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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
also raised Russian Bokenskis on my balcony in Siberia. They do require
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
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
possible. This will produce the best results in the long run.
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