This special re-print edition of E.H. Rice’s “National Standard Squab Book” from 1915 includes everything a person needs to know about how to raise pigeons for meat purposes. At over 400 pages, this book contains a mountain of practical information on how to raise your own steady supply of quality pigeon meat in your own backyard from only a very moderate investment. Included is everything the beginner needs to know about raising pigeons for squabs, including how to house them, how to set your own pigeon loft up, their feeding requirements, how to cure basic pigeon diseases, how to select breeders and how to process your own squabs. Also included are hundreds of letters from turn of the century breeders who raised their own squabs for the kitchen table, as well as for market purposes, who shared their own practical experiences on how they raised their own meat pigeons, along with hundreds of economic shortcuts on low cost housing, feeders, watering systems and other tips. Also included are expert answers to common and uncommon questions on the subject. This treasure trove of information is lavishly illustrated with period photographs. Note: This edition is a perfect facsimile of the original edition and is not set in a modern typeface. As a result, some type characters and images might suffer from slight imperfections or minor shadows in the page background.
Most people are quite familiar with the image of a pigeon, a bird commonly seen in the courtyards and barnyards across the globe. But did you know that young pigeons, or squab, are considered a delicacy by millions of people? Or that squab farming in the backyard or on the rooftop may be more common than you might think?
And oh by the way, just what exactly is a “utility pigeon”?
A good place to begin an investigation is with the origin of the word pigeon. It is “pijon” in old french, meaning “young dove”, and “pipio” in Latin, or “young chirping bird”. Another clue can be found in the definition of utility, which means useful, beneficial, or profitable. Our good friend the pigeon is all of that, and more, and can certainly meet those basic requirements.
Utility Pigeon is a general term that is broadly applied to describe any breed of domestic pigeon that is kept primarily for the production of meat. Sometimes referred to as “working birds”, they are capable of producing an adequate number of young, or squabs, of suitable weight and quality to justify their production costs.
By their nature, some breeds of pigeons are more productive, and profitable, than others. Pigeons in general have been intensively and selectively bred for many centuries, with many breeds falling in and out of favor along with the whims of the times and other developments.
The standards today include the King Pigeon of various colors, the Red Carneau, and the French and Swiss Mondaines, to name just a few. All can make excellent squabbing pigeons, though the White King seems to be preferred by many commercial breeders.
In fact, careful and judicial breeding with productivity in mind is the story of the Utility Pigeon. Notice that the very origin of the word pigeon emphasizes the young bird, or squab, which gives us some true insight into what the originators were thinking all along. Utility pigeons produce squabs, lots and lots of squabs, to our everlasting epicurean delight. They are the steady workhorses of the pigeon world. They work to live, and live to work. It’s what they do, without apology, nor complaint.
They are indeed a most useful and utilitarian bird.
A willing and observant person can gather some extraordinary insights about the natural world in the most unlikely places. It can happen in the short time that it takes to blink an eye, no matter if that eye belongs to you, or to something else. Nature abounds with beneficial lessons and the teachers of true meaning are everywhere. I just happen to gain some of my clues from the clear-eyed and attentive stares of my backyard pigeon flock. You can learn a lot from an otherwise ordinary and common creature.
I spend a fair amount of time with this captive audience of one hundred in their outdoor aviary. I am their provider, and their lifeline from the outside lands. I supply them with their daily ration of grains and clean water, regardless of the weather or the many other duties or time constraints I may have. I fill their pickpots with grit and minerals. I break ice from their bowls in the winter, and suffer the same stinging snows and biting winds of the day. I clean their flypen and pigeon-house, and keep a sharp eye out for the telltale signs of distress or disease. I study them closely, and through it all, they watch me too.
I am a constant in their lives, and a spoke in their wheel of life. I have come to know of them and their world just a little bit, and they of me. It could be said that they would rather prefer that I was not involved at all, but I am a necessary intrusion they must tolerate, at least for a brief time.
Yet, they wait for me each morning and afternoon, the anticipation building as I drive up to the entrance doors. They mill about excitedly as I approach, ready to perform just for me. I touch the door handle, and they begin their wild jig, dancing like ecstatic puppets on hidden strings. They hop about and swirl their wings like crazed whirligigs, or slap their wingtips smartly as they launch from their perch for a short flight across the pen.
They chant their pigeon talk and coo even louder as I step in through the inner doors, to become completely surrounded by frantic birds, eager to fill their crops before the other’s. They push and shoulder for each speck of grain as if their life depended on it. Perhaps they bicker and fight to establish or maintain some imperceptible pigeon pecking order, or maybe just to remind themselves that life can be a struggle. You would think that they would know by now that their will be enough food for all comers, but it is a wild ritual that they simply must abide for reasons known only to the pigeon.
We have repeated this madcap scene a few thousand times and more, the pigeons and I. It has become routine, with little deviation from the usual suspects. That is until yesterday, when our normal interaction abruptly and inexplicably changed.
It was immediately obvious when I pulled up in my truck. The absence of sound or flashing wings struck me first, and what pigeon heads I could see sat on top of outstretched necks, alert, with searching eyes. They crouched in the classic manner of all prey, with feet tucked under their bodies, coiled and ready to spring out and away from impending danger.
The birds stood frozen and paid me little mind as I entered and searched the ground for an animal intruder. I investigated the pigeon houses and the nest boxes and found nothing. I checked every nook and cranny of their limited world and came up empty. I paused to scratch my head, and ponder this puzzling circumstance.
Hand on chin, I stared at the closest pigeon and wondered, determined to discover just why he would not fly. And then he cocked his head, and I saw his eye focus on something high as he grounded himself more tightly to his perch. At that moment I spied a wide, dark shadow moving across the dirt floor, and smiled. I knew exactly what belonged in that kind of shadow, as did my fine feathered friends. All I had to do was look up, to see just exactly what it was that had struck such all-consuming fear in their hearts.
I had no doubt that the shadow maker was an eater of birds, but there were several possibilities in this category. A red-tailed hawk maybe, or a gleaming eagle from the nearby river. In this case the black shadow belonged to an animal of equal color, with a distinctively naked neck. It was not what I expected to see.
The Turkey Vulture, or Buzzard as it is sometimes called, is quite common to the American West and many parts of North America. A six-foot wingspan casts a long shadow across the land, and he covers a lot of it as he travels. That great red and bald head is immediately recognizable from afar, and known by all. His sentinel like posture and hovering demeanor create and perpetuate his iconic image. It is a form often associated with death, and it is a meaning not entirely lost on my domesticated, but anxious, pigeon flock.
The Vulture is classified as a bird of prey, after all, even though he finds most of his meals by smell after they are already dead. I suppose that it is a distinction utterly lost on the brain of a pigeon.
“The modern city pigeon is a descendant of the rock pigeon that in the Old World dwelled among the cliffs and crevices above the caves in which early man built his first fires. He has been with us since our emergence from the ice ages and has adapted as readily as ourselves to the artificial canyons of man’s first walled towns. He has known the Grecian palaces and the metropolises of Byzantium. His cold flat feet, adapted to high and precarious walking, have sauntered in the temples of vanished gods as readily as in Boston’s old North Station”.
From “Home Cookbook Of Wild Meat and Game”, by Bradford Angier.
Think about that, next time you contemplate a pigeon.
I am currently researching the history of the Giant Runt Pigeon and it’s breeders in The United States. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who raises Runts, or from anyone who has any knowledge of any of their descendents and family members who may have bred and raised them. From what I can gather, they were brought into this country sometime in the 1700’s. Any information or leads you can provide would be greatly appreciated, including any reference included in old books or periodicals that you may be aware of.
In addition, I am also researching the origins of the King Pigeon in the United States. And, last but not least, I am interested in the history of the squab farming industry in New Jersey.
Please send any information to Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
As many of you know, a dovecote is a compartmental structure, often raised on a pole, and once commonly used for housing domesticated pigeons and the production of squab. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have been used for centuries by many cultures throughout the world.
We don’t have one on property as yet, but I hope that a little sweat equity will change that soon. I am fascinated with their form and function and captivated by the quaint romance of it all.
A giant bird house it may be, but it’s also much more than that. It’s a great way for the small property owner to ensure a steady supply of fresh poultry* for the dinner table, at minimal cost or trouble. When carefully or artistically built, they can add an immeasurable charm to any garden or secluded backyard hideaway. We find pigeon watching to be very soothing, and perhaps you do too.
We would love to hear from anyone who feels the same way about the dovecote. Send us your plans, your stories, or your pictures. We always have time to talk about pigeons, and the pleasures of the backyard.