Sunday, September 20, 2015

Badger Squab Yards -- Raising Pigeons "Back In The Day"

          Back in the day when my dad was a teenager he started his own business supplying squabs to food suppliers as well as other farmers.   In an addition to the family personal mail box, he created a sign for his business which has now come to me.  Their home, Spring Brook Farm, was just a couple of miles outside of Kendall, Wisconsin (near Tomah or Sparta or further yet to La Crosse -- if you know your way around Wisconsin!).
In 1996, four years before he died, I was able to corral my dad and got him to dictate memories of life on the farm.  One afternoon he discussed his foray into breeding and selling pigeons.
          "When I began high school I started myself another project.  I started raising White King pigeons and selling breeding stock and marketable squabs.  I continued with pigeon raising until after I graduated from high school (about a total of four years).
         "I started out raising pigeons with four pair, bought from a pigeon raiser in Melrose, Massachusetts.  I bred the flock up until I had about 38 mated pairs, plus pairs that I had sold.  I had one big male pigeon that I hand fed when he was pushed out of his nest when he was little.  Normally pigeons lay two eggs at a time, but somehow this pair laid three.  They kept feeding two of them but just left this one aside, so I took him in and started hand-feeding him by chewing up grain and stuff and feeding him with my lips.  While he started out small, he became one of the biggest pigeons in my loft, weighing almost two pounds.  The average male pigeon weighs about 1 and 1/4 lb.  Toby and I became real close.  He liked to ride around on my shoulder or sometimes on the top of my head.  When he would ride on my head I would like to run fast to see if he would get airborne.  I liked to run with him with his wings outstretched.  Sometimes I could do it, get him airborne.
         "Toby was generally a good -natured bird.  My parents raised Silver-Laced Wyandotte chickens, which are rather large, probably averaging about 12-13 pounds for hens and 14 to 16 pounds. for roosters.  Sometimes when we would feed the chickens, Toby would decide, “Hey, there’s a free meal.  I’ll have some too.”  He would saunter up to the long feeding trough and commence to eat with the chickens.  Now if the chickens treated him right and didn’t make any bad moves toward him, he would just eat with them.  But let one chicken forget its manners and peck at that pigeon, and Toby would clear all the chickens away from the feeding trough by just slapping them with his wings.
         "He had powerful wings.  He knocked some of those chickens silly, they’d stagger around the yard because he always hit them in the head.  After he had finished all he wanted, then they could go back and eat.  It didn’t take the chickens long to learn not to make a bad pass at Toby.  That pigeon could really hit hard with his wings.  One time I happened to reach toward one of the chickens when he swung at the chicken and he accidentally hit my hand instead.  It raised a welt on my hand."
My father introduced my mother to his favorite pigeon, Toby and they also became friends. 
Here is mom with Toby at the family's farm and it looks like one of the apparently oft-abused chickens is loitering in the background.
About 25 years later we enjoyed feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London -- this photo of my father and brother is one of my favorites!  And it always starts in my mind the full orchestration of the sound track "Feed The Birds" from the Mary Poppins movie whenever I see it.
And even a few decades further, my daughter raised pigeons for a little while and we all had a very fun time with them.  She also hand raised a chick she named Amber.  The pigeons would fly around the neighborhood during the day and would come home in the evening and settle in for the night.  She became interested in pigeons partly by hearing Grandpa's stories but also by reading the Mysteries Through History chapter book called The Night Fliers.  It seems that none of our family pigeon photos are digital, so none are readily at hand.