Feeding Systems – Part 2

Willem Mulder

Willem Mulder

In the first part of this article we talked about how a pigeon uses the feed put in front of it. Which grains and seeds it eats, at which time it eats what grain or seed and under what circumstances.

Breeding Season

Every day we weighed the leftovers and as a result we knew what mix of grains had been consumed. During the breeding period, we determined that the pigeons consumed very little corn and eagerly ate seeds such as hemp. They ate legumes but fewer than we had thought they would. The pigeons after all could choose from a large variety of grains and seeds. As the youngsters in the nest grew the legume consumption did go up somewhat.  It was very noticeable that a substantial amount of fat rich seeds was consumed. These observations and measurements allowed us to calculate the fatty acid and amino acid requirements.

Racing Season

Here we saw big differences. We not only looked at the grains eaten but watched each and every pigeon individually. We determined that some pigeons ate a lot of corn and others ate a lot of peas. One or the other presumably had to do with the development of the race. The first pigeon came home at noon and arrived in good condition, the last pigeon was home at 14:00. The last one took two hours longer to get home. Because of those two hours the pigeon had not only used more of its fat reserves but its muscles also needed more protein to recover. This is how one pigeon can be in better condition than the other.

By using a free choice method of feeding, each pigeon can choose what it needs. Pigeons that were in poorer condition or those that came home later from the previous flight also ate peas for a longer period of time. The early pigeons were also back in condition earlier. What we knew and what the pigeons of course did not know was: when the following race would be, what the day of shipping would be, how many kilometers they had to fly and what kind of wind conditions they would encounter. We also noticed that the pigeon got used to the rhythm of the week and seemed to know when they had to race again, when he would see his girlfriend again etc. It seemed like they became accustomed to the weekly routine.

From this vast amount of information, derived from the daily weighing of feed and our personal observations, we could make some assumptions as to a feeding method. We had a golden thread to follow. After an easy flight, they ate fewer peas, after a hard flight they ate protein and fat rich grains and seeds in order to refill their tank and rebuild their muscles. After the muscles were repaired they ate the carbohydrate and fat rich seeds and grains. There was a definite line in what they consumed. These observations could be tied to the information we knew and the pigeons didn’t. By this I mean that we knew the distance of the following race and we had the scientific knowledge to know how much energy to put into the tank. We know that a pigeon eats somewhere between 200-250 grams of feed per week in preparation for the following race. In fact, there are races on the schedule where some pigeons are only flown every other week and sometimes they are home for 3 weeks.

Carbohydrates and fats should be adjusted for the expected hours on the wing not the distance. These should be provided as best we can. We had learned from our extensive test period that we could adjust our feeding to bring our birds to a peak just at the right time, not too early and not too late. This we could do in a manner shown to us by the birds. This way we can stay close to a natural way of feeding and still build in our known variables (length of the coming race and shipping day).

In my view, there are two possibilities for a very good feeding schedule (method). The first one is free choice. After an easy race, they are given a lighter feed and all they want free choice.  At the end of the week we provide a fat richer mix according to the expected wing time and the amount of time the bird will spend in the basket (shipping time). Another possible method is to give the pigeons a measured amount of feed that is made up according to the results of our experiments. That is, again we feed a lighter mix after and easy race at the beginning of the week so that we don’t bring the pigeons into form to early etc. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, but both are close to what the pigeon would choose itself.  

Golden Thread

When as nutritionists when we make up a feeding system, we always should use averages. We don’t know for example: the difficulty of the previous flight, the wind during the flight, were there big gaps between arrivals, the temperatures, the condition of the pigeons, how hard the following race is expected to be and you could think of many more variables. That’s why a feeding schedule can only be used as a golden thread. As a racing pigeon fancier or trainer, you always have to make minor or major adjustments when necessary.

A fancier approached me at a show. He told me that he had used our feeding program for the first time the previous season and that he had become champion not only in his club but also in his section. He had followed the feeding plan exactly. Naturally I congratulated him. But, he was totally surprised when I told him that he had been very lucky and that I didn’t think that he would be that lucky again a second time.


Exercising (training) is of great importance for the pigeons. It is important for people and is just as important for our pigeons.  Sufficient exercise means that they will maintain a good appetite. Their overall condition and their endurance will increase and oxygen availability to the red muscle fibers, will increase. More and more the importance of exercise and training is being recognized and the pigeons are taken down the road more often and farther between races. Sensible training also recognizes the need of rest periods being built into the training schedule to reach a peak when required. Top performances to-day almost requires that the fancier become a sport trainer.

Strength and endurance

Short and explosive performances require a lot of strength. Athletic performances lasting a longer period of time require endurance. The two aren’t the same. Fast cars with a big motor empty the fuel tank quickly. A car with greater efficiency and somewhat slower will go a lot farther on the same amount of fuel. The trick is finding the right balance, between speed and endurance.

In part 3 of this series, I will delve into the subject of supplements. Which ones make sense and which ones are unnecessary? I will walk slowly through the forest of supplements and remedies available and try to steer you in the right direction.