Too little importance is often placed on the diet of pigeons, and its effect upon their growth and development. The kind of food used is not so important as the quality.
I am a believer in a mixed diet at all seasons of the year, somewhat varied according to the wants of the birds.
From the time the nest-boxes are closed at the end of August until the following March, I feed by hand, but during the rest of the time, that is to say, during breeding and racing, the hopper is in frequent use. Fed from the hopper, there is not the same craving for food as when fed by hand. The birds will feed liberally at night, but invariably have empty crops in the morning, but I often find that when feeding by hand during the breeding season the crop has contained a lot of grain the following morning. It is easier and simpler to feed from the hopper, hence I follow it.
After the birds are mated I use tares and peas as the staple food until the first nest of young are reared.
A pot of tares is stood in each nest-box, and the hopper regularly filled with peas. But the hopper is closed at night to shut out mice. By standing a pot of tares in the nest-boxes the youngsters, as soon as they use their feet, will be found speedily helping themselves to the tares out of the pot.
In addition to the tares and peas, after each fly I give my birds a mixture by hand in the entrance way where they come in, and also a handful in each nest-box to encourage them to look for titbits in their nesting places, and also keep them tame. This mixture usually consists of equal parts groats, lentils, small maize, wheat and a little rice. They are fond of this. It encourages them to trap and takes the place of seeds given them later, because I use no seeds, except under special circumstaces, until later in the season, as mentioned in the chapter on exercise.
After hatching, each morning and afternoon I give my birds a nestbowl containing about a cup of broken dried wholemeal bread and a little crushed white sugar. They eat this with a relish, and I believe it is good for them.
The rearing of the first nest of young is often a critical time if the weather sets in cold, with east winds, and if I see any signs of looseness with the young in nest, or old birds, I at once make the following mixture: Equal parts canary seed, rape, millet, groats, hemp, old tares and lentils, mixed with cod liver oil to a solid mass, and served in an open nest bowl, given the first thing in the morning, about a table-spoonful to each pair. The hoppers to be closed the night before.
They may not eat this at first, but a little
dry canary seed should be thrown on top of the mixture in the pan, and
so soon as their appetites come they will eat all up and look for more.
Keep hoppers closed until eaten up. This mixture, given early in the year,
will stop birds going into the fields. It will not force the moult, as
most of it is fed back into the young in nest. The crops may look unseemly
after its use, but this soon wears off.
On many occasions after a bad setback, or a hard race, I have found a feed of this mixture put fresh vigour into the birds and build them up more quickly than anything I know of.
So soon as the 100 mile stage is reached,
I change the staple food in the hoppers to beans and peas. Two parts peas
to one part of beans.
The age of grain is not so important as its quality. It needs to be dry and free from dust or dirt.
Its storage must be undertaken with care. Ventilated drawers or bins are best for storage. I use swinging bins ventilated throughout, and have never had grain smell or go musty in these. Closed tin or metal bins are fatal. All metal sweats, and this affects the grain, turning it sour, not sufficiently to poison the birds, but just sufficiently harmful as to bring about failure or success. The best means of storing grain is to shoot it out on a wooden floor and rake it over occasionally.
Rats and mice will speedily soil grain if their excrements stain it, and this will seriously affect the birds. Where hoppers are in use, trapping and poisoning of mice must be continually in practice.
So soon as the 100-mile stage is passed and the bean and pea feeding introduced, I use the following mixture of seeds after each fly: Equal parts rape, canary, hemp, millet and linseed. Birds are called in with a little of this after each fly, and at night-time after the last exercise flight, a small portion put in each nest-box. As to grit, this wants to be good, clean and free from a great deal of salt, as , if highly salted, birds are prone to eat large quantities, more than is good for them.
I like to use cuttle-fish bone, and break up a good piece of this once or twice each week. The birds lean to eat it greedily if at first, when broken up, it is put in a nest-bowl with a little canary thrown on top of it. Oyster-shell, baked in the oven and broken up, old mortar, old baked burnt clay bricks (called stocks) all add to my grit box, and some raw charcoal as well. With a large lump of rock-salt under a cover, kept clean, that the birds can lick or pick when they like.
I do not like crude sea sand on floor of loft, or crude shell-grit from the seashore, as it sets up intestinal troubles and canker.
Green food I consider all-important. Lettuce,
cabbage, watercress are all given freely to my birds, and eaten with avidity.
But in the racing season confined to Sundays, the day after a race, when
a little watercress is usually given, sprinkled with salt, and the bath
put down for the day.
Before birds are sent to a race, if of a moderate distance, the hoppers should be closed, and they should be fed lightly in the morning. In the afternoon, before basketing, they should be given a moderate amount of canary seed. This can be given to them in the baskets after they are caught and the water-troughs put on the side of basket, or they can be fed in a separate partition of the loft so that the birds not intended for racing do not get a lot of seed.
I am not a believer in sending birds starving,
even to short races, because they are often not liberated until after noon
the following day. Nor have I found the absolutely starved bird race as
well as those treated on the lines suggested.
After homing from races, whether long or short, care is needed in the treatment of the birds. They should not be permitted to at once eat heavy grain such as tares, beans or peas. I prefer to give them a light mixture of seeds or linseed, toasted and crushed wholemeal bread, and a little sugar.
Nor should they be allowed to have a draught of very cold water immediately after arrival. I prefer to give them either a little warm milk and water, or lukewarm water. It is easy to serve out the warm water in a small jar in their nest-boxes, as all my old birds make for their nest-boxes immediately theycome in.
After a very hard fly a most sustaining drink is warm milk and the white of an egg mixed with warm water, say half and half. This makes their beaks and faces dirty when they drink it themselves, but if preferred, doses can be given through a glass syringe.
After a long, hard fly, no matter how little my birds may seem to be affected by it, I always feed and treat them with the greatest care and do everything possible to ensure the restoration of their digestion to normal, and their complete recovery to vigour. Having myself trained and competed in many and various competitions, I know the effect of a long, trying ordeal, and it is necessary to ensure full recovery in order that the following year your pigeon can stand the same degree of training, and the same degree of work, and do as well or better than has been the case on the occasion in question.
A good fancier is the man who bestows as
much time on his pigeons after they have performed their task as he did
to prepare them for their performance. He may suffer disappointment to-day,
but his day will come.