How does a pigeon moult?

There are many myths out there about the moult of pigeons. Some claim that the speed at which a pigeon moults indicates whether it’s a good racer. Others claim that long-distance racers will moult later than sprint racers.

A lot of these are indeed myths. They’re not true. Yes, how a pigeon moults is also depending on the genealogy of the pigeon and it could be an indication of the pigeon’s health. But a lot of it has to do with other factors as well: (latent) diseases, the loft, the feed, the training, the breeding, the natural rhythm, etc. These are factors that you can influence but don’t get too excited though, you can only support the moult, not design it… So how to support the moult adequately?

We will first discuss the moulting process in-depth. Then, we will provide some helpful tips on how to support your pigeons during this immensely important period. After reading this article, you should be able to help you pigeons achieve an optimal moult. But since you are a good pigeon fancier already, we will skip the basics. You should know the basics and you should, for example, already know in which order a pigeon moults.

Also, we may be confronting in some parts of this article. We will tell you exactly whether you’re a good or less good pigeon fancier. We do this to help you realize when you are doing things well and if you can do things better.

The moulting process

The moulting process of a pigeon only tells us that the pigeon is a bird that has to grow new feathers… Let us start from that proposition and then we’ll see what the moult does say.

We do know of several factors that influence the moult. For example, we know that timing is important. When a pigeon is paired, when it is widowed, etc., do influence the timing of the moult. At Pipa, you can find the following interesting description:

If long distance racers are paired in November and are allowed to raise two nests in a row, they will also moult earlier. For example, when pigeons are paired and the hens are taken away once the youngsters are 14 days old and the pigeons are paired again, but now in April (so there is a break) and separated again after at most 8 days of breeding, they will shed their first primaries by mid June.

But pigeons of the same stock that are allowed to raise two nests in a row, so no break in April, will have already shed their third or fourth primary by the mid of June. Thus, they moult faster than pigeons that were separated between two nests.

As you now realize, the type of racer (short distance or long distance) has nothing to do with the timing of the moult. It simply has to do with their natural rhythm, with how you treat them and with the way they are prepared for the competition. There are exceptions of breed that can moult slowly. This of course gives advantages during the races in the spring.

According to Pipa, fanciers that raise two nests in a row, without a break, have their widowers in top shape in April, but they’ll be over their top form in mid May. They will then focus on their young pigeons. 

But most of the important flights are scheduled from mid-June to the end of July, so by then you want your pigeon to be in top condition and a full wing without holes in the wings. In that case, a break in the breeding season is wise. And darkening the lofts as we already do with the youngsters. So mimic the winter period with a maximum of 12 hours of light. They won’t have their two primaries dropped until mid-June and are in very good shape. So keep in mind that the natural routine of pigeons is very important to ensure optimal moulting. This also shows that the speed of the moulting process has nothing to say about the pigeon, but about how good you are as a pigeon fancier.

A good moulting process

A good moulting process

As a good pigeon fancier you already know that molting is not just about “making new wings”. The entire pigeon body is in moulting and the feathers on the head, neck, chest and tail are also very important. Flying is mainly about aerodynamics and only strong wings have not made it possible to win pigeon races. The whole body is important.

Consider this: bikers, professional or hobbyist, do a lot of logical things to make themselves, even in the smallest way, faster. They buy very expensive bikes that weigh only a couple of hundred grams and they buy the best tires. They wear helmets and special clothing, they shave their faces and their legs and they do anything to make their body have the least air resistance. In short, their entire appearance is built for speed.

Your pigeons will not shave their legs… But a good moult should also give a pigeon an aerodynamic body. The head of the pigeon is the first part of the body that catches air. If air is not distributed well, the head will be the first part of the body that slows your pigeon down. 

You get the idea.

Make sure your pigeon sheds all its feathers every year. (Don’t worry, we’ll tell you later that your pigeon doesn’t have to do this every year). But for the sake of a good moult, make sure all feathers are shed! They must include the head and neck, cover feathers, thumb feathers, wing bars, rump- and tail feathers, etc.

This process is greatly influenced by the natural rhythm, such as timing of the breeding, and of course by the health, feed and level of happiness of the pigeon. By the way, a good moult also indicates great fertility and good vitality. 

Now, don’t fret if not all feathers shed throughout a one-year period. Less important feathers are “reused” and they should shed the year after. Actually, most pigeons are completely renewed over a two-year period. For example, the secondaries only partly renew every year and a pigeon should renew its secondaries at least every three years. A pigeon with good vitality might be able to completely renew the secondaries in two years. But still: the better a pigeon moults in one year, the better its vitality.

So yeah, still make sure that most feathers are shed every year, because this says something about the pigeons’ vitality. But do keep in mind that certain parts of the pigeons’ “clothing” will take an extra moulting season to completely renew.

Checking for a good moulting process

How do you recognize a good moulting process? There are some characteristics you should pay attention to.

The cover feathers on the wings should show a good circulatory system. Blood is immensely important, we’ll explain that later. But if the feathers show small nodes or they have narrowings, this probably means the blood did not circulate well and that impacts the quality of the feathers. The same goes for the primaries and wing bars over their full length.

You should check the primaries also for a “toothed” or rigged structure. The primaries should also have a beautiful line. Make sure this line represents the bend of a knife. You can check this by fanning the wings.

This may not sound nice, but if a pigeon fails to moult well, this usually means that you fail as a fancier. You have not kept your pigeon healthy and happy. The moult really is a good indication of how good you are as a fancier. If the moult goes bad, you know you have some studying to do to become better.

An important thing to keep in mind: the last primary (the first when viewed from the outside) may be a little too short or just as long as number two. In that case, check if number two is still at full length. This may indicate that it is not, which indicates a little less good moult.

You should also pay attention to the feathers on the head and neck. You can best check this when you wash your pigeons. If, during washing, the feathers look like hairs, that’s bad. They should look fluffy. Fluffy feathers means they do not take up water well, which indicates a healthy, oily feather. This is important for aerodynamics, remember?

If the feathers do look like hairs, this may be because of a cold or an infection. You might want to check your pigeon in at the veterinarian or check for other symptoms.

If your pigeon does not moult, or barely moults, there is usually something wrong. You may want to quarantaine the pigeon and check for diseases. Perhaps something has gone wrong during the breeding period.

There are, however, some that argue that it is sometimes wise to pull out a feather if it is broken. It may occur that your pigeon has an accident. We are not entirely sure if this helps, but others argue that you should take good care of the pigeon first and then pull out the feather to force the pigeon to grow a new one. A broken feather is not helpful when flying, of course. So in that case, it is for the pigeon’s own “good”. But only do this in March or April. Otherwise you risk pulling out a feather that the pigeon will not renew.

 

One more thing we need to say: sometimes, completely healthy and strong pigeons will still not have moulted at the end of the year. This, also, is your reason. If you overtax them during training and racing, for example by making them race too late in the year, this will cause the pigeon to have a delayed moult.

If you notice your pigeon has not moulted at the end of the year, take very good care of it with vitamins, regular baths and great living conditions. Most of the time, the pigeon will still start to moult during January or even February. But…!!! 

DO NOT LET THESE PIGEONS FEED YOUNGSTERS OR DO RACES EARLY IN THE SEASON!!!

If you do, you will still overtax them. A burned out pigeon is not going to perform well…

Tips for a good moult

Now that you know more about the moulting process, we have some tips for you to keep in mind during and even before the moulting period. We’ve linked to some of our other in-depth articles where you can find more information. We also link to some of our products that will help you carry out the tips we’re giving.

Oh by the way: there is no “wonder potion”. There is not one potion in the world that can miraculously guarantee a great moult. As you have learnt, there are many factors that influence the moult. Feed, rest, hygiene, rhythm and loft are the most important factors that you can influence. This can not be done with one potion. This takes a lot of learning, knowledge and discipline.

Moulting tip 1 – ensuring good health

What is necessary for a perfect moult? Health! Of course. Sometimes, your pigeon seems healthy. But be aware that there may be latent diseases. There may already be infections that just do not show (yet). Before the moult, make sure you treat your pigeons with supplements. Start vaccinating as early as October. Make sure to give medicine against Trichomonas, Coccidiosis and worms. You will prevent incubated pigeons to actually get ill. It helps to bathe your pigeons at least every other day and to periodically treat them with an anti-disinfectant. Hygiene is immensely important to combat diseases. Also, bathing helps with the shedding of old feathers.

Health also means giving your pigeons good, clean feed and clean water. Be meticulous about hygiene and cleanness.

Moulting tip 2 – provide good food

Another necessity is the right food. In our article about muscles, we talk about the building blocks of muscles. Just like how muscles are built, springs are also built from different building blocks. The right diet contains the minerals, vitamins and other important building blocks. So don’t feed them alone, do your research and invest in good food.

There are also natural stimuli for moulting. You can try mixing Ginseng tea or other extracted herbal liquids (preferably tea) and giving it to your pigeons in addition to water. Remember not to make the mixture too strong. If you use ginger and it is too strong, the pigeon will not like the taste and can even lead to vomiting, diarrhea, etc. Also try not to add too many different supplements to the feed. This can negatively affect digestion.

So be careful with the food and don’t take any guesswork. Educate yourself and choose only the best of the best without overdoing it.

Moulting tip 3 – it’s in the blood

The main ingredient for feathers is … BLOOD! Blood is the logistical tool in any vertebrate organism. The shafts of the new feathers are filled with blood to the point where the feathers are fully grown. Then the blood becomes redundant and the follicle closes. But as long as the feather is growing, blood is important. Blood is always important, also for the racing, breeding and performance ability. It must always be strong and in good working order. Make sure to give your pigeon a detoxification supplement regularly. It is important to keep the liver and kidneys healthy. We advise to administer setrachol as a natural supplement.

But again, don’t overdo this. Be careful what you give to your pigeon. Don’t mess too much with the food and supplements. Some supplements don’t go well with others, so educate yourself about supplementation again.

Moulting tip 4 – east, west, home is best

Make sure the loft is in good condition. Things to avoid are drafts and over-ventilation. Cold winds can affect the respiratory organs and cause infections. Pigeons need fresh air just like us. Air circulation is therefore important. But just like us, they can catch a cold from drafts. Furthermore, the amount of natural light (and artificial light) also influences the shedding process. We advise not to use a lot of artificial light and to ensure that the pigeons have a good and consistent rhythm. The autumn period has fewer hours of sunshine and that stimulates the pigeon to moult, to prepare for the winter.

For example, we know that the use of artificial light influences the time of moulting of a pigeon. Pigeons that are exposed to a lot of artificial light molt earlier than pigeons that are not exposed (so much) to artificial light.

Furthermore, the loft stands for peace and the feeling of a “happy home”. Make sure the loft is nice and cozy. Make sure your pigeons feel at home. In Dutch we have an expression: “The horse smells the stable”. This is a common phrase that expresses that when a horse comes close to the stable (close to good food and rest), it starts to run faster. If your pigeons “smell” the loft, they may be able to make an extra effort in those last kilometers.

You should have learned a lot about moulting pigeons and we gave you some important tips and insights. Make sure you stick to this and also make sure to enroll yourself in biology, physiology and everything around the pigeons.

Knowledge is everything.

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