Wintering Your Birds
During the cold weather months the normal tendency of most pigeon flyers is to take a “break” from the birds and pretty much forget any health issues until it is time to mate up the breeders for next year. In most of the successful lofts, however, the winter time, though not as busy as the rest of the year, is not a time of neglect. The following should be kept in mind.
It has been my experience that most pigeon flyers keep far too many pigeons. I am convinced that most of us could cull ½ to 2/3 of our pigeons and not hurt our performance in the races at all. In many cases our performance would actually increase. In the United States the Marine Corp. ( before they were politically correct) had an advertisement stating that “they were looking for a few good men”. Since I am a widowhood flyer, that statement reflects my goal on my old bird race team. Birds that haven’t measured up, that are chronically late, or are real inconsistent should be culled. I also cull all pigeons that seem to be unthrifty. We have all seen birds that can give a good performance, but it seems that they are no good for 2-3 weeks because they don’t bounce back. These birds lack vitality and should be culled. Lack of vitality is certainly a trait you want to avoid in your loft. Many of us have no trouble in culling inferior pigeons, that’s an easy call. Many of us, however, have a loft full of mediocre to good pigeons that we could do without. The top lofts in Europe, Canada and the United States consistently cull birds the quality of which fills other lofts. Always strive to keep only the BEST and cull the REST. Fewer pigeons simply translates into happier and healthier birds.
Most of our old birds will be moulting in the fall and it is critical that they go through this natural process in excellent health. As our old birds change feathers it puts a tremendous load on their system. If they are full of parasites, receiving inferior food, are trying to raise late hatches, ect. their moult will be inferior. While your birds are moulting try to have them clear of all parasites, sexes separated and on a diet that contains 16-18% protein. Added fat in the diet in the form of wheat germ or cod liver oil, 2-3 days a week is also helpful.
After young bird season I cull my young bird team and any more old birds I have decided not top keep. I then boost them all for PMV infections. My youngsters have already received 1-2 previous vaccines before the race season and this one is their 2nd or 3rd. For those of you that vaccinate for salmonella, you should vaccinate for it as well. Remember, pox vaccination in old birds is not needed.
You can get by being a little lax in the cold months in the area of parasite control since the cold weather really retards most parasites in the loft. However, I would check for and treat if needed, or just treat for coccidia, canker, and worms every month to six weeks during the winter. It is especially critical to have things checked and cleared up before mating.
Once the moult is over you can drop the protein level down to 12- 14%, as protein is not a main source of energy. However, it is important to give plenty of fat and carbohydrates, as these nutrients are needed for energy ( to stay warm).
It is important to make sure the water doesn’t freeze for long periods. Even though our birds don’t drink as much in the cold months they still can get pretty thirsty trying to lick ice cubes.
Rodents are the main source of salmonella infection (paratyphoid), they want to go where it is warm and will try to invade your loft. Be sure to keep plenty of rat bait out for them and keep it away from your birds.
Our birds can withstand very cold temperatures, but you should keep the wind from blowing into your loft. In severe cold, some sort of heat source would be helpful.
For those of you that want to raise early youngsters hatched out in the dead of winter so you can run away with the young bird races, you must do two things. First you must give you BREEDERS 12-16 hours of light for 3 weeks before mating up. This gets them in the mood for love. BE CAREFULL NOT TO DO THIS WITH YOUR RACE TEAM AND THAN QUIT IN EARLY SPRING. YOU WILL HAVE THEM MOULTING HEAVILY RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF OLD BIRD SEASON. Second, it is very helpful to use a heat source. This too helps in getting them to mate up and decreases the numbers of empty eggs and youngsters that freeze to death. You don’t have to keep the loft at 80 degrees F 40 degrees F is fine.
Winter time is the time to plan for the next year. Figure out matins, pre-mate your birds on the weekends, and decide on what flying system changes you want to make in the coming year.
Wintering Your Birds by: Steve Weir DVM