Developments in Feeding (1)

(From a Seminar in Putten/Holland)


Wim Mulder

More than 100 fanciers filled the pigeon union hall in Putten. They were all fanciers that had more than a normal interest in the pigeon sport. They wanted to advance in the sport. They had come from far and wide to attend a seminar given by Bill Richardson from Tuscon, who gave an extremely interesting presentation.
As a curtain raiser for the event I was asked to do a short presentation on pigeon feeds and feeding. The theme I chose was “the future of racing feeds”. Can pigeon feeds still be improved in the future or do we already know all there is to know? I have attempted to find an answer to these questions. Read and tremble because in the future many changes will take place.

Current Developments in the Market
When we go on line or read the papers we are constantly bombarded with new developments in nutrition reported by scientists and universities. But, on the pigeon front new scientific knowledge on feeding is rare. When was the last time you read anything on research done for the pigeon sport? When I look at what is going on around me, I only see movement in the direction of price. More and more manufacturers are only concerned with turnover and low prices. If we take a critical look at these mixes, we realize that the main role they play is stomach stuffing.

The grains that are the cheapest at the time are the main ingredients in these feeds. I think this trend is a step backwards because it contributes nothing to the sound feeding practices required to allow the racing pigeon to perform up to its potential. We all know the pigeon sport market is a shrinking market. Many older fanciers are giving up the sport are have passed on. Often it is the real hobbyist fanciers that give up the sport, because they cannot keep up with the specialists who practice the hobby as professionals. It is high time that we make the racing pigeon sport more attractive for the hobbyist.

Specialization within the pigeon sport has effects on feeding. The “remaining fanciers” are constantly searching for more information on feeding and want to remain informed on any new developments. Money for research is scarce. Therefore, we will have to use information on developments from around the world. We will have to watch developments in human nutrition as well as developments in nutrition as it applies to commercial livestock; there is money available for research in these areas. From these sources we can extract information and do some research and testing with our pigeons.

At the moment many researches are directing their research in the fastest growing areas of illness, the heart and vascular diseases. The relationship between these diseases and nutrition are being fully studied. Naturally scientific opinions in these areas are divided. We can also use the information that developments in the area of human sport nutrition give us. All this information cannot be applied directly to the racing pigeon sport. Therefore, it will be necessary to do a lot of specific research on our racing pigeons.

It is too bad that this type of research is very seldom done. The feed industry should direct itself to improvements in animal nutrition more often, so our animals can perform better and lead healthier lives. In my view today’s remaining fanciers are in search of improvements in all areas of the sport. This is the group that I want to address. We have done various tests that could be termed as pioneering and that will soon turn the racing pigeon feed industry on its ear. What is to be thought of the following?

The influence of marketing
Today we also see other developments popping up from time to time. Especially the Germans seem to lead in some of them. They could be seen in every hall at the Exposition in Kassel. Luxurious, fancy packaging is steadily playing a greater role and different products are presented in such a way that we as good fanciers find difficult to ignore. Certain grains, dipped in certain liquids that will do wonders for our pigeons. Extruded pellets, vegetable and herb pellets, vitamin pearls attached to the feeds, all of which have fantastic properties credited to them.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good extruded pellets on the market, but the promises keep getting greater. It is cleverly suggested that you have to participate; otherwise your pigeons will not be able to keep up with the best anymore. In short: marketing is becoming an influence. Bordeaux corn (wine red colour) can be found in the various mixes of some manufacturers. They state that this corn contains a fat percentage of 9%.  When questioning one of the two largest exporters in the world we were told that all varieties of corn contained 4 to 5 % raw fat. They have fields where they cultivate corn all over the world and could not deliver to us a corn variety with fat contents this high. This certainly makes a nice marketing story?

A new variety of corn with red little lines on it gets a spot under “new developments and new products” in the largest pigeon publication in Germany “die Brieftaube”. I can only see it as an attractive variety amongst all the other corn varieties. It is nice to look at but has no added qualities for us in the pigeon sport. There are also different colours of safflower offered (dyed). How long will it be before this starts to make inroads in the pigeon market? What values will be given to similar products? Yes, marketing will have an influence in the pigeon sport, even in the Netherlands.

What you get out depends on what you put in
Marketing in most cases is “creating a need where one didn’t exist”. Sometimes good research is done and products are developed that are really helpful. But, usually they help only the manufacturer. So be careful, beware! The question can be asked: do we know all there is to know on performance pigeon grain mixtures?

Can we still make improvements and modernize ordinary grain mixtures? Are all the manufactures finished mixing?  I’ll try to make some sense out of all the different studies that we have done. My first statement is: What you get out depends on what you put in. You have to invest in the future, nature will reward you. Just as good quality corn seed will reward us if we plant it in good rich soil. You have to depend on Mother Nature for the rest. It makes no sense not to trust nature. We don’t have to dig up our seed grain every day to see how its’ doing, that just isn’t sensible. We have to leave it to nature. It will do the rest. One day a fine-looking plant will come out of the ground.

When we look at racing mixes, we see that most mixes contain between 55% and 65% carbohydrates (carbon-hydrogen and oxygen atoms). These are starches. There are different kinds of carbohydrates such as: monosaccharide (grape sugar / fruit sugars), disaccharide (cane sugar / beet sugar / maltose), tri and polysaccharide (starch for building reserves). Besides these we also have cellulose (plant fiber).

When choosing pigeon feeds in particular racing mixes it is important to choose those that contain as large a proportion of their carbohydrates (glucose) that is taken up and used as gradually as possible. Why? Because pigeon racing is not a sport that requires a short explosive effort but a longer sustained effort, it is an endurance sport. Grains contain mainly polysaccharides (starch). The chemical structure of starch in grains is: amylose and amylopectin.

Source: (Wikipedia)


As you can see in the diagram amylopectin has a branched tree like structure. It is the largest natural molecule and has more than 10,000 units of glucose. The structures are bound together by Alph-1, 4 and Alpha 1, 6 connections. The a-1, 4 bindings are what we call the fast sugars.

These provide the body with direct energy and cause an abundance of insulin to be present in the blood stream in order to achieve an explosion of energy.

The a-1, 6 bindings occur in about 25 units and give the molecule its tree like structure. They take longer to assimilate and are released gradually for combustion. During flight when attacked by a raptor the a-1, 6 bound glucoses are used. They are also called on when the pigeon has used up all its fat reserves on the journey home.

Amylose is an unbranched molecule with only a- 1, 4 bindings. They are therefore the fast carbohydrates. Most grains have a starch content that is made up of amylose / amylopectin in a proportion of 1-part amylose: 3-parts amylopectin. There are two exceptions. These two exceptions contain only amylopectin. This glucose as we have shown is better taken up in the body and is better utilized in combustion for energy by the body.

These two exceptional grains are: corn and rice. Earlier tests that we have done have shown that pigeons fed with 80% corn and 20% regular mix after one hour of exercise flew higher and exercised the best. The pigeons that were fed 80% oat groats (peeled oats) and peeled barley with 20% pigeon mix flew best and highest above the loft at the beginning of the exercise period. But after an hour of exercising they had to move over for the “corn pigeons”. The pigeons fed a regular breeding mix made a few circles above the nearby roofs and had to acknowledge the superiority of the other two groups.

Which carbohydrates are present in pigeon feeds?
Another look at the carbohydrate grains shows us that most contain phytinic acid. Phytinic acid interferes with the absorption of iron and other minerals. Iron is necessary for the production of red blood corpuscles that in turn utilize oxygen. Oxygen and fuel = power and that is a very necessary process for pigeons taking part in athletic events. The grain that contains the most phytinic acid is wheat. Therefore, it is sensible to keep the percentage of wheat low in racing mixes. Even if wheat is one of the cheapest grains it should not be one of the main ingredients in a racing mix.

The most suitable carbohydrate rich grains
The grains that contain much lower amounts of phytinic acid are: corn and rice (There they are again!), white dari, milo (red dari) and millet. These are the grains we should use in larger amounts in racing mixes.

(Translators note: The milo and dari mentioned in the original, to the best of my knowledge are varieties of sorghum)

The less suitable carbohydrate rich grains
Carbohydrate less suited because their structure or the amount of phytinic acid they contain are: oat groats (peeled oats), pearled barley (peeled barley), buckwheat and legumes.

In part 2 we will look at the composition of the fats and proteins. Here we will also find some very interesting thoughts on the composition of the pigeon mixes of the future, they will open some eyes. I will then make up a suggested mix for Sprint / Middle Distance racing and one for Middle Distance / Long Distance racing.