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Pro and Prebiotics in pigeons by Dave Bunker Brierley

Pro and Prebiotics in pigeons.

I’m like a kid, always asking myself why! I have in my life had lots of illnesses which has left me in a state I thought I would never be. With very little mobility and a pickled brain from all the medications I was taking. So through the haze I had to do something and that word popped back up why! Accompanied by how! How, did this happen to me. That’s a story for another day but needless to say I started studying all the oligies not just limiting myself to one. This is just a very small sample from one area but be under no illusions a very important one using the widely known saying all diseases start in the gut!

Let’s start with the probiotic, what are they and why are they important not just for us humans but for our pigeons. There are two types of probiotics live and transient. In simple terms live probiotics are as the name suggests are alive, alive with what?,  well they are alive with good bacteria. The bacteria is needed to help bolster the natural bacteria that exists in and all over a living creature. In this case our bird’s but this does apply to us humans as well. This bacteria is collectively called the microbiome which again for simplicity we will focus on the gut the main area where the bacteria reside. The microbiome often referred to as the second brain as in humans it has a direct link through the vagus nerve to the brain. Have you ever sensed and had that what we call gut feeling or butterflies in your stomach well I’m sure most people have well that’s the microbiome connecting with your brain. Your immune system is also controlled in a large way by your gut which is full of a diverse finally balanced types of bacteria. The bacteria break down and modulate the food that enters the gut into it component parts like vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. So they can pass through the gut walls via the receptors into the bloodstream and from there to the relevant parts of the body for their use. Live prebiotics are needed when the gut flora bacterial balance is disrupted by medication, eating the wrong types of food or through diseases. The live probiotics restore that balance by re-populating the gut with good bacteria.

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Transient probiotics are again as the name suggests they pass through but don’t populate the gut with bacteria as they are dead but do produce a feeling of wellbeing whilst they pass through.

Prebiotics are put simply are the fuel the bacteria need for themselves to stay healthy, in humans fruit, vegetables meat and fish which have either directly taken nutrients on board from the earth or indirectly by the animal from eating plant life. In the case of our pigeons it’s by eating plants and seeds is the case.

So using these facts above from what is already known in humans and other animals but for our pigeons it’s crucial for optimal health to keep the bacterial balance of your bird’s gut by the use of pro and prebiotics maximizing the gut microbiome. It can then turn what you feed it into the vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates. In layman’s terms you can give it all the best food in the world but if the bacteria in your bird’s is not of the right bacterial balance and levels it won’t be able to use the food you give it for fuel as it will just pass through the bird without the essential nutrients getting around to the places it’s needed i.e.. The blood, brain, bones, muscles and of cause the immune system to help the bird fight disease.

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I think a bit more detail on bacteria and the immune system is needed to show what we do as fanciers that effects the balance of the bacteria in the microbiome. I think some but not all fanciers will be surprised by this effect and cause when I outline a selection of practical interventions we do without thinking of impact it has on the bird’s regarding natural health that could impart account for the inflation of young bird losses in recent years.

  • Water something I’ve noticed observing some loft reports from top racing fanciers that locate their lofts in remote locations i.e.. On the side of hills, mountains and quarries. Almost joking the interviewer asks how the get their water for their bird’s and the reply on quite a few occasions is from the spring, well or stream near to the loft. I think we are missing a very important gem of information here! Because this type of water source is the most natural and pure used by humans and animals alike from the dawn of time. So much so that they created God’s for it leaving offerings whilst the worshiped. This water source because of the process from rain traveling through the rocks and earth is full of vitamins, minerals and trace elements without any interference from man is considered to be the purest and spring water is to the present day still seen as containing magical healing powers. This source of water of cause that is if you have access to it, is the best source of water for you and your bird’s optimal health. Council pop or Adams ale as it is known in some areas but more commonly known as tap water has issues. Tap water is like everything produced for the masses it has follow strict guidelines to standardize it. By this I mean things like it has to have a ph. of 7.5 it has to not contain any pathogens good or bad. The two main ones used are chlorine and fluoride although there are regional differences in the amount. These are there to keep it clean as it travels through the mains pipes till you turn the tap on. What’s that got to do with my bird’s well the clue was the two chemicals used to keep it clean, it if given to your bird’s straight from the tap it will “clean” the bacteria from your bird’s microbiome, it’s not in large enough amounts to do it in one go but a little and often can alter your bird’s bacteria substantively as stated above reducing the absorption of nutrients which in turn weakens the immune system. Above I mentioned about young bird losses and I think this is important to note fluoride is an halide and blocks the receptors which iodine uses to perform critical gland functions of the body. An excess of fluoride can cause in humans of a dulling of brain function commonly known as brain fog. My theory is it does the same in our bird’s effecting their orientation hence contributes to losses. Now to mitigate this is relatively simple. I have studied this and some water authorities have demonstrated that if you leave water extracted from household mains supply for 30 minutes fluoride chloride and any added cleaning chemicals evaporate and test chemical free. Although I do personally leave it standing overnight as a belt and braces policy to be sure.
  • Food In humans and birds although I have no independent research specifically for pigeons but there is lots in the poultry industry on chickens so that will have to do for now. Changing the diet has a profound impact on the microbiome by altering and changing the levels as well as the diversity of the bacteria. As we all know changing diet of racing pigeons is a necessity to reflect the distance the bird’s fly. There was a foot note given in the research from chickens that gives hope that if the microbiome is strong changing feeds gradually has little impact on health.
  • Stress any human interaction with your pigeons will cause different amounts of stress. Stress invokes a chemical reaction to this process called the flight or fight reaction. In layman’s terms the body releases cortisol and adrenaline and shuts down all nonessential bodily functions like the gut in order to distance itself from the danger. Dealing with a viral or bacterial infection attack is not priority at this time leaving it vulnerable until the danger is over. Well what can you do just like life stress is unavoidable but some simple practices reduce the it like routine talking to them play fighting on their perches, if you stress around your bird’s they will be stressed to.
  • Medication/especially antibiotics I’m not against medication or antibiotics they have their place both in humans and out pigeons but a simple way to remind yourself what they and probiotics are and the clue is in their names. Anti = against, biotic = life go one have a guess what the next one is well let’s see if you’re right pro = for, biotic = life. In other words antibiotics take away the bad bacteria that’s great hooray but wait a minute they take away the good bacteria as well boo. Seriously though that’s what happens leaving an empty space inside for the inevitably bad bacteria to flourish and grow out of control. That’s why if you ever have to use them always immediately after you need to get the best diversity probiotics into your bird’s to recolonize the gut. The best way to avoid this situation is not to let them get that sick in the first place by keeping their microbiome feed the good bacteria and they will feed you. As I’ve said a few times this methodology can work for all humans and animals. Any chemical, medications administered to your bird’s will have an effect on the bacteria balance of their bird’s.
  • Breeding This everyone is aware of it’s its importance to health well I presume. So you try to purchase the best racing/breeding genes because you’ve known a little about genetics. But are you aware of epigenetics without going into too much detail epigenetics is outside interventions i.e.. What the fancier does that can effect whether the genes are turned on or off. Just like I mentioned before an example of this you purchased a young bird off a champion racing pigeon but the fancier activated the specific gene that made it perform well. You have your own practices but unfortunately the pigeon doesn’t perform well for you at all for you, basically it was you and not the bird because you didn’t turn the gene on it needed to perform. So a wise move would be to study the vendors practices. I only brought this brief genetic example into my writings for one reason to highlight how genes can be passed from parents to offspring. Because there is something that passes from parents to offspring that’s just as important and that’s the bacteria in other words it’s immune system. In humans and animals the immune system is passed to the baby whilst it travels through the birth canal. Here’s a little anecdotal peace of information I came across, a biology professor contemplating the only bit of bad design he could find with the human body was why was I’m going to try and explain this as politely as possible the place from which a baby comes from right next to the place where the body excretes it waste. Well after years of study he found out why and had to concede that it wasn’t the worst biological engineering but the perfect design because these two areas were both as important in the transmission of the immune system and it was obvious to him now he knew that it was nature working at its best. So getting back to pigeons, chicks before they hatch already have a small amount of bacteria but the immune system is greatly strengthened and formed from the bacteria passed to them from the parents pigeon milk. The immune system continues to grow throughout it’s life but the first 4 weeks are critical for it future health here’s why. Again this is from chicken studies and I have no reason to doubt that this will be no different for pigeons. The receptors that as you will remember from above absorb essential nutrients through the gut wall into the blood any disturbances to the receptors in the first four weeks restricts the growth of them staying for their life not allowing them to have optimal health in turn also not having a strong immune system.

So what’s the best probiotic I’m not going to knock any of the probiotics for pigeons on the market except for the usual they can be expensive and remember when purchasing the difference between live and transient and when they are needed. But I have found what I consider to be the best for my bird’s health and no I’m not trying to sell you anything if you’ve got this far and thinking here we go I knew it. This what I’m going to tell you about is totally natural and has been around for 6000 years I have found out in my research. I’m sure some of you will have heard of it and some of you will be using it. Here’s a bit of background on it and what it contains: it came into the west about 20 years ago and it originated from what is called the fertile crescent on the boarders of Turkey and is named in Turkish feel good! It was brought over to Russia by a Nobel peace prize winning professor Ilya Metchnikoff after he discovered that the shepherds in this area were living to be 100 years and it was because of them supplementing with this. I hear you saying just tell us what is it

Well I’m sure you will of heard of fanciers using yogurt well this is yogurt on steroids!

Here’s some facts yogurt contains 4 to 6 strains of live bacteria

This similar milk based product contains 30 to 50 strains of live bacteria

Here’s a breakdown of what else it contains:

Vitamins per 100ml vitamin A, Carotene, Thiamin, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, Folate, Niacin, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E

Minerals per 100ml Calcium, Phosphor, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride

Trace elements per 100ml

Iron, Copper, Molybdenum, Zinc

It’s called kefir I can hear people saying I’ve seen this in Asda in little bottles on the diary counter near the milk or I use them little bottles from China, sorry to disappoint you all these are not the same they are at best commercial copies manufactured by robots in factories with only remnants of the natural product left in them.

The real McCoy is Tibetan mushrooms kefir grains that scientists can’t reproduce and have been shared by people families and friends. Once you have the grains (a scoby) symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria you need to ferment them in full fat preferably organic unpasteurized either cow’s or goat’s milk in a jar at room temperature for 24 hours then sieve the grains from what is now your kefir put the grains back into your jar fill with milk and then just keep repeating the process.

Now you’ve got your kefir how do you give it to your bird’s well there’s a few ways you can just mix some on their corn it’s a bit messy but works well I use plastic feeders that sounds posh well my homemade plastic guttering works, then you can wipe them clean . The easiest less messy method I use is just add a tablespoon full to a 2 and a half pint drinker and mix well they drink it readily. Oh and I almost forgot the prebiotics if you think that was complicated prebiotics well just give them some cabbage kale lettuce leaves that’s all you need to do to feed the bacteria and then watch them glow.

Both of these are cheap as chips the kefir is a bottle of full fat milk for your live probiotics and  brassica leaves use the one’s you pull off and throw away when cooking your dinner.

There is a moral to all the above: which is never underestimate the consequences of your actions no matter how small and insignificant it’s seems to you and when it comes to your pigeons performance look at yourself before blaming others or other things that are out of your control and are just a waste of your energy that can be better spent on your bird’s.

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 your health professional before your implement any changes on yourself.

I am though passionate about racing pigeons and have been all my life and endeavour 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