Feeding Systems – Part 3

When you look at all the different feeding systems available in the market place, one thing stands out. Besides all the supposed nutritional advice they often recommend a number of by-products, which should also be used within the program. In the morning we pour this over the feed and we put that in the drinking water. In the evening again we are supposed to use another product in the water and a combination of X and Y over the food.

This carries on for most of the week. I know many fanciers who have begun some of these programs, the first few weeks of the race season they followed the system fanatically. The results were less than expected, the system was again studied and darn! I forgot to give them that yesterday. What now? Follow the system for to-day or what? Again, the following week their race results were disappointing. Do you know what most fanciers do? All of it ends up in the garbage can, they’re tired of it. They get rid of all those expensive supplements, even though many of them are good products. It’s the system they get tired of.

As I promised in the last article on Feeding Systems (part 2), we will now write about these by-products.  Last week I was at a specialty shop in Kuurne, Belgium.  They had at least 30 feet of display shelving filled entirely with by-products. It’s really something to see! A fancier was looking at the merchandise and with a thoughtful look picked up a product, studied it for a while and put it back. I could hear him thinking, he had no idea what the product was for and how it was supposed to work. He picks up another product from the same shelf. I can see his frustration increasing and that is understandable. I asked myself if it would be possible to make some sense of all this confusion.

I will make a cautious attempt at sifting the wheat from the chaff, all the while knowing that I may be way of base. I have tried to write all of my articles without mentioning particular brands because I want to stay as independent as possible. I hope that all fanciers regardless of what they feed and give their pigeons can benefit from my articles. But, it is difficult to be clear on this subject and as a result I will likely raise more questions than I can answer. That’s why for the sake of clarity I will make an exception and name a number of products. Most of the firms have a number of good products, but due to the numbers available it is impossible to mention all of them. Therefore, I ask the manufacturers to excuse me if I haven’t mentioned one of theirs’.

Disinfecting after the race

When disinfecting the pigeons after a race often a powder (antibiotic) from the veterinarian is dumped into the water. I would rather choose for a natural method in order to prevent resistance in your pigeon flock. Iodine is used as a disinfectant. It kills mould and bacteria in the crop, the stomach and intestine. This can aid in keeping your pigeons healthy. Iodine also stimulates the thyroid and this activates the metabolism. Good products: for example are Blitz from Rhonfried and “de Reiger”. Always give the recommended dose; otherwise I can assure you things will go wrong.

Oregano is a powerful herb originating in the area of the Mediterranean Sea. It is so sharp that it kills bacteria. After using it intestinal bacteria can be built up again by using a probiotic. Good products: Endosan from Dr. Brokamp. A good tea such as the well-known Ryckaert tea or an herb extract such as Duo Elixer from Traseco can purify the body and the blood and can help the liver. After this purification the assimilation of nutrients will again be “up to date”. Liver cleansing products such as Sedechol are also useful after using antibiotics or too much of a good thing.


This is actually the reparation of anything that has been broken during the race. By this I mean the mending of the muscles and the replacement of the nutrient supplies, that is, nutrients such as proteins, minerals and trace elements such as calcium and magnesium. A calcium/magnesium supplement in the water will do wonders after a race and the muscles will recuperate quickly. This is a quick and cheap solution. This can be given on the day of arrival.

Quickly assimilated proteins are also a very useful aid. After a tough race you can use an animal source or plant source protein such as brewer’s yeast.  Animal source protein will provide for a much quicker recovery. Whey protein is assimilated by the body within 15 minutes while plant source protein takes 24 to 48 hours. This is one way of gaining a lot of time in race recovery. These products are very useful when racing your birds weekly. Good products are: Power Herstel (Recovery), Dr. Brokamp’s “APF 90”, Backs” Protein Plus” and Vydex” Whey Powder”.

The day after the race

This is the day to clean out the damaged intestinal flora and rebuild them. By preference we feed a fiber rich mix with a lot of barley, paddy rice or a cleansing mix. The intestinal flora has to be restored by the use of micro-organisms and probiotics. Lacto bacteria partially cluster around pathogens (bad bacteria) to kill them. They also attach to the intestinal wall preventing the pathogens from increasing.  They also influence the pH value in a positive manner, because they eat sugars and as a result produce lactic acid. That’s why they are called “lactobacillus”. As examples we could use: low fat yogurt, butter milk, low fat cottage cheese, Yakult Intestine Conditioner, Vydex Entrodex. For Micro-organisms: Hummus tea and Kaukabam with kefir (fermented milk).

There have been a number of products developed for the prevention of illness in our pigeons. Herba was one of the first firms to bring an acid, to lower the pH of the intestine, to the market. An acidic intestine decreases the ability of pathogens to develop. A number of other products are: Apple cider vinegar, proprionic acid and formic acid. Be careful with too often and too much as it can affect the bones because acid can use up a lot of calcium.

Middle of the week

Supporting products are products that stimulate the pigeon’s health and provide nutrients for the body. A healthy pigeon should be able to perform. Therefore in this area a large number of products are available. Personally I find it difficult to see the forest through the trees. Be careful that you don’t give too many of these products as they often contain vitamins. Too much of a good thing is also wrong. Onion, red beet juice, alum, garlic, elderberries, herbs, minerals and trace elements, protein, you can keep on going. Good products: Garvo Spirit-Solution, bakers’ yeast, Prange Suppe, Backs Micro Bioticum and Duo Kruidenelixer (Herb Elixer) from Traseco. If necessary a good protein product can be given up to 72 hours before the race begins. There certainly are a number of other products that are useful and good. What is important is that you can see the pigeon improving; otherwise it is of no use.

The last two days before the race

This is when fuel has to be put back in the tank and for pigeons that means carbohydrates and especially fats. A pigeon cannot digest high percentages of fat from its diet because it does not have a gall bladder. A portion of the fat will disappear in the droppings and naturally, that is a waste. But, we have found a solution. Lecithin contains a natural choline which acts as an emulsifier. This means: water and fat will mix together in an emulsion which the liver can process. The choline also helps protect the liver and helps it break down waste products.

Choline aids the pigeon in many more ways; we will go into these benefits at another time. For the pigeon sport lecithin is a very valuable product. Especially for long distance flyers it is very useful. Good oil with a high Omega 3 fatty acid content is also a must. It is best when combined with lecithin. Good products: Backs Omega Plus oil, Dr. Brokamp lecithin oil, Dr. Boskamp Omega 3 oil, flax seed oil, hemp oil, walnut oil, fish oil, canola oil (rapeseed), and lecithin granules. Olive oil is of no interest as it contains only Omega 9 fatty acids and the pigeon can manufacture this itself. 

For the shorter races good carbohydrates are very important. By good carbohydrates I mean starch. Fast burning carbohydrates such as sugars are not of great importance in our sport. These provide for an explosive action, increase the blood profile enormously and only provide energy for a short time. Good carbohydrates (starch) are obtained from corn (maize), corn sugar (glucose) and rice glucose.

These are absorbed slowly by the pigeon’s body and allow the pigeon to maintain a high speed for a longer period of time. Fat combustion requires more oxygen than carbohydrates and is therefore less efficient for the short races (sprint).

Performance enhancing products

Animal fats such as sheep fat are fed in order to increase performance. These are saturated fats and will only be used (combusted) at the very end. By then it is too late. A number of years ago we made up a very low fat mix and added animal fats to it daily. Especially during the second half of the week a lot of animal fat was added. For the first four weeks the results were very good. Then the bottom fell out and nothing we did could change it back. A pigeon is not a carnivore; it is a seed and plant eater. Its stomach and digestive system has evolved to digest and process seeds and plants. Be careful how you treat that digestive system.

There are many so called performance enhancing products sold. There are relatively few that can be shown to work. For convenience I’ll skip those that are considered doping agents such as amphetamine and the steroids. This last group is used to depress the immune system. They depress the body’s defenses and inflammatory reaction.

Products such as carnitine and creatine can be useful as performance enhancers. These are not doping agents and do no harm to the pigeon. Carnitine helps in the transport of fats, protects the muscle sheath and pushes back the fatigue limits. This product is very useful when flying the longer distances.

Good products are products such as Dr. Brockamp’s Carnitine – Magnesium Complex and L-Carnitine from Versele Laga. Creatine increases energy during the first two minutes of flight by converting ADP into ATP (fuel). For endurance sports in humans and our pigeon’s it has not been shown that there are any benefits to creatine supplementation. Therefore, I cannot endorse creatine as a performance enhancer for our pigeon sport. Iron products are meant to increase the amount of haemoglobin which increases the amount of oxygen transported in the blood. The problem is the uptake of oxygen in the mitochondria (red muscle fibers).  Through heavy training oxygen is naturally used more efficiently by the cells without iron supplements. Pigeon’s that have a lot of red muscle fiber and are well trained will have greater endurance.

In closing

I know that I have not fully covered all the products available and don’t even want to think back about all those manufacturers and their products as presented at the expositions. I have probably missed many of them. It is just an impossible task to mention all of them. Many products have something in them from the one group in combination with something from the other group. You have to use those that are convenient and work for you. I can hear your question coming; is it necessary to use all these products?  Most certainly not all of them, because you will not only be days too short but light years too short to experiment and find out what actually benefits the pigeons.

My advice

Make a sensible choice. Use only a few products that are useful for the different “parts” of the week. Don’t buy too much. Don’t buy anything if you don’t know how it is supposed to work or because champion X uses it or says he does. Choose wisely, you should know what you are giving and why. There are only several products that are important to me because I would rather use as little as possible. After the race: a product for muscle repair such as a good animal source protein. This is of great value during the race season. Besides the protein product, I would use a good probiotic containing pigeon specific bacteria.

In the middle of the week, every once in a while a “health tonic” like a “Suppe” one like my friend Tonnie Snijder makes himself. At the end of the week: for better fat digestion: a good oil with the proper fatty acid ratio and with a high lecithin content. That’s it. Keep it simple.

Willem Mulder

Written by Willem Mulder and translated by Nick Oud