Are Pigeons the homesteading fowl for you???? Learn more about the 'under-dog' of the livestock world to see if they are the right addition to your homestead in this article:
In 2017-- after 10 years of working to utilize the American Buttercup Bantam as a homesteading fowl, we opted to disperse the flock in favor of pigeons. Why??
The bantams were HIGHLY productive egg layers-- providing an egg a day (even in the winter with no supplemental heat/light) and had an average life span of 7-10 years. Roosters were fertile for up to 4 years, and hens were consistent layers up until they were 6-7 years of age. They were the most perfect birds a homestead could ask for if all you really needed was eggs, and occasionally a nice Cornish game hen sized portion of meat.
However, when we raise animals they need to be able to provide an income to some capacity to help support them-selves, hence providing the SUSTAINABLE aspect of the homestead. Our goal is to live off of our homestead, and NOT have to maintain our regular jobs; so the animals need to support themselves in some manner; Usually by the selling of their offspring as breeding stock.
After researching and deciding that the NPIP program was going to be too costly for us to partake in (est. $300+ annually), and seeing that we would not be able to sell enough birds due to the fact most people want cheap hatchery birds-- the market value for a common breed is not enough to cover the cost of testing/feed-- So, being un-profitable-- rare breed preservation is a project we have decided to let go of. We could make more money to support our flock buying common hatchery birds and selling pullets, than trying to gain interest in a breed no one knows anything about-- or wants to try.
Preserving rare breeds goes far and beyond having the 'right color', you need to be able to produce the historical type as outlined by the breed standard. Every buff bird is NOT an Oprington. What makes an Oprington stand out from a buff rock, buff minorca, buff leghorn, or buff cochin is their TYPE, and that they fit the breed standard. Which means you will have to buy/sell/trade birds from time to time to keep your bloodlines from becoming 'inbred' and/or to help improve your flock with other peoples birds who are also following the APA/ABA standards; which are the standards for selecting most dual purpose fowl!
Feed store/hatchery birds are 90-100% hybridized with other birds-- they are not large and meaty, not thrifty, and definitely do not meet the standards of TYPE that would have made them a good choice for both meat and eggs as they were HISTORICALLY intended for. Now days, they are hardly suited for the latter. Feed store/ hatchery chicks are a great way to get started raising poultry, but anyone who has butchered their own birds can attest they yielded very little meat. Barred rocks, Opringtons, and many of the other more 'popular' breeds were once primer meat birds-- comparable to the 'free-range broilers' designed to replace them as a dual purpose breed today.
So while chickens may still reign supreme for egg production, providing meat, and being able to sell or exchange breeding stock to refresh bloodlines with other fanciers across state lines is becoming less- and- less feasible for family operations in this state. The solution to our meat needs, and the need to have our birds be profitable enough to afford their feed bill/ housing improvements has lead us to an ancient practice of keeping pigeons.
Pigeons of all classes can be used as meat on the homestead. But the Utility breeds that are currently under threat with extinction will provide a much more substantial serving. Compared to poultry however-- they can be purchased, sold, and shipped with relative ease. Pigeons also do not carry the same diseases as chickens, and as a result-- do not require expensive testing. Pigeons can be shown, enjoyed at home as pets, or valued as a utility breed.
Pigeons through the Ages.......
For centuries pigeons have been one of the leading livestock breeds around the globe. From Egypt to Rome-- England, France, Russia Asia, and even across the seas to the 'New World.' Pigeons are still unmatched for their ability to provide meat-- and beauty. They are kept in aviaries to be prized as National treasures by royalty, have been used to carry messages through battlefields (even in WW2), and have been the chief source of food in times of deadly famines.
Here in the US pigeons were raised before chickens on colonial farms/homesteads to keep pests out of farm crops. They carried messages across hundreds of miles before the telegraph, and fed families suffering during the great depression-- but some time at the turn of the century, pigeons have begun to receive less recognition for their sacrifices to mankind through their virtues. They are veterans of time, and like our Countries' soldiers returning home after Vietnam-- they are treated with the same contempt.
Labeled as dirty, diseased, pestilent, pigeons have fallen out of favor by most American Citizens. Why?? Because the media has painted a pretty ugly picture of the one animal that has saved man-kind time-after-time after-time. True, we most often see pigeons in cities riffling through dirty city streets, turning over fast-food wrappers looking for French fries, and causing property damage with their nesting sites. But, unlike chickens-- pigeons are NOT cannibalistic. They actually prefer a diet based on seed grains/ vegetable matter-- so if those pigeons were chickens running loose in the cities: I believe we would have a far different opinion about them as we do pigeons! I have seen chickens eat each other, and am convinced that if they could trip you-- you would be on the menu as well.
Pigeons are more peaceable, and due to their diet-- carry far less diseases than chickens. Their meat is also more lean. Pigeons can be eaten sooner than chickens do to their fast maturing rate. By 3-4 weeks utility pigeons can be at 80-90% butcher weight. Most pigeons are harvested between 4-6 weeks of age.
Pigeons can be fed garden scraps, pastas, and veggies from your table/cooking left overs the same as chickens. Their poop, and their loft is nearly odorless! If they do have a smell, you have sick birds. Pigeons LOVE to bathe-- if provided water to bathe in, pigeons will be far cleaner than your chickens ever will be-- and unlike chicken feathers, pigeon feathers can make excellent down pillows.
When out free-ranging in your yard/garden (unlike chickens that often succumb to dog attack) pigeons are fully flight-capable. In general, their only enemies come from humans and predatory birds. Pigeons have an excellent ability to 'home' that is find their way back to their home.. ever see a chicken wandering in your neighborhood and wonder where it came from? Chickens do not have this ability, and will gleefully wander far away where they may be injured or 'adopted' by another person.
Pigeon cock-birds, unlike roosters, prefer to 'woo' their human care takers with song and dance-- rather than attempt spurring you, clawing you, or ripping your flesh to shreds. Pigeon hens are also very appreciative of their counterparts-- and will never suffer 'naked chicken syndrome' from an over active male partner. And because they utilize vertical space-- you can keep 32 pigeons in the same space as 12 chickens!
Pigeon eggs are a delicious delicacy! But they are still smaller than a bantam egg, making them perfect for scotch eggs, pickled eggs, or a more substantial substitute in your recipes for quails eggs.
Are Pigeons right for you??
So lets see if pigeons are right for you..... a comparison:
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