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pigeon Dealing with Infertility pigeons
By: Dr. David Marx

How long is a pigeon fertile? Fertility in pigeons is, more often than not, a factor of heredity. You will see families where cocks are fertile up to 18 years of age. Probably, though, the average pigeonís fertility is limited to 10-14 years.

Hens usually lay until they are about this age, but some lay into their 14th or 15th years. Others stop at 7 or 8 years. The first sign that hens are ďdrying upĒ is when they start laying only singles. As long as a hen lays eggs, she is fertile in 90% of the cases.

There are some occasions, however, when hens do not have a good germ on the egg or they have bacteria incorporated in the yolk which can quickly kill the embryo. Here, the hen is fertile but for other reasons the eggs are not viable.

Older hens tend to lay eggs with chalky shells. It is best to throw these away because they usually collapse before term. If you have an egg shell that is just rough but no chalky, it is usually a viable egg. The roughness is just a defect in the henís calcium producing mechanism. It may just be a peculiarity of that hen, but the genetic composition of the embryo is not affected, so do not reject the egg or its youngster on that basis. A calcium supplement is about the only thing you can do to correct the problem.

When a hen does quit laying, there is little you can do to resurrect her fertility. The only hope here is that if a low grade oviduct infection is causing the inability to lay, it can be treated with an appropriate antibiotic for 10-14 days, then she can try again.

With cocks, though, there are several things that can be tried to return his sex drive and fertility. Remember, fertility and sex drive are two different things. A cock can have sex drive and be infertile. Fertility is based on a viable sperm count as opposed to low sperm counts or poor quality sperm. The higher the count the more likely he will fertilize his henís eggs.

You must also realize that some cocks donít go all the way through the sex act. Whether they have arthritis or some functional problem, they just stop short of a full ďcloacae kissĒ. I have seen some cases where they just kind of swing the tail half way under and they donít go all the way. They canít reproduce for that reason, not that they are truly infertile.

Most pigeons are fertile all year round. The sex organs are actually not as active in the winter because hormones are tied to the number of daylight hours. Pigeons also donít produce as many hormones which cause the sex drive itself. Light actually has an effect on the pineal gland which governs a lot of hormones that govern other hormones. It does have an effect on the desire to mate.

In the winter, with its shorter days, cocks donít produce as many sperm as in the summer with its longer days. One positive thing you can do when you find diminishing fertility is to increase daylight hours using artificial light in the winter time. This frequently will cause marginally infertile pigeons to become fertile.

There are no secret rays in the sun that increase fertility as is commonly believed. It can be done with artificial light. How many hours of sunlight???? I donít know the answer. All I know is that when the daylight hours start increasing, the sex organs become more active. People talk about trimming the vent feathers and the tail feathers to increase sexual contact. Birds do not increase their feather abundance with age. Individual pigeons may have a lot of vent feathers, but it is questionable that such growth interferes with the sex act. In my own mind I think that is a very rare thing. I think people trim the vent feathers to do something and in the cases where it appears to work, the bird would probably have been fertile the next round anyway due to longer daylight hours. It is definitely not going to hurt anything to try it, but realize that the number of cases in which it appears to work are very few.

What about trimming an inch off the tail feathers??? This is said to be based on an assumption that the quills get harder with age and, therefore, interferes with contact. I do not believe that this is true. In fact, pigeons swing the tail to the side enough in mating to where I donít see it being a problem. Pulling a few tail feathers is also reported to help restore fertility. This practice is questionable, but it canít hurt to try.

It is frequently the practice, when a cock doesnít fertile anymore, to go ahead and foster a fertile round or two. It is believed that the hormonal changes in the bird which are associated with rearing young have a beneficial affect on returning fertility. This can be beneficial, but results can also be due to the factor of longer daylight hours which coincide with the later breeding season attempts, but definitely there is a rhythm to hormone cycles of reproduction. If you can get them going through that cycle again, it may be helpful. Feeding and the hormonal changes may indeed have a stimulating affect on the gonads. When it does work, it is probably a combination of breeding later in the year when the daylight hours are longer with the hormonal changes also stimulating the gonads.

There is also some truth in the saying ďuse it or lose itĒ so it is advisable to keep old cocks mated year round. I think when they become inactive, sometimes it is harder for them to become active again. One only needs to put a hen with him every few days, allowing him to top her and then removing her.

As for medical treatments to restore fertility, anabolic steroids were touted years ago. They have proved uniformly unsuccessful in dealing with the infertility problem. The only way that they may help is by improving a cockís vigor if he is too feeble to perform a good mating act. They donít increase sperm production, only his sex drive. These drugs may actually decrease sperm production.

The only drug treatment that has shown some promise is the use of Gonadotropin. Gonadotropin actually increases sperm count as well as sex drive. When it doesnít work, you have a gonad that canít respond to it and so all the hormones in the world wonít make it produce more sperm. This product is commonly available as HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin). Gonadotrpin is given by injection, at 0.2 cc subcutaneous. Injections are repeated every other day for a series of three injections. The process should be repeated monthly until one tires of trying. The reconstituted product will keep for one month in the refrigerator. Its life can be extended by freezing, but it is unknown how long it will remain potent, especially after thawing and refreezing. The success rate, using Gonadotropin, will be in the 20-30% range, though, so donít expect too many miracles.

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