In a previous installment, we discussed my four-step program for homer propagation. This involves separate facilities for breeders, juveniles, flyers and culls.
By googling "pigeon loft designs" you can get a lot of good ideas for breeding pens. Of course, assuming you are a spaniel enthusiast who keeps pigeons, and not a pigeon fancier, the amount of money you sink into your pens or lofts will be significantly lower than many of these designs.
The best lofts are more shed based than pen based. It's really a matter of quantity; I have about nine breeding pairs and am about to cross the threshold. I expect to build an 8' x 10' shed-type loft next year. Regardless, the requirements are much the same. As discussed previously, ventilation and sunlight are very important for good pigeon health, and nowhere is this more critical then in a breeding loft.
Your pen should provide nesting boxes. Each box should be about 12" x 12" and open on one side with a 2-3" lip. If you can, a paired box with a short wall between the two works well, as the pair can lay eggs in the oposite nest while the squeakers are growing. With a single box, just remove the sqeakers to the juvenile detention facility as soon as the first egg appears, or slightly before. With practice, you will be able to heft a squab and tell when it's ready to go as it will still have yellow pinfeathers and may not be fully feathered under the wings, but is strong enough to start walking about. In fact, when they start jumping out of the nest (and often cannot make it back in) it is time to move them before they get beat up by other birds.
For stand-alone nesting boxes, I use scraps of plywood and build two tall walls to butt up against the outside of the pen and the other two walls are shorter. You can also use old plastic tubs and the like. Pigeon fanciers may use disposable bowls made for this purpose, but many old-timers get good results from boxes and don't worry about the poop that builds up in them - as long as it is fairly dry.
A cleaner nest will be had if you supply nesting materials for the birds. I use straw and/or pine needles. However, in the sqaub stage the nest material will disapear under a mountain of poop. If your pigeons do not double in size daily it sure seems like they do.
Flying your breeding pairs is not suggested during the breeding season. Losses due to predation (hawks) and other causes will disturb your pairs and possibly leave one bird alone to feed the squeakers. So a flight return is not needed in a breeding pen. If a bird gets loose, you can likely net the bird at night off the roof with a landing net and a flashlight.
You will, of course, want to provide feed and water dispensers, and also limestone or oystershell grit. If you are having trouble with broken eggs, you need more grit. If the birds are having trouble pipping (breaking out of the egg) then you need more humidity. The easiest way to provide that is to put a pan of water in the pen every other day for the birds to bathe in - they will carry the moisture right back to the eggs. A few drops of iodine in the water will also help if pipping is a problem.
You will find that things are best in the pen if you have pairs only. Identifying males and females is usually done by observing behaviour and body shape, but even the pigeons are not always sucessful. Four eggs in a nest (and none will hatch) is a sign that you have a pair of hens. No eggs in a nest (less likely) is a pair of cock birds. You can break up these pairs by placing them with an appropriate mate in a single-pair pen, or you can move them to the cull pen for live-fire exercises.
Once established, the easiest way to gain new pairs is to look for birds in the flight pen that have paired up. You may find them nesting in a corner. Don't bother moving the eggs; eggs that have been on the floor of the pen usually get rolled around too much to ever hatch.
Feeding the birds a higher protien mix seems to help getting them started in the spring. I like a 50/50 mix of chick starter and cracked corn, or roasted soybeans and cracked corn.
When the birds have paired up and staked out a nest, eggs should be forthcoming. One egg will be laid usually in the afternoon, the second typically follows 18-hours later. Once the two eggs are laid, the birds will take turns on the nest. The mid-day bird is almost always the cock-bird. Incubation is 18 days. Both birds will continue to take care of the squeakers and they should be ready to leave the nest in about 21 days.
It's all quite interesting, and the bottom line is you will soon have some home-grown homers who will return to the loft after being dizzied and flushed. This keeps the bird expense low for puppy training and basically means you will always have some birds on hand.
Coop de Jour
This issue's "coop de jour" is one I've had in my files for so long, I forgot whose it was. A little research revealed that it belongs to Mearle Gates in the Seattle area (climate).
Mearle tells me that he has added some nesting boxes and the coop is full of youngsters right now. Of course, any coop looks better with a pair of spaniels out front.
Got a great coop or pen? Or a good tip?
Send your ideas and photos
for inclusion in a future article to Bill Fawcett: