Breeding Nuns


“ Packing of the shell “ is the feathers at the back of the shell which would correspond to the mane in a Jacobin. There should be no gap at the back, where some of the feathers turn up and others turn down, but an unbroken line from the top of the shell to the bottom of the neck. A “ cappy shell “ is when it turns down over the head instead of standing upright. This is a very serious fault, and very hard to breed out. I am afraid there are a good many cappy shells caused by novices over trimming their birds. They take away too many feathers in front of the shell, and this causes it to bend forward over the head, completely spoiling the appearance of the bird. “ Setting of the shell “. The shell should be placed as high as possible on top of the head not down the neck. Some of these low set birds, it you look at them full face, you cannot see any shell as it is set down their necks at the back. Good “ finish to shell “ is when the sides come well round to the eye on each side, thereby forming quite a semi-circle. “ Spread of shell “ is really the width from side to side, which should be as broad as possible. Therefore to get this the skull should go out as broad as possible behind the eye but in front it should be just like a black self Tumbler. “ Snipey “, “ pinched “, “ mean “  and “ drawn “ in the face are all used to describe those long narrow headed birds, which in no way resemble the Tumbler head. A Nun should have ten primary flights in each wing coloured.
James Y.Baldwin.
This article was published in Pigeons magazine in early 1909, and after 103 years is still totally relevant for Nuns bred today as if it were written this year.



by Richard Henderson.



  So how do you breed good Nuns?  That is the ultimate question we all ask, and there is no easy answer.  Firstly, to breed good birds you need good stock to start off with.  Not necessarily show winners, but sound, good quality birds with no major faults. Go to a breeder who consistently does well in top competition, and try to obtain the best pair or two they have available in the colour you fancy.  If you can only get one top quality bird, try to make sure it is a hen.  Although it should not matter, I have found progress is a lot quicker with a good hen to an average cock, as the foundation, rather than the other way round.  This was the way I first started with my studs of blacks and duns, and blues and brown bars. The reds and yellows were of equal quality only average to look at but from top quality stock.  Hens tend to be more dominant for type than cocks, whereas cocks rule colour so a good type hen is what is needed to start with.  Don’t expect good birds to come cheap, you will be paying for the breeders expertise and years of breeding, so be fair to the breeder and I’m sure he/she will be fair with you.  One good pair is better than two average one’s, also don’t buy birds from lots of different breeders.  One or two pairs from one or two breeders is much better than several pairs from all over the place.  What is needed is a concentration of the bird’s gene pool or ancestry, to help form a closely related family that will produce birds of a similar appearance from where major improvements will come.  From a wide gene pool progress will be much slower in the long run. Don’t be rushed, if you have to wait for a top breeder to supply better birds, wait, you will save money in the long run. Spend the time studying and learning the British Nun Club standard and visiting shows, and if possible breeders to see what birds are winning and the quality breeders have in their lofts.


  This type of breeding is called inbreeding, or to a certain degree line breeding. Inbreeding is the pairing up of closely related birds, ie; parent x offspring, half brother x half sister, grandparent x grandchild, etc;  Whereas in line breeding you take a cock or hen and pair it back to daughters or sons over a period of years.  In time all the birds will become very closely related and similar in appearance.  When inbreeding though, only fit healthy birds must be bred off, with no physical defects or serious faults.  Inbreeding is the quickest way to fix good points into a strain, but by the same means bad faults will be brought out and could become fixed.  The idea is to eliminate all the bad faults and have an abundance of good features on sound, healthy birds.


  The first breeding season is usually the easiest, take advice from who you bought your birds from, and pair the birds accordingly.  The problems, or should I say interesting things start in the second breeding season.  Pen up the youngsters from the first years breeding and compare them to their parents and the Nun standard.  Pick out the best young cock and hen, and pair them back to their parents, then space or quality permitting, pair the next best young cock and hen together or to the young of another pair if you originally bought two pairs.  Dispose of any with obvious bad faults or, poor development.  If the young are not as good as their parents don’t be too disappointed. Improvement doesn’t always happen every year, but the young will carry all their parents good points, sometimes it may take another year or two for these good points to be shown, also these birds often make good stock birds with careful pairing. It is not always the top show birds that make the best breeding birds. With Nuns I have found that you shouldn’t be too quick to judge any young until they have fully moulted, they can change dramatically in their first six months.


  Many of my blacks and duns, because they are looser feathered, look very good in the nest, look ordinary after they have been weaned, then once again look good after their full moult.  There have been several birds in the past that I have let go too soon, to my regret.  Now I always hang on until around September/October for earlier bred young, and for late breds, until their yearling moult, if they show promise in the nest or are from my best stock pairs. These late breds I don’t normally pair up, leaving them to develop with as little stress as possible. They tend to moult quicker than the breeding birds, and I have won many top prizes with yearlings kept this way. Space to do it does help though.


  Once the third breeding season and after comes along you should be learning more about your birds and developing a family. The best advice I can give is pair best to best, faults permitting.  Take all the cocks (or hens) of a colour group, pen up in order of quality, and pick the best mate for them that matches as much as, or extra good in a certain point you are trying to improve.  Don’t pair birds up to even points up, ie; 8 x 8 flighted to 12 x 12 flighted to get a 10 x 10 flight bird, it just doesn’t often happen. To take flighting as an example, 10 x 10 coloured primary flights are perfect.  The more times that you can breed together birds with 10 coloured flights in at least one wing the better, or so you would think.  It certainly does help, but it doesn’t just end there.  With the Nun being a pied breed the spread of white feathers is a big problem.  Genetically white spreads (or increases) quicker on a bird than colour, so to consistently breed for 10 x 10 flighting means using some birds, or even a lot of your stock with more than 10 x 10 coloured flights.  Along with this increase in colour could possibly be mismarking on the body feathering, although this is not too much of a problem.  An increase in mismarking will also hopefully give rise to a larger bib marking, a breed characteristic that needs careful consideration when breeding.  One improvement linked to another.  The whole idea being a gradual improvement in your stock, although a loft full of mismarks is not what is wanted, and several lower flighted birds would probably have to be bred from because they are likely to be extra good in other properties.  It is the judicious pairing of the right birds with a good understanding of your birds and the Nun standard that makes a top breeder.


  The markings of a Nun for me are certainly a great attraction and make the breed stand out, but it’s the structure that makes the bird.  Look at any Nun standard and one of the first things mentioned is type, short, cobby, and upright with eyes over feet, approximately 9 ½ inches high, with a large shell crest.  I think that the saying ‘build your house before you paint it’ certainly holds true when breeding top quality Nuns.  Birds upright in stance definitely look far more attractive than crouched or squat birds, no matter what other qualities they have.  Leg setting is the key to good type.  Aim for legs well set back, this pushes the chest upwards and forwards giving the cobby shape plus it

gives a slight hollow between the shoulders that improves the overall carriage of a bird.  As well as legs set well back they need to be well set apart.  This leads to broad shoulders and a broad chest and in turn gives rise to a strong thick neck which should gradually taper to the throat but still look quite powerful. More often than not a good strong neck will in turn lead to a broad head which should have a nicely rounded frontal when viewed in profile.  With a broad head you then have the perfect base for, what to me makes a Nun, a large shell crest.  By large I do mean large, but more importantly in proportion to the rest of the bird.  A large shell I’ve found does seem to lead to longer flight and tail feathers, and we certainly don’t want birds with the feathering of Jacobins, but with careful pairing large shelled birds should not be excessive in length.


So it’s all in proportion with no exaggerated points, for as you can see several important points are linked, so upsetting one upsets the whole bird. The same goes for massive heads, the Nun is not a Long Faced Tumbler with different markings, for one it has been around much longer and two because of its genetic make up and shell.  Whenever I have seen Nuns with Tumbler put through them they have hideous eyebrows and the shell setting leaves a lot to be desired.  This type of cross should certainly help improve eye, beak setting and type though, but care has to be taken. Going back to the shell, apart from its size, its setting is very important. When viewed from the front the shell should be as wide as it is high continuing equally on both sides of the head until it merges in with the neck just below the level of the eye, but on the same level as the beak.  In profile the shell should be set equally behind the eye as the beak opening is in front as erect as possible with the angle to the head ideally 90%.  The feathers well packed falling backwards to the back of the neck then the reverse way to form a small compact mane.  The curve of the shell should be regular with no split at the back or sides, and with definitely no rosettes.


  The eye and beak are two other points that need careful attention.  The eye should be a pearl or white colour with small black pupil.  This is an often overlooked aspect of a Nun but I think it certainly makes a bird more attractive, especially in blacks and blues, to have a good eye on them.  When birds have reddish or gravely eyes it tends to make them mean looking and detracts from the head.  This happens more with red and yellow Nuns. Beak meanwhile I think is one of the main faults on nearly all Nuns not just in the U.K. but all over the world.  Some look like they have nice straight set beaks but take a closer look and you will notice that the shell is set at an angle backwards, if the shell is upright then the beak points down.  It’s certainly the hardest part of any Nun to put right and in my mind will take a long time because the jaw structure will need altering.  I would tend to go through the domestic flight route rather than L.F.Tumbler route for beak setting, although beak length could be a problem.  As it stands in the standard the shell setting is far more important than the beak so that takes priority to me.  Length of beak should be easier to reduce, but here again I wouldn’t like to see a beak as short as that of a Long Faced Tumbler there is just no need for it. Some birds can look snipey or long in beak, but often this is due to a thin head with no width to the forehead or between the cheeks.


  So for me its structure and type first, markings and colour second.


  Don’t pair birds up just for the sake of it, to make a pair you must have a reason for pairing them together.  Don’t pair together two birds with the same bad faults as these will get worse.  All birds do have faults but the idea is to make them as small as possible. Also don’t continually feel you have to bring in new stock, give your own a reasonable chance to improve.  Nuns have been hundreds of years in the making and considering the difference still between blacks and duns, and the other colours, its going to be a while yet to get things right, although there are a few birds of other colours that are not far behind.  Obviously there will come a time when you need a bird to improve a certain point lacking in your own stock, this is an outcross.  Make sure that any outcross is extra good in that point you are trying to improve, and as good as possible in the points you already possess. Pair the outcross to your best bird and be extra critical in their young so as not to introduce any unwanted faults into your own strain of birds.



  Progress should follow, it may be only small, but little by little it should all come together with care, thought and a lot of patience.  There will be times when it seems that you have taken a step backwards, but sometimes this will lead to two forward.  Also everybody makes mistakes in pairing birds, it is nature we are up against, not a mathematical problem.  The thing is to try to work back to where you went wrong and pair up differently noting your mistakes.  If it were so easy everybody would have perfect pigeons by now.  That is what makes pigeon breeding so rewarding, the challenge and expectations.


  To reiterate on inbreeding, it is important to remember the main principles.  When breeding off closely related birds, inbreeding or line breeding, only use birds in top health with no visible problems or major faults.  Inbreeding in itself will not produce weak, poor quality, unhealthy birds or reduce size, it just brings out the hidden faults and good points that the birds have locked up inside them.  It will fix into a strain both good and bad points, get rid of the bad points and you will improve your birds, don’t and you will always have problems.  As long as your birds are fit it does not matter how close you breed.  Full brother to sister I don’t normally try as the genes are the same on both sides.  I do tend to prefer half brother x half sister and grandparent x grandchild.        But as long    as the birds match up for improvement that is all that matters. Inbreeding and line breeding are essential to the improvement of a stud of birds.  Out crossing or pairing totally unrelated birds all the time fixes nothing and the so called extra vigour you get is only useful if both birds are of a pure strain and totally unrelated.


  To help in my breeding program I keep a full breeding record of all pairings, young and ring numbers.  If you are to succeed you must keep a pedigree of each bird, memory is no good.  My records are very detailed and apart from parents, hatch dates, ring numbers etc, include colour, flighting, main faults and strong points.  I also mark down if a youngster looks promising when still in the nest.  I use these records as well as looking at the actual birds when deciding what birds to breed from and pair together.  Along with this a clear understanding of the Nun standard and what I am trying to improve is necessary to go along with my breeding records.  I also keep a record of all show results.


Sex linked matings that apply to all dominant ( black, brown, blue & red ) and dilute ( dun, khaki, silver & yellow ) colours


COCK                            HEN                                     COLOUR OF YOUNG


Black (Pure)       X         Black                                  = Black of both sexes.

Black (Impure)   X         Black                                  = Black of both sexes & Dun hens.

Black (Pure)        X        Dun                                     = Black of both sexes.

Black (Impure)   X        Dun                                     = Black & Dun of both sexes.

Dun                      X        Dun                                     = Dun of both sexes.

Dun                      X        Black                                   = Black cocks & Dun hens only.



Pure = Bred from Blacks only for a few years.

Impure = Bred from a Black x Dun pairing.

Dilute colours like Dun can only be pure for the colour they are, not impure for another colour.

File 1 (41kb)



By Richard Henderson

I normally pair my Nuns together in Early to Mid-March. I have tried pairing up in January but have had no success with either quality or quantity of young bred at that time. It usually happens with my birds, that in late February the hens in their own compartments start to pair together, that is a sure sign of their willingness to breed and if they want to, it seems pointless to do otherwise and waste eggs. The trouble with early breeding is you really need to lengthen the days by having lights on in the loft to make the birds think it is nearer to spring and they should be breeding, otherwise it means pairing up when the weather is usually bad and there is a much greater risk of eggs and chicks getting chilled. Also if the birds are not ready to breed I find it a waste of time trying to force them to. A month to six weeks before pairing I treat the birds for Canker, worms, etc, if necessary. I also cut out any barley from the winter feed which increases the protein level of my normal feed. During this period wheat germ oil is given with brewers yeast added on to the feed once or twice a week to help with fertility. I’ve found that with Nuns the first round of eggs can be the most troublesome, with birds getting used to their new mate, new nest box and usually more infertile eggs. If paired too early and this happens, then there is bad weather for the second round of eggs and young, by the time much better weather comes in April and May the birds are getting a bit tired of breeding and a lot of eggs and energy has been wasted. I’d much rather wait and cut out those risks as much as I can. My breeding records show that most of my best birds were hatched in May and June anyway, even when I paired up early, and youngsters hatched in those two months get the best of the weather and are more than ready for the important winter Championship shows.

I usually pair up the birds in the late afternoon so that they settle easier, with the cocks using the same nest boxes they have used before. This hopefully cuts down cocks fighting over new nest boxes. The nest boxes I use for the Nuns are 86cm wide x 40cm high x 50cm deep, whilst those for the feeders are 60cm wide x 40cm high x 50 cm deep. The pairs are kept locked in their nest boxes until they are paired up. After about 5 days they are in turn then let out to accustom themselves to the other pairs and their own nest box. Over the next few days more pairs are let out together until all the pairs are settled. Pairs that take longer to pair up will be boxed up longer. Sometimes certain cocks try to take over the nest boxes of settled pairs, if this happens I box up the settled pair so that the only spare nest box is the one I want the problem cock to use. This usually works, however if you box up the problem cock and think that it has settled, once it is let out it usually makes straight for the other nest box and the problem continues. Hens tend to settle in new nest boxes much easier than cocks. After 5 or 6 days after pairing the nest pans are turned over and a nest felt put in. Sometimes though I will use the cardboard Dandy nests. Both those and the nest felts can be changed after each nest or if they become soiled. I also place in each compartment some chopped up tobacco stalks for the birds to make their own nest with. Tobacco stalks are very good for deterring mites and lice, but I also think that they keep the birds occupied when pairing and get them used to their nest box. It is also very comical watching them, as some pairs will make a nest several inches high whilst others only put one or two pieces in the nest bowl.

Whilst being boxed up each pair is individually fed and watered, and I always put in an upturned clay nest pan for the hen to get out of the way of the cock if he is too aggressive. When pairing up some Nun cocks tend to grab hold of the hens shell feathers and pull them out, some sort of perch like the upturned nest pan helps reduce this, however some pairs won’t take to each other especially if one is a previous years young bird, so I put them into show pens next to each other for a few days to get used to each other and usually it works. For me the worst part of pigeon keeping is pairing up time, and I look forward to them all starting to breed and the first eggs.

For the complete novice, pigeons lay 2 eggs approximately 46 hours apart. Incubation starts with the second egg and usually lasts another 19 days. At around 3 days into incubation, veins can be seen in the eggs when held up to a good light. These eggs will be fertile and should turn an opaque colour at around 6 days. Infertile eggs I leave to be sat on for about 10 days to give the hen a rest before removing them so that the hen can go down to lay again. From mating to laying the first egg normally takes around 8 to 10 days, although from experience some hens can take a couple of weeks. This can happen with hens being on the fat side or those laying their first ever eggs. The cock normally sits during the day whilst the hen sits during the late afternoon and night. This may be all well and good for some breeds, but unfortunately Nuns, and particularly blacks, brown and duns, need feeders or foster parents to sit and rear their eggs and young. This is especially so for the first couple of rounds until the birds have totally settled down and the weather gets warmer. I keep around 40 pairs of feeders, made up of Thuringian Wing Pigeons, Spots, Whitetails, and South German Priests, and have found them to be excellent. I have also used at different times in the past Racers, Show Racers, Tipplers and crosses of them, but the pure bred Thuringians and Priests I have now are the best. My feeders stay paired up all year round and are only re-paired if I cull one of the pair, therefore most of the time they use the same nest box every year. Young pairs of feeders are paired up as required and only kept if I think they rear young properly. I usually put in nest pans with the feeders in mid January and let them rear a round of their own young. Once they lay again it should be around the time I need them to sit the first round of Nun eggs. If not I can let them sit dummy eggs until I need any of them to lay when any of the Nuns do. My feeders are fed, kept and treated exactly the same as the Nuns are all through the year. I have heard of fanciers getting rid of their feeders after breeding just to get some more in, in time for the next breeding season, or to feed them inferior corn after breeding. These are the birds that have to rear strong, healthy youngsters and they need to be in top health themselves to do so. Good feeders to me are just as important as the Nuns and need to be treated as such.

Depending on the Nun pair I change the first round of eggs for the feeder eggs or dummy eggs once the second egg has been laid. The Nuns then sit the changed eggs for about 10 days if they will, until they are allowed to lay again. If the Nuns and feeders laying times are not the same it doesn’t matter too much. If the Nuns lay first I store the eggs as soon as the second is laid in a container with shavings or cotton wool in the bottom, in a cool place and turn the eggs over twice a day until the feeders have laid. I write on each egg the pair number and date it was laid with a marker pen. I’ve had many eggs hatch having been stored for up to a week. Turning the eggs is so that the yolk doesn’t settle, and also the birds do it themselves when sitting or each of the pair take their turn sitting. If the feeders lay first then the maximum is 2 days difference with that of the Nun eggs. Fertile eggs can also be changed up to two days difference before or after that of the feeders. Any more, certainly after is a bit risky. The sitting birds have a built in knowledge of laying and hatching times, and start to develop pigeon milk on which to feed their young at around sixteen days into incubation, increasing it when they hear or feel the chicks starting to chip out of the shell.

Many of my Nuns are good sitters when the weather gets warmer but are not as good parents as the feeders, there fore I tend to let them rear young feeders so if they don’t rear the young properly it is not the young Nuns that perish. The Nuns also moult better if they have reared young. I find my blue and brown bar Nuns are the best parents and usually they rear a round or two of their own young, some pairs of the other colours will too, but to breed Nuns in any sort of number some feeders are essential.

Most fertile eggs hatch out ok though sometimes the chicks struggle to get out and need a little help. If this happens don’t pull the emerging chick out of the egg as it will still be attached to the egg. All that is needed is to help the head out and leave the chick to do the rest over the next few hours. If that doesn’t work I have found the chick rarely survives or grows poorly. So be careful and patient. Sometimes only one egg may be fertile or hatch. If this is the case I try to put another youngster with it of a similar size and age. Youngsters develop better if there are two in the nest, especially over the first ten days and it keeps the feeders occupied more. It also helps against crooked legs and wings, and the chicks keep warmer when the parents are off them. If any eggs become soiled I clean the dirt off with a little luke warm water. Both the Nuns and the feeders have baths put in once a week, or twice if the weather is very hot, and although the birds enjoy a bath very much, I think the extra little bit of humidity from slightly damp birds sitting the eggs helps lessen hatching problems.

If neither egg laid is fertile, then I will trim away some of the vent feathers off the cock to see if that helps, if not I will do the same to the hen, but it is not usually necessary. If infertile eggs continue to be laid it may be that the birds are too young, incompatible, being disturbed at mating or the cock sterile. Whichever is the case I look in my breeding records to see if the problem may be hereditary and take action accordingley. I have never had a sterile cock though and I find splitting the birds up and re-pairing usually does the trick or put the cock on a course of wheatgerm pills for a few days.

Strong healthy chicks will be adequately fed by their parents/feeders pigeon milk for the first few days, but the critical period is the change over from that to a more solid feed, at around seven to ten days. I always check the young on an evening to make sure they are full, and if not I use a large syringe with some tubing on the end to top them up with mashed up G10 pellets and Nutribird hand rearing food. Make sure though this mixture is runny enough or it will solidify in the chick’s crop and do more harm than good. If the feeders are doing their job though, this should be rarely needed, even more so if there are pellets in with the main feed. The seven to ten day period is also the time to ring the youngsters, making sure not to leave it too late as the chicks grow quite quickly at this stage. Slip the front three toes through the ring with the back toe back against the leg, then push the ring up the leg and pull out the back toe from the ring, the ring will then be free on the leg. I put a small galley pot in each nest box that has young, with a little feed in it so that the youngsters soon learn from the adults to eat for themselves. I also put in a small pot of water too. Sometimes an unfeathered chick can get out of the nest and become chilled, especially if this happens during the night or early in the morning. Quite often the chick looks dead, but it is surprising how often they start moving once held in the hand and warmed up. Even after only a few minutes they can be put back under the feeders if they still have the other chick in the nest. If not I put them under other feeders with a chick a similar age.

Unlike many breeds, the Nuns markings of the darker colours can be seen from just after hatching and at one week old full flighting can be seen. Also colour can be noted at hatching with blacks, browns, blues and reds having long down and duns, yellows and silvers having no or very little down. As the young grow some of the colours of the feathers change when they moult. Most blues will lighten in colour, whereas reds and yellows will darken. Many young reds and yellows in the nest have only partially coloured flights which, on moulting, colour up completely, strengthening my opinion that no young Nuns should be sold or culled before moulting if they show any promise in the main points of the standard.

Depending on their development, the young are taken away to the young bird loft at 4 to 5 weeks old. When they are put into the young bird loft, an eye is kept on them to make sure they are getting enough to eat and drink. At this time I give them vitamin capsules, and add more condition seed or a smaller grained mix into the feed for a few weeks which aides their digestion. I also start pen training for the most promising young for a few hours at a time. They also have a bath put in once a week just the same as do the adult Nuns and feeders.

During the breeding season, and especially a good one, there will be many birds in the loft compartments, so hygiene must be kept at a high level with regular cleaning up of droppings and feathers. I usually disinfect the young bird loft a couple of times during the summer, as the young birds are more susceptible to disease until they have built up a good level of immunity. As well, because of the warm dry weather lice can be a problem so the nest boxes and perches are treated regularly and when any bird is handled checked out for lice and sprayed accordingly. As the youngsters grow a constant eye is kept on them for both quality and health problems, and action taken where necessary.

I usually finish breeding with the last eggs laid in early July and put under the feeders where possible. The Nuns are then split up and treated for canker, coccidiosis or worms if necessary before the main moult starts, so that they can have a good rest and moult before the big winter Championship shows come along.

During the breeding season I keep detailed breeding records for each pair of Nuns and feeders for when the eggs were laid and hatch, ring numbers of young, their colour, sex and details of their development. This is essential when you are trying to build up a family/strain of any breed.



By Richard Henderson

The first requirements for exhibiting Nuns are that they are fit, healthy and clean pigeons, that are as near to the Nun standard as possible.

For me the summer or agricultural shows are just a means of doing something different, getting the Nun known to the general public and other breeders, pen and show training for the earlier youngsters, and not taken too seriously as my best birds are usually still breeding or just finished therefore not in the best show condition. I don’t normally split my breeding pairs until early July, therefore it is usually the end of August before the last youngster are fully weaned. My whole aim during the spring and summer is breeding first and foremost, showing is secondary. I used to exhibit at a lot of agricultural shows from May onwards, but now only support a few local ones. I find it puts too much stress on the birds, especially the hens, and I don’t usually have the extra time for show preparation due to work commitments. During breeding the birds are in very good physical condition, but show condition is another thing. Usually my best breeders are also my best show birds, feathers can get broken and rough, and although they get a bath every week, trying to find birds to show is a problem. More often than not any birds that are exhibited at this time are spare adult birds that have not been paired up and early bred youngsters.

Once the breeding pairs are split up, then all thoughts are turned to getting the birds through a good quick moult, and to the main winter show season. To start with the lofts are thoroughly cleaned out and disinfected with new litter put down on the floors. If I feel they need it, this is the time I will treat the birds before they go into a heavy moult. The excess stress of treating the birds during the main moult can lead to frets, poor feather quality and a prolonged moult depending on which treatment is given. The main feed is gradually changed over a couple of weeks to one with a higher protein level to help whilst all the new feathers are growing, plus conditioner seeds are given in small amounts twice a week. The small seeds it contains like linseed, hemp, rapeseed, paddy rice and groats are high in oils, fats and certain amino acids that help the feathers break from their sheaths and produce a silky plumage. Too much though can have an adverse effect. Hormoform, a feed supplement coated with minerals and vitamins is also given and available to the birds all the time. Cider Vinegar is added to the drinking water 5 days per week at the rate of 5 mill per litre. Regular baths are a must at this time of year, and given every week containing bath salts and every other week anti lice drops. Occasionally if there is an abundance of lice about, the birds are hand dipped. I also regularly use aerosol anti lice sprays.

One of the major causes of stress at this time of year is overcrowding, due to lack of space and all the young birds that have hopefully been bred. Good hygiene and regular cleaning is essential, as is rigorous culling as the young birds moult through, and their good and bad points become apparent. The more space available at this time of year the better the bird’s health and moult will be. My young birds are housed in their own loft which has open fronted aviaries and covered perching area, therefore they have plenty of fresh air and space. At this time I keep a good watch on them, especially the younger ones, for the first signs of health problems. Usually though by the time they have moulted they have built up some sort of immunity to the common illnesses. At this time of year I check back to my breeding records regularly, noting remarks on good birds in the nest to see how they are improving. With the young changing, hopefully for the better almost daily, it is all too easy to get rid of good birds too soon, especially late breds. I also start penning the young up to get them used to show pens.

When breeding has finished the adult pairs are split up in to same sex compartments, again with plenty of space. Adults and young alike are generally fed and looked after the same. Also space permitting sometimes older young cocks are put in with the adult cocks, although I keep an eye on them to make sure they are not picked on.

With the Nun being a pied breed some trimming of foul feathers is required and necessary. I start trimming all the birds that I plan on exhibiting as soon as the foul feathers have moulted and fully re-grown, apart that is from around the head and shell. These parts are left as late as possible to the end of the moult, or the week of their first show. Unfortunately my Nuns are notoriously late moulters, many have not even fully moulted by the BNC club show in early December, much to my misfortune. When it comes to the head and shell, trimming out a few feathers at a time is the number one rule. Cut out one or two feathers then put the bird back into a pen to settle, then go back to the bird and see if any more feathers need to be removed and repeat as necessary. I find it best to trim out any obvious foul feathers first, then gradually neaten the edges to the top of the head in front of the shell and at the sides of the shell where the bib joins to the head marking. The next step is more complicated and really needs to be shown by an experienced breeder how to do it, rather than to interpret a written instruction. However, to help, on several of my bird’s white feathers grow at an angle on the head in front of the shell. These have to be cut out with care, to make the head feathers lie flat and the shell stand up at more of a right angle. If too many feathers are taken out on the head and the front of the shell leans forward, this is called capping and is a very serious fault, and a disqualification in the show pen. Several otherwise good looking birds when looked at stood in a pen cap when handled. To me that should not happen and is classic over trimming and a waste of possibly an otherwise good Nun. I don’t think over trimming is penalised enough, certainly not in the UK. Foul feathers that may grow on the body, hocks or around the bib are a lot easier to trim out, to neaten up the appearance of the bird. Care has also to be taken when trimming the side of the bib so that colour does not extend too far around the neck and up into the mane or shell. What is not wanted though is the removal of too many feathers leaving any unsightly patches of bare skin, or feathers cut in half so as to prop others up. These faults and mismarkings should really be bred out, with as little trimming and cleaning up of the markings as necessary for the show pen. No birds are perfect though, so a little trimming is allowed by the BNC and recognised by all its judges. When trimming a bird I cut out all the feathers with a fine pair of embroidery scissors , as near to the skin as possible leaving the root in the skin. The bird can then be exhibited right through the show season, and needs no other trimming until after the next years moult. This has to be done and saves a lot of time if going to several shows in near succession. One final point on trimming, as both an exhibitor and judge I prefer to see under trimmed birds rather than over trimmed ones, so if I am in any doubt I leave the feather uncut.

After trimming is complete all that remains is to neaten up the beak with a nail file to take the hook off the end. This is usually done the day before basketing for a show. During the week before a show the birds get a bath and an eye kept on them for any soiling of the feathers, especially the white ones. The evening before a show they get a final check over and clean up. With a soft cloth I use white vinegar diluted in hot water, and gently rub any areas of dirt, clean up its ring and check for any lice I may have missed over the past week. Bent feathers can easily be straightened by holding over the steam of a boiling kettle or on the end of flight or tail feathers by dipping in boiling water and dried. If I notice any lice and usually as a precaution I put a couple of anti - lice drops into each basket compartment and then the bird. The vapour will kill any lice within an hour or so. In the basket fresh wood shavings are put in for every show. I usually basket my birds the night before a show if I have a long distance to drive otherwise they are put in show pens overnight and basketed before I set off. When going to a show I take with me scissors, nail file and a damp cloth, plus a little food to be given after judging.

Once the birds have been penned up at the show, it’s all up to the judge and his or her interpretation of the Nun standard. Not every bird can win and you may not always agree with the judge, but their decision is final, so it is not worth moaning about. Take it in good spirit and be a good loser. Good judges will always explain their decisions if asked politely. As long as you know that your birds are improving year on year through your own skill as a breeder to be nearer the standard that makes you a winner anyway. That is certainly worth much more than a piece of red card. 



by Richard Henderson

The feeding of Nuns, or any other breed of pigeon for that matter, should be quite straight forward and simple. However, I think that it is one of the major problems fanciers have in having poor breeding seasons and moults with their birds, the main source of these problems being over feeding. For a medium sized breed like a Nun a heaped dessert spoonful, 25 to 30 grams of feed is enough per day. It is better to underfeed than to overfeed as I find overfeeding leads to fat, out of condition birds, which makes them lazy, creates health problems and gives poor breeding results. Obviously extra has to be fed during the breeding season and when it is very cold, but not too much. My birds get a set ration that they will eat up in a few minutes, and if there is too much food in the troughs when breeding the adults get lazy thinking there is plenty to feed their young on, when if they know there is only a limited amount, they will fill up and feed their young better. I like my birds to come to the feed troughs as soon as I fill them and not stay on their perches or in their nest boxes to eat later. Also it is far much easier to condition birds for breeding and showing if they are eager to feed and a bit on the lean side. The only time that I have food in front of the birds all the time is when the youngsters have been removed to the young bird loft and are learning to fend for themselves. Once a few days have passed they are rationed just like all the other birds.  All my birds are fed in troughs, apart from when they are locked in their nest boxes to pair up, the pairs are then individually fed and watered in galley pots. My drinkers are raised up off the floor to cut down floor litter and feathers getting in them.

Make sure that the corn you use is the best you can afford, clean, dry, free from dust and with no smell.  There are several very good corn mixtures for sale these days, with more readily available for fancy pigeons. I use Versele Laga Start Plus IC breeding mix which has about 8% of pellets already added into it. This mixture is used all year round, although during the moulting period I mix it with Versele Laga Moulting Plus IC. The protein level does not want to be too high and it is certainly not the case of the more protein the better, around 16.5 to 17 % protein is enough for both breeding and to get the birds through the moult, as their metabolism can not cope and their diet not balanced if more is given. I give condition seeds once a week as a percentage of the main feed and sometimes twice a week during the moulting and show season, as I think it helps the bird’s plumage. My condition seed is usually a mixture of Versele Laga Sneaky mix and Bucktons Conditioner with added sesame seed and paddy rice as they are both very high in amino acids that aid feather production and condition. Depending on if I think the birds are a bit fat after the show season I will add up to 20% barley to the feed mix. Other than cutting down the total food ration Barley certainly helps trim them down. Birds don’t particularly like it too much and when feeding will leave it till last, so it is a good indicator if you are feeding too much.

I hear a lot of fanciers who say that their birds won’t eat this or that type of corn. Make them, they will eat it if that is all they are going to get, obviously smaller beaked breeds and Croppers will need smaller sized seeds. Nuns and for that matter most breeds will eat any type of corn up to large tic beans and maize, mine have. Most birds tend to have their own favourite seed or corn they prefer and eat first, but given the correct amount of feed, they will get a good balanced diet. At the end of the day birds like all animals eat to survive, not for the pleasure of it.

Apart from the general feed mixture and the condition seed my birds get plenty of mixed grit, pickstones and mineral supplements. There are now being sold mixtures of all these products with added small seeds, brewers yeast and eggfoods in them. I use both Gem Matrix and Versele Laga All in One which the birds readily eat and cut out the need for several separate pots. My birds have a pot of this mixture in front of them all the time and especially so during the breeding season. I also give my birds Harkers Hormoform feed supplement all year round. Again it is given in a separate pot for them to eat adlib, however during the moult and show seasons care has to be taken due to the possibility of it staining the bird’s white feathers. Once a week I give the birds brewers yeast added to the feed using oil. I use different oils at different times of the year depending on what I think the birds need. Generally it will be garlic oil, but I use wheatgerm oil in the lead up to breeding and every other week during the breeding season as I find this helps fertility, especially in the older cocks. Sometimes with these older cocks I will give them wheatgerm oil capsules once a day for about 2 weeks before pairing to help fertility, and in most cases it certainly works. During the moulting and show seasons I sometimes use Carr’s hemp or oregano oil ( adherb ) as I have found that they help the feathers to be soft and silky. Because of the pellets in the feed and Hormoform containing vitamins, I don’t give any extra vitamins via the drinking water. I do though use a good quality cider vinegar in the water about 4/5 days a week most weeks. Cider vinegar has many good properties for the bird’s general health and as it acidifies the water and the birds gut it helps deter diseases like Salmonella and E-Coli. I have also found it cuts down most Canker problems too. The only other products I use are Gemthepax a probiotic and Trident 3 in 1. When birds are stressed it upsets their digestive system, and probiotics help put good bacteria into the gut to alleviate any problems. They are ideal to use before and after using medicines, after being at shows, when weaning youngsters and during breeding. Gemthepax can be given both in the drinking water or as I prefer added to the feed. Trident 3 in 1 is a relatively new product mainly used against Young Bird Sickness. It is also very good in alleviating stress. I have started putting it the birds water the day before a show and for a couple of days after they return. Although it won’t kill any virus picked up at a show, it can help the birds against secondary infections by boosting their immune system.

What ever is put in the birds drinkers it is changed daily or twice a day if the weather is very hot or when there are plenty of young in the nest. From when the birds are paired up to until after the main moult the birds are fed twice a day, the rest of the time they are fed in the morning only.

Through working in the pigeon and pet feed trade I know that there are a large amount of products available to help improve your bird’s health, and many birds may need them. Over the years I have tried lots of products, however many are similar and space does not permit me to go into detail. The products I use work for my birds and they do well on them, but there are dozens of ways of feeding and conditioning birds that work. If you use certain products and the birds are fit and healthy, don’t change just for the sake of it, but if your birds seem to be lacking that certain “ spark “, have dullish plumage, grey wattles or don’t breed as freely as you think they should, my advice would be to make sure you feed a good quality mixture, use a broad spectrum multivitamin or feed supplement and a probiotic, before you treat for any ailment, that is unless something is obviously wrong with your birds. There are no miracle cures and nothing will change over night, but after a week or two their general condition should improve.

Ailments in pigeons are probably still one of the biggest mysteries to the average pigeon breeder. I wonder how many look at a poorly bird and kill it without giving it a chance. Then a similar thing happens again without getting to the root of the problem and doing something about it? More often than not it is the fanciers fault the bird became ill in the first place. I spend a lot of time, effort and money on my pigeons, so if something looks wrong with any of them, I want to know what it is, remedy the problem and hopefully stop it happening again. I’m by no means an expert on the different ailments pigeons get, but I do know quite a bit about the common ones, and would advise  everybody with the health of their birds at heart to invest in a good pigeon health book like “ The Flying Vets Pigeon Health & Management “ book by Dr Colin Walker. Fortunately there are now a few up to date pigeon health books for sale, but I have found none better than this book and it is well worth the investment.

As with most problems prevention is better than cure, and loft hygiene is the number one priority to start with for the general good health of the birds. A good feeding regime and a dry loft with proper ventilation will also help to keep the birds in top health. A regular cleaning routine of the loft is needed too, especially during the breeding and moulting seasons when extra droppings and feathers are about. I scrape up all the droppings from the nest boxes and under the perches twice a week, or sometimes daily if the birds are to be locked into their next boxes as when first being paired up, or if there is a build up of droppings around the nest pans. On this point about cleaning away the droppings from around the nest pans, it is only done if the droppings are on the loose side. Firm droppings I leave in place until the young are hatched, as I think with a certain amount of the birds bacteria around them the youngsters will build up immunity to disease better. The loose damper droppings though can become smelly and more of a problem with disease and need to be removed. On the floor of each of my loft compartments is a layer of cat litter. This is very good for drying off any droppings, suppressing any smells and for keeping the birds feet clean. This is raked over weekly with any build up of droppings removed and fresh litter put down. I regularly sprinkle louse powder and one of the various white floor powders onto the litter and usually replace it totally once the main moult is over, therefore removing all feathers and feather dust, and it will be much cleaner for the birds to go through to the show season with. Floor white is also sprinkled on perches or in the nest boxes, as it helps dry the bird’s droppings, deter bacteria and acts as a mild disinfectant. Fortunately my lofts are on the whole very dry and I don’t regularly have the need to use a liquid disinfectant to spray them out. I do usually though disinfect all the floors when I fully replace the cat litter in each compartment, if I have had to treat for a more serious disease, and more often the main passageway and entrance to the loft.

I also use a blow torch mainly to burn off the dust and very small feathers that seem to get attracted to the walls and wire on the compartment dividers. It also is very good for helping to kill off mites, lice and moths that can hide in the loft joints, etc and worm eggs and some diseases. Care has to be taken though as the last thing you want is to set fire to the loft.

In the loft I have mice traps as a precaution, especially through the colder winter months. Mainly I use a couple of humane traps baited with the pigeons feed, but sometimes I will also use the standard traps baited with maize. Proper mouse or rat bait is only used out side of the loft and covered over so that wild birds can not get to it. I have never had a problem with rats, but mice can get through the smallest of holes and can be a major source of spreading salmonella to the birds so they need to be eliminated. Fortunately several of my neighbours have cats, so mice are not a big problem, and they don’t seem to both the birds.

An anti louse powder or drops are regularly sprinkled around the floor, nest pans and nest boxes to kill and deter lice and mites. I also regularly use lice spray around the whole loft and on the birds themselves. Every time I handle a bird I will check for feather lice on it, especially under the wings and in the case of the Nuns at the sides of the shell, and if I see any lice I will spray the bird to keep on top of things. I also use the Ivemectin drops that are now readily available from Travipharma or Harkers. These also help deter lice and also worms. I use 2 to 3 drops per bird when I pair them up, when I split them up after breeding, when I wean any youngster, after any bird has been to a show and before and after the main body moult.

However careful you are, at some time or other more serious ailments and ill health may arise – picked up at a show, carried by the wind, via vermin, through newly purchased stock or due to stress. Most stresses are avoidable, or at least can be reduced, like overcrowding, poor loft design, breeding, showing, moulting and a poor feeding and cleaning regime and are usually easier and cheaper to remedy than other problems. When problems occur from any of these, common sense really should prevail, as they are all caused by the fanciers themselves. With newly purchased birds I keep them away from the other birds for a couple of weeks to see if any ailments develop. With bought birds I always give them a Harkers 3 in 1 anti canker, cocci and worms tablet and multi vitamins in their water for a few days, before introducing them to the other birds. Birds that have been to a show get put back in their compartments, but I do keep an eye on them to make sure there are no problems.

The first sign of any problems with disease and ill health usually can be seen in either the bird’s droppings or its general appearance. Loose and slimy droppings usually means something is wrong, however don’t be alarmed at every loose or watery dropping though, as excitement, nerves, returning from a show and drinking a lot can all make this happen. The use of floor white can also lead to loose droppings for a while. Through any of these and the droppings will usually firm up in a few hours. Fit, healthy pigeons have firm round droppings that you can easily pick up, usually with the odd downy vent feather with them. Other symptoms are listlessness, dull eyes and plumage, grey greasy wattles, loss of chest flesh, vomiting and sitting huddled up unwilling to move. The most common ailments are canker, worms and coccidiosis, with salmonella (paratyphoid ), e-coli, ornithosis, catarrh, pigeon pox and paramyxo virus less common but a much more serious threat to the birds health. Preventative treatments and cures are readily available for the common ailments from all good pigeon product retailers. For the more serious ailments antibiotics or vaccines are needed, so it is best to visit your nearest vet or preferably one who has a good knowledge of pigeons. I use Belgica de Weerdt situated in Colchester, Essex, They are very helpful and knowledgeable, but there are others around the country. I use these vets when I think I may have a more serious problem, I then send off dropping samples from either individual birds or from the different compartments to be tested and birds I think may be affected to have throat swaps tested. The results only take a few days at most, and I then know exactly what disease if any I have to treat for, saving me unnecessarily treating for something they might not have even if the symptoms are similar.  Where at all possible I don’t like using antibiotics, and only use them if that is the only and best way to treat a disease. It is absolutely no point giving a bird antibiotics as a preventative, or for the wrong disease and will often do more harm than good, because as well as killing the bad bacteria they also kill the good bacteria in a birds gut and digestive system, and this can weaken their immune system more leading to further health problems. If I have to give a course of antibiotics or any medicine for that matter to my birds for what ever problem, I make sure they get a few days probiotics both before and especially after the treatment. The reason why I give my bird’s natural products like brewers yeast, cider vinegar, oregano and garlic oils as well as the probiotics is to build up a high immunity and resistance in the birds against the more serious diseases that they might come in to contact with. Considering how few times I have had to give my birds antibiotics over the past 30 years I think my system works. Also because my birds are not regularly given them, they have had no chance to build up immunity to the antibiotics which can happen, then if you have a problem you would need to use even stronger drugs to cure the illness.

I have actually just bought myself a microscope so that I can test the birds at home more regularly for worms, canker and cocci. Fortunately I have not had to treat my birds for cocci for many years. All birds have small levels of cocci in them and can live with it perfectly OK, however under periods of stress and often in damp humid loft conditions the cocci levels increase to cause problems especially in young birds. The first symptoms are loss of body flesh, dark green loose droppings and the birds sitting hunched up.  It is though easily treated if caught early with products like Harkers 3 in 1 tablets or Coxoid liquid. I worm my birds using the Ivermectin drops, but don’t treat specifically for them. The garlic oil on the corn I use probably helps in that respect. One time though never to worm the birds is during the main moult because the drugs in the worming medicines can cause fret marks on the bird’s feathers. Birds with worms tend to lack body muscle even though they eat quite normally. It can be quite surprising how many worms a bird can have in them before they become really ill. Fortunately the canker medicines via the water or pills are such that they don’t knock the bird’s health in any other way.  If I do have to treat for canker though I alternate with different canker treatments so as to cut down with the chances of immunity to the medicines. The normal symptoms for canker are the yellowy cheese like deposits in the throat, however there are many other types of canker as well, especially stomach and navel canker which are more difficult to detect and treat for, and cancerous growths which often can be cut out with no lasting ill effect. With the microscope I can test the droppings weekly if necessary and only then treat when I have to. It will also detect rising levels of canker before a major problem occurs.

At present I don’t vaccinate my birds against Paramyxo virus, however I used to do when my birds were located in the same garden as my fathers racing pigeons. I am not against it though and if I felt the necessity through outbreaks of the disease locally or throughout the hobby I certainly would vaccinate. There are other viruses about now like Ciro and Adeno virus for which there are no vaccines, and to me they are the problem that is often called “ Young Bird Sickness “.

If you have any doubts about your bird’s health and are unsure, don’t treat blind, contact a good vet, have some dropping samples tested or take a bird. Dropping samples will show up if worms, coccidiosis, e-coli or salmonella are present, whilst throat swabs will show up if canker and catarrh are present.

All the products mentioned that I give to my birds are available from B.Leefe & Sons Ltd, or

File 1 (50kb)