The moult and its side issues - Part II

Back in the days it was often believed that moulting chicken hens should be kept in a good physical condition; that is why they were given as much grain as possible (barley, wheat, corn) and only a small portion of flour (which is rich in proteins).

Modern insights have already proved the opposite. Today the hens are usually given less grain and a lot of proteins: the opposite of what they used to do. This change was the result of scientific research such as feeding tests on moulting hens and laboratory studies on their feathers. Scientists have also studied the composition of proteins. This led to the idea that moulting hens (and this applies to pigeons as well) need additional proteins to compensate for the loss. As a result it was found that the formation of new feathers is influenced by a diet rich in proteins. It was often said that “a hen loses its feathers that are rich in proteins, so we have to increase the amount of proteins in their feed. Indeed, it proved that the chickens started to moult earlier with such a diet. With this approach the moulting period could be shortened by ten to fourteen days.”


 A rich moulting mixture is indispensible for a trouble free moult.

This finding does not only apply to chickens; we can also use it for pigeons. It speaks for itself that the we have to adapt the pigeon feed to their performance. If your feed consists for 10% of vegetable matter in winter you should give 20 to 30% of vegetable matter during the moult and in the breeding period. These vegetables provide proteins and will improve the feather growth. In the moulting period the pigeon needs a balanced diet with plenty of variation, rich in proteins and vitamins. The birds will also need an open loft for several reasons.

Strangely enough it seems that pigeons do not eat earthworms, which is in fact an important source of proteins. For some unknown reason they do not eat them. We have an idea of how to influence the moult of a pigeon now but it is important to know that some birds have an irregular or difficult moult. This could be caused by an incomplete or inadequate diet, as we have pointed out. Another factor could be the presence of external parasites that have a bad influence on the moult. When the feathers crumble off or break off during the moult the pigeon will be weakened. Internal parasites can also cause problems and might lead to irregular growth of the feathers. This sometimes leads to feathers that grow too short which results in deformed wings. There are also several poisons that cause feathers to drop or that prevent them from growing back. Thallium (1) for instance has a very bad influence and it also causes mammals to drop their hair too early which makes them bald for an extended period of time. This product is often used in mouse poison so be careful if you use any mouse bait in your loft!

If we briefly reread our articles on the subject we could conclude that the moult is caused by a lot of factors, including shortening days and hormonal influence. We have also pointed out that we can influence the moulting process ourselves, for instance by providing a diet rich in proteins during the moult, by keeping the pigeons in an open loft and by making sure that the pigeons have a balanced diet.

The aim of the article was to convince the readers that the moult is not at all a disease but rather a natural process that occurs regularly. However, a diseased pigeon runs the risk of having a disturbed moult but that is something any fancier will look after.

Remarks and observations

A pigeon that has had a trouble free moult will generally be in an excellent physical condition. For a fancier it is very important to take good care of your pigeons when they are renewing their feathers. If not it might become very difficult to have a successful career as a fancier. We should never forget that good health lies at the basis of a good and regular moult. That is why we should do whatever is possible to keep the pigeons in a good health, for instance by giving them plenty of freedom and by avoiding too many races and too  much breeding. If possible the pigeons should have an open loft in a natural surrounding where they can enjoy the sun, fly around and have a good moulting period.
But be careful: you should only leave the loft windows open with good weather and you should not let your pigeons fly out for several hours when it is raining. If you do not keep this in mind your pigeons might get ill sooner or later. You should also try to avoid any draught in the loft in the moulting period, especially in damp or cold weather. If you do not pay attention to this your pigeons might be exposed to diseases. In fact pigeons will moult quicker in a warm loft.

(1) What is Thallium?
Thallium is a metal that was discovered by W. Crookes in 1861. Together with C.A. Lamy he managed to isolate the metal in 1862. The name thallium comes from the Greek Thallos, which means green twig or branch with leaves. It was given this name because of the notable green colour of one of its spectral lines. Thallium is found in Greece, the former Yugoslavia and Denmark. Thallium is found in nature in very small quantities. There are not many applications for Thallium; it is used in rat posion and in the electric and chemical industry.