Life in the North East of England (41)

Rod Adams

How I ever got “Athletes Foot” beats me. The most athletic thing I do these days is dash to the bar when “last orders” are called! Anyway, Pete Brown my local pharmacist says it is either that or maybe I am pigeon-toed, so we settled on “Athletes Foot” and he sold me some anti-fungal cream and a dusting powder to treat it with. When you think about it fungi tend to grow where it is dark, moist and warm so a pigeon’s crop is a natural site for it to thrive in should the conditions be right. Look at my feet ( not a pretty sight ) warm, dark and sweaty– I reckon I could grow mushrooms in my shoes if they were a couple of sizes bigger! Other typical sites besides the feet are skin folds, the umbilicus and there is a particularly unpleasant problem site peculiar to women. Fungal infections are fairly common in pigeons and most fanciers tend to have experienced “Thrush” type problems at some time or other, Candida Albicans being the commonest one. You can nearly always bet that in most cases fungal infections are secondary and usually occur only after some other factor, be it disease, environmental or nutritional in origin, which have allowed it to slip past a weakened immune system and take hold.

We live in a sea of Fungi, Bacteria and Viruses and it is only our immune systems which prevent us going under, at least for most of the time they do. Some Fungal infections are very hard to shift, Aspergillosis for example which gets into the lungs and air sacs, and any which have invaded deep body tissues, but crop infections are not too bad and respond well to Nystan or Fungazone. But occasionally another, more serious problem, caused by certain Fungi, namely Mycotoxicosis, occurs where the birds are very badly affected by toxins produced by the Fungus that is present. I would think that Aflatoxins are the metabolites most folks have heard of, and we are talking here about the culprits being poor grade peanuts, peanut products and cereals, mainly maize. The effects of these potent Aflatoxins can run the entire gamut of symptoms from loss of appetite, weight loss, and even death. Scary, and a long way from my itchy foot eh ?

Boy can the bearded one tell a good story! Pondering over what he sees as the direct consequences of operating his youngsters on the darkness system i.e. his level of subsequent performances and the numbers he was clocking he said “Rod, you know they don’t come like they did in the old days any more, I get one or two right up there but before they used to come so fast and so many of them, one after the other, like knots on a ball of string, that I had to cool off the clock key in the water barrel.” He could well have been smiling when he said that, but how do you tell? Looking at him head on is a bit like watching a badger coming backwards through a hedge! He’s had pigeons a long time. I didn’t really know how long until he told me and I was surprised.

“Blood Blisters”. I read a letter this morning in another pigeon paper asking for advice on this condition and not being a Veterinarian nor in the habit of writing to complete strangers, I thought I might discuss the problem here as it is a common occurrence and not hard to sort out. Once you know what you are up against. Most of the common tumours found in pigeons are probably Lipomas, “Blood blisters” if you like, and occur round about this time of the year in young birds and, usually, a bit later in old birds. More often than not it seems to me you find them in hens rather than cocks, and there may well be a genetic link involved as they sometimes seem to run in families. I treat them in different ways depending upon where they are situated on the bird and the shape that they are. Nodular ones with a distinct neck and in places of easy access like on the throat or leg or on the back can be tied off with strong thread and left to shrivel up and drop off themselves but those found under the wing or with no necks at all and “weeping”, i.e. ulcerated with mineralised cholesterol clefts, have to be treated differently. What I do with these is to dress them daily with Sulphadimidine powder, or any antibiotic topical wound dressing to prevent secondary infections and never attempt to tie them off.

In all cases, especially where you have a few occurring simultaneously, you should treat all your birds as if they were too fat and their diet too rich, which at the time when old birds suffer from this condition is probably not too far from the truth! A sea water mixture with added Lugol’s Iodine works wonders. It has to be seen to be believed. A couple of years ago I had seven or eight youngsters with fatty tumours and they cleared up within a week. The sea where I live is not a place I would care to swim in, never mind drink the water, so I went to a local shop specialising in tropical and salt water fish and bought some salt water tablets which are simply added to a certain amount of water. Once made up a couple of mls. of Lugol’s Iodine is added to every two pints of the Sea Water mixture and two teaspoons of this put into each drinker for a week. Once, when I couldn’t get the tablets, I just put the birds on electrolytes instead for a few days and this worked nearly as well but, and this is an important but, you must “dilute” whatever you are feeding to your birds 50/50 with Depurative or Barley for the duration of the course, as too much protein doesn’t help the obesity side of things. And that will take care of your “Blood Blisters”.

So there we were standing in the rain. Ten of us and 800 pigeons waiting for the transporter to arrive. The baskets were stacked and lined up on the pavement covered in an assortment of bin-liners and plastic sheets and we were wearing whatever we had on when we came down to the marking centre. Naturally when you have a group of fanciers hanging around in the rain for forty five minutes, soaking wet, the patter is good–it keeps the spirits up. And somebody mentioned an earlier occasion when, just as now, they were waiting for the transporter to come. It usually approaches the club from the left so the boys were looking that way when someone spotted what they thought was the wagon. Far up the road to their right. Our Federation Secretary reckoned it could be a new driver who didn’t know where the correct pick-up point was so he despatched one of the boys to nip up the road in his car and bring the guy down.

Herbert shot up the road, he’s always been an accelerator and brakes man, flashing his lights at this big articulated lorry then got out and said to the driver, “the pigeons are down there mate” pointing to where the boys were waiting. “Pigeons” said the driver, “pigeons, I’m here delivering electrical goods mate. Why don’t you just F**k off and mind your own business!” Eventually this guy finished unloading and drove past the lads waving cheerfully to Herbert, who was busy explaining that if the driver was after any trouble it was the Fed. Secretary’s problem. Not his! I wonder what the various passers-by on that night thought was going on. Ten grown men, water dripping off them, standing in the rain laughing like lunatics. We had to go into the nearest pub to dry out!

Hans was standing there with us. Pigeon men can be cruel and for a time our lot mockingly referred to him as the “Ghost Buster”. The story is this. Hans had rented a flat in a row of old miners terrace houses, near to where I first raced pigeons in a partnership as a young lad. One night when he was sitting by himself, completely sober, watching television the room seemed to suddenly become colder and he became aware of the presence of someone else. This was impossible as he lived on his own and the house was locked up for the night but he looked up from the T.V. and there she was. An old lady, sitting in the armchair in the corner, silently watching him. He did exactly what I would have done in the same circumstances and promptly left the house. So fast that he even forgot to put his shoes on! Finding himself outside on the pavement, shaking, he then dashed quickly into the passageway, grabbed his shoes and never went back to the flat again. Ever. Someone else picked up his belongings for him the next day.

Bumping into the previous occupant of the place, a week or so later, Hans asked him why he had moved out. “Well” said this guy, “I know you won’t believe me but sometimes, in the middle of the night, the room would become very, very cold and somebody or something used to pull the blankets off my bed. I had to sleep with the lights on. The whole business scared the living daylights out of me so I got out. If I had told anyone they would have just laughed at me.” Hans didn’t. He only made one mistake did Hans. He told one of the pigeon men about what had happened to him. And word got round the club. We don’t call him the “Ghost Buster” any more. It didn’t seem appropriate to the circumstances. Now we call him “Casper!”