Extract from "Successful Pigeon Racing and Fancying" by Ron Bissett

A pigeon's diet is something of great importance in its preparation for racing; haphazard feeding can have a vast amount of influence on the bird's form and condition. Food requirements come under three headings; carbohydrates, which are for energy and wear and tear; protein for actual body building and minerals for the bone structure. This last group is one which is so easy to forget in the course of pigeon feeding and several of my friends in this country have often wondered why their birds go searching in the fields when released for exercise at home, and my only assumption is a lack of mineral content in their diet at home. One of the most common ways in which this deficiency can be met is the use of ordinary common salt, although there is a danger in the pigeon loft that this can become dirty and contaminated. The old type of fancier still uses-when he can get itrock salt. It is useful to the extent that it can be taken from the loft and washed regularly. It is amazing how much this can be used in the taming of pigeons; an old friend of mine who managed the loft of Major Osman, the editor of "The Racing Pigeon," used to sit in the loft with a piece of freshly washed rock salt in his hand, with the birds sitting, or rather crawling all over him to get at his fist and nibble round his knuckles where the water was dripping from the salt.

It is necessary when considering foods to be used, or how to prepare the mixture to be used for your own particular birds, to take into account the content of the three main groups mentioned. Corn merchants do prepare mixtures of a standard nature, but here again fanciers would be well advised to mix their own if they can. One very successful fancier friend of mine in North London, preparing for the long distance races, actually mixes his corn and seeds for each particular pair. Knowing that one certain hen will make flesh more quickly than another, he makes sure that he reduces the protein food given to that pigeon.

To give an example of the usefulness of the particular seeds used in pigeon feeding, I cannot do better than quote from England's authority on pigeons who wrote a book almost 5o years ago, which is still read by many fanciers and almost regarded as their encyclopaedia. I refer to the late Dr. W. E. Barker's book "Pigeon Racing" in which he gives the following list of foods showing their
protein fat and carbohydrate content.

A bigger pigeon may need more food to keep its body going, just as a more powerful motor car engine will use more petrol per mile than a lower powered car. A bigger pigeon has more bulk and more weight to shift and therefore uses up much more energy in its efforts, and this energy must be replaced if the bird is to be kept in reasonable condition and form. With this in mind, some fanciers take up the system of hopper feeding, whereby food is before the birds the whole time and when hungry they are able to feed. This has advantages for those who may have to be away from home for long periods through their work, but for those who have the time to watch their birds, I prefer the system of individual feeding of each pair in their own nest box. Small gallipots which will hold just about enough food for a pair of birds for a day, can be purchased quite cheaply and this method of feeding is of great assistance in observing the progress of your pigeons. For example, at the present time I have a pigeon, previous winner of eleven first prizes which is now 12 years old, and I have noticed over the last two years that this particular bird has gradually eaten less corn per day. He is not racing now, and therefore the bird itself has adjusted its feeding, and I find that this is noticeable with older pigeons, say those of three years or more. With young birds I prefer the other method of feeding, that is feeding by hand.

Here I do not throw the corn loosely on the floor of the loft, but have built a feeding trough along one wall of the young bird section, and I stand or sit quietly among the young birds, just gently putting the corn into the feeding trough. From the time the youngsters are weaned and are being fed in this manner my eyes are always open
and so should every fancier's be looking to see which birds are satisfied first and which-seem to need that little extra. Some fanciers say that when the first bird leaves the food and goes to drink, then feeding should cease. I do not agree that any hard and fast rule can be laid down in this direction. It is one of the novelties of pigeon racing that powers of observation have to be used so strongly and so regularly.

Returning to the subject of corn itself, a rough guide to the examination of corn when purchasing may be of use. One of the most important things to remember is that corn should be really dry and kept so. Corn which has been subject to dampness may soon become affected by fungoid growth and this can have a very bad effect on a pigeon's health.

Maple peas should be of good medium size, be quite hard and a nice tawny brown colour, not yellowish or greenish in appearance. Tares should be treated much the same as peas, although this is one of the grains that I personally do not use a great deal, because of the care needed in storage. Maize is fattening and should be used only in small quantity. It should be small and bright in appearance, and special attention should be paid to the germ seed within the maize. This is the point at which this particular seed is most likely to be attacked by mice and other rodents. Tic beans are another source of grain which need attention. These should be a nice deep brown in colour. Avoid any beans which are black in appearance.

These are the main grains which one would be using, although some mixtures would contain wheat and this should be a good sound well filled grain. Avoid oats at all costs.

Corn storage is another important factor. Corn should be stored in a cool dry place, and if possible air should be allowed to circulate round it. Avoid metal containers, such as dustbins, because there could be some sweating and the corn will deteriorate as a result. Again I refer to Major Osman's loft which is situated on top of a building in Central London, and has what, to me, are the ideal corn bins. They are boat-shaped wooden frames, covered with a fine wire gauze and are suspended by chains from the rafters. Thus the air can get round the corn the whole time. However one stores corn it should be turned over and moved round in the bin fairly regularly, but the main essential is that it should be kept dry.

Give the birds some green food fairly regularly to help with the mineral diet, and as a blood purifier. One of the best forms of green food is watercress which during the summer months is quite cheap. However, one of my best sources is cabbage which I chop quite finely and then coat it with a covering of ordinary table salt. This my birds have once or twice a week. If I have a bird that is a little below par and I feel that light feeding for a few days will help, then I like to introduce rice into the diet. In fact when I have a bird return from a long race, it is my practice to see that it gets a little rice and a drink. The rice swells quickly and the bird feels that it has had a quantity of food. By the time this rice has been digested, the bird's system has recovered completely and will be ready to absorb the normal diet of peas, beans etc. which need so much more digestive action.

It is important that the water should be as fresh as possible at all times. During really hot weather
the water founts in my loft are cleaned and refilled three or four times a day. If water is left during the hot weather the founts will soon become coated with a film of slirney substance, and in this bacteria will breed quite quickly. When changing water in founts or troughs it is advisable to wash the container thoroughly in hot water.

Grit, is another essential for the pigeon for this in fact is the pigeon's substitute for teeth which grinds food in the gizzard to be fully digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.