Confined birds such as stock birds are not given the opportunity to forage. Foraging allows a bird to feed selectively and to supplement its diet in the event of the nutritional balance of the diet being inadequate. The birds is therefore dependent on its owner to provide a complete and balanced diet. This places heavy responsibility on the provided diet to supply adequate vitamins for the pigeon in the correct balance with each other. All seeds vary in the level and variety of vitamins they contain. It is therefore inconceivable that a dry seed diet based on a small number of seed types would supply all of the pigeon’s vitamin requirements. In the stock loft, it is important to remember that micronutrients and vitamins such as riboflavin, carry over into the pigeon’s egg. This is necessary for maximum hatchability and chick vitality. Of interest, the age of the stock bird appears to have an influence on the efficiency of carry over of vitamins into the pigeon egg and this might be part of the reason why some fanciers notice that most of their successful race birds are bred from their younger stock birds.
Race birds in many lofts are given the opportunity to forage, however, are in fact more prone to not only vitamin, but also general nutritional deficiency because of the increased vitamin requirements associated with exertion, tissue repair and disease resistance. In addition to this, the racing pigeon spend considerable time during the season away from the loft in race baskets where feeding patterns are disrupted, being different from those in the home loft. Sometimes meals are missed altogether such as in all-day races and in ‘late arrival birds’.
In addition to routine maintenance, birds in a number of disease situations benefit from additional supplementation. These include:
- Diseases that damage the bowels, such as coccidiosis, reduce the absorption of nutrients.
- Damage to any tissues may increase requirements because of the need for healing.
- Activation of the immune response mechanism may also increase requirements, something of particular importance in recently weaned young birds.
- Some vitamins are stored in the pigeon’s liver and damage to this organ can reduce its ability to store and mobilise vitamins.
- Reduced feed intake due to disease tends to reduce the availability of vitamins at a time when the pigeon’s demand is increasing.
- The need for vitamins increases generally through growth, breeding, stress, disease and old age.
Water-soluble vitamins are a convenient and effective way of improving the pigeon’s intake of important vitamins at particular times of increased demand. Different species require different levels of nutrients. Because of the problems associated with over- or underdosing and the need for all nutrients to be in the correct balance, it is most unwise to give pigeons a product made for another species or to not follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions. To do so is simply playing with fire and quite frankly makes no sense. To use a product designed for a horse or dog on a pigeon implies that these animals’ metabolism is the same. This is plainly not true and to give a dog product to a bird immediately results in giving too much or too little of that nutrient. However, with the multivitamin / mineral supplements now available specifically for birds, their correct use can only help the birds, protecting them from a nutrient deficiency that may compromise their health and as a result their race performance. I usually recommend adding a complete multivitamin / mineral supplement to the water once or twice weekly as a matter of routine.