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The key steps to successful squab rearing: practical advice

Updated: Feb 4, 2023

Learning to pigeon race can be exciting, especially when you have just received your first pigeons. It is important to know the different stages of pigeon development and the training programme to follow.

It all starts with the male and female courtship, followed by a mating period of 10 days, during which the female usually lays two eggs, which she and the male incubate alternately. The male incubates in the afternoon, while the female incubates the rest of the time, day and night.

It is possible to look at the eggs to ensure that they have been fertilised, but it is important to do this at a specific time so as not to disturb the development of the embryo. The ideal time is between the 3rd and 7th day after laying. You can use the torch on your smartphone to do this in the dark.

When the chick is sufficiently developed inside the egg, it uses its beak to break through the egg shell. It may take several hours from the time the chick starts to break through the shell to the time it emerges completely.

Newly hatched chicks are exhausted by this process and need adequate food to recover and continue to develop. The parents usually provide this food by giving them crop milk. The latter is a substance secreted by pigeons to feed their chicks. It consists of a combination of proteins, fats and sugars that provide all the necessary nutrients for the rapid development and growth of the chicks. The proteins help with muscle growth and development, the fats provide long-term energy and the sugars are an immediate source of energy. Rump milk is therefore essential for the survival and development of young pigeons.

At 7 days of age, the first feathers begin to emerge, which is the ideal time to identify the squabs with a number ring. At this stage, the young also have a layer of down which gradually disappears as the feathers develop.

At 23 days of age, the squabs can be weaned, although some fanciers prefer to wait until 28 days. However, it is easier to teach the squabs everything they need to know before they are able to fly and weaning earlier avoids too much fatigue for the parents. If the squabs are weaned at 23 days, they will be let out of the loft at around 30 days. The week between these two stages is the adduction period.

The adduction period is an important stage in the development of the squabs, where they learn to recognise their loft, to eat and drink on their own, to enter the loft, and to discover the world around them. To help the squabs learn to drink on their own, their heads can be put in the trough, which helps them to understand how to access water and drink on their own.

They can also be trained to explore by hiding food in the loft to learn an important sense when they are out in the wild to find their loft. Finally, spending time with them is essential to strengthen the bond with their fancier and encourage their return to the loft.

Regularly placing the youngsters in the loft enhances their development by allowing them to explore and observe their environment.

During the adduction period for the pigeons, it is important to help them to enter the loft without fear. This can be done by using this period to encourage them to go through the entrance by rewarding them with food when they do so. It is important to use a whistle as a reflex (Pavlov's technique) so that they associate the whistle with food and learn to enter as soon as they hear a whistle.

It is important to feed the pigeons only after they have returned, otherwise they will not want to return and may spend the night outside.

Before the pigeons go out for the first time, it is recommended not to overfeed them the day before, giving them a maximum of 25 to 30 grams of food, so that they are hungry and return quickly when they hear the whistle. The first outing does not have to be long, it should simply allow the pigeons to learn that they can go out and come in to eat.

When they emerge at 30 days of age, the squabs are just beginning to fly, so they do not wander far, so this is the ideal time to let them out for the first time. When they are weaned a little late, the squabs are more agile in flight and may wander off too quickly on their first outing.

Every day the squabs need to be able to fly to train and expand their flight. They have to explore their environment to memorise their area and use it to come back from training sessions and competitions. From the age of 2 months, if the pigeons fly well for about 45 minutes, they can be trained. In the beginning you don't have to go very far, you can start with a 5 km training run, and as soon as they come back, you bring them in by whistling and feeding them. It is possible to do 2 training sessions per week and gradually increase the distance with care. If the squabs take a long time to return, it is better to start the training again. You can go up to 50 km, and if you wish, you can add a training session at 80 km. From 50 km onwards, it is recommended to do only one training session per week.

When the squabs have completed 50 km or 80 km of training, they can participate in a competition. Before this, it is useful to prepare them by teaching them to stay in a competition basket. This can be done by leaving them in a basket for one or two days so that they can adapt to the baskets, be less stressed at their first competition and learn to eat and especially drink from them.

To start, a competition of 130 km is a good start for racing pigeons. If necessary, they can participate in competitions of up to 200 km, but it is best to start with shorter distances to allow them to adapt to the competitions. In their first year it is generally advisable not to exceed 300 km.

It can happen that some pigeons do not come back from a training session or a competition. But it is important to remember that this is part of life in the wild. Some losses may be caused by predators, while other pigeons may simply decide not to return.

In conclusion, breeding pigeons is one of the best parts of pigeon racing. So enjoy it and have fun!

How do you train your pigeons?

  • I train them gradually: step by step

  • I increase the distances quickly: they have to adapt

  • I do not train them, I let them fly freely


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