My Dad loved me as much as any man could love a son so he was constantly dreaming up schemes for me to make money so that I could be self-sufficient when I went to college. He was also determined to keep me out of trouble so while the other guys were “hanging out,” Daddy found ways to keep me busy at home.
His first scheme was for me to learn to play the accordion. Accordionists were very popular in that day and time, but that is a story for another time.
The story today is about pigeons and poop. Daddy decided that I could make good money by raising squab. Squab is considered a delicacy to those who know about it. Two kinds of pigeons are the best producers of squab: white kings and silver kings. White kings, as their name implies, are solid white, and silver kings are similar to the regular pigeons we see all over town. Both of these kinds of pigeon mate for life.
We had a two-car garage separated from the house that was perfect for a pigeon roost. Daddy, my little brother, and I built a first class pen with two different sides. Each side had twenty-five nest boxes and an enclosed fly pen just outside the garage. We made bins with four compartments for different grains. A couple of times a month we added grain to the bins, so that they never ran out of food.
The trick to harvesting squab is to carefully monitor the mated pair banded with matching bands. The mated pair chooses a nest in the coop and that remains their nest as long as they live. Nests have the same number as the pigeon’s tag. Detailed records must then be kept noting the date eggs are laid and hatch. I don’t remember the length of time, but the baby pigeons are harvested the day before they fly. Pigeons feed their young from a secretion in their necks (pigeon milk) so the squab are a good bit larger than their parents and are tender and succulent if harvested at the proper time.
Daddy and I went to Elberton, Georgia where Daddy had discovered a pigeon breeder. We came home with twenty-five pair of white and silver kings, released them into the roost, and started production.
I won’t go into the gross details of preparing the squab for consumption, but the local grocery store was quite willing to purchase my squab for their poultry counter. We negotiated a fair price and my business began.
Actually, my business was doomed to failure from the very beginning. Since I have severe Attention Deficit Disorder, detailed record keeping was beyond my ability. The second problem with my business is that I couldn’t bring myself to slaughter the squab. They were beautiful birds and would look at me with their sad eyes and I simply couldn’t stand putting the knife to them. I also hated the task of plucking their feathers so I only killed a few to keep Daddy from being angry. I often left the pen door open so the pigeons could fly free. The problem with that is that they remembered where their nests were and where the food was so they wouldn’t fly away. They just went to our neighbor’s roof and waited for me to open the door to the coop. Sometimes I would wave a large rag and try to shoo them away. Nothing worked.
After a couple of months an unintended and unanticipated consequence developed. Rattus Rattus (black rats) decided to move in with the pigeons. They relished the grain and they took little pigeons and even some grown ones. The rats made nests in the walls of the coop and produced litter after litter of babies. My little brother and I became quite proficient with a bow and arrow with which we shot the adults when we caught them in the open. Often we found nests and destroyed them only to find them built back the next day.
Between the rat infestation and the over population of pigeons, Daddy decided the pigeon business wasn’t for me. The only profit I made was when we sold forty mated pair of white kings and 34 mated pair of silver kings back to the breeder.
I spent the next two weeks after school shoveling pigeon poop into my next Daddy-dreamed project, a large garden. As to the rats, with the pigeons gone we put out rat bait and soon they were gone. The garden story is one yet to come.