Nutrition, Vitamins & Minerals
Feeding to Win
First and foremost, the food must be of the best quality.
Good quality grain is a clean grain with low moisture content. Grains with high moisture and/or are dirty, dusty and uncleaned are more susceptible to fungus and bacterial germs and poisons than dry clean grain. The truth is that germs on and in the grains will affect the performance of your birds during breeding, moulting, showing and racing. The food used for racing pigeons must be fresh, clean and the highest quality.
The simple fact is that cheap food is never the best food.
The farmer receives more for the graded feed than for the weather affected (water, heat, hail etc) grain sold primarily as stock food. Some produce merchants buy this food for the pigeon fanciers to keep their prices down, but fail to understand that ungraded feed is susceptible to moulds and mould toxins that destroy the nutritional content of the feed. These moulds are a major health hazard, predisposing the race team to many illnesses. The poor quality grain simply fails to provide the required energy and nutrient needs of the competing bird. The result is poor performance and flock illness.
Nowadays, the grain merchants make a big effort to provide clean food, free of fungus, bacteria and toxins.
Most fanciers now understand that the quality of the feed does have a substantial effect on performance and they purchase "farm fresh" feed guaranteed free of moulds and mould toxins. Castle Grains of Queensland and Fernando's of Melbourne have set the standard for all other grain merchants in Australia. Culture testing is the best method of checking the grain. Even if the food tested is not perfect then it can still be helped, by mixing mould inhibitors (PEP) with it. Many fanciers use mould inhibitors routinely in order to protect their mixes from the effects of moisture during storage.
The pigeon eats more poor quality food but less of the dry clean food. This in itself makes unclean food more expensive.
The feed must be stored correctly and protected from moisture and rodents.
The correct storage of your grain after purchase is necessary if you are to preserve its culture-free status. If you allow moisture to infiltrate your feed then mould and bacterial contamination will most likely ensue, thereby nullifying all of your best efforts to provide your birds with the very best food. If your grain is very dry and culture tests clear then it must be stored in an airtight drum and elevated off the ground. This will protect your grain from absorbing moisture from the surrounding air during times of high humidity (e.g. rain periods and with night time high humidity). Grain high in moisture is best mixed with a mould inhibitor (PEP). Then it is stored with an open lid to allow it to dry out in times of low humidity and sealed in times of high humidity. The fungal spores resident on moist grain is more likely to become activated when stored in the dark and without air circulation to help dry it out.
Nutrition, Vitamins & Minerals
There's more to feeding than just grain and grit.
Nowadays, pigeon fanciers know that there's more to feeding than just grain and grit. Certainly, grains are an excellent source of energy, protein, and fibre, but they are very low in the minerals, trace elements and vitamins required for the exertions of top racing and breeding robust youngsters.
For a long time, fanciers have used grit to provide the minerals in the diet of the racing and breeding pigeon, but only recently have they realised that shell grit does not contain all of the minerals and trace elements required for sustained racing and breeding success. Vitamins must also be added to the diet of the pigeon. The old timers understood this vitamin need from seeing the benefits of giving spinach and carrots to their birds. Today, most fanciers give vitamin supplements in the water or on the food.
The theory of nutrition for the pigeon is really quite easy to understand.
The fancier must give:
Grain for energy, protein and fibre.
Minerals grits, powdered minerals and trace elements.
Vitamins are usually given with trace elements in the water.
Extra energy, vitamins and protein can be given in the form of special oils on the food during the high energy times of racing and when the adults are feeding young.
Pigeons can survive on grain and grit alone, but they cannot reach the level of health required to withstand the pressures of racing or breeding. Eventually their health will fail under these extreme physical pressures. Good feeding will control most illnesses of pigeons. For example, there is a major increase in the minerals and trace elements required when the adult pigeons are feeding babies, but grit alone does not provide all of the necessary minerals and trace elements for continuing good health. Without mineral additives the end result is often egg laying problems, canker outbreaks and other illnesses. During racing there are increased needs for energy, protein and vitamins, as well as trace elements and minerals. The race team tires easy and is more susceptible to fatigue related respiratory and wet canker illnesses when extra vitamins and minerals are not provided.
The feed (grain) mixes do not provide enough vitamins and minerals for top performance. The fancier must select a feed mix that provides the energy and protein balance needed for the particular stage of the pigeon calendar. Breeding and moulting birds require a grain mix which is higher in protein, has a different essential amino acid balance than the pigeon in full training during the racing season. The feed mix requires at least six different grain types in the mix in order to get the best protein level and quality (i.e. balance of essential amino acids). The best quality of protein is seldom met and lysine (a very important amino acid for the pigeon) deficiencies are common in grain mixes with fewer than 4 grains. The protein quality of the grain mix can be improved by adding protein/amino acid supplements prior to feeding.
All grains are low in calcium (0.01- 0.20%) and sodium (20-600ppm). Phosphorous, copper, zinc, manganese, and selenium are also low in some grains. The vitamin concentrations in seeds are highly variable. Seeds do not contain vitamin A (corn provides carotenoids), or vitamin D. Vitamin E and vitamin K levels are low to undetectable. Among the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid are often low and vitamin B12 is not present. This means that the vitamins, minerals and trace elements lacking in the grain must given to the pigeons in some form or other. Many fanciers use spinach and shell grit, but this is still not enough to balance the nutritional requirements of the athletic pigeon. Nowadays most fanciers add vitamin and trace elements to the water once or twice a week and provide the minerals in powdered or block form ad lib.
Feeding to Win
During the racing season, the main function of food is to provide the fuel for flying. Our common aim is to provide the racing pigeon with the best fuel for race day. To do this consistently we must have a good understanding of the food itself. The following paragraphs will introduce you to the science (or theory) of feeding, but for racing success you must also become expert at the practice (or art) of feeding. Only practice and observation can teach you the art of feeding, but hopefully the methods of feeding described here can help you find the pathway to feeding success.
We can only begin the art of good feeding when both the quality of the food is guaranteed and the flock is healthy. A healthy bowel is required before we can test our feeding systems, because an unhealthy bowel fails to deliver the fuel of good grain to the pigeon's body. Bowel diseases such as E. coli, coccidiosis, worms and wet canker all decrease the amount of nutrients entering the body.
By using the best quality grains and with a healthy race team, the fancier can now think about a racing mix appropriate for his particular family of birds and training methods. The mix chosen must provide a good balance of protein (amino acids) and for this to be achieved at least 8 different grains must be used. After this balance is achieved, the energy content of the mix becomes the most important part of successful feeding.
The feed system provides the race team with the correct energy levels for training and racing. The goal of feeding is to provide the training and racing pigeon with exactly enough (not too much and not too little) fuel (energy in the food) for sustained flight (loft exercise or racing). Of course, the fuel requirements of the training pigeon vary enormously from day to day. It is the constantly changing energy requirements of the competition pigeon that makes feeding such a challenge to even the best fanciers. The competition pigeon will not perform to its fitness level when the "energy balance" is incorrect. The "energy balance" must be assessed short term (daily) and long term (weekly) with fit flocks during the race season, because the fitness level will drop both when too much and too little energy is supplied. During young bird training special attention must be made to prevent depletion of the energy reserves in the liver and muscle.
Overfeeding relative to workload (positive energy balance) renders the race team less competitive because of excess baggage ("leady"). Excess energy is stored as fat with subsequent loss of buoyancy and fitness. It is well to remember that the excess energy of mixes which are too high in protein (legumes) relative to the work load will be stored as fat.
Underfeeding relative to workload (negative energy balance) renders the race team less competitive because of "depowering". Feed systems low in energy relative to the workload of the race team will result in the depletion of the energy reserves in the liver, fat and muscle.
The fancier can recognise a race team that is in a negative energy balance by the following signs:
No wing flapping in the early morning or after feeding.
Disinterest in leaving loft or toss basket, lower lid laziness etc.
The race team in negative energy balance (inadequate energy intake relative to the workload) is susceptible to illness, especially "respiratory" diseases.
Most fanciers understand the importance of buoyancy for success, but few understand the best way to achieve this in their race teams. Buoyancy is best achieved by supplying the flock with enough feed (a positive energy balance) to promote vigorous loft flying (or tossing) in order to maximise lean body mass (i.e. muscle) and minimise body fat. Instead many fanciers believe that the best path to buoyancy is to restrict caloric (energy) intake (feed less) in order to lose excess weight and thereby produce the buoyancy that we see with top form. However, buoyancy is not only weightlessness, but also power, and the buoyancy of fitness only comes when lean body mass is maximised. The restriction of calories in an effort to produce buoyancy in fact lowers the fitness level of the flock and renders it susceptible to illness. Severe caloric restriction will cause a loss of not only body fat but also lean body mass (muscle) with the accompanying loss of fitness and power.
This is the basic mix that may be fed to any type of pigeon.
Young Bird Recipe
Use only the best quality seed mix and additives. The best food and additives are a must for the developing youngster. This food must include a clean, organic and nutritionally balanced "Young Bird Mix" with the additional nutritional supplementation (Bloomford, Turbobooster and F-Vite). A good quality dry grit or F-vite mustbe provided at all times. The "Young Bird Mix" provides the young bird with the required energy, protein and amino acid balance necessary for optimal body development and renewal of quality flight feathers.
The following recipe is an example of a good European "Young Bird Mix", which is ration fed and because of its high energy levels requires regular loft flying to prevent internal fat formation.
The best food and additives are essential for a quick moult and the regrowth of quality new feathers. A quick moult indicates a healthy flock and a superior quality of feather reflects the correct feeding system. The best recipes provide the essential level and balance of amino acids needed for the formation of new feathers. Turbobooster, Bloomford and Energy supplement provide the high levels and balance of protein, energy, vitamins and minerals required for a fast and successful moult.
The following is a successful recipe of a "Moulting Mix" which is given ad lib. During the moult.
With races longer than 5 hours the feeding system must change from a light "Sprint Mix" to a heavier "Distance Mix". Loft flying is not restricted as in the sprint season. The following is a good example of a distance mix, remembering that both the exercise and mix determine the buoyancy of the race bird. Turbobooster and Energy supplement are added to the distance mix each day to stimulate loft flying and to accelerate recovery from more hours on the wing during this training.
The "Breeding Mix" plus the additives provides the growing baby with every nutrient need for optimal body development and disease resistance. The following recipe is an example of an excellent "Breeding Mix", which is hopper fed.
Detailed information regarding the month to month care for the race team and the breeding loft.
Enhances pigeon performance by providing an immediate and sustained energy source.
The behaviour of pigeons as they fly outside the loft tells us a lot about their fitness, health and happiness.