Old World Aviaries

Unweaned babies

by Scott Lewis Unweaned Senegal babies.

So you want to buy an unweaned baby. Well, unless you're an experienced handfeeder, we won't sell you one.* Let's talk about why.

Why people want to buy unweaned babies

Typically, people want to buy unweaned babies for one or more of the following reasons.

  1. They have been told that an unweaned baby will bond better.

  2. They have found that unweaned babies typically cost less.

  3. They want the experience of caring for their baby and watching it grow.

Reason one is not true. I have three pet parrots; all are closely bonded to me. I handfed one, an African grey named Bogie. Two, Fossi, a Senegal, and Irene Pluckerbird, another Grey, were purchased as sexually mature birds. They weren't suitable for breeding and quickly became bonded pets. And, we have sold many fully weaned babies and have never received a complaint about lack of bonding between a baby and its new owner. In fact, it is not at all unusual for a baby to decide to bond with someone in the household other than the person who did the handfeeding. My theory on this is that it is like a teenager who says, "Thanks Mom, but I need to make my own friends now."

Reason two is true. Breeders typically sell unweaned babies at reduced prices. And, a couple of hundred dollars may make a difference on a short-term basis. However, remember that a typical parrot with proper care will be with you many more years than most other pets. If you amortize the cost difference of, for example, a weaned versus an unweaned African Grey over 30 or 40 years, the savings are less than $10 per year. And, the savings become even less significant when the cost of handfeeding, the increased potential for veterinary expenses, and the possibility of the baby dying are considered.

In our opinion, reason three is the only valid reason for buying an unweaned baby. However, we feel that the risks to the baby outweigh the potential benefits to the new owners.

Why breeders want to sell unweaned babies

So, why do breeders try to sell you unweaned babies? Although a few do believe it aids in bonding, many have other reasons that are not so meritorious.
  1. Less work. Selling a 6-week-old baby on 4 or 5 feedings can save a breeder 4 to 8 weeks of handfeeding.

  2. Reduced risk. Babies can have problems and even die as a result of handfeeding mistakes. And, because their immune systems are not well developed, they are more susceptible to infections than are older birds. The sooner a baby is out the door, the more likely the new owner instead of the breeder will experience such a problem.

  3. Reduced costs. Believe it or not, it does cost money to house and handfeed a baby. And, if a baby should get sick, veterinarians can get expensive in a hurry.

  4. Improved cash flow. Many breeders would prefer having the money in the bank, even if it is a little less money, to waiting until a baby is weaned to receive full payment.

Why you shouldn't buy an unweaned baby

First, we won't lie to you. Handfeeding a baby can be a rewarding experience. If we didn't find taking care of babies and watching them grow rewarding, we wouldn't breed parrots. However, handfeeding a baby also can be a heartbreaking experience. And, it is more likely to be with a novice than with an experienced handfeeder. Here are some reasons you should not buy an unweaned baby.
  1. Aspiration. When a baby gets food in its lungs it has aspirated. Even relatively mild aspiration can cause pneumonia unless promptly treated. Severe aspiration causes immediate death. Even experienced handfeeders occasionally have babies that aspirate. However, experienced handfeeders know how babies act when they aspirate and are more likely to recognize the condition and start treatment before pneumonia becomes a problem.

  2. Crop burn. Crop burn occurs when the handfeeding formula is too hot. Usually, the burned tissue must be excised and the crop sewn back together. Severe crop burn can result in death. And, a difference of a few degrees can make the difference in a burned crop and a healthy one.

  3. Increased disease risk. As a baby develops, its immune system develops. The younger the baby, the more susceptible it is. Bacterial and yeast infections are not uncommon in neonates. And, some viruses that are fatal in neonates are typically thrown off by more mature birds.

  4. Unrecognized disease. An experienced handfeeder is more likely to spot a baby that is in trouble at an earlier stage. By the time a baby is obviously sick, it is really sick. An overnight delay in starting treatment may be fatal.

If you choose to ignore our advice

We hope we have convinced you that you shouldn't buy an unweaned baby. But, if you choose to ignore our advice, please:
  1. Buy from a local breeder who is willing to train you in handfeeding. Ensure that the breeder is willing to provide support if you experience problems after you take the baby home.

  2. Buy a baby that is on two feedings at most. Younger babies are more likely to experience problems.

  3. Find a good avian vet before you take the baby home. And, remember that an excellent dog-and-cat vet may not be an excellent avian vet.

  4. Buy the proper equipment, especially a gram scale. Often the first signs we have that a baby is in trouble is weight loss or inconsistent weight gain when the baby is on three or more feedings or excessive weight loss while the baby is weaning.

*Having fed one or two babies does not make you an experienced handfeeder.

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