Housing, Mating and Training Rollers


by Paul Vaughn

(from the 1967 Roller Digest)



This series of articles is written with the express purpose of benefiting the fellow who is just starting with rollers, perhaps the first pigeons of any kind he has ever had. We will try to include all the things that most of us take for granted and probably wouldn’t think of putting in an article. In other words we will surmise it is for a person who has just decided to raise rollers.

We know there will be things included or statements made that some won’t agree with which is their privilege. The fact remains that be following a few fundamental rules anyone can have good success with rollers and fly a good kit. We want everyone in our club to have a kit of birds he won’t be ashamed to fly when someone comes calling to see them.


Unlike some varieties rollers do not need a lot of room. A room 6 x 8 feet is plenty of room for 8 pairs of breeders. Be sure the ceiling is low enough that you can reach a bird in any part of the loft. Six and one half feet is plenty high unless you are a very tall person. Have a perch for each bird, although with the breeders one bird will be on the nest most of the time. Any type of perch is ok but the box type is best for it keeps your birds tamer. A good size for these is 12′ long by 8′ high. These perches won’t take up much room, and are easy to make and put up. Just measure your boards, mark, notch halfway, nail together and hang. Either 4” or 6” boards are ok.

Each pair should have a double nest box so that they can lay again before their youngsters are out of the nest. Anything will do but orange or apple crates work very well. An inexpensive one is two orange crates nailed together with the front inside slat off and hung vertically the long way. With little effort a front with drop door can be fitted to it and it will serve for two pairs. One on each level. These work especially well as you can lock the pairs in and mate them without having to have extra mating coops.

Nest bowls or a sliding tray for cleaning the nests are nice but not necessary. Tobacco stems and pine needles make very good nesting material as they keep down

lice and mites. However hay, straw etc. are ok if changed often and the nests after

cleaning are dusted with DDT.

You should have a water container that they can’t soil. Many are available at supply houses or you can make one. The same with the feeder. Make sure it is large enough for the number of birds you have. Keep grit before them too. By that we mean regular pigeon grit and not oyster shell or something similar. There are several good brands on the market, all advertised in the American Pigeon Journal. Give your birds a bath regularly. You can buy regular pigeon bath pans or use an old dish pan or something similar. Twenty Mule Team Borax in the bath water will keep them clean of lice. The important thing is to be sure they are not thirsty so they won’t drink it as it might make them sick. However, we have used it for years and haven’t had a sick one from it yet.

Feed your breeders what they will eat twice a day. Some fellows prefer to keep feed in front of them all of the time. It’s mostly a matter of preference. When they are feeding youngsters it will take more but make them clean up everything before giving them more. Feed a good grade pigeon feed. Poor feed is false economy. Keep less birds and feed good feed is a good rule to follow, especially if the feed bill is a problem. Some fellows like to use pellets with the regular grain for the breeders. Others do not. However, it is our experience that you won’t have any disease trouble if you feed part pellets to your breeding pairs. We don’t think though that they are suitable for the flying kit. If possible have a small fly pen for your breeders so they can get the sunshine. One 6 x 8 ft. or even smaller is ok. In fact you can get by without one if necessary. One inch mesh chicken netting is ideal for this purpose. You can build it off the ground with a wire bottom or use the ground as the floor covered with sand or gravel. We might note here that due to the fact we have to avoid pigeon dust we have our breeders in individual wire cages about two feet square and it works out very well. However it’s lots more work to care for them and we recommend the room style breeding loft as they can be cared for much more easily.

Now For The kit loft!

   We will now consider the loft for your flying kit. Keep it small, for the less room and exercise they have in the loft the better they will do in the air. Once again – keep the ceiling low. Here again box perches are best, preferably only on one wall. A 3 x 6 ft, compartment is plenty large for a kit of 25 to 35 birds. If you have a 6 x 6 room you can divide it in half and have room for two kits. Two flying compartments are best if you can have them for you will have better success if you can train each round separately. Later after the sex has been determined you can fly the cocks from one side and the hens from the other. Bear in mind please that these sizes are only given as examples and you can adapt whatever you may have on the same principle or scale. DO NOT have a fly pen for your kit. Keep them in at all times except when flying. A small pen, say 3 x 3 made of netting that can be hung over the bobs to let the youngsters out in a few days to familiarize themselves with their surroundings is a good idea.

Use wire bobs over the entrance so that once they have trapped in they can’t get out again. It is best to have a straight drop into the loft from the bird’s entrance so they cannot perch there and fight those coming in and also eliminates the chance of one forcing its way out through the bobs. The entrance can be any size just so it’s large enough for a bird to enter through. If it’s necessary to put your birds out through the trap to fly them, make it larger, say 12′ or 15′ long by 6′ or 8′ high. If you happen to have a window or a door to chase them out of then a smaller entrance is ok, You can buy the bobs at a pigeon supply house or make them out of heavy wire. Make them long enough that they will not push out, but will only swing in and they should swing freely.


We will now go on the assumption that you have no birds and will have to secure some. The best idea is to visit a well known fancier and watch his birds fly, preferably several times as rollers are fickle creatures at best and you never know how they will perform on any given day. Although he may not have any spare birds it will give you an idea what to look for and also what to expect, You can see his best birds and know what a good roller looks like.

Perhaps he will sell or give you some good birds. It is our personal opinion that more and better birds have been given away then were ever sold. Most fellows are happy to give a fellow a start, especially when they feel he will make a good rollerman. In either case it is better to start with a few good birds from one source than a bunch of junk either from one place or picked up here and there.

From long experience of many fanciers the picture of what an ideal roller should be like has been arrived at and set down in our club standard. It should be medium to small in size, measuring not over 8 ½” from nape of neck to tip of tail in cocks and 8” in hens. Should be short in legs but not ducky and have a crouched stance as though ready to take off. A cock bird in flying condition should not weigh over 11 ounces and a hen not over 9 ounces. The body should be medium in size, gracefully well proportioned, short rather than long, neither too shallow nor too deep in with the keel extending well towards the vent bones and possessing ample firmness toward the rear. Medium width in front, tapering in a wedge like manner to little at the rear. The back should be straight, not roach backed, and the top of the body and tail with the bird at ease should appear slightly concave. They should consist of 12 strong springy feathers, tightly packed and ending in not over a 1 1/2 width. The tail should be short rather than long and not extend beyond the extremities of the wings by over 5/8 of an inch. At ease the tail should be off the floor but not enough to denote a horizontal stance.

The feather should be hard, tight and glossy and the back should be well covered by the secondaries so that there are no sideboards as we call them, which is a sign of poor feathering. The head should not be round like a ball, nor conspicuously flat on top, nor a perfect Oval. Viewed from the side curvature of the head should start off with a definite break at the base of the beak, continue upward and backward rather abruptly until it reaches its highpoint just in front of the eye. Then for a very short distance should simulate a straight line, continue backward and slightly downward and merging into the back neckline without any sharp or sudden breaks. There should be more back skull than front skull and top skull should not be lacking, Viewed from the front the face should start to develop right behind the wattle, and there should be width across the eyes, appearing arched, instead of flat or angular. Too narrow or a pinched face should be avoided.

You will find all color eyes in rollers such as yellow, orange, gravel, pearl, and bull (black). You will find good birds in all these eye colors, and also in odd eyes where one eye is bull and one yellow, pearl or gravel. It is a matter of what you prefer and the trend seems to be to the yellow and gravel eye. The pearl eye referred to is the light eye with a lot of capillaries showing in it, called by some pigment or coarseness. The real white eye is to be avoided as they are usually found on the wild mannered birds, and if they do happen to be tame this eye make them appear wild. The eyes should set a little toward the front of the skull and the pupil should be centered perfectly. Not forward or downward. The cere should be small and unnoticeable. A red eye cere is to be avoided.

The beak should be medium short to medium long, not too long and slender, nor too stubby, but stout enough to avoid a pinched appearance of the face. The beak setting should be such that a straight line projected through the center of the beak will pass right through the center of the eye. If the line passes the eye higher up the bird is too down faced, and if it passes beneath the eye it is too straight faced. The neck should be of medium length, short rather than long, fairly stout at the shoulder and tapering gradually to the head.

We have touched upon feather briefly but would like to mention wing feather especially. Upon opening to a flying position the ends of the primaries and secondaries should form a convex curve, or at least a straight line. Weak primaries and short secondaries will show-up in a concave pattern and this is a serious fault, denoting deficient wing. When the Wing is opened to a flying position, the primaries should each comprise about half the total span, and each secondary should overlap its adjacent ones throughout its entire length. The primaries should likewise Overlap, except for the extreme ends, which necessarily will terminate in a small gap. Both the primaries and secondaries should have strong springy quill, and there sho be cohesion between the feathers as shown by the degree or resistance between them when the wing is opened.

Weak headed or spindle necked birds should be avoided, as should birds that are too long cast in body, or have too long a tail, too high in the legs or knock-kneed, or in general too large in size or tootiny. A cock bird should definitely look masc and hen feminine. The bird should definitely have a wide awake, alert bearing, with the eyes bright and full of sparkle. A dull listless bird is to be avoided and is either sick, too old or highly inbred.

however, you will find that your best birds in the air will be the sort described above. By mating the best together you will arrive eventually at nice type birds that excel in the air.

Before going further perhaps now would be a good time to go into the different colors and markings rollers come in. We are not going to try to describe the different colors as that would be a book in itself. Suffice it to say they come in all colors such White, yellow, black, red, dun, kite, bronze, lavender, tortoise shell, mealy, strawberry, blue check, blue bar, silver red bar, silver creme bar, silver black bar, others. These colors come in all markings and solids. The solid colors are known as selfs, described as birds that have but one color pattern. Apart from white a bird is considered a self which has no white in its feathers. Marked birds are those that have white in the plumage. Some of the most common markings are white flights which have a solid colored body with white wing flights and either a white or mixed tail. Also beards which have a dark body, white wing flights, white or dark tail and a white area under the beak. Badges are usually called such when they have both white and body color on the head, white wing tips and white, or dark mixed tail. They don’t have to have the perfect markings as set forth in the tumbler standard. Baldheads have white heads, white wing flights and tail. Ticks are whites with small tickings of color. Splashes and mottles have varying degrees of white and color over the body. The mottles are more evenly distributed as to the markings. Splashes are more as the name sounds with splashes of color.

There are several schools of thought concerning the mating of rollers. If you have bought your birds from a reliable fancier it would be wise to mate them the way he recommends. However, this may not be the case and it is up to you.

If you have flown your birds and know what they do in the air, you can mate them according to performance and not go far wrong if you observe some qualifications which will be set forth later. Do not mate two deep frequent birds together. Rather mate the deep bird to a highflying, short spinner. Mate the frequent bird to one that is not so frequent. Mate the bird that was an early developer to one that started rolling later in the year.

Never mate two birds with the same type fault together, such as too big-pinch faced, or poor feathered, wild eyed, short keeled, long legged, etc. If you have a big cock that is balanced mate him to a small hen. If this cock has excellent feather and a good head use the small hen as mentioned that may be deficient in these qualities. Mate poor feathered birds which are found mostly in reds, yellows and the lighter colors to tortoiseshells, red and blue checks and grizzles which in most cases have exent feather. If you continue to mate these soft and light colors together your birds will deteriorate rapidly in the air as well as feather and physical characterics. The feather will be very poor and you will get a lot of excessive performers,rolldowns and poor kitting. The same will happen with continuous breeding for color. If y ou are fortunate enough to have a number of good birds as to both type and performance you can make much better matings. Mate the most perfect type birds together. Both birds should not have the same faults and any faults they have should be minor ones. Mate identical birds together. By that we mean type. It’s better to late a few good pairs than a lot of nondescript ones. Summed up, the best way to mate them is to mate the best typed birds together, selecting them in the loft or pen, with due regard to aerial ability.

Don’t use – in fact don’t keep rolldowns or birds that are so frequent performers We have given you these points on the ideal roller so that you who haven’t been around rollers nor attended shows will have some idea of the general type. If you are just starting the chances are you won’t have many that will come up to the standard. However they can’t fly. They are worthless in the kit and also as breeders for they will just pass on their faults, and why anyone would try to breed rolldowns and keep a bunch of them around we don’t know for it is cruel. However there are fellows who are enthralled with them and want to buy every rolldown they see. Breed for the happy a lot of nice tight spinning and kit action, and you will find your pleasure with rollers will be magnified many times.

The time to mate the birds depends upon your own personal wishes and the weather in your area. Some fellows, to get an early developed kit, mate their birds the latter part of December, but most mate them between the 1st and 15th of February. Others wait until the 1st of March. It is up to you.

If you have had the hens and cocks separated, mating them is a simple matter. You have quite likely left the cocks in the breeding loft all winter. If not, put them in a week or ten days prior to mating so that each will have claimed a nest box. If you have the double nest box lock the cock and hen in and they will be mated in less than an hour. If you use this system put them all up at once. For the first few days let different pairs out in the loft so they will get used to their own box and eliminate fighting.

If you don’t have the nests so you can lock them in to mate then you’ll have to use in the loft long enough to claim their boxes this will work out ok.

You should mate them all up within two or three days at the most so that all will lay as closely together as possible. Even at that there may be as much as a week to ten days between some. Some fellows break the first round of eggs after about ten days and then the next round is usually laid about the same day. Seldom over two days apart. Then too, you usually get your big birds the first round and that is one advantage of breaking that first round of eggs.

A week to ten days after mating (some may go two weeks) your pairs should all be on eggs. The first egg is laid in the evening around 5:00 to 5:30. The second egg is laid in the early afternoon two days later. It takes seventeen days from the date of laying the second egg until they hatch. The youngsters grow rapidly, and by the time Pull the three front toes forward and slipinto the band with the back toe flat against the leg. If they get a little big before banding put some vaseline on the band and you can get it on a good sized leg without any permanent damage.

As mentioned before, feed a good feed and plenty so that the old birds may feed their young well. Check them everyday to make sure all the youngsters are getting their share. If there is too much difference in size between the two in the nest switch them around with another pair so there will be two in the nest of equal size and both will get plenty to eat. This should be done before they are well feathered or the old birds may fight them if the color is different from their own youngsters.

Some fellows handle the young birds every day in the nest which serves to make them tamer and unafraid when they are on their own. I don’t think anyone likes real wild bird.

When the youngsters are about four weeks old or even younger, take them away from their parents in the daytime and put them in the kit loft with feed and water in front of them. Within a few days they will be eating and drinking themselves and can be taken away from their parents and their training can be started then by putting them out on the loft roof.

We might make a note here about switching the birds around with new mates. Ordinarily the old pair will lay again when the youngsters are about two weeks old. During cold or cool weather we’ve found the best way to get them broke up is to start taking the hen away during the day when the youngsters are about a week old and let cock set on them during the day. In the evening take the cock away and put the hen back to care for them during the night. After about a week of this switch the hens way you want them mated and they will mate right away, and chances are they will feed and help care for the cock’s youngsters. This short period of separation will work well where you have the nest fronts and can keep them confined for awhile, letting pairs out at separate times so the hens become acclimated to their new nests

During warm weather, or course, you needn’t go to all this trouble of switching hens back and for that night. At about a week or ten days just take the hens away for a week and the cocks will care for the youngsters. Then mate them the way you want as outlined previously.

Half brother and sister mating (if good birds of course) are the best matings and switching the birds around on different mates is a good way to get them. Then carry it on from there.



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