Rod Adams

It had to come of course. I refer to artificial Insemination of female pigeons. That, and DNA profiling is now reasonably available. Falconers have been doing this with birds of prey for a while now so it was really only a matter of time before pigeons came into the equation. Amongst the claimed advantages are the following facts:-

1) It is possible to get young from a valuable but infertile male.

2) Line breeding is very easy.

3) A large number of young can be bred in a short period without damaging the breeding pigeons.

4) Through the sperm bank there are several options from top rated males and first prize winners in all categories and all price ranges. You compose them yourself, if necessary.

5) It is a relatively cheap way for the “little man” to obtain top class pigeons.

6) The pigeon remains in it’s owners possession and gains in value by it’s being a sperm donor.

7) It can still be raced as well as being involved in breeding without the slightest damage.

8) As a result of DNA verification, there is a 100% lineage guarantee and some protection against theft.

9) Sperm taken from a top pigeon ten times a year gives the same results as with natural breeding.

10) The deep frozen sperm of a top class bird gives you certainty for years to come of breeding his offspring even if the donor bird is no longer around.

I know exactly what you are thinking. It sounds too good to be true. Well I can certainly think of some questions I would want answering before contracting into such a scheme but all the same, it could just be a major breakthrough. It depends, doesn’t it, not just on the price or on the science and methodology involved,  but also on things like honesty and integrity, often rare qualities in our sport, being applied scrupulously by all the participants in such a scheme.

Regardless, here is how it works. Sperm is collected from pre-tested males by harmless massage techniques and stored in liquid Nitrogen. It has an unlimited storage life. The number of females that can be inseminated by one collection depends on the quality of the sperm. It can vary from a single pigeon up to ten. The intention is their to start a Gene Bank and through DNA verification and  the setting up of the Sperm Bank you could have sperm taken prior to selling a pigeon and preserve it for your own or third party use. It could be sold later, any time you require, at a price fixed on the basis of the donor’s pedigree though what this will do to the present prices of pigeons, both being paid and being asked for, is anybody’s guess!                         Fertility Examinations will be available and certificates of such can be delivered at the sale of any examined pigeon and a testing service provided for young male racers prior to putting them into a race on the alleged basis  “that you can often tell by the quality of the sperm if your birds are in top condition or not.” Chew that little lot over. Then swallow it or spit it out. It’s your choice.  

The rapidly increasing prices of pre-packed pigeon feed is causing fanciers to consider  cheaper alternatives. Such as buying feed direct from the farm. It can be a big help but it can also have its drawbacks. Fungal infection is but one of them. Fusarium fungal infections cause diseases such as head blight and scab in wheat, barley, oats, other small cereal grains and maize. These badly effect the growth and yield of the crops. However it is the mycotoxins produced by Fusaria (which may be present in grains and grain products in human and animal feeds) that are of concern here. These mycotoxins are generated primarily in the field. Temperature and moisture conditions during the growing season and insect infestations are the critical factors. Mycotoxin concentrations vary greatly depending upon these factors. And because these toxins are heat stable, heat processing has little effect on them. There is, at present, no way to eliminate this Fusarium problem. All farmers and food processors can do is to be alert. And to watch out for it. The technical term for this is crop management. Beat that!

There is no doubt that Fusarium species pose a threat to animal and human health through the production of mycotoxins. Humans consuming flour made from scabby wheat have been reported to suffer nausea and headaches. Animals vomit, and there is a whole list of other disparate illnesses. Most of which I have never heard of ! Quite apart from those that I have! Such as neurological disease, pulmonary oedema, and liver and kidney problems. Even carcinogenesis in laboratory animals. But in pigeons? Well if the turkey men are being careful about what they feed to their birds that does me. You only have to look at a turkey and it’s in trouble! Never mind feeding it something nasty!

I do know that, in birds in general, it can cause altered feathering and damage to the mouth membranes to the extent that it interferes with their ability to eat. Then there are some seizure disorders. And a few other things as well. So it looks like caution in the purchase of farm wheat and barley is the order of the day. No buying without seeing. I’ve looked at the pictures of affected grains on the internet and it’s not hard to spot. “Tombstone” is one of the names used as an alternative to “head blight” or “scab.” Because of the shape of the grains. White and shrivelled like miniature tombstones. In barley you get dark shrivelled kernels. Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware.

 My old friend has gone native. He is a Marine Biologist working on the islands of Orkney, off the north eastern coast of Scotland, and has lived there for some years now. I see him very infrequently. When he comes back home to see his father he always pops into my local bar and we talk things over. The changes in him over the years have been significant. His beard has grown ever more luxuriant and wilder as his voice has got quieter and more burred with a slow Orcadian lilt to it. He even moves more deliberately than he did when I first met him all those years ago.

He is now a peaceful and imperturbable man. I’ve observed these changes because I don’t see him on a regular basis, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them had we been in day to day contact. It’s like that with the pigeons. You are often too close to them to see gradual change which makes it harder to spot unless you are away from them for some time or you are made aware of the changes by someone else with, so to speak, a fresh pair of eyes. A pair you can trust!

I have another friend working on Orkney who has also lived there for many years but whom I haven’t seen for a very long time . He is/was the RSPB Warden. He is also the person who taught me quite a lot about wild birds. The proper way. Not by reading books but in the field. The “that there is such and such a bird and this is why” method. There is no finer way to learn about anything.

You can’t learn pigeon racing from a book. Nor how to use a microscope. If you try to it that way it’ll cost you a lot money before you realise that isn’t how it’s done! I can clearly remember walking down a beach with my friend, one fine summers evening. “What” I asked him “does a Spotted Redshank sound like?” High overhead a bird called. “Exactly like that one there” said Eric, and I have never forgotten the call of that bird since! Sea-watching with him one day I saw a string of black ducks flying far out to sea. Dots on the horizon. Before I could even ask him “Common Scoter” he said ,“now here’s why.” Is there a better way of acquiring knowledge? Or a better way of learning how to fly and breed racing pigeons? I somehow doubt it! Incidentally, have a look at the islands of Orkney which you can find in any atlas. There is actually a pigeon club there. As there is on the Shetland islands, which are well to the north east of them. So far that they are usually to be found in a little square of their own up in the right-hand corner of the page!