American Pigeon Journal
March 1988, pages 22 & 23.
"Continuous Production" May Extend Breeding Life of Pigeons!?
by Robert J. Mangile
Experienced fanciers know the problems involved when remating pigeons to different mates. One specific occurrence, sometimes involving older hens after a lengthy separation, is that they may be reluctant to mate or go long periods without laying. Factors controlling such occurrences are seemingly mysterious.
Domestic pigeons generally reach sexual maturity at four to six months old. I have several records of hens that laid their first egg under 120 days (four months) of age and a few under 100 days old. Determining the life span of a pigeon or the age at which they become barren or sterile is more complex.
In Levi's book, "The Pigeon", questionable mention is made of a 32 year old Racing Homer cock named Kaiser. He also mentions a 16 year old Carneau hen and two military Racing Homer cocks, Spike, and, Mocker, who lived 17 and 19 years, respectively. Presently (January 1988), I have a Racing Homer cock that was hatched on May 15, 1974, that is still breeding and clearly shows his age. During the early 1970's I had a producing pair of blue bar Racing Homers whose seamless bands (and aged appearance) indicated they were both over 12 years of age. Both flew off during an effort to re-settle them to my loft.
Pigeons living beyond 15 years of age are exceptional. Hens six to eight years of age usually show signs of age; periodically laying rough, small or single egg clutches with extended periods between clutches. When breeding cycles are interrupted they may stop laying for months or never lay again, at which time they may be considered barren. Can we postpone this barren condition?
Dr. Wilmer Miller of Iowa State University has a rosy pied silky ring-neck dove [Streptopelia "risoria"] hen that is approaching 15 years of age. Kept in continuous production with four different partners, she has raised over 199 squabs to independence, (as of July 18, 1987) - 126 with one male. Miller reported on this hen (408Y) in the March-April 1979 and March-April 1984 ADA newsletters. Clearly, this is an outstanding hen; but, has her continuous breeding sustained her ability to produce well beyond normal expectations? Can the productive life of hens be extended with continuous breeding? Levi states: "We owned a White Carneau hen, hatched in 1916, that bred continuously until 1932." That put her at 16 years of age.
Presently, there is concern about the growing numbers of 25-35 year old women that are unable to become pregnant, who have postponed raising a family in favor of establishing a career during their earlier life. Before modern methods of birth control, women had children at a more natural age and continued having children well into mid-life.
Many are familiar with cases in which a childless couple adopts a baby, after which the foster Mother becomes pregnant. When asked why promiscuous young island girls failed to become pregnant, the late anthropologist Margaret Mead replied: "Because they didn't want to!" And, pigeon fanciers commonly observe unpaired hen pigeons mate with various cocks over many weeks but fail to lay eggs.
If mating in itself does not insure reproductive success, then what elements or stimuli are necessary? The endocrine system, known to most of us only by its assigned name, is a complex system which controls hormones in living things. During early life these systems are likely more vital and respond with less stimulus. What role does "human love" play, in the case of a foster Mother; or the lack of love, in the case of promiscuous island women? Can we compare a 35 year old career woman, unable to conceive, to a year old hen pigeon that has been left idle over the winter season, being rendered barren from the pause in production?
Should fanciers consider the continuous production of the ring-neck and Carneau hens as examples of success that contain a clue on extending the breeding life of hens (or cocks)? Should we keep aging hens in continuous production to delay barrenness? The more recent adage which emerged from studies on aging human sexuality, ... "Use it or loose it!" ..., may well be the advice best offered. When an old system is shut-down it is difficult to restart. To avoid or delay the problem, don't shut it down!
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Dr. Wilmer Miller reported: "408Y, the 27 year old peach pied silky ringneck with 221 offspring died in the early morning of 6 Dec 2000". "... she produced continuously for 17 years, then foster raised young for 3 more years (since she presumably had no more eggs)." "She reached 27 years and 9 months plus a week of age (13 Feb is/was her birthday."