By Robert Swanepoel

At the end of this article you will see a portion of a report from a laboratory for feed that were submitted for testing. Read the article and then look at the test results.

In South Africa we are faced with losses in pigeon racing coupled to poor racing performances.

Most fanciers have changed pigeons, medication and some have even constructed new lofts in order to improve the performance of the pigeons.

Very few have looked at the impact which food has on the pigeon’s performance.


I did some routine testing for a fancier and found high levels of bacteria. We had it analyzed and it was found to be harmful i.e. pathogen.

Speaking to the laboratory it became clear that this strain of bacteria was transmitted in feed. So the logical thing to do is test the feed. We did that and the result was that some of the feed was indeed infected by various bacteria.

This came as a complete surprise as I never thought that purchased grain may be off or infected. The grains looked good and even the droppings of the pigeons were 100%.

This particular bacteria is one that effects the breathing of the pigeon.

Now sometimes we treat for breathing problems and the pigeons respond wonderfully and may even dominate the racing for a few weeks. Thereafter the performances slide again. The reason is that although we have treated the symptoms we have never found the reason for the infection. Feeding the same food will lead to the same infection in the pigeons.

We have tested some feed and the results are as follows:

  1. Breeding Mixture from a reputable company – Free of pathogens. Reason – The company tests the grains.
  1. Barley Purchased from a non registered supplierFull of pathogens – Reason, untested and the fact that Barley is one of the seeds at the top of the list when it comes to Pathogens.
  1. Pellets – tested and 100% safe. This is due to the heat process involved in the forming of the pellets.

What can I do as a fancier to ensure I have good toxin free food?

  • Find out if the feed has been tested, the big suppliers do test the food. Ask for a copy of the certificate if that is practical.
  • You can try and wash the feed in citric acid.
  • You can heat the feed at 70 Degrees for 2 hours.

Below are the results of the tests done on the feed.
History: routine fungal and bacterial pathogen screen on various animal food products; the products were tested due to the isolation of a Pantoea agglomerans strain in high numbers from an infected pigeon crop swab.

Pantoea agglomerans is commonly isolated from plant matter (including seeds and fruit) and it may readily cause opportunistic disease in animals.

 Fungal and bacterial culture results of raw materials and processed pigeon feed products

 Breeding (1) Aspergillus fumigatus +, Aspergillus flavus + Bacillus cereus +, Bacillus subtilis +, Bacillus sp. ++

Barley Seed (2) Aspergillus niger + Chryseobacterium sp. +++, Pseudomonas sp. +

Pellets (3) – Bacillus cereus ++, Bacillus subtilis ++

Although Aspergillus fumigatus, Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus niger are associated with aflatoxin production and food spoilage, the numbers were low in the feed samples and should be of no concern in this case. However, if the Breeding and Barley Seed products are stored in a damp place, food spoilage (to some extent) is likely to occur. Rhizopus sp. (isolated from the Sunflower Seed sample) may also cause opportunistic disease in humans and animals, but it is not as virulent as the Aspergillus spp mentioned above and is far less frequently isolated from infected organs/sites.

The Chryseobacterium sp. and Nocardia spp. isolated from the Barley Seed and Sunflower Seed samples, respectively, are a cause for concern. Members of these genera (Chryseobacterium and Nocardia) are well known to cause opportunistic diseases in humans and animals, including birds, and should preferably not be present in moderate to high numbers in animal feed samples. The potentially pathogenic bacterial species may be killed or reduced in numbers using heat treatment methods.

 Bacillus species were the most abundant organisms and although ubiquitous and hardy bacteria that survive many treatment processes through spore formation, they are not commonly associated with disease.

We have asked the microbiologist to grant us an interview where we can ask more specific questions about testing and the contamination of the feed. He has agreed and we aim to do the video interview within the next 2 months.