The Pigeon Loft

Your pigeon loft is not only your base of operations, but it's the place your birds will call home and return to from training chucks and club races.

In this article we will discuss some of the most important aspects that should be considered prior to building or when making changes to an existing pigeon loft as well as touch upon general management.

Types of pigeon lofts

The term pigeon "loft" actually comes from back in the day when primarily Belgian fanciers would keep pigeons in the lofts of their houses.

That practice has pretty much died out now and these days pigeon lofts are standalone structures that come in different shapes and sizes.

Some lofts are built to fulfill a specific purpose, i.e. breeding, racing or simply somewhere to house pigeons. Others, including most garden lofts, are hybrids that are built for both racing and breeding, as well as to meet the specific needs of the fancier and the system(s) being used.

Though they tend to be built from wood, brick lofts do exist. That being said, the vast majority of garden pigeon lofts across Europe seem to be single storey wooden structures that are built to be aesthetically pleasing as well as highly functional.

Ultimately, as long as your loft meets the needs of your pigeons and is suitable for your climate, the style of your loft in terms of aesthetics doesn’t really matter.

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Important considerations for racing pigeon lofts

Below are a few things to keep in mind when planning, building or making changes to an existing racing pigeon loft.

Oxygen and air exchange

Not having enough fresh air circulating the loft is a critical mistake often made by newer fanciers. You never want the loft to feel stuffy, stale or dusty. That said, pigeons don't like drafts so the key is good ventilation with slow moving fresh air.

As cool air is heavier than warm air, which rises, the loft ideally needs some sort of ventilation in the bottom to allow fresh air to enter as well as ventilation in the roof for the warmer, stale air and ammonia to escape.

The subject of whether to go with a mechanical or natural ventilation system is one that divides fanciers. Top pigeon fanciers seem to prefer natural ventilation where possible though may equip the loft with some mechanical ventilation to use as and when necessary.

Loft louvers are an effective way of providing ventilation and allowing air to flow into and out of the loft. Additionally, you may also consider installing an extractor fan which can be switched on when the pigeons are out of the loft to help with stale air or dust.

Key points on oxygen and air flow
  • Air should move in front of the pigeons but not over them
  • Ventilation of the young bird loft is always more critical as there are more birds
  • Be careful when darkening not to block air circulating in and out of the loft
  • Pink flesh on the pigeons indicates good oxygen supply
  • Avoid roof tiles that lock together too tightly, air should be able to pass out of them

Temperature and humidity

You never want the loft to be sweltering with heat, likewise it should never be freezing cold. The ideal temperature many fanciers swear by is around 20 degrees celsius or 65-70 degrees fahrenheit.

Perhaps more important than achieving an exact optimum temperature though is ensuring the temperature doesn't fluctuate too much, i.e. it’s not 5 degrees in the morning and 30 degrees by the afternoon. As long as the temperature is constant, whether cooler (as it is in winter) or slightly warmer, the pigeons can come into form.

Humidity takes oxygen out of the air and as such is another important factor to consider, especially in warmer more tropical climates. Ideally, humidity levels should be kept between 60% to 70%.

A hygrometer is a useful tool to keep an eye on the humidity in the loft, additionally the droppings can also be an indicator. Nutty brown droppings generally tend to indicate a lower humidity while green watery droppings a higher humidity.

Capacity

Overcrowding the pigeon loft can increase fighting, make the birds restless, limit the amount of oxygen intake each bird has access to and increase stress levels which can have negative health consequences in and of itself.

It's very important to plan how many birds you want to keep in each section and ensure that there are enough perches, boxes, feeding trays etc., for each bird. With young birds, it's better to have more than enough facilities as going without their own box/perch can negatively impact the pigeons from a psychological standpoint.

When it comes to air capacity, there’s an old Belgian rule stating that it’s best to allow 1 cubic meter of air per 2 birds, in other words, 18 cubic feet of air per bird.

Never underestimate the importance of oxygen, and while we have already mentioned it above it’s worth doing so again when considering young birds.

A lack of oxygen can severely affect the development of a pigeon.

It’s quite common in young bird racing to think that if you start with 100 or so youngsters and lose half, the half that were lost must have been the less intelligent and weaker pigeons. And while we may be quick to blame genetics for this, in actual fact, it’s quite possible that those lost pigeons simply did not have the chance to develop to their fullest potential due to a lack of oxygen.

That being the case we have wasted both time and good blood because the loft had insufficient space, and therefore insufficient air capacity per bird to handle the number of pigeons being housed.

Location and direction

Your loft needs to be clearly visible from the sky with as few surrounding trees or little other coverage as possible.

Try to avoid building your loft near electrical or telephone wires as these are common causes of broken legs and wings.

Ideally, you want to place the loft in an open space with a good view on all sides but also take into consideration weather conditions. Ensure you have a good amount of natural light to keep the loft warm and dry as much as possible. In winter you should be facing away from harsh cold winds.

The placement of the loft in relation to how the birds return to the loft is also important. Obstacles that force the birds to circle numerous times to find a clear path, or surfaces that tempt them to land on can be a problem when every second counts in a race. With that in mind, the loft should be as far from other buildings as possible.

Elevated off the ground

One of the most important things to always keep in mind when building a pigeon loft is that the loft should always be raised off of ground level. So the loft floor will never touch either the untreated ground or flagstones underneath.

Having a space of at least 20 cm will help to prevent damp, allow air to circulate under the loft, water to drain away and will also help to discourage any rodents/pests from nesting underneath.

To achieve this, most people use breeze blocks stacked and cemented on all corners and under load-bearing areas. Be sure to carefully check for an even surface before cementing the bricks in place.

Flooring

Most lofts will benefit from a wooden floor since it's a good insulator, stays warm and is easy to scrape. Something like 4mm plywood is a good choice for wood. Concrete floors, on the other hand, are not ideal because they tend to be cold and retain moisture.

You may also decide to use a floor dressing which can include things like wood chippings, straw and even sand. Many fanciers swear by straw for its insulation benefits as well as the fact that it seems to make the pigeons happier and calmer.

Some lofts use wire floors or grills that allow the droppings to fall below, however, without a proper cleaning system such as drawers that slide out, these can be problematic as over time the droppings can become damp and grow fungus.

Type of roof

Loft roofs can come in all shapes and sizes though are typically either pent or apex.

A pent roof is characterised by a single slope, while an apex roof has two slopes that meet in the middle.

The type of roof you use warrants careful consideration as it directly coincides with the air capacity of the loft. Additionally, the roofing material used is also important. While they may look good, tiles that lock together too tightly may hinder the rate in which stale air can be expelled from the loft.

Apex roofs may be preferable as they make it harder for pigeons to land on but also the extra space provided increases the air capacity in the loft helping with ventilation.

That said, pent roofs can work if you install wire or the like to deter the pigeons from landing on it. Additionally, if the loft sections have higher than average ceilings to begin with, the extra space provided by a pent roof may not be necessary.

The pent-style roof used by Ron Williamson is worth noting. He has created a roof with two overlapping sheets of metal. Slits are cut in the roof directly above the vents in the loft sections below to allow air flow out. As air passes over the top of the roof a convection effect is created which aids in pulling stale air out of the loft.

In terms of the ceiling inside the sections, half-inch mesh is generally a good option as it helps keep vermin out while allowing air to pass through.

Light

The manipulation of light and dark is incredibly important to success in pigeon racing.

While the birds should have ample access to direct sunlight for their well-being and mental state, you also want to set the loft up in a way that allows for easy “darkening” while minimising restrictions to airflow.

This could be through the use of sliding or temporary panels to cover windows, loosely fitted curtains etc.

Glass, acrylic (persex) or polycarbonate

Glass is notorious for causing temperature fluctuations in the loft, especially when installed in the roof. Additionally, the more glass, the more humidity you are likely to get in the cooler months, and the hotter/drier the loft will be in the summer.

Instead of glass, most lofts use either acrylic (perspex) or polycarbonate panels to allow light to pass into the loft without the concerns of temperature fluctuations associated with glass.

Both perspex and polycarbonate are more impact-resistant than glass, polycarbonate to the degree of about 250 times more resistant.

Polycarbonate is more flexible while perspex is more rigid and can crack under extreme impact. Polycarbonate can be prone to yellowing with prolonged exposure to sunlight though it can be treated to minimise this. UV resistant polycarbonate sheets are good for about 10 years in outdoor applications and perspex about 30 years.

In terms of cost, polycarbonate is typically two to three times more expensive than perspex.

Both materials can be frosted, which, depending on where the panels are being installed can be important to prevent resting pigeons seeing too much of what’s going on outside.

Loft Sections

Regardless of what system you plan on using to train and race your pigeons, you will generally need a minimum of three separate loft sections; one for cock birds, one for hens and one for young birds.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to have a separate section somewhere where new pigeons can be quarantined or sick pigeons can stay until they recover.

Power supply

In the past a mains power supply to the loft was seen as a luxury, however, these days with the introduction of electronic timing systems (ETS) now used by most clubs, having power to the loft is pretty much a requirement.

Not only is it essential for your ETS but you will need some kind of power supply for your lights, any extractor fans you install and potentially heaters.

Aviary

An aviary is a fantastic addition to any loft, and is considered by some to be an absolute requirement.

There’s a lot to be said for providing your pigeons with a safe outdoor space where they can sunbathe, have baths and all in all get plenty of fresh air without fear of being attacked by predators.

Loft management

Loft management includes general hygiene, repairs and fortifications, as well as any activity related to the birds themselves, i.e. feeding, training, healthcare, the different systems, etc.

Recording Keeping

Never underestimate the value of keeping up to date and accurate records.

Most fanciers tend to associate record keeping with only the pigeon's pedigree, and while accurate pedigrees are vital, the types of records that are kept, at least in a success loft, go way beyond just the pedigree.

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