Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Brief Intro to Dovecotes and Raising Doves and Pigeons

A Dovecote at Oxwich Castle, Wales, United Kingdom - dating to mid 1500's

A dovecote (pronounced: “DOVE-coat”) is also known as a columbaria ("co-lum-BEAR-ee-uh") or pigeonaire ("pigeon-AIR").
 
 
A dovecote is simply a house for doves or pigeons. I have seen a few of these in person, but the only ones I ever saw that were currently in use were in Turkey. Historically, doves and pigeons were kept as primary food sources throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The earliest dovecotes are thought to be in Egypt and Iran. I am strongly considering adding a dovecote in my yard.
 
 
 Dovecote at La Providence Wine Farm, Franschhoek Valley, in South Africa's wine country.
So the big question is why would anyone want one? My three answers are Meat, Eggs, and Manure.

Meat
Young pigeon and dove meat is called “squab” in the culinary world. It is considered a delicacy. Moist and rich, squab is all dark meat. The skin is more fatty (like duck) than chicken, and the meat is less fatty (more lean) than domesticated chicken. I have had squab on a few occasions, and I have had friends who have eaten squab in many places around the world. I have not met anyone who has tried squab who has not really liked it. This is a great tasting bird!

Squab with Porcini Mushrooms... my mouth is watering!
Eggs
Pigeon and Dove eggs can really vary in size. However, for rough size comparisons... a medium-large pigeon/dove egg is about half the size of a medium chicken egg and double the size of a quail egg. Pigeon eggs are not nearly as common as quail eggs, but could easily be substituted in any recipe. For any eggs calling for chicken eggs, pigeon/dove eggs could be used as a unique ingredient. I admit that I have not tasted pigeon/dove eggs... yet. I enjoy cooking and eating quail eggs, and I imagine that these eggs are quite similar, just larger.
The Scotch eggs use quail egg, but pigeon/dove eggs could easily be substituted.
Manure
Pigeon manure has a long history of being collected for fertilizer and for use in making gunpowder. The only information I could find places pigeon/dove manure at a NPK ratio of 4:2:1. This was (roughly) consistent from multiple sources, so I will run with it. This compares fairly well to chicken manure. Just like chicken manure, pigeon/dove manure should be considered "hot" (i.e. high in nitrogen in too raw a form) and should age, perferably in a compost pile, for a few months before applying it to growing plants.
Some modern dovecote designs.
Quick Facts:
  • Pigeons and Doves belong to the Columbidae Family.
  • The Rock Dove or Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) is the “common” pigeon seen in cities.
  • The Domestic Pigeon (Columba livia f. domestica) was developed from the Rock Dove.
  • There are many species of wild and many varieties of domestic doves and pigeons, each with different squab and egg sizes.
  • Pigeons developed primarily for meat at called Utility Breeds.
  • Common Utility Breeds are: King, American Giant Runt, French Mondain
  • Pigeons and Doves form mating pairs (one male and one female), and they care for their young themselves - no human intervention required!
  • A breeding pair can produce 10-15 squabs per year.
  • Doves and Pigeons can live and produce young for over 10 years, there are some that have lived for over 30 years!
  • If there are sufficient food sources surrounding the dovecote, there is no supplement feeding needed.
  • Squabs reach adult size, but cannot yet fly, at about 4 weeks. This is when they are slaughtered.
  • Weight at slaughter is about 0.5 pounds (0.2 kg) in a traditional (no supplement feeding) operation, but can increase up to 1.3 pounds (0.6 kg) in a high-input, industrial operation.

The King Pigeon is a common bred developed for meat.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for this informative article. I didn't realize squab had so much meat on it; I've had other game birds but they have very little food for the effort. Two squab would make a very nice addition to a family stir fry. Going to try the Scotch eggs which are new to me also.

    Given the price of beef at 4.50 USD a pound here, I can see people starting to raise their own protein, though here in the States it is still mostly backyard chickens in the suburbs. I imagine a dovecote would be much more acceptable to the neighbors. They tend to become excitable about animals they recognize as meat producers but I doubt they would assume pigeons are anything besides a hobby. Stealth dinners :)

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  2. I love Scotch eggs. Never tried them with anything other than chicken eggs though. I love the idea of such a low-input protein source. Perfect for the suburbs as you said. Let me know if you try any of it!

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  3. Lovely picture of a dovecoat in Wales - we saw one just a few months ago here along the River Nile, I had no idea they were so ancient and wide-spread though!

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  4. I have been considering doves and dovecotes...I just spoke to a man who sells them the other day. He said they had no real homing device and that they would most likely just fly away if not kept pinned up. Also, be aware that they are tasty to hawks.

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  5. I was researching more on Dovecotes when I cam across this article. What I found was it required a license from the king to have them in many of the European countries including England. That may explain the lack of wide spread use as it was not legal there for not practiced by the non nobility.

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  6. Its "Common Breed" not Common bred

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  7. Its "Common Breed" not Common bred

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