Handfeeding As A Weapon
By: Kelley D. Spurling

There are few, if any fanciers, who have not at one time suffered devastating losses from Salmonella or similar diseases. In the old days, it was termed simply as "Going light" and it is a fact that historically, the ailment has destroyed many, many valuable birds. I am usually very, very careful as a fancier and tend to seldom experience troubles in pigeon health matters. However, on a few occasions I have experienced losses, often very devastating losses. The only one to blame is myself. I am always on the hunt for certain rare breeds and it is a fact, that I am one of those people who get calls from people who beg me to take a stud or loft off their hands for whatever reason. I am not one who will turn away a bunch of rare pigeons, simply because I have seen too many end up in gun clubs, dog trainer's coops or end up in someone's freezer and I have been known to go through all kinds of hell to save doomed pigeons from those fates. On that note, if you or someone you know has a stud of rare pigeons and feel it is necessary to send them to the dog man, gun club or to a similar fate because no one will take them, feel free to call or write and I will try to place them with someone who will breed them. I don't care if it's one pair or 1000 pairs; I will find a place for them! Needless to say, on a few occasions in the past, I have trusted my eyes more than my common sense and ended up infecting a few birds with what appeared to be healthy birds, when in fact, those "healthy" birds had actually built up some resistance to disease, but still were carriers. In the same light I have also on occasions picked up ailments at shows. I can blame the losses mostly on myself, simply because I should have been more careful and ALWAYS quarantined birds well away from my own.

Over the years and those bad experiences, I have also come to realize that while diseases like Salmonella, PMV, Coccid, E-Coli and others do inflict great damage to a bird, that fatalities are actually more of a side effect of the ailment. Case in point, PMV does not and is incapable of incurring death in pigeons. PMV simply affects their equilibrium and lowers a bird's resistance to other diseases. This is somewhat similar to AIDS/HIV in humans. In humans, AIDS does not kill victims; it simply mangles their immune system to such a point that even the common cold can be lethal.  PMV  is  generally accompanied by a rash of other ailments  such  as  E-Coli, Salmonella, etc. and it is the latter which do the real damage. The fact is, PMV without any accompanying disease is more of a nuisance than anything else and most of the afflicted birds will bounce back in 2-3 months. The severest cases may take 6 to 12 months to deteriorate and the bird may forever show some sort of side effect, but PMV will in the end simply run its course and disappear. The real danger is when another ailment is along for the ride and that seems to be the norm.

Even still, it is the effect of sickness that kills and not the ailment itself. With Salmonella, the infection results in severe dehydration and emaciation due to severe diarrhea. The infection itself does not kill, but the results of infection will and do devastate the bird very quickly. Ask anyone what the signs of a sick pigeon are and what they will describe is a fluffed up pigeon with extreme diarrhea in a corner who has no interest in activity, food or water. I submit that it is the lack of interest (motivation) in feed or water, coupled with the diarrhea that leads to dehydration and emaciation which results in death. When the afflicted birds do show an interest in eating or drinking, they do so with great difficulty and are seen fumbling with the grain. Upon handling, one will find that their crops are empty of feed and water, or at least nearly. A pigeon can survive quite a time without feed before starving to death, but even in perfect health, (especially in warm weather), they can go only 3 to 5 days without water. With severe diarrhea, only 2 to 3 days. The greatest problem in fighting diseases like Salmonella is the speed with which it kills. Salmonella may be the root of the problem, but the dehydration is the stalk that kills pigeons as you try to fight the root. In other words, you continue to lose many birds while you fight the disease itself and generally many (if not all) before you beat it. The reason is that the dehydration kills them before you even begin to beat the disease itself.

The bottom line is that it is necessary to keep fluids down the bird. Anyone who has had any ailment has been advised to "drink lots of fluids" by their physician or parent to avoid dehydration and anyone with common sense knows how dangerous dehydration is. The same applies. to all land dwelling animals. So for example, I have a 15-year-old cat with a glandular problem who became dehydrated. Apart from a normal daily medication he was also prescribed to drink as many fluids as possible by our vet. So the advice of plenty of fluids is not so strange, even though it may sound a bit off tilt at first impression. If a fancier wants to save his pigeons, he must insure that his pigeons get their necessary fluids. If he can maintain their fluid levels he will be in a position to combat Salmonella or other diseases with minimal losses.

Due to this, I came to realize that handfeeding is a very potent weapon against Salmonella, E-Coli, etc. and because of this, I now keep plenty of syringes and handfeeding mix on hand, 'just in case". In fact, it is more potent than you may think as if you are administering medication in the drinking water, there is a very good chance that the afflicted birds are not receiving the medication, simply because they have quit drinking! If I find a pigeon that has went down, it is time to remove it to a small pen and begin handfeeding it. I happen to realize that many of you are deathly afraid of handfeeding a pigeon. Some of you say it is too much work, too much trouble and too time consuming to attempt. Others say: "Well, I don't know how", or "I don't have a squab feeding kit." The fact is, there is nothing to it at all and I hope that our good editor will dip into the archives and print a good article on handfeeding from a back issue with this.

Now, years ago, I remember reading that a person required special attachments to hand feed and even though such attachments were being advertised in the APJ, they were not cheap! The truth is, it was a real racket! I have hand-fed three-day-old squabs with an eye-dropper and differing size birds with simple syringes from the feed store. For that matter, most good pet stores do sell actual hand feeding syringes for hookbills at very cheap prices. Many SF breeders use plastic mustard bottles and that works as well. I prefer to use the syringes myself. The bottom line is that all fanciers should know how to hand feed a pigeon. In fact, as my Rzhev are not extraordinary parents (fosters were used in Moscow going back into the 17th century), it has become a part of my breeding program. I have heard some say that hand feeding just does not do a good enough job in comparison to the adult pigeon. The truth is, in my experience, the opposite is true and my hand fed young are generally healthier than those fed by any good pair of feeders. As well, they are tamer and actually seem to pick up eating sooner than the bird fed young.

On that note, it is even possible to save the disease afflicted squabs much of the time by hand feeding. At first impression, these afflicted squabs seem to be dwindling away due to disease, but I am not so sure. I believe these young dwindle away simply because their parents are aware that they are afflicted and simply refuse to feed them. I spend a lot of time around my birds (6-8 hours a day, EVERYDAY) and that is what I have observed during disease outbreaks. In the same light, handfeeding can also save the good, but weak ones, or the ones that a pair chose to abandon for whatever reason. In other words, there are many advantages to knowing how to hand feed, all of which are very positive.

Ishould mention that even though hand feeding can save birds afflicted by disease, it is not a cure. All it can accomplish is to keep a pigeon from dehydration or starvation and it is still necessary to treat the birds as needed. It may just keep your birds alive long enough to defeat the ailment. As far as what I use as a hand feeding mixture; I do things a bit differently than most people who hand feed. In the first place I use Kaytee Exact as a base. However, while most simply mix with lifetime around not only pigeons, but also poultry, cage birds, game birds, dogs and other animals. As well, I am an 8th generation animal fancier and we have been very, very, successful animal fanciers for roughly 250 years. I was more or less raised to be an animal breeder and there has never been a shortage of animal breeders in the family at anytime. In our more or less close family at this time that includes 3 pigeon fanciers, 3 dog fanciers, 1 cattle fancier and 2 cage bird fanciers. As a child, there were four master breeders in my close family alone. As a result, it was my opportunity to meet and know personally dozens of the best animal fanciers throughout the world. including the late Grand Duchess Oetie Koudjis of the House of Oranje who was in her time the greatest authority, fancier and dog judge on the European continent. As well, I met hundreds of other fanciers of many types of animals and even at a very young age drilled these people with questions, regardless of what they bred. It was a great way to come up for an animal fancier. As a roller fancier, my coming up was peerless. I met the right people and asked the right questions. To say I was lucky is an understatement. Naturally, I came away from all of this with a lot and much of it has a place in pigeons. As to the hand feeding mix, I have added a few twists of my own to improve on it. Firstly, is the addition of egg yolk to the mix and preferably yolks from fresh farm eggs. The reason for the preference is due to the fact that there is a dramatic difference in nutritional quality. The farm egg is generally much richer in vitamin content than store bought eggs simply because farm eggs are laid by hens who eat a large quantity of green foods, either in fresh greens themselves, or in kitchen scraps. The yolks of these eggs will be a bright red-orange, opposed to a pale sickly yellow and the farm egg is generally fuller and thicker and not tending to sit low. The difference here is vitamin content and there is also a slight protein difference. Egg yolk is added simply because it is the same food as consumed by bird embryos and is very, very, potent food for birds. In fact, the yolk actually sustains a hatchling up until its third day of life and consider the fact that the yolk is actually smaller than the hatchling and technically sustains its life for 20 days (24 in chickens) both as an embryo and a hatchling. When you consider the fact that an adult pigeon will consume more food than its own mass in 20 days, you come to realize just how potent that little yolk is. Also going back to the difference between green fed and not green fed yolks, the advantage of feeding your breeders plenty of good DARK GREENS is obvious. Generally, I will also replace half of the water used in mixing with other types of liquids. One day I may replace half of the water with canned chicken broth which is a good source of sodium and also is good against dehydration. Another day I may use milk in place of half of the water, which is high in calcium and various vitamins. Also, I may even take a whole can of corn, green beans, peas, spinach or the like and reduce it to liquid in a blender, juice and all) and strain out the larger pieces (especially for the corn, since the kernel skins will remain) and use this liquid in the mix. We already know that the green food is a genuine asset, so the likes of spinach, green beans, etc. is obvious. Corn is of course a natural staple of many feeds as it is. These additions to the normal hand feeding mixture will yield fantastic results, especially for squabs. To the hand feeding mixture we can also add vitamin supplements or even the medication you are using to fight the disease off.

Additionally, if you are fighting a disease, a syringe full of plain, unflavored yogurt into the crop can help work wonders. Not only will this provide helpful bacteria, but also extra calcium, vitamins, etc. Keeping these things in mind may save your best pigeons some day.

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