale, collard greens, watercress, almonds, okra, chinese cabbage, broccoli, mustard green, beans green or dried, sesame and chia seeds, quinoa.
If your bird already has low calcium levels or kidney issues I would avoid the high oxalate foods until you can talk to an avian vet about a safe level of oxalate consumption for your particular bird.
rice– recently, much of it is has been shown to be highly contaminated with arsenic. Try to check current contamination in the variety you are using if you want to feed rice. At the moment humans are advised to limit their consumption of rice; if it’s a high enough contamination to be a concern to humans we should be very concerned about feeding it to our birds. Read this article and this one for more information.
A note about Beans
lentils (Lens culinaris)
mung beans (Vigna radiata)
adzuki (Vigna angularis)
chick peas (Cicer arietinum)
and peas (Pisum sativum)
I include scientific names so that if you are in a country besides the US you might have an easier time figuring out what they are and if you can get them where you are.
This is because legumes contain complex sugars called oligosaccharides and toxic proteins called lectins. Most mammals and birds cannot digest the oligosaccharides, they are part of the reason why you sometimes get gas and bloating when you eat legumes. Your gut bacteria can digest those compounds. Your bacteria get really excited about the feast you just sent them and eat a whole bunch, making an unusually large amount of gas. Lectins are more of a health concern though; they interfere with normal digestion and metabolism resulting in food poisoning like symptoms. Lectin poisoning does have the potential to be fatal. The “safe five” that can be eaten without cooking still have those compounds but they are able to be deactivated/ digested to safe levels by sprouting. Read my Cooking Legumes post for more information.
My Recipe (this time)
1/2 cup Flaxseed
1/2 cup dried mixed (sulfate free) tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos
1/4 cup mixed ginger powder, red pepper flakes and dill , could also include many other herbs!
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup each mung bean and lentils
1 cup ( after chopped) mixed greens
1/2 cup (after chopped) spinach
1 mango’s fruit
1 inch wide round each of purple and green cabbage
half a sweet pepper with seeds
one whole jalapeno
1/3 bunch cilantro
1/4 of an average head of broccoli
1 medium carrot
1/4 cup wild rice
1/2 cup each bean soup mix and quinoa
what’s in a bean soup mix?
pinto, white,black, kidney (Phaseolus vulgaris)
peas (Pisum sativum)
lima (Phaseolus lunatus)
black eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata unguiculata)
chick peas (Cicer arietinum)
lentils (Lens culinaris)
The actual mix differs with brand and what not but these are the ones I see regularly.
Ingredients: What and why
All the veggies in general:
Such as kale, spinach, swiss chard, lettuce ( not iceberg people!), arugula, cress, mustard, dandelion greens; you can feed any human grade green in moderation.
In the wild parrots eat a large amount of greens. The fiber they provide is important, especially so for some species, for digestion and a strong intestinal tract. In humans, fiber helps remove cholesterol from the body; hopefully it does the same for birds!
Many parrots love peppers and they are high in vitamin C, B vitamins and carotinoids.
These are most important for their carotenoids, think vitamin A.
Flax or chia seed
These little seeds are really high in Omega 3’s. Greens and other veggies also have omega 3’s but the trick is that (with humans at least, I was unable to find a ratio for any avian species) you need a ratio that’s close to equal between the two. Most
grains contribute more omega 6’s; since grains make up so much of the diet you need a higher concentration of omegas 3’s to balance them out.
I don’t know of anything that is safe to sprout for humans that isn’t safe for birds. However,
canavanine, found in alfalfa sprouts can create autoimmune disease like symptoms in humans who have consumed large amounts. In case that could happen with birds they should be fed in strict moderation.
I want to mention quinoa specifically. This little pseudograin is very high in protein and has an excellent amino acid profile. It cooks fast and is delicious.
|cooked beans, quinoa and wild rice|
Like with greens, these are naturally a large part of a parrot’s diet and share most of the same nutrients as veggies. In some species, flowers, pollen and nectar are actually a large part of their diet.
Some edible flowers: nasturtiums, pansies, roses, Allium flowers, radish, mustard and kale.
Chop Making Procedure:
2+ days before you want to make chop start your sprouts, I like everybody to be showing at least a little radical(seed root) when I use them.
Pick out anything you wouldn’t want to eat: shriveled, moldy, broken, weird little foreign objects.
Then rinse them really well and put them in a container with twice their volume of water and more room to expand. Changing the water while soaking once helps prevent your sprouts from becoming really compact in the container as they expand which makes them nigh impossible to get out and it helps prevent them from souring. Soaking overnight, 12 or so hours is best. Then poor off the soak water and rinse them really well.
At this point you can put them in something like a wide bowl, jar, or mesh strainer. There are also these nifty mesh lids
for Mason jars so you can invert a jar of sprouts and even fancier there are gadgets specifically for sprouting. You will need to rinse your sprouts at least twice a day, five times is better and frankly you can’t really rinse them to much as long as you are gently. If you don’t rinse enough the sprouts can sour, mold, rot and not grow.
Some people rinse with various things besides water but I really think that’s unnecessary. Simply using good sprouting practices is your best bet. Early the day you make chop rinse your sprouts one last time and let them dry out as much as possible before you start assembling the chop.
The next thing I do (it’s better to do this the day before) is cook what needs cooking.
Things to add that should be cooked:
beans beside the safe six
squash also benefits from being cooked but it isn’t necessary
You can cook the quinoa and rice called for in my recipe either by boiling in water until tender and then draining or in a rice cooked with a 2:1 water to grain ratio. Unless the quinoa package or bulk bin said specifically that you don’t need to, rinse it vigorously, rub the grains against each other and rinse. Quinoa has a saponin coating that can make it bitter and soapy tasting if not washed thoroughly. You can also sprout, instead of cook, the quinoa and rice.
None of the other veggies need to be cooked, other grains you can cook but you can also sprout them instead.
Chop, mince or use your food processor to make your veggies into the right size pieces. I always chop the greens by hand, I think the food processor just turns them into a paste, creating A TON of liquid in the process. Unless you have a really big food processor you will end up doing it in batches.
I add each batch to the dry ingredients and make sure there is still dry things to soak up liquids from the other batches I will be adding. After the last batch of veggies is added I add the cooked bits and if it’s too wet add more dry goodies, then add the greens.
I Like chopping broccoli by hand but I’m sure it would be fine to chop in a food processor.
And..It’s Done!!! Do a happy dance, give your fids some to see what they think (if you haven’t already) and congratulate yourself for making a delicious healthy meal for your fids!
At this point check your chop wetness one last time, it should be just sticky and start packing it up for the freezer.
|My hubby packaging for the freezer.|
A Few last Notes
For more information about pesticide contaminated foods see the EWG’s website
These resources have all sorts of information and ideas about chop and other crazy awesome ideas for things you can make for your fids!
Last but not least, this post is by no means a complete list of ingredients, opinions, knowledge, methods or concepts about chop ( what’s here will become outdated knowledge but I do plan to change things as the knowledge changes). So, here’s where you come in! Share what’s worked for you; share what you disagree with me about, leave links to other resources and ask and answer each others questions!
This post is participating in The Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways Wednesday Blog Hop
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