Sunlight and the elevated flight
Sunlight is a basic requirement for all birds and it is easy to see the positive effect that the sun has on the health and well being of our pigeons. On sunny days the birds look so much brighter and more alert than on overcast or wet days when the birds look depressed and disinterested.
It is known that direct sunlight provides birds with the vitamin D, that is so necessary for bone, feather and reproductive health, but it must have other positive effects on the metabolism and immune system, because the birds look so strong when they have access to direct sunlight. For this reason, it is recommended that every bird in the loft has access to direct sunlight. This is best achieved by an elevated flight.
The elevated flight is ideal for baths, protecting the loft from wetness and the race birds from potentially harmful ground germs associated with free lofting. The elevated flight is usually opened directly to the breeding loft, whereas the flight of the race loft must be closed off at night from the rest of the loft during the race season. The flight quickly becomes a favourite rest and recreation area for both the breeding and race birds, playing an important part in strengthening the loft bonding process of pigeons.
Security and rest at night
The special attention that is given to providing the pigeons with a loft that promotes complete rest at night will reward the fancier with a healthier flock and more consistent race results. Both the breeding and race lofts must protect the birds from moisture, temperature extremes, too little or too much air movement, predators, noise, fumes, light and other disturbances, so that the birds can rest, especially at night. Proper rest is a major pre-requisite for continuing pigeon health and race performance.
The breeding loft
The design requirements of the breeding loft are simple compared to the race loft. The best breeding loft is very open, because breeding takes place during the warmer months. At night the birds usually rest comfortably in their nest boxes and during the day a large open flight provides the adults and babies in the nest with the health benefits of direct sunlight. The open breeding loft improves the circulation of fresh air and promotes a drier loft, which in turn improves the breeding performance. Breeding is far less stressful to the pigeon than racing and maintaining their health is so much easier, because the birds are not exposed to the outside diseases and hardships of the race basket.
The race loft
The race birds are exposed to many more stresses than the breeders and require much more rest to remain healthy. Consequently, the requirements for a successful race loft are more exacting and complicated than for the breeding loft and must provide the race team with the necessary rest to recover from their strenuous physical exertions. The darkness of night provides the pigeon with the time to rest and the conditions in the loft at night are of the utmost importance if the pigeon is to fully recover from the exertions of the previous day.
The conditions inside the race loft which promote restful sleep at night are:
- No rapid fluctuations of humidity and temperature.
Good ventilation (i.e. the air circulation is good, the air is fresh, not heavy or stuffy, no drafts and no dust).
The pigeons numbers are controlled i.e. no overcrowding.
There is no wetness in the loft.
- The loft is clean.
Temperature and humidity control
To protect the fit racing pigeon from losing form, the temperature in the loft must be above 10 and below 30 degrees Celsius, and the humidity kept below 65%. These are the conditions that favour continuing health and known as the thermo-neutral zone for the pigeon.
In most lofts, it is the humidity, more than the temperature, which determines whether the birds rest or not at night. Humidity measures the amount of moisture in the air, irrespective of the air temperature, but it is the high humidity (greater than 65%) associated with a temperatures below 15 degrees Celsius that most affects the pigeons ability to rest. The pigeon loses form and becomes susceptible to illness when it does not to get adequate rest.
The droppings in the loft are the best indication of the humidity levels. In the healthy loft, a low humidity (less than 55%) gives a consistently nutty brown dropping, whereas a higher humidity (greater than 65%) will produce green watery droppings. At night-time, when the pigeons need to rest, there is always a rise in the humidity, because as the temperature drops the humidity rises. This explains the droppings turning wet and green the morning after a cold humid night, but which then turn nutty brown by the afternoon as the day warms up and the humidity drops. No two lofts, even if they are identical, will have the same humidity levels, because the humidity inside the loft relates directly to the humidity outside the loft. The controlling factor of humidity is the location (or geography) of the loft.
Often fanciers will re-create their previously successful loft design when they move from one house to another but find that they are no longer successful flyers. The only difference is the location of the loft.
High humidity risk lofts:
These lofts require a loft design that stops the outside humidity (moisture) entering the loft.
Insulation is the first step to controlling fluctuating temperatures and high humidity inside the loft. It is the moisture drops of condensation appearing on the inside of uninsulated walls and ceilings that increase the humidity inside the loft to the very high levels that predispose the race birds to restlessness and respiratory illnesses. The insulation of the walls and ceiling will stop this condensation and allow you to control respiratory diseases with the minimal use of medicines.
In high humidity areas, shutting the loft up at night or when it is raining is a good method of controlling the humidity inside the loft (louvres are commonly used), but the air circulation and the air quality inside the loft must not be compromised. Too often the loft is completely shut up with no thought about air circulation. The resulting stale loft makes the race birds lethargic due to lack of oxygen.
Heaters at night are beneficial for the race team. The healthy team remains in top form when the loft is closed at night by keeping it warm and dry. However, it is better to have a very open loft in flocks recovering from respiratory disease to prevent the "respiratory" germs accumulating inside the loft from re-infecting the race birds.
Oil based bar heaters are safe and effective to use when the temperature drops below 12 degrees Celsius and are used to prevent a loss of form by keeping the air and dry. Dehumidifying machines are also available, but the noise may prevent the birds from full rest.
Hygrometers can be installed to monitor the humidity within the loft, but often the salts in the grit or mineral powder are equally effective in monitoring humidity above 65%. These salts attract moisture. For example, F-vite darkens and becomes granular when the humidity is too high and grits become dark and wet with moisture.
When the air inside the loft is not as fresh as the outside air, then there is a ventilation problem.
The traditional Australian loft is open at the front and gets good race results in areas with low humidity (non-coastal and inland regions, South Australia etc.). Such a loft requires little other ventilation other than vents on the back and side walls of the loft. Place the vents under the perches rather than at the top, so that the air does not pass over the birds resting in the perches. The flow of air over the birds created by incorrectly placed vents is referred to as a draft and causes illness by preventing the birds from resting.
The creation of proper ventilation in enclosed lofts is more difficult to achieve and in dry areas it is often better to avoid enclosed lofts. However, in high humidity and very cold areas the loft must be enclosed at night to maintain the form of the fit race team, although it is opened up as much as possible during the day. The best lofts can be opened up during the day and closed up at night, when it is raining or during cold humid weather.
More ventilation is required in closed lofts than open lofts. Ceiling or wall ventilation fans are often used to improve the circulation inside the loft. Vents placed on the back and side walls near the floor are open during the day and on warm nights and closed when it is wet or cold. Double-check the quality of the air inside an enclosed loft by asking an asthmatic friend to stand inside and pass an opinion as to the freshness of the air.
Overcrowded lofts do not race to their true potential. Overcrowding increases fighting, creates restlessness and increases the staleness of the air. Overcrowded lofts have consistently good droppings, although the birds may be healthy. Often healthy nutty droppings return when the numbers are decreased. The best race results occur when the numbers are kept around 25 birds per 6 foot x 6 foot by 6 foot loft.
Wetness in the loft
Waterproofing the loft is a priority, because wet floors endanger the health of the birds. Fit race birds immediately lose form and often succumb to coccidiosis three days after the floor gets wet. Disinfecting or cleaning the loft using water must be reserved for warm days or allowed to dry whilst the birds are out exercising. Concrete slabs hold water and are not recommended for race lofts and must be designed to drain and dry quickly when used beneath elevated flights during the race season.
Pigeons love a clean loft and rest better when the perches and floor are cleaned free of droppings. Sand on the floor looks good, but is not recommended during the cold months of the racing season. At this time the birds may suddenly over-engorge on it and lose form because of the resulting "gut ache". Pigeons love to lie down on straw but it must be perfectly fresh, clean and be free of dust or moisture. Black marks and a musty smell to the straw indicates mould on the straw, which can damage the pigeons airsacs when inhaled.
The loft is cleaned at least once and even better twice daily during the racing season.
Twice daily cleaning allows the fancier to monitor the health of the race team very closely. A change in the droppings is then recognised very early and the appropriate remedy (either rest, water cleanser, medicines, loft heaters etc.) can be quickly and effectively prescribed. The design of the loft must be such that scraping is made as easy as possible. The floor should be perfectly flat and smooth and the perches must be wide enough and brought out from the wall for easy scraping.
The best lofts are positioned in the yard to get the most amount of sunlight from the day during the racing season. In Australia, the best direction to face the loft is between North West to North East, because the sun moves northward during the winter months of racing. Lofts need as much sunlight as possible. They also need space to breathe fresh air and are best away from trees, fences and be elevated.
The resting pigeon
The best designed lofts create an environment that is so relaxing that during the day and at night-time the birds lie down on the ground or on the perch with their wings hanging loose. The compartment sizes should not be too large, but small and low enough for the fancier to catch the birds easily without chasing them around the loft. The race team is tamer and more relaxed in a loft with smaller compartments. The best size sections are 6 inches higher than the fancier, 6 feet deep and 5 feet wide.
Loft materials for ceilings, walls and floors
In high humidity areas the ceiling and walls of the pigeon loft must be lined if consistent racing results are to be enjoyed. Masonite and wood are better insulators than metal. The best floor for racing is made of wood (form ply or marine ply) because it is a good insulator, stays warm, and is smooth for effective scraping. It can be unscrewed and replaced with wired floors during the off season if required. Wood floors are harder to disinfect. Concrete floors are not recommended in the race loft because they are cold and retain moisture, but they are good for the breeding loft and can be used for the race loft if they are centrally heated.
In high humidity areas wire floors are not recommended for racing because the droppings beneath the wire accumulate moisture and grow fungus, which causes moulding disease. They are acceptable in dry areas and during the breeding season, but must be treated for fungus and insects regularly.