The moult

For vitality and fertility, a good moult is of vital importance for a racing pigeon if you want it to perform well over the entire season.

The feathers which should be renewed every year include those on the head and the neck, the cover feathers, the wing bars, thumb feathers, the ten primaries on each wing, the twelve secondaries and the feathers that cover the rump and the tail, whose function has already been identified. The small feathers on the body of the pigeon, moult almost all throughout the year; this depends on the health and condition of the bird and the way it has been bred. This moulting process can be considered to be properly completed after two years.

A good moult is recognised as follows:

Head and neck
The feathers on the head around the ears and the neck should not have a hair like appearance when being washed. Instead they should look fluffy. A hair-like appearance around the head and the ears indicates a weakness of the pigeon’s head which is likely caused by a cold.
The wing
The small cover feathers

New cover feathers on the wings of a pigeon should not have small nodes or a narrowing in the hollow shaft. This also applies to the wing bars and the primaries, which should also be at full length.

The primaries
The primaries should not have any pinches or nodes at the feathers or the hollow shafts. They should not be toothed. This means that if you fan the first five centimeters of the wing you should see the points of the feathers, on the inside of the ten primaries, form a line, just like the blade of a knife without toothing. Each primary should be at its full length and in accordance with the numbers of the origin of the pigeon. If the pigeon was born on the number five, six or seven, she should at least renew the primary with the same number or a higher number. Only then does the bird have a good moult. If a wing does not lose its primaries five, six, seven, eight and nine in the autumn in such a way that it has the according to the numbers of its birth again, or if the distance between the ends of the primaries have become smaller, the pigeon will be past his best next year. This happens especially to racing pigeons that were not taken care of during the racing season or if the fancier has failed to keep the pigeon healthy.

First remark: It sometimes occurs that a pigeon moults nine healthy primaries at full length and that the last feather (no. 1 from the outside) is two mms too short or is at the same length as the last but one (no. 2). If this is the case you should check whether the last but one feather (no. 2) is still at its full length: 2 to 1.5 centimeters compared to the tail end.
Second remark: The opposite happens more often. In that case the outside feather (no. 1) has grown longer than the last but one (no. 2) or is at least equally as long after the moult. Yet the primaries might have moulted one or two centimetres too short. This is often the case when a pigeon lives in a poor environment, as a result of which they can no longer be used for racing or breeding.

What if the primaries do not renew in the second nest?
If a pigeon fails to renew its primaries in the second nest you should replace the eggs with pot eggs. In case you failed to notice or if you had not been paying attention to it in the breeding period you should take away the youngsters when they are eight to ten days old. The bird that has not moulted should then be placed separately and its health should be monitored. It could help to compare the bird to figure 1A and to read the accompanying description. If you notice any mucus at the upper end of the gullet or in the windpipe you should press on the lower beak to see if any mucus is coming from behind the large and the small tonsils: this usually causes a bad moult. Many racing pigeons that are infected with a mild disease suffer from an infection when feeding their first youngster. In case the colour of the beak is pinkish white, read the description accompanying figure 2 for an appropriate treatment.

Do not pull out any primaries
If a racing pigeon fails to renew its feathers you should never force it to moult by pulling out its feathers. If there is no moult this is usually the result of anemia or a disease that affects the blood flow. As a result it has not enough strength to renew its feathers.
If you follow this advice you will achieve good results.
Remark: If a pigeon breaks one or more of its wing feathers in an accident you can pull out these feathers, after having taken care of the pigeon as described above. This is the only way to achieve a result.
N.B. It is advisable to pull out these feathers in the months of March or April only

The secondaries
The back wing consists of twelve feathers that partly renew every year. The secondaries should have renewed themselves entirely within three years time if the bird is completely healthy. Pigeons in good health will generally moult their secondaries at the age of two.

For a healthy young pigeon born before June the moult should proceed as follows:
1st year: eight feathers, five starting from the body (12, 11, 10, 9 and 8) and three starting from the big wing (1, 2 and 3).
2nd year: one feather along each side (7 and 4)
3rd year: one along each side (6 and 5)

This is very important. Over a period of three years these eight feathers should be fully functioning. Five of them, the feathers along each side of the body, should serve as a protection of the body, the back and the rump of the pigeon. If a youngster renews eight secondaries, five along the body and three on the side of the wing feathers, you can consider this a bird in a good health condition and with a good moult. The back wing is at its full length if the wing is closed at the end over a distance of 1 to 1.5 cm, behind the second wing bar. It should have the same colour as the rest of the body, no matter what colour the bird has.


The wing of an old bird
The moulting process begins at the tenth feather, which is the one closest to the tail wing (the secondaries, see picture). About four weeks later the ninth feather should drop. When the new ninth feather has reached half of its length the eighth feather will drop followed by the other seven in the same order. The renewal of feathers is closely related to the bird’s health and the way it has been taken care of. This has a great influence on the moulting process of a bird as well as on its overall performance. The wing cover feathers and the wing bars will only start moulting when primary no. 6 has dropped or has been renewed almost entirely. This usually depends on whether the bird had to feed a youngster for a long time or not. If it had to feed a youngster for a long time the moult is usually delayed until after the youngster has been raised. This is disadvantageous, so it is advisable not to breed too many youngsters and to wean earlier rather than later. During this period you should also feed your birds a blood purifying tea. The moulting of the secondaries or back wing feathers usually takes place when one half of the fourth primary has been renewed. Usually this coincides with the moult of the tail, but the number of feathers that moults is usually different.
For example: a healthy bird that was born early in the year will usually moult eight secondaries in its first year, five along the body and three along the primaries of the wing. In the next year the bird only renews two secondaries, two on both sides. If a bird moults only seven secondaries in its first year, five along the body and two along the wing, it should renew two feathers in the next year (one along the body and one along the wing) if it is in a healthy condition. During the renewal the pigeon will start to moult as much as possible.

How about the youngsters?
Youngsters born early in the year which have been taken care of and who leave the nest in a healthy condition will moult at the head and the neck first. After that the moulting process is similar to that of the old birds. The entire moult takes place in the autumn. At that time the bird is in full development. Healthy youngsters born after July or August that have not been breeding yet will moult a large part of their feathers but their wing and tail feathers are not renewed yet. This is not harmful to the bird’s health in the next year and you can train them after the old birds have been raced. To stimulate the moult you can pull out a tail feather on each side in April of next year where the moult had stopped in winter. If necessary you can also pull out the next feather on each side when the previous ones are at half their length. But you should never pull one of its wing feathers. If you do consider this, you should first give the bird a blood purifying tea for about two days and then add vitamins to the drinking water.

The tail
In general a tail has twelve feathers; six on the left and six on the right. One set of six feathers should be positioned in such a way that when you look at it from above, only one feather should be fully visible. The moult of the tail usually begins after the fourth primary is at half its length. A full moult takes place regularly and begins with the fifth feather on the left and the right side, starting from the outside. If this feather has grown to half its length the two feathers in the middle of the tail will drop. At half their length it is time for the fourth feather (both left and right) to drop, then the third, then the outside feathers and finally the last but one feathers (left and right).

A bird has had a good moult if the tail feathers do not have any small holes. The hollow shafts should not have any nodes and should not be split. When the moult of the tail feathers is finished the general colour of the body should be visible at least one centimeter behind the dark wing bar. This can be clearly seen on chequered or blue pigeons. A bird needs a good tail to navigate but that does not mean the tail has to be long. A tail that is too long is not beneficial for the bird in flight: in 99% of the cases the tail is too long because the wings are not at their full length after moulting. This occurs when the blood is not good or when the pigeon has had an infection. This again shows the importance of a good health. If you notice that the tail of one of your pigeons is too long I would do the following: make sure your pigeon is not infected with a disease anymore and do not hesitate to shorten the tail by maximum 1.5 or 2 centimetres past the end of its wing (past the tip of the wing feathers). You will notice that the bird will fly a lot better.

Split feathers
Split feathers are usually the result of anaemia. A feather needs a lot of rich blood in order to grow to its full length. That is why an anaemic pigeon will always have split feathers. The blood is essential for a strong and elastic feather. It is easy to identify an anaemic pigeon: their feathers appear to be dry and slender and it takes some effort to have the bird grow healthy feathers. If one of your valuable pigeons has split feathers you should not allow it to fly or breed. It is important to purify its blood by feeding it a purifying tea for two weeks as well as vitamins two days a week and to continue this procedure until all of the split feathers have been replaced by healthy ones.
It is important to find out what disease has caused the split feathers in order to be able to avoid this in the future. Split feathers can also be caused by a difficult race or by being lost for a few days as this makes a bird tired and leads to weakness. In such cases you can use the same method as described above to replace the split feathers with new ones. It will not take long to renew the feathers: the feathers are probably old already and will be renewed in the same season.

Additional remarks
We often notice that healthy birds have not moulted by the end of the year, which is often caused by ignorance or the negligence of the fancier. We have witnessed this in countless lofts. A reason could be that pigeons have to do races too late in the season, as a result of which they have to feed their youngsters too late in the season as well. To make sure that the pigeons would eventually drop their feathers fanciers used to treat them with a weekly bath and feed them with tea and vitamins until January.

In eight out of ten cases the pigeon will eventually moult, even into February, but under no circumstances should you let these birds feed youngsters or do races early in the season.