From Pigeon

I read a lot about electrolytes lately, and I tend to consider them a very useful product in this sport, during the racing season. However, there are some opinions against electrolytes. Some opinions that I found interesting are below.

1. Receipt of a natural recuperation product for racing pigeons: Electrolytes are minerals and salts such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc. The administration of electrolytes is especially recommended after the race as promotion of the recuperation. Heavy muscular efforts make the body liquids acid and cause an increased loss of electrolytes, disturbing the acid base. It has been scientifically proved that the administration of electrolytes improves the recuperation after athletic efforts in a natural way.

Diarrhoea causes an increased loss of electrolytes together with an upset of the waterhousehold and the acid-base balance. The administration of electrolytes is an important support in case of watery droppings.

2. Dr Colin Walker:

During exertion, both water and electrolytes are lost from the bird’s system and he goes on to talk of the need to replace lost electrolytes.

3. Dr. Wim Peters:

Pigeons do not sweat – so where is the loss of the electrolytes, that have to be replaced, supposed to come from? It is stated that sodium and other salts are excreted when bound to lactic acid and that the lactic acid forms when the pigeons do anaerobic exercise (exercise in the absence of oxygen). It is my contention that racing pigeons have no anaerobic exercise and therefore conserve their salts.

Unless a pigeon is losing electrolytes in some form, maybe with enteritis or when the kidneys have been damaged by PMV, there is NO need to use them or when birds vomit, have diarrhea and so on. In these cases their use is absolutely essential , but not for healthy pigeons.

I’m against the use of electrolytes in pigeons. Colin Walker, in his latest book has a different opinion. His argument is that the lactic acid, which is produced at the time of anaerobic exercise, bonds with sodium and other salts to facilitate excretion and is thus lost. This causes loss of electrolytes and a prolonged recuperation period. To prevent this state he recommends electrolyte ‘replacement’. Now if electrolytes were lost I would agree with the rationale but does the bird do any anaerobic exercise when flying normally? Some people here, particularly those in the more humid areas, now wish to use them also before a race. (It’s fairly widely believed that the birds will be properly hydrated!). I don’t like it but maybe I’m missing something? I see that Colin W also advises half-strength electrolytes prior to basketing.

Racing your pigeons when the temps exceed 30 degrees C becomes problematical. (I cannot agree with Bob R who states that 20 to 35 degrees is ‘the ideal range’. I’m sure he didn’t mean it like this.)

Pigeons flying in hot conditions can only lower their body temperature by increasing the evaporation rate from the mouth, throat and lungs. Doing so in the absence of drinking water increases the possibility (danger) of dehydration. The alternative is to reduce or stop its physical exertion – flying. This accounts for the slow velocities and high losses whenever such high temps occur on long distance races particularly. Whenever the temperature exceeds 30 degrees problems begin. Of course there are some birds that can handle high temps better than others. It has a genetic background but roughly speaking the heavier birds are less heat-tolerant than the lighter and smaller-framed.

Racing the pigeons in humid conditions reduces their ability to handle high temperatures.

Any hindrance to the evaporation rate creates difficulties. Under humid conditions evaporation is drastically reduced and hot conditions can become unbearable.

In both the above, the position is seriously aggravated when the birds have to battle a headwind. They keep low above the ground (where it is hotter) and have to work harder against the wind pushing up their body temperatures. Results of races on hot headwind days are usually dismal.

I do not believe that the administration of electrolytes is of any benefit

Unless a pigeon is losing Electrolytes there is NO need to use them. Pigeons on a normal temperate day will drink about 50 ml water. On the day that the electrolytes were given it was hotter than usual and the birds accordingly drank more. The fact that there were electrolytes in the water had little to do with their total intake. They had loose bowels because they were given what amounts to a clean-out – as if given Epsom salts. The loose bowels acted as if a purgative had been administered and this action alone would ensure that these birds would drink more water. In fact it could be so dehydrating that they could die if water were totally absent!

4. Gordon Chalmers:

I seldom use electrolytes on my own birds. My general feeling has been not to use them at all (exception – possibly in cases of severe fluid loss as in diarrhea). I just don’t see the point of using them before a race, since, if birds are managed correctly and have access to a wide-ranging mineral mix at all times, their electrolytes should be at normal levels. Adding electrolytes might just induce unnecessary thirst. I have thought that at times, birds could use electrolytes on their return from a race, but even then I’m reluctant to use them. I much prefer fresh water with no additives when they arrive, but later in the day, I’ll add some glucose or fructose. I really don’t like the idea of half-strength electrolytes as advocated by Colin – my view is that it’s better to avoid them entirely ahead of shipping, and let the birds balance their own systems without electrolytes after they return.

During a race any significant alteration to the regular rate of the wing beat at cruising speed (on average, a normal rate of 5.4 beats per second) such as explosive or dodging bursts of speed, pulling hard against the wind, braking to land, etc. can induce anaerobic glycolysis. That results in the production of some level of lactic acid.

5. Bob Rowland:

Re. Wim’s belief that the administration of electrolytes is of any benefit: This could be a true statement if we were only trying to race a pigeon that is in perfect electrolyte balance and in the absolute best optimal condition and the distances were just ideal etc. The reason for having pigeons take the electrolytes is twofold. First to make sure they have enough for the proper balance and second, to consume more water than they normally would so that they will pack their cells with the water and are not beginning the journey without enough water to complete the trip. When we try to believe that all pigeons will be given equal treatment by the convoyer, I prefer to think that if I can give them a head start going in that this certainly can’t hurt much. If I did not help them, did I hurt them by giving them a possible edge?