The importance of CALCIUM supplementation in pigeons
By Dr Wim Peters

It is an established fact that all animals, including pigeons and other birds, require feed containing protein, carbohydrates and fats.   Besides these ingredients there is also an essential need for certain vitamins and minerals.  The minerals needed can be further subdivided into the macro-minerals i.e. calcium and magnesium and the micro-minerals, which are found in minute quantities in the feed. These latter substances – the vitamins and minerals - are present in the feed but in many cases in insufficient quantities.  This is particularly so whenever the requirements are raised due to stress or physiologically, during a particular phase of the lifecycle.  Vitamin/mineral products can be fed as supplements and many such products for pigeons are available. Pigeons require different additives during different stages of their lifecycle.  Extra demand for fats, carbohydrates and certain vitamins and minerals is created during racing whereas extra protein and calcium is required when breeding and feeding babies.   

To fully grasp the special requirement of calcium during the various stages of a pigeon’s lifecycle, it is important to understand the processes that take place within the pigeon’s body.  The demand for calcium stands on two legs, that is, one for hens only and another for both hens and cocks.

At the time of egg formation within the hen’s body, calcium is needed for the formation of the shell by the oviduct.  This calcium is withdrawn from the hen’s body - mainly the blood and bones – and deposited around the growing egg.  For this reason birds on a reasonably good diet will be able to lay a round of normal eggs – even in the absence of an extra source of calcium.   However, should extra calcium not be available, many problems will arise, one of them being the sudden weakness and paralysis (or paresis) of the hen’s legs around egg-laying time.  Hens are then often presented as being suddenly ‘lame’.  If they are in a communal breeding loft the suddenness of lameness amongst the hens may take on the appearance of a disease outbreak.  Soft-shelled eggs may also be laid.  In the absence of extra calcium, egg-laying rounds subsequent to the first, always create problems.  (Similar conditions occur in other species.  In humans and dogs, acute calcium withdrawal from the blood, as can occur during pregnancy or lactation, leads to a dramatic condition known as Tetany.  Cows get milk fever and horses, for an extended time on a calcium-deficient diet – as when there is too much bran in their feed – will develop a condition known as ‘bighead’, where the bones of the face increase markedly in size.)

Calcium deficiency in hens is well-known but should never occur.  It usually happens because of an insufficient supply but a young driving cock may be particularly fierce and not allow the hen enough time to take in her calcium grit requirement, leading to calcium deficiency.

 The second leg concerning insufficient calcium in the diet occurs during the latter stages of chick-rearing when both cocks and hens are feeding the babies.  The problem is exacerbated if insufficient protein-rich seeds are fed.  Most grains are relatively poor in calcium and feeding pigeons are slow to eat them.  (When a standard breeding mixture is fed to breeders with young in the nest, it will be seen that the grains are often left untouched, even though the pigeons are still hungry.)  What they need at this time are protein-rich legume seeds and calcium supplements.  The babies growing up on a calcium-poor diet are thin, undersized, easily fracture their bones (which causes lameness) and have general locomotive problems.  

It is not the babies only that suffer.  When the breeders have babies in the nest and insufficient access to calcium supplementation they rapidly lose condition, develop digestive disturbances with loose bowels and have delayed laying cycles.  At this stage their immunity is lowered and they become susceptible to bacterial and viral diseases.   

An important function of calcium and magnesium occurs in the breeding loft where the lack of these minerals can cause improper functioning of the oviduct leading to retained eggs, egg-bound hens and/or prolapse of the egg and oviduct.  All are emergency conditions which can be avoided with the constant provision of calcium supplements.

Calcium has a host of functions in the body.  Together with magnesium, a very important function is that of playing a role in the electrical transmissions of nerve impulses.  It will be readily understood that racing pigeons must have perfect nerve impulse transmissions in order to fly at high speed for many hours.  A lack of either calcium or magnesium would be detrimental to a pigeon’s racing prowess and disastrous to the results.

Plan of action

To prevent calcium deficiencies from occurring it is necessary to always have calcium carbonate grit available to the pigeons.  This comes in the form of oyster shell grit or calcium carbonate pellets.  Most commercial grit preparations are a mixture of various grits such as red grit, grinding grit and oyster shell.  Often, a few days after supplementation, the oyster shell is depleted and unless the TOTAL mixture is replenished, the pigeons will lack sufficient calcium in their diet.  In today’s rushed times the fancier may not notice the discrepancy in his grit mixture and seeing that grit is present, may believe that the birds are adequately supplied.  This is not true.  The answer lies in regular replenishment of the right grit or the regular supply of soluble calcium preparations.  These are commercially available and are mainly used in two ways;

1.                            As a back-up supply for a bird that, for any reason, has failed to take in its minimal daily requirement (MDR) of calcium in grit form.

2.                            And as an emergency treatment where problems associated with calcium deficiency are experienced.  These are numerous but foremost are soft-shelled eggs, lameness in hens at around egg-laying time, rickets in youngsters, and poor-doing thin youngsters.  As these are emergencies, the calcium in liquid form, which is immediately available, is particularly useful.

 CALCIBIRD by Medpet supplies calcium in soluble form and solves these and associated problems. 

 In addition to calcium, CALCIBIRD has added magnesium to ensure fully functional nerve function, Vit D3 for regulation of the calcium/phosphorus ratio and glucose for instant energy.  It is a useful product to administer to pigeons, both during the racing and breeding periods.  

 Fanciers have found that problems during first-round egg-laying are particularly severe and find that CALCIBIRD liquid calcium supplement helps raise healthy robust young, from egg to weanling.


Medpet would like to thank Dr Wim Peters for  this article                     

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