Young bird sickness....
It doesn’t really have to be this way with our pigeons
Now before I start let’s just get one thing straight this is not going to help any fanciers who don’t want to know the how, what, why and when about viruses and aren’t prepared to learn and think that just popping a pill, putting some chemical concoction on to their food or into their water is going to not have a long term effect on their birds and other fanciers and not forgetting the bird’s wellbeing. Because the similarities with YBS and the present covid 19 pandemic you will find are striking after all it’s obvious they in a broad sense are both viruses!
Viruses have been with us since the beginning of all life. They are opportunists as they cannot support themselves outside of a host as they only carry on board a limited amount of fuel to support it. I say opportunists because it hope’s once it finds a host that it is vulnerable by having a weak defences in the form of a compromised immune system which enables the virus to go inside the host at a cellular level, where it can then use the hosts cells for fuel and to reproduce and thrive.
The virus doesn’t want to kill the host as this would leave it homeless plus if the hosts numbers reduced it’s self would find it’s numbers declining because it wouldn’t be able to reproduce due to the lack of hosts.
This is just a very simple description of a generic virus lifecycle and of course there are numerous different virus types but the principle is the same it’s all about survival of the fittest.
I can here you saying what’s all that got to do with pigeons? Well for the strategists amongst you will know that in every battle it is wise to know your adversaries weakness. With this in mind now we can identify the points of weakness in a virus we can adopt a different approach to minimizing it’s effects on the host. In our case our bird’s. The well ingrained modern approach to dealing with illness and diseases is to pop a pill take some medicine not to fix a medical problem but to treat the symptom. In the case of our pigeons it’s “oh no I’ve got young bird sickness” asking every man, woman and his dog on what is the best product, antibiotics, household cleaning products I can give them to make them well again! I know our little feathered friends can be pretty resilient but honestly will they ever really be well again! So right let’s think about this in a different way rather than firefighting after they are showing overt signs of disorientation and secondary bacterial overgrowths.
The clue is above viruses are opportunists looking for ill and diseased hosts that are immune compromised. My bird’s were really healthy well I hate to disappoint you but outside they can look in fantastic health but it’s inside that you can’t see where the problem is with the bird’s immune system where the problem really is. Well that’s it I hear you say something that we can’t see there’s nout we can do them? Not necessarily using the analogy we use for fuelling our pigeons to fly longer distances you haven’t got a fuel gauge on a pigeon but you do know what to do to by giving it the correct fats protein and carbohydrates which they need to fly the distance the pigeon requires. A similar process is needed for a strong healthy immune system although this time it’s a mixture of what you give your bird’s and probably more importantly what you don’t. I’ll start with what you should be giving them and forgive me I don’t mean to be patronising as this is really simple and basic good corn, vitamins, minerals and grit and clean water. I go into the clean water in my last article pro and prebiotics as this is very important. Now to explain what you don’t give them because by giving them or in some circumstances what you do as a fancier that reduces the efficiency of the immune system of your bird’s thus leaving them vulnerable for viruses to penetrate deep into your bird at a cellular level and producing bacterial secondary infections.
Firstly let’s start with an example of a typical life of a racing pigeon . The problems start for the youngster before it’s even born yeah right I hear you say well it does I’ll explain. The parents of the youngster are put into lockdown after racing by the fancier because he doesn’t want to let them outside because of his fears that they will be attacked by hawks and Falcons, thus the first little reduction of the immune system for two reasons one lack of exercise and two from the lack of the natural sunlight it needs to bolster its immune system throughout the winter. Next oh it’s breeding time according to the fancier anyway not the pigeon!. It’s ok I’ll just put the lights on that will fool them and yes it does that’s great not really lights don’t provide vitamin D3 used to build a healthy immune system and provide the calcium needed for strong healthy youngsters that was another weakening of the immune system the third! Oh it’s ok we can supplement some extra calcium. At this time the parents immune system should be strong as the hen passes the start of the youngster immune system before she produces the egg. So wait a minute I missed the preventative medication before pairing which also weakens the immune system. So let me just check the scores parents 4 youngster still 1. Next pigeon milk now the youngster has hatched builds the youngsters immune system afraid not when given by the parents with low immune. Youngster 2 but they look great podgy plenty of yellow fluff, remember you can’t see the immune system. So they’re ready to leave the nest let’s vaccinate it early there’s number 3 although vaccines are mandatory they still can have an effect on an already low immune system. Next let’s put the youngster on the darkness system strike number 4 a youngster needs again like the parents did as much sunlight especially while growing to build a strong immune system. An important point to note which I have mentioned before is a biological physical deformity which I’ve researched in bird’s chickens to be exact, is that in the first four weeks of growth the bird is forming it’s intestinal lining more importantly the villi which are a small protecting finger like pillar which act like a filter stopping foreign bodies from entering in the blood stream. This in simple terms forms a barrier and helps the bird get the proper nutrients it needs to build a strong and healthy immune system. If this growth is affected by any stress either physical or chemical in the first four weeks the villi growth is stunted leaving the bird’s immune system weak for its whole life as you can’t reverse this process. So getting back to your youngsters on the darkness system with a strike count of 4 for it’s immune system. You then decide to give it some more preventative medication just so it is healthy for training and then racing strike 5. An important point to say is that a healthy pigeon with a strong immune system will be able to cope with the stressors of training and racing but an immune compromised bird will start to show signs of disorientation (it’s homing ability) and it’s vulnerabilities to diseases and viruses but that’s ok you can now give them some antibiotics they’ll be fine bouncing after a couple of weeks! Strike 6. The lucky ones that made it through the season now get put on lockdown strike 7 and then the cycle starts again with the strike count now doubling! Ever wondered why you very rarely see racing pigeons over two years old. Think about it why wasn’t young bird sickness about in the 70s! It’s because all these practices a fancier does now weren’t either heard of or just starting to be introduced. The answer to the question is that it is not just one of the practices we have introduced it a combination of all of them together each one chipping away at the pigeon immune system making it vulnerable to attack from viruses and then the secondary bacterial infections that then kill our bird’s in our care because we are blind to see it or don’t want to see what we are doing to them under the guise of we are just keeping them healthy they win don’t they! Yes some do but at what cost breeding 60 70 80 100 youngsters to have enough left for next year.
I hope I have given you something to think about which answers the questions on young bird sickness, why pigeons get lost and it might stop fanciers blaming everything else which hasn’t at this time any evidence to prove or disprove like the sun and the moon are in the sky together, it’s that 5g it was the race controller he let them go! Come on lads and lasses I know for sum it’s difficult to comprehend but the fact is once you put your bird’s in the basket to be let go somewhere away from your loft the only person to blame if they don’t return is you nobody else. Put your efforts into your birds instead of looking for someone or something else to blame and stop reacting for the answers as to why oh and I guarantee you won’t find it in a bottle with the pretty picture of a pigeon on it at least not a sustainable one!
Oh yes almost forgot the similarities with the covid 19 virus read again the above changing pigeons to humans and do a comparison of the strike rate for yourself you might find it interesting! Viruses are opportunists only looking for a vulnerable host!
Remember this philosophy works wonders for you as well.
Please note: I am not a medical professional or a veterinarian so please discuss any changes with you health professional before your implement any changes on yourself.
I am though passionate about racing pigeons and have been all my life and endeavor to share my knowledge with like minded others. It is totally your choice should you wish to implement any of my findings.
Yours in sport
Dave Bunker Brierley 2020