Chapter 2 – Racing Pigeon Husbandry


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Pigeons are lodged in enclosures called lofts. There is no set model for a pigeon loft. Some can accommodate hundreds of birds, others are much more modest. Bear in mind, however, that in designing your loft it will not only serve as a home for your birds, but will also be a place where you will be spending a great deal of your time.

Think about the practicalities. You should be able to stand comfortably in the enclosure and to come and go through the openings without banging your elbows or being forced to contort in odd positions. The birds should be able to go into an enclosed wire aviary or even outside and re-enter the loft on their own. This allows them to exercise, and enhances their sense of connection to the loft as their “place.”

At the same time, however, the loft must be constructed in such a way that the birds are protected from the weather, are safe from predators, have perches to call their own, and places to nest. The space must be easy to clean, and simple to secure against predators, pests, and even thieves.

Picking a Spot for Your Loft

In selecting a location for your loft, try to stay away from spots that are too near power lines, trees, or structures with overhangs. Ideally the loft will sit in an area where it can be clearly visible from all directions and is the most attractive landing spot for your birds.

You don’t want your pigeons hanging out in a nearby tree at the end of the race instead of entering the loft and having their time recorded as quickly as possible.

Thankfully, you will face few noise-related concerns in regard to the neighbors. Pigeons fly silently and don’t make a ruckus in the loft. Neighbors may complain, however, if they don’t like seeing your birds, or if they feel the loft is a health hazard. It should be noted though that pigeons do not carry deadly diseases like H1N1 bird flu.

Make sure that there are no building or zoning restrictions that might keep you from building your loft or that might dictate the scale to which the structure must conform. Don’t neglect to check with your homeowner association if one is present. HOAs are often the most intractable of all obstacles to adding outbuildings on your property.

You will fare far better with the neighbors if you erect a well-conceived and well-constructed loft that blends in with adjacent structures and is maintained to the highest standards.

Pigeon Equipment

The Internet is an excellent source for new pigeon fanciers to work out their budget in advance of setting up their first loft. Search online for pigeon supply houses and browse through their catalogs to get a sense of the equipment you will need. Some things, like trap doors, you do not want to design on your own, but can purchase and install.

Then there are all the ancillary but essential items like scraping tools, feed and grit hoppers, water fountains – the list can be long and detailed. By doing your research in advance and making friends in the pigeon fancy, you can build your shopping / wish list and attach “real life” prices to all the items.

Any new hobby can become a money pit if you allow yourself to get carried away. Always draw up your budget before you start to build or acquire supplies!

Types of Lofts

Clearly your design must meet your needs, those of your birds, the demand of your climate, and your available budget. Think creatively. If you have limited horizontal space, how can you make use of the vertical? Can you start with a basic loft and allow for future expansion as money permits?

Pre-made pigeon lofts are available from specialty manufacturers and suppliers, but this can be an expensive route. Second-hand lofts are often available through pigeon fanciers clubs, in pigeon magazines, or online on sites like Craig’s List or eBay. Depending on the condition of the loft, it may need to be repaired or augmented in some way.

For these reasons, building a loft from scratch or converting an existing structure may be the best option. Minimum specifications include:

  • The loftshould be at least 8 inches / 20 cm off the ground.
  • Allow 3.3 square feet / 0.31 m per bird.
  • Have enough room to have one nest boxper pair of birds.
  • You should be able to stand up straight in the center of the loft.

A first-time loft may be a “work in progress” until the arrangement is perfect for both you and your birds. Always observe the following:

  • Do your birds seem content in the space?
  • Is there any aggression or fighting in the loft?
  • Is the area easy to maintain?
  • Are there places the birds are hiding?
  • Do you have enough room to move around?
  • Can you store and access your supplies easily?

The loft should face east or southeast to get the full benefit of the morning sun, with windows on the east and west sides. Maximizing sunlight makes pigeons happier and more alert.

It is extremely important to avoid overcrowding at all costs. Packing too many birds into the loft escalates aggression, makes the birds restless, and increases the chance of respiratory diseases spreading.

Plan in advance for the number of birds you intend to keep and build accordingly, but also leave room for future expansion.

Do not pick a flat roof design or one that encourage the pigeons to land and sit after coming home from a race. The idea is to get the birds inside as quickly as possible. Force them to land on a landing board attached to the side of the structure.

Sectioning Your Loft

At the very least you will need two sections in the loft, one for mature birds and one for youngsters. If, however, you are using the widowhood system for motivation, you will need a way to separate the birds more specifically.

Pigeons are indiscriminate breeders but are monogamous once a mate has been selected. To avoid unplanned pairings, three sections will be needed: one for males, one for females, and one for young birds. A fourth, smaller section, to quarantine new birds until you can determine they are disease free is also highly advisable.

Sectioning can be achieved with simple partitions, but you must be able to move back and forth between them and the areas must be secure. Movable sections of plywood are an economical and easily altered solution.

Perches

Perches give young birds their first experience with flight. The same sense of territoriality that pigeons apply to their nest boxes is also given to their favorite perch. That alone can be a motivator for a racer to return to its home loft.

Plan on having more perches than you have birds. Designs vary from “V” perches to box perches. The latter cost more, but are helpful in controlling and catching birds since they can’t jump from one perch to the next to get away from you. Also, box perches catch droppings that might otherwise land on other birds at lower levels.

Landing Board

The landing board of the loft is positioned in front of the traps. It is the “pad” from which birds enter the loft. The depth should be at least 12 inches / 30.5 cm. Any less will make the birds reluctant to land. The board should also be wide enough to encourage young birds to sit comfortably and become acclimated to their surroundings.

Attached Aviary

The aviary really should not be thought of as an optional addition. Your birds need a place to exercise in the sun and they need a way to see and to become completely familiar with their surroundings. This is an easy and inexpensive addition. An aviary is really nothing more than a wooden framework covered with fine wire attached to the side of the loft covering an entrance hole.

Ventilation

The air in the loft should always be fresh and dust free, never stuffy. The best ventilation allows for the slow movement of air. You do not want to create drafts in the cold months, but neither do you want the loft to heat up in the summer. Wind-powered fans mounted in the walls are an excellent solution.

Since warm air rises, the vents near the roof should be positioned to move warm, stale air out, while those at the bottom of the loft should bring clean, fresh air in. By raising the loft off the ground, you further ensure good circulation, but take care not to create avenues for vermin like rats and mice to come inside.

Cover any openings with plastic or aluminum vents. Be careful not to angle vents in such a way that moisture can get in and accumulate, especially in areas under the loft where mold and mildew can become established.

Ideally the inside temperature of the loft will remain in a range of 50-86 F / 10-30 C with a humidity level of less than 65%. Higher humidity prevents the birds from resting at night. The consistency of the birds’ droppings will give you an indication of humidity levels. In low humidity, the droppings are firm and brown; at higher levels the excrements may be watery and green.

(Note that watery droppings are an indication of multiple illnesses. Do not assume that a change in consistency is due to humidity levels alone.)

Closing up the loft at night and during rain storms will help to control humidity levels, but be careful not to cut off air circulation.

Basic Loft Supplies

Don’t feed your pigeons on the floor of the loft.  The spilled feed will attract rats. Use feed troughs or hoppers made of wood or galvanized steel. Both can be purchased in a range of $10-$40 / £7-£27. Waterers and grit hoppers cost approximately the same amount of money.

Your birds need constant access to clean water. The containers should be refilled and cleaned daily. Never allow slime to accumulate in the water containers. A dirty waterer is a prime breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

Grit is also essential to help the birds digest their food. Commercial grit products contain beneficial minerals, calcium, and salt. There are recipes for homemade grit, but the product is so economical, there is little reason not to purchase it in bulk. Fifty pound bags (23 kg) are available for approximately $15 / £10.

Both grit and feed must be stored in a clean, dry location that is secure against rats and mice.

Loft Maintenance

A clean environment is the best defense against illness in your birds. Droppings must be scraped daily, and the nest boxes sprinkled with anti-fungal and anti-parasite powder. Rake any bedding on the floor daily, and clean the boxes at least twice a week.

Be on the lookout for musty smells or any black marks that indicate the presence of mold. Clean and disinfect water containers weekly.

Ideally your loft should be cleaned at least once a day. This also gives you the opportunity to observe your pigeons closely and to act quickly if you spot any of the warning signs of illness. (See the chapter on health for a full discussion of such potential problems.)

For your own protection, wear a mask while working in your loft and wash your hands with a good-quality anti-bacterial soap before and after handling your birds.

Feed

An average-sized pigeon needs roughly one ounce (28 grams) of food daily. (Birds in training may need more nutrition.) Mothers feeding their young will consume twice as much.

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