You’re raising what? Pigeons!

WOODSFIELD, Ohio – A 32-by-40 pole building stands just off the edge of the gravel road, its new red metal siding gleaming in the bright September sunshine.
Other than a small white sign posted on one end of the barn, there’s no indication that this is anything more than a car garage, or that this place is involved in a business so cutting-edge, so alternative, so explosive, and so profitable.
David and Marlene Rinkes’ D&M Hatchery has been in business only a year, but already the couple is turning profits from breeding and raising pigeons on contract for the Canadian-based Pigeon King International.
Multimillion operation. Pigeon King founder Arlan Galbraith runs a multimillion dollar business from his Ontario headquarters, but declines to give out hard numbers that reveal his annual sales or production, or just how far-reaching this business is becoming.
However, the Rinkeses are proud of their 100 pairs of breeders and their offspring they sell, and offered up their numbers freely.
David Rinkes said in the year since he and Marlene started their hatchery, they’ve grown to average selling 100 young pigeons every month straight to Galbraith. Those 20-week-old birds are crated and hauled from the Woodsfield-area farm at $25 a pop, clearing $18,000 to $20,000 a year profit for the couple.
Marlene has made the birds her full-time business, and David still drives truck to supplement their income. But looking down the road, both see themselves expanding their numbers and spending all their time at home.
Jumped right in. David spied an ad for Pigeon King International in Farm and Dairy more than a year ago, and was surprised at the opportunity advertised: guaranteed sales, fast and high return on investment, easy work. It sounded like a perfect job for Marlene, and the perfect income boost for both of them, he thought.
So the couple called Ontario for information, then found themselves visiting two other pigeon breeders in Ohio’s Amish country to see their setups and hear their stories.
July 3, 2006, they moved 100 pairs of breeders into their newly built pole building and set out on a 10-year adventure.
Still small. The Rinkeses say their roost of pigeons is small when put up against other breeders who have several hundred pairs. But this size and its requirements is perfect for them, and likely for many others looking to get involved in the business.
It was a size they could afford, since they had to buy the birds, put up the building, dump gravel for the flooring, build laying boxes, and buy feeders and waterers. David said their initial investment was about $30,000 total, paid for with a home improvement loan.
So far, it’s paying off and bringing big smiles to Marlene’s face.
“It’s easy work, really, really easy, especially for the money,” Marlene said.
“We can make up to $2,500 a month without leaving home! Tell me how that’s bad,” David challenged.
No stress. Marlene said she spends about two hours per day with the birds, one hour each in the morning and evening for feeding and watering, putting on leg bands, and just spending time in the barn.
“There’s really no stress in this,” she admitted.
She checks nesting boxes for new eggs, for young birds just hatched, and watches the young birds fill in their naked bodies with feathers ranging from white to black to iridescent green and purple. She watches as they stray from the box a month later, jumping to the floor and learning to fly.
“It’s easy, a real good job for a woman. You just can’t be prissy about the poop,” she admits.
Both Rinkeses see raising pigeons as a lucrative business for many people, including retired folks or very young people, and possibly even the disabled who have trouble finding other income.
“They’re enjoyable and fun. It’s peaceful to just sit and watch them fly around,” Marlene said.
Options. Though the Rinkeses chose to put up a new pole building and secure the inside with plastic netting to protect the birds, they say there are other options for pigeon housing.
David suggests looking at old house trailers, hoop-shaped tarp buildings or school buses as inexpensive opportunities for pigeon houses.
Galbraith agrees. His how-to guide says pigeons will adapt to existing barns or sheds, truck boxes, old mobile homes, or grain bins with simple modifications.
The pigeons are extremely hardy, too. They tolerate extreme heat and cold well as long as the barn is ventilated and there are no drafts directly on the birds.
All it takes is a watchful eye, protection from predators and disease, plenty of water and some pelleted game bird feed.
“This is really something almost anybody can do,” David said.
Why pigeons? Galbraith has more than 50 years experience with pigeons, and his current genetic strain, Strathclyde, are flying-type sporting pigeons used to breed high performance flyers. The pigeons aren’t used for shooting, dog training, or shows.
David Rinkes said as strange as it sounds, some wealthy people buy pigeons as pets. He’s been told boxing legend Mike Tyson paid $50,000 for one pigeon to keep strictly for pleasure.
And the Rinkeses acknowledge after their breeders have lived their 10-year productive life, they’re sent for slaughter to be served in high-end restaurants as $100-per-plate squab or for pigeon pie or soup.
They don’t necessarily like the idea, but accept it as the end source for their birds.
In the meantime, while they’re fulfilling their 10-year contract with Galbraith, they let their birds fly free inside the pole building and give them the attention they need.
In return, the Rinkeses are collecting a monthly paycheck they’re pumping back into the business, and keep their eye on the opportunity over the next 10 years.
“You spend it to keep them alive and make more. It’s a real good opportunity.”
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former staff reporter Andrea Zippay wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2001 to 2009. More Stories by Andrea Zippay

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