Nutrition and the Rollers

Jay Alnimer


Most roller fanciers and owners believe that a well prepared seed mixture is a diet sufficient to keep their beloved rollers strong and healthy.  Unfortunately, this statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The belief of most experts in avian medicine is that malnutrition probably the common cause of disease in domesticated pigeons and particularly rollers. These domesticated pigeons that suffer from malnutrition have developed the conditions as a result of being maintained on an almost diet of seeds exclusively.  The effects of malnutrition become more evident during periods of high nutritional demand such as moulting, breeding and/or exposure to disease.  In other words, malnutrition leads the rollers to many other diseases that they could have easily avoided had their diets been more complete and balanced.

There are a few signs to look for that might indicate malnutrition in your rollers.  Rough looking feathers, green or bluish feathers that have faded to yellow or black, an incomplete moult, wing and tail feathers that are easily broken, stress bars on the feathers, dry and flaky skin, rough nails and rough looking beak, and smooth skin on the bottom of the roller’s feet.

When you hear the term “malnutrition”, you might think of the rollers are underweight.  Frequently, malnourished rollers are obese.  Diets that are high in fat create overweight rollers that are deficient in a number of essential nutrients.

Roller pigeons need about fourteen vitamins and specific amino acids and minerals to be able to maintain good health.  Vitamins and minerals most often are missing from just a seed diet such as Vitamin A and D3, Calcium and Iodine.  Upper respiratory disease is the most common type of racing and roller pigeons.  This high frequency of upper respiratory problems is most likely due to the pigeons are deficient in Vitamin A.

There is a considerable variation in what different fanciers feed. Some use a certain restricted mix of grain, while others use a standard commercial mix.  When it comes to breeding, pellets are popular with some. Pellets can even be used for kit birds.  Since pellets are ground up and formed, they digest much faster than grain. Also there is a similar difference between small and large grains.  Feeding large grains will extend the time for digestion and will affect how hungry the rollers are in 24 hours as compared to either pellets or smaller grains.  That will influence performance if they are flown on 24 hour schedule.

I have heard roller fanciers many times talk about protein in their roller’s diet. But how about the other things that make carbon-based beings function csuh as Vitamins and Minerals, Fiber, Fat and Carbohydrates? To best understand nutritional diets, its best to understand how each essential nutrition effects and functions. The following will explain:

Protein: is made up of Amino Acids, which are the basic building blocks of muscle fibers. Fatty acids are also a component of protein.

Fat: is used as a means to store energy, which is used when the supply of glucose is unavailable.

Fiber : will allow for more complete utilization of nutrients in the digestive system.

Carbohydrates: it consists of two groups, simple and complex. Carbohydrates translate into energy. The simple Carbohydrates break down faster than the complex group in the digestive system.

Vitamins: are used for regulation of certain metabolic processes, enzymatic and physiological. The vitamins categories are as follows:

  1. Fat soluble: Vitamin A, D, E, and K.
  2. Water soluble: Vitamin B Complex, and C.

In the grains used in most seed mixes, the following vitamins are usually deficient: vitamin B12, vitamin A, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin K and vitamin E.  The most limited Amino acid in most seeds is lysine, methionine and tryptophane.  When it comes to minerals, the most likely limited are calcium, manganese, sodium, zinc, iodine, selenium and copper.  Therefore, a good quality blend of grit should be available to the breeders and provided frequently to kit birds.

Vitamin A is usually found in Spinach and Carrots.  It is wise to dilute carrot juice and place it in the drinking water now and then.  Riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin B12, manganese, copper, zinc, selenium and iodine are found in yeast products.  Add the yeast to the seed after pre-moistening with Wheat Germ Oil.  Wheat Germ Oil will provide lysine, methionine and trytophane.  Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, while vitamin E is found in vegetable oils.  Calcium and sodium are found in a range of soft grits.

However, water-soluble vitamins are a convenient and effective way of improving the intake of important vitamins and at a particular time of increased demand.  It is unwise to give pigeons and rollers in particular a product made for other species or to not follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions.  Although, with the multivitamins/mineral supplements now available specifically for pigeons, their correct use can only help the birds, protecting them from a nutrient deficiency that may compromise their health and as a result their performance.

The following tables will categorize the grains into three categories, Pulses, Cereals and Oilseeds:


Pulses: are predominantly valuable protein carriers. Rollers requirements are greatest during growth, contests and moulting periods.

High Protein Grains


Grain Protein Carbs Fat Fiber
Beans 25.4% 48.2% 1.5% 7.1%
Lentils 22.0% 50.4% 1.2% 3.5%
Peas 22.9% 53.1% 1.2% 6.1%
Soy Beans 35.7% 27.5% 17.5% 4.8%
Tares 23.0% 50.2% 1.5% 6.0%


Cereals: contain mainly carbohydrates. Cereal grains makeup the main parts of good feed mixes.

High Carbohydrate Grains


Grain Carbs Protein Fat Fiber
Oats 63.6% 11.2% 5.2% 10.2%
Milo 65.2% 10.5% 3.5% 1.8%
Wheat 70.9% 11.7% 1.8% 1.8%
Maize 67.0% 8.9% 4.0% 2.2%
Barley 66.6% 10.4% 1.8% 4.5%
Millet 59.7% 11.6% 3.7% 9.0%


Oilseeds: are fat carriers, although some have high protein content. Be ware that only small proportion of oily seeds should be added to the feed mixes.

High Fatty Grains


Grain Fat Protein Carbs Fiber
Hempseed 32.2% 19.3% 17.9% 16.6%
Rapeseed 44.2% 19.9% 16.8% 6.3%
Linseed 30.8% 23.3% 21.6% 9.4%


In order to make sure that all the grains are eaten up, breeders should be fed twice a day, and flyers once a day. The quantity given should be taken within 10-12 minutes. Healthy rollers will eat the last grain and are great actors, thus don’t be fooled if they act like starving to death and end up feeding them too much.  If feed is left over, then you are feeding too much.

Remember that seed diets high in sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and peanuts are very high in fat and very low in other nutrients.  To rollers, this fatty seeds are like candy to us humans.  They taste good and can be addicting, but contain little in nutrients that are beneficial.

Be wary of feed suppliers that fill a bag of feed from a hopper upon purchase.  Feed in hoppers usually contaminated with Moths, Weevil Worms and other insects and in most cases mice droppings.  Inspect the feed upon arrival at home.  For a 50lb bag of feed, take out 5 scoops of feed to sample in a feed scoop, which holds about a pound of feed.  Put each scoop in a strainer, one at a time, and shake it well.  If the feed contains insects, worms or mice droppings, they will surface to the top of the feed.  Mice droppings are deadly to pigeons and if you don’t know how a dried up mice dropping look like, by all means educate yourself.  If you can not take the feed back to the supplier, it is best to throw away a $5.00 bag of feed than to compromise and lose your rollers.  It is just food for thoughts….

In closing, keep in mind that rollers need a balanced diet, and like us people, rollers eat what they like and only what they like, but with patience they will eventually be taught to eat food that is healthier and more beneficial to them.  In turn, it will more likely to give them a longer happier life and better sustained performance for many years.

Jay Alnimer

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