Annual harvest (author unnown)  

Annual harvest
An important consideration in the feeding of grain is the annual harvest. Seeds grow in spring and are harvested once a year, leading to a cycle of progressively older seeds until the next harvest. At some time during the year, at least a portion of the seeds are one year old or older. The nutrients that are most affected by aging are the vitamins, which lose activity owing to oxidation and fats, which become rancid. This aging process can lead to a reduced nutrient concentration. In this way, the level of many other micronutrients becomes reduced with time. This reduction can be limited by reducing temperature and oxygen in the storage environment. This can be achieved by filling bins to the brim with grain before sealing the lids with tape and storing the whole drum in a cool place. Often, despite these measures, micronutrient levels become low. To guard against deficiency, a complete water-soluble multivitamin drink can be made available to the birds periodically (eg Multivite Plus) and pink mineral should be always available.

It is not only vital for race form to be achieved that the diet provide the birds with all the nutrients that they require but that it also supplies protein and fat at the correct levels. All seed diets tend to be high in fat but low in protein. This can result in obesity as the birds eat to meet both their energy and protein requirements. The correct level of protein in the diet of a racing pigeon during the racing season is approximately 12% and the correct level of fat is approximately 4%. There are many varied diets recommended and some of these provide significantly different levels of fat and protein. These appear fine in the short term but for long-term health the average level in the diet should approximate the above. The various diets have been discussed in my book, The Flying Vet’s Pigeon Health & Management. If the protein level in the diet is too low, normal enzyme and hormone activity cannot occur, healing and recovery are delayed, and muscle, bone and feather growth cannot occur normally. If the diet is too high in protein, this places an increased workload on the kidneys, which can be fatal. In one case at my clinic, stock pigeons started dying. Investigation revealed that they had died of kidney failure. The fancier had fed turkey pellets only (30% protein) for over 6 months.

The normal protein-based grain used is peas. Peas contain 20 – 25% protein and if they are the only protein grain used, and make up 35 – 40% of the diet, they will provide correct protein levels.

Excess fat in the diet leads to obesity, while, because fats are needed as an energy source, too low levels of fat lead to weight loss, poor growth and reduced disease resistance.

The balancing of various grains in the mix to provide correct levels of protein and fat not only for health but also to match the amount of work the pigeons are having so that their weight and fitness are correct to win is challenging and has also been discussed in my book. As a general rule, however, I recommend a base racing diet of 30 – 40% peas, with the rest being equal parts (ie 15%) maize, sorghum, wheat and safflower. To this is added one to two handfuls of mixed small seed (millet, canary, rape and linseed) per 12-litre bucket. Obviously there is no shortage of potential substitutions here, egg a proportion of the peas could be replaced with vetches, which are approximately 35% protein, but the level of peas would need to be reduced to prevent the protein level becoming too high. For breeding, a protein level of approximately 18% is recommended. This can be achieved simply by increasing the level of peas, beans (25% protein) or vetches.

Many successful fanciers will already recognize supplements as being beneficial and the following are recommended:

Complete multivitamin/trace element drink made specifically for pigeons at least one day per week in the drinking water (eg Multivite Plus)

Pink mineral and balanced grit (containing both hard and soft grits) always available (eg PVM powder and The Australian Pigeon Company’s Health Grit)

Wheat germ oil-based supplements together with yeast on seed for two or more feeds weekly (eg Polyseed Oil)

Chopped green vegetables with diced carrot weekly (or carrot juice diluted in water one day weekly)

Other supplements can have other advantages. Some of the teas commercially available not only contain micronutrients but also naturally occurring acids that help to protect the bowel from disease. It should be noted that there is no point in providing the correct blend of seeds if birds are then fed these cafeteria-style. It is a fallacy to think that pigeons know what they need and will only eat what they require. Many birds, if offered a blend ad lib, will overselect particular grains that they fancy, in particular oil-based grains such as safflower and peanuts. The selection of a smaller number of grains distorts the provided balanced diet. In addition a diet that contains excessive oil-based seeds although providing a reasonable protein intake also provides a lot of fat which distorts the amino acid balance. Such a diet is also very low in calcium and can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

A poor diet means that birds are more prone to disease, poor feathering, poor reproductive performance and, of course, poor racing performance. The provision of a complete and balanced diet will optimize the performance of the competitive bird.


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