Thoughts on Moult Part 1

Honestly speaking I do not feel like writing this article at all. It is about the moult and it is all so useless and unimportant. I do not mean the moult, but what I have to say about it, since pigeons just moult, that is in their nature and there is nothing special we need to do for that. Swallows instinctively and inevitably build a perfect ‘swallow nest’ when it is the time to do so, even though they have never seen other swallows do this before. Healthy pigeons are the same story. They inevitably will moult when it is ‘moulting time’. ‘Why then should I write and should you read about the moult?’ you may wonder. That is because there are so many misunderstanding and… I get many questions on it, mainly from novices and novices should be helped.

MEDICINE
It is a well-known fact that one should stay away from medicine as much as possible when birds are moulting. But… in case of health problems you just have no choice. The point is that during the moult birds are more vulnerable to diseases,  since renewing the feathers in a short period of time weakens the body of the pigeon so much. One such a problem may be paratyphoid but fortunately the medicine to cure paratyphoid does not influence the moult at all, apart from Baytril (maybe!). Of course you should not medicate against diseases that do not exist, neither in the moulting season nor at other times. If you do, you will undermine the natural resistance little by little until you have a family of birds that cannot be helped any more in case of real health problems. When a German saw the breath taking condition of my birds his inevitable question was what I had given them (Germans are like that, they are addicted to medication and food additives). ‘Nothing at all’ I reacted, adding ‘I give medicine as little as possible, which explains why my birds are so healthy’.Then he asked ‘don’t you need medicine to get birds in such good health as yours?’Questioningly I looked at him and thought ‘poor man, you will be a loser in this sport as long as you are in it’. But as I said, in case of serious problems you just have no choice and you have to take action. The risk of ‘disturbed’ flights is little.

BE CAREFUL
The medicine in particular that you should avoid are those against worms and coccidiose. If these are based on sulpha they may be harmful if you treat birds for a longer time. As I said medicating birds against paratyphoid when they are moulting will not hurt them but vaccinating them will. I am against vaccinating against salmonella; while others promote it, which is confusing for novices, since vets as well have different opinions. Such a vaccination is real tough and birds may suffer a lot for some days. If you mate up birds shortly after a vaccination you ask for big problems and you may ruin a whole breeding round; Hens may not lay or eggs are not fertile. There should be a break of at least 6 weeks between the vaccination and the day you start breeding.

TEA AND VITAMINS
The firms that sell food additives know fanciers love their birds and will do anything they can to get them in good shape. Therefore they aggressively advertise all kinds of stuff that pigeons absolutely need according to them. ‘You need that shit for good race results, for breeding and to get birds through the moult properly. At least that is what they say. If you do not give your birds our golden stuff you will endanger the next racing season’ one cries out louder than the other. Do not fall for their slogans. Of course an innocent tea will not harm the birds, but I do not believe in tea (any more). Vitamins won’t hurt either if you do not exaggerate, but I stopped believing in them as well. Several times I gave half of my birds vitamins, the others not, and the result was that I did not see any difference at all. So forget all that stuff from now on. It is meant to rob you from your money, for which you might have had worked hard. Please bear in mind there is much money to be made in food additives and medicine; therefore so much money is spent on advertising. Did you ever see an ad on grit? You probably did not. Still grit is far more important than tea, vitamins and so on. Why then, you may wonder, do people not promote grit if it is so important? The reason is simple. It is heavy, not handy and… there is little profit in it.

SURPRISED
Every year in spring I am surprised when I see the glossy shining feathers of wild doves in my yard. They did not get any help in winter either, on the contrary. In hard winters they have to fight to survive due to lack of food and water. But still they get through the moult perfectly. I know you cannot compare our pigeons with doves but nevertheless: Food for thought!!!

Thoughts on Moult Part 2

In the previous article (Thoughts on Moult Part1) I expressed my doubts on many additives that help pigeons through the moult. But do you know in which I believe a bit so far? Sedochol! A firm, known globally, manufactures it and it is cheap. The ingredients methionine, choline and sorbitol are helpful for the liver functions and shortly after you started giving Sedochol you will find the feathers surprisingly much softer. I give it to my birds twice a week, not only when birds are moulting, but 12 months a year. Twice I wrote about it in the Dutch National pigeon magazine NPO, and twice it was reason for my wife to get mad at me. All day long the telephone rang, since people in Holland and Germany wondered where to get it and how to use it. No Belgians called me, since for them it is as normal as grit and they can get it everywhere. In order not to get all those irritating questions by mail, fax, or on the phone I gladly refer to google. Type in the word ‘sedochol’ and you will find what you want.  Of course Sedochol is not ‘a must’ but… so far I believe in it and so do many champions especially in Belgium.

FEED
And what about the feed? should you not give birds a ‘special moulting mixture?’ (‘ruimengeling’ in Dutch). The word ‘ruimengeling’ alone nearly makes me vomit. What is the term based on? It lacks every scientific support, so forget it as soon as you can. I take feeding far more easily than I did in the past and give all my birds the same mixture a whole year round. Breeders, youngsters, racers, they all get the same feed 365 days per year; moulting time included. And never ever did any one say to me ‘your birds did not moult well, did you give them the right feed?’ Line seed should be good though for birds that are moulting but it soon goes bad and moreover it happened more than once that a bird died due to a seed that was stuck in the throat. It stands to reason that especially in moulting time that is so hard for the pigeons the feed should be complete with enough fat and protein, but… the feed should be complete a whole year round. As long as the feathers fly around your ears the birds should be fed real well, But one should take a bird in the hand regularly to check its weight. If you notice that the fat in the body has been piled up one should immediately start feeding less. Birds that are too fat are good for nothing, not for racing, not for breeding (fat hens won’t lay eggs) and not for moulting. The birds should not be hungry indeed but skipping a meal every week won’t hurt them, on the contrary, it will stimulate the circulation of the blood and consequently the moult.

LIGHT AND DARK
Manipulating with light and dark influences the hormones enormously which is well known by fanciers who darken their babies. By darkening the pattern of moulting changes completely. During ‘moulting time’ there are fanciers that want to be smarter than Mother Nature and what they do is switch on the light to force the feathers to get out. This is absolutely wrong. There are lots of examples of fanciers that ruined a whole racing season, since they had the lamps on too long in winter. When the racing season was on their birds were moulting like hell and therefore unfit to be basketed. Too many people make this sport more complicated than it is, also in ‘moulting time’. One thing however is an absolute ‘must’: Birds that moult need a bath very regularly. There are special ‘bath powders’, but as for me it is a waste of money. I just put some vinegar and salt in the water, which is good and cheap. Letting the birds out in the rain will also do them a lot of good.

OVERCROWDED
Recently I visited 3 fanciers who complained their birds were not in good shape and did not moult properly. When I looked into the lofts I saw that all three were overcrowded. This cannot be a coincidence, on the contrary!!!

Helping the Moult

A good moult is generally seen as being necessary for a successful racing season next year. A smooth moult and perfect new feathers are signs of good health and good management during the moult. The moult heavily taxes the birds the birds organism. In a very short period of time the bird has to renew all of its feathers. The pigeon gets all the raw materials for renewal of its feathering from the food it eats.

An Indicator
The manner in which the pigeon moults will tell us something about the birds make-up. This information can be used to evaluate the pigeons chances of doing well in the upcoming racing season. For example, pigeons who’s performance the past season did not compare with that of previous seasons, or pigeons that were lost and returned in a run down condition. If these birds have a slow moult and/or the quality of the new feathers is not up to expectation, than this could be used as an indicator of what to expect of the birds performance next year. Then this could be used as a reason to replace these birds on the race team. On the other hand if these birds have a quick easy moult and the feathers are of perfect quality, then this is an indicator that the birds organism has recuperated and next years performances should be good. This should increase the birds chance to stay on next years race team.

Every pigeon that does not go through a good moult gets a big minus besides its name. Only if it has been an outstanding pigeon or if there is a good reason for a poor moult and that the reason for it has been bridged does the pigeon get a chance to stay after the selection.

Fret Marks
As I have mentioned above the perfect growth of new feathers depends on health, plenty of rest and a good feed. Through a period of sickness or a shortage of the necessary raw materials while the feathers are renewing, the feathers can show flaws.

The most common flaws are fret marks. During the race season they can be a sign of a hard flight. A pigeon during a hard race can use up all its energy reserves, this can cause a shortage of ingredients necessary for the renewal of the feather. If at the moment the feather is growing and the birds system is taxed heavily this can show up as a line across the new feather. In this instance such a feather is called a “work flight” or a battle scar.

For future performances such a flight has little meaning. Only when the shaft is also weakened and this work flight breaks does it have any consequences on the upcoming races. This consequence is small if it is one of the flights on the inside of the wing. True, there is a small gap in the back wing till the flight moults the following season, but, this is only a disadvantage on a long distance race. If it is one of the flights on the outer wing then there is a definite handicap especially, if the flight on either side has been dropped. It is possible to pull such a flight but don’t do it till the moult has been completed.

Apart from the flights the rest of the feathers can also show signs of hardships. I once had a pigeon that returned home after a long time. Its new feathers were of such a poor quality that I did not recognize the bird at first. Its new feathers were frayed and the colour was faded. Apparently the pigeon was not able to find a balanced diet.

Rest
Pigeons who in September are still racing or raising youngsters will complete the moult later than those that have been relieved of these duties. This tells as the plenty of rest helps the moult go smoothly. For this reason pigeons that are to be mated around the first of December are separated in September. Because, they are no longer chasing hens, laying eggs or feeding youngsters the moult takes place smoothly and quickly. Rust also affects the quality of the feathers positively.

Health
It is very important for the moult that the pigeons are healthy. If you are not sure of the health of your birds than consult a veterinarian. There are drugs that will affect the growth of new feathers in a negative way. If during the moult your pigeons have to be treated, than ask a veterinarian if the drugs used will harm the moult. Sometimes, for this reason it is necessary to wait till the moult is finished to treat the birds. Especially some of the worming preparations can have a bad effect on the moult. Always carefully read the information that comes with the medicine.

Varied Feeding
During the moult we feed by preference a moulting mix. This is understood to be a varied mix with a somewhat higher content of legumes ( thirty percent). Legumes contain a large amount of protein. Proteins are the most important raw material for the forming of new feathers. Oil rich seeds are also useful during the moult. Most of the moulting mixtures are of a good variety and quality.

The variety in a moulting mix is important because it decreases the chance that one of the necessary ingredients for renewing the feathers is missing in the diet. Any deficiency will affect the quality of the new feathers. You can compare the renewing of the feathers with building a wall. To build a wall you need bricks, cement, sand and water. No matter how many bricks or how much sand and water you have if you run out of cement you can no longer build the wall.

Even if we feed a good moulting mix, it wont hurt to increase the variety of the mix some more. We can add a mix of small seeds to the basic mix to increase the variety. There are commercial small seed or what are sometimes called candy mixes available, but, I mix one of these myself. I buy a variety of seeds, usually one kilo of each of the following, canary seed, rape seed, peeled oats, paddy rice, sunflower seeds, millet, buckwheat, hemp and mung beans. To this I add as much flax as all the other seeds weigh in total. Flax has been historically has been know as a seed that contains many ingredients necessary for the moult. It contains among other things the amino acids that are usually missing in a grain mix. This mix is added to my regular mix at the rate of 1 ½ liter to 25 kg.

Minerals are also important for the growth of new feathers. This we can tell by need for the mineral powder during the moult. Pigeons eat it readily when they are feeding youngsters and during the moult. After the moult is done then they ignore the minerals till it is time to feed youngsters again. Greens and pickstone are also necessary at this time.

Baths
When the birds are moulting they love to bathe more than at any other time of the year. It seems that the new feathers supply more scales and flakes and these probably make the birds feel itchy. Moulting pigeons usually pick and preen their feathers more than birds that are not moulting. We notice this also when the birds come home from a race at this time. They tend to sit on the roof longer and pick at their feathers before they are ready to come in. Moulting pigeons should have a bath at least once per week. They will show their thanks by making full use of it.

In Conclusion
The moult is a annual naturally occurring process with which healthy, well fed pigeons have no problems. Fanciers who look at the moult as a type of sickness way of the mark. It is true that the moult seems to lower the birds natural resistance to disease somewhat. There are sicknesses that occur more often during the moult.

Providing all sorts of supplements, regardless of what all the advertisers would suggest, is not necessary. Pigeons are grain eaters. As the product of millions of years of evolution they are suited to find all the necessary ingredients needed to re-grow a perfect new feather covering in their natural food. Vitamins, tea’s and all the other products have not been shown to be necessary, they only make the fancier feel that he has not neglected to provide all that the birds need. If this makes you sleep better than go ahead. Anyone who is using all these byproducts and is looking for a way to lower the cost of his hobby can stop and see the results for himself. Give the products to one half of the birds and none to the other half. After the moult look to see if a difference in the feather quality can be observed. If you don’t trust your own judgment get someone else to give you his opinion. Ask him if he can see a difference.

Every year I’m surprised when the time comes when all the feathers seem to drop at the same time. It is understandable that someone thinks boy oh boy that product I gave the birds sure is making them moult. Without that product they would moult just as fast.

For Fancier Like You

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