GETTING STARTED In ROLLERS
By Jim Petersen
Welcome to the best Roller Club you could have joined. We are sure that you’ll find your membership helpful and enjoyable as you learn more about your Rollers through our bulletin and also join us in our club activities. The purpose of this paper is to answer any of the initial questions you may have if you are just starting out in the roller hobby. Your rollers performance is determined through your flying/feeding program, how the birds are housed, and the quality of your foundation stock. This is only a basic guide and a recommended way to get started. Everyone has their way of doing things based on several things:
1) The family of rollers they have.
2) The weather and other conditions they fly under.
3) The way their lofts are configured. If you are just starting out and don’t have a loft built and don’t have any birds yet you might be in the best position of all.
It takes patience not to want to rush into getting birds and get started. The best advice might be to take it slow. Patience is Something that you will need as you spend time with Rollers anyway. Go to as many lofts as you can in your area. Study the various loft setups you’ll find birds in the air. The fanciers will be happy to fly for you, and basically pick up all the knowledge you can before you ever drive that first nail or br that first few pairs.
Rollers need very little room compared to most breeds and the loft need not be elaborate to insure success. We can’t emphasize enough that a neat and clean loft setup will carry you well in your relationship with your neighbors. Keep the lofts painted and add a little landscaping(flowers & bushes) to help keep the complainers away. As you clean your loft of droppings no less than once per week, always remember to wear a good quality mask designed for pigeon dust to prevent the breathing of too much harmful dust. It just makes good common health sense. N95 mask minimal or 3m half mask with 2097 filter.
A kit box or pen that measures 3’X3’X3’with box style perches on two walls measuring 12″ long and 8″ high out of 4 inch wide stock, is perfectly adequate for a kit or flock of 18 Rollers.
There are several types of perches that work well for rollers. The “V” perch (3″ X 1″ material nailed together to form an upside down ‘V’) keeps the birds cleaner than some perches. The box perch helps to keep the birds calmer. Always have one perch per bird in any of your lofts.
Most fanciers use traps, metal bobs that swing in but not out. The trap section is cut out of the larger release door. A trap can be any size, but a 12″ or 6″ width that is 6″ to 8″ high will work fine. You can use this cut out 12″ X 6″ section as a door by hinging it. This hinged door is also a landing board by using angle iron to hold it half way open.
Some like to have their birds re-enter the kit pen after they fly through the door they were released from without the use of a trap. They use feed and a gentle whistling to get them in. This is called the English method. It’s very effective, but it’s also nice to have them trapped trained to allow stragglers a way to get back in. ALWAYS close the trap as evening falls.
Some fanciers like to have 1″ X 1″ hardware cloth for the floor area of the kit box. This allows the dropping to fall through to a tray that they can clean at their convenience. If the holes in the wire floor are larger vermin may cause problems. Many Roller flyers prefer a solid floor that they scrape out once or twice a week. Kit boxes should have some sort of ventilation holes or opening slits under a roof overhang (so that rain or snow will not readily blow into the loft and make it damp inside).These are usually at opposite ends of the pen to promote the flow through of air. Good ventilation will keep your loft and birds dryer and healthier. There are a number of diagrams and floor plans for Roller lofts in many of the books that have been published on the subject. Keeping the kit birds or flyers in a low light or dark situation will keep them less likely to mate when not flying.
More and more Roller fanciers like individual breeding pens for their Rollers. This assures parentage and helps achieve better egg fertility. If the pairs in the individual pens can see other pigeons they will respond with better parenting and better fertility rates. An individual pen, 2′ wide, by 3′ long and 2′ high is adequate. Some prefer to attach a small wire (hardware cloth) walking pen which seems to enhance fertility. The walking pen is a good place to place the water as it’s away from the dust and won’t contribute to dampness inside the pen. Individual breeding pens can be somewhat larger than this, but not much smaller. If the pen height is lowered, the males cannot properly copulate with the hens and a higher percentage of infertile eggs will again be the result. The more light they have, the more they will mate and they will thus have a better percentage of fertile eggs. The nesting area should have a one foot deep shelf with a nest bowl(the paper ones are perfectly fine but need to be changed periodically). The nesting material can be pine needles(fairly stiff needles around 3 inches in length work well) but tobacco stems (if not too heavy), hay or straw (is changed with each clutch or round of eggs) may also be used. The baby Rollers called ”squabs” do need a good nest for warmth and also support.
An open breeding loft is a loft of several pairs of Rollers that nest in boxes but have an open area where they can feed, mate and fly around. This type of setup is harder to get the pairs settled into initially. They try to mate with other birds around the loft and they tend to mistakenly fly into the wrong nest area the first week or so causing fighting. They will often try to return to last years mate also. There is also a jealous that certain cocks will demonstrate by breaking up pairs that are copulating or mating. Many times they will mate with the interrupted hen when she is in the mating position (much to the chagrin of her mate) and parentage is always a question then. The statics on this varies depending on what you read. We have read that promiscuity results in 50% illegitimacy in an open loft system. After many years observing rollers and using genetics to double check the results in the breeding pens, you can expect illegitimacy in 15% – 25 % in the first round and improvement as the season wears on to 10%-17%. Unless DNA is used to truly make this determination, it’s somewhat of a guess work, but be aware of this possibility as you decide on how you will build your performing Roller stud of pigeons. Many good lofts have been built using either the open or individual breeding pen methods.
Once the birds are settled down in an open loft system, they are actually easier to feed and water since you really have only one large pen to care for. Just to give you some idea, a breeding section that measures 4’x8’ can easily handle 8 -10 pairs of breeders, especially if it is connected to an aviary or fly pen. Nest boxes will measure 2’ wide, 2’ deep(with a 1’ shelf built in the back of the nesting area) and 2’ high. Keep ceilings low so that birds can be caught easily. Low ceilings will also keep them a bit calmer and less likely to try to escape. A ceiling of 6-½’ should be the average.
Most Roller people arrange their loft so they have 2 roomy holding pens ( one for cocks and one for hens) for their stock birds to live in when not in the breeding loft.
STOCKING THE LOFT & BREEDING
Fanciers are prone to changing the configuration of their lofts as the years go by as their needs and the perceived needs of their birds change. They are less likely to jump from one stud or family of Rollers to another very often and this is as it should be. Once you are underway, always have quality performance as the prime reason behind adding a bird to your stock.
The key to starting a loft of Rollers is to know what’s out there and to see as many birds as you can in the air before making a large commitment in either time or cash or both. Some people like high flying birds that fly for long periods(over an hour).Others like birds that do not fly more than 15 -30 minutes but are constantly busy working and as a result don’t fly high. Some don’t care too much about the overall work of the kit, but do like very deep and breathtaking Rollers.
There are Roller competitions at the local, state, or regional, national or international level. The entry fees and the overall degree of seriousness connected with each of these levels of competition flying goes up with the number of flyers involved. Generally, a tight kitting group of Rollers that perform frequently (once per minute or more) and in unison are the kind that runs up a better point score. This type of bird is usually in the 15’-25’ range of spinning depth.
Points are additionally given for quality rolling. We don’t wish to examine the whole flying competition issue here, but did want to point to this activity as being very big among fanciers around the world. Needless to say, everybody loves Rollers that will roll incredibly fast and tight like a spinning ball. Observing many Rollers in the air will give an eye for what you want.
Roller people are very happy to have the chance to start a new fancier. This start may be in the form of 6-8 pairs of breeders (the number needs to really give you the chance to produce some young) or an increasingly popular method of starting someone out with a young kit, usually a whole round of 15-20 birds, right out of the best pairs. Always handle and breed any such birds according to the wishes of the fancier you got them from. This will give you the best results and keep you in good graces with your mentor as you learn to grow in this great hobby. Stick with birds from one good source. Getting a bird here, there and everywhere will waste time in the long run. Mate the pairs up at the same time so that you have a group ready to wean together. The breeding season starts anywhere from December 1st to March 1st, depending on the weather.
After they have laid their eggs, wait for ten days before checking them for fertility with a flashlight. Gently remove the eggs holding it so that parents’ wings slapping will not harm them. Hold it in front of the flashlight in a darkened area of the loft. (Note! Don’t check eggs at night time for a threat of startlening the hen off of the nest and thus allowing them to chill). A fertile egg will have a dark look to it and you will notice an angled air pockets near the top(smaller pointed egg) An infertile egg will be clear and translucent(you may want to check a chicken egg out of the refrigerator if uncertain). An egg that was fertile at one time but is now rotten will be dark colored perhaps, but the top will be liquid and the air pocket will be at the top.
At this ten day period is a good time to switch eggs to foster parents if you are inclined. If the eggs are found to be infertile, throwing them away will allow the hens to get back on cycle and lay again within a week to 10 days.
There are many good families of Rollers around today and the performing Roller is better than ever. The key is to start small; really learn all you can about the birds you have before fooling around with other families or trying to handle 4 or 5 kits(unless you have unlimited time to spend with them). Getting to know what makes the best birds in your loft is the proven way to build a good family and to develop even more of the kind you like. Be patient and don’t expect champions overnight.
Basic Health In Our Rollers
In recent years, the use of medications and various vitamins are in vogue for fanciers of all breeds. This is, of course, a delicate balancing act and one that might be better left to breeds other than performing Rollers.
When it comes to having healthy Rollers, there is no substitute for a clean dry loft, clean and dry food and grit, and pure water changed daily. Add to this the simple formula some exercise and you should have healthy pigeons.
Depending on the quality of the water you have in your area, some like to add a teaspoon of bleach (liquid bleach) to a gallon of water to keep many of the waterborne microorganisms down that cause disease and that can be spread through the medium of the drinking water. This can supersede the need for worming. The water containers should be the type that protects the water from getting droppings in it. Many have found that simple one gallon milk jugs with a 4” wide slit in it that is no taller than an inch works well if positioned so that the birds don’t perch on them.
There are many ways to eliminate lice and mites from the birds and this should be done. These creatures are parasites and they can put your birds off form if left unchecked ,not to mention the fact that they will make your birds ugly to look at and handle. Of all the methods, an annual dipping of each bird in an ectiban and water solution works very well but it does take some effort to catch and dip each bird in the loft.
If you find that your eggs are not hatching at the end of 17 days in the summer weather and 19 days in cooler weather (when you candle them and find that they are in fact fertile), a deficiency in iodine might be the cause. A commercial iodine made especially for pigeons is available from the many supply houses. Adding one teaspoon of iodine to a gallon of drinking water once per week for two weeks prior to the breeding season should rectify the situation.
Always keep your feed in a tight container that keeps it dry and away from mice. The same is true with grit. The iodized grit seems to be a good choice and may well eliminate the need for iodine in the drinking water treatment. Some like to feed the grit in soil proof containers for the birds, others simply sprinkle it in the bottom of the feed trays .Never allow the feed to be thrown on the floor where it can become soiled or wet; this is a shortcut to making unhealthy pigeons.
Make sure that all can get around the feeder and have a chance at the feed. In the case of kit birds a little shoving and crowding is not bad, but always watch your hottest spinners, they are a bit weaker after a fly and unable to compete for feed as effectively as their stronger kit mates. It’s a good idea to feed your Rollers a half hour or more after they have flown and had a drink. The breeding pairs are under some stress with the laying of eggs and caring for young. They need a good high protein food grain mix for the breeding pairs and youngsters. Some like to feed pellets or a mix of grain and pellets. Your birds will need grit if you feed grain. Grit is not needed when feeding pellets only.
THE FLYING PROGRAM
When starting out a kit of young birds, wean them when they have a few pin feathers at the base of their beaks and/or when they are not completely feathered out under the wings. A rule of thumb is to band at 10 days old and wean at around 25 days. We’ve touched on this some already with our discussion of feed and feeding, but give the newly weaned youngsters plenty of small grains to begin with. Dip their beaks into the drinking water so that they will know where it is .Look for any birds that seem to be fluffed up more than the rest and look as though they are going to sleep or are blinking slowly. These will need to have their beaks dipped in the drinking water again and will usually drink heavily when you do. Most will learn from this and you won’t have to show them again.
Once the youngsters are eating and drinking well on their own, it’s time to get them out on the roof. This usually is between 3 & 5 days after weaning. Cutting back the feed a bit the day before they are to start their sojourn to the open skies is a good idea. Open the trap bobs and let them out through that opening, or as some do, add a temporary small fly or walking pen to the trap area of the kit pen so the birds get used to going through the bobs. Many fanciers will work the birds through the traps by hand several times and then set the youngsters on the landing board (the door that secures the trap opening when the birds are back inside the loft) a few birds at a time until they fly up to the roof from the landing board. Once all are up on the roof for an hour or so, open the trap and whistle and shake the feed can so that they know it’s time for dinner. Leaving the middle bob open will help them figure out the trapping procedure.
After they have been out on the roof 3 or 4 days, you will notice that they are taking little short flights around the yard and back to the roof. This is exactly what you want as they are teaching themselves that the roof is the only place they should be landing on. If the majority of your birds follow this pattern, they will become a well trained kit.Some where around the time you see birds making these short flights is the to walk each bird out into the yard 10-15 paces and let them fly from your hand back to the loft. If time does not permit this kind of attention, it’s OK to flag them up with a hand towel sized flag of any color tied to an appropriately sized stick or pole. Let the birds settle right back down to the roof loft. It’s OK if 1 or 2 do not fly that first time, they will serve as decoys to get the rest right back where you want them. Whistle and shake the feed can and feed the birds in when most are back on the roof. Let the stragglers get a bit less feed. The next day, run them up again (with your flag or as some do, just an empty feed sack). Get all of them off the roof this time and let them come right back again.
Don’t scare them up again. Follow them up by opening the trap and whistling them in. The whistling part is not mandatory, but does help to establish a relationship with them and gives you a useful tool in trying to get them in quickly should the need arise. Letting the birds land around the neighborhood can cause trouble with the neighbors and with the discipline of your kit. Hopefully the birds are landing on the loft and nowhere else – if they are landing somewhere else, it’s now time to chase them off this secondary landing place or they will start dragging some curious kit mates with them. On the third day, flag them up but hold the flag up so they can see it for 5 minutes or so and then let them land. On the 4th day, release them through an open door. They should act like they enjoy getting out by now and by the 5th or 6th day should be starting to kit. By the end of a week’s time, assuming you have been able to get them out everyday, they should be flying around as a kit and flying for 10-20 minutes. It might take longer, but just stay with it and they will come around shortly.
When starting out a kit of young Rollers most fanciers will try to give them a good start in the moult and growing their bodies. After 4 -6 months of daily flying, they will cut back the feed and try to develop rolling in their young birds. By this time many of the birds will have started to flip over a time or two, perhaps they will be tumbling and a few will be putting descent rolls together. The flying habits formed their first 3 months will stay with them for the rest of their flying careers. Cut down the feed if they start to fly to high or too long. If they act lazy and do not want to fly and are still a bit sluggish trapping back in, cutting down the feed again might be the ticket. Rollers are most often loused up from overfeeding than they are underfeeding. If the birds are flying low and for only a few minutes time and act like they are crazy to get into the loft and eat, you probably are underfeeding them in this case. The feeding of the flying kit can be somewhat of an art. How they are fed ( What grains) and how much they are fed can aid in controlling the length of time they will fly, how frequently they will roll and to some degree the height they will fly (which is also connected to flying time).
Many like to feed their birds a mixed feed(without corn) for the first several months so that they will have ample protein to grow their bodies and get a good first moult ( changing from adolescent feathers to adult feathers). Once they are starting to finish the moult and are starting to perform, fanciers will change over to straight wheat and cut down the amount fed to bring out more performance in their young birds. The old bird kit or hold over kit is where the ultimate performance will occur. It isn’t usually necessary to fly old birds every day in most Roller families. A good place to start a program of flying the old bird team is to feed them a full ration ( somewhere around a heaping tablespoon of feed without corn for each bird in the kit) on the day they fly (day # 1). Then they are given the next day off (day #2) and fed a smaller ration (around ¾) of straight wheat. They may be flown on day # 3 or they may be given another day off with a ½ ration of wheat. The 4th day they are flown and fed as they were on the 1st day and the cycle restarts. Experiment with these techniques, keeping track of what worked and what didn’t. Getting a handle on feeding is a big part of flying a good kit for company.
Hawks are an ever growing problem for Roller flyers. Most fanciers have to be very alert during the migration periods (fall & spring). Many Roller Men keep their birds in during the winter months to save them from the sure flock depleting attacks that occur during that time. Whether you are vulnerable to these attacks depends on the section of the country you live and the location in which you live. When you have a lot of trees around your loft it’s harder to keep a kit in sight at all times which is important in identifying your best spinners. There are many fanciers who deal with the problem of trees surrounding the loft however so don’t think you can’t have good Rollers if you are living in such an area.
By all means read all you can about our little performer. We think you’ll find the Roller pigeon to be the most fascinating breeds you could cultivate. We feel confident that you’ll enjoy the company of other Roller fanciers you’ll be meeting during your (hopefully long) stay in this hobby. We feel confident you’ll find members of the performing Roller hobby to be the finest sportsman in the world. Welcome and the best of luck!