The Rota Vaccine
As fanciers would be aware we have been running a pigeon Rota virus vaccine trial for the last 6 months. The results of this trial have been reported in this Journal each month as they have become available. I have prepared a chart below showing the full results of the vaccine trial. The 10 trial birds were bled 7 times. The antibody response is tracked below in each bird. Levels above 0.17 are regarded as protective. The birds were vaccinated on the 18th February and the 18th March. A third vaccination was given on the 13th May.
Chart by Dr Colin Walker
What can fanciers expect if they have vaccinated their birds against Rota and their birds are subsequently exposed to the virus? Based on the trial results about 60% of birds will have sufficient immunity to stop them from developing clinical disease ie becoming sick. The remaining 40% will have variable levels of immunity but not enough to fully protect them. Any immunity they have, however, will decrease the severity of the disease. Just how sick each of these birds becomes will depend on the level of immunity they have when they are exposed.
However, it appears that the vaccine may be more effective than the trial results alone indicate. The trial results are not consistent with what has been happening clinically in many lofts. In the trial we have been measuring the amount of antibodies formed in the blood against Rota virus following vaccination. Even though the test is not straightforward it is the usual test that is done to measure immunity. With many diseases like PMV , measuring antibodies gives a good idea of the likely immune response. At the start of the trial there was discussion as to whether or not this was likely to be the case with Rota virus which is primarily a bowel virus. It was thought that even though measuring antibodies in the blood would be useful that there may be an immune response at the bowel lining that may also modify the progress of disease. One suggestion was that trial birds be killed at the end of the trial, that their bowels be removed , samples of mucous be collected from the bowel lining and the amount of immunoglobulins ( another immune mediator ) be measured. Further ways of evaluating the immune response in the trial birds are still being considered. Either way, whatever the immune response is, it does seem as if more than 60% of birds are protected from clinical disease after vaccination.
Throughout June in Melbourne, as fanciers started tossing their birds together, there were outbreaks of vomiting in several lofts. Many fanciers assumed that these outbreaks were due to Rota virus but no testing was done. We were keen to see whether these birds did actually have Rota virus and also if this was the case, did vaccination offer birds some protection from internal damage, particularly to the liver, done by the virus. This can be measured very accurately by drawing blood from the birds and measuring values associated with liver inflammation and function. I was therefore keen to find some droppings from infected birds. Initially a local fancier, who had vaccinated his birds ( two Rotavax 0.5ml 4 weeks apart) rang me and said that about 10 of his 180 birds had started vomiting. Several were quiet and fluffed. I travelled to the loft, collected some dropping and forwarded them to Agribio for a Rota (PCR) test. Two days later while waiting for the results the fancier rang me and said that all of his birds had become well and perhaps it was not worth sending the droppings for testing. The test however had already been initiated and did actually return a positive result. The day after I went to the first loft a second fancier rang me and also said that some of his birds were vomiting. He had about 350 birds and estimated that one in seventy were vomiting. I also travelled to this loft, collected some droppings and forwarded these to Agribio. He had also vaccinated his birds ( two Rotavax 0.3ml 4 weeks apart). Two days later this fancier also rang me. He said that he felt as if he had “cried wolf”. He didn’t think his birds had Rota after all as they had all become well. This test however was also completed and also returned a positive result. A blend of droppings from the first and second loft were used to expose the trial birds to the disease. Despite spending several hours with the birds each day and being a veterinarian I was unable to detect any illness in the trial birds after this exposure. While this was happening, a third fancier contacted me. He had not vaccinated and his birds were now vomiting. I asked him what proportion of his birds were vomiting. He replied, that even though it was not simultaneous, he estimated that over 50% of the birds had vomited. A sample of these droppings were also collected and forwarded to Agribio. They also were positive. Based on this very small sample of only 3 lofts, two vaccinated and one unvaccinated, it does seem as if the benefit of vaccination, as far as reduction of clinical disease in the loft is better than indicated by the trial. We have only tested 3 lofts because the test is expensive and I am paying for them myself. Even though we have only tested 3 lofts other fanciers who have and have not vaccinated and who have experienced outbreaks of vomiting consistent with Rota virus have contacted me and anecdotally it does seem as if the birds that are vaccinated experience a much milder form of the disease if subsequently exposed to Rota virus. The fanciers of vaccinated birds reported that the first sign they noticed was some birds crops not emptying overnight. Vomiting started 3 days after the probable exposure and persisted for 2 to 3 days . In total about 1-5 % of birds vomited . Some droppings became a bit green and wet but overall were not bad. No droppings became watery and mucoid . Birds continued to exercise normally although some were a bit quiet and fluffed. Recovery seemed comparatively rapid. Three days after the vomiting stopped all birds seemed normal. One bird in the first fanciers loft died . All 3 fanciers that we tested have given permission for me to bleed some of their birds. I will do this in about 3 weeks and run complete biochemistry /hematology profiles. The reason for doing this is to compare the amount of internal damage in vaccinated and non- vaccinated birds after a Rota virus exposure. The blood profile that is described in both my book “The Pigeon” on pages 42 and 43 and is also on the APC website in “The Diagnostic Pathway” section will be done. In particular I will be interested to look at the liver parameters. I will also draw blood for the same tests from some of the trial birds. The difference in the results between vaccinated and non- vaccinated birds will be very interesting and will be reported in this magazine next month.
The Rota vaccine, although stimulating an antibody level in 60% of birds that is likely to be protective, and appearing to reduce clinical disease is potentially problematic for fanciers because it does not appear to offer full immunity to all birds. A group of 8 fanciers near me toss together. On one Saturday recently one of these fanciers went to basket his birds in the morning for their combined toss. He noticed that several of his birds had vomited overnight and decided against tossing. Another fancier in the unit tossed routinely. He ended up being 40 out overnight and lost 9 out of about 160. The day after the toss his birds started vomiting. Obviously his birds were just one day behind with their Rota infection . With no obvious symptoms when they were basketed the fancier had innocently basketed them for a long toss while they were incubating Rota with unfortunate consequences. Fancier obviously want and will need to have their birds fully protected from clinical disease before racing starts.
Is vaccinating against Rota worthwhile? Fanciers are familiar with Pox and PMV vaccines that do confer virtually 100% protection from clinical disease and some may think that all vaccines are similar , however not all vaccines are the same. Making a vaccine is never easy and a number of vaccines do not confer full immunity and also need repeated inoculations. It appears as if this is the case with the current Rota vaccine. I am, however, a firm believer that any immunity is good immunity. It will indeed be frustrating however if fanciers will still need to expose their birds to the virus before racing to fully protect them. It is only natural that the immunity formed by exposure to the whole virus will be higher than that formed by exposure to just part of the virus as in the vaccine. The whole point of vaccination is to develop an immunity safely without damaging the pigeons. It will indeed be interesting to see the results of the upcoming biochemistry/haematology tests.
I am interested to hear the experiences of fanciers, who both did and did not vaccinate their birds, after a Rota virus exposure. To some extent what is happening now in Australia is like a giant field experiment or clinical trial. It is the first year that the Rota vaccine has been available to all of us. Such experiences will further help evaluate the vaccines effectiveness. I can be contacted on 0412481239 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope fanciers find my efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the Rota vaccine useful in guiding the decisions they make with their birds.
Election of National Body Members
In the most recent edition, the July edition, of this magazine, on page 28 was an advert from the ANRPB for the position of Victorian delegate. The advert invited nominations, listed the preferred abilities of an applicant and suggested a resume be sent to the ANRPB assistant secretary. I just wonder what happens next. To me, and I hope that my interpretation is wrong, the advert seemed like an advert for a job in private business and, to me, gave the impression that the Board would then select the successful applicant from any nominations received. I feel that Victorian fanciers must select who represents them. It is not the job of the Board to select Board members but rather fanciers’. Otherwise the Board could simply become a “boys club” where Board members could select members whose views were similar to their own. The election of Board representatives needs to be totally transparent. At the time of writing (July 2020) there is also an advert for the position of Board secretary on the Board website. Here interested persons are invited to contact their state rep and the ad concludes by stating that “All enquiries will be kept strictly confidential”. I can see how such a statement might be added at the end of an advert for a position in private business but am wondering if this is appropriate for a national body for which everything should be totally transparent.
I feel that the whole selection of Board members needs to be reviewed. When do Australian fanciers get to elect the national body that represents them? The attitude of most fanciers that I have spoken to, towards the Board and its members, is one of apathy. Most, however, believe that it would be good to have a representative national body. Some are frustrated and even angry about issues regarding the current Board. When asked “What has the Board done? “, most are aware that the Board was involved in some way in the allocation of the Rota vaccine in early 2019. Some are aware also that in the last 1 to 1 ½ years the Board has celebrated the achievement of pigeons in the First and Second World Wars 75 and 100 years ago. Beyond that, I have not spoken to a fancier who is aware of the Board, rightly or wrongly, doing anything else.
An important tenet of a national body and indeed a major claim of the current body is that it represents the pigeon fanciers of Australia. However under the current system not all fanciers are being equally represented and some are not being represented at all. Given this situation, it is understandable that many fanciers are apathetic.
A big issue currently is the lack of proportional representation. At the moment, the vote of the WA representative carries the same weight as that of the NSW and Victorian representatives (at the moment this position is empty) despite the NSW and Victorian members each representing the interests of 4 to 5 times the number of fanciers. To me, a much fairer system would be to use the delegate system already used by many clubs and federations rather than simply having one rep/one vote per state. In the delegate system, for example, a rep could get one vote for every 50 fanciers he represents. This would mean that WA would get perhaps 2 votes while Victoria and NSW would each get 8 and result in a more accurate representation of fanciers’ wishes.
Another problem is that some fanciers are not represented at all. In states like SA, it is potentially easier to choose a state rep. In SA, most fanciers race in Adelaide and Adelaide only has one racing organization. In Victoria, most fanciers are in Melbourne but in Melbourne there are 5 federations. There are also significant numbers of fanciers and clubs associated with some of the larger rural centres. I would suggest that, if the number of fanciers in rural Victoria were combined, t this number would be similar to the total number of fanciers in WA and yet no one represents these Victorian country fliers. They were not involved in the selection of their state rep in any way. No wonder that they might feel uninvolved and uninterested.
It appears at the moment as if the Board has 6 members of which 5 can vote, although it can be a bit hard to keep track as various members are joining and then resigning. Since 2017, the Board has contained some very experienced and talented members. Many of these have now left, which I feel is a shame. Speaking to some of them, they said that they left because of disagreements within the Board and a feeling that they were just wasting their time.
One difficulty is that the Board is actually a very small group. The difficulty with such a small group is that a non-voter, be it the chair or someone else, can lobby, intentionally or otherwise, the voting members. It is only natural that a non-voter would express his views and that this could influence the vote, particularly of a new less experienced member. This could lead to just a few people, at the moment 5, dictating national policy.
I think it is imperative that any national body needs to develop a good understanding of the members that it is meant to represent. A good starting point, I would think, for an Australian national body would be to find out actually how many fanciers there are and where they live. How can a national body claim to represent the interests of its members or know what the broader pigeon community wants if they don’t survey them or allow them to vote on issues? At the moment, to me, it seems that the Board takes a position and then expects the fancy to follow. After speaking to reps that have left the Board, there seems to be a trend to silence people who have different views.
I think part of the apathy that most fanciers feel for the Board is a consequence of their lack of confidence in its members. Most were not involved in their selection and they feel not involved and removed from the whole notion of a national body. When do we have elections for a national body? Is it not standard for positions to be declared vacant at the AGM and then the positions filled through election? Are the current Board members there until they choose to leave?
When looking to fill positions on the Board, we should not be looking to just put “bums on seats”. If elected by fanciers of a whole state, then election is an endorsement of that person by the state as a reliable representative in whom they have confidence. At the moment, this does not seem to be the case.
Maybe we don’t need to have Board elections. Maybe they would be too hard to organize. Maybe a more workable solution would be that part of the position of a senior committee member in a federation or large club, perhaps the secretary or vice president, would be membership of the Board. Because such a representative would be elected and know the local issues, I feel it is likely that fanciers would feel connected, involved and truly represented. Fancy pigeon owners have already had a very effective national body, the Australian National Pigeon Association, for over 25 years and its organization is not that dissimilar to this where the various state reps are often elected to their local organisations or are elected specifically by them as their national representative. Certainly what can be said is that a much more effective and inclusive system, as well as one that is much more transparent, can be developed than the one that is in place now.
Use of Doxycycline
Doxycycline is a widely used antibiotic in pigeon health management. It is the active ingredient in Doxyvet and one of the active ingredients in Doxy T – 2 products familiar to Australian pigeon fanciers. Doxycycline has poor action against many bacteria in particular Salmonella and E.coli but it is very effective against Mycoplasma and is one of the antibiotics of choice against Chlamydia. Mycoplasma and Chlamydia are commonly involved with respiratory , including air sac infections. Side effects include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea, suppression of the immune system, liver damage and alteration of the normal bacteria in the gut. Doxycycline can interfere with calcium metabolism in the gut and in bone and so should be used cautiously in young pigeons particularly for an extended time.
Doxycycline does however have many advantages when compared to other tetracyclines such as the “Tricon” and “Aureomycin” that many fanciers will remember. Doxycycline is rapidly absorbed from the bowel, causes less disruption to the normal bowel bacteria, is less affected by concurrent calcium supplementation ( ie less need to remove grit and pink minerals) and provides prolonged therapeutic levels in the blood with a single drink of medicated water providing effective blood levels for up to 20 hours ( compared to about 4 hours for Tricon) . This means that provided a pigeon drinks at least once every 20 hours then the drug is still working. With Tricon the pigeons have to drink every 4 hours including through the night to achieve this (which obviously pigeons do not ).
Some aspects of Doxycycline use warrant further comment.
Doxycyline medicated water turning purple
Fanciers in some areas will notice that water medicated with doxycycline will change from the normal pale yellow to pale pink then red and finally deep purple. This colour change occurs if there are minerals in the water that react with the doxycycline. This change is unlikely to be seen where mains water is used, but is quite common where bore water and other sources of mineral rich waters are used.
As the water changes colour the antibiotic is being inactivated. Solutions for fanciers in affected areas include using either bottled water (not mineral water), distilled or rain water. Alternatively, smaller volumes of medicated water can be prepared that are changed more frequently as the pink colour appears. The whole process is accelerated by heat and UV light. In one interesting situation, a fancier observed that the pink colour appeared less rapidly in his white drinkers than in his black drinkers (that absorb heat). Using lighter coloured drinkers placed out of the direct sun will further help in affected areas.
Concurrent calcium supplementation
Doxycycline absorption from the bowel is reduced if the pigeons ingest supplements that contain calcium, concurrently. To improve uptake of the drug, fanciers should therefore remove grit, pink powder and mineral blocks during medication with doxycycline.
Water acidification during doxycycline medication
Doxycycline absorption from the bowel can be improved if the doxycycline is provided in a weakly-acidic solution. Simultaneously medicating the water with a weak organic acid;, for example, citric acid or acetic acid, will not only enhance the effect of the drug but also make the somewhat bitter doxycycline more pleasant tasting for the birds. Both citric acid (available as a white powder and dosed at the rate of 3gm/6L) and acetic acid (available as apple cider vinegar and dosed at the rate of 5ml/L) are available from most supermarkets.
Doxycycline use and the choice of drinker
Drinkers made from galvanised metal or unglazed pottery will inactivate the doxycycline in medicated water. Drinkers should be made from stainless steel, glass, plastic, enameled metal or glazed pottery.
Mixing other medications with doxycycline
It is sometimes an advantage to treat birds simultaneously with several medications. Doxycycline can be safely mixed with all of the canker medications and also toltrazuril (for coccidia) eg Baycox, Toltravet. It is best, however, not to combine doxycycline with enrofloxacin ("Baytril"), wormers (for example, moxidectin) and multivitamins. Doxycycline should not be mixed with sulphur-based antibiotics as these directly interfere with the effectiveness of the doxycycline. Also if doxycycline is mixed with probiotics then, like other antibiotics,the doxycycline will interfere with the function of the probiotics before they exert their beneficial effect.
Giving doxycycline combined with bacteriocidal (ie antibiotics that kill bacteria as opposed to those that just stop bacteria reproducing) antibiotics such as penicillins (for example, amoxycillin) and fluoroquinolones (for example, "Baytril")
Doxycycyline is a bacteriostatic antibiotic (eliminates infection by stopping bacteria replicating) while amoxycillin and "Baytril" are bacteriocidal antibiotics (eliminate infection by actually killing the bacteria). Giving bacteriostatic and bacteriocidal antibiotics together does not work well. This is because the bacteriostatic antibiotics stop the bacteria from replicating and it is when the bacteria are replicating that they are vulnerable to the bacteriocidal antibiotics. As an example, most authorities agree that giving doxycycline
with "Baytril" reduces the effectiveness of the "Baytril" by 50%.
Giving doxycycline with other bacteriostatic antibiotics such as tylosin and spiramycin
Like doxycycline, spiramycin and tylosin are both bacteriostatic antibiotics. They do not interfere with the action of each other. In pigeons they are commonly used together when combined infections, such as those that occur with respiratory infections, are suspected. Common brands are DoxyT and TripleVet.
Doxycycline compared to other tetracyclines
Doxycycline varies from other tetracyclines, such as chlortetracycline and oxytetracycline, in its therapeutic activity, in a number of ways. The three most important ones are :
1. Longer activity in the blood after a single dose – if a pigeon is dosed in the drinking water with doxycycline, each dose persists in the blood and exerts a therapeutic affect for up to 20 hours. Other tetracyclines only provide effective blood levels for about 4 hours. As pigeons rarely drink every 4 hours and certainly don’t drink through the night this means that doxycycline provides more consistent effective levels in the blood which, in turn, means the birds respond to medication and recover more quickly.
2. Disruption of normal bowel bacteria – doxycycline causes less disruption to the normal bowel bacteria than other tetracyclines.
3. Concurrent calcium supplementation – the effect of doxycycline is less affected by concurrent calcium supplementation.
4. Rapidly absorbed from the bowel.
Because of these benefits doxycycline is the preferred tetracycline prescribed by many avian vets.
Doxycycline compared to enrofloxacin ("Baytril")
"Baytril" is used by some fanciers to treat respiratory infection due to Chlamydia. Doxycycline is a more effective treatment. "Baytril" stops the Chlamydia organism replicating itself and leads to a clinical improvement in the birds; that is, they appear to get better, but while treatment with "Baytril" improves the birds, it may not clear the carrier state. Relapses are common. Doxycycline not only stops the Chlamydia organism replicating, but also clears the organism, resulting in a more successful and targeted treatment.
Dose of Doxycycline
The dose of Doxycycline is 25 -50 mg orally over 24 hours. For Doxyvet this works out to be 3g (one level teaspoon ) to 2 litres of water
An Interesting Case.
I had a fancier contact me recently . His pigeons looked very well but occasionally developed profuse and watery droppings. Figure 4017 shows his birds droppings as they are normally. Figure 4080 shows the droppings when they are watery. He was sure that a disease was present. The birds did not have diarrhoea. The droppings were watery because they contained a lot of urine. This occurs either when the pigeons are drinking a lot or alternatively when the pigeons are drinking normally but there is a problem with the kidneys causing them to lose the ability to concentrate urine and conserve body fluids . A common cause of pigeons drinking a lot is being given supplements that contain excessive sugar or salt – both of which create a thirst. On questioning we realised that the droppings only became wet after he had used a particular supplement . The product in question is a water soluble vitamin supplement. It has been around since the 1970’s. I was surprised to still find it on the market. On checking I found it is available on line and also through some produce stores. The person selling it the fancier advised that it was really good and he should try it. He used it himself on his birds. Withdrawal of use of the product resolved the problem. Interestingly the seller advised that he was having problems with his own birds droppings but had failed to make the connection. Fanciers need to be extremely cautious about buying over the counter supplements. They are not regulated. A recent survey presented by an avian vet at an avian veterinary conference revealed that only 20% of over the counter bird products actually contained what was listed on the label. You just don’t know what you are getting . Many of them are based on very poor science to begin with being formulated by “backyarders”, literally. Interestingly the fancier whose birds had the watery droppings also reported that his birds were eating rabbit droppings. In fact, they were more than just eating them , they were actively seeking them out and eating every one they could find. This indicated a pica – where pigeon eat large amounts of unusual substances trying to source nutrients that are deficient in the diet. The supplement in question apart from creating a thirst was leaving the pigeons nutritionally stressed. Picas are discussed more fully in the answer to question 7 in the “Vet Questions Answered” section in this magazine. The supplement in question and others like it are still available and there will fanciers in Australia using it today. Fanciers are most definitely advised to use Australian registered products that have been approved by the relevant authorities after passing appropriate manufacturing requirements and standards
Ask the Vet
1/ Will Moxidectin kill air sac mites and the mite that cause problems on the racing pigeons chest?
Moxidectin at a dose of 1mg/kg will kill mites ( including air sac mites ) but the bald “moth –eaten” area that you see in the centre of the chest of some pigeons is not due to mites. Many fanciers mistakenly believe that this problem is due to mites. The problem is invariably mechanical damage to the feathers due to them being repeatedly rubbed on the edge of a hopper, drinker or trap. The problem corrects with the moult and will not recur with modifications to the offending device. If there is any doubt a skin biopsy can be collected for microscopic examination. We saw this issue in the clinic also when I worked in Belgium last year. After doing more than 100 skin biopsies we have never identified a mite infection as the cause.
2/ Over the years I have had the tip of the tongue drop off. What would cause this ? Could it be canker ?
The only situation that I am aware of where this can have a disease cause is where a mucosal pox vesicle affects the tongue or exposure to some fungal toxins that interfere with peripheral blood supply. It is unlikely to be canker. The tip of the tongue is too exposed for the fragile organisms that cause canker to do this. If it is just the odd bird and they are otherwise well the cause may just be an injury to the tongue.
3/ I feel my pigeons are lacking condition and their wattles are not chalky white but are slightly grey. Do you think this is ornithosis ?
Not all grey wattles are a problem. Flying in rain and billing can remove some of the white leaving the cere with a pink or grey colour tone. Grey however does raise the possibility of a sinus infection. If the sinuses are infected discharges drain through the “slot” into the throat and also under the cere. These can soak into the ceres and stain them. At this time of year the usual sign that will alert you to a sinus infection is increased sneezing in the loft. If there is a sinus infection the most likely cause is Chlamydia/ Mycoplasma which is sometimes described as the ornithosis complex. However bacteria, in particular Klebsiella, and some fungi can be involved. Birds on a vitamin A deficient diet are more prone to respiratory infections generally so it is worth checking that there are adequate levels in the diet. If the cause is unclear the usual tests that would be considered are a blood profile ( as set out on pages 42 and 43 of my book The Pigeon ) ,microscopic examination of a crop flush , Mycoplasma and Chlamydial PCRs and collection of a swab for bacterial and fungal testing.
4/ My birds must have a respiratory infection because they pant a lot after a short fly. What should I treat them with ?
Fanciers often think this and it is reasonable because panting is a respiratory function. However any disease can sap energy and cause an exercise intolerance. Just as often no disease is present and the birds are either hot, fat , unfit , being forced to fly beyond their fitness capability or are struggling to aerobically release energy to the muscles. Only testing can provide the answer. Tests similar to those in the above answer are used.
5/ My pigeons are “not right”. I was suspicious of a food problem. I tested my sorghum and it went mouldy. How can I fix my birds?
Testing grain by seeing if it will go mouldy is not a valid test . The number of fungal spores on a grain is irrelevant. What is relevant is the level of fungal toxin on the grain. The correlation between the number of spores and the level of toxin is very poor. The sorghum may well be fine. If really concerned the grain can be sent to a lab for toxin level estimation. This is a sophisticated test and not something that a veterinarian can do in private practice. This test is also quite expensive . It is important that a fancier’s money is spent wisely. Usually more routine tests are done initially to check for health issues and the toxin level test is only done if these tests fail to identify the cause or suggest that a problem with the food is likely. Once health issues are identified accurately they can be treated in a targeted way.
6/ There is a heap of Adelaide lofts with “Fat eye” right now in addition to many with Rota. What is “Fat eye”? What is the treatment? Can they race with it? Is it contagious?
We investigated this problem with the University of Melbourne when it was first reported in 2017. A full range of tests was done including a Mycoplasma PCR from inside the eyelids and a conjunctival biopsy ( where a tiny piece of tissue is taken from the inside of the eyelid for microscope examination ). Tests showed the problem to be a Mycoplasma infection. The infection runs a natural course of about 5 days. If birds are treated with a mycoplasmal drug such as Doxy T they appear to get better a day or two earlier. Some fanciers use eye drops, particularly ones containing an antibiotic called chloramphenicol. Use of eye drops is laborious. Doxycycline given orally ends up in the tears and is likely to be similarly effective. One would expect that the racing of birds would be compromised while affected. The condition is contagious and one would therefore expect it to be spread through racing and toss units.
7/ My pigeons have started pecking at their own droppings and eating some of them. I give them peas and wheat as well as grit. They are handfed but are given as much as they want. What could possibly be wrong?
Your pigeons are displaying a behaviour described as Pica. Pica describes a desire to eat either inappropriate material or excessive amounts of a particular substance. Pigeons typically do this when they are trying to source a nutrient that is low in their diet. Some pigeons will eat their own droppings. Stock birds that continually peck at perches or appear to be forever foraging are affected. I have seen pigeons deliberately source and eat cobwebs. In pigeons it is most commonly seen as gorging on grit . Affected birds are usually either on a deficient diet or have a health problem that interferes with the digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Conditions that inflame the bowel wall interfere with nutrient absorption and birds can develop this behaviour even on a complete diet. This means that the birds, even though they eat grit or food offered they cannot get the nutrients these contain and become deficient in vital minerals and other nutrients, often at a time when demand is high, such as breeding. The birds try to compensate for this by just eating more grit. Some fanciers mistakenly remove the grit in this situation, which only compounds matters. If a nutritionally deficient diet is provided, the birds may eat unusual substances in an attempt to source nutrients, or gorge on the provided food trying to compensate for its poor nutritional value
Gorging on grit or continuous foraging and ingestion of unusual substances occurs if:
1. the birds are on a deficient or poorly balanced diet
2. the birds are outright hungry
3. the birds have crop or stomach pain
4. a grit-based substrate is novel to them
5. a malabsorption (for example, Salmonella or coccidia) or maldigestion (for example, pancreatic insuffiency) disorder interferes with the assimilation of nutrients.
In healthy birds provision of a complete diet usually stops the problem. I usually recommend APC Multiboost in the water for one day per week and APC PVM pink minerals continually available . This usually solves the problem. In your case providing a wider variety of seeds as well as checking that the brand of grit used is good quality one (ie variety of soluble and non -soluble grits presented hygienically (double sieved , washed and dried by the manufacturer)will be beneficial
Dr Colin Walker