Proper Feeding of Kitbirds – Rick Schoening
A lot has been written about how to breed and fly the Birmingham Roller pigeon. Getting the best from your rollers, believe it or not depends on what you feed them and on how much you feed them. The latter seems to really evade most roller fliers in this country. I will try to explain what I feel is the proper way to nourish the roller from the day you wean it.
First off you need to know what grains are best and the simplest to use. First off, red hard spring or winter wheat should be the main staple of flying rollers. Don’t use soft white wheat. It is very low in protein and the birds don’t like it. Another very useful grain is red milo. You can use white milo just as effectively. Austrian Winter Pea, Trapper Pea or any other pea, should seldom be used except when trying to bring your birds into top form for a competition. Grains like, millet, canary seed, vetch, flax and safflower are also sometimes used to soup-up a flat kit. Those grains are loaded with oil and will cause quite a reaction to a kit that has been feed only milo for three weeks.
So lets start off with the weaned babies. I use straight red wheat to feed the youngsters. I’ll add a little milo now and then once they have been flying good for a couple of months. Pretty simple, just red wheat. Now depending on the protein level in the wheat, the flying speed of the birds may be affected. Very high protein wheat, usually grown in a drought year, may cause your birds to race around and fly very strong. The “screwing themselves to the ground” is a phenomenon that drives roller guys nuts. A lot of young kits pull this stunt on you . High protein grain can be your cause. This may be the time to change over to milo.
Milo is very low in oil (fat) and protein. It will cause your birds to fly slower. Not the next day, but after four or five days you will see a noticeable difference. A problem with milo is that the feathers begin to fray and deteriorate after a month on straight milo.
What percentages of protein am I talking about? 12-15% on wheat and 9-10% on Milo. I can’t explain why this minor difference makes a team of rollers fly different, but it does.
A big mistake most roller fliers do is to over feed their fliers. A team of rollers should always hit the floor looking for grain when you rattle the feed can. EVEN after they have had their ration. If they don’t, you can be assured that you gave them too much. Most kits in proper condition with become great actors. These birds always give you the impression that they are starving to death. Don’t let them fool you into feeding them up. One thing you must remember, a roller has to fly slow, in order to roll. You want your kit to fly slow and stall on the turns. This stalling will turn into concert performances once the team develops their roll.
I feed about 50% milo and 50% red wheat for most of the summer and fall. When winter hits a fellow may have to add corn during 10 degrees F.or colder. A rule to remember is that if it is too cold for you to stand out there and watch them fly, then don’t fly them. If they come down with ice build up on their crops, you are pushing it
When a team is put onto straight milo, you will really notice a difference. I like the way a kit flies on milo. The only problem is that the speed of the roll may slow a bit. The way to keep the speed and still have slow flying, is to add peas to the milo. I add about 15% Austrian Winter Peas to the red milo when I am honing a team for an upcoming fly competition. Try it you’ll like it!
So just how much feed per bird are we talking about? A good measure for young birds is a tablespoon, rounded per bird. Depending on your family of birds, the amount will vary a little. Trial and error will get you there. Weather extremes will cause some grief too. I am amazed on how little a roller needs, to be healthy and able to perform.
How long should a kit fly? Young birds about 45 minutes. Old birds will go an hour. If they fly more time, then you need to look at your feed ration. You might think you are being cruel at times, but you will see the difference in performance (flying and rolling). A poorly fed roller that acts like a cull, can usually be fixed by proper feeding. For example; cock birds that have too much body fat, will want to breed. They will race through the kit, drive a hen down or clap they wings and stray from the kit. A lot of these birds are culled for it. If you never let that bird get fat enough to want to breed, you won’t have a problem.
Here is something to try. I did it when I came back from a trip to England. I learned how to fly rollers over there. Take one of your kits that is at least 9 months old. Put them on straight milo. The same amount that you were feeding them. Say half of a small coffee can. Then each day, cut one teaspoon out until the kit follows you around the yard!!! The will go from an hour flying time, to 10 minutes. You will be amazed at what happens. You will have birds doing things that they never did before. .
After you have them rattled to ten minutes, rest them a couple of days and boost them with their normal ration. Whether it was wheat/milo or straight wheat. Those birds will come out of the box and really perform. This exercise will demonstrate the power of feeding a team right.
I could go on and on but will end by saying the above methods work best with young birds. Old bird teams are another matter and take some different methods. Depending on your family of birds, depends on how you handle old birds. I am still learning on this subject and feel that there are several other accomplished fanciers that are better suited to writing about that.
Good luck with your birds and the bottom line is, that if you aren’t having fun, then you are doing something wrong.!