Friday, 6 July 2012

Frugal Friday - Bird Care Expenses

One of the things that we have to budget for each week is the expense of keeping our pets.  We've had animals all our lives - both Papa Bear and I grew up around animals - although since marriage, we have only kept small animals that live in cages, rather than dogs or cats, as culturally we consider these animals to be unclean, and do not prefer to have them living indoors with us.  Currently we have 4 birds, a large goldfish, and 2 chinchillas that are the sole responsibility of Cubby and Little Bear.  We don't factor in the expense of keeping the chinchillas, since they fund this themselves.  But the birds and the fish are our concern!

It's often a surprise to people who are new to keeping an animal, just how many expenses there are, even with small pets like ours.  It isn't just the intial expenses of purchasing the animal and the items it needs such as a cage, toys, food bowls and such.  It is the ongoing costs - the food, bedding, cleaning materials - and of course the vet's fees.  It surprises me just how many people seem to be willing to take on the responsibilty of caring for an animal without considering this.  Although it is possible to pay for insurance for the vet treatment of some animals, such as cats, dogs and rabbits, the cost of insuring exotic animals like birds, is outweighed by the fact that many of the conditions they would need treatment for which would be very expensive - such as egg binding - are not covered by insurance.  It is actually cheaper for us to make a monthly saving towards vet's fees, rather than have an expensive insurance policy which might not actually cover what we need to use it for.  But many people do not bother with insurance, and in the case of dogs particularly, this can lead to enormous vet's bills if you are not careful - maybe running into hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.  Sometimes, this can mean that sadly, animals don't get the vital medical care they need - because their owners can't afford it.  They went into getting the pet without considering the ongoing costs.  This is not only irresponsible, but very cruel.  No animal asks to be owned by a human.  If you've chosen to take an animal into your home, then you have a responsibility to that creature, for the rest of its life, to take care of it - as it deserves to be taken care of - whether it is a fish, or a horse.  There are far too many animals languishing in rescue shelters because they were purchased by people who didn't consider carefully just how much money it would cost them to keep the animal.

Our view is that if you are thinking of getting a pet but are unsure of the expenses, and whether you will be able to meet them, then a good way to be sure, without causing distress to the animal (and yourself, if you find you can't afford the ongoing expenses, and have to part with it) is to sit down and work out just exactly what it would cost to keep the animal, and then try to put aside this amount of money every month for a minimum of six months.  If in that time you find it easy to put this money aside without causing hardship in other areas of your budget, then you are probably OK to go ahead with your purchase.

Here is how we break down the expenses of keeping our birds (the fish's expenses are minimal - in all the years we've kept goldfish, we've never had to take one to the vet - and they don't eat much, either.  But they are still animals, and deserve proper care and attention, just as much as any other animal).  This is roughly what we have to buy each month ...
  • Sandpaper - 8 packs of 8 sheets (both sides of each sheet are used - the sheets are changed each day so one side is used one day, and the other the next day, then they are replaced with new sheets).  Newspaper is a safe alternative, but our birds are afraid of it and we prefer the rough texture of the sandpaper, which wears down their claws and saves on vet's bills having to get them clipped.  We can also clip them ourselves - but this is very difficult to do with a nervous, wriggly bird.
  • Grit - 1/4 sack mineral tonic grit
  • Cuttlebone - 4 large
  • Millet spray - 1 bag of approx 8 sprays - only given as treats
  • Hay cookies - 2 (bought in pack of 6) - the birds like to nibble these
  • Seed - two large sacks, one of mixed cockatiel seed, one of tonic seed (we use to buy pelleted food as well.  But this is very expensive, and research is divided on whether or not it is better to give birds pelleted food.  We choose currently to give our birds a mixed diet instead as we feel this is healthier and more econimical).
  • Veggies - 4 large bags of spinach, 6 bags mixed leaves, 1 bag romaine lettuce, 1 cucumber, 2 bags curly kale, 4 packs sugar snap peas, 1 bag frozen peas, 1 bag frozen sweetcorn.  Other veggies given as treats.
  • Fruit - punnet of apricots, 1 orange, 1 apple, 1 peach, half a banana (the birds aren't keen on fruit).
  • Pulses - 1/2 bag mixed pulses (to sprout).
  • (Veggies and fruit are shared with the humans!).
  • 1 bottle bird safe antiseptic spray
  • 4 rolls kitchen paper (used for quick cleaning of cage in the mornings)
Money is also put towards vets' fees, which we invest at the end of the year into our savings if it has not been spent.  On top of this there are other expenses - toys, new food bowls, water bottles, perches, vitamins, homeopathic medications and other specialist cleaning items for deep cleaning the cage.  In addition, for moulting and breeding periods, there is extra food including egg biscuit food and extra seed for brooding parents, plus nesting materials and the specialist equipment for incubating chicks (these are purchased as a one-off).  To raise chicks by hand is extremely difficult and at a minimum requires a lidded tank with a temperature gague, heating pads (these are safer than lamps, and are placed under the tank), at least one extra cage with enough equipment for all the chicks once fledged, a baby bottle warmer (for ensuring that their feed is precisely the right temperature - too cool or hot can cause serious illness in young birds), syringes for hand-feeding young chicks, a steriliser for ensuring all items that come into contact with the chicks is clean, and plenty of kitchen paper and washable muslin cloths for keeping the birds warm and clean.  It is best to acquire these items unless you are absolutely sure that your birds will never breed - even if you don't plan for them to, if you have a male and female they will probably do so, and unless you are happy to destroy the eggs (which I would not recommend, as it causes double-clutching and chronic egg laying) then you may well fetch up with chicks. 

All in all, you can see that keeping birds as pets isn't as cheap as you might imagine - it is not as costly as having a dog or a cat, but they do still cost money, which we are happy to spend.  Our birds are a part of our family, and they are a pleasing and much valued additon - we enjoy caring for them and interacting with them, and find them very rewarding to look after.  We don't spend much money on enetertainment, holidays or other treats, so for us, the birds are a "passtime" we are happy to invest in.  The whole family benefits from having them around, and we feel they are worth every penny of what we spend on them!