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Pigeon feed

 
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Hey guys new here but have kinda always lurked in the background. I’ve always wanted to raise feral pigeons as free range squab. And baring no interruptions with this virus running rampant the wife and I will be buying a new country house on 9 acres in a week. Perfect place for it.
So back on topic my idea is to capture/buy and breed till I have a flock I can free range without fear of losing them all to them homing from where I caught/ bought them from.
Now I have access to lots of expired bread from a vender my wife works with and free over rusted peanuts and some other things from a snack distributor. My question is with the right ratio of dried bread and peanuts run threw a grinder to get feed about the size of sunflower seeds. Maybe  half peanuts for protein with half bread for carbs and something added for calcium. Is this a viable idea or have I lost it? By my research peanuts are around 15% protein bread is somewhere around 9% obviously fat and fiber wouldn’t be an issue. With something for Calcium I think it might work. It’d be for short term/supplemental feeding anyway the idea being they’d free range from the corn fields and grass seeds around the area. Only being fed at evening inside the roost to promote homing.
 
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Hmm,  I just checked,  and evidently pigeons are not protected in any way, cool.

Since it's there to prompt them to return to the roost,  give them what ever they want most!
Seriously,  it sounds like feeding treats at milking time, so it needn't be balanced.

Squab meat is very pricey and evidently they reproduce pretty rapidly.

 
gardener
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Hi Jacob, welcome!
This is a long post but, from my experience with pigeons, here are a few thoughts that might help you with your plan.
When raising pigeons as a food source, it's generally best to invest in a couple of pairs of birds that are a utility breed; bred for meat. While the common/typical bird can definitely be eaten, it's not really worth the time spent cleaning them. It seems like the common birds are mostly feathers, bones and ligaments, with just a couple of bites of meat per bird. A utility breed will put you around the same yield as a quail, oftentimes more yield than a quail. Of course, the increased yield means a loss of some agility, but utility breeds are still able to fly, just shorter distances at a time and at a lower height (which is desirable if you want to keep them from venturing too far away.

The "homing" instinct is typically genetic, and based on the birds ancestry; but it's also food motivated. The birds will go/stay where there is a consistent source of food available. Of course, there are some lines/strains that lack the homing genetics and prefer to be nomadic, but if the majority of the flock has the homing behavior, those birds usually prefer to stick with the flock, instead of venture out alone. Pigeons usually accept a new loft (coop) pretty quickly when they know there's a consistent food and water source there. Also, plenty of nesting boxes/baskets will ensure they continue to consider the loft "home." Generally it's good to provide each pair with 2 nest boxes, as the hen will often lay a second clutch and begin brooding while the cock bird is weaning the current fledglings. 2 chicks per clutch is the norm.

Here's where you may run into some issues with your plan...
Once pigeons accept the loft as their home, they tend to lose their foraging skills, even if they're "wild caught." The times my birds have been loose to forage they , instead, stayed in the loft, or perched on it, and waited for me to start the daily feed/watering chores. The most "free ranging" I've seen is a bird or two coasting down to the chicken yard to peck at their feed for a few minutes. Over the years, I've seriously seen birds almost starve to death or die of thirst, even though foot/water was accessible; just not in the designated place. On the flip side, I've seen people lose their entire flocks from trying to get the birds to forage and, a few days later, the whole flock decided to find a new place to live; including birds with eggs/chicks, which they abandoned due to the need to stay with the flock.

Predators are another issue, with birds of prey being the biggest threat, followed by nocturnal predators, such as raccoons & the weasel family. Since the majority of feral pigeons are in a city setting (where hawks & owls aren't too common), and domestic flocks are trained to a loft (where they're protected from threats), the instinct to evade attack is pretty weak. One time the roof of my loft broke and my birds were loose for about 4 days, until I repaired it. I wasn't too worried, because they basically just stayed on or in the loft, with the occasional "group lap," flying around the barnyard. After a couple of days I noticed several birds missing, and blamed the cats after finding wings & other parts in the flowerbeds. Then, one day I was outside and heard the guineas "sound the alarm" to let all the poultry know they saw a hawk. In a few seconds all of the chickens and guineas found shelter and got quiet. The pigeons stayed on the loft until the hawk was over the barnyard, then the entire flock took off in a big group, and just flew in predictable loops over the loft while I watched the hawk take out 3 birds within a couple of minutes. It was almost like the birds were serving themselves as dinner. After the 4th day, my flock was reduced by half, so I decided to make the roof repair a priority before more birds decided to sacrifice themselves to the happy hawk.  
The moral to that story is to never underestimate the stupidity of the species of bird known for their ability to survive anywhere; because it's a bit of an exaggeration.

Again, sorry for the long post, but hopefully sharing my experiences can help you with your project and potential obstacles. For meat, I would definitely recommend a utility breed to make the yield worth the work. Around here the most popular utility breeds tend to be the Kings, Runts, and Pioneers, which aren't generally super expensive. With pigeons you can typically line/inbreed for a good while before having to introduce new genetics. Many people get two pairs and let them breed for a year to build a flock. Then they sell some and use that money to buy some new birds from diffrrent places to add genetic diversity. Then, once the flock gets big enough, the flock becomes genetically consistent with the majority of the weak or undesirable genetics being bred out.
Hope this helps, and let us know how your project works out!

 
Jacob Hendrickson
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Thanks for the response guys. I was hoping for a bit more of a free range situation with predator weary wild birds then more of a pen raised situation. I found a few Utility Kings on craigslist wow they want 150$ for a breading pair. Maybe a king pair with some wild crossbreeding to get a more free range bird.
I currently hunt pigeons over decoys (something that hasn’t caught on much here in the states) so I know there not the biggest birds. And definitely not the smartest sometimes circling back into the decoys after be shot at just seconds before. But there is some method to there hawk survival strategy. So if you watch pigeons in Minneapolis that see a peregrine they all take flight and attempt to put maneuver as a flock. But as you say that makes some of them easy pickings. The idea behind that is a numbers game. Individual birds have a better chance of survival if there in a large flock then it’s say 1/100 instead of just one bird. Fish do the same thing.
Sadly with a smaller flock I imagine it probably doesn’t work so well.
Ideally I’d hatch a few pairs of birds eat the prisoner birds I stated the flock with and free range birds that home to the loft there born in. Providing water, shelter and supplemental feeding to keep them close. Hopefully it works out.  
 
Kc Simmons
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I would think that adding one or two birds of a utility breed would help to slowly increase the meat yield per bird, while also minimizing some of the common issues with utility breeds (like cracked eggs from the weight and flight ability/stamina). Especially if you kept the utilities isolated from the main flock and paired them with a feral bird long enough to get a clutch, then switched out mates once the fledglings leave the nest.

For feed, I have used various things, with plain hen scratch being the typical feed, as it's cheap & easy to get. Only problem is they won't eat the cracked corn in the mix, so I dump that in the pigs' trough (though I want to try fermenting it when I get time). Also, in the breeding season, I often add some 24% chick grower crumble to the feed, as that seems to help the chicks grow quickly.

Interesting to know about their methods of surviving predators. I assumed that was something instinctive, and noticed it resembled a school of fish. It's just a little dumb when they would've been completely safe if they would've stayed put. (Plus I might be just a little bitter since it seems my favorite birds or the most valuable birds tended to be the sacrificial members of the flock, lol)

I'm excited to see your project results, and tohopefully learn some techniques to try with my own flock.
 
Jacob Hendrickson
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I know pigeons mate for life, but do males ever cheat? If I get say a breeding pair of kings and add in an extra   female feral will the male king mate with it? Otherwise I guess could bond king offspring with ferals.
Otherwise I suppose breed on only the biggest/healthiest/ best wild birds to create my own utility breed. Would be fun, and after all they are one of the fastest/easiest creatures to selectively breed because they breed so fast. I’d have to be catching lots of birds and keeping only the best/biggest birds for myself.
Just wish kings weren’t so expensive it’s hard to swallow 150$ for 2 pigeons. How big are homer’s compared to wild birds? There only between 10-20$.
Your pigeons don’t eat corn? Seems odd you often see/shoot the ferals in Mn eating out of corn fields or spilled piles in the field or feed lot. Is it because it’s cracked?
Good to know chicken feed works for them it’s cheap and available so that’s good. Do you weigh out your feed say an ounce of feed per bird per day or just allow free feeding.
Anyone have a good way to keep hawks away from there birds? Seems like most post I read talk of hawks killing there pigeons definitely something to consider.
 
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First question I think that would be good to know is: how far would your pigeons need to fly to find corn/other grain that they would eat? And if they are eating out of neighbors fields/hanging around your neighbors silos are they likely to get shot there by someone else?

I think the idea of having free ranging pigeons that forage on their own is doable, it used to be done in earlier times, that’s where the big dovecotes in Europe came from. People wanted the same things in a meat source you’re looking for.

I wouldn’t recommend feeding bread, I know some freaks in cities will eat it, but it’s not really great for them and doesn’t really sit well with their digestive systems. Peanuts, on the other hand, some pigeons love. I used to feed my racing pigeons peanuts as a treat sometimes. It can take some getting used to for the pigeons because peanuts are so big, it can be hard to get into their beak and oriented so they can swallow them. Feral pigeons are a bit small than homing pigeons, so I could see them having a harder time eating peanuts, but it may work. I’ve had pigeons eat whole kernels of field corn, so if some people’s birds don’t eat it I think that’s just a matter of them not being hungry enough/picking what they like best.

The key to your system is getting the pigeons to come back, so that means making their home appealing in some way so that they want to return. That could mean having a nice place for them to roost, their mate being there, or food or water. If you started off with mated pairs, leaving one bird from a pair out at a time would likely be a bigger draw for the other to come back. That mate at home being on eggs or young would also increase the odds of its free ranging mate returning.

When I raised and raced homers I fed about an ounce of feed per bird, per day. I would not ever just leave feed out for them to eat whenever, it’s a good way for them to waste it. If I were you I think I’d feed in the evening (maybe starting out with half an ounce per bird) before it gets dark, because the birds should already be coming back to roost. Then they could leave in the morning, do their own foraging and come back the next evening to get some food again. I would probably start developing this routine of feeding at night with all birds locked in so they get used to it, then start decreasing the amount of food they get and releasing hem throughout the day.

I know everyone says pigeons mate for life and it’s a nice image, but they don’t. I have broken up many pairs and got them to mate with other birds, as well as having some already mated birds take on a second mate. The key to relating birds is essentially locking them together in a cage, it helps to start this at night so they hear each other all night and by the morning are somewhat used to being close to the other pigeon. Based on your initial plans, I wouldn’t cross in any utility breed pigeons, it could possibly make the offspring bigger, but will likely negatively impact their foraging ability, homing, and possibly flying ability (some utilities get pretty heavy and don’t really fly much if at all).

I guess one question I have is are you planning on eating the adult pigeons or the squabs? I think when dovecotes were popular most people kept them to have a constant supply of squab. If you’re used to eating pigeons that have flown a lot and don’t find them tough, great, but I think that’s why the tendency has always been for most people to eat only young pigeons.

For predators, hawks can be a pain. One thing I used to use was crow decoys, which I would move around every few days. Most hawks don’t like crows because crows tend to chase/harass the hawks.
 
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I've stewarded free range pigeons before. They do fine. It's nice to have them in a coop, rather than in a barn, cause then I can catch them at night instead of shooting them.

The way we deal with the small size, is to treat them as something sacred, to be eaten on special occasions as a ritual or celebration. A time of gratitude and reverence for the pigeons, for the ecosystem, and for our relationship to them. We cook them slow and long with low heat for maximum tenderness.





 
Jacob Hendrickson
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Thanks for the insight guys appreciate it definitely like the ideas. There’s a field about 300 yards from my new place and many more within about 2-5 miles.

I also plan on planting some forage for both them and the ducks I hope  to hunt in the slew behind the house. Millet maybe some wild grasses and wild rice are all on the agenda. Mainly as an animal attractant but if the pigeons forage on then have at it.  
The neighbors is definitely a good question they do have an empty silo that I could see my birds wanting to sit on. Hopefully with enough perches and roost at my house there not bothering them much.
My plan was to eat squab vs adult bird but would be eating culled birds or feeding them to the dogs ether way they won’t be wasted.
Also glad to hear that selective bonding isn’t a problem. Part of the draw to pigeons is being able to manipulate the genes rapidly because they breed so fast. Reading some of Darwin’s stuff on the matter it’s fascinating what he was able to breed for with pigeons.
 
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If you want a constant supply of local pigeons you want to do a few things to make sure it's sustainable in all ways;

1.  Housing- your pigeons will be way safer if they have a solid roof over their nesting place.  Also, designating a prime nesting site means they won't be doing so in your carport, barn, sheds, etc.  as they poop A LOT.    A house for them can look like anything and be made from anything, but if you want them to use it it should have nice places to nest in it (5 gallon buckets on their side filled with hay work great), and it should have an entrance up high.  They will prefer entering from up high and it's just safer for them.  You keep a lot of predators out by lifting the entrance at least 4-5' off the ground.  You can make a walk-in door if you want.  Mine seem to love nesting on the ground, or UNDER the ground if they can manage it.  They'll use old rabbit holes as nest sites if you let them.  A bucket on the ground is easy access.  They'll hide under a slab of wood with 4" underneath it.  They'll nestle behind a tote or box up against a wall.  They want to be hidden

2.  Feed- pigeons are grainivores.  They do well on a high protein diet.  Feeding them roasted peanuts and old bread will probably sustain them, but their poop is going to stink really bad and probably be really runny.  Their gizzards are built to crush and grind hard whole grains, like wheat berries for example.  Feeding them a highly processed grain product will ultimately lessen their health, and the health of their squabs.  Squabs are raised on crop milk, which is a pre-digested liquid mixed with whole softened grains.  Bread can't replicate this in any way.  And I personally wouldn't want to feed that to animals I'm eating.  Would it kill them?  Probably not, especially if they're free ranging.  

3.  Wild food- homing pigeons can be raised and trained in two ways.  The first is by nesting habit.  2-3 nests of squabs in a safe location should 'home' them to a new site.  Second is by food.  They can travel up to 300 miles in a day to a prime feeding site.  The farther they have to travel for good food, the more you're going to lose to predation.  Accordingly, they can be trained for one-way or two-way transit between an established and memorized nest site and a feed site.  300 miles, from what I've read, is about the limit of their mapping and flight capacity, if you're going to use them for communication.  Anyway, planting wild food for them is the best permaculture approach.  Plant a plot of grain and legumes, like lentils, sunflowers, and grain grasses.  Amaranth, millet, teff, sorghum, etc etc.  They will feed themselves when the harvest is high and it will help keep them home and safe.

4.  Failsafe stock- I would recommend keeping 1-3 breeding pairs, minimum, in a pen or aviary in case your free ranging flock gets decimated.  Either that or find someone local you can rely on to replenish.    A breeding pair, if enthusiastic, safe, and well fed, can produce a set of squabs every 3 weeks, 9 months or more out of the year.  Usually nests contain 2 eggs, and usually both squabs hatch.  Rarely you'll get 3 eggs, sometimes you'll get 1 egg.  If you get a 1 egg clutch and you want production, you can take the egg away and either add it to another new nest, or destroy it (sadness, I know) so the hen will start laying again and hopefully lay at least 2 eggs.  Squabs are ready to eat in about 4 weeks.

5.  Breeds- the American homers are extra large.  Mine dress out around a pound and have ample extra fat.  Selecting stock that have wide, broad chests will increase your meat production.  Racing breeds are often slender and have less meat.  

6.  Predators- the biggest predator for the pigeons are birds of prey.  Second might be cats, though the adults are fairly safe from cats as long as the cat isn't snatching them off the roost at night.  Squabs are cat bait though.  Once a hawk or owl learns there is a supply of pigeons in your area, they will stay very close.  More agile, lean racing breeds will fair better than slow heavy meat breeds in this case.  It's possible to lose several birds in one day, watch out!  Giving them safe housing and feeding them in a sheltered area will help ensure their survival.  Integrating them with chickens can help, too, as the chickens will have eyes on the skies.  Don't house them together if you want full meat production, sometimes chickens ruin and tamper with pigeon nests and pick on young squabs that can't fly.  

I can't find my photos from last year, but I grew a garden in the pigeon pen, along with foodstuff for them.  This year I will be expanding to two aviaries.  I just bought a whole bunch of new stock and breeds and will be selectively refining the subsequent squabs, but there's way too many in their aviary right now in the mean time!

EDIT:
This year we're going to hybridize our setup.  Now that I've got over 10 breeding pairs of mixed genetics, we can 'afford' to lose a few birds letting them out to fly.  We'll make a chute for them at the highest point on the aviaries (since they don't do well with being expected to land on the ground and enter through a gate, as we've learned), and let them out to fly in the evenings when most the birds of prey are in bed for the night.  We wouldn't mind a free flock, but they would get wiped out really quickly, and also turn all of our outbuildings and roofs into toilets >_<
10312F72-0E7F-47BA-B8A3-F325D2E45798.jpg
The birds have a small greenhouse to shelter in
The birds have a small greenhouse to shelter in
FED8CBFE-3C51-4ADE-86E7-F407CE0D1D83.jpg
This time of year there's a young potato patch in the center of the greenhouse with nesting options around the perimeter. I grew corn in here with them last year with good success.
This time of year there's a young potato patch in the center of the greenhouse with nesting options around the perimeter. I grew corn in here with them last year with good success.
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They have several roost spots in the greenhouse
They have several roost spots in the greenhouse
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As well as perches and elevated nesting boxes outside
As well as perches and elevated nesting boxes outside
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squabs are easily managed and monitored
squabs are easily managed and monitored
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Right now we have over a dozen squabs
Right now we have over a dozen squabs
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This year we'll be converting this chicken coop + pen into another aviary garden.
This year we'll be converting this chicken coop + pen into another aviary garden.
 
Jacob Hendrickson
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Wow love your setup. I was wondering if there was anything I’d need to do differently in a cold climate we live in central MN and winter’s do get cold. Everything I’ve read says they need lots of ventilation do you do anything special for that? I like that they don’t take up large amounts of space and are easily managed.
Thanks for sharing. I’m probably going to copy some of your setup.
 
Jacob Hendrickson
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Fair point on the bread I’ll try to find other free feeds or stick to chicken feed. I’ve read some do dog food but I can’t think that’s a good idea? Ether way if I’m only paying 1/2 an ounce per day per bird that seems very economical. And there pretty and fun to have around.
 
Jen Fan
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Jacob Hendrickson wrote:Wow love your setup. I was wondering if there was anything I’d need to do differently in a cold climate we live in central MN and winter’s do get cold. Everything I’ve read says they need lots of ventilation do you do anything special for that? I like that they don’t take up large amounts of space and are easily managed.
Thanks for sharing. I’m probably going to copy some of your setup.



Most birds are super cold tolerant.  These little guys have no problem in -20º, as long as they're not forced to be in the elements.  They deal with heat well too.  I kept them in Idaho before coming to Montana, and when it would hit 115º and they did okay as long as they were shaded.  In this climate they can reproduce March through November, so in a milder climate they may breed year round.
In the spring I deal with some ammonia complaints in that A-frame greenhouse, as everything starts to thaw and get wet.  I work the poop into the soil, plant, and mulch, and it takes care of most that issue.  I also have too many birds in this space for it to remain clean and healthy without a lot of work.  Ideally this 700~ sq ft aviary (roughly a 30 foot circle) would house 3-5 breeding pairs.  But I have 22 adults and a dozen quail in there, plus their babies, and up until recently it also had all my butcher roosters in it, and in years passed had rabbits and chickens in it as well.  Lots of poop.  But that's lots of fertilizer each summer!  They've built the poor, rocky substrate up several inches deep with manure and bedding.  Anyway, inside the coop/greenhouse, I regularly shake-in some fresh hay over their poop catch area to help absorb moisture.  I can scrape the dried poop off the poop catch board (a board under the roosts, slanted forward) and into a buck to use in other areas.  The A-frame structure is really nice for moisture complaints in regards to humidity, as moisture catches on the steep sides and slides down to the ground and away from the birds.  It's not a big roof that's catching and beading moisture.  Works very nicely for birds, as humidity is what will really get them, any time of year.  

I grew corn, potatoes, comfrey, sunchokes, horseradish, and a mess of leafy greens and herbs in with them last year. The only thing they damaged was the young corn; some squabs trampled a corner of the patch when they were just sprouting.  Otherwise they leave the plants alone, they don't dig, and they don't rip the sprouts out. At least not those seed varieties.   They will nibble leaves in small amounts.  I'll be doing corn, squash, beans, and lentils, and maybe millet, in the aviary with them this year.  Potatoes have the greenhouse real estate this time.  I planted them a few weeks ago.  It's been mostly freezing and even dipped down to -4 since I planted them, and they're doin' just fine.  The greenhouse stays way warmer than outside, at least 20º warmer most of the time.  The only time this becomes an issue is if you have nest boxes inside the greenhouse in direct sunlight.  The squabs can't leave the nest to cool down until they're almost a month old.  So you want to make sure they don't get roasted in a greenhouse.  I also leave the door open in the summer to help regulate temp.
 
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