Food Management

What is it and how can we use it?


Food management is a tool that can be used for training, regardless of whether that is trick training or for resolving a problem behavior.  I think it's an important enough tool that we should all understand it and understand how it works.

Food management simply means how and when a resource (food in this case) is delivered; nothing less, nothing more. It is when we look at the how and when that we run in to a variance in methods.  It is my opinion and that of many trainers and behaviorists, that you can use food management to increase motivation without any need for weight loss.  Actually, in some cases, the increased motivation will cause an increase in weight and you may have to adjust your feeding amounts down.  Food Management does not mean deprivation!

Most of us right now, have our birds on a free feed schedule.  There is almost always food in front of them or available to them if they desire.  Nothing is required of them to gain this food. Heck, they barely have to move to even reach it.  Would you think this is what their natural biology has prepared them for?  On the contrary, they are built to forage, flying distances to find food, manoeuvring through tree branches and leaves to get to the food.  In our homes, they lean their head over and take food out of that ever filled bowl.

Food management is about allowing them to work for SOME of their food, rather than none of their food.  It's about letting them fulfill (in part) an instinct they were designed for.  It's about challenging their minds a little, keeping them active. But through it, we can also reap some good consequences with training.

There is a great article available on the web that describes a very positive type approach to Food Management.  The article, written by Cassie Malina, is based on the training methods of Steve Martin from Natural Encounters, Inc. .

I've tried in this little article, to break Cassieís article down into steps to make it all easier to understand.  If you decide to implement this plan, it will take a bit of work on your part, until you know the weights and amounts.

It would be nice if you have a fairly accurate scale to implement this plan but any scale will do if it weighs the same each day. It doesn't necessarily matter if it gives the correct weight, just that it's incorrect the same amount each time its used.

So to start you should have a gram scale and a little book to keep track of weights and use as your journal.

Day 1

Weigh your bird in the morning, before he has eaten, preferably after he has had his morning poop.  This is his ad-lib weight - his weight while being on free feed.  Actually, its not totally necessary that itís in the morning, but do weigh at the same time each day.  The advantage of a morning weight is that there will be little food in the system to change the results.

Now when you go to feed his normal rations, weigh this.  If you are feeding a mixture of fresh veggies, fruits, pellets and seeds try measuring each individually, the actual true amounts you are putting in the dish.  Let your bird eat until it is done eating (15-20 minutes should be plenty of time).  Remove the remaining food and weigh it.  Again, if itís possible to separate the different categories of food, do so and weigh individually.  Note the amount EATEN.  Don't forget if there is food thrown on the bottom of the cage to also weigh that.  It is part of the uneaten amount.

Do the same at the next feeding.  At this point I might add, you don't need to feed 3x a day.  Morning and late afternoon/evening is fine.  If you normally leave pellets/seed mix in the bowl between the two main feedings, fine, but weigh them when putting them in and weigh what's left when you feed your second main meal.

If you think about it, we don't sit in front of a plate of food all day, nor does your bird need to.  It's a difficult concept for some pet owners since we've all been taught that they need this huge variety of food all the time or we are neglecting them.  Also, most food bowls are very large and make us feel we need to add more food.  This doesn't appear to true. In the wild they exert a lot more energy than in our homes, and appear to survive fine on less food.

Day 2 and onward

Weigh your bird again before he has eaten or at the same time as you did yesterday.  Look at your figures for what actually got consumed in your morning feeding yesterday.  Only feed this amount. If you fed 60 grams of mixed food yesterday for breakfast but there were 20 grams left after the bird had quit eating, today only put 40 grams into the dish.  When the bird is done eating, remove the remainder and weigh it again.  If you put pellets/seeds in the bowl between main feedings, only put in the amount that appears to have been eaten yesterday.  Our goal is to see how much is actually being consumed to MAINTAIN our starting weight.  If the weight appears to be down one day, up the food to what was used the last day without a weight loss.  A few grams fluctuation in weight either way is fine.  No weight is consistent to the gram each and every day nor each and every hour of the day.

Once you know how much food is required to maintain our original starting weight , we can begin our plan.  You should probably notice by now that the food being offered is being eaten rather than wasted.  Again, we want the original weight MAINTAINED so if you notice a drop of 3% or more of the original weight, you need to add back in some food.

Implementing Food Management for Training

So we have now learned how much food we need to feed our bird each day for it to maintain the exact same weight it was at when we were free feeding before.  We've cut down on waste and haven't deprived our bird of anything.  It's now time to implement our plan to try and achieve our training goals.

The plan, as I see it, is very flexible from here on in. It can be changed very easily incorporating the few facts that we know: the weight of the bird and the weight of the food eaten daily and your schedule.

If your schedule is such that the best time for doing any training is the morning, withhold serving breakfast.  Prepare your bowl of food for breakfast and before training, allow the bird to pick a few tiny morsels out of the bowl.  Notice what it picks.  Take bowl away and remove those things the bird picked. i.e. if he picked a grape and picked a pellet, remove some the grapes and a few pellets from the bowl.  Cut these into small, reward size pieces.  Do your training using these bits as the rewards.  When training is done, give the bird its breakfast.  Any of the pieces that you removed for rewards and weren't used, can be put back into the dish.

If afternoon training works better for you, the ideal time would be before that big supper meal, whether that is before or after your supper.  I would suggest removing the pellets and seeds (if you have them in the cage) a few hours before training.  Again, present the dish of food to the bird and allow it to pick what interests it the most.  Use these for rewards.  Once training is done, feed your bird its supper.

Fluctuating the Plan

Since we aren't depriving the bird of anything, this plan can be changed many ways.  If you want to do several little training sessions in a day, take the early rewards from the breakfast amount, the later training rewards from the supper amount.

You could also use those seed or pellets that you have in the cage most of the day.  Take the amount out of the total for training.  You could use other special treats, ones that aren't in the normal daily diet.  The whole idea of this plan is to utilize part of the actual food the bird eats in a day, as the rewards.

If you know your day will be a busy one, and there will be no time for training (hence earning the food) just feed the full amounts.

With this plan the bird won't be hunger driven, but it will have learned that this food resource has value.  It has learned that the bowls aren't bottomless.  It has learned to work for some of it's food.  It has also learned that you are the dispenser for some of this resource.

Remember, this is just one more tool!


Again, I would like to acknowledge Dr. Susan Friedman for teaching me and reviewing and critiquing my explanations.


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