The secrets of clay....


Over the past years we have been confronted with a boom of new supplements promising us heaven for our birds. But, do they make a difference?

One almost needs a degree of university studies in order get out all this new info.

Two of these are clay and soil.

I will try to give you some info on the components of soil and clay.

Clay:  Everyone has seen the pictures of Macaws visiting cliffs and picking clay by instinct, but why? In order to neutralize toxins in food? Trying to get some mineral input? To buffer acids in the stomach?

We know clay has the ability to neutralize some toxins, some tribes in South America eating some kind of toxic potatoes, but always eating them together with clay, in order to neutralize this specific toxin.

Clay also has the ability to bind mycotoxins which are being produced by fungi, for example in molded grains. These toxins, and there are different kinds of them, can produce liver failure, impaired growth and fertility and in some cases kill our birds.

Science does not yet know what is and what is not absorbed by clay, but the advice is given not to give it together with medication or other vitamin supplements.

The European Union has done research on this and has approved the addition of 1% of bentonite clay in animal food. At this level no interaction with vitamins being absorbed is seen, but coccidiostats are absorbed as well as magnesium.

Some research proves clay does give some kind of coating of the stomach and intestines which could prevent against viral and bacterial infections.

Pregnant women have been seen eating soil by instinct trying to get some minerals they lack, and also in a way to protect them against infections.

Clay does exist in two forms, sodium bentonite clay and calcium bentonite clay. The first one does contain too much sodium which could give rise to fluid retention in the body. The second one, the calcium bentonite clay seems much better in this way, is a good source of calcium too, and the studies the European Union have done were performed with this kind of clay.

Of importance is to know the difference with charcoal. Charcoal, especially the modern “activated” charcoal has lots of binding sites. In this way it is a super absorber for all kinds of toxins, but on the other side it also binds vitamins and on itself does not deliver any minerals.

Clay does contain aluminium, but this does not seem a problem, but in theory the possibility exists this could give rise to the formation in the intestines of chemical complexation with phosphates with impaired calcium absorption, osteomalacia, fractures and bad eggshell quality. I know some fanciers do use the modern cat litter crystals. Before using them take a good look at the ingredients. If they contain sepiolite or attapulgite beware for them, but if they contain bentonite one does not have to be afraid using them. I don’t think adult birds will pick a lot of these crystals, but my concern is about the fledgings exploring their new world and by this picking in whatever one offers them in their search for food. In conclusion, due to a possible accumulation of lead, and also traces of arsenic, the use of clay in whatever form should not be given at breeding birds and young birds.

I would prefer to give clay always in a wet stage, dissolving it into some water, and give it as a back up water fountain. In this way you give the birds the choice and if you have the time, you can observe if they really consume it in order to detoxify their bodies or in search for lacking minerals.

In my opinion, I would not recommend giving clay to our birds all the year round, but use it in for a limited period, maybe best somewhere in late winter, the resting period for our birds, and just like in nature, as food supply gets limited, put the birds on a diet of seed and water only, no vitamins or softfoods being given, for a period of lets say four weeks, austerity time. By this you give the birds the chance of getting rid of some excess body fat and by using the clay the opportunity to detoxify themselves before building up for the next breeding season, for which we need a minimum of six weeks.

Humic and fulvic acid.

Tough words, but in fact these just are two acids being produced by compostation of plant material. These molecules do have the unique ability to ameliorate the absorption of minerals in every cell of the body and on the other hand to transport toxic heavy metals out of body cells. When using these acids it has been shown the energy level of body cells increases by increasing the activity of the mitochondria, as we call the engines of body cells. Some go beyond this calling them the “sources of life”.

Soil organisms.

When I speak about soil organisms I do not speak about probiotics as we know them right now, like the Acidophilus species, but organisms which can be found everywhere in nature, in the air, in the soil and in water. These organisms are often being ingested in the form of what we call spores, some kind of dormant status of bacteria, but they come alive when conditions for growth are optimal. These spores can survive for decades before getting activated, and they also are resistant to stomach acids. These organisms are not normal inhabitants of the intestinal flora, but one can look at them as some kind of passengers only residing in the intestines for a short period. They act in the way of competitive exclusion, by which other pathogenic organisms like salmonella and of even  more importance fungi do not get the chance of getting attached to the intestinal wall causing disease. For the interested reader they belong to the Bacillus species.

I want to say a final word about the intestinal flora in birds. Some, like Dr. Marshall from Australia say our birds do not have an intestinal flora, creating the “sterile bowel” theory. I do not agree with this. For me the right answer to this is healthy birds, just like humans do have sterile small intestines, but do not have sterile big intestines. Even more, one can see a difference is bird species in the length of the small intestines in relation to the big intestines. Poultry and pigeons do have larger big intestines in comparison with for example canaries or finches, who only have a small large intestine. But for sure, they all have an intestinal flora in these large intestines.

Dr. Jan Vanderborght



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