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For those about to start in pigeons - Preparing to breed...
Author: Old HandTitle: For those about to start in pigeons - Preparing to breed
Date: 2004-10-12 12:36:07Uploaded by: webmaster
When experienced fanciers talk about ‘condition' they are not necessarily referring to a pigeon's health and physical well being in general terms. Why not? Because there are at least three kinds of 'condition' that a fancier put on his birds. They are (1) show condition, (2) racing condition, (3) mating condition. I do not have to dilate, on show and racing condition in this chapter but I am obliged to comment on the kind of condition you must put on pigeons at the time of bringing them together for breeding purposes, i.e. the mating condition.

Normally, the birds will have wintered in a loft in which the nest boxes were closed and for a period during which the sexes were separated. When the month of March approaches your duty will be to bring the birds together so that they mate and nest. It is the general condition of the birds at this time that comprises 'mating condition' and I do not exaggerate when I say that the mating condition is very important.

The winter diet and rest, particularly the separation if you wintered them in accordance with my previous advice. They will have spent great deal of time on perches and rested through long nights with no cares or worries to disturb them. The effect of this long vacation from roadwork and domestic life will be in their stored-up energy.

You will have spent the winter with pencil and paper, making a list of your spring matings, so that you know which cock to mate with which hen. But do not let your impatience to 'put them to nest' destroy your prudence and caution. Let us do first things first.

For instance, it is inadvisable to mate pigeons until you are sure that they are physically and medically ready for coupling. Therefore, a fortnight before you intend to mate them, carry out a proper inspection of the birds, looking for signs of anaemia (extra-pale mouth and throat linings) and respiratory trouble. Note the progress of the moult, any short feathers or rough flights, frets and so on. Let your inspection be very thorough by according plenty of time to each bird. Remember, if the bird cannot be seen to be in good nick it is sheerest folly to mate it.

One thing you cannot see is the inside condition of the birds' organs and body cavities. Therefore, you do not proceed on the assumption that what can’t be seen must be all right but you take precautions against the possibility of the bird not being as perfect inside as it appears to be outside.

The very first thing to do is de-worm all the birds. This is a must. What about fat? Some will say that birds that have sat about on perches during a long winter will have built up layers of fat inside as well as outside. Well, there is a modicum of truth in this assertion. The birds will be carrying a little extra fat if they have been fed properly. However, remember that the moment they are mated they are going to work off most of this fat through the process of (1) driving and nesting, (2) an almost total disregard for the hopper and its contents. Driving cocks and driven hens eat very little, this being nature's device for ensuring that the birds shall not be fat when mated. After eight days of chasing, trotting and wing flapping on a purely token diet very little fat will remain on them from the winter's store.

Mating 'condition' has no affinity with show and racing condition because it is derived from physical exhaustion and malnutrition, whereas show and racing conditions are the product of rest, carefully calculated exercise and good diets. Now you will appreciate why I advised you to set a hopper charged with beans before the birds all through the winter months. Compare the condition of birds about to mate when one lot has been wintered on a cheap cereal diet (barley and suchlike cereals) while the other has lived on beans. The former will carry as much fat or more (there being nothing like cereals for putting fat on man and beast alike) but the cereal-fed type will be constitutionally weaker due to being wintered on a low-protein diet. It doesn't require much straining of the brain to imagine which lot is going to be the fittest after eight days of driving and being driven, on a very meagre diet!

Apart from general health at the time of mating, a fancier must also pay regard to his birds' metabolic condition. This is to say the condition of the blood, for what could be more important at the time of propagating a new life? The condition of both cock and hen at time of coming together for mating is of the utmost importance to the breeder.

I have heard it claimed that one must 'purify the blood' at such a time if the best results are to be achieved. In my opinion, we hear far too much of this word 'pure' in relation to pigeon matters. A gem may have to be of the purest ray serene but when I talk about a pigeon's health and blood condition I prefer to use the word 'enrichment' and I prefer to attain this blood enrichment by special treatment of the birds after their long winter's lay-off.

Chief among the blood enrichments (and one could draw up a list of them that would stretch from London to Manchester!) are calcium and iodine plus the vitamins. Here again, the list of vitamins available for fanciers becomes longer and longer, so long that we are compelled to sort out the imperative few and ignore the rest.

Once on eggs, the birds will again start to bloom because of the enforced rest during the period of incubation (18 ˝ days) and the open hopper. Trouble does not (or should not) again raise its ugly head until the parents start to feed youngsters. Here are a few more words of caution.

When brought together after a long winter of rest and sexual segregation, the birds will tend to mate in something of a frenzy. They will, at this first coming together, display three or four times the passion, excitement and energy that they will put into subsequent nesting that season. This is a pity because much of the stored energy of winter will be dissipated in this first mating orgy. Nor will 18 ˝ days of comparative peace and quiet totally restore the lost energy before the birds start to waste it again through the labours of feeding hungry nestlings. A very great fancier once claimed that the rearing of a nest pair imposed a strain on the parents equal to flying a 500-mile race. Of course, he was right. Therefore, I advise you to raise only one youngster in the nest of birds that are due to be raced this season and they should receive the blood 'enrichment' treatment right through the rearing period.

A fancier's work is never done. Nor does the time ever arrive when he can relax his vigilance. When spring comes it brings something more than an improvement in the weather. It brings the big battalions of parasites that reckon to batten on your birds until winter comes round again. I beseech you to pay heed and attention to this invisible but real menace. I am sure that most of you now use the Special Loft Compound so be liberal with it on floor, perch and nest box the moment the birds are mated. If you do not follow this advice you may go into the loft one morning to find squeakers frozen to death in nest bowls. Why? Because invading night hosts drove the parents off the nest bowls. In the breeding season I receive many letters from novices who ask why their youngsters, now well feathered but still unable to fly, will not stay in nest bowls but scamper out the moment they are returned to them. It is because the red, white or grey mite is attacking them and making their life miserable, as well as painful.

Novices should visit their lofts at nighttime, creeping up on slippered feet so as not to disturb the birds, and stand at the rear or side of the loft and listen. If you can hear the stamping of feet on perches, the rustling and ‘knocking’ of feathers as the birds shake, shake in abortive attempts to throw off their parasites, you will know for sure that the mites are at work! Better be safe than be sorry.

Old Hand



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