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Pigeons for manure, eggs, and meat

Pigeon program

Pigeon manureWhen I saw the above teaser of a library program, I was instantly hooked by the reference to pigeon compost. And the photo Nandini Stockton shared of her manure piles was definitely intriguing. But are the feed costs and work worth the output?

To answer that question, I had to listen to the entire (wonderful presentation), the cream of which I’m including below.


Eating pigeon eggs

Cooking a pigeon eggIn addition to manure, pigeons on the homestead are a source of what Nandini referred to as a superfood. Despite their diminutive size, she claimed each pigeon egg contains as many calories as a chicken egg. I couldn’t fact-check this easily on the internet, but did find an article mentioning pigeon eggs’ protein levels, which are higher ounce-per-ounce than chicken eggs.

The downside of raising pigeons for eggs is volume, and not just volume of individual eggs either. Unlike chickens, you can’t keep ten female pigeons with no males around and expect eggs, and they don’t lay every day either. Instead, you need a mated pair of pigeons and each pair only produces four eggs per month. No wonder pigeon eggs are considered a high-dollar delicacy!


Homestead pigonRaising pigeons for meat

The other homestead use for pigeons is meat. Nandini didn’t talk about this much since she clearly considers her pigeons pets. But she did mention that there are specific varieties of pigeons better suited to being used as meat birds. Squabs are often killed at thirty days, right around the time they fledge.


Keeping pigeons on the homestead

So what kind of infrastructure do you need to keep pigeons? The coop (better known as a loft) is a bit like a chicken coop and it usually has at least a small aviary attached. Wood pellets are optimal bedding and pigeons are fed a mixture of grains. They also need special Pigeon coopwaterers with reservoirs at least 3/4 of an inch deep (but which the pigeons can’t poop in, of course).

Nandini keeps her pigeons entirely cooped up from early September to mid April since, otherwise, Cooper’s Hawks chow down on her flock far too easily. Starting in April (or whenever leaves are back on the trees to provide cover), she lets her pigeons out in the mid afternoon. They fly around, forage, and bathe in basins of water she places on the lawn before returning inside for the night.

I asked whether free-flying pigeons bother her garden, and she said they didn’t. But she also noted that her loft is located on the opposite side of her yard from her vegetables. She does plant sedums for her flock closer to their loft, which likely keeps them close to home.


Are we getting pigeons?

Mark says no. After sleeping on it, I decided he was right — an extra worm bin would result in just as good compost at a fraction of the hassle. But if you end up getting pigeons (or already have a flock), I hope you’ll comment and let me know what you think of them as homestead livestock!

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Maggots in the compost bin

Black soldier fly larvae in a compost bin

Dear Walden Garden gods,

My compost bin has been overrun with maggots and fat lizards🤢

I am sure that this is linked to my gluttonous watermelon consumption this summer. I am so ashamed!

Should I promise to eat no more watermelon, bag up the vermin, and start anew?

— Your anonymous petty gardener


Dear Lucky Gardener,

You should feel proud! Your compost bin has attracted beneficial black soldier flies (the larval form of which looks like the maggots of house flies but the adults of which won’t bother your food or your garden). In fact, black soldier flies are so sought-after that lots of folks pay big bucks for specialized bins and even order black soldier fly eggs to get a colony started.

Maggots in a compost binMy favorite thing about black soldier flies is the way they turn kitchen scraps into worm-casting-quality black gold at lightning speed. Mark loves the way his pets greet him with their roiling excitement whenever he makes a compost deposit. Chicken keepers love black soldier flies for the high quality protein they offer as a feed addition. And your skinks are clearly in the chickens’ camp!

If you really, really want the black soldier flies not to come back next year, you can add more carbon to your bin in the form of sawdust, autumn leaves, or shredded paper. Keeping scraps covered with less-yummy alternatives at all times will indeed prevent black soldier flies from colonizing in the future.

Alternatively, if you’re sold and want to double down on your black soldier fly production, Mark’s current favorite colony home is a modified wheelie bin. We love BSFs so much that we have three bins and are thinking about renaming Mark’s pets BFFs!

P.S. I’m really not a garden god, but that’s so nice of you to say…