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pigeon Strength, An Asset pigeons
By: Ken Easley 11/05/99

Do you get tired of sick or weak birds? Do you enjoy babying and helping weaker specimens to survive? Do you breed rolldowns and frequent bouncers? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the fault may be your own.

It is difficult to approach this subject without sounding heartless. Nature seems heartless, and for good reason. I myself, as a child, asked my father to allow a broken winged quail to return home with us for mending after the big hunt. My father would mercifully snap the neck and place the bird in his vest quickly to avoid further discussion. He knew that the bird would mentally suffer from not being able to fly and be free, besides the obvious reason that quail are very tasty.

You either leave them alone or kill them quick and mercifully to eat and not to be wasted. You may ask what does that have to do with rollers? It is the ability to make sound decisions through the use of common sense in relation to nature.

We as responsible breeders should follow suite with nature when possible to ensure decease resistant birds and survival of the fittest because in the long run this is the most humane course of action.

On the other end of the spectrum we need to know when our man-made conditions cause the problem and when help should be administered.

Our ignorance can cause unnecessary suffering such as spraddle legged youngsters. Such as these, usually occur from nest bowls without hay or some type of surface for the young to hold themselves together. We must learn when to intervene and when not to.

Antibiotics should be used only when absolutely necessary. The constant use of antibiotics can contribute to a weaker family of rollers. Weaklings need to be exposed and eliminated for obvious reasons.

One should not put water containers where the birds can contaminate the water with droppings. Even the strongest cannot survive stupidity. On the other side we have another kind of ignorance that is just as detrimental. Putting Clorox bleach in the water and other similar products only destroy the good bacteria and natural course of immune system functions, leaving the birds weaker. Extra chlorine should only be used to remove green growth in a water container when not being used. Some will say that they use Clorox and never have a problem. How can you know if you have a weakling if he is never exposed to any germs? You cannot, therefore you are contributing to raising a weaker family. Anytime you make such interventions you alter natural selection. I know this sounds a bit harsh, but these are not human beings, and a separation of the two must be made.

When you follow nature, sickness will not be a problem. The strongest will have survived passing the strength on to the next generation. You will be responsible for maintaining healthy birds, which require little or no help from humans. This in my opinion makes you more humane. These are the hard facts.

Of course I am in no way speaking of birds that were strong and hit by a hawk and require a little mending, or other such unfortunate events. I am speaking of birds that are genetically weaker (born that way) and incapable of survival without our help. Let us look at the long-term effects. If you cottle a weaker specimen to a point of fair health then later use this bird in the breeding pen, the bad genes will be passed on to the future generations. You will in effect be creating a weaker family that will require further help. Is this not cruel? There are limitations to this of course, but such considerations must be carefully weighed against the overall or long term consequences. It is sad to see a young bird struggling and our nature is to help, but in the long run it is far better to restrain.

I have heard of fanciers helping the youngsters pick their way out of the egg.

If a bird isn’t strong enough to hatch then it should not. It is best to leave eggs and youngsters alone until banding time. Our meddling doesn’t help anything, it only undermines nature.

I understand if you raise rollers there is an automatic argument against this way of thinking. I understand that rollers that are frequent, as we prefer can be mentally weaker to their counterparts, but this has little to do with physical strength. A fine balance must be reached and maintained. A strong physical body with the mental stability appropriate to our goal is required.

If you knowingly use a rolldown for breeding instead of a stable bird then you are in my opinion ignorant of the overall picture, or uncaring, which is worse. Using rolldowns and frequent bouncers is all the same thing. It is not necessary to use birds that cannot stop themselves from hitting the ground. The worst reason I have seen for using rolldowns is because they carry a lot of roll and can contribute to winning competitions. You may ask how? Well, rolldowns are usually good rollers for a short period then they either kill themselves or quit rolling all together. This is an acceptable situation for some. They breed these weaklings by the hundreds hoping to have 20 for fly day that are rolling decent. Afterward these birds don’t last long. They usually end up in the cull pen for visitors to pick through or dead. What a shameful situation this is. Again, we see irresponsible actions.

The correct way to build a kit that can be counted on is by using stable birds. One may say he does not want to wait for two years to see if a bird is stable. What kind of excuse is this? These birds were developed to watch in the air not in a show pen. If you can’t stand to watch a bird in the air for two years then raise parakeets. This does not mean that the birds will not roll until they are two years old. Good rollers may start rolling at four months of age and develop into great rollers before they are eight months old.

The reason you want to fly them for two years is to see which ones do not deteriorate in performance. This leads to rollers that can be enjoyed for many years. Is this not what we are after? A stable roller is a pigeon that will perform for many years without rolling down, bouncing and without significant loss in the quality of the roll.

The depth of experience can be recognized by the response given when suggesting waiting until rollers are two years old to breed. If one has experience he understands this means waiting to be sure they are stable. If he has no experience to speak of then he thinks they don’t start rolling until they are two years of age. If a bird is not rolling before one year old, then I discard them unless they have exceptional body type. In this case I will wait an additional year. I however would not breed this bird because the genes will be passed on to the next generation and I don’t really like to wait more than eight months to see good rolling.

You also hear the common complaint that the birds may be lost to hawks. Falcons yes, I agree but hawks? A good roller that has been exposed to hawks on a regular basis can elude hawks. I think a lot of these guys that complain about hawks have rolldowns and they never watch their birds enough to see them rolldown. Then rather than tell their friends they have a bunch of roll-downs, they blame it on the hawk.

I lose youngsters to hawks sometimes and breeders when they are reintroduced to the kit and are still too fat to out maneuver a hawk, but my regular old bird kit is pretty much hawk-proof.

The best bird I have seen in a competition was six years old. I flew an old hen that was seventeen years old. I have another close friend that flew a cock for eleven years that was a decent roller. He was white hence the name “Old Whitey”. A hawk did eventually get him but he was flown a minimum of 5000 times. That is a lot of enjoyment.

All of the new roller fanciers need to beware of the six-month wonder birds, unless it is garbage you want to perpetuate.

The last thing I want to see is the Birmingham Roller turned into a disposable tumbler like the piles of trash we make everyday. One should learn to be responsible and save on feed.

I am not making an attempt to reach those who are too ignorant to grasp the whole picture because they are incapable of this depth of perception. This article is intended for those who are capable and willing to undertake the task of carrying on the fine tradition of raising quality Birmingham rollers as set forth by the founders. There is nothing more disappointing than to see blatant disrespect and irresponsible treatment toward this magnificent creature. Those who scoff at the word magnificent have never seen a top-notch roller in perfect form. They are absolutely amazing.

The only way to ensure this is by using sound birds that have been rolling good for at least two years. I have raised birds that are 5 and 6 years old that are still rolling excellent, so I know it can be done. I know others who also have many old birds that are still stable rollers.

I once dreamed I was flying a kit and saw a red checker badge roll forty feet incredibly fast in a small ball with the hole showing from the side. I have since seen several birds perform this feat in real life. All were endowed with a strong wedge shaped body and a good sound mental condition and soft feathers. Weaklings will never be able to contribute to such acts for any length of time, so why use them?

If true dedication and compassion prevail this will be the way of it.

One thing to remember is that pigeons that are in a kit box will eat almost anything including mouse droppings. This is our fault for keeping their diet regulated and would not happen in the wild, so in this case we should help. Mouse droppings are extremely deadly to pigeons. If you leave the feed container open and a mouse gets in the feed, you will have sick youngsters and dead birds very soon. They can urinate on the feed or just contaminate it by walking on the feed with dirty feet. There are many different symptoms from mice contamination such as youngsters with shaking heads or loss of balance or going light. Mice must be kept from making contact with pigeons at all cost.

I recommend containers with good sealing lids for keeping feed fresh, but they must be mouse proof for sure. I generally keep a couple of mousetraps in the feed storage room with a dab of peanut butter on the trip. They cannot resist peanut butter.

Always give extra feed to kit birds during the cold months of winter. Pigeons shake when it is cold. This shaking creates friction, which creates heat. The birds may be sitting on their perches but they are still expending energy. Kit birds have less fat and may be unable to maintain enough heat and will become weak and internally damaged. One way to make sure the birds are getting enough feed is by standing at the door with a handful of feed. If a bird comes to your hand to eat, he needs it. Rollers that are getting enough feed will not come to your hand. This will separate the fakers from the needy. Some will become tame with this treatment and will get more than they need. This is when handling the bird is necessary. If the bird is getting enough feed then you will be able to feel some meat on the keel. It is advisable to feel all the kit birds that seem really hungry to make sure they are not being accidentally abused.

Some birds cannot eat as fast as others and over a period of time may loose substantial amounts of weight. This is another good reason for periodical inspections of the keel.

When birds have canker it is generally due to high stress from kit life or other stress related reasons such as overcrowding and dirty lofts.

These birds may not show the canker themselves but will pass it on to the youngsters they raise. The squabs may have canker on the navel or in the throat. They may also get canker in the rectum and reproductive organs as well. Giving a bird all he can eat with good clean water and space to exercise will usually, in time, eliminate this. The small tablets called spartrix work really well also. This can be the fault of human intervention, so again we could help.

When kit birds are paired up and immediately begin raising youngsters they do not have an opportunity to overcome the strain of kit life. Birds such as these will transmit canker to the young until their bodies have had sufficient time to recover. Some birds are weak by nature and will always carry canker and transmit it. I recommend eliminating these birds.

To eliminate stress, pigeons need to feel secure and unafraid also. Small children playing with balls close by for extended periods will stress the birds. Strange dogs and cats allowed to come into the yard will stress pigeons. Fireworks on the fourth of July or New Years that are too close will upset them also.

Pigeons should be kept on wire floors where the droppings will fall through giving less exposure to dust and worm eggs. Pigeons produce small pieces of feather cartridge and dandruff as the feather grows out. Also, as the droppings dry out they create dust. This dust will stop up the capillaries in the lungs just like cigarette smoke. This is what causes pigeon lung decease. The same thing happens with chickens. I remember as a small boy, seeing a breathing apparatus hanging in my great grand parent’s commercial chicken house.

If you use welded wire floors for the bottom of your kit boxes and expanded metal in the breeding loft, this will never be a problem because you will have plenty of fresh air. I designed the floor of my breeding loft as diamond mesh. This is a 1-inch heavy-duty diamond pattern of 9-gauge steel (expanded metal) that you can walk on. I leave about 16 inches above the ground so I can rake underneath when required. I never smell or see this dust in the air due to having airflow under the floor. It is the very best way to raise pigeons. I cannot imagine having dirt or wood floors and having to breathe that dust.

The use of this type of housing will eliminate worms. Worms cycle through pigeons. If the droppings fall through to the ground the birds cannot be exposed to the eggs and will eventually be worm free.

For those that may argue that this type of pen will expose the birds to excessive cold, I would say that this is not correct. I saw common pigeons in Siberia that were walking around on the snow that were fat and healthy. I also raised Russian Bokenskis on my balcony in Siberia. They do require a diet with more fat but they do just fine in temperatures up to fifty below zero. Cold doesn’t hurt the birds but wind will. They need to have a good windbreak. Always make sure to have the open wire front of your pens turned toward the south or if this is not an option then a wall should be built out front to break the wind. In the winter the sun will shine into the pens most of the day if they are facing south.

Should you be unable to build a large walk in loft with this type of floor then I suggest using small lofts built like kit boxes with wire bottoms. These type cages will house two pair each. They can easily be raked underneath and present no danger to the owner. These floors will also help eliminate dampness, which is another major cause of pigeon decease. All kinds of nasty little organisms thrive where dampness can be found.

Pigeons are versatile and can cope with almost any situation but will do much better if the following ideas are followed.

1. Retain only the strong, healthy, and stable rollers for breeders.

2. Be merciful and eliminate weaklings incapable of survival.

3. Provide plenty of room to exercise for breeders.

4. Fly kit birds regularly.

5. Provide clean water,

6. Clean fresh feed,

7. Clean air via wire floors,

8. A dry loft,

9. Low stress environment

10. Grit with iodine and minerals for breeders or pellets

11. Mouse and rat free environment

12. Never raise pigeons in close proximity with chickens

13. Provide a windbreak and sunshine for breeders.

Most decease or sickness in pigeons can be traced back to the owner’s ignorance. If you raise pigeons like POW’s then that is what you will have. Take good care of them within reason. Pigeons should not be treated as the boy in the bubble either. Try to emulate natural conditions as much as possible. This will produce the best results in the long run.

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