Q: I'm trying to find evidence, other than anecdotal, that aflatoxins do in fact harm birds. Are you aware of any such figures or research?

When you are dealing with the pigeon world, you are dealing in an area of almost no scientific study. In regard to our medications as well as most knowledge, if it has a scientific basis, then it is borrowed and adapted from the poultry or other animal science world.

We are a hobby of such small proportions that medications, for instance, are never approved for pigeons in this country because the market is just not there for the manufacturer to get a return. Observations and hopefully some knowledge that I pass on to others is mostly self-learned.

I do know when affected with aflatoxins, my pigeons will not be able to dissipate their body heat efficiently through their normal respiratory functions. Their skin also turns a tell-tale color and has a leathery feel to it and they will not want to take a bath. These are things I had to learn the hard way. I never read or saw this discussed elsewhere.

When I use a new feed, or I should say "grain," I test the feed by giving it to individual birds to see how they react. I have learned what the color of the breast, for instance, will be if something is not in order. Instead of being pink, it is more a maroon color. Also, the droppings of the birds give me an indication. Now do I know what scientific precise problem I have? Definitely not. But I have learned to correct by changing feed. I am a very competitive loft and perhaps somewhat paranoid with the possibility of my birds being handicapped by being partially poisoned.

I have taken birds to an excellent veterinarian, Dr. Kevin Zollars, who then sends tissue samples, especially of the liver, to a California lab. The results will show that the birds are toxic, but no further specific scientific analysis. In trying to research aflatoxins, the only solid material that I found was that the US government specifies how much tainted corn a cow that gives milk for human use can consume . Again, not much help scientifically for a pigeon fancier.

So although I do not have any research available to me, I react to the condition of my birds in order to fly competitively to the best of my ability. Should you find specific scientific knowledge that addresses the harm aflatoxins do to our birds or to their performance, I would be very interested in hearing from you. Or perhaps someone more knowledgeable can pick up this topic and enlighten us with some concrete facts. Good luck in your endeavor --

Click here to see an earlier Ask Horst column about aflatoxins.