Feeding Systems – Part 1

Willem Mulder

Willem Mulder

The origin of feeding systems

When I look outside, out of the window in our new house in Odoorn, I can see the leaves falling from the trees. The leaves are of many different colors. Just beautiful! Day after day I savor the view. But, bare trees and winter, those aren’t my favourites. I crawl behind my computer and sure enough fanciers are already asking for a racing system. These are fanciers that look ahead and have decided that next year they want to change the way they manage their pigeons. They are on the right path. Many people need a guide to keep them on the right path. There are also people who don’ need one at all. These are people who understand nature. They spend a lot of time with their pigeons and can see what they need and unfailingly give them what they need. For them a feeding plan is an unnecessary luxury and only gets in the way and only causes them confusion. Yes, but these fanciers are very few, probably no more than 1%-3% of the fanciers. The rest of us what do we do? We look at the beautiful advertising the different firms put out. We look at the blue eyes of the pretty representative. But, what did we learn? Let’s see if I can help you.

I can only go back to my own experience and the experiments that we carried out under the guidance of our nutritional instructor Horst Collenberg. What were these experiments and how were they carried out? We began with the following concept. The pigeons had to show us what they needed and do so for an entire year. We began by getting the birds accustomed to a free choice feeding system in January. What did we do? Horst had a plan and developed a special feeder. It was a tray having 25 different sections. Each section held a well know and readily obtainable grain or seed in it.  For half an hour, the pigeons could eat whatever they wanted, in other words they had free choice. But, first they had to get used to the feeder and the system. The pigeons that always over ate and stuffed themselves were removed from the trail.

A half hour free choice 

We were ready to begin in the spring and began exercising the pigeons. After exercising they had free access to the feeder with all the various grains and seeds for half an hour. After that the feeder was taken away. All the sections had a measured amount of grain or seed in them and after the feeding period each section was weighed and written down.

This was done in the morning and evening. We observed that when the weather was cold different grains were eaten than when the spring weather was warmer. This allowed us to determine, how many grams of corn, peas, wheat, paddy rice, milo etc. were consumed and therefore the feed composition they had eaten that day. Then the races began. In Germany, they begin with 3 or 4 training flights from distances of 30 to 100 km. After this the first race is approximately 200km. Every week the distance increases and after 5 weeks or so they race from 450 km. After that it is 500 km and then back to 200 or 300 km. The following week they went back to 550 km. From that point, the races alternate between long and short.

Eating themselves into form

What did we observe? After an easy race the pigeons ate differently than after a hard race. Because we made note of exactly what was eaten every day, we soon had a clear picture of what they consumed. After an easy race the pigeons ate a somewhat lighter mix of grains and clearly ate fewer legumes. After a hard race, they ate more legumes and fat rich seeds. After an easy race (one where all the birds were home within an hour) it turned out that after a few days they ate very few if any legumes. They chose carbohydrate and fat rich seeds; the amount of corn consumed depended on lower or higher temperatures. The sections with peas and beans went untouched. We saw that they immediately began to exercise better. Sometimes they were in super form way to early. They weighed little and were blown up, just like we want them. They were ready to soon, two days to soon and their condition was falling off when they were shipped for the following race. The performances on race day showed that they were coming down. Not good enough. Of course, pigeons don’t know when they will be shipped. We also saw that after a harder race, the pigeons were not in optimal form by the end of the week. For them the race came to early. But, okay, we had a free choice system and we wanted to maintain it till the end of the experiment. Every morning and evening we did the same thing, they had free choice and every day we weighed what was left over. We didn’t pay attention to the performances we wanted to learn from all the many occurrences.

After several months, we acquired a wealth of information, because not only the feed was weighed, we also made notes of the daytime and night-time temperatures, the wind, the difficulty of the race, the manner in which birds exercised, in short everything we could think off so that the following winter we could analyze all the data collected and draw some conclusions. Right from the start we could see that race mixes with a high percentage of peas and fed to the end of the week, made no sense. When left to its own devices, a pigeon first eats what it has used. After an easy race: fewer peas, after a hard race: more peas, more fat rich seeds and corn. After 3 or 4 days, they no longer touch the peas and they begin to search for the good tasting seeds.

Below, a good build-up:  After a hard race and the pigeons all came in form together.
Build up

Here is an example of a fast recovery period. The pigeons had a relatively easy race and were in top form to soon. The results were always: disappointing the next race.


After studying all the data, we learned quite a lot. We knew how we had to feed under different condition and what the pigeons needed for different races. From all this information, we made up race programs and when we did so, we kept in mind the known scientific information. We knew for example how much energy was required for a pigeon to fly for an hour, and how far the pigeon had to fly the following week.

How these plans were built, what we recommend feeding and when during the recovery and build-up period before the next race will be covered in the next article. (Feeding System – Part 2))