So, what do Pigeons eat anyway? After all, on a homestead feed is 90% of the operation costs. So, having specialized feed for every species is really counter productive. In this Blog we are going to explore feed requirements and options for Homestead Pigeons.
Since homesteading is its-self a bit of an ancient art-form, and self-reliance is becoming more and more difficult. I feel its important for people to explore/ consider ALL viable options in their livestock selection. What has made our homestead a success so far is that we have managed to make our animals self-sustaining through the sale of offspring, fiber, eggs, etc.
You many very well be able to buy an animal relatively cheap at times-- but feed costs are not going to go down just because you spent a little less here and there. It is going to cost the same to care for your livestock whether you were given an animal for free, or paid $100+ for it. So branching out to have 'one of everything' is going to eventually break you. The key to success in a homestead is to be a "master of one-- and Not a jack of all trades, but a master of none".
Each form of livestock should have more than one purpose, and if possible-- you should be able to substitute/ remove some forms of livestock all together. If you are just starting out and have limited income, you want to try to find a species of animal that will cover all areas of your current needs--For instance goats. Goats are very hardy animals in general. BUT if you want fiber, milk, and meat-- you may be disappointed with the milk volume produced by an Angora, and you certainly will not have any fiber to spin from a Nubian or Alpine.
The answer-- think "out-side-the-box"-- Dairy Sheep. Sheep have higher butterfat content than most goat breeds, on average 7%! But they do only produce about 1/2 gallon a day-- which is about what you would expect from most goats anyway. So, you would have your desired fiber, milk, meat, and still be able to sell offspring to off-set feed costs all in one feed-bill.
What about Pigeons? Since that is what this Blog is about...
Pigeons: Worth the Feed???
Pigeons are not intended to necessarily replace any poultry or waterfowl-- but they certainly can! For instance, many suburban/ fully-urban Homesteads utilize quail to produce meat, eggs, and income for the household.
Out in the country, pigeons can be allowed to free-range (unlike quail), and provide a unique opportunity to make extra income. More people are attracted to pigeons for their beauty than quail. And so, you can keep several varieties of 'show' birds right along side your Utility birds to sell to people looking for a unique aviary bird, exhibition project, etc.
Raising a utility breed of pigeon will not only help preserve these birds from extinction, but will greatly improve your ability to make extra income as well. Selling 'squab' or young pigeons for meat at markets, in restaurants, and for other homesteaders to use as breeding stock will increase their usefulness.
Their temperament, forage abilities, and ease of care make them very comparable to the ever popular chicken. However, Their meat capability on a homestead exceeds that of chickens and quail. Pigeons are highly productive. They raise their own offspring, and thanks to this-- their offspring mature in half the time of both quail and chickens. Pigeons will 'double nest'-- which means as soon as their baby is about 17 days old, the hen will lay and incubate another egg, while cock-bird will finish raising their first 'squab' (pigeon chick).
By the time the squab is ready to be harvested for butcher, the next egg has hatched, and another squab is born.. 17 days later the cycle continues. In a season, a single pair of pigeons may raise 20+ squab, and it didn't cost you any more feed to do it... unlike chickens where you need an incubator, brooders, coops, and expensive 'chick grower,' or 'meat bird' conditioners to raise your birds. Pigeons will forage, or utilize the feed you give them to feed their own offspring. You don't need to be involved at all!
Collecting the eggs will also help keep their population in your loft managed-- eggs can be sold as a substitute for quail eggs (plus they are larger!), and at home can be used in every recipe you would have used quail eggs for. Most who have tried pigeon/dove eggs attest that they are by far the most flavorful between the coveted quail, and common chicken egg. Which is all good and dandy, but what do Pigeons eat?
Pigeon Feed Options:
Just like chickens, pigeons can be fed a wide variety of feeds. You can blend them yourself-- or purchase pre-bagged feeds from the feed store.
Whether it is a 'custom' blend or proprietary mix-- all feeds will be a blend of the following grains:
The items in BOLD usually form the base for all feeds. CORN however, should only be used sparingly, as a treat, or otherwise only comprise of 10-20% of the total volume of the feed blend-- most chicken scratch blends are 60-80% cracked corn, and if used-- need to be diluted with extra wheat, barley, oats, peas, and/or millet.
The other ingredients listed are blended or added based on the nutritional requirements of the birds, and their purpose-- meat birds may have more fats/proteins in their diets compared to flying breeds and show breeds. But the CORN still needs to be at around 20% of the total intake. This can be accomplished by mixing a bag of scratch with 20lbs Wheat (or whole oats/barley), and 20-30lbs millet.
Pigeons diets are very similar to wild doves/ birds-- so even a Wild Bird feed can be suitable, and supplemented with chicken scratch for added fats. 16% Layer pellets/ crumbles (non-medicated) can also be given in controlled amounts to enhance your birds health/performance. And increase yields during the spring/summer when breeding birds will be expected to rear more offspring.
Like chickens, Pigeons will relish table scraps/ garden left-overs. However, they are not scratchers/ do not have the rugged beaks that chickens do-- so please keep this in mind when offering your birds 'treats:'
Since the diet of the pigeon consists mainly of whole grains, like other birds on the homestead they should also be provided with grit and ample fresh water freely. Feed dishes can be as simple or complicated as you want to make them. For feed, containers should have a cover or be positioned to prevent feed contamination with droppings.
Water dishes should be shallow, to prevent birds from drowning, and be shielded to keep birds from bathing in drinking water sources. The feed and water containers often used for poultry can also be used for pigeons housed in lofts (or dovecotes). If your birds are caged- regular aviary or 'bird-cage-type' feeders can easily be utilized.
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