How to Breed 100 Youngsters from One Cock in a Year
This year I was fortunate enough to live overseas for 2 ½ months . During this time I was lucky enough to spend time with Dr Pascal Lanneau at his veterinary clinic in Kortemark, Belgium. The clinic is very busy with many pigeon racers bringing their birds in for various veterinary procedures throughout the day. Amongst other things Pascal does genetic testing of birds to guarantee parentage, genetic profiling to see if birds are carrying genes that have been linked to high performance and also semen collection and artificial insemination (AI). Using AI many, many youngsters can be obtained from a single cock in one season. This is how this is done. Vasectomies are done on cocks of low racing value. In this technique, under general anaesthesia an incision is made between the vent and the pubic bone to enter the abdomen. Through this incision, the ureters ( which carry urine from the kidneys to the cloaca) and the vas deferens ( which carry sperm from the testes to the cloaca ) can be seen. The vas deferens is ligated and a section removed. This effectively sterilises the cock. Usually cocks of unusual colours such as reds and grizzles are chosen so that if the vas deferens reconnects this will become apparent. These sterile “teaser” cocks are then mated to good hens. These hens will then predictably lay about 10 days after mating. From day 6 the good cock is artificially ejaculated through a massage technique. The collected semen is diluted with an extender fluid and placed into a micro pipette. The good hen ( mated to the teaser) is placed into a specially designed cradle, an instrument is used to dilate her vent and a dose of semen is placed directly into her lower oviduct. This is done every day or every second day until she has laid her 2 eggs. After insemination she is placed back with her teaser boyfriend and the “mated” pair then raise the babies as their own being able to feed crop milk at the required stage. A single ejaculation can service 10 hens. This may sound complex but Pascal made it look easy and in this way many youngsters can be produced off one cock in a very short period. In one instance a very valuable cock was sold to China. In the 2 weeks before he was shipped, 10 hens were inseminated resulting in him leaving 18 youngsters (and 2 clear eggs ) behind when he left just 2 weeks later
Last year in Melbourne, of the fanciers that used Rotavax, virtually 100% reported that despite using the Rota virus vaccine that their birds actually caught the disease when they were subsequently exposed to the virus. The proportion of birds in each loft that became unwell varied from about 5 to 35 % . Fanciers reported that although some of their birds became unwell , the symptoms were milder and of shorter duration than they had experienced in earlier years and that there were very few deaths. The suggestion was that the vaccine had stimulated sufficient immunity to significantly modify the severity of the disease but not enough to prevent all birds from becoming sick. What concerns me is that in Melbourne there were some lofts that did not vaccinate but experienced a similar pattern of disease. Some fanciers have therefore asked, and quite rightly so, did the vaccine actually do anything. Frustratingly for many fanciers their birds became unwell right at the start of racing when they started mixing with birds from other lofts for the first time. For some this meant actually missing the races for which they had prepared the birds or alternatively risking losing birds by sending them to races prematurely while they were still convalescing from the disease. With this year’s breeding season now in full swing fanciers need to know how best to manage Rota virus during 2020
No immune testing has been done on the vaccine made by Treidlia so basically we just don’t know what level of immunity is formed. I recently contacted Dr Mark White. Mark has always been very helpful and of course we would not have the vaccine without him but he advised that everyone at Treidlia is very busy at the moment on other projects and investigating the level of immunity formed by the vaccine is not a top priority. He did however offer to help with the bulk testing of samples.
It bothers me that we don’t know how effective the vaccine is. I am keen to demonstrate just what level of immunity the Rotavax does stimulate. Hopefully it is quite high. To this end I intend running a fairly basic immunity trial this year on my own birds. After spending several months overseas this year I am now back in Australia and getting ready to resume racing next year. My birds have essentially been isolated since November 2018. I will breed about 200 youngsters this season ie before the start of February .The breeders all had Rota virus in 2018. I will bleed about 10 of the youngsters at weaning ( 4 weeks ) to ensure they do not already have some immunity, Rotavac them at 6 weeks and then bleed them every 2 weeks for a couple of months. After several months they will be bled monthly. They will have a second Rotavac 4 weeks after the first. In this way it should be possible to develop an immunity curve. One problem is that an accurate commercial test has not as yet been developed . I have however contacted Agribio and other labs about this. Another problem, as advised by Mark, is the fact that systemic antibodies in the blood don’t really measure gut immunity. It is possible to do ELISAs ( an immune test ) on gut secretions to measure IgA ( a type of antibody ), but is more complicated than blood testing and usually requires sacrificing some birds at each time point for testing. Obviously I don’t want to kill any of my young birds. Discussions are continuing. I intend to do all of the veterinary work myself and also cover the cost of the laboratory testing. I will release results on my website and in this magazine as they become available
New Vaccine for Salmonella
A very effective vaccine against Salmonella has been available for several years now and yet some fanciers are still unfamiliar with it. The vaccine has been fully trialled and has been shown to produce high levels of immunity that are fully protective against the disease. Salmonella is an important disease to control during racing. Salmonella is commonly carried in the bowels of healthy pigeons. Exposure in race units is common. When pigeons get stressed and their ability to fight infection is reduced Salmonella can invade the body through the bowel wall and cause disease. Salmonella is one of the many health problems that can flare in the race season when the birds come under stress. Salmonella flare-ups during racing cause a loss of form, require lengthy antibiotic coarses to control and have a prolonged recovery period. They can also be difficult to diagnose and for this reason are often diagnosed incorrectly. Vaccination before racing is a very effective way of decreasing the chance of this happening.
Preparing the vaccine:
The vaccine comes in a 1000 dose vial. This needs to be kept frozen until use. The vaccine is dissolved into 100mls of water for injection. This is done by repeatedly rinsing the vial with sterile water (available through your vet ) using a needle and syringe until all of the vaccine is dissolved in the 100ml bottle of sterile water. The vaccine mixture must be used within 2 hours of preparation. Each pigeon is given 0.1ml of this mixture.
How to give the vaccine:
The vaccine can be given in 1 of 3 ways:
Interested fanciers can get further information by contacting the the Australian Pigeon Company or visiting the APC website . Just google Australian Pigeon Company and look in the Bacterial Diseases – Salmonella section.
Pigeons don’t get Salmonella from rodents
Up until recent years, standard knowledge throughout the veterinary and pigeon community was that paratyphoid in pigeons was caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium. This species of Salmonella was regarded as a wide-spread organism in nature.
It was thought that the variety that infected pigeons also infected many other animals, particularly rodents. After all, the organism’s name “typhimurium” literally means typhoid of mice. It is now thought that this is unlikely. We still have a lot to learn, but our understanding of Salmonella infection in pigeons has changed over the past few years. Today’s technology enables us to type various strains of Salmonella very specifically.
The Salmonella strains that can cause clinical disease in pigeons can be identified right down to the phage type. It is thought that these phage types are likely to only cause disease in pigeons. This means that Salmonella strains found in other animals such as wild birds, chickens and other mammals including rodents don’t cause disease in pigeons.
It seems likely that Salmonella in pigeons is a pigeon to pigeon disease with the source of infection being asymptomatic carrier birds or their droppings. Non- infected birds can be exposed to asymptomatic carriers in the race basket or in the home loft if carriers are introduced by the fancier.
The actual type of Salmonella that infects pigeons has been identified as Salmonella enterica, subsp. enterica, serovar typhimurium, variant copenhagen, Anderson phage types DT2 and DT99. In one study, 10,000 cases of pigeons infected with Salmonella were investigated. All except 3 were infected with these phage types. It is possible to identify other species of Salmonella in pigeon droppings but these are regarded as transients that have been accidently ingested and not capable of causing disease.
New fertility drug available
Medications are now available to stimulate fertility in both old cocks and hens. A small gland at the base of the brain, called the pituitary, produces, amongst other things, a hormone called gonadotrophin. This stimulates ovulation (which leads to egg laying) in hens and sperm production in cocks. In birds, the pituitary produces this hormone primarily in response to increasing daylength but also increasing environmental temperature, which is one of the reasons why birds start to breed in Spring. This also explains why fertility is often higher in the second round than in the first.With age, gonadotrophin production falls.
The use of a slow release gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GNRH) called Buserelin acetate has been shown to induce significant increase in testosterone concentration in male birds and an increase in egg production in hens. The drug works best in older cocks, which may have filled all eggs 3 years ago, perhaps four of six 2 years ago, and only one last year. These birds usually still have some testicular tissue capable of responding to gonadotrophins.
The longer birds have been sterile, the less likely they are to respond, and birds that have primary disease of the gonads, e.g. testicular cancer or an ovarian cyst, cannot respond. Two injections are given two weeks apart. These are best given at the beginning of Spring so that they can act together with the birds’ naturally produced gonadotrophin. Hens having injections are best left with their cock so that he is there to fill any eggs, if and when ovulation occurs. However, cocks are usually best kept away from the hens while having these injections because, being a sex hormone, the injections tend to give the cocks a high libido, leading to repeated mating and sometimes wasted poor-quality ejaculates.
It is usually best to put treated cocks with their hen after 3 - 4 weeks. The medication can take up to 6 weeks to work.
Recent work at the University of Melbourne has shed light on the roll of a gland in the crop wall of pigeons that helps supply the newly hatched chick with immunity straight from it’s parents. This gland is called the Teichman gland. When the crop enlarges to produce crop milk, this gland also enlarges. The gland produces immune cells and it is thought that these immune cells move from the Teichman gland into the crop milk, in the process giving freshly hatched chicks some passive immunity directly from their parents. What stimulates the gland is unclear but suggestions have included the altered hormone status that occurs when pigeons produce crop milk or the chick itself moving in the egg as it starts to hatch.
Changes at the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic
After 40 years of practising as a veterinarian I decided to sell the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic in August this year. Spending less time at the clinic means that I now have more time to focus on other pigeon related activities. The Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic"s commitment and passion to pigeon racing continues.The practice has been purchased by Dr Pat Macwhirter and Dr Matt Gosbell. Working with them are Dr Lee Peacock and Dr Madeline Rowe. Pat is not only an avian vet but one of only 6 registered avian specialists in Australia having achieved her fellowship in avian medicine. Pat also has a PhD. Matt is lecturer in Avian medicine at The University of Melbourne and is a qualified avian vet with 15 years experience operating the Springvale Veterinary Hospital. Lee is also a qualified avian vet and also works at the Healesville sanctuary while completing her PhD. Madeleine graduated as a vet in 2017 from the University of Melbourne and is studying to become an avian vet .The Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic is one of only two "bird only" veterinary practises in Australia (the other is in Brisbane) and the only clinic in Victoria and New South Wales with three avian vets on staff. Services to our pigeon clients remain unaltered. Pat, Matt and Lee have many years experience working with birds generally and, although still building their experience with the various facets of racing itself, are totally familiar with pigeon disease, diagnostics and medicine. Pigeon products can be obtained through the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic ( 03 9764 9000) or directly from the Australian Pigeon Company ( 0450 400 034) .Fanciers who wish to speak to me can always reach me through the Australian Pigeon Company. I look forward to helping fanciers whenever I can.
It is important that fanciers use antibiotics correctly. Many antibiotic preparations used by fanciers are blends of antibiotics. For example, "Sulpha AVS" contains trimethoprim and sulphadiazine, while "Doxy T" contains doxycycline and tylosin and "Triple Vet" contains doxycycline, tylosin and spiramycin. I know of some fanciers who give Sulpha AVS and Triple Vet each one day per week to the birds. This means they are giving five different antibiotics for one day a week to their birds. This achieves nothing and the potential for the development of harmful organisms and subsequent disease is enormous. Such fanciers run the potential of getting into a spiral of using more and more drugs to control routine problems . It sounds harsh but the only one who probably benefits in this situation is the supplier of the drugs.
Length of Antibiotic Treatments
Too many fanciers use antibiotics for too short a period of time to be effective. Antibiotic courses of three days should be the minimum. Antibiotic courses of five to seven days are routine. Sometimes longer courses are required. Giving shorter courses of antibiotics kills the easier to kill bacteria and selects for a population that is harder and harder to kill. Some antibiotic medications, particularly those used for respiratory infections, are used by fanciers as outlined above are blends of two or three different antibiotics. This compounds the situation. Giving multiple antibiotics together for short periods is a great way of creating "super bugs" in the loft that become progressively harder and harder to control.
Over the last year many fanciers, sometimes as many as three or four per day, have rung the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic saying their birds have been diagnosed with health problems due to the bacteria Streptococcus. In one instance a whole club was diagnosed with Streptococcus. Ill health and poor race performance due to Streptococcus in pigeons cannot be diagnosed by examining droppings and certainly not over the phone. Streptococcus is a normal inhabitant of the pigeon"s bowel. It is found in 40% of healthy pigeons" droppings (even Fed winners). Streptococcus can invade the bowel wall and cause disease in other sites of the body, as indeed can many other bacteria in a pigeon’s bowel (as can bacteria in our own bowel for that matter). Finding Streptococcus in the bowel of healthy pigeons means nothing and treating it there is not only a waste of time and money but opens the door for other health problems. Put simply, demonstrating the presence of Streptococcus in the droppings means nothing. They are normal there. Saying that this is a problem, in my opinion, demonstrates a failure to understand the condition and suggesting treatment is simply a waste of time and money.
The same can be said of identifying Streptococcus ( and for that matter Staphylococcus) in the throat of pigeons. Although these organisms can cause disease they are often found in the throat of perfectly healthy pigeons. Simply demonstrating their presence on a swab taken from the throat does not mean they are causing a health problem. Very non- specific symptoms such as “not wanting to fly’ have been attributed to Streptococcus found on a swab of the throat. This bogus diagnosis is sometimes readily accepted by fanciers keen for a diagnosis, even if it is the wrong one. If this problem is diagnosed in your birds without more thorough testing – get a second opinion. A list of qualified avian vets in Australia can be found on the APC website. Google Australian Pigeon Company and click on “About ‘ on the homepage
Diagnosing Airsac Disease in the Droppings
Diagnosing mycoplasmal respiratory infection by examining the droppings is another "untruth" that has become more widely believed throughout the pigeon community over the years. Fanciers often mention this. Professor Bob Doneley, the Professor of Avian Medicine at the University of Queensland, in his book "Avian Medicine and Surgery in Practice", published 2011, specifically states that mycoplasmal respiratory infection cannot be diagnosed in the droppings. To state very clearly, there is no recognised veterinary test that will diagnose mycoplasmal respiratory infection in the droppings. Fanciers should speak to an avian vet about the methods available to accurately diagnose this problem in their birds and how to manage it. Most commonly these days, although symptoms can be suggestive, a mycoplasmal infection is definatively diagnosed by taking a swab and doing a mycoplasmal PCR (ie DNA ) test combined with histopathology ( microscopic examination of tissues),
Not all antibiotics can be given together. Antibiotics fall into two basic categories- bacteriostatic and bacteriocidal. Bacteriocidal antibiotics kill bacteria when they are reproducing. Bacteriostatic antibiotics stop bacteria reproducing and then because bacteria live only a short period of time, the bacterial populations that fail to replicate die out. Bacteriocidal antibiotics effectiveness can be reduced by up to 90% if they are concurrently used with bacteriostatic antibiotics. This is because bacteriocidal antibiotics require the bacteria to reproduce to kill them, but the bacteriostatic antibiotics actively stop the bacteria reproducing and therefore becoming vulnerable. The most common antibiotic blend used by fanciers that fits into this category is a blend of amoxicillin (bacteriocidal) and tylosin (bacteriostatic). Presumably any vet who prescribes this must have good reason to do so.
Baytril and Respiratory Infection
A common cause of respiratory infection in pigeons is Chlamydia. It can cause eye colds, dirty ceres and sneezing etc. Chlamydia often occurs concurrently with other respiratory pathogens like mycoplasma and bacteria. Baytril is not a good choice for a respiratory infection due to Chlamydia. Chlamydia is an intracellular bacteria. Baytril stops Chlamydia replicating but is not particularly effective at clearing the organism from the pigeon"s system. This means that the birds appear to improve but relapses are common. A much better choice of medication is an antibiotic like doxycycline, eg DoxyvetTM that not only stops Chlamydia replicating but also clears it from the bird"s system.
The Supply of Prescription Medications and the Law
Recently in this magazine there was some mention that the laws concerning the supply of prescription medications have recently changed. This is most definitely not the case. It has always been a vet’s duty to responsibly supply prescription drugs. This means ensuring that the animals that the medication is intended for actually need them, will get benefit from them and that the medication will be used in the correct manner. The usual way that a vet meets these requirements and can satisfy any subsequent Vet Board inquiry is by physically examining the birds. Unfortunately some vets feel they meet this requirement by examining any bird from a loft, either with no problem or an unrelated problem, sometimes months earlier and will then supply medication for an extended period without any diagnostic work. Ironically some fanciers feel these vets are providing a good service or in fact are doing them a favour. The end result in many instances is that the fanciers can spend a lot of money and the birds receive a lot of medication that they don"t need. I know of vets in Australia, the US and the UK who abuse their prescribing rights in this way. Such vets are frowned on by the rest of the profession. The only consistent winners in this situation are often the vets selling the drugs. In these days of technology there are many ways to diagnose problems and to develop appropriate health management programmes, even if fanciers are many miles from an avian practice – phone calls, emails, youtube videos, mailed-in samples, couriered-in live or dead birds. With today"s advances in diagnostic technology canker, Chlamydia, Circovirus, Herpes virus, Salmonella, Coccidia , Rota and PMV etc. etc. can all be accurately diagnosed if the correct samples are submitted.
Many fanciers think that there are only two or three avian vets in Australia. In fact there are over 30 fully qualified practising avian vets in Australia. All have achieved this qualification by sitting the same post-graduate exams in avian medicine and surgery and are all equally qualified to help with pigeon problems. Fanciers in the eastern States are spoilt for choice. There are seven or more avian vets practising in each of the eastern states namely Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. If fanciers are not happy with the advice they receive it can be wise to receive a second opinion. There are only two practices in Australia which exclusively see birds, one is in Brisbane and the other is the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic. Disappointingly for New South Wales fanciers there are no practices that only see birds. In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria there are several practises that employ more than two avian vets. I think it is best to use a clinic that has several vets on staff. Vets as they age, particularly if they are the only vet in the practice, run the risk of becoming professionally isolated so that their advice may no longer be consistent with the rest of the profession to the point of being no longer fully accurate or even plain wrong.
Cleanse the Bowel
I see products available to fanciers marketed as "bowel cleansers". This is an impossible and silly suggestion. "Bowel cleanser" is an unfortunate term that has crept into the pigeon fancier vernacular. It has as its basis a silly idea that the bowel in an inert tube, like a garden hose and flushing something through will selectively kill the harmful bacteria and in the process "cleanse" the bowel. The bowel, in fact, contains a fragile blend of bacteria that need to be preserved for the bird to be healthy. This blend is easily disrupted by stress and medication. One of the worst things you can do to a racing pigeon is disrupt the normal bowel bacteria. The bacteria found normally in the bowel of a pigeon are essential for digestion and nutrient absorption and help to protect from disease. The "good" beneficial bacteria are the easiest to kill while the potential disease causing ones are harder to kill. Any product marketed as altering or "cleansing" the bowel is almost certainly doing the pigeons harm.
This product is a blend of soaps and detergents marketed by a single vet in Australia. Out of all the vets in the Australia and indeed all the vets in the world only one vet recommends this product. It is a blend of several types of soaps and detergents that the vet mixes together, gives it this name, and markets as a water cleaner and “crop disinfectant”. Some fanciers seem to think that this is a treatment or even a medicine. In fact , its ingredients are toxic if swallowed. Essentially it helps keep birds healthy by simply keeping the water clean! Some fanciers believe that it does everything from "cleansing" the bowel through to curing Circovirus. A belief more due to good marketing than anything that the product actually does. Birds who do well after drinking water with this in it, do well, I believe, despite having had it. It is a nonsense to want to “cleanse” the bowel or crop. The last thing that you want to do is remove the “good” bacteria from these areas and yet these are the easiest to kill. This would mean that even if such products did what they claim ie kill bacteria in these areas,, which is unlikely, they would be harmful. The principal ingredients are used in the manufacture of soaps and shampoos and to help clean swimming pools. They are not meant for internal use and are certainly not medicines or even recognised veterinary treatments . It is not recommended for use in pigeons by any other avian vet in Australia and I personally would never use this product on my own birds.
Some fanciers are quick to jump to "bad food" as being a cause of health problems. Australian fanciers are spoilt for choice by the good quality grains available to them. Australia is typically not associated with poor grains because of our typically dry environment. The experts at the various grain testing labs such as Agrifood who do accurate testing explain that problems in grain due to fungal toxins and bacterial contamination are very very low. Often "bad food" is blamed for poor race performance in the absence of accurate diagnostic work. Simply putting grain onto a fungal growth medium and seeing if it goes mouldy is a totally "bogus" test. Any food, including the good quality nutritious food that humans eat every day will eventually go mouldy if placed in conditions that encourage fungal growth. Labs that do proper testing should give you fungal toxin estimates and spore counts. If a vet or lab cannot provide these figures be suspicious of these results.
Using Drug Courses to Diagnose Disease
It seems incredible that some fanciers do this with Chlamydia. The rationale is that birds are given Doxycycline (the treatment for Chlamydia). If they get better the thought is that they must have Chlamydia, if they get sick the thought is then that they don"t have Chlamydia and don"t need the drug. This system would see all race birds given potentially lengthy courses of potentially harmful and expensive antibiotics before racing that they don"t need . This system is a totally "bogus" method of diagnosis. These days there are a number of cheap ,quick and accurate ways available to your veterinarian of seeing whether it is worth the expense, time and effort and actually beneficial to give the birds doxycycline. Usually race teams are given pre-season courses of Doxycycline only if they fall into one of the following four categories:
1. The birds have an active respiratory infection that is diagnosed as being due to Chlamydia. These days this is usually done by a Chlamydia PCR ( ie DNA ) test done on a swab taken from the throat.
2. The birds look normal but testing shows that Chlamydia infection is active within them. ( Usually biochemistry/ haematology blood test and PCR Chlamydia swab )
3. There were persistent problems with respiratory infection due to Chlamydia in the months between weaning and the start of racing
4. Chlamydia was a problem in the team once racing started the previous year and none of the loft parameters e.g. genetics, loft design, etc. have changed.
Dose of Drugs
Wrong dose rates are used by some fanciers. Baytril and Baycox are two commonly used drugs where fanciers use the wrong dose. Baytril oral syrup comes under a number of different names in Australia - Baytril, Enrotril etc. They are all identical. The dose of Baytril is 25mg/kg( ie about 10 mg per pigeon.) To give a therapeutic dose (ie a dose that will work) this needs to be given at a rate of 0.4ml/pigeon or 10ml/1 litre of drinking water. Some fanciers mistakenly believe that because someone has suggested a lower dose that the Baytril they are using must be stronger. This is not correct. All Baytril oral syrup products in Australia are the same and the above dose is required for the product to have its effect. Similarly the dose of Baycox is 7 to 15 mg/kg. To deliver this dose, drinking water needs to medicated at the rate of 3ml per litre
We have had some fanciers suggest to us that their birds health problems have been due to grit engorgement. This is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom. Pigeons will gorge on grit in one of four occasions:
1. Overt hunger
2. A nutritionally deficient diet
3. Where a pleasant tasting (often salty) grit is provided as a new supplement
4. Diseases that lead to pain of the crop or first stomach compartment
Fanciers need to then work through these alternatives with their vet to find the solution to their birds problem..
Virkon is the band name of a disinfectant primarily marketed to disinfect poultry sheds. We have had some fanciers contact us saying that they have been advised that putting Virkon in the drinking water is a treatment for Salmonella. This is not the case. I personally have spoken to the product"s manufacturer, Virkon can be safely used in the pigeon loft as a disinfectant and to clean drinkers and hoppers. It has the advantage of not being poisonous if residues are swallowed. Putting the disinfectant deliberately into the drinking water with the belief that this is treating a bacterial infection of the bowel is erroneous.
In the early 1990s the Australian Pigeon Company (APC) produced the first pink mineral to be made in Australia. The product is called PVM ( Pigeon Vitamin Mineral) powder. The nutritional requirements of pigeons are well documented and the APC hired a nutritionist to blend this product which was subsequently registered. Being registered it means that the product actually contains the exact ingredients listed on the label and also that any claims made on the label have been validated by the appropriate government regulatory authorities. PVM remains the only veterinary made registered pink mineral in Australia. Over the years various individuals and back yard companies have copied PVM powder. Some have given their back yard blends similar names which confuse fanciers. PVM powder is manufactured for the APC by an approved human and veterinary mixing pharmaceutical company. This means the company is registered to manufacture human products as well as veterinary products. Some of these veterinary products are our APC products. Manufacturing this way means that PVM is made to the highest standard. All other pink minerals in Australia are sold by unqualified people who blend their product physically themselves in a workshop. No other pink minerals are registered in Australia. One pink mineral I see offered for sale contains probiotics. This is a nonsense. Probiotics cannot survive in the dry salty environment of a pink mineral supplement . This means that fanciers are paying for something that they are not getting . The sale of all of these types of nutritional supplements is very poorly regulated. Provided no one complains people can pretty well market anything and can make claims that may be outrageous .
In another incident the need for buyers to beware was very well illustrated. One of the products that the APC makes is a water soluble multivitamin supplement. We hired a nutritionist to formulate this for us. However when I got the levels of nutrients back from him I had a query with one of his figures and so to remind myself of this I over wrote on his formula, vitamin PP. Of course there is no vitamin P let alone a vitamin PP. Anyway, things got busy and I forgot about this and we ended up having one batch of labels printed that listed vitamin PP as one of the ingredients. We quickly realised our error, fixed up the query with the nutritionist and corrected the label. The next year I was at the national pigeon show in Brisbane and there at a stand was a guy selling pigeon products. One of the products he was selling was a water soluble multivitamin and listed on its ingredients was vitamin PP! Goodness only knows what that product actually contained but it had a snazzy label on it that was making some amazing claims and fanciers were buying the product.
At another show I actually had a guy who did not know who I was try to sell me a product telling me that it was made by me!
Pigeon fanciers are a weird mob when it comes to getting veterinary medicine. Many are happy to spend quite large sums of money on medication but are hesitant to pay for advice on how to use it correctly. The result is that many fanciers use medication wastefully, inappropriately and incorrectly. In an article just last month in this magazine a fancier who finished in his top 10 in his Federation Championship stated that he used a preparation containing two antibiotics (for respiratory infection) and an anti-canker drug for one day a week, each week through racing. This protocol dissapointingly gives his birds no benefit, wastes the fancier’s money and in the longer term does his loft harm as resistant strains of organisms develop. The only person who probably benefited is the person who sold him the drugs. The difficulty with this sort of thing is that other fanciers read what he did, view him as a successful flier and are inclined to copy him when in fact his birds are doing ok despite what he is doing. The fancier is also failing to effectively protect his birds against respiratory infection and wet canker which was his aim. This probably compromises race performance in the short-term and as mentioned above makes them harder to effectively protect in the future as resistant strains develop.
Many older fanciers regard themselves as semi-experts concerning all things pigeon and it can be very hard to reorientate their way of thinking. New fanciers look to these older established fliers for advice. Just yesterday I had a new flier ring me from Queensland; he had had his birds" droppings checked by a local "expert" fancier who was "pretty handy with a microscope". The "expert" had diagnosed a problem that was in fact impossible to diagnose by looking at the droppings and had also suggested an elaborate treatment protocol.
From a health and veterinary point of view, pigeon fanciers can be a vulnerable lot. Fanciers are bombarded with ads for supplements and medication. One only has to open pigeon magazines from Australia, Europe or the US to see a plethora of advertisements for various supplements, often promising drastic increases in performance. I have seen such ads take up a third of the magazines space. It can be tempting to buy. One product from “the vaults” that readily comes to mind is Colloidal Silver that was advertised in the Australian pigeon magazines for several years. Because it contained the heavy metal, silver, it was highly poisonous and was only taken off the market after authorities banned its further sale. Yet many fanciers used it and even today we have fanciers phoning the clinic and APC wanting to buy some. The supply of products and prescription medications in some countries is poorly policed. Easy access to remedies and medication not backed-up by accurate veterinary advice promotes misuse and the development of erroneous beliefs that come to be accepted as fact.
I want to tell you a story. A fancier was travelling on a train from Melbourne to Sydney. The train was rattling along when all of a sudden a guy sitting opposite him stood up, opened the window and tipped a small amount of water out of the window from a glass that he was holding. The fancier thinks that that is pretty strange but decides to ignore it. About an hour later the guy does the same again with the water and an hour later he does the same again. The fancier is getting a bit curious at this stage and eventually asks the guy just why he is doing that. The guy replies “ To keep the elephants away.” The fancier replies that “there are no elephants around here” to which the guy replies “exactly, it’s working.”
Fanciers need to be cautious and wary at times and need to critically review product advertisements and claims
Pigeons are naturally robust birds and provided the basics of good care and management and the instigation of basic health management protocols such as parasite control and vaccinations are in place it is often not necessary to continually treat. The control of infectious disease spread through race baskets from entering the home loft needs to be informed and correct. Over the last few years I have been fortunate enough to work, present seminars and simply relax sometimes, with pigeon fanciers in the UK, US, Malta, New Zealand, Turkey, Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, South Africa and China as well as Australia. Pigeon fanciers all around the world are essentially the same. They are fascinated by their birds, want to see them healthy and do well with them. I would like to think that at the Australian Pigeon Company that we can help fanciers with this.
re to edit.
Looking back, it is interesting to note how veterinary pigeon matters have changed over the last 40 years but particularly during the last 10 years. The level of diagnostic ability and veterinary knowledge has dramatically increased and along with this fanciers’ expectations from avian veterinarians have also increased. There is, however, still a surprising amount of misinformation about. Some fanciers are real “gossips”, others are “wannabe” vets and sometimes it seems as if everyone is a veterinary expert. Unfortunately, not all misinformation originates from fanciers, sometimes it is from a vet. Like all professions, the veterinary profession has one or two rogues. Most vets are informed and dedicated to their profession but sadly some are less dedicated and some could even be described as crooks or charlatans. In the past, there were only a small number of qualified avian vets and some fanciers, when they think of avian vets, still think that there are only one or two who can help them with a health problem with their pigeons. There are now, however, about 50 qualified avian vets in Australia. Not all are familiar with pigeon racing but all are familiar with pigeon health problems, the appropriate diagnostic process to investigate these and the correct use of medication. They are able to diagnose medical problems ranging from the minor ones that make race birds a bit less competitive through to the more serious ones where birds are dying. Once a diagnosis has been made, they can then advise a fancier on how the problem developed, how to control it and how to stop it happening again.
At the Melbourne Bird Veterinary Clinic (MBVC), there are four veterinarians and three of these are qualified avian vets. When dealing with a health issue, it is always a matter of correlating the degree of diagnostic effort and expense with the severity of the problem. If the birds are racing well and we are simply monitoring health, then just a general examination and a microscopic examination of a crop flush and faecal smear may be all that is required. Other tests can be done if indicated after examination. With more serious problems, the following is the diagnostic protocol that is followed at the MBVC. This is typical of a thorough diagnostic investigation in most avian practices and can be used as a guide for your veterinarian.
The 12 step process to investigate a serious pigeon health problem
1/ Take a history and develop an understanding of the nature of the problem.
2/Conduct a thorough clinical exam, make assessment of general clinical condition, undertake a microscopic exam of fresh faecal smear, conduct a faecal flotation, undertake a microscopic exam of fresh crop aspirate, check pharyngeal tonsils and laryngeal mound (redness, swelling, abscessation, sialoliths, etc.) in particular.
3/Collect throat, conjunctival (eye) and choanal (‘slot’) swabs for Chlamydia and Mycoplasmal PCRs.
4/Collect blood for full haematology and biochemistry – this gives valuable information about nutrition, the level of training and overall fitness, hydration, organ function, the immune system and infection. This information cannot be gathered from autopsy.
5/ Euthanise bird by giving lethal injection; usually pigeons just “fall asleep”.
6/ Wait 2 hours to do the autopsy; earlier leads to passive bleeding, identified as “congestion” by pathologists, which can make interpretation of tissues microscopically difficult or impossible.
7/ Autopsy within 4 hours of death, later can lead to early autolytic (decomposition) changes and altered bacterial populations, decreasing diagnostic value.
8/ Collect full set of tissues including -- whole head (after removal make a longitudinal incision along the top and back of the skull and crack the skull open to allow formalin to run into the brain case), the anterior oesophagus (sometimes this is the only place you will find Herpes), sections of crop wall, proventriculus, gizzard, several sections of gut, caeca (vestigial) and bursa of Fabricius if visible (i.e. bird <5 months old), trachea, syrinx, lungs, air sac, spleen (often best to collect on first opening the abdomen, if there is bleeding spleen can later be hard to find), liver (left and right lobes), kidney, middle-third of femur (for bone marrow), sciatic nerve, section of spine, skin, heart and pectoral muscle.
9/ Collect PCR for Rota in case you get hepatocellular necrosis of unknown cause; does not matter if the bird is vaccinated against Rota as the PCR does not check for the tiny part of the genome that codes for the capsid VP8 protein that forms the basis of the subunit vaccine. Birds can be negative for Rota on faecal PCR and positive on hepatic PCR. Collect kidney and bowel PCRs for PMV PCR testing.
10/ Collect a second set of the main tissues and freeze these. These are used if further viral identification and testing are required
11/ If anything looks abnormal, target that and make sure a section/sample is collected.
12/ If anything looks infected, collect a swab for MC and S (microscopic examination, culture and antibiotic sensitivity) testing. Collect a similar swab of the gut content.
Everything costs money. It is important that the client’s money is spent wisely and so the samples collected in points 3, 9, 10 and 12 above are held and available if the other tests, in particular the blood profiling and histopathology, are not diagnostic. These samples cost nothing to collect, store well and some can only be collected from a dead pigeon. Overlooking the collection of these may not only compromise the diagnostic process but may necessitate killing another bird unnecessarily to subsequently collect these samples.
Sometimes fanciers have an unrealistic expectation as to what can be diagnosed by fairly basic tests. Sometimes vets are overly keen to give fanciers a diagnosis and make impossible diagnostic claims after inadequate sampling and testing. From a mailed in dropping sample it is only possible to definitively diagnose (and even then, not always) some worms and coccidia. It is not possible to diagnose (or rule out) bacterial or fungal infections. In particular, Streptococcus and Salmonella infections ( just because the organism may be present in the droppings does not mean it is causing disease ) cannot be diagnosed this way. To consider diagnosing any form of canker or respiratory infection in this way is just ridiculous. Any vet who claims to make this diagnosis in this way is deluding not only the fancier but also himself. Similarly it is not possible to diagnose bacterial or fungal infections from a mailed-in throat swab.
I am often asked to review cases and offer a second opinion. Most vets do really great work but the standard of work of some is well below the average of what the profession would expect. A recent case illustrates the point. A fancier was experiencing both poor results and poor returns in his race team. He went to the trouble and expense of sending a live pigeon to an avian vet interstate for diagnostic investigation. On arrival, the bird was handled and droppings were looked at under the microscope. The bird was then euthanized, autopsied and some tissue samples collected for histology (microscopic examination). The pathologist reported that many of the samples were “congested”. From this diagnostic work, the vet was happy to make a diagnosis! He diagnosed that the bird had come in contact with a toxin and asked the fancier to send some grain for testing. The grain was placed onto a medium that stimulates bacteria and fungus on the surface of the grain to germinate. This test is not regarded as an accurate way of assessing grain quality or an accurate measure of fungal or bacterial contamination. But from this test, the vet advised the fancier that the corn was a problem. The fancier stopped using the corn. Nothing changed and the fancier then re-contacted the vet who advised that it was a “very complex” problem and another bird would need to be sent for testing. The fancier then contacted the MBVC.
The vet had not necessarily done anything wrong but most vets would regard his diagnostic investigation as pretty poor. Comparing his work with the above recommended 12-point protocol, many problems are apparent. The main ones are listed below.
Problems with this investigation
a/ Inadequate collection of samples required for an accurate diagnosis. When asked why various samples were not collected, his reply was that “he would rely on the histopathology” for a diagnosis. A seriously flawed approach with many potentially relevant and important things being overlooked.
b/ Poor autopsy technique – when asked if the “congestion” noted by the pathologist was apparent at autopsy or if he had caused it, his simple reply was “I don’t know”. Many important tissue samples were not collected during the autopsy. Yet, despite inadequate tissue collection and poor tissue handling, this was his main diagnostic test.
c/ His preparedness to make a diagnosis that was impossible based on the test results.
What concerned me is that when I contacted the vet in question, he thought he had done a good job. Unfortunately, he had become professionally isolated and his knowledge and diagnostic approach were no longer in step with the profession’s expectations. The frustrating thing for me was that he did not seem to realise this. He seemed simply out of touch with the diagnostic process and also with the standard way that most avian vets would approach this problem. On top of this, some of his testing and advice was flawed and often just wrong and certainly not consistent with what would be regarded as acceptable practice in the profession generally. Veterinarians as professionals may differ in the exact way that they diagnose and manage cases but in this instance the tests being done and treatment recommended did not have a scientific basis. He was substituting his opinion for scientific fact. I found it particularly interesting that he was quick to label this a “complex case”. These days, nothing should really be complex given the correct testing. These days, diagnostic testing is so sophisticated that it is simply a matter of following the usual diagnostic pathway and getting the results.
And so what was wrong with this fancier’s birds? The haematology component of the blood profiling revealed a very high PCV. This stands for Packed Cell Volume and is an indicator of the concentration of red blood cells in the circulation. When PCVs get high, the blood becomes more viscous and the heart has to work harder to pump it around the body. This puts a dramatic increase on the work load of the heart and leads to cardiac insufficiency during exertion and an obvious compromise of race performance. This condition is seen quite commonly. The exact cause of these high PCVs is not known but one suggestion is that it is the response of a pigeon being forced to exercise beyond its fitness or health capability. The condition usually responds to treating any identified health problems ( that are blocking the development of fitness) and simply to just open lofting. Affected birds are kept in their loft routine, i.e. let out and called in at their normal times but are not forced to fly. Leaving birds at liberty for several hours a day I find is a good stress reliever and helps the birds to gradually fly themselves to fitness – those that want to fly do and those that want to rest can, as they start to feel well they fly more and develop their own fitness. During this time, there is no rationing of food. Birds are fed by hand as much as they want to eat twice daily with a moderate protein ration of about 16%, e.g. 40% dun peas, equal parts (about 15% of each) safflower, sorghum, wheat and corn. Usually the condition corrects itself over 2 weeks and the team can gradually be brought back into work. The biochemistry component of the blood profile showed minor damage to the liver and reduced kidney function but histopathology showed no significant damage at a cellular level and subsequent Rota and PMV PCRs (viral DNA checks) ruled out these viruses as being involved. All other tests did not reveal any other complicating factors. There was no evidence of a “toxic” exposure.
Moving on from this I have even reviewed cases where vets have invented conditions and then advertised that they are the only ones to be able to diagnose that condition and in turn, market elaborate treatment programs to manage the condition.
A list of qualified avian vets in Australia and New Zealand is listed on the Australian Pigeon Company website. I would encourage all fanciers to use their services but at the same time, if the advice you are getting just does not sound right, get a second opinion.
Dr Colin Walker