There are few pets which give so little trouble to keep and rear as pigeons, owing to the fact that they bring up and feed their young until these are old enough to provide for themselves. Cage-birds, it is true, do the same, but there are many dangers and mishaps to birds grown in confinement, which the pigeon, with its outdoor exercise, escapes - except in some of the highly artificial "fancy" varieties.
In keeping pigeons, the first rule to observe is never to crowd the birds. If there is only a small space, one good. pair of pigeons will rear more young in it than several pairs. A room with six feet square of space will accommodate about six pairs of breeding-birds, - not more. There should be fewer, unless the young are sold or eaten as they grow large. The pigeon-cote in a wall or at the top of a pole is fit for only the most common and hardy pigeons, and these if used remain wild and cannot be tamed or handled.
Pigeons must either be allowed to fly out at liberty or have a wire-enclosed space outside in which they can take exercise. A space twelve feet long and six feet wide and high will do very well. It should have shelves at the ends, affording a flight from one shelf to the other. The floor should be covered with lime and sand or some form of concrete, so that it may be easily cleaned. It needs nothing else except a vessel of water for the pigeons to bathe in. This may be three or four inches deep and two or three feet square, the water being renewed every morning. |
Within the loft nesting places must be provided. A simple kind is a series of shelves across the back of the loft, with an upright partition in the middle, dividing it into two sets of shelves. Boards must be nailed down the front, leaving a central opening for the birds to each shelf space. Each length of shelf forms a breeding place for one pair of pigeons.
Perches for the birds must be fixed along the sides of the loft, as roosting places, with slanting boards beneath to catch the droppings of the birds. These can be very easily-cleaned. The loft should be painted, and scrubbed at intervals with carbolic soap, or whitewashed at suitable periods with hot lime. To avoid fleas or other vermin, cover the floor with an inch of coarse pine sawdust. If the droppings be raked off every few days, this need not be renewed for several weeks.
For pigeons in confinement, the permanent staple diet should be good gray peas. In winter these may be changed to small sound tick beans. Either should be mixed with one-third of large tares, and a little good barley may be added. Beans are too hard in summer, and the diet should consist of mixed peas and wheat, with small corn. For very small pigeons small peas must be selected, with a few tares. Pigeons are very fond of hempseed, but nothing can be worse for regular food. A handful now and then is stimulating. Small seeds, like canary and millet, are much relished, and are useful for the young birds. The food should be given in some kind of a hopper, so that the birds cannot foul it with their droppings. Pigeons at liberty eat all kinds of things besides grain, such as grubs and small worms. Some will eat minced meat in confinement, and others relish boiled potato, bread and milk, etc.
There is one element of pigeon diet which must never be omitted. They have a craving for lime and salt, and will pick at old mortar. Take equal parts of old mortar pounded, sandy gravel, and loamy earth, and add to a gallon of this a half pint of cummin seed and as much coarse bay salt. Mix this with strong lime into a mortar, and keep it constantly supplied to a box, with a slit near the top into which the birds can get their heads. If their bodies could get in they would soon tread it hard. If old mortar cannot be had, old slaked lime will do, hard enough to need pounding.
Highly-bred pigeons are subject to various complaints, from which the hardier kinds are largely free. For the former a special handbook of diseases and treatment will be necessary. For the latter a simple 460 treatment suffices. Colds will often yield to a pinch of Epsom salts and shutting the bird up in a warm pen, bathing the legs in hot water and drying every night; diarrhoea, to a few drops of chlorodyne. Wing disease is somewhat frequent in confined birds, hard yellowish lumps showing on the joints of the wings. These should be painted daily with spirits of turpentine or tincture of iodine, or rubbed with iodine ointment.