A Discussion of Pigeon Nutrition
By DR. DAVID CARDIN, Pigeon Research Div. Ralston Purina, St. Louis, Mo.
Note by Editor. — The following article was delivered in the form of address by Dr. Cardin at the Second Annual Conference of the American Pigeon Fanciers Convention held at the Ramada Inn in St. Louis, Mo., July 24-25, 1971.
What is pigeon nutrition? Many people think that it’s anything which a pigeon will pick up and swallow, from a soiled button to a varied assortment of grains. According to Webster, nutrition is the “sum of the processes” by which a pigeon “takes in and utilizes food substances.” In other words the feed that a pigeon is fed should be determined by the physical requirements of the pigeon. Understanding these requirements and how they relate Pigeon Nutrition to the function of the pigeon’s digestive system is essential before one can determine which feed is good and which is bad. A brief look at the pigeon’s digestive tract is a good beginning for understanding what pigeon nutrition is.
The Digestive Tract
The eight major organs of the pigeon’s digestive tract include:
1. Esophagus – this is simply a tube leading from the pigeon’s mouth to the crop.
2. Crop — this is a temporary storage pouch where feed is moistened and then released as room becomes available in the organs which follow.
3. Proventriculus – similar to a stomach, food is just beginning to be broken into smaller forms.
4. Gizzard — this acts as a grinding organ, causing food particles to be broken into still smaller forms.
5. Small Intestine — Digestion now takes place in earnest as protein is broken into its component parts called amino acids. Fats are reduced to fatty acids and glycerides. Complex carbohydrates are digested into simple sugars.
6. 7. 8. Large Intestine, Rectum, and Cloaca – As the food passes into the large intestine, most of the digestion has occurred. From here it passes into the rectum and the cloaca where some reabsorption of water occurs.
The Need for Amino Acids
The object of formulating any pigeon diet is to combine ingredients in a form that will supply all the nutrients that the pigeon requires. No one ingredient contains all the required nutrients. For instance, corn is an excellent source of energy, but is deficient in Vitamin B12. Soybean meal is commonly used as a good source of protein, but is deficient in one or more critical amino acids. Time and again a man will mix his own Feed, using ingredients with high protein and energy levels, and not realize This diet is deficient in some nutrient. In many cases the missing factor is proper amino acid balance.
The question might be asked: “Can’t I mix a high protein ration using several different ingredients and arrive at an optimum amino acid balance?” The answer is yes, guess work sometimes works; but, there is always a high percentage of risk. At best, it’s like playing Russian roulette, with five of a pistol’s six cylinders containing a bullet. Five out of six times get killed.
Basic Principles of Amino Acid Balance
Visualize a barrel made of wooden staves and assume that the barrel will be used to hold water. If any one of these staves is shorter than the others, the water will pour out of the barrel over the top of the short stave – before it can reach the full capacity of the other staves. Apply this principle to amino acids and their relationship to maximum performance. If one amino acid is deficient, maximum performance is impaired to the level of that amino acid, and the full potential of the other amino acids will not be reached.
To make the most beneficial diet, you must not only know the requirements of the pigeon, but you must know the chemical and nutritional makeup of the ingredients you are using. Even the form of the feed has a very definite effect on its overall utilization by the pigeon. For example, soybeans contain what is called a “trypsin inhibitor” which prevents full utilization of this ingredient. If the soybeans are not processed the result is reduced performance by the pigeon. Many natural feedstuffs must be-processed if the best nutrition is to be obtained.
In our research tests we have compared balanced mixtures of grains to complete rations in many, many cases. Invariably, we are able to produce more eggs, better hatchability, better feathering and a uniformly better bird with a complete ration than with a mixture of grains. These good results come from supplying the pigeon with research proven feeds that fulfill his nutritional requirements.
Different Breeds, Same Diet
We have no information which indicates that different pigeon breeds require separate diets. We recognize that many pigeon fanciers believe that research information obtained from chickens, or for that matter from other types of pigeons, is of no value to them. We consider this approach to be extremely short sighted. For instance, a horse and a rabbit are as completely different as two animals could be from a physical standpoint. But from a nutritional standpoint they are quite similar. And, what is learned from one can usually be applied to the other. Also, completely different in physical appearance are a broiler chick and a hog. Yet, from a nutritional standpoint their digestive systems are very similar. Also, many of their nutritional requirements are very similar.
We feel that the insistence to separate pigeon diets according to different breeds is like using a dull hatchet to split a hair that’s already been split. It’s important to understand that the nutritional requirements of one breed of pigeons are likely to be identical to any other. Since there is only a limited amount of research available on any type of pigeon, information from any source should be carefully evaluated. Nutritional differences based on structural modifications that are so slight as to be almost negligible should not be considered at this time.
The Purpose of Grit
Grit, by our definition, is an insoluble, granite product that functions in the gizzard only as a grinding agent. In fact, it is extremely questionable whether there is any need at all for grit.
Many pigeon fanciers mistakenly use a health grit rather than the granite grit. The health grit contains additional minerals, a high salt level and is soluble in the pigeon’s digestive tract. When fed with a complete diet, loose droppings and other disorders can be expected. Fed with a mixture of grains, problems may or may not occur. It’s a matter of adding more risk to an already risky feed.
There is still much that can be learned about the pigeon’s nutritional needs. Such learning can only be achieved by building upon the scientific facts and principles which patient research has already revealed. In this regard Purina has spent many years developing the best possible feeds for pigeons