Thursday, February 13, 2014

Homing Pigeons 101 - Breeding & Raising

The old birds are mated in late winter or early spring. A few weeks before mating, let the cocks choose their nest boxes, if they have not already done so. To avoid possible injury to the hen by an overly aggressive cock, it is best to place a wire mesh partition in the nest box to separate the hen from the cock. In this way they meet each other through the wire, but cannot make contact. After a day or two remove the divider and they should be mated.

A nest made out of appropriate materials is essential to the successful raising of young birds. The next serves many important purposes such as helping to keep the eggs and babies warm and to prevent the babies from becoming “spraddle legged” which prevents them from standing up. Racing Homers love to make their nests out of any type of dry, small diameter “sticks” of about 6 inches long that they can find. The best nest materials you can furnish are dry straw, pine needles, thin tree twigs or thin tobacco leaf stems. Throw-away type paper bowls with or without sand in the bottom is another good nesting arrangement. If you give them straw or similar materials to build their nest from, you should place a handful or two of it on the floor of the loft. The cock will busy himself with picking up the straw and carrying it to the nest where the hen happily builds the nest. If you have not given them enough nesting material to build a nest approximately 2 inches high, you should place additional nesting material on the floor.

The hen should lay her first egg about 10 days after mating, and the second egg 2 days later. The hen will not sit on the first egg until after the second egg is laid, then both the hen and the cock take turns sitting. The cock sits on the eggs in the day time and the hen sits on them at night. The eggs should hatch approximately 17 days after the second egg is laid. The newly hatched babies do not have any feathers but instead have down and are fed a cheesy substance, known as pigeon “milk,” by both parents until they are about 10 days old when the parents begin feeding them grains. Plenty of fresh water and a fresh supply of grit/oyster shell crumbles must be available at all times.  The grit or shell will provide needed calcium for forming egg shells and growing bones.

When a young bird is 5 to 7 days old a permanent seamless band, available through your local club, is placed on its right leg with the band numbers and letters upside down. This is accomplished by placing the three forward toes in the band and with the fourth toe bent gently backwards against the leg and gently pulling the band over them onto the leg (pictured below). The back toe is pulled out from under the band leaving the band permanently around the Homer’s leg. You should check the young bird in for the following 3 days to make sure the band is still on its leg.

Proper way to band a young bird with a seamless aluminum band.

The band will have an inscription on it such as AU 98 WICHITA 1035. The AU stands for the American Racing Pigeon Union, Inc. The 98 designates the year the bird was hatched. The letters WICHITA are the initials of the club to which the fancier is a member, and the number 1035 is the number of the bird. Each bird thus carries its own unique permanent registered identification band for racing purposes and to help identify its owner in case it strays from course. 

The hen and cock mate for life unless you change their mates. The hen will lay another round of eggs within 3 weeks after the first round of eggs hatch. You will need to move your first round of babies to the young bird section of the loft.   After you have raised the number of birds you want, the hens and cocks should be placed in separate sections of the loft until the next breeding or old bird racing season so that they will molt properly. The old birds are normally allowed to raise 2 or 3 rounds of young birds but never more than 4. They may become fatigued and subject to diseases if they are allowed to raise too many young birds a year. Most fanciers raise no young birds after May.

You will need to keep accurate records about which pair of birds parented each young bird and when it hatched. This will allow you to determine which birds are your best breeders. The next breeding season you may want to raise out of the same mating or you may want to mate the birds differently to try and raise even better birds. Also, accurate record keeping is a must to permit you to prepare each bird’s pedigree.  New computer programs make easier and more accurate record keeping possible.

© American Racing Pigeon Union