Fertility in pigeons

This article has been written following a request from the President of the National Modena Club. Even if written for modenas, it can be useful for any pigeon breed.  

Part one:

We often hear that modena fertility is decreasing year after year. This might be true for many but if we are being positive instead of negative, why don’t we look at those breeders who have a good fertility rate? This way, rather than discussing a problem, we can discuss finding new ways to have more fertility in our modenas.  I think there is nothing worse in our sport than to talk about it negatively as some do because newbie’s or young breeders might decide to select another breed that might have less fertility problems. Being negative isn’t good for our breed. 

It recalls to me some breeders that were discouraged because of a very low fertility rate with their modenas a few years ago and now, they have improved it greatly. It is with those modenas, and breeders that we are going to rebuild confidence in our hobby, and it will result in better and better fertility in the future. Of course, to reach new levels, we should also stop those medicines with strong antibiotics because they cause our pigeons to becoming less and less fertile and with a worse and worse immune system. The key to success now is to work on the natural immunity in our modenas and we should do the selection of fertile birds only for breeding. Experts advise us that this is the best possible way to obtain success in the coming years. With this in mind we must change some bad habits for new and better methods in many aspect of our hobby. This is the objective of this article. 

Fertility in Pigeons Part 2.

Details: Nobody can easily put their finger on a real reason of infertility unless each of the following causes is fully studied. Here is the list of all factors that can cause infertility in our birds:

 Advance age; Antibiotics or other medicine given just before mating; Bacterial infection, fungal toxins; Bad method of feedings; Bad preparation of the bird mainly for the first round; Barren hens; Birds that aren’t clean underneath; Birds, mainly cocks that cannot see well because the head is too large; Climate; Cocks that are too young; Cold temperature and colder period; Conformation: physically; Difficulties for the male to pass the sperm; Pigeons being disturbed by other pigeons; Darker period; Early embryonic death; Egg badly candled; Extreme temperature changes in a short time; Feed quality; First round for a young cock; Holding and switching eggs; Human and other animal interaction; Inadequate feeding, mainly calcium, selenium, carotene and micro-element; Infertile cocks; infertile hens; Inbreeding not properly done or for a too long period ; Uses of too much Antibiotics; Length of daylight; Light; Loft condition; Loss of condition; Malformed eggs; Management practices; Medication over treatment; Medication in wrong time; Molting period; Myth; Nest badly prepared;  Nest not clean; Nest not disinfected after each round; Nesting material; Nutrition deviancy; Obesity; Other birds; Over population; Overuse of medications; Paratyphoid, (salmonella). Poor condition; Predators as cats, hawks, rodents etc.; Probiotics, too much of them;  Shaking eggs; Sickness of any kind; Soft shell; Tail too long; Too much inbreeding; Too much of something: vitamins, electrolytes, iodine; Vaccination in the wrong time; etc.

As you can see, many factors might cause infertility. The most common are underlined. If any one can see any others, please let me know.. 

Here is Part 3 about fertility in our pigeons. .

 We didn't add more details on many of these precedent causes because I was limited in the number of pages. The more important ones, are those written in bold type and underlined. They are recognized to be those that cause the most problems of infertility. We can come back with more details later on.

Dr. Zsolt Talaber says that the very first reason for infertility in our pigeons is the breeder himself! In reading this article, you will learn why.

We have to start with this principle and analyze our breeding conditions and the environment of our pigeons. If you have a fertility rate higher than 70% in your pigeon breeding, do not change anything, your methods are suitable to your breeding program except that you should still slowly remove from your breeders the most infertile birds. If your fertility rate fluctuates between 20 to 50% you need help and you should consult the basic principles of breeding and apply them in your breeding program. 

Super health is a must for super breeding so make sure your pigeons are healthy and in an optimum condition when the breeding season starts and they should keep this condition all year long. This should be achieved through natural means, without medicine.

General check-up
Take your pigeons in your hands, so you can check the general condition of the pigeon.
Watch the feathers, looking for lice or mites that can be a very great disturbance during breeding, and can even cause parents to abandon the nest, so the eggs will not hatch or the babies will die from the cold or lack of feed. When you look at the feathers, you can also see if the pigeons have completed their molting period. It is best that the last feathers are renewed, so the pigeons system can focus on the breeding period. For more details, see February in the Loft , written by Ed Minvielle:

Here is Part 4 of my article on fertility in pigeons.

Food & Supplements

It is very important that the food is fresh, clean and of the highest quality. It should be remembered that the older the grain, the more we need to compensate for the loss of important nutrients. Keep in mind that harvest is done in fall and for every month after this harvest, the quality of the grain decrease. Let's imagine its quality just before the new harvest!!! The grain should be clean with low moisture content. The feed should be changed accordingly to the period and the needs of our pigeons: Rest period feed should be low in proteins; breeding feed should be high in fiber, proteins, vitamins, minerals etc.; in the molting period feed should contain more oil and a little less protein. 

Pellets: Nowadays, a good fresh pellet ration, well prepared is probably the best you can give to your pigeons, all year round. Since it can be fabricated at our will, it is easiest to have what the pigeons need for each period of the year. Protein and amino acid can be adjusted as the birds need them. Most companies that fabricate the pellets already have different formulas specially prepared for our pigeons. Three weeks before the breeding period, you should increase the protein. The breeding pellets should contain close too: 18% crude protein, 3.0% of crude fat, 7.0% of fiber , 7% of ash, 3% of added minerals, sodium not more that 0.16%, calcium at 1.5%, phosphorous at 0.56%, Vitamin A (min.) 12100 IU/ kg, Vitamin D, 4200 IU/kg. Vitamin E: 40IU/kg. It is very IMPORTANT that they contain SELENIUM at 0.3 mg/kg.  But again, this ration should not be given all year long!  It is quite important to change it according to the needs. Check the smell of the food before giving it to the pigeons. Clean the feeders often, remove all that is left from the previous meal. Please remember that some supplements during the breeding period are of very great importance, and are necessary to give, others can give some stimulation when the pigeons have problems with mating, pairing and breeding. Menadione bisulfate (source of vitamin K) riboflavin, and zinc can also be added in small quantity.

Of course, any breeder has the choice. The more important part of all is the success we have with what we use ad do.

Please keep in mind that those information are always based on new researches in the pigeon world.

 Part 5.

Garlic: Also, the trace minerals selenium and germanium present in garlic may give a boost to the immune system of pigeons, to increase their ability to fight disease-producing organisms of many kinds. In domestic livestock, selenium is known to be important in the normal development of the immune system while the animal is growing in the uterus. A deficiency of selenium and Vitamin E has a definite adverse effect, because in such deficiencies, the development of the immune system is retarded. As a result, the newborn bird may be completely or severely restricted from protecting itself against invading organisms of all kinds. Logic based on a number of studies, says that the very best source of the good effects of garlic is obtain with the use of fresh cloves of garlic.

Three weeks before the breeding period, you should increase the protein to 18%, 

If you give grain to your pigeons, good quality grain should be given. Grains with high moisture and/or are dirty, dusty and un-cleaned are more susceptible to fungus and bacterial germs and poisons than dry clean grain. When pigeons are pairing and breeding there is a great demand for multi-minerals, and trace elements. It is best to give this ad lib or put it in the drinking water. Do not forget that cheap food is never the best food. Cheap food can result is poor breeding and possible flock illness.

Grit:  Grit is a source of the very important calcium that is necessary especially during this period of the year. First of all, the egg shell has to be formed in the body of the hen. The gland that does this needs a significant amount of calcium in order to have a well formed egg. When there is a lack of calcium, the shell can be very rough or too soft, or sometimes there is no shell at all. It is not necessary to tell that there won’t be any babies if this occurs. Second, for the expulsion of the egg, the hen needs muscle activity, and this process also needs calcium. Third, the hen and cock make crop milk to feed their babies, and this milk contains a lot of calcium. When there is a lack of this mineral, it is possible that the hen will not lay her egg, or that the hen isn’t able to walk or fly any more. Giving supplements of calcium and vitamin D3 are very good in order to prevent a lack of calcium and calcium uptake by the bird’s body. Here are the others important source of calcium that can be use for pigeons: (Calcium gluconate is very much used by many fanciers. It is now sold in most places where they sell pigeon products

Objet : calcium: important details:

Percentages of elemental calcium found in various sources: C. carbonate (40%); C. Phosphate-tribasic (38%); C. Phosphate-dibasic (23%); Bonemeal (32%); Dolomite (22%); C. citrate (21%); C. lactate (13%); C. levinulate (13%); C. gluconate (9%); C. gluceptate (8%); C. glubionate (6.5%).

Calcium supplementation most often used:
1) Bonemeal is the crushed bones of animals and does not absorb easily within the body. It also contains large amounts of phosphorus and is not a choice of vegans.
2) Calcium lactate is a milk derivative and also is also not a choice of vegans, but it is easier to absorb than bonemeal.
3) Calcium gluconate is derived from a vegetable source and is more potent than the calcium lactate.
4) Dolomite is a natural form of calcium and magnesium and requires no Vitamin D for assimilation. However, it is poorly absorbed and usually has lead contamination.
5) Calcium citrate and calcium citrate malate are highly absorbable forms that require a minimum of hydrochloric acid for its absorption. These forms are better for the elderly and those with gastrointestinal disorders that diminish hydrochloric acid secretions.
6) Calcium gluconate and calcium hydroxyapatite are also good forms, but calcium carbonate, dolomite, and bone meal are the poorest forms for absorption.
7) Chelates and chlorides are the most expensive forms, but there is little evidence to support that they are absorbed better than cheaper forms.

With pellets, grit is of less importance as pellets are supposed to contain the most important ingredients but it is good to have access to grit for your pigeons all of the time because if needed, the pigeons will take it. 

Now, here Part 6 about fertility in pigeons

Supplements & other natural remedies:  Products that contain much selenium, Vitamin E (eg. wheat germ oil) will stimulate the libido and fertility of the pigeon. You can give this as a cure of 1 week, followed by 2 – 3 days a week. Be careful not to overdose selenium (see info on pellet packaging).

Iodine: In order to have strong and healthy young babies, iodine is very important. The level of iodine in seed is directly related to the level of iodine in the soil in which the seed was grown. The level of iodine in many soils is quite low. Iodine is found in yeast or can be supplement in the water. To do this, dilute 2ml of Lugol’s iodine into 30 ml of water to make a concentrated solution. Then add 4 drops of this concentrated solution to each liter of drinking water. Foy’s and Global have lugol in their catalogs. Lugol’s iodine also contains some potassium iodine that favors hatchability.  Red Cell is also a very good product but do not give too much (1 teaspoon per gallon of water in normal condition).  Pay attention not to give more than one product that contains the same item (ex: don’t give Lugol’s iodine at same time as Red Cell) 

Selenium: We insist on selenium because of its importance. Fertility in pigeons starts when they are babies! When birds are young, their body’s need for trace and micro elements is high.  A bird’s selenium requirement is high when young and an inadequate intake causes developmental disorders and slow growth.

The selenium deficiency is relatively common in pigeon-breeding since in many countries the earth is not usually rich in selenium, and plants grown in that soil only contain this element in minimal quantities.  The role selenium plays in reproduction is very important. We should ensure its regular intake, especially in the winter and the spring; reproductive disorders can develop if pigeons have a lack of this element.  We give selenium together with vitamin E.  Its regular intake is necessary, but this does not mean that it should be administered on a continuous basis, as selenium is easy to overdose. Supplements of selenium should only be administered continuously for a week at most, after that administration, birds should have a one or two week break. This is the treatment to be used if the lack of selenium is already established. One supplement of selenium per week is adequate as a preventive measure, but it is advisable to continue this regularly, throughout the year. If you feed pellets with selenium, do not give more. In pigeon pellets contain selenium; it should not be higher than 0.3mg/kg as they have it every day.

Part 7

IMPORTANT: If you give a paratyphoid treatment to your birds, immediately after that you should vaccinate your birds with Sal Bac. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instruction. You should also vaccinate all your young birds at the age of six weeks. As the babies still have the parent’s immunity, you do not have to treat them before.  NEVER TREAT YOUR BIRDS AGAIN against paratyphoid.  Vaccinate them once a year.  Antibiotics should no longer be used to treat for paratyphoid in your lofts!


More light before and during breeding: The best time recommended to put the light on in the loft before pairing pigeons is three (3) weeks for the cocks and two (2) weeks for the hen.  It is better to turn the light on late at night and let the normal hours go with the sunset.  This way, your pigeons will not be surprised by a sudden darkness while away from the nest for one reason or another.  Let’s say that the sunset is at 5:00 PM, then you set the light to turn on at about 11:00 PM if you go for 18 hours of light. You need a timer for precision. 

Up to now we have seen most of the important factors about infertility in all pigeon varieties. You should use all this information to help your modenas to produce as much as possible in the shortest time possible starting at the very first round. Then, they will have about 7 months to rest, get the best possible molt, be prepared for show.

Part number 8.

Now let's have a look on what should be done to obtain the best fertility possible. Of course, this can be obtained only if both, the cock and the hen are fertile.

You have to check the underneath to be sure they are always clean, all the time. This is not only important, it’s a must.  It is best to trim them but if you do don’t cut all the feathers. Those long ones right after the anus serve as a guide for the cock to mate with the hen. Trimming them, the size and the shape of a poultry egg is a great help to both cocks and hens. And this area should be checked often as trimming is not efficient for a long period. Please take note that the very healthy birds rarely have droppings sticking to them but it can also depend on the feed they have and the lack of certain products in it, such as fiber. Some also suggest that it might be necessary to cut the tip of the tail by one inches on certain bird.

Another important thing is the feet of the cocks. The claws should be sharp and clean all the time. When the cock is on the hen to mate her, he needs them in good condition to hold firmly on the back of the hen the time he needs to mate her correctly.  I have already seen modena cocks that was unable to stay on the hen because the feet were full of hard droppings that had dried on them.

The hen should not be fat, mainly at the first round at the beginning of the year. Modena hens that are fat rarely fertilize well. It is also noteworthy that cocks are more active when they are not fat and will also fertilize better if they are not fat.  The month before breeding my modenas, they are all put on barley only for a week. The special feature of barley is that it can used to adjust the diet. More or less barley is added to the mixture according to what the pigeon is doing. For people who have little spare time this is an excellent way of giving the birds the correct feed. This cereal is rich in vitamins A, B, E and, particularly D, and is highly suitable for building a strong skeleton in young birds and promoting metabolism. The presence of husks makes the mash more porous, and facilitates the action of the food juices and bacteria, assisting the digestion. Moreover, good barley does not make the pigeons fat. Barley is, incidentally, despite all its excellent qualities, not irreplaceable just as no food product is irreplaceable in principle. It is a question of knowing exactly what a product 'does', what its’ characteristics are and then looking for substitutes which do the same. In other words, we have to be well informed about nutritional matters. Barley is an exceptional feeding regulator and therefore very convenient for fanciers who have to devote attention to other matters. It is important to know that pigeons do not like barley. They must become accustomed to eating it.

After a week of barley, my birds are fed breeding mixtures just enough to clean their feed in about 20 minutes (10 minutes for the homers and other varieties is correct). They get nothing else until the next meal the following day. If you prefer feeding them twice a day, cut the quantity. Of course when they have babies, the quantity should be greatly increased and they should not run out of it.  In the winter when it is very cold,  (eg.  -10°C (15°F or less), I add about 20% of corn to their meal and let them have an hour to clean all of their food. There is never any grain left in the loft until next meal. All corn is removed from the food during the breeding season.


Part number 9

The birds should be in super heath produced with the help of natural products, not with antibiotics unless you have had recognized illness in your loft. Then the appropriate antibiotic should be given. But if you have taken the effort to develop a strong immune system in your pigeons, this system will be able to fight most diseases but not necessarily viruses. This is why vaccinations are very important and give great protection to your pigeons.

Individual coops might help in many occasions. They should be as large as possible. Then you will be sure that the hen has been paired with the cock you have selected for her. Secondly, it helps for better coupling as they aren't disturbed. Your individual coops should allow birds to see other birds beside them. It stimulates the fertility hormones of the cocks and helps the testicles go down in the body, mainly in the first round. I suppose you all know that in fall, testicles shrink and go higher in the body of cocks. Without getting them back to the normal position, the cocks will not fertilized. This is the reason why the preparation before the first round is so important.

Older pigeons fertilize less. You can keep them for breeding again if they have been good producers in the past, mainly the year before. Do not manipulate the eggs too often. When you do, use thin gloves. Never shake the eggs, pay attention when you candle the eggs, a light that is too strong will kill the embryo. The eggs may not be fertilized, due to the age of the pigeons, an unusual period of breeding, the hen or cock that isn’t fertile, also management factors like jarring and shaking during movement of the eggs to the foster parent nest.


Part number 10.

Today many fanciers pass the eggs of important breeders to foster parents, in order to have much quicker second breeding/laying and many more eggs from good pairs for more descendants. During the handling of those eggs, you must be very careful. Sometimes the eggs may become very dark, due to embryonic death; this has different causes but the main important one is infection in the nest, such as nests not clean or disinfected after each round.

When it is not only individual pigeons that have problems, but the whole flock, be aware of potential infections in the loft, or management factors.  The environment, temperature and ventilation in the loft are very important. When the environment conditions are not suitable for the pigeons (eg. when it is too cold or too warm in the nest, or when the humidity is not like it should be), you can have embryonic death, not only the first days after laying, but also the last 6 days, because the shell can become too hard and rough, so the youngster won’t be able to peck out of the egg.  Reducing the temperature and increasing the humidity by means of giving frequent baths can help solve this problem

Disturbances from inside and outside the loft can have a very important negative influence on the hatching of the eggs. Mainly watch for rodents. Make sure there is a minimum of disturbances during the incubation. At all times, during the breeding season, pay attention to any medications that are given. Medications are not appropriate for that period, even for de-worming. Hygiene is very important not only in the loft but also in the nests at this time. Never forget that that the shell has a surface that will let water, air or infection enters into the egg. Also, pay attention to certain felt pens that may have bad effect on the embryo. With modenas, it is very important that you do not overcrowd your lofts. Modenas are bad at preparing their nest. You have to do this for them. The ideal nesting material is pine needles and/or tobacco stems. The nests should always been clean. Some modenas, mainly the young ones, have a tendency to defecate in the nest. Pay attention to some young hens as they may lay outside the nest. They must learn. To have the best production possible, we need feeders. It is very important to develop the maternal instinct of the birds. This is done by letting them to raise a few youngsters from time to time even if not their own. It is very important to know that modenas should not be disturbed when they pair. It should be noted that the beginning of breeding should be determined by the climate and the environment of our respective regions except if you have control of heat in your lofts.


Part number 11

Most important points to remember and sum up

Get rid of your infertile modenas or keep them only to show them. It is not with infertile pigeons that we will have success in our breeding program. Most of the time, our modenas have been bred for quality only. Now this attitude should be changed: Fertility + great health+ quality should be our objectives, the main one for now being fertility.  Never sell infertile pigeons as the problem will never end. Start by using only the modenas that are fertile at least at 50%. When you buy new stock, find someone that has built a loft of consistent birds that fertilize well. Build and work your philosophy on what constitutes a great breeder.

Our main items to achieve before pairing our birds are namely the necessity to have them in Super health before pairing them then they must be slim, most importantly for the hens. We must help them by using artificial light to stimulate their desire and give them a good feed with at least 18% protein and all important addition with it like vitamins, and most importantly vitamins E to help the fertility and they must be provided with good quality grit. With this in mind, we are on the right track to help the fertility of our pigeons. For more important information on probiotics and vitamins, I should post later on, if necessary,  “Vitamins, sense or nonsense?


Part number 12.

Super health is needed for super breeding.

Don't make any mistake before and during the breeding season. Make sure your pigeons are healthy and in optimum condition.  They should have a good immune system when the breeding season starts and this is NOT accomplished with antibiotics.

To the following question was asked of a pigeon specialist: How do you increase the natural resistance in your pigeons? And Schaerlaeckens  writes, “What I do is:  Medicate as little as possible, preferably not at all.”

What is the most important in getting fertility in our pigeons, is to get rid of the birds that 1st. do not fertilize and 2nd that do not fertilize well. In 2004, when I started breeding modenas, my fertility rate was about 25% and that was very discouraging for me. Over the years, with advice from the best pigeon veterinarians and with hard selection and better methods, the fertility of my modenas has increased to over 80%. With 28 pair of modenas, I have bred more than 250 modenas in the last 2 years. Again, what is very important to put as first priority is fertility IF we do not have a good percentage of fertility we cannot have a good breeding season. For the first two years, get rid of all those modenas that do not fertilize at 50% or more. The following years, do not hesitate to be more severe. If you have followed all other factors regarding fertility, the only possibility will be an increase in production in your modenas. From the expert’s point of view, all “artificial” means to help the fertility may be tried and may give good results but natural fertility should be our ultimate aim in the long run and the only way to obtain it is:

                                                   GET RID OF YOUR INFERTILE PIGEONS IN YOUR LOFTS


Special thanks to Drs Zolt Talaber, Gordon Chalmers, Collin Walker, Wim Peters and Pascal Lanneau for answering my questions and allowed the use of their writings.

Raymond Julien. 





Raymond Julien


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