When last we visited the home of Ray and Wendy Lowe I hinted at the success that they achieved with all their charges and that I had been privileged enough to have been shown into the "inner sanctum" of the dietary delights doled out to the Lowe’s birds.
Well, it proved to be so simple and so well constructed that I thought the rest of the finch world would benefit from using it – if not as a strict regime, then at least as a great basis for constructing an individual recipe.
After visiting the Lowes a number of us started adding bits and pieces from their diet to our own food preparation and there have been no complaints to date!!

The great thing about this diet is its interchangeability with your own recipes. For example the much lauded frozen seed which is a staple of the Lowe’s diet is not available in some regions of Australia – due to economic and agricultural requirements – so we simply substituted it for our old staple of soaked/sprouted seed without missing a beat! Also seasonal demands and availability of certain vegetables in temperate regions is a tad "variable" so substitution is easy – I tend to use Russian Kale as it is rich in calcium and Celery so in they all go!!

Milk or Green Seed:
Before we get into the ‘formula’ as such I think a bit of history is in order for us to fully appreciate how the Green/milk seed came to be freely available to us aviculturists!
Apparently, as close as only 4 years ago it was a common sight around Lowood in summer to see Ray and Wendy wandering about, scissors and bucket in hand, collecting a year’s supply of green seeding heads before it ripened enough to be harvested! It goes that about that time a certain Mike Fidler arrived to commence life as a new-Aussie and requested a similar supply for his own finches!
Suffice it to say that the thought of that many buckets and that much time was enough to prompt Ray to have a word with his neighbour Lester and look into the prospect of heading the French white and Red panicum while it was still in the green stage.
Now if there is one thing that you don’t attempt lightly is to convince a farmer of the virtues of heading seed BEFORE it is ripe!! Rumour has it that Ray had to resort to his best verbal powers of persuasion before Lester agreed to attempt some trials with the green seed heads – I reckon there were some mutterings about crazy bird people and their lack of respect for the principals of farming at the time!!!

So the trials commenced and after unjamming the header numerous times the original header was "modified to suit" and a friendship remained firm!!
The seed as you may have guessed by now is harvested at the ‘milk stage’ and there is a very small window to actually gather it before it ripens further – rainfall at this stage is a disaster!
The actual seed is harvested such that it can be taken from the paddock to the freezer within 30 minutes in order to fully retain the seeds nutrients!

There is no need to defrost the seed when feeding out as it can be fed straight from the frozen container. This milk seed is reputedly around 400 times more nutritious than dry seed which probably explains why wild finches link their own breeding to times when this food source is available.

Now you may feel that overcoming this much adversity and readily producing such seeds would be enough but the obvious question then arises as to what do you actually do with that much milk seed!!!
By this time, and feeling a little smug an 8X8foot freezer was purchased which was fine until said Mr. Fidler then selectively told a ‘few mates" about it – suffice it to say that a 20foot freezer then became an essential purchase!!!

Soaked/Sprouted Seed:
The Lowes have been sprouting finch mix along with Niger and Rape seeds for around 35 years so I thought I’d steal their method as well as their diet!

Must mention that although the finch mix is no longer fed this way in favour of the milk seed all their Niger and Rape is still treated this way.
The desired seeds are soaked in tepid water with 10% bleach for 2 hours.
2) Seeds are then placed into a sieve, rinsed then placed into semi-dark area until the sprouts big to appear. During this stage it is important to keep the seed moist by rinsing occasionally.
3) Once sprouted the seed is then rinsed and soaked again in bleach for 20 minutes after which it is rinsed and drained of moisture and placed in a sealed container in the fridge. Each batch is enough for 2 days use.

The sprouted seed mix, regardless of type, is an excellent source of nutrition when compared to dry seed and is also easily digested by nestlings and weanlings.

The Vegetable Mix:
When I asked Ray and Wendy about their criteria for selecting veggies for this mix I was told "because they are good for us too!!" Who could argue with that logic as most bird people that I know look after their birds as well, if not better, than they do themselves!!

Carrots get the nod because they contain vitamin C, sodium, potassium and fibre plus a small amount of vitamin B thrown in for good measure!
Broccoli has a great load of antioxidants as well as vitamins C, E & A plus fibre, folate, calcium, iron and potassium.
My only comment on this one would be to try and grow your own crop rather than buying chemically treated ones.

Silverbeet (not spinach) is an excellent source of vitamins C, E & A, is rich in B6, folate and a wide range of minerals including iron. It also has high levels of a number of antioxidants including carotenoids, luteinand, zeaxanathin and the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin – see, your mother was right, it IS good for you!!

Peas are one of the best sources of protein and fibre; contain vitamin C, folate and thiamine as well as B6, B3 and B2. They also contain a range of minerals from iron, copper through to phosphorous, potassium and zinc.

Corn contains proteins, fibre and starch and its nutrients include zinc, iron, selenium, potassium, vitamin C and some of the B group vitamins like foliate, thiamin and riboflavin.

All ingredients in the "Veggie Mix’ are added to the food processor until reduced to the size of a grain of rice and the recipe allows for a three day supply which can be kept in the fridge – obviously how much you make up will depend upon how many hungry finch mouths you have to feed!!

The Veggie Mix is fed at the rate of 1/2 cup per kilogram of frozen green seed mix which should suggest you that the Lowes have a LOT of mouths to feed!!

Softfood-Rearing Mix:
Years back the Lowes considered that there was little in the way of satisfactory soft or rearing food available that suited their requirements.
So, undaunted, they headed for the health food shops and produce outlets in order to ‘concoct’ a satisfactory soft food!
This is what they put together!
4 kg organic chick starter mash
8 cups soy (must be full fat toasted )
2 cups copra meal
1 cup kelp meal
Ray and Wendy have made recent improvement to their formula by way of Mike Fidlers Complete Soft Food (as marketed by Birds R Us in Cessnock NSW), the reason being that Mike picked up on the ingredients that were lacking and packed John Barrett off in search of an economical source of them!
In their current mix 6 cups of the Complete Soft Food are added to their mix which they feel ahs given them the best nutritional balance.

Their soft food is added to the frozen green seed at a rate of half a cup to 2kg seed.

Whew! I do believe I have presented to you the best of their diet and the reasons why it was selected for their feathered friends. Now I’m sure I speak for the Lowes when I say that no diet should ever be ‘set in concrete’ and as ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ I feel sure you’ll find some aspects of this regime of immediate use to your own finch feeding schedule.
The generosity and candour of the Lowes in presenting all this information to us I believe speaks volumes for them as aviculturists.
Just in case you think it is strictly an economically driven venture then at the risk of embarrassing them further I’d like to add that they are also one of the Save The Gouldian Funds largest supporters!

I’ll leave the final few words to the Lowes and present you with the full list of the foods fed to their finches!

                                                             Individual Recipes.

Brown Mixes 2kg

4 parts White French Frozen Milk Seed.
1 part Red Pannicum Frozen Milk Seed.
(If unavailable
use quality sprouted/soaked seed mix)

To above Add:
Half teaspoon Multivitamin e.g. Solvita
Half Cup rearing Food (see below)
Half Cup Sprouted Niger/Rape mix.

Black Mixes 1kg
Sprouted Niger/Rape mix.
Add quarter of a teaspoon of Multivitamin.
Half Cup Veggie Mix (see below)

Veggie Mix:
2 medium sized carrots
3 leaves Silverbeet (washed)
1 cup frozen Peas
1/3 head broccoli (washed)
1/2 cup frozen Corn Kernels
Chop fine in food processor and will supply 3 days feeding.

Rearing Food:
4 kg Organic Chick Starter Mash.
8 Cups Soy (must be full fat toasted – we use Soygize Hyfeed for Horses)
2 Cups Copra Meal.
6 Cups Mike Fidlers Complete Soft Food.
1 Cup Kelp Meal.

Siskin Mix:
2 cups sprouted Niger.
quarter cup sprouted Rape seed.
quarter cup white French millet and Red pannicum frozen seed.
quarter teaspoon multivitamin mix.

As mentioned in the aviary visit the finches are fed from Wendy’s pram and the inhabitants are fed according to the following rule of thumb!
Refer to last edition of Just Finches for details of aviaries and the species contained.

All Mixed Collections - Are given ¾ brown mix and ¼ black mix along with Fly larvae.
Parrot Finches - ¾ black mix ¼ brown mix along with cucumber (Lebanese preferred because of its higher vitamin C content.)
Red siskins - Siskin mix plus Chickweed (Stellaria media) when available.
Canaries – Black mix.
Gouldians - ¾ brown mix plus ¼ black mix.
Peter’s Twinspots - ¾ brown mix and ¼ black mix plus White ants and Fly larvae.

This feeding is expected to be eaten by midday, after which the pram goes out again with a top up of only frozen and sprouted seeds to only birds feeding young and young being weaned off.

All birds are fed each day with a ration of ½ teaspoon per pair when they do not have young while pairs feeding young are fed ad lib.

Birds that show a ‘designated breeding season’ and which are not in a mixed collection - such as Gouldians and some Parrot Finches – have this diet removed after their moult and it is not recommenced until about 5 weeks prior to the start of their breeding season.

Dry Seed Mixes:

Like most of us the Lowes believe that a quality finch mix is a must, and when possible Seed Quality seed is purchased - especially if using the seeds for sprouting mixes.

Lowe’s Basic Seed Mix:
1 ½ Red Pannicum
1 ½ Siberian or Jap millet
½ White French
2 Plain canary

Siskin Mix:
1 part niger seed
¼ rape seed
¼ Finch mix
Sunflower kernels ( de-husked ) are put through the food processor to break them up and these are fed in a separate dish.

Shell Grit:

A fine grade shell grit is used which is placed in the sun for a couple of days in shallow trays. To this is then add baked egg shells, charcoal, mineral- trace element supplement, and last of all D fortified calcium supplement.

Again I must add my thanks for all this plethora of information which I am sure all of us will benefit from in some way!
I know of a few Taswegians that have found this formula to be very, very useful – a common sense approach and easy to institute!!
Let’s just say we are waiting for the long cold to be over so we can see how these changes are reflected on our own modest breeding results.

To Ray and Wendy the thanks of a hardened bunch of finch addicts!

For those wishing to grab some of the Frozen Green/Milk Seed to trial then you can contact either:
Ray & Wendy Lowe direct on 07 54 26 2101
Ace Colony Aviaries in Sydney on 02 96 35 0598
John Butler in the Hunter Valley on 02 49 38 3552