Breeding to improve II   Leave a comment

Yesterday I touched on discovering the weaknesses in lines of your birds when the supports of routine medication of the birds are thrown away. By this I mean particularly no antibiotics and no canker treatments. O.k., an individual pigeon might be treated occasionally but that’s about it.

So to reiterate, what is to be gained here. Well, starting with young birds, if the weak are suppressed in the nest and I’m only talking about a small percentage here in my loft, then immediately you’ve saved yourself time, money and space for a better equipped and reared pigeon constitution wise. Alright, there might have been one that went on to be a good bird, but what goals are we aiming for here? Do we desire and yearn for pigeons that need a lot of propping up in their breeding and racing careers, or alternatively a loft of pigeons that can stand on their own against most pathogenic challenges. Obviously I am not talking about very high mortality diseases such as Paramyxovirus. Theoretically it would be marvelous to have excellent racing pigeons that do not die and remain relatively healthy when exposed to the usual serotypes of this virus in pigeons. Perhaps some fanciers overseas have tried it, however, it would be an expensive exercise as far as deaths are concerned. It is a virus that in general has no mercy on its victims. Vaccination to protect all the pigeons is the only fair regime here, that is, if it is present in your country and your countries animal health regulators have certified an effective vaccine. The other concern around the world in racing pigeons are very pathogenic serotypes of Salmonella bacteria. Some fanciers around the world vaccinate their pigeons against Salmonella, too. These two organisms are real nasties. If there were problems here I would not be against vaccinating all my pigeons. This is totally different than blanket treatment with medications. For example in humans, vaccination against smallpox led to its eradication in 1979. It was a very nasty disease of high mortality particularly in children at over 80%.

But the mundane cankers in their wet and dry forms, Chlamydia and Mycoplasmosis, these are the endemic diseases I wish my flock of pigeons to be able to stand alone against. Are you willing and adventurous enough to give it a go? It isn’t for the faint hearted if you do embrace it and your medication programme in the past has been a strict one. The first year you try it you definitely won’t wean as many. Some of your breeders may break down, maybe even only on the first round and it is usually when they are feeding a lot of crop milk to the squabs. If for you it’s like my loft when I started in the 2011 breeding season and gave it a go, then most pairs will do fine, but overall they may take some extra care. You need to have the feeding sufficient. I give plenty of peas during breeding and a good level of mixed canary seed for the oils.

Well, let’s get back to those young birds and we’re up to their management after weaning. Nowadays I don’t show youngsters the water. In most cases the water system is the same as the stock sections. I usually note any that are slow starters with the tucker over the first three days, these may be the dummies. I definitely don’t mollycoddle youngsters nowadays, but I do like to feed them a lot of peas. It’s good for them to get used to all the grains that you feed. I would say that I am a heavy feeder volume wise. They have a lot of growing to do and at Summers end the body moult to tackle. The flight moult starts well before this even if they are reared in the first month of Summer. So good tucker, fresh oyster shell grit, sometimes table salt added. So that’s sodium, chloride and iodine from the salt and oyster shell grit which should contain calcium carbonate, the building block of egg shells at around 90%. I do not give the youngsters any pickstones or mineral blocks or powders. I do not think it is necessary. I feed about 5% chicken layers pellets in any food mixed up. There is one here that contains blood and bone and is supposed to get the hens laying better due to the higher protein. Quite a few minerals are in the pellets and of course all these brands of pellets contain a vitamin/mineral premix. Most commercial pellets, which anyone can also buy don’t contain blood and bone due to health regulations over ‘mad cow disease’.

So youngsters aren’t propped up, they are very well fed, no vitamins are given other than in the pellets and of course the grain’s natural ones. Youngsters are let out every day by my helper within an hour of sunrise and always just explode out of the loft. This is always a good sign and when the team of any age stop doing it things might not be as good with them as is desirable. Early on in the piece the youngsters are locked out of the loft until about 3pm. I live in the country, I don’t have any raptor problems, it is good for the youngsters to have these long periods outside in the fresh air every day and I don’t mind if they go up in the three Rimu native trees next to the loft or under it or pecking around in the paddocks. Once they enter the body moult phase they are got in about 1.30pm, any earlier they wouldn’t all come in due to the heavy feeding.

I will admit that a small percentage of youngsters do get sick but one must ask the same question as one asks if a few don’t grow in the nest, “why are all the other healthy, robust youngsters doing fine?” I think in general terms the answer simply is inferior genetics of those individuals in the nest or post weaning squeakers. The other factor is luck or chance, but these are factors that we can’t control and are part of pigeon racing and keeping per se. From my December breds, which were 20 in number, three got sick. One of these was off a love pairing of race birds. I killed it as it had dropped a lot of condition and didn’t look happy for a few days, it had internal canker. The other two I killed, one was off a breeding pair that breeds some of poor constitution, it had a moist nose after weaning and it didn’t look happy soon after weaning and I killed it about a week after weaning. The other was a very tough bird, it tried hard to beat its disease challenge, it had breathing problems, breathing was laboured and he struggled in the heat outside. When it went off its food I culled it and on pm the lung was infected (had the appearance of canker). It was probably a Chlamydia/Mycoplasmosis infection, they look visibly similar to dry canker. It was a nice strapping young cock. The parents had bred a nice hen in the first round in 2011 which I killed as she went down hill, on pm it was an internal canker.

I do not like seeing any bird suffer, however my policy now with young birds is no dosing apart from worms which I have done recently. It might sound cruel to some but the youngsters have to ‘sink or swim’. The end result in five years will be even tougher racing pigeons than I currently have which don’t require dosing apart from for worms. Three culled from 20 is 15% and I don’t think that is excessive given reports I have heard locally over the years and internationally i.e. young bird sickness.

Of course, knowing what illness a bird had through the pm exam is an advantage that many fliers don’t have and should learn. In fact it is quite easy to the layman given all the information and pictures available in books and on the net. Does it sometimes make me think I should medicate individual young birds? No, because I know that I must stick to the plan to achieve my goals. There can be no compromise, not with the endemic pathogens such as Chlamydia and Mycoplamosis and Trichomoniasis (canker). I am becoming better at not delaying the elimination of the sick bird which will only keep suffering to increasing degrees. Of course, some sick youngsters can pull through an illness challenge. I think ethically speaking it is a fine line between allowing a bird to face all the lofts immune challenges by itself and letting it suffer unduly. I guess this is why many people still medicate their pigeons a lot and I fully understand that position. They may think “we have the tools i.e. medicines, so why not use them”. They might approach the control of diseases in the loft from the philosophy “there mustn’t be any pathogens in the loft” or “they must be kept at low levels”.

The latter I’d agree with, but you’d be surprised how tough racing pigeons are in most lofts. They have to be considering the rigours of racing, especially if sent to the long distance, particularly 7 to 800 miles. The latter is also more ‘in vogue,’ as it supports the theory of allowing a gradual immune exposure over a period of time to build up a strong and experienced immune system. However the advantage of the no dosing system is that the immune exposure is likely to be greater i.e. the squeakers are tested more. I have plenty of breeding pairs the progeny of which never get sick. Obviously I’m onto something with my no dosing programme.

So what led me to this more radical approach to keeping pigeons. This approach is really akin to how things were years ago when I was a boy and most people only wormed their birds. Actually it was because I ran low on medication! I also noted whilst dosing pigeons individually, that half my pigeons didn’t develop clinical signs of e.g. a respiratory problem prior to dosing. These birds were cohabiting with birds that had moist nostrils, there might have even been a case of one eye cold. So I decided to experiment. I knew others were doing this too i.e. not dosing, perhaps giving some treatment once in a season prior to the big race they were really aiming for. They were also giving natural products, cider vinegar in the food or water, garlic products were the main ones. I haven’t found that these products make much of an impact on pigeon health, so although I’ve tried them as well as kelp, wheat germ oil, brewers yeasts, probiotics and other fancy, expensive products, I choose not to use these things. I’d rather spend the money on feeding the birds very well and rearing a few more youngsters with the hope there is a cracker amongst them. A cracker racer and or a cracker breeding pigeon that will help me reach my goals.

Incidentally the water the birds get is roof water. I add nothing to it. I drink it unboiled at times but our household drinking water is boiled. I think the birds get plenty of extra bacteria through their water intake to replenish the flora in the gut if an imbalance occurred. I’ve used probiotics in the past. I’m not convinced about them yet. The odd loose dropping is not a concern to me plus I’m not wiping out the good bowel bacterial flora with antibiotics.

Remember that everything you prop the birds up with hinders your selection pressure of finding the birds that are the best immune system wise. Probiotics often contain acid nowadays. Don’t you think that it is more logical to find the pigeons that have naturally higher alimentary tract acid than average and hence can ward off rising levels of pathogenic strains of E.coli or Salmonella much better? I guess it would be even hard for me to test for this, but if we look at wild birds that have evolved pretty tough digestive systems over the eons of evolution then wouldn’t it be better to attempt to change the makeup of our pigeons in this department.

Vultures come to mind with their very acid stomachs and tough gut linings, which seabirds must have too i.e. particularly very tough gullets, required for swallowing fish. Shouldn’t we be attempting to design a better racing pigeon through our breeding and selection programmes? I think it is much harder to improve one’s genetics by propping the birds up. You are operating at a much lower selection pressure. You are masking the birds inherent ability or lack of it to withstand disease pathogens and remain healthy. You can’t see for sure which are the tougher pigeons amongst your best racers on an intricate medication programme and everything used to prop the birds up reduces the selection pressure.

I guess the same could be said in the illustration of weather conditions for liberations and the ensuing race. If the birds never go up ‘when there is a cloud in the sky’ (this is a joke of some in my area) then it’s not the same test as if it’s a mixed bag of liberations including some crap or dodgy ones. However, as we all know, it is the public image of the sport and welfare of the birds that is paramount in our liberations. We are better off without the crap and dodgy liberations. If we want a strong test of the birds then how about trying 7 to 800 miles or more? Even on the rare blowhome you get, when the best pigeons make it on the day, they are certainly not blowhome pigeons, not from that distance.

Perhaps that is a good place to close. We have opened up plenty of ideas and thoughts which can be revisited in future blogs. Thanks for taking the time to read. Any questions or comments please use the comments option below and feel free to email me at I don’t for one moment consider I have all the right answers, it is just my story and experience with my pigeons the last two and a half decades or so. It’s a ‘work in progress’. Get stuck into my ideas if you like. I’ll probably enjoy that!

Finally I welcome any articles any of you may wish to contribute on these or any other topics.

Posted February 27, 2013 by ferguselley in Breeding better pigeons, Ferg's birds

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