Breeding Mix without Peas

It’s January again and many of you are in the middle of your breeding season. In this article, I want to address breeding feeds and put all its options under the magnifying glass. When we search for a breeding mix we pay attention to the amount of protein in the mix. To most fanciers, protein and legumes are one and the same. A protein rich feed is a legume rich feed. It should be full of all the different types of peas and beans from large too small.

The pigeon papers have for years carried advertisements that claim breeding mixes should have a protein content of 17%. This was established through experiments they claim. There are many mixes offered that contain high amounts of legumes. I have done some reading on this subject and it seems worth the effort to discuss it further. Protein is made up of amino acids. These are not acids as we know them, but building blocks that together can make up the bodies proteins. These proteins are needed by the body, for maintenance, muscle repair, organs, feathers, feet and scales and for the growth of youngsters.

We should distinguish between essential and non-essential amino acids. The non-essential amino acids can be synthesised by the pigeon itself. The essential amino acids must be present in the feed in the proper proportions as the pigeon cannot manufacture them itself. Therefore, breeding mixes should be as varied as possible. If one of the essential amino acids is missing, the pigeon cannot use the protein present in the diet and will excrete it. The results are: slow growth, poor feathering, weight loss, poor egg production etc.

According to scientific studies the pigeon needs during periods of performance and thus also during the breeding period the following: 100 mg isoleusine, 180 mg leusine, 300 mg lysine, 180 mg methionine, 180 mg fenylalaline, 50 mg tryptophan and 100 mg valine per kg of weight per day (kg=2 to 2.5 pigeons). These can be combined by the pigeon to manufacture, arginine, histidine, glutamine and treonine. Let’s look at the possibilities we have. We see legume rich mixes with 40-60% peas and we see protein rich mixes with only a few legumes. What are the differences and let’s see if we can determine the pros and cons of each.

Raw protein and digestible protein

When we look at the mixes, we should not only look at the raw protein content but also at the digestible (useable) protein content. Unfortunately, these are not stated on the label. Raw protein is not taken up by the liver and passes out of the digestive tract. Parts of raw protein are also converted to fat. To make a good comparison, we should pay attention to the digestibility of the protein. Only then can we make a better more honest comparison.

Legume rich breeding mix

In the high legume mixes we often see percentages of 30% and sometimes up to 60% peas and beans. If we come up with a protein content of 17% as mentioned earlier, then we need a 50% peas mix averaging 22% raw protein and 50% grain and seeds averaging 12% raw protein. (22 + 12 = 34/ 2 = 17) We have a mix containing 50% grains and 50% peas. We know that barely 30% of the protein in peas is digested by pigeons. The rest is baggage, a lot of baggage. Let’s enter these numbers in the computer and see what it comes up with. Legumes have an average protein content of 22%, 50% of the mix is peas, therefore: 22% protein x 30% = about 7% digestible protein.

Protein rich breeding diets without legumes

We will now take a mix with a high percentage of fat rich seed and soybeans. Most of the fat rich seed have a high percentage of raw protein. Rape seed has 20% raw protein, hemp seed has 19.5%, toasted soybeans have 38% to 40% raw protein. We make a mix without legumes with a raw protein content of 17%. We use the same information as before. Depending on the grains we use we easily reach more than 10% digestible protein. This is because we did not use legumes with their low digestible protein content in the mix.


Shocking, isn’t it? Surely to most of you it is. A breeding mix with a high legume content we calculated as having a digestible protein content of 7% and a protein rich breeding mix without legumes has a digestible protein content of 10 to 11%!!

In practice 

Naturally, we had done various tests. Here it also seems that theory and practice don’t always agree with each other. The small fat rich seeds do have higher useable protein content but do not provide enough bulk for the intestine, which can cause watery droppings. More than 10% toasted soybeans can also be a problem. The protein content in soy is so high that after a few days the pigeons leave it, if they have a choice. Also, there can be a shortage of calcium. Legumes have relatively high calcium content. Other grains and seeds contain much lower amounts of calcium. This can cause a larger consumption of the mineral powders. These must contain good quality calcium and have low salt content; otherwise we will have other problems. (Ex: youngsters in the nest squirting water) 

Test with protein rich, low legume breeding mixes

Practical test have shown us that a balanced breeding mix with +/- 15% legumes and the rest made up of more digestible protein from soybeans and fat rich seeds, will develop extraordinary youngsters. We saw faster growth and the youngster felt more muscular. You should watch the growth, because usually the youngsters have to be banded earlier. To raise the digestibility to an even higher degree it is better to feed more often during the day. That is the more often you feed, the less is consumed in total. If you have the time, feed 3 to 4 times per day.

The feed should all be consumed between feedings. With this type of mix free choice feeding methods are not recommended. The birds will eat what they like best and they no longer eat a balanced diet. This can cause the youngsters to grow poorly and produce watery droppings (make sure you have a low salt mineral mix). These types of mixes are not seen too often. Holland could be more progressive and look at our eastern neighbours. Germany is leading Europe in this area. If you can’t find it there, you won’t find it elsewhere.

What does this mix look like?

As mentioned earlier we need to provide a mix with a large variety of grains and seeds. This will ensure that all the essential amino acids are present in the mix. A part of the legumes can be replaced with none genetically manipulated soybeans, peeled sunflower, hemp seed, whole sunflower, rapeseed, etc. Further, I would not want the corn content to be too high, they will not feed it and that would be a waste. To get the proper proportions of the amino acids such as lysine and methionine some knowledge is necessary. That is when the computer with the right program and data on the seeds and grains is needed.

Some more advantages

First let’s look at the breeders. Feeding legume rich breeding mixes, like we have done for many years, resulted in outstanding growth of the youngsters. The breeders usually have this same mix to satisfy themselves as well as feed to the youngsters. The pigeons are at rest and can digest and process the extra waste in the legumes without too much trouble. But, in general they lose some weight. After raising several rounds of youngsters, you will see that the breeders have lost some of their condition. When you feed a protein rich but low legume mix, you can clearly see a difference in the breeders. They stay livelier and they don’t seem to suffer physically because of raising several rounds.

Good for the race team

Now, let’s apply the science to the racers. If the above is the case: than a similar feed would be ideal for the racer team. They should raise a round of youngsters just before the race season begins. Their breasts stay pink and clean, because the pigeon does not have to process any of the ballast present in the older style mix. After raising the youngsters, they will not have to be cleansed or have their “blood purified”. The pigeons are in optimal condition and exercise freely.

 Trick 5

By far, most of us feed the traditional breeding mixes to the youngsters and also to the race birds that have to raise a round of youngsters just before the races begin. As a result, we set back the pigeons to a degree, by feeding legumes in the breeding mix. That can be prevented by using “trick 5”.  How’s that done? First count the total number of youngsters that are to be fed. Then measure out the amount of feed that they will feed to fill up the youngsters, no more!!!!  When the youngsters are satisfied and full, the old birds naturally are still hungry. We will now feed again but, this time with an entirely different mix, an easily digested feed with few peas and sufficient fat and fiber. This way the race team will remain in excellent condition, train and exercise fantastically and will be ready to perform the very first race of the season. Even if they are raising youngsters the first race or two of the season, this manner of feeding will have positive effects. You can just give them regular widowhood mix. Naturally not till they have filled the youngsters with breeding mix.

Comparing both mixes

Between the two types of mixes we see other large differences. A breeding mix containing 30% legumes (which in my opinion is enough) and few fat rich seeds, is not easily assimilated or digested by the pigeon. Feed like this for a week without cleaning the loft every day. You will need rubber boots to enter the loft. The lofts are damp, big wet droppings all over everything. Not only that, it is questionable if the feed has the full complement of essential amino acids.

If you have a breeding mix that is more balanced (ex: 15% corn, 15% legumes and sufficient fat rich seeds), then you will have mostly small tight droppings on the perches. The digestibility increases with the addition of extra useable energy. The bag of feed will last many days longer. Protein and fat need each other to provide better digestion. The right proportion of protein and fat provides for optimum digestibility of the feed. A mix with sufficient fat rich seeds and a large variety of other seeds and grains is better for the pigeons. It will probably cost a bit more. But, if the cost is 10% more and you feed 15% longer with the same amount of feed, it is cheaper in the end. Cheap, usually ends up expensive. My advice is: purchase a mix containing a large variety of seeds and grains, including fat rich seeds. This will improve the future of your birds. I wish all of you a successful breeding season.

Willem Mulder

Willem Mulder

Translated by: Nick Oud