Pigeons have been in existence for an eternity, surviving on their own before there was more knowledge about keeping them healthy. I am a firm believer that you can race and breed successfully, even without ever flock-treating the pigeons with antibiotics. The commitment to natural health and an antibiotic-free flock, takes time and will not happen overnight.
Many make excuses to treat with antibiotics, due to climate. Massachusetts has every possible climate during the seasons, from cold and damp in April, high humidity, and warmth in summer, to below freezing temperatures in winter. When you first decide to race and breed antibiotic-free, you may have a higher percentage of losses and, potentially, a higher rate of young with respiratory and canker.
Do you really want pigeons that cannot remain healthy without antibiotics? Obviously, you will lose more youngsters if they are never treated, however, the pigeons will become stronger and live longer, over time. By year two, with no flock treatments, the pigeons will produce much stronger babies, and the race team will have sustained excellent performances. You will learn which pigeons have the best immune systems and are best for breeding. If you enter one loft races, it helps to have pigeons with strong immune systems.
Ten years into antibiotic-free pigeon management, you will find the occasional bird with canker, respiratory or a one-eye cold. Treat the pigeon individually but, leave the pigeon in the flock to challenge the immune systems of the other pigeons. In my lofts, if a pigeon is sick and not being harassed by its loft mates, it will always remain with the flock.
When you fully commit to going antibiotic-free, you should still vaccinate every year for PMV, pox and salmonella. Alternate vaccines from different companies enhances the changes, for a resistant flock. Worm the birds regularly and use natural products, such as oregano, garlic, and cider vinegar for enhanced health.
Those who have been in the sport for many years, have discovered that great champion pigeons, both racers and breeders, never get sick and always look and perform very well. The superstar pigeons have a stronger, more efficient immune system. Like other aspects of genes and genetics, superior immune systems can be inherited. When I speak at events, I recommend challenging the immune systems, which can be read in my articles "An Immune System is a Terrible Thing to Waste" and "Antibiotic-Free Racing and Breeding at McLaughlin Lofts."
In 2017, after the Million Dollar Race pigeons were shipped to South Africa, I moved my own stock pigeons and race team into the Million Dollar holding pens, without sanitizing or disinfecting. Most fanciers fear placing their own pigeons into pens that contain strange pigeons, however, I have no concerns. A challenged immune system gets better over time. Vaccines can help with this.
Some immune systems are better suited to fight disease, however, until they are challenged with a strange bacteria/virus and/or vaccinations, the immune system will not thrive. It is rare for doctors and nurses to get sick, yet they often work around endless sickness. An immune system that is continuously challenged over time, will continue to strengthen. If not challenged, the inevitable illness will occur, and the pigeon selects itself out of the population.
At McLaughlin Lofts, I witness the occasional pigeon with canker or respiratory, or a pigeon will experience intestinal disorder. The sick pigeon will be treated individually and, if strong enough, will remain with the other pigeons in the section, during treatment. A pigeon is treated once in its life and, once sickness strikes again, the pigeon’s genetics will be removed from the colony.
Health issues usually arrive with pigeons new to the loft. It takes at least a year to building their immune systems up to my existing pigeons. Super genetics will proliferate over time; however, you must be diligent in using natural products and natural health. To achieve the goal of a highly resistant flock, the pigeons must be provided with the basics, such as space, dryness, air, sunlight, proper minerals and nutrition.
The strongest pigeons will not remain healthy, if kept in terrible conditions, with inadequate nutrition. Each year, I received pigeons for export and the same few lofts had sick pigeons, when mixed with others. I am not certain, but I feel the heaviest antibiotic users are the lofts with the highest rate of sickness. Maybe not sickness at the home loft, but sickness when they are moved to another loft.
Caring for thousands for export has helped me refine my skills on continued pigeon health. A couple years ago, I had about 20 sick pigeons, out of 1,800 pigeons going to Africa. Two had canker and fully recovered, one had PMV and two had Salmonella. In addition, there were several unexplained deaths, which I anticipated one or two days prior to death. There were also several that failed to thrive, in which the pigeon slowly loses body weight, even when eating and drinking. Three pigeons had a respiratory complex and rapidly lost bod weight, while gasping with a respiratory issue.
After living with pigeons for 50 years, I can recognize a pigeon with a problem, practically even before the pigeon knows it has a problem. A sick pigeon has a slower reaction time than healthy pigeons. Pigeons that eat and drink excessively, have a problem, and anyone claiming that a pigeon was healthy one day and dead the next day, clearly missed the signs of what was coming.
Nature has provided birds with a survival mechanism, which allows them to look well enough, so predators cannot single out the sick as easily. Keeping a couple thousand pigeons healthy for export to a one loft race is incredibly challenging and stressful. I prefer keeping the same 100 pigeons together until export. I do not sanitize the drinkers unless, a pigeon is sick. I also use care not to mix bacteria from section to section.
After I have had the pigeons approximately one month, they are usually safe and will remain healthy for the entire stay. By living within 100 pigeon groups, pigeons for export are exposed to others from about 20 lofts. There is enough variation in the 100-pigeon group, to expose each pigeon to many different pathogens, as well as challenge the immune system to respond positively. The easiest way to keep pigeons healthy, is to eliminate stress and ensure they are nutritionally complete, most importantly, with minerals and grits.
Eliminating external parasites and providing plenty of space and fresh air, will lessen stress. Up until a couple years ago, I felt that the pigeons for export, needed to be kept on grates, and many of the M birds lived on solid floors. The pigeons living on solid floors remained as healthy as pigeons kept on grated floors.
If your pigeons continue to get sick in their home lofts, while being provided with space, air, sunlight, and proper nutrition, you may consider getting new pigeons or changing your health program. If your old birds are getting sick, something is seriously flawed in the care or the pigeons. Sickness starts with stress, caused by overcrowding, dampness, poor ventilation, parasites (internal or external) and nutritional deficiencies. Most likely a combination of two or more of the prior.
I would like the entire pigeon sport to strive in keeping pigeons, antibiotic-free, as the future of our sport and our pigeons will truly benefit. McLaughlin dominates racing and breeding without antibiotics ever.