"Wait, what? How many pigeons?"
March 17, 2010 10:56 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me about raising pigeons.

I have a springer spaniel who wants, real badly, to hunt. So I bought a book on training spaniels. The book describes a training schedule that requires several hundred live pigeons a year. Most of these will be die and be eaten (by me or the dog). Some of them will deliberately be allowed to escape--so homing pigeons are suggested. Buying these pigeons is prohibitively expensive--$1-2k a year.

So, let's say I need 250 live sacrificial pigeons a year. How many breeding pairs do I need to hold in reserve for that kind of production? How big of coops do I need? How quickly does a pigeon mature?

Assuming I live out in the country and have the undeveloped physical space, is this the sort of thing I can do without devoting my life to?
posted by Netzapper to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can't wait to see how this turns out. Just as a crazy, I don't know what I'm talking about sort of aside, I wonder if there's any regional parks with pigeon problems who would LOVE to meet you and your spaniel.
posted by Galen at 11:05 PM on March 17, 2010

This sounds like an exceptionally cruel book, and if you want pigeon breeders to sell you live birds, I wouldn't mention your plans. If I bred pigeons, I'd refuse to sell you anything.

That said, the wiki on pigeon keeping seems to give a fairly good idea of the size of the coops.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 11:09 PM on March 17, 2010

Response by poster: This sounds like an exceptionally cruel book, and if you want pigeon breeders to sell you live birds, I wouldn't mention your plans. If I bred pigeons, I'd refuse to sell you anything.

There is no other way to train a gun dog than by having him work planted birds. This isn't the book. This is the last three hundred years of hunting with dogs. Besides, I don't see how it's worse than eating chicken or feeding the dog duck and potato kibble.
posted by Netzapper at 11:25 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry if this is too off-topic, but how do you know that your Springer wants "really badly" to hunt? Spaniels were bred to flush and retrieve. They're not blood-thirsty mongrels that need to be tossed bloody bits to satiate some primal desire. Ask any Terrier owner if they bother building rodent trenches to train hundreds of years of breeding out of their dogs.

I've known several Springers that were perfectly content to be suburban dogs, so long as they got plenty of exercise. If you really want to invest the time and money, maybe you could go for field training and get your dog a job flushing fowl off of golf courses, playgrounds and the like?

More on-topic: to answer this is this the sort of thing I can do without devoting my life to?

I've known a few Setter owners that bought puppies from hunting stock dogs for the express purpose of using them in the field. They didn't devote their lives to it, but they had the extra money to pay someone to field- and gun- train their dogs, then they spent more time and money paying the trainer to connect the dots between dog and owner. This is some fairly advanced dog-training, so a lot if it will depend on the age and temperment of your dog. My guess is that if he's already an adult and hasn't been exposed to the noise of rifles/shotguns already, trying to get him to acclimate would be not only futile, but cruel.
posted by Ufez Jones at 12:13 AM on March 18, 2010

Do you mean hunt or flush, mark and retrieve? I presume it's the latter if it's a spaniel.

If so, then this is a good resource.

I'm not an expert, but some of my family have trained gundogs and they certainly weren't buying up flocks of pigeons and killing them. You're training in obedience and specific skills and there are plenty of non-lethal alternatives to live pigeons. I've never heard of anyone training gundogs with hoardes of live, captive birds.

As a side point, springers are both intelligent and highly active, hence their popularity (at least in the UK) as drug sniffer dogs. I don't doubt that your dog wants to act like a gundog, but there are plenty of worthwhile activities to keep it occupied and train it to be obedient that don't involve live prey.

Perhaps the more pertinent question is are you looking to shoot? If so, then you can train your dog on dummies, then alongside another gun dog as part of a hunting club or organised shoot and then "on the job." Quite apart from the slight senselessness of killing hundreds of pigeons why would you want the cost and hassle of becoming a pigeon breeder?

Depending on how you go about it, the feed alone over the lifetime of the bird will come to a few bucks, which means that you'll be looking at $1,000 or so for 250 birds. Factor in the cost of breeding stock, equipment and housing and it's an awful lot of effort to train a puppy.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:58 AM on March 18, 2010

No need to reinvent the wheel - there are many hunting springer enthusiasts in Washington. Here's a list of clubs and their contact persons. These folks will be happy to help you get started.
posted by acorncup at 7:21 AM on March 18, 2010

Best answer: My wife trains hunting dogs. We go through flocks of pigeons, quail, chukar, and pheasant every season. Most of them die, but many escape. We've thought about raising them, but, frankly, I don't know that we'd save any money or that it would be worth the effort.

She is in NAVHDA, and it is through them that we obtain most of our birds. Individual clubs will vary in their politics and policies, but overall it's been a very positive influence and an excellent source of help and guidance.

Here in WI, we can buy pigeons from the Amish who are all to happy to be rid of them from their barns. They usually charge 3-4 bucks per, but it varies. You can find ads in supermarkets in smaller towns.

Game birds usually come from game farms, who will generally only sell in large lots (40-50 or more). But the club goes in together, and everyone gets some birds. Quail run about 6-8 bucks, pheasant and ducks 15-25. I suspect prices will vary with region and time of year.

You'll also want to spend money on a launcher or two - the radio ones are best, but more expensive. But, some birds don't or won't fly when you want them two, and this can lead to a dog getting overconfident and not holding steady on point. So, being able to pop them can teach the dog to be more cautious.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2010

I should add that we built a pen to keep birds in - so we can buy a bunch when they are cheap and have them on hand. We usually have 5-10 at any one point. That was cheap, and it's easy enough. But keeping enough to have a decent breeding colony and still have some for consumption we deemed to be too much trouble.

It's not hard - it was just more effort than we were willing to commit. If you were serious about trying to raise birds, I'd recommend starting with a few and a small pen, and see how it goes. You can expand your pens later if it's not too much trouble for you. Pigeons are chukar are dead easy. Quail and Pheasant are more finicky.

Also, Springers are great dogs. My first hunting dog when I was a kid was a liver/white spaniel, and he was crazy for birds. He was never so happy as when he was in the field, nose to the ground. It was a real joy to watch.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:01 PM on March 18, 2010

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