Tips to avoid E-coli (part 1)

Young Bird Sickness (e-coli)


By Willem Mulder

How many times have we encountered this problem? How often has this problem been discussed in books and pigeon magazines. Again and again writers, vets, scientists and “fanciers who should know” have studied the health of the young pigeon. On one occasion, the training flights were given the blame, as the cause of diseases like E-coli. Sometimes the cause were found in nutritional errors or in an insufficient resistance level. There also are some pigeon magazines that write, we are too clean.

These are all issues, that however important they may be, are all issues that begin from the time the young pigeons are born and continue up to and when they race. Given the misery and the irritation young illnesses bring to the fancier, I also want to  make my contribution. In short, what is wrong and what can we do about it?

Often, we do not start at the beginning. And I mean: what are we breeding from? From proven breeders and racers, or from anything that moves in the loft? Are we multiplying pigeons or are we breeding pigeons? Good pigeons are scarce and therefore we should set high standards for the breeders. In my opinion, we should first have a look at some important examples.

If we want to breed strong and healthy young pigeons, than we should not breed from pigeons that often produce wet manure. Neither should they be prone to ailments, or show lack of vitality. It is often said that good pigeons are never ill. Therefore it is important not to breed from carriers of paratyphoid. A blood test by the vet + an extensive examination of the droppings usually indicates whether they are carriers.

You do not need to have your whole breeding stock tested at once. That would be very expensive. But you could check from which parents you always get sick youngsters, those are the pairs that should be tested.  If they are carriers, then there is only one way out. At least when you want to get more natural resistance in your flock. Furthermore, we should not want to breed from pigeons that are  on medication, regularly.

We cannot expect great results from them and that kind of pigeon is not welcome in our “breeding department”. Good breeders and racers that are allowed to have offspring should be 100% healthy and they should be optimally cared for before breeding begins. Then and only then,  are they able to guarantee healthy offspring. If the old pigeons are not in top shape, usually, the youngsters will not be great either.

Not as a young pigeon, not as a yearling, etc. Therefore, it is wise to do a check for coccidiosis, worms and canker, prior to pairing. If there is nothing wrong with the pigeons, they shouldn’t be treated? Not even as a preventive measure! If you do not have a headache, do you take pills to prevent one?

Of course we should continue to observe our pigeons closely but I am not in favour of blind and preventive treatments. Didn’t we want healthier and stronger pigeons with more natural resistance? If they have canker for example, then you can give them a good, full canker treatment while they are on the eggs. Not limited to a few days, because this promotes resistance in  the flagellates.

A full treatment must always be completed. Often, breeders are still getting a full breeding mix 14 days pairing. Usually, those pigeons have just finished the moult and are too fat. Then, likely you will get substandard fertilization and empty eggs. Pigeons must first be lean, to have breeding success . That’s the way it is in nature. Blackbirds and other birds that endured the winter, are very skinny but, they have good condition.

Birds in poor condition do not survive a harsh winter. That is the way it should be for our pigeons. They must get enough vitamins, especially vitamin E and also enough minerals. But before pairing, the feed itself may be very light. If pigeons are lean and in good condition, mating will be a piece of cake. While they are driving, the feed may be richer in proteins and energy.

To prevent disease, a lot of resistance has to be build. Young pigeon get their first feeding from its parents. That is, crop milk. Once youngsters  begin eating on their own, they often, fallback and  may produce thin manure. Crop milk is very rich in protein and breeding mixes contain less protein.

A breeding mix with a low in peas, but with linseed, hemp, rapeseed, and toasted soy, usually results in fewer problems, as the proteins from these raw material are more absorbable and they are much easier to digest. Thin manure can also be caused by improper minerals. It may sound crazy. But often, these mineral supplements are low in the best minerals  while being very high in the worst ones.

How is that possible? Pigeons are very fond of salt. Minerals for chicks contain between 12% and 25% of various salts. Salt is cheap, so….it is good business, read more profitable! Which results in squirting youngsters. Good mineral supplements for pigeons contain only a few tenths of a percent of salt. So please be careful what you buy. Put your finger in it and taste, usually you will know enough.


for pigeons
Percentages Minerals:
for poultry
Calcium 27.4% Calcium 27%
 Phosphorous 6.5%  Phosphorous  6.3%
 Sodium  0.1%  Sodium  12.0%
 Copper  375 mg/kg  Copper  365 mg/kg
 Iron  3560 mg/kg  Iron  1450 mg/kg
 Zinc  750 mg/kg  Zinc  640 mg/kg
 Manganese  1860 mg/kg  Manganese  1800 mg/kg

There are fanciers who clean their breeding lofts daily. There are others who remove the old bird manure but, leave that of the youngsters. This helps in giving the youngsters higher resistance. In nature, the manure is not removed as long as the young are still in the nest.

Pigeon fanciers who are daily active with halamite, bleach, the burner and the scraper , usually have more health issues with their youngsters. Even when the youngsters are weaned, it is nice to have some straw lying under the nesting boxes. Then the youngsters can sit close together. Until the start they begin flying, you should not worry if the young bird loft is a bit messy.

All young pigeons should be vaccinated. Vaccination for Paramixo is mandatory. We may oppose this but, at this point in time, it is mandatory and so it should happen, whether we are against it or not. It’s best to vaccination as soon as possible. The best time is when the young pigeons are between 4 and 5 weeks old. Then the youngsters will not experience as much stress. This also helps to prevent diseases.

When we darken we artificially extend the winter period. The head and small covert and body feathers will moult but,the flights will be held. While darkening the feed should be fairly rich in proteins. This is important to get the young birds, through the moult as good as possible. The little feathers have to be replaced, which requires protein. During the young pigeon’s first stage of life (70 days), I would recommend feeding them a good quality breeding mix, with a bit of barley added.

Once the youngsters are eating well, they have to learn to listen to the boss. Often they are overfed.  Sometimes we just turn them into gluttons. Two exhibition drinking cups per day is sufficient for 10 pigeons!! Nothing more. If we feed to lightly during the darkening period, they will have a poor moult, due to a lack of nutrients. Lack of nutrients will also affect vitality. Add some stress to the picture and… well, you can fill in the blank.

It is wise to have plenty of light in the lofts between 8:00 and 18:00. It is a misconception that darkened pigeons should have a dark loft all day. At 18:00 we close the windows and we let the curtains down and we put on the emergency lighting. Nowadays, you can buy emergency lighting that you can simply put in a wall socket. The emergency lighting can be set for example for half an hour.

After that half hour, it will turn off automatically. The pigeons will then easily find their nest boxes and they will know “what time it is”.  From late May to early June, the darkened period should be  ended  slowly. Also here, mistakes are made. Suddenly, from one day to the other, the curtains are taken down and the next day, the babies are in the basket ready their early road work.

To my mind a definite no,no. It causes stress and… again you fill in the blank. You should increase the day length by15 minutes  each day, so that at the longest day of the year, you are ready to start with the training and racing. That seems more reasonable to me.

Young children often get  all kinds of childhood diseases. That’s okay, because that is how their resistance is built. This is also the case with young pigeons. If some young pigeons are sick, for example if they have a wet eye, remove them from the loft for a while and set them apart.

After you administer a drop of pure CS (colloidal silver) (40 ppm) for two days, they will usually be their old self again. Give as little medication as possible. It may harm the natural build up of their immune system.

There are often far too many pigeons in a young pigeon loft. That is asking for trouble. Pigeons should have lots of oxygen. That is as important as good food. You should not place more than 24 pigeons in a loft, 2 meters by 2 meters and 2 meters high (= 8 cubic meters).  The number of pigeons in the majority of the lofts is twice that number, with all the resulting consequences…..again you fill in the blank.

Young pigeons should only get one type of feed, is what’s written in some magazines. Because changing the feed may cause E-Coli. Again, this is pure nonsense. Of course, if one day they are fed a purification mix and the very next day are served up a racing mix with 30% peas (!!!) ….and the pigeons were in bad shape when they came home….then such a huge transition, is asking for trouble.Those large quantities of peas are very hard to digest and can harm a pigeon that is already down. But the transition from one easily digestible feed to another easily digestible feed is never a problem for a pigeon. So, going from a purification to a flying mixture with only 12% peas and then to a Super Energy or a Super Diet mixture is absolutely a more responsible way of feeding, provided that we do this gradually.

You can also opt for a good ready made young bird mixture. There are more and more of these types of mixtures available on the market. You can also take one bag of Racing feed (with lots of corn)  and mix it with one bag of depurative + 1 bag of Super Energy or Super Diet (high in fat). This will also give you an excellent feed for young pigeons.

Dry manure method
If we have to believe the magazines, then E-Coli can be prevented using the dry manure method. If you do that, your pigeons will never get sick. And they claim this is the only thing that helps. In my opinion, this is pure bullshit. It is an excuse idleness and laziness. Those who want to practise this method, have my blessing, but the floor and the feed covered in dung, the perches covered in a thick layer of shit,… that is not the way I want to keep pigeons.

In nature, youngsters are only surrounded by their own shit for a few weeks, so that they can build up their immune system. But why shouldn’t it stop after that? It is not really necessary to burn and clean with a disinfectant daily. I am not in favour of that either, but it can be done in a clean way, one that is also acceptable for your immediate environment.

The bacteria that normally inhabit every loft, must just remain present, the loft doesn’t have to be sterile, so that mutations to resistant strains can develop (just think about hospital bacteria). Because, that  again produces….correct. In part 2 more about the prevention of E-Coli in our young pigeons.