400 Mixes – Part 4 of 4

The fourth and final part of the 400 Mixes series. The conclusion is very interesting and informative. I suggest all those reading this series of posts to read and reread it.

Translating this series was originally done while referring to my copy of the “Groote Van Dale Dutch to English” my mother brought back from one of her visits to what for her was home, the darn thing weighs at least 10 lbs.,  since then with computer and online technology constantly evolving I now have access to several on-line translation aids. Instead of days working away at translating and editing my rough drafts, it has become a fairly straight forward process. Due ,no doubt, in great part to my becoming more and more familiar with the changing usage of the Dutch language. The knowledge gained has most certainly been off great benefit in my endeavours as a racing pigeon fancier.

Hope you all enjoy and learn as much as I have from these postings.

Energy Mixes

We can take for granted that the feed dealers know all there is to know about the function of carbohydrates and fats on the one hand and about the function of protein on the other hand. We can also take for granted that they know what of our birds’ needs are at various times of the year. We can be fairly certain that they use this knowledge when they formulate their various mixes. Can’t we?

In order to fly or over winter a bird needs primarily energy. At these times, protein requirements are at the lowest point, heavy exercise and low temperatures require higher energy content in the feed. The birds require less protein at these times, that is they need less then 1.3 grams of protein daily. In a 25-gram portion of feed this can be provided easily by the leanest mix. Winter and flying mixes can therefore be solely oriented to energy. They need to be different in composition when compared to moulting and breeding mixes.

We would expect that the flying and winter mixes, in this day and age, would show a marked difference from moulting and breeding mixes. They don’t! The average energy content of the mixes for various seasons are the same or differ only slightly. The average energy content for all the different seasonal mixes lies between 2986 and 3050 k/cal., a relative difference of barely 1%. Even the high and low energy mixes vary little from each other. Looking at all the 400 mixes together 63% of them lie between 2950 and 3050 k/cal., or a variation of only about 3%. If we look at only the four main seasonal mixes that percentage comes to 72%. Looking at it from a different point of view, seasonal mixes with an energy content of less than 2900 k/cal. and higher then 3100 k/cal. don’t exist. This leads us to the conclusion, that of the mixes offered for sale for the four main seasons, as far as energy content is concerned, it makes little difference which one we use. The labels Breeding, Moulting, Flying, and Winter mixes are redundant as far as energy content is concerned. A Standard mix could replace all of them for their energy. There is only one way to build reserves for the coming race with the commercial mixes available and that is to feed more.

If we use a feeding curve or increase the energy towards the end of the week by providing a constant amount of low energy mix at the beginning of the week and the same amount of high energy mix at the end of the week, it would make little difference which mix you used, at either end of the week. Since the manufacturers don’t put the energy content on the label, choosing a mix is like buying a lottery ticket.

Protein Mixes

In view of the birds’ requirements while breeding moulting, protein stands central. At the height of the moult a pigeon has a protein requirement of about four grams of crude protein per day. A ration of 30 grams of feed per day requires a protein content of 140 grams/ Kg. This same ration provides 90 Kcal. For birds with little activity this is on the high side. We can see that open loft during the moult is advisable. Activity uses energy and controls the birds weight.

During the breeding season, the diet for the parent pigeons should be adjusted to allow the buildup of good quality crop milk before the birth of the nestling and the subsequent rapid growth of the young squeakers. After a week of being fed crop milk the youngsters change over to grain in just a few days. From the foregoing we can see the tremendous amounts of protein required by the growing youngster. Anyone familiar with pigeons knows that the feeding parents supply the growing babies with large amounts of feed. The youngster relies completely on its parents for nourishment during its fastest period of growth. At this time the parents’ needs are secondary to that of its young. Their systems stand still to provide for the next generation. Their moult comes to a complete stop.

For balanced growth the fast growing youngster needs other food products besides protein. We know, that parents feeding youngsters will go fielding and will readily pick at minerals, grit and pickstone offered to them. They are seeking nutrients essentials to the overall health and specific bodily functions of their offspring. Nature provides these in abundance. It is easy to appreciate that the fancier should not tread a path to far removed from nature. The mix provided at this time should provide enough of a balanced protein for 8 oz. of growth in a two-week period.

The average mix delivers 141 grams of protein per kg. The difference between the seasonal mixes are greater for protein then they are for energy, 70% of the mixes have a protein content of between 130 – 160 grams/kg., or a difference of 25%. A breeding mix for young birds is a moulting mix for old birds. To grow or to moult amino acids are required, therefore, a mix having a higher protein content should be provided. An average breeding mix delivers 148 grams /kg. of which, due to the amino acid pattern only 87% is useable. Moulting mixes are more balanced, of their 139 grams of crude protein/kg. an average of 132 grams is digestible, or 95%. Although it would seem that the moulting mixes and breeding mixes should have higher protein content, again we can see that in most cases the standard mix as offered for sale in most cases will be sufficient.

Fewer Mixes

Strangely, the large variety of mixes were originally meant to make life easier for the fancier, but now with the listing of a multiplicity of mixes, the feed manufactures  are now constantly preaching nonsense. No one has become a champion because he feeds a particular brand of feed. Not one feed manufacturer can show that pigeons fed their particular feed perform better. Now that manufacturers use the winners of big races in their advertising, they are only a small step away from claiming, that their feed won the race. Would you believe them?

The average manufacturer offers his clientele a choice of about 15 mixes. Most fanciers make do with 3 types of mix throughout the year. It goes without saying, that by fragmenting the mixes they can charge a little more for one than the other. Of all the mixes we studied, the energy content from the highest to the lowest had a difference off 9% (the Luikse mixes and pellets were not included). The more varied mixes, showed fewer differences in their total nutrients. Large modifications in the nutrient content of a mix, can only be achieved by one-sidedness, for example, adding extra corn or rape seed.  These can easily increase the total energy consumed by the bird. A greater variety of seeds and grains in a mix also affects the amount of protein. The composition of the feed has to match the protein requirements for a particular season, while the balance of amino acids and overtaxing the organism also has to be taken into consideration. This is not too difficult, because the relative difference in protein content between the lightest mix and the heaviest mix is great, the highest at 160 grams/kg. and the lowest at 100 grams/kg.

With the help of programs and computers the manufacturer can calculate the most ideal composition for each mix. By entering the required nutritional components for each mix the program can quickly calculate the necessary constituents of a mix to provide the proper nutritional elements. But for reasons other than nutrition the manufacturer sometimes adjusts the mix. Small seeds are often left out of the mix. They do not readily mix evenly throughout the mix. They quickly sink to the bottom of the bag through the larger grains. For the customer a mix also has to be pleasing to the eye. Only because of eye appeal the manufacturer has to adjust the mix away from the ideal, he has to take away or add seeds and grains that make a mix which contains more or less of the required nutrients, to make it saleable. In a test a number of fanciers were asked to choose the mix that looked the best for their purposes. In all cases the mix not chosen, that is the less eye appealing mix, was just as good nutritionally and in most cases was also cheaper as the one chosen.

The eye is not always the best judge. The uncomplicated is often at the basis of good. There is much to say for keeping the seasonal mixes to a minimum. In reality there are only three feeds to aim for, a protein rich mix for the breeding and moulting, an energy rich mix for flying and the winter and a resting or maintenance mix to use between the above named phases. By limiting the number of mixes, feeding becomes more of a game of “feeding more or less”.

The feed companies should provide their clients with the nutritional content of the feeds they are selling. That is the energy and protein content etc. They should also make available to their clients, a complete feeding program for the entire year.

Use a System

Feeding correctly, often is more a matter of giving the proper amounts, than choosing a particular mix from a particular brand. Feeding correctly is difficult, especially when the needs of each individual pigeon is difficult to ascertain. That is why when feeding, each bird will choose a slightly different menu. Every crop is filled differently, one with more corn and the other with more seeds. It makes no difference if the birds are fed within a narrow range. The regime of feeding is more important than the composition of the mix.

The difficulty comes with the fact that every pigeon on the same day flies a different race, every pigeon withstands the test differently, and every pigeon comes home in a different condition. From week to week no two races are the same. Distance, wind, cloud cover, clearness, temperature, humidity, air layers, etc., change the length and difficulty of a flight, which directs affects the reserves required for that week. If a bird could deliver its “black box” when it arrives home, then the fancier would have an idea of how to handle that particular bird. Regretfully the bird cannot deliver this package to us. Knowledge, a good system and an understanding of our birds can give us a big edge.

Regularity is always required. Changing feed mixes and the times of feeding are examples of things that can affect the metabolism. A system is therefore a necessity, as it prevents or at the very least reduces inconsistency. In reality, when looking at all of the successful systems and methods available, one can only conclude that having a system is more important than which system.


Pigeon feeds and feeding have changed greatly over time. In old books we can read about mixes with 70% legumes. Logically at that time one regularly heard of diseases related to heavy feeding, such as, lame wings and limping, etc. Today, no more than 35% legumes are fed and then only when there are youngsters lying in the nest. The growth of our birds to-day is just as good as in days gone by and the overall health is better. The answer lies in the amount of feed. The composition and manner of feeding are mainly learned through our shared experiences. We are also offered many by-products, many good ones and of course also many unnecessary by-products.

Still not everything done in the past was totally wrong. Circumstances for our birds have changed a tremendously. One could cite housing, flying methods, more frequent racing and the distances. Through experience we have learned that one has to feed differently from loft to loft. Dry warm lofts require lighter and less food than cold damp lofts.

The amount of sunshine and wind certainly make a difference. That is why everyone has to seek their own way of feeding, their own amounts of feeding. The main principles though are the same for all lofts and for all birds.

A while ago, in the United States after years of discussion and study, the use of hormones was allowed to increase milk production in the dairy industry. This is of interest to farms with hundreds of cows. Smaller farmers have shown that through natural methods cows can produce large amounts of milk. It is not only genetics and feed that influence top production. The manner in which the farmer handles his cows greatl$$$y influences the behaviour and performance of his herd.

Some examples: In England the owner of ten dairy farms noticed that when a new manager took over a farm, sometimes large swings in milk production occurred, while all other management factors had changed very little or not at all. Curious, he organized a psychological study of his ex-managers. From this study it seems that the managers who were responsible for the higher production were more animal oriented. This showed that the behaviour and demeanor of the manager, can result in calmer cattle at milking time and lead to higher production.

In a publication about the behaviour and well-being of milk cows, it seems that the farmer who daily walks among his cattle for ten minutes, touches them for two minutes and talks to them for four minutes, gets an extra five hundred litres of milk per head annually. This is a performance increase of 5%. A scientific answer is hard to find, but a quiet demeanour with animals and few unexpected occurrences, give the animals trust and tranquillity. When an animal feels at ease it translates into better production or performance.

Two years in a row, in the Netherlands the highest milk production was attained by a relatively small farmer. His performance is head and shoulders above the rest of Holland. His results were reached without special feeds or expensive breeding stock. The farm has far from ideal conditions. To reach this production and keep it there, the farmer always takes all the time necessary for his cattle. When the cows are in the pasture he always walks among them for fifteen minutes. He never chases his cows; he always lets them set their own tempo. They know undoubtedly that he is someone they can trust, he says. He points out that when it is necessary to give a cow an injection for some reason or other, she lies quietly chewing her cud, while he injects her. He says he always attempts to keep his animals out of stressful situations. He believes that the moment the animal is stressed production drops. If the farmer always milks and feeds at different times it produces a masked stress which results in lower production.

Naturally, the above are not the only reasons for outstanding performance. But, what is clear, is that animal friendly and animal directed behaviour by the manager results in higher production and better performance by the animals. Spending time with the animal not only builds trust, it has other advantages. One gets to know when the animals act differently and why. One gets to know what the animal responds to positively or negatively, one can recognize trouble at its earliest and respond appropriately.

Knowing that this animal friendly behaviour comes from the character and ambition of the fancier, it is very possible that flying well with pigeons lies mainly with the character and behaviour of the fancier. This is too bad for the fanciers who are always seeking success by obtaining other birds. To be successful, a fancier has to first has to look for answers in his own relationship with his birds. Perhaps the purchasing expensive birds or obtaining quality birds from top fanciers has a psychological effect on us so that we change our behaviour when we are among the new birds, this in itself will produce better results.

The well-being of our birds is important. A top flyer can attribute his success mainly to his skill as a manager. Which requires, taking the time to look after his charges, being busy around and among his birds, feeding in a suitable manner, learning the different characters of the birds, watching for disturbances in the pecking order, the proper method of race motivation, making informed selection choices. etc. From my point of view, it is these things that separate the top fanciers from the rest. Something we should all think about.


Reprinted with permission from the “Neerlands Postduiven Orgaan”

Written by: A Coolens

Translated by: Nick Oud

400 Mixes – Part 1
400 Mixes – Part 2
400 Mixes – Part 3