There are records of people keeping pigeons dating to 3,000 B.C. Pigeons are fast fliers and they instinctively return to their place of birth. These qualities have made them useful throughout history in a variety of ways. Despite the great leaps in communications technology over the centuries, pigeons are still trained by the military in nations worldwide, including our own. Hobbyists also keep this tradition alive today by raising and racing pigeons. High-flying pigeons are also known as sporting pigeons.
Build a roomy pigeon loft, about 7 feet square per bird. Most owners actually build multiple lofts to separate young pigeons from older ones and males from females. You can use existing outbuildings, garages or attics provided they have not been used to house poultry. Otherwise, build your own with a strong floor using 2-inch-thick cross boards and 3-inch runners. Use boards that are ½-inch thick by 4 inches to 6 inches wide on the back, sides and lower parts of the front.
Construct the top half of the loft with wooden dowels about ½-inch thick, set about 2 inches apart. Cover the dowels with netting.
Build shelves about 1-foot square on one side of the loft for nests. Use 1-inch by 12-inch boards to construct a 12-inch-high by 12-inch-deep by 18-inch-wide compartment for each bird. Place a 1-inch by 4-inch by 18-inch board in the bottom of the front opening of the box to secure nesting materials and eggs.
Place nesting materials such as hay, straw, wood chips and twigs into each box.
Set perches on the other side. Each pigeon needs a separate perch. Use any of the three types of perches: box, triangular or V-shaped, or pedestal. If using box perches, use 1-inch by 4-inch boards to construct a 12-inch by 10-inch box for each pigeon. You may construct triangular or V-shaped perches using two pieces of plywood 6 inches square that are attached touching each other in an inverted "V" over a 1-inch-square piece of wood about 3 to 4 inches long. Pedestal perches are only used when exhibiting pigeons.
Spread a small layer of sand on the loft floor.
Stock the loft with about 20 birds. Pigeons are social animals, and they are more at ease when they have other pigeons to interact with.
Feed the birds every morning and afternoon. Rattle a tin can each time you feed the birds. This gets them used to associating the sound with food and will allow you to call them with the can after you let them out.
Clean the loft daily, removing waste and other detritus.
Give birds a bath every other day, or provide a bird bath for them to bathe themselves. Bathing your bird can be as easy as misting it with water. The pigeon will take over from there by cleaning itself.
Keep records of how the birds fly in the loft and after you have let them out. Record how often they fly and how far.
Select and put the birds you plan to use to compete in a separate clean place by themselves. Carefully examine these birds to make sure they are healthy. Pigeons may suffer from many illnesses including Paramixo virus and throat canker. Birds will appear fluffed up, dizzy or unbalanced if infected by the virus. Those with throat canker have a swollen throat, wet or bad-smelling discharge from the beak and unwillingness to fly. Separate the sick birds from the healthy birds and consult a veterinarian for proper treatment.
Fly the birds first thing in the morning and feed them when they return for the first week of training.
Feed the birds dried peas with weak linseed tea to drink during the second week. Fly the birds one hour after this breakfast. If their average flying time is less than three hours, fly them every day; otherwise, fly them every other day.
Feed the birds dried peas, Indian corn, wheat and tares in the third week.
Give the birds two days rest before a long flight.
Look for signs that the birds are in good condition to fly, such as standing on tiptoes, beating their wings and flying about the coop.
Feed the birds only peas, a handful of tares and a small quantity of linseed tea the day before a match. Keep the coop in darkness and feed at night without a light.
Give the birds half a crawful of peas and fill up with canary and rape seed one-half hour before letting them out. If there is a strong wind, add extra Indian corn.
Let the birds out for the match around 10 a.m.; if they are traveling a particularly long time, say eight to nine hours, let them out as early as 8 a.m.