One year in, thoughts on my utility king pigeons

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Zass

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OK, so utility pigeons, yeah? They are pretty cool. :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/
http://www.americankingclub.org/

King comparison.jpg

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..

IMG_0160.jpg


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.)
IMG_0164.jpg
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. :D

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.

Weigh cage.jpg
^ 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:
 

alforddm

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Awesome! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I wonder how hard I would have to beg to talk hubby into these? :lol:
 

MaggieJ

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Wow, Zass! That is VERY cool!

Thanks very much for posting so much great information. As an armchair enthusiast, I enjoy hearing all about other people's ventures.

That one link gave me a shock when I saw the $75 per bird! :x It makes me wonder if you will be raising some for sale as breeders.

Looking forward to updates from time to time!
 

michaels4gardens

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I love pigeons - when I lived in rice, [and other grain] farming areas I would let them out ,and they would come back about to burst -they picked up so much from the fields I was amazed... [pigeons are not a threat to grain crops because they can't reach anything until it is on the ground] I kept the birds locked up during spring and fall planting time as "treated seed" is bad news, - My birds would come back home with loads of wild pigeons every year.. I kept the best ate the rest...
 

Zass

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MaggieJ":2219g71z said:
That one link gave me a shock when I saw the $75 per bird! :x It makes me wonder if you will be raising some for sale as breeders.

I'm afraid there is little to no market for them here on the east coast, which is part of why they are so expensive, and almost nonexistent. They are one of those vanishing heritage breeds. For better or worse, they haven't been picked up and "saved" by the hundreds of new homesteading enthusiasts that have rampantly been breeding just about everything into rare rabbit lines.
I'm tempted to think it's probably for the better, as beginners almost always breed for looks, do not always understand that a breed isn't the same thing a color, and are rarely properly ruthless in culling, as utility stock requires.

There is precious little information on them online, but I have seen a blog mention white and silver kings being traditionally kept as two separate lines, and finding out that the whites carried and expressed a lot of masked colors and patterns when crossed with the silver kings.
I found both varieties for sale here, confirming that there are the two separate color lines:
http://www.kingpigeons.com/silver-kings/
IMG_0138.jpg
It seems logical that mine are color mixed, which is fine for me, of course, I asked for a colorful flock when I saw what was available. I LOVE sorting out color and pattern genetics. :)

They were shipped to Pasrba all the way from Texas, from a well known and very reliable breeder, show judge, and transporter, from her own flock, for a beyond reasonable price.
Anyone curious can send me a PM, and I'll link you to her FB business page.

Of course, I wouldn't mind selling off a few of mine either, granted there was someone out here who was actually interested in maintaining a line of utility birds.

They are great at hiding nests around the aviary. See, I hadn't actually intended to double my flock size last year. We were eating squabs right along, but they slipped a few past me. :lol:

For a perfect example, I just found this nest hidden in the old chicken coup today, behind a hay bale.
IMG_0199.jpg

Instead of in the pretty new nestboxes my husband made for them

26047156_525240581194646_4410140939291158848_n.jpg

I actually have a decent pic of a pair of squabs, aren't they lovely? Both parents take turns feeding and sitting the nest.
17425099_396939937358045_1230657487618704429_n.jpg

And here are two battling cocks:

That white trouble maker is also the smallest male I have right now. >.> He probably wont be here long.
 

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michaels4gardens

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those are beautiful birds-
all of my birds came by way of ladder, flashlight and gunnysack , I did get a few "better quality" birds from time to time -that came home with mine-- but nothing as nice as that. If I can move out of town a little, to a place I want to stay in for a while [with farm-able dirt] - I would like to get some pigeons again - they are very cool to watch, I love listening to them "talk" to each other- and of course -they are yummy.
Like you pointed out- they are not a cost effective meat source [compared to rabbit] but they are worth a little extra cost to me--- if I was in a farming area where they could fly, they would become more cost effective. I have heard that cities , apartments, and churches put poison grain on their roofs to keep wild birds from pooping on their beautiful buildings- so- I would not want to start again where i now live as there is a church on every corner.. and quite a few large buildings, that might use poison... If I ever do get moved, I will keep you in mind -- those are beautiful birds...[but then like you, I would be hesitant to let them fly]
 

Zass

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ll of my birds came by way of ladder, flashlight and gunnysack , I did get a few "better quality" birds from time to time -that came home with mine-- but nothing as nice as that.

Funniest thing, you know, they say the only type that can beat utility birds for production of squabs...is feral. :p

The babies are not as big, but I think they reach full size around the same time frame, and are just as tasty.

I do like that the utility kings are "pigeon shaped" pigeons, in the same way that I love how my harlequins are just "rabbit shaped" rabbits.
While I definitely appreciate the beauty and dedication that is put into so many exhibition breeds, my own preference seems to be towards those that mimic the wild in form, but with more fun colors. :lol:
 

michaels4gardens

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Zass":2v6rc6d1 said:
Funniest thing, you know, they say the only type that can beat utility birds for production of squabs...is feral. :p

The babies are not as big, but I think they reach full size around the same time frame, and are just as tasty.

:
I wonder what the difference in disease resistance is, between feral and those big beautiful types ??
 

Zass

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michaels4gardens":28zpa1mt said:
Zass":28zpa1mt said:
Funniest thing, you know, they say the only type that can beat utility birds for production of squabs...is feral. :p

The babies are not as big, but I think they reach full size around the same time frame, and are just as tasty.

:
I wonder what the difference in disease resistance is, between feral and those big beautiful types ??

I wouldn't even begin to know, as I've never had any disease. In general, I think we expect feral animals to be hardier, as they usually have been exposed to so much more, and have had the benefit of natural culling. I guess I should be pretty happy that my birds didn't bring any problems back with them when they did fly. :lol:

Then again, domestic strains have been raised to thrive in domestic conditions. Crowding, and with it much more densely shared bacteria and parasites.

If it was a fancy breed, I'd be more tempted to suspect weakness being tolerated, as many of those fancy breeders wouldn't even consider tasting one.
Utilities are commercial bred meat-only animals though, despite being pretty, and thus have had the benefit of heavy handed culling.

It might be a case of "raise them in the conditions you want them to thrive in." I bet those ferals foraged and dodged hawks much better than these ones would, but these might resist respiratory illness and other highly communicable diseases common to captive animals fairly well.

Still, being from out west, I doubt they are resistant to a whole lot of anything here on the east coast.. :? All I really know is that I've had a year of great health, and intend to replenish my gene pool from the same breeder when the time comes to add new blood to the flock. Hopefully, that will help prevent any disease outbreaks.
 

Nymphadora

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I just want to piggy-back everyone saying you have beautiful birds! I adore the mottled-looking whites in your original post... any chance you could give us a short primer on pigeon colors? And maybe a couple examples from your flock?

Thanks for sharing all this! :oops:

:popcorn:
 

Zass

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Nymphadora":eezqyqir said:
I just want to piggy-back everyone saying you have beautiful birds! I adore the mottled-looking whites in your original post... any chance you could give us a short primer on pigeon colors? And maybe a couple examples from your flock?

Unfortunately, I'm afraid the subject is way beyond my ability to easily explain. :lol:

The colors interact with and overlay each other, and my birds of the sort of mess you get if you breed a rew nz to another color variety to see what it hides.
Except with a whole lot more variation.

I'm afraid, many of the colors have no specific names, at least not in this breed, and the same genes can look drastically different on a worked on show breed.

It should be safe to call most of them "pied" just as any rabbit with broken color pattern is safely called a "broken." A pied what... I'm not so sure. :?
Once I become more familiar with the genes, I will start hazarding guesses as to some of the ones expressed on each animal, but I'm not there yet. :lol:

Here are some helpful webpages, that have done a much nicer job than I could have at this time:

http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/pigeons/pattern/
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/pigeons/dilute/
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/ ... essivered/
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/pigeons/spread/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/a ... 0616306005

Not grizzle, but tiger grizzle (which is a bit different) may be present in some of the whites, but I think I must have pied as well..
This was one of my pictures of the original stock. The offspring of the two checkered (tiger grizzle?) looking ones have a lot more white on them. An all-white male took a brownish female as a mate, as well, creating more oddness..
16473515_374010259651013_3809653291960361750_n.jpg

https://sites.google.com/site/colourhom ... s/grizzles
 

akane

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Likely the city has still accomplished some laws against it somewhere. :roll: It turns out we picked the most paranoid county for animal keeping of any kind and it's the only truly large town in it so double the paranoia. Quail are not allowed and live chicken is not to go in the house even as newly hatched eggs. Legal or not I think my neighbor has snuck some pigeons into a portion of his house though. He has vents near the roof that constantly sound of pigeons on our side but there are no pigeons on the ground around anyone's feeders or any wasted feed items we've put out, which includes unmedicated chick crumbles I use as part of my rodent feed. The only pigeon I've seen appeared to be a tame one unable to fully fly yet and I handfed it until it was eating well on it's own. My grandpa couldn't understand why anyone would expend effort raising pigeon but he's only lived on farms in Iowa where if there are laws no one enforces them and there is no animal control to even call out so you can raise whatever. He's never had to deal with legal restrictions, especially stupid ones, and hidden food sources.

I wouldn't assume anything will bully quail. :lol: Those little bastards are more likely to die trying to bully a full size chicken or rabbit than be only on the receiving end. I'd debate more if the quail have the ability to harm the other animal. The coming and going with increased agility of a pigeon likely makes the quail not see them as a rival while the pigeons probably don't want to pick a fight with the blocky aggressive ground birds. Not that I haven't seen quail fly more than a story up on to a roof but a single burst and splat landing in open space is a bit different from truly flying even if it was at least 15' up.
 

Zass

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Oh, I learned something Nymphadora!

If that is the tiger grizzle gene in those two checked-looking pidges, their mostly white offspring are babies that have inherited two copies. Much like a charley rabbit with two copes of broken showing minimal color, but without any associated genetic issues (So far as I'm aware.)

I should be able to get an example of that. :) <br /><br /> __________ Mon Mar 12, 2018 1:47 am __________ <br /><br /> Ah, here he is.

two copies of tiger grizzle.jpg

If my hunch is correct, this one should be homozygous tiger grizzle

Tiger grizzle appears in show kings, but, so far as I knew, shouldn't have been in utility lines? :?
I can only guess those two lines must have been crossed at some point to make tiger grizzle utilities. :shrug:

Here is a pic with what I believe to be a hetrozygous tiger grizzle fluffing up in the tub, while my pretty pied male peeks at the camera.

IMG_0290.JPG

As to what genes are producing the non-white colors on each bird, I couldn't even begin to guess. :D
 

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Pigeons have three base colors (Ash red, which is dominant, Black/Blue and Brown). Brown is rather rare though, compared to the other two, and the colors are sexed linked with males having two copies and females only having one (opposite of mammals). They come in a few patterns; spread (self, which is dominant) and t pattern, check (sometimes split into dark check and light check), bar, and barless.
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/ ... attern.jpg
They also have a sex linked dilution gene, which it looks like a lot of these birds have. It turns ash red into yellow, black/blue into dun/silver and brown into khaki. In these pigeons I see some ash red bar, ash red check, silver check, blue check/t pattern, and a yellow check. The dilute squabs, also, are born with very short down so for the most part you can tell them apart from when they hatch.
 

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Wow! I find pigeons very interesting and love to read anything I can find on raising them.Those are beautiful birds. I would like to raise some eventually. I read they can eat fermented feeds and that the fermented grains we feed our chickens (Peas,cracked corn, oats,and BOSS) would work for them.I want to let mine fly but hawks and falcons are everywhere here, and utility birds are slow flyers. I am considering getting homers instead, since they fly better and can somewhat avoid hawks.But their so much smaller...cant win here. :evil:
 

Zass

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SableSteel":306jhf74 said:
Pigeons have three base colors (Ash red, which is dominant, Black/Blue and Brown). Brown is rather rare though, compared to the other two, and the colors are sexed linked with males having two copies and females only having one (opposite of mammals). They come in a few patterns; spread (self, which is dominant) and t pattern, check (sometimes split into dark check and light check), bar, and barless.
http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/ ... attern.jpg
They also have a sex linked dilution gene, which it looks like a lot of these birds have. It turns ash red into yellow, black/blue into dun/silver and brown into khaki. In these pigeons I see some ash red bar, ash red check, silver check, blue check/t pattern, and a yellow check. The dilute squabs, also, are born with very short down so for the most part you can tell them apart from when they hatch.

Ahh, someone who knows!!!!
Thanks for giving me some patterns and colors to look up and compare!!
 

Nymphadora

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I haven't been able to check in as frequently as I'd like, but I'm so happy to catch up on this thread! Those tiger grizzles are stunning! :D

And I like that the color genetics are kind of like brokens in rabbits... it was a good reference for me, at least! Color genetics in general just fascinate me! :oops:

Thanks for the examples, Zass! And thanks for the extra color explanations, SableSteel!
 

Zass

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I took a series of pics that show one of my males displaying to a lady.

IMG_0549.JPG

IMG_0550.JPG

IMG_0551.JPG

IMG_0560.JPG

I'm glad I caught it, cause that courting display is the easiest way for noobs (such as myself) to determine gender in adult animals, paired with the loud coo-coo they make while displaying.
I've noticed that males are more likely to have grubby or tattered tails from repeatedly preforming this dance.

Some of the tigers seem to have solid tails, and some have alternating colored feathers like this guy, I'm not sure what it means, but looking at pics online there seems to be a ton of variation with that gene.

I don't know a whole lot after owning just a handful of pidges for a year though, anyone else with more helpful tips is welcome to add them!!

That particular male seems to catch my camera's attention quite a bit, despite being #1 on the cull list for being on the lower end of the male weight spectrum. All were over 20 oz, but he was lightest among them. :|

As a homozygous tiger grizzle, He'd probably make a great addition to someone's mixed flock to add a bit of color and size.. His chosen mate is that soft ash red tiger girl in the pics. I could let them go as a very reasonably priced pair.. (hint hint)

From the colors showing on the tail, I think he must be a black under that white? Help me out here! Rabbit colors come so naturally to me, but I've been struggling with these. The internet floods me with so many different names for the same colors (due to all the different breeds, and names in different countries,) that I have had a hard time finding good pics to compare. The drawings just don't help me much, because the differences in actual birds seem to be more subtle.

Oh Sablesteel, I got most of them in one pic, so the colors can be compared to each other directly.
Only the all-white guy isn't present, because he is setting on eggs right now.
I sure would love to get a few hints on who is who in the lot. :lol:

I think I'm understanding the check, t check, and bar as being the amount of color showing on the wings, and the pattern it's in, and how most of these are ash red or a variant..


 

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ozemba

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They are so pretty! I just recently found out that a regular customer that comes in where I work has racing pigeons and I want to go see them. He showed me a few pictures. I went to school with his daughter and she never mentioned her dad's "weird" hobby, but we weren't super close either.
 
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