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pigeon Feeding Rollers For Performance pigeons
By: W. Carl Hardesty
May 1989


I remember back in the late 70’s or early 80’s that Bill Henderson and I had a conversation about flying rollers. Bill was one of the founders of the IRA and has since given up his rollers but I still remember that conversation. Bill stated that you could put high quality performance in the hands of some individuals and they would fly low or as very average rollers. And you could put average rollers in the hands of another fancier, and the birds would seem high quality. I believe it all goes back to the handling of the birds! Now, I am not saying bad quality birds can be made good by handling alone, but they can be flown to their full potential, just as the quality birds can be flown to their best. I would say I have done my homework in travel, and education book wise. I have seen kits fly from coast to coast and masters of performance are few and far between. Many ideas come across in articles and so forth and some light of understanding is displayed. The most common item that is missed is the fact that families of birds react differentially to different feeding systems, and location also is an important factor. Chan Grover while flying at his old home when I visited with him flew under conditions hard to overcome. Chan lived by the sea shore and up lifting winds seemed to push his kit out of sight before you could spend any time watching them. Chan fixed this by moving, I hope it worked. Ted Bowen who lives in the mountains around Denver, CO has a little of both winds pushing down and once over the peaks winds blowing across. Ted flew the first kit I can remember viewing at part of the time I was watching from above and the other part looking up. My point is different conditions in different locations. Now, these are two extremes and in relation to performance I couldn’t comment because I don’t fly under the same as these fellows, and am not of understanding in relation to performance. Barometer readings in different areas as to what they range to and from and how often are of major concern as well as heat and cold and humidity with both. Jim Schneider in New Mexico was telling me how constant the pressure is in his area and how little humidity. All are examples of different flying conditions. Flying conditions being as they are in your area is what you yourself deal with…period.

One thing that is more often different that alike is the family of birds that we keep and too many cases one fancier keeps and flys different families together as well as birds of all different ages. As to this part, the best possible would be all of one family and all about the same age. Age is important as it relates to when a family of birds matures into its best spin and matures physically. Once all birds reach physical and spin maturity they should be stable and should be ready to be conditioned as a whole (kit) with very little variance. The best family of birds, provided they are quality performers, would be a family of clones in relation to small differences in the cocks and hens in relation to size and all else being for the most part alike. Now all this sounds good until we deal with over flys, hawks, and so forth! What we have, we must adjust to and condition the best possible, what we can change we should, and what we can’t we must adjust.

I have now outlined for you the different obstacles, some of which we have power over and others not! Now the only tool we have to overcome the things we cannot change is the handling of the kit. If we have the old bird kit of one family flying in the best possible location, that is wonderful and you have become a member of a very small select group. But you are still left with one problem we all have and that is reading the physical condition of the kit as a whole and some individuals as well. The old saying “we are, what we eat” is true with our rollers also. A good balanced diet is important for the breeders but the destruction of a quality kit of bird’s performance wise. Rollers can be kept healthy and fit to top performance on given days (fly contest or friends coming over) and still have expected performance on other days. The man that tells you his birds are their best every day most likely doesn’t believe it himself and doubts you do or at least I hope he has that much understanding.

The only thing, for the most part, once we have the birds we want to keep is the handling. Handling for the most part is a process of feeding and flying. And for many, it is no more than just that. How many times we fly our kits is important but that too can be influence by feeding. Feed can be broken down into 4 major groups as concerning our rollers; protein; fat; fiber; and carbohydrate. Protein for rebuilding muscle, fat for storage to be converted to carbohydrates and for oil (feather and so forth), fiber to keep the droppings solid and so forth and carbohydrates to produce energy. Muscle after a loss of energy, and low carbohydrates are also broken down into carbohydrates and used for energy, thus protein is needed at this point to rebuild the muscle. Now that we have some understanding of the food products, we still need other information concerning these same foods. Grain is the slowest to break down in the system (hardness) where a mash or crumble type of feed would break down quicker and also have less fiber as a rule. Metabolism of the average roller is from 8 to 12 hours depending on the food source. At this point we have the four food groups and how they work, and the metabolism of the roller. Let’s now go one more step and understand that in protein there are two ratings listed for each grain, the percent of protein contained, and the percent of protein contained that is digestible. This is where all is not what it seems! An example of this is wheat at 13% protein and 10% digestible protein, whereas milo at 11% protein and only 7% digestible protein. Wheat is believed to be the best all round food for our birds, while other grains are strong in other areas. Peas are loaded with protein (about 24%), milo is very high in carbohydrates and flax and the seed groups are high in oils (fat). For giving energy, milo is one of the best as is corn and rice. Corn is high in fiber and very low in protein. Peas, vetch and flax to name a few are high in protein (note flax also is high in fats). During the moult, the oil or fat seeds are helpful in getting a good feather back on the birds by giving only a small amount (tablespoon per 5 birds every few days or so).

I have said a lot but have not touched on the feeding of the kit birds in relation to all of this and for good reason. I have outlined the items we are against, and the tools we have to overcome the conditions as best as possible. Now let me give you conditions, and how I use these tools and try to see how they relate to you. Your conditions are most likely different but the same tools can be used. I live in Kentucky, in the western part, where the weather is often changing, and the humidity is often high. July and August are hot, sometimes in the 90’s; the winter months are cold but not very cold, sometimes below 0. We get a fair amount of rain and very little snow. I have a lot of hills, but no mountains and few flat lands, plenty of trees and green growth. The barometer readings are not often over 30.3 and it is common to have reading below 30. My family of birds is my own and they are very small. The smallest I have in the kit is under 6 oz. and the largest about 8 oz. My birds are well muscled to the front and are wedge shaped, and very compact. The birds have a great desire to fly, and if not held in check will fly for hours. They are a very clone like family that produces some deep spinners of 40 to 50 feet, but as a rule are medium depth of 20 to 25 feet. About all of my birds are multiple depth spinners, meaning they go their deepest depth but often go much shorter.

Now you have an understanding of what I am working with, let me take you through a season of flying. The young birds as they are weened are put on a diet for the most part wheat only. I don’t like baby fat on the young birds as they are going into the air. The one problem I have is keeping them on the loft long enough to know where they are; fat birds lay around and hard lean birds are ready. By lean I don’t mean skinny! When starting a young kit I don’t push for performance, I simply want them flying at good height and slowing their flying speed as they get older. I want them flying 30 min to 1 hour at first, and 30 min to 45 min at 4 to 5 months of age. At this point, my birds are starting to come into the spin and some earlier and some later. Up to this point, I have feed very little milo and about once a week (weekend) I feed a mix of about 1/3 peas, 1/3 milo, 1/3 wheat and a small amount of flax. I also have used flax to get the kit in, a small handful works well. I fly English style, meaning I release from a large door and call the birds back through the same door. When I have enough birds spinning to be able to add to old birds, to be able to make up a team, I begin working the birds for performance. I fly kits of between 30 to 40 birds, and in the fall, weed out to put the best team together and if I can make a team of 35 birds rolling. The problem is quality birds that want to kit and work together. Having one family makes kitting the easiest part. Now let’s say this kit has made it through the season and is ready to be conditioned as an old kit. I don’t think there is much difference in the conditioning of a yearling kit and an old bird kit but a young bird kit is different. During the cooler months, the amount of feed is greater no matter what is feed, and in the cold months the increase is greater. As the weather warms up the amount of feed should be reduced and when it becomes hot much less is used. The moult is a little different as the birds become heavy into it, and increase in amount as well as quality (protein and oil) is need at random. The best flying time is in the cool months after the moult (and the hawks return). To increase activity all that is needed is less feed and less quality feed (less protein). What I do is after the birds are in an above weight condition (over weight slightly for the best performance) which also causes faster flying and longer flying, I begin to feed small amount of milo only and over a period of say 4 or 5 days reduce flying time in 15 min. In the summer, 12 tablespoons per 36 birds is what is needed for my family. Remember my birds are small and strong flyers, this condition has to be learned in the birds you are working with, as to what it takes to get them down in weight and time. A fit roller feels like a hollow pigeon, reduced somewhat in size but not skinny! Now activity and quality performance (tightness and speed) do not always go hand in hand. In the summer the heat takes so much out of the birds that after I have them at 15 min after 4 or 5 days, I feed them the day they came in with a mix of 1/3 peas, 1/3 wheat and 1/3 milo and 3 times the amount I used to get them down to 15 min and rest a day. On the day of rest, I feed them the same amount of milo I was feeding to get them down to 15 min and they are ready to turn it on the next day. Epsom salt can also be used after they come in the last day of 15 min fly and feed later that afternoon. If you are flying at different times of the day, it can all still be worked out with a little study of the birds and what works. What you are doing is weakening the birds to a state of activity and regaining strength to power the spin. I might also add that the flying time on the day of the fly is increased, and changes could be made in the amounts on given days in relation to the day off and the last day flying 15 min feed. Reasons for change might be a cool front coming in (increased flying time and height) or cloudy day with rain (more feed could be given). At any rate, it is a learning process.

There are two scales to be aware of; one is the physical strength in relation to the tightness, and speed. On the last day of the 15 min fly, getting the birds ready, it is likely the spin will be more of a roll and the progress is likely to show itself as going downhill not up. But, the rest and feed change is what brings them back to the top. As for everyday flying, I don’t think it is best to do this every week; using milo could run the birds down too much if used too much, wheat could also be put in the place of milo at different times and still get good results, but maybe not the best. In the cooler months, it is an altogether different story! Not having the heat the birds retain strength in so the spin better. I believe this is because the muscle contract tighter in the colder weather and the heat has not drained them. In this cooler and cold weather, I fly the birds down on milo and they seem to get better and better as the fly time comes down and they reach a point where they are at their best and flight seems effortless as if floating and not flying (butterfly wing action). The turns are at their best and the tightness and speed is at the top and then all of a sudden the next day they are a kit of rags!! What has happened? Well, the kit has reached its peak and gone over to the weak side; in short, they are worn out. At this point the muscle is being broken down for carbohydrates and the birds are just plain weakened by it and have not the strength to pour it out any more. In getting ready for a fly, the trick is to read the peak and be able to know just how close you are to it. And if a little early you can do different things like rest, feed a little protein or a little extra milo, all depending on the reaction of the birds. It takes time…it takes experience, but the masters of kit performance have observed their birds in order to learn where they are in condition. Weather changes may be one of the most difficult things to read in relation to how it will affect the birds’ performance, understanding the basic reaction the birds will have is the key and from there it is a matter of experience. The use of the oil seeds is for the better informed and once an understanding is acquired it can fine tune a kit! The oil seed such as flax is stored as fat depending on when feed, the results can be different. If feed only a few hours before a fly (less than 5 hours is safe) it is used up much like a candy bar for instant energy. If feed on a regular metabolism it is used as a reserve energy source (last part of fly). All has to be regulated for the best use and that could depend on the condition of the birds a few days before the fly or even the day before. Just a few things to remember for general reactions on your part (the trainer), weather changes of hot and cold nature require a change by you, more or less humidity on the fly day you need to watch the weather to know it is coming and adjust and clear skys and over cast days require different changes.

All of these ideas have worked well for me, and I find myself being more aware of how it all interacts to better performance and a weekly basis the same ideas are used, but not to the extreme. These are my thoughts and I hope I have helped someone to better understand their birds and how to better prepare them for the fly and enjoy them all the more. This type of effort most likely only a few will take part in because it does take effort and the time and we don’t all have the time to be that involved; for the few who do and wish to, I hope it helps.

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