The moult and side issues - Part I

Last week I had a visit from my veterinarian. He did not come to see my pigeons; they were all fine., but soon we were talking about the pigeons and that is when he decided to go to the loft to have a look at the moulting process of my pigeons.

During his visit I gained a lot of knowledge about the moult which I would like to share with the readers of the PIPA website.

Some fanciers would see the moult as some sort of a disease but believe me, this is absolutely untrue. We know that several mammals lose their hair on a regular basis as well, just like a pigeon loses its feathers throughout the year. Hair loss and the moult is influenced by the same factors: exposure to sunlight, the hormones and partly the temperature. The moult starts with the dropping of the primaries, which are the feathers that form the outside part of the wings. The 20 secondaries will start to drop as well, following a distinctive pattern: they will start to drop from the feather closest to the primaries all the way to the feathers closest to the body. We know that the bird’s feathers do not grow evenly, but if one of the feathers does not grow to its full size the pigeon was probably sick during the moult or had an inadequate diet.

A bird does not only shed its wing feathers, it also loses its cover feathers and its fluff once in a while. The renewal of the fluff should proceed as smoothly as possible. Exposure to sunlight has a large influence on the moulting process. In the autumn there is a lot less sunlight and this influences the glands that produce hormones. Sunlight exposure has an influence on the pineal gland, which is a very important structure in the brain and is located in the turkish saddle, a protective bone structure in the centre of the brain.

The direct and indirect effect of this gland on other glands and organs can have significant consequences. For a fancier this small section of the brain is of great importance; it decides when a pigeon starts to moult, it regulates the breeding, the bird’s development, its blood pressure, it regulates the production of crop milk and influences the carbohydrate metabolism. Even the slightest malfunction of this gland might disturb the growth process of the bird.

The hormones in the pineal gland also influence the thyroid, which is situated in the neck. This thyroid gland is highly active in the moulting period. The sex organs also have a big influence on the growth of the feathers; they cause the form and colour of the male and the female pigeon to be different. So basically there is an entire set of glands that is monitored by the so called pineal gland. Can a fancier influence the moulting process? Absolutely, there are a few things we can do to influence the moult. The most important stimulus is the exposure to sunlight. With the use of artificial light we can lengthen the day, which has an influence on the moulting process.

When we compare pigeon fancying to the poultry industry we could say that pigeon fanciers do not make us of artificial light very often. If there is a problem with the artificial lighting in a poultry farm there is a chance that the hens start to moult too early, as a result of which there is a decrease in egg production. The hens use the same system as a pigeon: the light stimulates the pineal gland, which in turn influences other glands.

Sunlight (or artificial light) has a huge influence on the moult; it explains why young birds born in January moult at the same moment as young birds born in March. So it has nothing to do with the age of the feathers.

To keep the birds in a good physical condition and to stimulate a smooth and trouble free moult it is important to provide a healthy diet. For informational purposes we give you a method that is often used in the poultry industry. In fact nobody knows exactly what the best diet for an animal is although scientific tests have been carried out all over the world about what to feed to poultry. This is what a poultry farmer says on the subject:

“Time and again it appears that farmers make big mistakes when it comes to feeding their moulting hens. The way some pigeons are treated dates back from before the Second World War.  Back in those days a farmer did not have the same information we have now; information that seems self evident today.”