It is this time of year that many pigeons are being paired or already have youngsters. So far, this season has been warmer than usual. That probably explains why I haven’t heard of any real problems this breeding season. As usual, there have been many questions: What do I feed the youngsters when I wean them? There are many fanciers with this particular question. The amount to feed is also something many are not sure of. Let’s first tackle the question of what to feed. Your breeders are fed a particular type of breeding mix in the nest, and that is what you feed the youngsters after they are weaned. Many fanciers fill the feeder the first few days, that is, till the youngsters are eating well on their own and able to find the drinker. I am a believer in getting the youngsters on a regime as soon as possible. Young birds have to learn what’s expected of them and what the loft routine will be. When the youngsters are being fed, call them just like you would when they are coming home from the race or after loft flying. You determine how you want to keep your birds. The ones that won’t conform or fit into your system, well, that’s too bad for them.
After a few days, you could feed the youngsters twice per day with a decent varied breeding mix that has a variety of different grains and seeds plus a bit of barley or cleansing mix. You can then easily see when the birds have had enough to eat because they will leave the barley. If that’s the case, they are no longer hungry. You can also pay attention to the drinker. When several have gone for a drink, you know they have had enough. Many fanciers believe that youngsters should not have any shortages and have to grow out nicely. Therefore they feed all the youngsters want.
They feed them more than is necessary for them. We turn the youngsters into gluttons and that is not good for them. The amount to feed is a real question for many fanciers. From atop fancier, from Westerhaar, I learned an easy way to solve the problem. Find a container in which you can measure out the proper amount for 10 young birds per feeding. Give them this amount in the morning and again in the evening. That should be sufficient under normal circumstances. If it gets cold, you may have to adjust the amount a bit. This is something I’m sure everyone understands. When the youngsters get a bit older, feed less in the morning and increase the amount in the evening. In this way, you should “average” 10 grams in the morning and 20 grams in the evening per pigeon. (30 grams is just over 1 oz.)
Most fanciers darken their young birds. In the early winter months, they are darkened “naturally” because they have fewer hours of daylight, as the days are short. As soon as the days become longer, we shorten the days artificially by darkening the loft in the evening at six o’clock and raising the curtains the following morning at eight o’clock. This gives them ten hours of daylight. This causes the youngsters to moult their covert and body feathers, the flights will not moult or moult very slowly and this is the fanciers’ goal. For the youngsters, to have a good moult, a protein-rich diet is required. The differences in breeding mixes have been discussed and explained thoroughly in a previous article, “Breeding a science,” and we won’t go into it again in this article. At ten weeks of age, the body moult will be mostly behind them and they will begin to shine. Up to this time, all we have to do is break the youngsters to the loft.
First, in an aviary on the landing board, a sputnik or just the landing board, after a while, they will sit on the roof. During this time, the babies usually won’t fly too much. We shouldn’t worry, this is normal. The youngsters will begin to fly when they have finished the moult. The youngsters will soon start to group up and fly around the loft; this is a sign that the moult and that their physical development is almost complete. You can now commence feeding a lighter, higher fiber diet. By fiber, I mean barley and paddy rice. We have to keep their intestinal tract in condition. During this period, a healthy gut is essential. The better the intestinal tract functions the less the chances of the birds becoming ill.
One complaint I hear often is: the youngsters don’t fly well and not for very long. Usually, this is caused by feeding a diet that’s too heavy. To get them exercising, we could start feeding at a minimum ½ Diet mix and ½ Racing mix and add a bit of a small seed mix. Training means that they are either in the air or in the loft. If one or several youngsters don’t want to come in, that’s bad luck for them, leave them outside. Don’t feel sorry for them. The chance that these are good pigeons is one in a hundred and that is a minimal chance.
When it’s beautiful weather, you can feed even lighter. For example, 1 part race mix plus 2 parts cleansing and ½ part candy seed. A bit of candy seed or a peanut or two as a reward when they come home has its place and has a positive effect. Diet mixes can also be used. As an example: ½ part Race mix, ¼ part barley and ¼ part diet mix. Zoontjens special is often used as a diet mix, but this is not correct. It is a decent mix, but with 22% legumes, it absolutely cannot be called a diet mix. There should be no fear of the youngsters not growing out properly if you prepare your young birds in this manner. Easily digestible and an easily assimilated protein can be attained with a mix that has a higher digestible protein content and regularly adding low-fat yogurt and Bakers yeast to the feed.
Usually, later-born youngsters are not darkened. Long-distance flyers often don’t pair their birds till March. But we can also choose not to darken young birds born in January or the beginning of February. They will begin to moult their primaries earlier than darkened youngsters. This is a disadvantage if you want to participate in all the young bird races and want to compete near the top. Not everyone believes being competitive with young birds is essential. Non-darkened youngsters won’t moult their body feathers as early and can be fed lighter much sooner. As soon as they begin to group up when flying and to travel, you can start to provide a lighter mix. If you feed them heavy too long, exercising and travelling will often be disappointing. They will fly their circles low around the loft. Feeding much lighter will almost immediately solve the problem.
Right from the first day, youngsters have to listen to their trainers. You determine how the pigeons should behave and they have to adjust to you. There is no perch for those that refuse to adapt to you. Your personal circumstances will determine how often you exercise and or train etc., not the top fancier who has discovered an entirely new way of managing his young bird team. The danger is that to-day you follow Peter’s method and tomorrow you listen to Sam. Don’t do it. Do it your way, follow your own schedule. Don’t let them work you up. If you have a time-consuming job and want to go fishing 3 times per week than likely you won’t keep up with their methods anyway. First, you have to decide how you can and want to keep your pigeons and adjust your goals accordingly. If you follow this advice, you will not get frustrated and will derive a lot of pleasure from your young birds. Shouldn’t that be our goal!