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Wingtips by Bill Fawcett

The Four Step Program

No, I'm not trying to suggest that somehow you wean yourself from your spaniel addiction. Recent studies have shown it's simply not possible. Instead, I want to suggest a program that you can use for raising your own homers for dog training.

In previous installments, I have given some suggestions for pigeon lofts. Now I'm here to tell you that one is just not enough - if you want to propagate your own birds.

The four steps are: breeding pen, juvenile pen, return pen and cull pen.

The breeding pen is where you keep pairs, each with at least one nest box. It is important not to crowd the birds. Some breeders prefer to keep each pair in its own smaller pen. Nesting boxes can be built-in to the loft (pigeon holes) or can be small plywood boxes or even plastic tubs with drain holes.

Keep in mind that your feeding time will be much quicker with group pens. Individual pens have water and feed pans that will need to be cleaned and filled daily. However, many birds will breed better with a little more privacy. Here are two small pens I made from some quail holding pens with a scrap sheet metal roof. Note the plywood installed between the two pens for privacy.

The juvenile pen is where you keep the young birds that are too small to survive in the flight pen. When young birds start hopping out of the nest, or when the mother starts laying another clutch of eggs, it is time to get the young birds out of the breeding pen.

The return pen is where you keep the birds that you will use for non-lethal flushing drills. The pen should have some sort of return for the birds - either a "sputnik" or a bobbed gate to allow for free flight. Provide perches but no nesting boxes. Some birds will pair up anyways - use these as replacement stock for your breeding pen. Hatching success without a nest box will be very low.

Got a great coop or pen? Or a good tip?
Send your ideas and photos for inclusion in a future article to Bill Fawcett:

The cull pen is a simple pen where you use birds for live-fire exercises. This can be combined with a holding pen for feral pigeons purchased or caught for training as well. In our previous installment, I mentioned culling for health issues. Because of this, it might be wise to locate this pen apart from the others. I recently culled a few cock birds that for some reason would not pair up in the breeding pen, but would protect a nesting box and not let others use it. And you may want to cull birds that are past their prime. I had one broody hen that would nest but would hardly lay eggs after a few years. I took her “hunting”. You can also keep clip wing birds for re-use in this pen.

Trying to do all four steps in one pen is not easy. Because of losses, you really don't want to fly your good breeding pairs. Breeding can also be adversely affected by keeping the young ones about - and the older birds can start pecking on them too. And they are too young to fly.

In the coming issues we will look at the unique requirements of each of these four steps.


Coop de Jour

This issue's "coop de jour" was sent in by Dolores Blake of Davis, California (climate). It's a shed design with an attached captive flight pen. Dolores says she can close off the shed to the pen to keep the pigeons apart from the pheasants when she wants to. This is a good illustration of how well a pigeon coop can be made decorative and actually enhance the yard landscape


The second view is from the flight pen looking back into the shed. Note the cactus in the background. That should give you a sense of the climate. Which is why she can use a shed on the ground, whereas in the humid southeast, most coops are elevated and have wire floors.

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Bill Fawcett resides in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with his wife, Cindy, and his Smythwicks Springers: Jenna, Beebe, Pie and Drake. He is an avid hunter, field trialer, breeder and member of the M-AHSC and the ESSFTA. Bill is a regular contributor to Spaniel Journal through various articles, book reviews and his Wingtips column. Bill also maintains an extensive public ESS pedigree database at

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Spaniel Journal - your source for flushing spaniel training, hunt test, field trial & hunting information