Developments in Feeding (2)

Today the second of two parts of Developments in feeding.
Read, enjoy and hopefully gain some insight into feeding your race birds.

Developments in Feeding (Part 2)


Wim Mulder

Now that we have discussed the carbohydrate content of our racing mixes, we know it is important to select the correct grains. With the newly acquired knowledge we now have the composition of our racing mixes will change considerably. In particular the Sprint racers will have followed the new developments with great interest, but also the rest of us have carbohydrate content in our mixes of 50% to 60%.

Amino Acids
Now we will look at the amino acids (protein). Legumes in particular contain a lot of protein. In order to perform well while racing we require power for the muscles, the energy is provided by glycogen and fatty acids and the fuel to burn them is oxygen. The disadvantage of legumes is that the high percentages that usually are given at the end of the week will almost certainly ensure that the bird has a less than ideal supply of oxygen. The pigeons digest barely 25% to 30% of the proteins from legumes, which means that 75% of the protein they contain will have a detrimental effect on the birds system because the by-products produced during digestion of these proteins will have to be eliminated. The conversion of proteins from legumes into bodily proteins takes from 48 to 72 hours. This process therefore has a detrimental effect on the birds while racing.

Gradually the oxygen supply will diminish and after flying for 4 to 6 hours good athletic effort by the bird becomes difficult. The colour of the breast muscles will become blue, which indicates a lack of oxygen. Building and repairing muscles requires protein (the first part of the week) and is not required as fuel for flying. That is why it doesn’t make sense to feed to many peas and beans to the pigeons during the last days before basketing them for a race. Not feeding any protein is impossible because all grains and seeds contain protein. It becomes a question of feeding the grains and seeds that will do the least damage. It would be more sensible to choose for less protein and protein that is more easily digested at the end of the week. If the fat requirements have been met earlier in the week than you can use good carbohydrate grains (such as corn) for the last two meals in an energy rich mix (middle distance / long distance) thus lowering the protein content.
This leads us to use of the following grains and seeds:
Toasted soybeans, safflower, sunflower seeds, peeled sunflower, hemp, cabbage seed, rapeseed, flax seed and peanuts.

Fatty Acids
The most important source of energy for pigeons are the fatty acids. They are stored in the red muscle fibers and provide energy for the flight home. It is the most important fuel for most of the flight further than 300 kilometres. In the past we have spent a lot of time discussing how much fat we should send along with our pigeons to the race point. Recently more time and attention has been paid to the makeup of these fatty acids. You are probably familiar with the articles on the proper use of the fatty acids. Now researchers are looking more closely at the importance of the composition and the structure of the fatty acids. Oils are made up of linoleic acids and linolenic acids. Linoleic acids are the omega 6’s and linolenic acids are the omega 3’s.

According to some researchers there is an ideal proportion between the two types of fatty acids. This proportion is important especially for the immune system. An incorrect proportion will result in illnesses and inflammation according to these researchers. Presently scientist are recommending as an ideal proportion for people as being 4:1. That is for every 4 parts of Omega 6 there should be 1 part of Omega 3 fatty acids. This proportion is also important for our racing pigeons. According to some researchers a proportion of 2:1 is required for ideal results. Therefore oils have been developed for the consumer markets that have a better proportion of these fatty acids. That’s good, very good in my opinion and I am a fan of these oils. Still I am very apprehensive about their use. Why? We can coat my feed with oils such as these. Most pigeon mixes have a fatty acid proportion of 50:1 to 30:1. I add one of these oils and Bingo! Well not really! Try adding 200 cc of one of these oils to 1 kg of grain it will look like grain floating in a swimming pool! We can add maximum one tablespoon of oil to a kg of mix. One tablespoon on 1 kg of feed only makes a difference of 1%.

That one percent is definitely a step in the right direction but it really is only a drop in the ocean. It’s like being on a pub crawl and your buddy after drinking twenty beers decides to order a glass of mineral water and declares “look guys I’ve stopped drinking, I’ll drive home”. That really doesn’t sound like such a good idea. Let’s get back to our racing mixes. It would seem that one percent change in the oil composition would have very little influence on the immune system. We will have to take a closer look at the mixes to see if we can improve them.

Presently our race mixes often contain a lot of safflower and sunflower. We sometimes feed peeled sunflower seeds before a long or tough race. I have often advised doing so. But in the past I did not pay as much attention to the proportions of the omega fatty acids. Making sure that they had sufficient energy stores was always and will remain the number one concern. The following table will give a synopsis of some of the oil seeds.

Amount of n-6 fatty acids
in grams per 100 gram
Amount of n-3 fatty acids
in grams per 100 gram
Linoleic acid a–linolenic acid EPA DHA
Sunflower Oil 630 (630:1) 1 0 0
Corn Oil 50 (5:1) 0,9 0 0
Soy Oil 52 (7:1) 7,3 0 0
Rape Seed Oil 20 (2:1) 9,6 0 0
Flax Seed Oil 20 (2:5) 50 0 0
Peanut Oil 13 (32:1) 0,4 0 0
Hemp Seed Oil 60 (3:1) 20 0 0

We see a lot of safflower and sunflower seeds in many mixes; this as we can now see gives a completely incorrect proportion of the omega 6: omega 3 fatty acids in the oil content of these mixes. This is not good news for an efficient well functioning immune system and the pigeons will more easily fall prey to the various diseases and infections. It is also true that many fanciers simply feed to little fat, which keeps their pigeons from performing at their peak. I do not want to discourage anyone from feeding fats to their pigeons. Providing sufficient energy is essential. But I think we have to do a better job.

Searching for a balance
Often we have to find compromises when we put together a mix. Cabbage seed, rape seed and flax seed have better values in the proportions of the omega fatty acids, but also contain a lot of prussic acid. Adding high percentages of these seeds to the mix would be irresponsible. Flax seed also increases phlegm and is better limited to being used at the beginning of the week. There is also the fact that these seeds are low in fiber, which is required for a well functioning intestinal tract. Too much cabbage seed, rapeseed and flaxseed create a mix that doesn’t provide enough bulk for the intestinal tract. This could easily lead to watery droppings and that is also an important consideration. It is not easy to make the right choices, but clearly we can do better. A mix made up of ordinary grains and seeds, certainly has a future. These are not readily available on the market but there are some things that the fancier can do for himself. As promised in Putten I will provide two mixes in this article. The first one is appropriate for Sprint/Middle Distance races and the second is meant for Middle Distance/Long Distance races. If you have a source of single seeds and grains you can mix these yourself, they are not available as mixes anywhere that I know of.

Sprint/Middle Distance Middle/Long Distance
Grain: Percentage Grain: Percentage
Corn (all types) 32.5 % Corn (all types) 30 %
Barley 5,0 % Barley 5,0 %
Milo (red dari) 15 % Milo 10 %
White Dari (Milo) 10 % White Dari (Milo) 7,5 %
Paddy rice 10 % Paddy rice 7,5 %
Millet 5,0 % Short grain Rice 2,5 %
Toasted Soy Beans 5.0 % Millet 2,5 %
Dun peas 7,5 % Hemp 5,0 %
Green Peas 5.0 % Rape Seed 2,5 %
Mung Beans 2,5 % Flax 2,5 %
Flax 2.5% Safflower 2,5 %
Green Peas 7,5 %
Omega Ratio: 5:1 Toasted Soybeans 5,0 %
Dun Peas 7,5 %
Mung Beans 2,5 %
Omega Ratio: 4:1

The first mix is a base mix for the Sprint and Middle Distance races and does not meet the needs for all situations. The fancier will have to adjust it with for example a Cleansing Mix at the first of the week and add some corn and small seeds during the second half of the week.

Values for Sprint /Middle Distance Mix
Fat Protein Carbohydrates O.E.k.Cal Fiber
4.3 12.1 64.0 3211 4.3


Values for Middle Distance /Long Distance Mix
Fat Protein Carbohydrates O.E.k.Cal Fiber
7.8 14.3 57.4 3333 5.6

The second mix is also a base mix and the fancier will have to add or switch over to a well-balanced energy mix at the end of the week. This mix by itself is a high-energy base mix containing mainly good fatty acids, not to many detrimental proteins and good carbohydrates. I know that I have not addressed all the different circumstances that may arise. But, I have endeveared to lay a foundation for a new vision on the composition of the racing pigeon mixes of the future.