Fancy and Show Pigeons
Although the fancy pigeon breeds have been developed over a much longer period of time (6 or 7 centuries) than the relatively young (150 years) racing pigeon, they tend to experience more difficult health problems.
Generally, racing pigeons have a greater degree of natural resistance to illness because each year the genetically weaker birds are eliminated during the racing season. The racing acts as a form of natural resistance ("the survival of the fittest"). There is no such form of natural selection in the fancy breeds and these breeds have survived on the decisions and instincts of the fanciers themselves. For many centuries the fanciers have culled ill birds and bred only from the hardy stock, and some fancy breeds have a very strong degree of natural resistance to certain illnesses. For example, certain families of the fantail breed are particularly resistant against canker. This has occurred because the wise fanciers have culled the parents of squeakers with canker. The fanciers have bred the canker out of the family, by selecting genetically resistant individuals for their breeding stock.
Many diseases can be "bred out" of a flock, but this takes many generations (4 -5 at least) and those disease resistant birds may not necessarily be the best quality show birds. Herein lies the difficulty for the modern day fancier. He must produce quality young birds each year in order to remain competitive in the show arena.
The most important aspects of show pigeon health are:
Genetic resistance to disease.
Wise use of medicines.
Show pigeon families comprising inbred individuals are the most likely flocks to experience serious illnesses during the breeding season. I have found that medicines control but fail to prevent the illnesses from recurring in these inbred flocks. For this reason the show pigeon fancier must introduce vital and healthy outcrosses periodically to strengthen the natural resistance of the inbred lines. As well, the inbred birds selected for breeding must be vital and resistant to the "resident diseases".
Many of the illnesses that are seen in the show pigeon loft can be prevented by loft cleanliness and hygiene. Rodents (mice/rats) and insects (cockroaches, ants, slugs, weavils) are a major source of illness in the show pigeon loft and must be controlled at all times, especially during the breeding and young bird seasons. It is difficult to control diseases in dark, damp lofts or lofts with dirt floors. The best floor is wooden (marine or form ply) rather than concrete or wire, the ceiling and walls need to be lined in order to prevent the condensation that predisposes the flock to "respiratory", bacterial and fungal related illnesses. An open flight area is an under estimated but necessary part of every show pigeon loft, because of the health benefits provided by direct sunlight. The water containers need to be of stainless steel or glass and elevated off the ground to prevent moisture in the loft.
There are five basic health programmes for show birds. These are outlined in the Pigeon Medicine Book (There are more programs outlined in the Show Poultry section of this site, and also in Dr. Marshall's Squab Health Book).
Pre-Breeding Health Programme
Breeding Health Programme
Squeaker Health Programme
Moulting Health Programme
Show Season Health Programme
Information on Rollers, Tumblers, High Flyers, as well as health and disease prevention.
Information on fancy pigeons and important aspects of show pigeon health.
The common signs of respiratory disease in racing pigeons and checklist.