Squab Raising Revolution
"WE PLAN to have the most modern, streamlined, profitable squab farm in the world—and within three or four years," says husky, energetic Robert R. "Bob" Taylor of Alta Loma, California, a little town in the colorful wine grape and citrus country of the Sierra Madre foothills back of Pasadena.
When Bob looks around at his "Taylor Squab Ranch" he sees much to make him a happy man. Stately eucalyptus trees form a windbreak around the farm. His attractive bungalow smiles at him from its setting of palms, roses, hedges, and green lawns. The long rows of aluminum-roofed pigeon houses are visible near-by. The stucco killing and dressing house, the frog pond, and a large orchard and vineyard can also be seen. Four years ago all this was a barren wheat field.
For thirty years Taylor raised pigeons as a hobby. Always he dreamed of having a modern squab plant, of raising fine, plump squabs for hotels, restaurants, and private trade. But for thirty years fate kept him working as a painting contractor, fireman and engineer for the Santa Fe and Union Pacific Railroads, as aviation procurement inspector for the government, even running his own painting and decorating business in Pasadena.
SOME YEARS ago Taylor had a squab farm in Wichita, Kansas. But there was something wrong with the squab business as then run. He didn't know it, but high overhead, too much hand labor, too little streamlining, and wasteful losses were draining off the profits. So he sold the Wichita place and moved to Pasadena.
When Bob and his pretty blond wife Joan arrived in Pasadena they had two suitcases and were just about broke. But Bob started paint contracting and was soon making good money. Joan was right with him in his ambition to start another squab farm. They analyzed what a successful pigeon farm should have: proper soil and location; not too high or low altitude; plenty of water; all utilities; adjacency to or in between large centers of population, and a well-heeled backlog of free-spending clientele who could spend real money for the choicest of everything.
Taylor soon found five acres at Alta Loma which had everything. He bought it and took an option on ten adjoining acres. In the spring of 1946 he and Joan and a baby son moved onto their land, built a three-room bungalow, two old style lofts for the thirty pairs of giant white homers, white, and silver kings that Bob had been breeding and developing for many years. The land was a vast oat and wheat field, and the neighbors tried to discourage Bob.
Miracles have been wrought by Bob and Joan Taylor. Walks and driveways and fences are in; the orchard of figs, apples, pears and other fruits is bearing lush crops. Long lines of grapevines are loaded with fruit. The land is plowed deep and rich. The house is surrounded with hedges and flowers. A hundred deep-voiced Nufond breeder frogs croak and roar in the frog pond. And the pigeon plant proper has made such startling developments that radio, press, and television people across the United States have been to see it.
BOB TAYLOR knows the best pigeon men in the world. He talked with all of them about his ideas for changing the methods of breeding pigeons for squabs. Instead of raising his pigeons twenty to thirty pairs to a house and flying pen—he would streamline the business. He would place pairs in individual pens like egg-laying hens. He would do to the squab raising business what Henry Ford had done to motor making—do it on an assembly line basis—cut hand labor to an absolute minimum. To a man the, experts disapproved of Bob's ideas.
In 1946 Taylor began experimenting with the individual pen system for squab production. The experts had said that pigeons couldn't stand close confinement; they had to fly; they had to take regular baths.
Taylor put in experimental units. The new houses would be in long rows under hip-roofed tops of aluminum roofing (this reflects heat and doesn't retain it)—thereby keeping the birds cool in hottest weather. Two rows of cages back to back, would run the length of each roof unit. These cages were made of galvanized wire, and were twenty-four inches high, eighteen inches wide, and twenty-four inches deep. There were double nest bowls in the upper back, an automatic drinking fountain, a grit cup, and a feed trough running along the fronts of the pens.
From the start of this experiment Taylor saw that his new plan was a success. More cages and breeding pairs of pigeons were added. The birds were happy; they were producing more squabs than the conventional flock type of pens; there were fewer crushed eggs and small squabs; no squabs lost by being killed by other pigeons.
Within two years Bob knew that he was going to develop his entire plant along the lines of this new "Taylor Cage System." On the ranch's five acres, half is currently devoted to the squab plant. Today there are twelve houses 105 feet long. Aisles run along between each house and its neighbor. There are 1,400 breeding pairs in these silvery new houses. In 1950 Bob Taylor netted—"income tax net!" says Bob—$10.25 per pair from these pigeons—a startling record for the squab breeding business. His breeding pairs had averaged approximately fifteen squabs per pair per year. Bear in mind that Bob is getting $1.50 a pound for these squabs at the plant—and a dressed squab will weigh a pound and over.
THROUGH THE years Bob Taylor has been developing a new breed of squab-producing pigeons—the Lomas. They are developed from the white and silver king. They come in white, silver, and a pied or light mottled color. These birds produce the required rich yellow or golden-skinned squab. The breeders' weight is about thirty ounces each; the squabs weighing at killing time (twenty-five—twenty-eight days) from 1¼ to 1½ pounds each.
Maximum production with the least possible waste and destruction is the most important thing on a squab farm. With Taylor's new cage system the breeders were not distracted from their maternal duties by other pigeons. No fighting; no broken eggs. No squabs killed by other pigeons invading the nests. And canker—the greatest nuisance to the pigeon breeder—is completely eliminated due to the extremely sanitary conditions. All the pigeon manure falls through the wire mesh floors. It piles beneath the houses to compost and be sold later for garden and flower fertilizer at a fine profit.
The fine rate of squab production per pair at the Taylor ranch is startling to the average squab farmer. The record cards on each cage disclose at a glance the age of the breeders, number of eggs laid, when laid, eggs lost, crushed, squabs hatched, and finally the number of squabs dressed out for marketing. The mortality for the entire plant is less than two per cent. Fifteen to eighteen per cent is considered average for a good squab farm.
Production here averages from twelve to eighteen squabs per year per pair. Any pair producing less than twelve squabs a year is killed for food. Soon Taylor will raise his minimum to fifteen squabs per year.
All breeders are banded with seamless year bands when ten days old. With their individual numbers it is easy to keep records. Taylor's ambition is to expand the plant to 25,000 pairs of breeders. Right now he has everything so streamlined and automatic that he can do all the work on the five-acre place. Sometimes he has a boy in on Saturdays.
BOB TAYLOR is an extremely profit-minded man. He wants everything he handles to make a profit. Everything helps support something else. The constantly running water from the pigeon houses runs to the big frog pond. He dresses squabs Tuesday and Friday each week (about 1,000 a month at present)—and the water from washing and cooling the squabs in the white tile and stainless steel slaughter house runs through a large system of nine-inch perforated tile pipes under the orchard, vineyard, and gardens.
The squabs' heads, feet, entrails, and blood are made into a meat loaf and fed to the sixty mink in Bob's fast-growing mink farming business. He has developed this mink fur farm to a $30,000-value in two years, from a $2,000 cash expenditure and a deal of trading. He has a fine stud of black mink (from a strain unbeaten in the world in the New York fur markets). He is fast increasing his numbers of the rare and superbly beautiful light silvery "Royal Blue Sapphire" mink.
"It takes from fifty to one hundred and ten mink skins to make a coat, from hip-length to full length," says Taylor. "I already have orders for three mink wraps: a hip-length sapphire mink garment that will take fifty skins and cost some $20,000 for the pelts alone; a pastel shade mink wrap that will take one hundred pelts and cost about $6,000 for the skins; and a natural dark mink coat that will use 100 pelts and cost $3,000 for the skins."
TAYLOR SELLS all the squabs he can produce today right at the farm. He has nothing to sell to the large and fancy market of hotels and restaurants. He keeps several "Taylor Squab Ranch" signs on adjacent highways. Usually the "sold out" sign is hanging on them.
"But people come right on to the farm anyway," says Bob. "Cadillacs and everything else. Every day of the week they come by the dozens and fill our parking space."
Taylor's squabs are dressed "oven ready" to be cooked, each encased in a tight-fitting transparent plastic sack, making a beautiful display in the special packing boxes for a dozen and two dozen birds. He sells nothing fresh. All squabs are either placed in the deep freeze unit at the ranch for immediate sale, or go into storage in his 150-ton section of a freezer plant several miles away.
Of course it is hurting Taylor's profit-loving soul not to be able to go after the smart hotels and California restaurants that are simply begging for his top quality squabs at almost any price—but he simply cannot produce fast enough for the demand.
SOME MONTHS ago Taylor had a visit from a Los Angeles industrialist who had heard of his plant and fancy squabs. Bob and this man immediately became good friends, and in a few weeks were in the squab business on a partnership basis. Capital is being furnished by Bob's partner to develop the plant and expand as fast as possible toward the 25,000-pair goal.
"Our expansion plan is to keep for breeders all the squabs from our birds producing sixteen and over per year per pair," Taylor explains. "We simply cannot buy such breeding stock—and can only raise it."
Grain at the Taylor Squab Ranch is bought by the ton and mixed to a special formula. Expansion plans call for the building of a small grain elevator to clean, process, and mix feed. Taylor says he will save $1 per hundred pounds this way. In buying cleaned milo from feed retailers in ton lots, Taylor pays $3.05 per hundred. If he had his own grain elevator he could buy this milo field run from the farmers for $1.90 per hundred. By experimenting with feeds Taylor has found that the common wrinkled garden pea (at $2.50 per hundred pounds during the season) is better for his squabbers than the far more expensive Canadian peas usually used in most expensive feeds.
WALKING THROUGH Bob Taylor's squab plant is really a pleasure. The soft humming of working, cooing birds, the squeaking of squabs being fed, the efficiency of the whole operation is delightful. No matter how hot the sun overhead, it is always comfortable under the aluminum-roofed pigeon houses. In every cage will be big, husky pigeons setting on eggs, feeding squabs, often both. As the fat squabs approach the killing age of twenty-six days, they are usually to be found in the lower sections of the cages.
On squab killing days Taylor pushes a collecting cart through the lofts and takes all market size squabs not to be kept for the breeder expansion program. He credits breeders on their record cards. The squabs from top producing pairs have seamless number and year bands slipped onto their legs before the age of ten days.
In the slaughterhouse the squabs are knifed in the back of the mouth to produce instant death, finally slipped head down into cones to bleed without spoiling their feathers. Before killing, all large wing feathers were plucked. These fetch $2 a pound on the New York feather market.
After thorough bleeding, the squabs are scalded and plucked clean, then dressed table-ready—heads off, feet off, entrails removed. Then they are plunged to cool into a row of six large white enamel tubs of running water. When the squabs are thoroughly cooled they are dried, wings tucked back, then the carcasses encased in Taylor's special packaging of transparent plastic—making a really superb product.
Taylor is also very enthusiastic about the possibilities of marketing dressed jumbo frogs. He is soon putting in four breeding ponds that will total an acre of water. Then he will turn his 100 Nufond breeder frogs into them to start working.
"The jumbo giant frogs will fetch me $1.85 a pound whole-carcass dressed," says Taylor. "These frogs will also be a by-product of the squab plant,"
Another valuable by-product of Taylor's pigeon plant is his sale of pigeon manure. It is so rich that it brings a special price from flower growers, It will not burn plants if put on immediately. But Bob composts it, screens and processes it, sacks it in his own containers with a brand name—and sells it in five pound sacks for 50 cents each, a tidy matter of $200 a ton. Most commercial fertilizers are bringing about $60 to $100 a ton.
RUNNING A pigeon plant is easy, the way Bob Taylor has it set up. A scant hour a day is sufficient to feed the birds. The watering is automatic. A rubber-tired metal push cart gets a load of feed at the grain bin, and the feeder moves along the aisles putting feed into the troughs before each pair's compartment.
About four o'clock every afternoon the pigeons in the whole vast plant start exercising—standing in the bottoms of their cages and waving their wings. It is a pretty sound, like a soft humming wind.
Taylor keeps a flock of white Emden geese, White Holland turkeys, and some fancy ducks and chickens in the pigeon plant yard. They pick up a good living from any dropped grain—and incidentally market for 85 cents per pound up themselves.
Among other products from the plant are pairs of mated breeding pigeons. Taylor sells these one-to-three-year-old Loma breeders for $15 per pair—and isn't at all anxious to sell them. "Not with a pair of birds netting me $10.25 a year profit," he says.
He also sells complete blue print plans for building the new Taylor Cage System breeding lofts for $15.
Taylor's ideal pigeon plant is wired for electricity. There is even a telephone midway among the breeding cages. The walkways are all paved with white crushed gravel. The fencing is dog and cat tight.
BOB AND Joan Taylor have realized their dreams of a fine squab farm. Theirs is apparently the ultimate in a streamlined type of setup. Bob even plans to feed the pigeons later with a moving belt system—and dispense with hand feeding entirely.
Taylor says that this cage system can be used anywhere in the country. It is now being used in Minnesota. Where the weather is very cold, outside walls of light material may be used.
Many people have ventured into squab raising as a business. But due to old-fashioned methods used, the waste and overhead soon ate up the profits—and they made nothing. After a few months of such losing efforts they have given up the business. But Taylor is helping to put the squab producing business on a big paying basis.
Bob and Joan Taylor are happy people today. Bob has built his lifetime hobby into a paying business. Space and desire seem the only limiting factors to any growth he may consider.
Bob Taylor's open front, single-pair unit breeding house with its many laborsaving devices, seems to be the ideal setup for economic and profitable squab production. He wanted a squab plant based on economy and efficiency. He wanted to avoid hand cleaning with shovel, rake, and hoe. He wished to avoid the disturbance caused by entering breeding houses to check records, nests, trap rats and mice, tend watering devices. He didn't want to be continually crediting squabs on the floors to the wrong parents.
In short—Taylor has started the move that bids fair to revolutionize squab breeding for profit.
Note: To account for inflation, multiply prices by 8 to 10.