What a pharmacist told us

There used to be a pharmacist in Germany who was known for having pigeons that won one top prize after another. One of our colleagues interviewed him a while back and now I would like to discuss some of the most interesting topics.

“Are the achievements of your pigeons related to your profession as a pharmacist?” He said it is difficult to give a credible answer. “The only people who will believe me are the fanciers who are successful themselves and who are not pharmacists. It is so easy to think that my success is the result of medicines and elixirs. Good pigeons, a dry loft, no overcrowding and regular caretaking throughout the year; that is what does it for me. It is a fact that my pigeons get some medical treatment and that I provide medical treatment for other fanciers as well. Still I think medical treatment in my loft is insignificant compared to most other fanciers.”

In theory you can use performance-enhancing substances for pigeons but the effect lasts for only three hours. After that there is a significant decrease in performance: the pigeons are very weak for a while. This means that your pigeons would have great difficulties to reach home again. Such medicines would not at all have a positive influence on the performance of your pigeons. Once you decide to use such substances for your pigeons you risk ruining their everyday health.

Hormones, cortisone and anabolic steroids will disturb the regular rhythm of the widowers during the racing season. A victory in an important race is the result of good fitness, which can only occur in a natural way. If your pigeons are healthy they will get into a good shape sooner or later.

In 1900, in the early days of pigeon racing, the first elixirs, pills and creams were available on the market.
(foto: Tom Van Nieuwenhuyze)

Many people think I give my pigeons several medicines but the truth is that I only give them vitamins. Vitamins are no miracle makers. They improve the metabolism of the pigeon when the feed does not provide enough vitamins. I would like to make special mention of the vitamin B complex. If you can feed your pigeons with some greens from your garden you need not worry about this. However, a diet that solely consists of seeds will not provide enough vitamins. I do not have a garden so I cannot feed my pigeons with greens.

I would like to point out that the pigeon’s organism only needs a minute portion of a vitamin. If they ingest too many vitamins the pigeon might moult too soon, as a result of which they have an incomplete plumage for the final races of the season.

When it comes to using medicines during the races: this is simply not a clever thing to do. Medicines will only be provided on the advice of a veterinary, who decides when to give the medicine and how many doses the pigeons needs.

The pharmacist gives his young birds a smallpox vaccination every season, somewhere in mid June, before the races start. This vaccination is required every year but he believes that these youngsters will be protected for the rest of their lives. None of his vaccinated young birds have ever had smallpox. His pigeons are also treated against coccidiosis and tricho every year. In a small loft with good dropping (thick and not too watery) there is no need to treat your pigeons against coccidiosis. What matters the most is that the loft is always clean and that it is disinfected every year. It is a good idea to clean your loft every week but it would be even better to clean it every day or even twice a day.

The pharmacist comes from a family that has always been involved in pigeon racing. He started out as a fancier on his own in 1969. Initially he was not very successful, although he had great pigeons from some very good lofts. He said he had only himself to blame as the pigeons were undoubtedly of great quality. Things changed when he added some Belgian pigeons. When asked about his failure with his first pigeons he says that every fancier has good and less good seasons. The same applies to breeding.

One half of his pigeons are yearlings; the other half are old pigeons. After the season he eliminates one half of both the yearlings and the old birds. He thinks a good selection is important if you want sustained quality.

We read that the fancier feeds a very light diet, which surprises many fellow German fanciers. I have to admit that I would never adopt his feeding method. This is how it works:

“My pigeons do not get a lot of feed. This makes them attentive, vivid and combative. I give them a light diet and they are stirred up when I feed them. During the racing season I do not feed them at on in the last two days. On the other days of the week and outside the season they get very small portions. That does not mean my pigeons are hungry. Their droppings should not be too watery. If they have a race without a day off on Sunday they only get some barley, some dari and a bit of wheat until Wednesday. From Thursday onwards they get a mixture, to which some corn, dari and wheat is added. I also lower the portion of pod fruit by 10 percent. They are not given any sweet seed. The pigeons should be kept quiet; that is why they hardly ever get to see their hen before the race. I only make an exception for widowers who are performing a bit less well. I give the birds the same diet throughout the year. This mainly consists of barley and some dari and wheat. They eat this even in the moulting period and in winter.” The fancier calls this mixture a purifying mixture and it is eaten in the morning. A second meal consists of a mixture including corn, dari and wheat.

Even the young birds eat this mixture. When the cocks are breeding they are always given 20% barley.

This is what I think about this diet:
I am curious to see the mixture he gives to his pigeons, the type of seeds it contains and their proportion. It is difficult to make an estimation based on words. According to his list of achievements he won 26/56 prizes against 2,246 pigeons – 22/53 prizes against 1,972 pigeons and 25/38 prizes against 1,691 pigeons.

I keep using my regular feeding method. I think barley should never be one of the main ingredients of a mixture. Of course it is always difficult to assess the performance of a fancier abroad. I know German fanciers who use exactly the same diet as we do. One thing is clear: we can definitely learn something from this pharmacist.