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Feeding & Management - (Chapter 3)...
Author: Guy BarrettTitle: Feeding & Management - (Chapter 3)
Date: 2002-09-14 23:57:29Uploaded by: webmaster
There are well over a hundred thousand racing-pigeon fanciers in Britain. Some are extremely successful and win many races each seson. Others are less so, and manage only occasionally to win a race, whilst a great number fly their birds for manny years without achieving any success at all. These fanciers nevertheless derive great pleasure from their love of their pigeons, and their friendship with their fellow fanciers.

Even the most skilful fancier cannot expect to win unless he has good pigeons and, conversely first-class birds in poor hands will be equally unsuccessful. Luck also plays its part, of course, for the best pigeon can fall prey to the shotgun in the hands of a man who does not know a "racer" from a wood pigeon just as easily as can the useless one. Success depends about 45% on the pigeon, 45% on the man, and 10% on luck. We should all have our share of luck, so we must obtain good birds and manage them correctly.

Amongst the most successful fanciers, it is probably true to say that no two of them manage and feed their birds in exactly the same way. There will be many old fanciers who will not approve of everything I write, but I feel that all will agree it is important to have a system of management, and to stick rigidly to it. Nothing upsets pigeons more than living under continually changing methods of feeding and exercise. Indeed, regularity is of prime importance, so try to feed your birds at the same time every day - let them out at the same time, and clean the loft at the same time. The birds then know what to expect and what to look forward to at all times and, consequently, they will be contented and happy.

How to hold a pigeon

Always move about the loft slowly. Avoid sudden movements and when handling the birds, do so as gently as possible. Refrain from catching them except when necessary. It is better to catch six pigeons on one visit to the loft than to catch one bird on each of six visits.

The best way to catch a pigeon is to focus its attention on the left hand by moving it slowly from side to side at shoulder length, and then to catch the bird by placing your right hand quickly over its back. The left hand can then assist in carefully taking the bird from its perch. It should be held in one hand with the fingers under the body, with the bird's legs gripped between the first and second finger. In this way you will gain the confidence of your birds, and each time you enter the loft they will not be wondering whether they are going to be caught.

What and how much to feed are problems which most beginners take some time to solve satisfactorily. Many writers nowadays recommend hopper feeding of either beans or peas. This method undoubtedly suits those fanciers who have to be away from their lofts for extended periods, but I am sure it has many disadvantages.

Firstly, only one type of grain can be fed. If the hopper were filled with a mixture, the pigeons would only eat the kind of corn they preferred. In the same way, if given the choice, some children would eat nothing but sweets, but this would not be beneficial to their future developments and well-being. Secondly, having corn always in front of them, the birds never become hungry - they never show a healthy appetite, and therefore are consistently bad "trappers". Because they are never hungry, the owner has no control over them. We humans do not like to live on one sort of food alone, and neither do birds! in their natural habitat all wild birds live on a variety of foods. But their food is not always before them. If it were, I feel they would lose much of their zest and become lazy. For these reasons then, my birds are fed twice a day on a mixture of grains.

It is essential that the corn should be absolutely free from dust, and of the best quality the fancier can afford. It should be hard, well harvested, mature grain, and it should be fed to the birds in a trough - not just thrown on to the loft floor.

See Chapter 2 (Feed Trough)

Humans like their food nicely served and completely clean, and it is just as important that, if we are to get the best out of them, our birds should receive their food in a clean receptacle where it cannot become fouled by excreta.

English tic beans, maple beans, Indian corn (maize - Cinquantina if possible), tares and a small amount of clean, hard wheat in the following proportions, form the diet of my birds the whole year round:

          4 parts - peas
          1 part - beans
          1 part - tares
          2 parts - maize
          1 part - wheat

Pigeons require about 1oz (35grams) each of corn daily, but this varies according to the time of year. During the spring and summer when they are leading very active lives, and during the autumn when they are moulting, pigeons eat far more than they do during the months of January and February. In these months the moult is finished, the days are short, and the birds spend fourteen or fifteeen hours out of every twenty-four roosting on their perches.

The novice will wonder when he has given his birds enough to eat. This is learned only by experience. Generally speaking, however, he should give no more corn when the birds start to drink or when they start picking out certain types of corn and rejecting the rest. In any case, no corn should be left in the troughs. The troughs must be removed, and the birds will then search around and eat any grains which have found their way onto the floor before they become soiled.

Pigeons should always have a supply of fresh water before them. This is best changed twice a day before feeding, and should be in one of the purpose-made pigeon water-fountains, so that it cannot become fouled by excreta. Pigeons always drink after eating, and will nearly always fly down for another drink about an hour later. This is because the corn swells as it absorbs water in the crop before passing into the gizzard. This way a pigeon which still appears hungry immediately after being fed, will not come down for further corn an hour or so later. It is therefore preferable to feed a good hour before dusk in the winter to give the birds an opportunity to have this second drink. They should, in any case, be fed at the same time each day for, as stated above, regularity is one of the keystones to success.

When the swollen and softened corn passes into the gizzard, it is ground up by the pieces of grit which pigeons (and all seed-eating birds) eat, and which perform a similar job to the teeth in mammals. Hence pigeons must have a supply of grit constantly before them. This can be put in a small pot on the floor of the loft. Feed only a small quantity at a time, just sufficient to cover the bottom. The container may then be cleaned regularly without unnecessary waste. Also some kinds of grit tend to attract water if left in the moist atmosphere for any length of time. My birds have two well-known makes of grit, also black mineral salts. Packets of these salts, which the birds love, can be obtained from any corn merchant. These salts contain all the essential minerals required to keep pigeons in perfect health in body and feather.

Several years ago, I sold a pair of pigeons to a man who lived about ten miles away. He settled the birds successfully in his loft, but every day they used to come to my loft (the cock in the morning, then hen in the afternoon) just to get their daily requirement of these salts. This continued for a number of weeks until I happened to meet him and told him what was happening. He got some minerals and I never saw those birds again!

There are certain other kinds of corn which the birds require occasionally. Linseed is a valuable source of vitamins, and my birds get a small amount of this after their evening feed, once or twice a week. On race days in the summer, I use a mixture of seeds as a trapping mixture and tit-bit. This is made up of hemp, linseed, groats, rice and safflower seed, in approximately equal proportions. Pigeons love this, especially the hemp! A small amount is given when each bird returns. All the birds get some, of course, and the returning racers soon learn to expect this tit-bit, and 'dive' through the trap as soon as they land. No other food is necessary and I never use any patent tonics.

The next question is that of exercise I am a firm believer in allowing the birds an open loft if possible. My birds are let out at eight o'clock every morning - winter and summer - unless the weather is foggy or there is snow on the loft roof, and they are permitted to come and go as they please till dark. This system has much to reccommend it. When first let out of the loft the birds, enjoying the exercise, will fly for perhaps half an hour before they land. During the day they are continually 'striking off', that is, taking to the air and flying for a few minutes each time before returning - thus they get far more exercise than if they were left in the loft all day. My pigeons are able to spend many hours in the sunshine and I am sure this is beneficial, particularly to growing youngsters. They love to lie on the loft roof, in the sun, with their wings stretched out to catch every ounce of sunshine. The fact that the birds spend many hours outside means that they learn as much as possible about the surrounding landscape. They live a more natural life, they develop a greater love for home, and I am sure that they 'sit' their eggs more keenly (both the cock and the hen bird take turns at incubating the eggs).

Pigeons kept as prisoners can never get away from the vicinity of the nest-box. Whilst not sitting, they probably stand on a perch only a foot or so from their mate on the eggs. The more that the birds can get away when they are not sitting, the more varied their life, and the more keenly they incubate their eggs. But it is important that pigeons should not be allowed to stay out all day if they are likely to be a nuisance to the owner's neighbours. They should not be allowed to sit about on the roofs of other people's houses! Indeed, one of the conditions imposed by the local authorities is that they must do this, and if one of your birds alights on a neighbour's house, it must be frightened off immediately, so that it does not develop the habit and so encourage others to do the same. Many fanciers therefore, are not able to leave their loft open all day. Consequently, these birds should be let out in the morning hungry and as soon as they land, must be fed in. They can be exercied again in the evening before their evening feed.

I am entirely against forcing pigeons to fly round home in any circumstances. If you are continually making your birds fly, they will think you are trying to drive them away from home. This must tend to make them into bad trappers and when they refuse to enter the loft after returning from a race (they are often more nervous than usual when arriving home), it will be your fault, even though you may put the blame on the pigeons. If you think your birds need more exercise, it is far better to send them on a short training toss (See Chapters 5 and 6 ) than force them to fly at home.

Once a week your birds should be given the opportunity to have a bath. Put the galvanised iron bath outside on the ground or on an old wooden table reserve for this purpose and fill it with cold water to a depth of about four inches (100mm). The birds will really enjoy this, especially if the sun is shining. Even on a frosty winter morning, they will crowd into the bath despite the cold, and then lie in the wintry sun until they are dry. In the summer, I give my birds a bath on a Sunday (that is, the day after the race). The natural oils then have a week to return to the feathers before the next race. These natural oils help to deflect the water from the feathers during a long journey home through the rain, thus preventing the pigeon becoming drenched so that it cannot fly.

The next question we must concider is that of keeping the loft clean. The loft floor and perches are much easier to scrape clean if they are covered with a layer of sand. Washed river sand - the kind used by builders - is the best. This dries up the droppings and therefore renders them harmless to the health of the birds. And it makes cleaning-out a simple and easy operation. The sand in my loft is renewed once a week. On the other six days it is put into a ¼ in. mesh sieve (18 in. diameter) with a shovel, and riddled to remove the droppings. I have often seen a fancier stuggling with a scraper because he does not use a floor dressing. Mistakenly, he believes he is using the most hygienic method, but infact, he is not. The loft floor is always damp and this encourages bacteria. The sand dries up the moisture in the bird's droppings and keeps the loft dry. It should be spread like an even 'carpet' all over the floor area, and on the perches. A loft kept in this way is always a pleasure to visit, and a credit to its owner.

Once a year, before mating the birds, it is a good idea to paint the walls of the loft and inside of the nest-boxes with a solution of Duramitex (a patent insect repellent). This treatment will keep the loft free from lice. Pigeons are hardy creatures and fanciers who look after their birds properly very seldom have case of the more serious diseases in their lofts. The most common complaint from which pigeons suffer is 'One-Eyed Cold'. This disease is extremely infectious and is passed from loft to loft in the race basket, when pigeons from different lofts are of necessity in close proximity to each other. It is always most prevalent during August when the fancier would be particularly alert for symptoms and seems mainly to affect Young Birds. The Young birds, during this month, are racing and moulting profusely at the same time. These two things taxing their energies simultaneously, seem to make them very susceptible to infection if there is an epidemic in the neighbourhood. some years this disease is very widespread and most fanciers have one or two birds affected. In other years, there is hardly a bird with the complaint.

One-Eyed Cold, as its name implies, affects only one eye. An affected bird, in the initial stages, continually closes one eye by raising the bottom lid. The eye waters and several small bubbles appear in the lower front corner. It also loses some of its colour and is paler than the other one. A bird suffering from this disease must be immediately isolated from the rest of the colony.

There is, to my knowledge, only one quick and certain cure for One-Eyed Cold, namely a 12.5% solution of Tiamutin added to the drinking water at the rate of 3ml per litre of water. This can only be obtained on a vet's prescription, but will cure all but the most severe cases in twenty-four hours and even very severe cases of the disease are cured in forty-eight hours. At the same time as treating the affected bird in this way, all the apparently healthy birds should be put on a ten-day course of Terramycin which is administered by putting it into the drinking water, one teaspoonful to a gallon of water. This treatment will quickly ensure that the infection does not spread. The prblem with this disease is that - like some children's ailments - the complaint is passed on to another pigeon before the affected bird itself develops the symptoms. We cannot be sure that a pigeon 'cured' of a severe attack of One-Eyed Cold will be unaffected in the future. The eye is a very important part of its anatomy and it is possible that it may be permanently damaged. In my own experience I can think of only one pigeon which was cured from this disease as a Young Bird and subsequently proved that it had been worth keeping.

In the autumn of one year, four of my Old Birds contracted a from of nasal catarrh which was very prevalent that year. The birds recovered, however, after a course of Terramycin as described above, and seem to be completely cured, two of them having scored well from France the following season. There was an epidemic of coughing among racehorses that same autumn, and it would be interesting to know whether this was caused by the same virus or bacteria.

There is no doubt that the best way of preventing your birds from getting these diseases is to ensure that the loft is well ventilated. Avoid keeping too many pigeons in the amount of space available. This type of infection always starts in August, when the loft is housing the greatest number of birds, that is at the time when there is least 'airspace' per bird.

Pigeons suffering from other ailments, such as canker, coccidiosis, going light, etc., and all birds which show any sign of weakness, should be suppressed. This is the fancier's best method of preventing the spread of disease throughout the loft, and it also ensures that these birds do not produce offspring, and so pass on their tendency to these diseases to future generations.

Since around 1980, pigeons have been at risk from paramyxovirus which causes, amongst other things, partial paralysis. Outbreaks of the disease must be notified to MAFF (now DEFRA). To protect the birds a programme of vaccination is in force and all pigeons which are raced or trained must be vaccinated each year with an approved vaccine.

Each year most fanciers have one or two birds which arrive home injured. It is amazing, sometimes, how they manage to get home at all! They must have hit electricity cables, telephone wires, or television aerials, or they may have been shot by some trigger-happy youth. Pigeons undoubtedly have wonderful healing powers. It is surprising how quickly a nasty wound will heal, but when is appears that a wound may require stitching, the fancier should not hesitate to take the pigeon to a vetinary surgeon. A broken leg is a fairly common mishap, and it is comparatively easy to set, providing it is the lower part of the leg and not the leg with the ring on.

About ten years ago, just before the first Young Bird, one of my young hens returned from a training toss with her left leg broken. I splinted the leg with a matchstick and wrapped it with Sellotape. I put the bird in a spare nest-box, with a supply of food, water, grit, etc., and in three weeks she was walking again, and was let out into the loft. The next week she had two training tosses, and was entered for the race (about 120miles). She was my third bird home. The next week she flew a 160mile race and was my second bird home, and the following week she flew from Folkstone (a distance of 225miles), and won first prize with 847 birds competing - still with the Sellotape on her leg. Afterwards she was always known as Sellotape and, in the years that followed, she won many prizes and flew 500miles on the day from France against a head wind in fourteen and a half hours. She was finally retired from racing at the age of seven.


          Decide on a system of management and stick rigidly to it.
          Feed mixed, clean, good-quality corn at regular times.
          Allow your birds as much time out in the sunshine as possible.
          Avoid overcrowding.
          Move about the loft slowly and quietly.
          Each time you go into the loft, make a habit of noticing each bird - in
          short, be observant!

Used with permisson. © RPRA.

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