In general pigeons are fond of cereals. Cereals are rather low in proteins; these proteins are often of inferior quality. Cereals are not rich in vitamins either, they are generally low in vitamin A and contain virtually no vitamin D. They contain some vitamin B1 and E but they are low in vitamin B2. They are also low in phosphorous and very low in calcium. The most nutritious and most important cereals are corn and wheat.
Contrary to other fanciers I do not consider barley as a pigeon feed, at least not in the breeding season or during the racing season. However it can be useful to improve digestion after a race and as an easily digestible feed during the winter. Why the different opinion? Barley contains quite a lot of raw cellulose so the pigeons are not really fond of it; they generally prefer other types of cereal. The raw cellulose is indigestible for a pigeon: if it eats a lot of barley, traces of it can be found in the bird’s droppings. Barley is low in raw cellulose and it does not contain many other nutritional elements either. It only contains proteins with low biological values and it lacks vitamin A. Barley has only 75% of the nutritional value of second rate corn. Besides that, it has been proved that if the feed of your breeding pigeons contains more than 15% barley you risk the slower growth of their youngsters. Pigeons that were given too much barley in winter and who ate more than 15% will not be able to raise good youngsters. A diet with too much barley causes shortage of breath and a full stomach among your widowers. If the birds are not given a proper diet they will have problems with egg production as well. On the other hand barley lowers the risk of trichomoniasis because it cannot develop in barley, but thanks to today’s treatments it is no longer needed to feed your pigeons an excessive amount of barley. In general we would advise not to feed your pigeons more than 10% barley and that applies to the sprint racers as well. Corn and wheat are a much better cereal for a pigeon.
Corn is undoubtedly one of the best types of pigeon feed: it is low in raw cellulose, it is easily digestible and it has the most fat of all cereals. Pigeons like it a lot in any form, size or colour. Its most important characteristic is its hardness. You should be able to hear the corn rattle. However corn is low in proteins and the proteins are of inferior quality as they lack two important amino acids: tryptophan and lysine are barely found in corn. There is not a big difference in nutrition between the different varieties of corn, except that red corn contains more vitamin A. To conclude: up to 25% of your pigeons' diet can consist of corn.
Pigeons are fond of wheat. It has the same nutritional value as corn: it is lower in fat and yet it contains more proteins, although its biological quality is not better. Wheat is also rich in sulphur so it is highly recommended during the breeding season. However, wheat should never be given shortly after it has been harvested; it has to dry out first. My grandfather used to spread it out in the attic 20cm thick. He regularly turned it over with a wooden shovel before feeding it to his pigeons. Wheat can account for up to 25% of a pigeon's diet. It is not advisable to give them more wheat because the pigeons might grow fat, which is not beneficial for the sprint racers, which you should try to keep slim. However, it might be interesting for the long distance racer to eat a lot of wheat: additional fat can help it to improve recovery after a difficult race.
Dari, also known as sorgho, contains more proteins than corn but is lower in fat. Its nutritional value is quite similar to that of corn so dari can account for up to 25% of a pigeon's feed.