Pigeons As Pets
Pigeons make excellent pets and they are easy to raise and breed. Whether you keep birds for performance, show, or just for fun I think that you can get great enjoyment from them with a minimum investment of time and money. Of course if you want really good birds and a fancy loft you can expect to spend some cash.
Breeds of Pigeons
There are literally hundreds of breeds of pigeons, and picking just one or two favorites can be difficult. Some breeds are easier to care for than others. Generally the more accessories the breed has, the more difficult they are to raise. Breeds with extra feathers on their tails or feet may need to be trimmed for breeding, and may be harder to keep clean and undamaged Birds with very short beaks may have trouble feeding their own young, and some breeds are wild and just plain ornery. If you are just starting out I would recomend that you get a breed that is easy to raise. Pigeon breeds fall into three general catagories:
Are bred for what they do.
Rollers, perform backward summersaults (spin) when they fly.
Racing Homers, are known for racing home from long distances.
Highflyers and Tiplers, are bred for flying high and long.
Parlor Tumblers, do a summersault or two when they are dropped.
There are many breeds of show pigeons having different body shapes and accessories.
Fantails,have extra tail feathers and large breasts.
Frillbacks,have curly feathers on their wing shields, may also have crest.
Jacobins, have a large crest covering almost all of thier heads.
Pouters and Croppers, can inflate thier breasts to very large proportions.
English Trumpeters, have long feathers on their feet and an unusual voice.
Some performance and utility breeds also have show varities, Show rollers, Show homers, Show Kings, Runts.
These birds are bred for the table, they are large and good parents.
Utility Kings, usually white large and prolific.
Giant Runts, very large, the oxy-moron of the pigeon breeds
Texas Pioneers, sex linked colors make it easy to distinguish the sex.
Pigeons are housed in a structure known as a loft. The loft does not need to be large or elaborate, you can even keep a few birds in a loft similar to a rabbit hutch. Pigeons can handle cold weather, but a loft must be kept dry, and draft free. Your birds need good ventalation and will like a window or two for light. If you have the space a loft should be divided so that you can separate young birds from old, and cocks from hens, I beleive that a loft that you can walk into adds to the enjoyment keeping pigeons and you will know your birds better if you can spend time in the loft.
There should be more perches than birds. There are several types of perches, box, inverted V, simple 1x2 bracket, they all have their advantages, just make perches comfortable for the breed you keep. Box perches for my rollers are ten" wide, eight" high, and 3 1/2" deep.
If you don't let your birds fly outside you will want a flypen. Some flypens are small and just let the birds get outside. My flypen is five feet wide, sixteen feet long, and six feet high. With a large flypen my birds can get plenty of fresh air and exercise. The wire should be small enough to keep wild birds out, and heavy enough to keep preditors out.
Your birds have certain dietary requirements that can be met with a quality pigeon mix. The mix will probably be based around milo and wheat with several other grains. Whole corn, or popcorn in the winter is a good idea, but rollers don't need much of it at other times. There are also pigeon pellets available but may give birds loose stools. Your birds will also like some green food like lettuce now and then. I use galvanized feed trays, with wire on top to keep the birds out of the tray. Pigeons can be fed once or twice a day, but I don't recomend leaving feed out all the time as it may get contaminated. Store feed in a dry well ventilated container, away from pests.
Your birds need fresh clean water available at all times. I use either galvanized waterers or homemade waterers for my birds. My homemade waterers are simply milk jugs with a holes cut into the sides. Make the holes are too small for the birds to squeeze into. The nice thing about these waterers is that I can just throw them away when they get soiled. Many diseases are spread by the water, so keep them clean.
Pigeons need grit for minerals as well as grinding their food. Keep it dry and always available. I like red grit as it is harder than oyster shell and contains more nutrients. I use a crock bowl for my grit container, avoid metal trays as the minerals will soon rust it.
The larger the breed the bigger the nest box. A good size for rollers is- 12" high, 24" wide, and 14" deep. You could get by with smaller but I like to have room for 2 nestbowls, and sometimes I will lock the pairs in their box for a few days. The center third of the front of my boxes are open, with the other two thirds covered by lattice. This gives the pairs some privacy, yet it is easy for them to evict trespassers.
A nestbowl helps contain nesting material inside the nest box, and makes it easier for the parents to keep track of their eggs and babies. I like to use disposable nest bowls made of pulpwood as they make it much easier to clean the nest boxes. You can also fabricate a frame out of wood around nine inches square and two inches high.
Baby birds need nesting material to help keep them warm and to help develop their feet and leg muscles. In cold weather I use pine needles or hay, I avoid straw as it is hollow and may harbor insects. In warm weather sand or dust-free kitty litter works fine. I put nest material in the fly-pen and let my birds build their own nest, I think thats it helps pair bonding and gives them good exercise.
I like to select my birds mates for them. My pairs are matched according to flying ability, while others mate thier birds for color or show quatlities. Pairing up birds is easier if the cocks and hens have been separated for a while. I leave the cock birds in the breeding loft so they can guard thier nest box. The hen is then locked into the nest box with the cock for a few days and they will usually bond. Most pigeons are mature enough to mate when they are around six months old, but I usually wait until they are over a year old. When I do breed from a young bird, I will give it an older mate. I usually start putting pairs together in February and separate them in late October.
Most pigeons will breed easily requiring very little from you. After your birds have paired they will lay the first egg in ten days or so. The second egg will usually come two days later. The parents will not usually incubate the first egg until the second is laid. The parents will take turns incubating the eggs, the cock will usually sit during the day and the hen takes the night shift. The eggs will both hatch in around eighteen days.If the parents incubated the first egg it will hatch earilier. If this happens the older baby will get more food and you may need to switch babys between nests to make sure they are all well fed. Some short faced pigeons can't easily feed thier own young and you will need foster parents. I use foster parents for some of my rollers as I will sometimes mate one cock to several hens.
Both parents produce "milk" for thier babies, they feed thier young by regurgitating partially digested grain. At first pigeon milk will be very thin and full of anti-biotics. As the days go on the milk will get thicker until it is just whole grain.
The Second Round
When the first young are around two weeks old the parents may lay another set of eggs. This is the reason for having room for two bowls in the nest. The father will usually take over most of the feeding of the first round.
Your young birds should be banded with seamless bands at around a week old. Each band has an individual number on it so that you can distinguish the bird. If you plan to show your pigeon it must be banded. You should record band information in some type of breeding book or loft register. Bands are available from pigeon clubs and many suppliers. Bands come in different sizes depending on the breed of pigeon.
Leaving The Nest
At around three weeks old your young birds can leave the nest. The parents may still feed them for another week or two. You should make sure that they know where the food and water is and keep an eye on them as they may be attacked and scalped by the other birds. I have low perches and hiding places in my loft for young birds.
Keep It Clean
Your loft will look nicer and your birds will stay healthier if you keep the loft clean. It does not need to be spotless, but I recomend giving it a good scraping about once a week. It is probably a good idea to use a filter mask when you are cleaning the loft, as some people may develop a reaction to the dust created by their pigeons. Washing your feed trays and waterers occasionally with Chlorox bleach will keep down harmfull germs. Before the breeding season starts I like to wash my whole loft with diluted Chlorox, let it dry completely before putting birds back in. Your birds will enjoy an occasional bath too, expecially in hot weather. Put a shallow pan in the flypen, and remove it after an hour or so to keep the birds from drinking the water.
I know that this has been a very general overview on the subject of raising pigeons. To get in depth on the topic would require a book, and after reading this if you are still interested in pigeons I recomend that you buy a book (or two). Two important things that I have not even mentioned are genetics and health problems, To address these and other technical subjects I will include links to other sites operated by individuals much more knowledgable than myself. If you have questions or comments please send an E-mail.
Good Luck With Your Birds...Jon
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