Pigeons are a cheap source of good meat. Pigeons also produce fresh meat during the winter months. The frequency of breeding is dictated by the abundance of food available to the parents. The eggs take 18 or 19 days to hatch with both parents incubating the eggs.
I would like to make the case for raising pigeons for food as an urban livestock. Pigeons have lived alongside man for thousands of years with the first images of pigeons being found by archaeologists in Mesopotamia dating back to 3000 BC.
Throughout human history, the pigeon has adopted many roles ranging from symbols of gods and goddesses to sacrificial victims, messengers, pets, food and even war heroes. A pigeon is about 13 inches in length from bill to tail and weighs a little less than a pound. Males are slightly bigger than females.
The feral pigeon that we see in our towns and cities today is descended from the Rock Dove (Columba livia), a cliff dwelling bird historically found in coastal regions. The word ‘pigeon’ is actually derived from the Latin word ‘pipio’ which meant ‘young bird’.
The word then passed into Old French as ‘pijon’ and from that, the English name ‘pigeon’ was derived and is now used the world over as a common name for the Rock Dove. Other common names include ‘domestic pigeon’ and the ‘feral pigeon’. In 2004 British and American Ornithologists officially re-named the bird the Rock Pigeon.
Since their initial domestication pigeons have been seen as a cheap source of good meat. The Romans kept pigeons for food as evidenced by the fact that they were familiar with the practice of force-feeding squabs in order to fatten the young pigeons faster.
Pigeons were especially prized because they would produce fresh meat during the winter months when larger animals were unavailable as a food source.
The feral pigeon mates for life, (but if one is killed the other will seek another mate) and can breed up to 8 times a year in optimum conditions and will set on two eggs each time. Often older pigeons will lay more than two eggs in a nest. When this occurs the extra eggs should be discarded as two young is all the parents will be able to feed.
The frequency of breeding is dictated by the abundance of food available to the parents. The eggs take 18 or 19 days to hatch with both parents incubating the eggs. Young dependant pigeons are commonly known as ‘squabs’.
A squab is a young pigeon from 1–30 days old. Both parents feed the young with a special ‘pigeon milk’ that is regurgitated and fed to the squabs. Each squab can double its birth weight in one day but it takes 4 days for the eyes to open. At approximately 2 months of age, the young are ready to fledge and leave the nest.
This much longer than average time spent in the nest ensures that life expectancy of a juvenile pigeon is far greater than that of other fledglings. When ready to leave its nest, a squab can sometimes weigh more than its parents.
Ten pairs of pigeons can produce eight squabs each month without being fed by the pigeon keepers. For a greater yield, commercially raised squab may be produced in a two-nest system, where the mother lays two new eggs in a second nest while the squabs are still growing in the first nest fed by their father.
Establishing two breeding lines has also been suggested as a strategy, where one breeding line is selected for prolificacy and the other is selected for “parental performance”. Pigeons are also quite territorial about their nesting area.
Pigeons co-exist much more harmoniously when each mated pair has two nest boxes of its own. Because pigeons are also territorial about their perch, it is best to ensure that every pigeon in the loft has lots of places to perch.
Establishing more than one pen is a strong strategy for raising pigeons. Extra pens allow for the keeping of spare, unmated females and males which can be used to replace mated pigeons which might perish from disease or predation. Because it is sometimes difficult to determine the sex of a young pigeon, it is also handy to have another pen for pigeons that have been weaned but which have not yet given external indications of their sex. Unmated birds, however, should not be released to feed as they may mate with someone else’s pigeon and take up residence at their cote.
A pigeonnaire (dovecote) can be constructed on the urban compound in an area easily accessible to the garden for the use of the manure if care is taken during planting time as pigeons will feed on your freshly planted seeds. Plans for your pigeonnaire can be found at several online sites and in “The Have More” book.
The major points being that it should have an entrance way that can be converted to one way entry only, room to exercise, usually 8×10 with 8 feet of headroom, enclosed with wire mesh or hardware cloth that would prevent snakes from entering, and a small fountain for the pigeons to wash in.
This basin would need to be either removable or coverable to limit use to specific times of the day to keep the pigeons from soiling the fountain…
Pigeons also have an advantage in that most urban dwellers ignore them/fail to see them as a food source. With the properly constructed loft pigeons can be released to forage during the day and they will return to roost and care for their young in the evenings.
Although pigeon poo is seen as a major problem for property owners in the 21st Century, it was considered to be a valuable resource in the 16th, 17th and 18th century in Europe. Pigeon poo was a highly prized fertilizer and considered to be more potent than farmyard manure. It was so prized that armed guards were stationed at the entrances to dovecotes (pigeon houses) to keep thieves from stealing it!
In England in the 16th-century pigeon poo was the only known source of saltpeter, an ingredient of gunpowder and was considered a highly valued commodity as a result. I
n Iran, where eating pigeon was forbidden, dovecotes were set up and used simply as a source of fertilizer for melon crops and in France and Italy, it was used to fertilize vineyards and hemp crops. It can also be used as a tanning agent for certain leathers.
So, self-feeding, easy to raise, with large amounts of fertilizer. Win, win, win!
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