From a veterinary health point of view pigeons represent an extreme therapeutic challenge. In a closed stock loft or parrot aviary, where the movement of birds in and out is very low it is simply a matter of testing birds, identifying what diseases are present and treating them. Once this has been done good care, good nutrition and the provision of good housing should then prevent any stressed based disease from flaring. In racing lofts however, a large proportion of the residents leave each week and then return after mixing with birds from many different lofts usually under conditions that favor the spread of disease.
Obviously we cannot give medication to these birds all the time and so we try to develop a strong natural immunity in them. It is this natural immunity that protects the birds from disease in the longer term. A strong natural immunity develops through ongoing good care and the correct use of medication. With this in mind I find it easiest to divide the year into six stages. Each stage has its own aim and the correct way to use medication differs in each stage. These stages are:
Pre breeding stage
Aim: To start the breeding season with healthy stock birds.
Parasitic disease and diseases that were a problem in the loft during the previous breeding season are best treated now.
Aim: To produce healthy robust young ready for weaning no later than 28 days of age and to maintain the health and condition of the stock birds.
With the exception of canker, disease appearing now often reflects inadequate preparation for breeding. Medicating breeding stock birds is a challenge because many of the drugs used can have side effects during this period and accurate dosing is difficult because of the variable water intake in feeding stock birds depending on the age of their youngsters.
Post weaning stage
Aim: To allow a controlled exposure to disease organisms so that the youngsters can develop a strong natural immunity to them. This is achieved by providing a stress free environment and by avoiding the use of medication if possible.
Medication is best avoided now. Mild disease now can sometimes act almost as a mini vaccination, strengthening the growing birds natural immunity through low grade ongoing disease exposure. Usually disease is only treated if it progresses to the stage where it compromises the bird’s growth and development.
Aim: To have a good molt resulting in the production of a lustrous set of feathers and to allow ongoing development of a strong natural immunity. This is achieved through the maintenance of a stress free environment, drug avoidance, parasite elimination and a complete diet.
Because feather growth occurs continuously over several months, and feather quality is poor if the birds are not healthy, examining the bird’s feathers is like looking at a diary outlining the bird’s health during the molting time. Feathers have to last all year. A poor molt results in poor quality feathers and compromise of race performance for the whole season. Many common drugs such as antibiotics and some wormers affect feather quality. Best always to check with an avian vet first before using medication during this time.
Pre race stage
Aim: Having allowed as much time as possible for the birds to form their natural immunity it is now a matter of assessing what health problems are persistent, and then using drugs, if necessary, to get the birds completely healthy before the first race.
Interestingly when many birds from good lofts are checked at this time no disease is apparent. A clinical examination, crop flush and fecal smear will identify most of the common problems. If present, now is a good time to treat them.