In the depths of winter: breeding good youngsters is not an easy thing

Christmas day is here, which means that the new year is about to begin. While we were having Christmas dinner I was thinking about all the fanciers around. I wish them good luck, good health and a successful season in pigeon racing. At the same time I was wondering what will come out of the young birds that are about to hatch.

I was thinking about frozen drinking pots and all the other typical problems that are related to winter breeding. What should a winter breeder do now? A retired fancier who takes care of my pigeons when I am not home gave me an answer that eased my mind. He told me that fanciers who are breeding young birds now should not worry that everything will go wrong with their newborns. In fact the parents will be taking great care of their youngsters and they will hardly leave the nest to eat. Yet, the fancier should be able to provide fresh drinking water at any given moment; this is the most important issue. You should not expect any other major difficulties, unless there are a few weeks of frost in a row. This could be a problem if your youngsters are two weeks old. Still, the parents will do anything to keep their newborn warm: the old birds will gather around the youngsters and they will cover them with their wings to make sure that they are kept warm. So the frost is not a major difficulty either. However, you should be careful with powder snow, he said. Humidity is a major threat in winter.

I told him that it took me quite some time to get rid of the fine powder snow that blew right through the tiles of my loft one day. We did everything we could to remove all the snow but it was impossible to reach above the boxes of the pigeons. We can only hope that the thaw sets in quickly and that the loft does not get too wet. Luckily enough my wife keeps an eye on this. We made the loft as dry as possible with a brush and a handful of chalk. The cocks, which spend the winter on perches, did not quite understand what was going on. Yet they kept calm, as if they understood that we were doing them a favour.

Humidity should be avoided at all times, both in winter and summer. This is especially important when the parents have youngsters that are two weeks old. When the temperature is below minus ten degrees you should be very careful but a slight frost is not something to worry about. I have noticed that powder snow can cause quite some trouble; it was the first time that powder snow found its way into the loft since I started fancying pigeons.

Of course every fancier is faced with particular difficulties, every fancier runs into trouble once in a while. In fact we do it to ourselves: after all we are forcing our pigeons to breed at a time when they should not be breeding: in winter. We tend to forget that weather can be quite bad these days. If you do decide to breed youngsters in winter you should make the most out of it and the only advice we can give you is to keep your pigeons as dry as possible!

Make sure that the youngsters are always in a dry nest bowl. If necessary get some dry straw from a farmer. Straw and chalk can be very useful to avoid humidity. You should also pay close attention to the drinking water. Do not give them water that comes straight from the tap. Allow the water to warm up a bit in your house. Of course it does not have to be lukewarm but it should not be ice cold either. You get the point.

I would like to remind you that the grain should be kept dry as well. It is perfectly acceptable to store the feed inside your house, preferably near a heating device or the boiler of your central heating system. Dry feed and drinking water with a good temperature are two important aspects and you can store them both outside the loft itself. In the loft we pay special attention to keeping the nest bowls and the floor of the loft dry. If necessary you can put a layer of straw and some chalk on the floor. Do not forget to provide some grit, especially when the youngsters start to eat grain. Do not let the youngsters leave the loft: you should not make things more complicated than they already are. The youngsters have to be kept inside for the time being. Try to provide some fresh air from above; do not keep the windows open. The draught might cause your pigeons to catch a cold.

I personally think that it is not necessary to lengthen the days with artificial light in the loft. When it is four o’clock in the afternoon you can empty the drinking bowls when it is freezing outside. In any case I give you my feeding routine, which is especially useful for fanciers who do not breed in winter. I feed them once a day around noon and I give them some fresh drinking water afterwards. This means there is no drinking water in the morning but I think that is not necessary either! They quickly understand that they get drinking water by noon. In fact I feed them first and then they get some drinking water until about four o’clock. After that I empty the drinking bowls to prevent the water from freezing.

Winter break