- Oct 6, 2013
- Reaction score
- northwest PA
OK, so utility pigeons, yeah? They are pretty cool.
Utility breeds are what we call the pigeon meat breeds, because they are selected only to preform a commercial function.
The difference between show and meat stock in rabbits might be controversial, but among pigeon raisers there seems to be little question. Although all pigeons produce edible squabs, show lines are heavily selected for looks at the expense of other traits, and simply will not preform like a utility line.
Utility lines are selected for production first and foremost, and are generally not shown.
For a really good example, I'm going to borrow some pics from external websites.
http://www.pigeonfarms.com/utility-whit ... -for-sale/
See how different the two lines of kings look? With pigeons, its not as simple as packing more meat on the animal like it is with chickens. Pigeons must court mates, nest, and rear squabs on their own.
Fecundity and good parenting instincts are an important part of the selection process.
That is a good pic of the nest boxes they seem to prefer too. Not too different from chicken nest boxes in size or shape. Unfortunately, pigeons will not keep them clean like chickens, you have to keep an eye on them, and refresh bedding as needed, so that the squabs are not raised in squalid conditions.
Despite being heavily selected for production, I still wouldn't call them an economical meat animal, especially compared to chickens or rabbits.
I haven't done the math, but I know without question that the rabbits outproduce them by miles, on less expensive feed. Rabbits also can convert inedible forages into flesh, where the birds require high quality proteins and carbohydrates.
They do have the advantage over chickens of being able to be raised in fairly small spaces, and they do not fall under most poultry laws, so there is some city raising potential.
The males do coo, but it's softer than a quail's crow, and generally considered an inoffensive sound. I actually really love listening to them.
Looking at various webpages online, I see 2 sq feet of floor space/bird is a common minimum size listed for a pen, but the sage advice from experienced raisers usually adds that that more perches mean more to them than more floorspace.
I have an 80 sq foot aviary. I feel it would be pretty crowded in there if I went much over my 6 pairs.
It adds up to something like 6.5 sq feet/bird of floor. If I include the 6 foot headspace, it's really more like 40 cu ft per bird, as they DO fly well, and definitely make use of the air.
They can be taught to fly free, forage some, and return home at night. I've let my own fly a few times, and haven't lost anybody, but I am wary, as hawks can easily take down the heavier, slower moving breeds.
Well, OK, TBH, I am mostly worried about them raiding the neighbors bird feeder. :lol:
For feed, we use a 50/50 ratio of birdseed to chicken feed. I like the 18% protein, NatureWise brand "feather fixer," because the quail also prefer the smaller pellets, and I get less waste than I do with crumble.
Offering grit or gravel may be a bit more important with pigeons than most poultry, because it helps break down the tough shells of whole seeds.
Unlike quail, pigeons do pretty well being fed once, in the morning.
And speaking of quail..
We were warned that pigeons might bully the smaller birds if we tried introducing them, but you guys know me. I had to test it, especially if the warning come from people who have never actually tried.
At first, the quail were really intimidated by the larger pigeons.
That caused us to delay introduction for most of a year, with the quail kept in cages in the aviary.
In winter though, I much prefer to have the quail on the ground for their comfort.
The second time I tried an introduction, the quail were completely fine with the pigeons, and no aggression has been seen on either side. (Together for 4 months now.)
I suspect the effect worked much like caging new chickens near a pre-existing flock for a time to help ease introduction.
Unlike pigeons, the quail feed almost constantly, and will carefully shuffle over the ground, and scratch like chickens to find feed the sloppier pigeons missed.
So the wintering experiment was a success, but I am going to cage the quail again soon. Partially to ease egg collection, and partially to separate my two quail roos before they get all...cocky.
Oh, quail love dust baths, and pigeons only take water baths. I consider bathing very important for both species happiness and psychological well being.
Pigeons drink a little differently than chickens or quail, and need access to deeper water to dip their beaks in. Internet says one inch, but I have observed them drinking in less.
So far, water in two crocks has worked out well for this especially cold winter. Cleaned and filled twice daily, cause they sure do make a mess.
I can't say much about troubleshooting, as I've had little experience.
In the last year I've had zero disease or parasite issues in either species.
There was an aggression problem at first, as I accidentally received 4 males and two females instead of three pairs. Culling the most aggressive male and allowing the last to choose a mate from another pair's offspring solved that issue.
When the pidge cocks duke it out, it's nothing like the brutal quail. You mostly see a sort of beak-grab arm-wrestling that leaves neither bird harmed. I have some pics actually, but I'm running out of image space for posting them. So maybe later in this thread.
The male I culled was bullying squabs, trying to mate with nestlings, constantly wrestling with the other males, and just generally disrupting the harmony of the flock. They settled quickly when I removed him.
Oh yeah, the meat aspect. Each pair can produce 2 squabs to table size every 4-5 weeks. The squabs are basically already the size of adults. I haven't been weighing the squabs, because I just finally made my weigh cage. The adults are all a little over 20 oz, which is right on par for the breed. I should post an update when I get some more squabs.
With no lights on them, they definitely slow down their breeding in winter.
^ The weigh cage is just some NICs, zip-ties, a pair of office clips, and a fish scale.
Some sources have said that hens can (rarely) lay fertile eggs as early as 9 weeks, and should definitely be ready by 6 months.
The meat brings to mind miniature ducks more than anything.
Small and fatty, with the breasts best eaten medium or rare. The taste is surprisingly similar to beef. It makes me think of descriptions I've read of cooking Muscovy duck. I wish I could try one, but to date, we still have never had the heart to actually kill a duck. :roll:
As far as keeping them, I find them gentle, mostly hands-off and OK on their own.
Despite that, they will eat from my hands, and occasionally a feathered hitch hiker has settled on my shoulder or arm to observe me for a bit.
And that's about all I've got for now, I'm sure I'll think of more to add later. :hmm: