The 1st UK Breeding of the Pigeon Blood Discus

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In the U.K. around early 1994 a man named Steve Dudley of the then ‘Euro Discus’ company imported some of the first Pigeon Blood discus to the UK.  He would later go on to breed them but was not the first! A friend and customer of his named Gary Cowburn (a passionate breeder at the time) obtained some of these fish from Steve Dudley. Here is his account of that experience almost 20 years ago.

“After the arrival of the Pigeon Blood reds to the UK, the UK discus scene would change OVERNIGHT! The story for me with the Pigeon Blood’s begins in early 94. I’d not long moved house and was living with my now wife. 18 months previously I sold all of my discus, in the 80’s I had developed some of my own variants from fish which inevitably were derived from schmidt-focke lineage and similar to his Solid Turquoise in the early stages. They showed an interesting trait, males almost always appeared solid in colour and females were mostly striated. I named them my ‘strain 7’s after reading an article by Dr Schmidt-Focke, and they were also sold on to a dealer (who kept the name). At this point in time I was in flux. I was constructing a fish house in the back garden and so I was now breeding Discus in my kitchen! (it was a big kitchen). I was breeding from stock obtained from Steve Dudley of Euro Discus. Steve was for me without doubt the most knowledgeable and talented Discus breeder and keeper I have ever met, the man was a genius with these fish. 

 Gary Cowburns “Strain 7”                   F2 Generation female “Strain 7”.

I was quite happily plodding along breeding the crosses I obtained from Steve which originated from the Gan fish farm in Singapore (he wouldn’t sell me the pure bred strain). Then I got the call from my good friend Albert Miller, Albert was line breeding my Strain 7s and was producing some wonderful fish. He told me Steve had just imported some new fish called Pigeon Blood – I had to see them! 2 days later I was in his fishroom gazing on these amazing fish, I could not believe the colours. I’d never seen anything like them before and frankly, I had to have some. Steve advised me not to get any as apparently they carried a virus. He said they would infect all of my other fish. Like a total idiot I ignored him. He reluctantly sold me 12 half grown bright orange fish and I was elated. You will have to keep them seperate he said , not even net water contact, ok (I said no problem). Now in my kitchen I had 3 x 5 ft aquariums on a system, in them were approximately 300+ small to medium size discus fish. I didn’t really have much room, I had 6 other grow on tanks already filled with young. So, like an idiot and against the advice of Steve I decided to put them on the system .Wow!! what a mistake, within a week all the fish apart from the pigeon bloods were sick, going black, huddling in groups in the corner etc.. This went on for about 2-3 weeks, I then sold the pigeon bloods to a dealer who was prepared to take them on and I lost the best part of 250 plus fish in the process. I made a conscious decision now the virus was in my tanks and I decided to buy some more. However, this time I wanted pairs. I arrived at Steves and he showed me some unpaired adults for sale. “I will pick a pair out for you” he said, I like to say I chose as well,but I didn’t. I only bought the 2 fish (due to the price) they were £150 each,and I was not exactly flush with cash at the time (spent loads on new fishhouse). I was amazed how quickly these fish settled, they were cocky little things, always at or near the front of the glass. They bred about 10 days later but the fry just drifted off and died. All the usual tricks were tried, lowering water level, switching filters off, white base and sides and all to no avail. I quickly realised the only way to have success with these fish was to foster the fry to another pair. 

 The 1st breeding pair in the UK            Subsequent breedings


Gan cross foster parent                          1st UK bred Pigeon Blood fry

Approximately 10 days later they spawned again, I was praying for 1 of my Gan cross pairs to spawn simultaneously. The problem was I only had two pairs to work with and so luck would have to be on my side – and it was! Just as the Pigeon Blood pairs eggs started to develop their little eyes, one of the pairs of Gan crosses spawned. I could not believe my luck, I knew now I had a good chance.  I quickly realised that I would have to be there when they become free swimming a day and a half later in order to make the fostering transition go smoothly. I approached the pigeon blood pair and to my horror all the fry were at the top skimming the surface like gnats, the pair were frantically trying to pull them back down. I knew now I had to make a decision, do I syphon them with an airline? (as I had done in the past), No,I thought it will take too long as they were now on the surface and plus it would have stressed the pair for too long (these fish were the 1st of their kind here and precious!) I decided to use another method, I had used this method to move my pairs around also, (it involves a half gallon ice cream tub) I scoop the pairs out with this and it eliminates stress – the fish get used to it. I tentatively lowered the tub into the water and quickly removed around a hundred+ babies. I then switched the air supply off in the foster tank and gently poured the fry in. The Gan cross took to them straight away and I had 100+ babies feeding off their sides. I repeated the process at least a dozen times and removed an estimated 300 fry in total. This worked perfectly in so many ways, with the foster pair guarding their eggs both were perfectly still for a few days until I moved the cone to another pair. After 4 weeks on the sides I moved them to another tank ,they had been feeding on newly hatched brine shrimp for the previous 2 ½ weeks whilst with the parents.
 UK Bred Pigeon Blood                          The unstable Pigeon Blood strain

created varying offspring


The 1st Pigeon Bloods imported to UK  Gary’s F1 Gan x Pigeon Blood crossing

The 300+ fish were moved to an 18 gallon aquarium, then the fun started again,I had real trouble trying to get them to take liquidised beefheart they just did not want to know. I continued feeding brine shrimp (evidently this was not a money making venture!) Their growth was steady but quite slow, by 8 weeks they were around an inch in size but had good shape. 3 weeks on at 1½ – 2 inches they were ready for sale. I phoned Steve. Steve bought around a 100 but sadly even under his superb care they all died. After diving in with the net for Steves fish I noticed some of the youngsters were not  right, they were clamping up a bit and about a 2 weeks later I too had lost at least two thirds of the batch. Amazingly 12 weeks on I had around 60 left, these seemed to get stronger and I managed to ween them onto beef heart. I grew about 20 on to full size. 


C.E. Fish Essentials was established in 2009 as a small family company manufacturing advanced nutrition for farmed and ornamental fishes. It was founded by long term aquarist and wildlife naturalist Chris Englezou and nowadays is the go-to hub for all knowledge related to aquatic habitats, biodiversity and aquaria.

C.E. Fish Essentials

C.E. Fish Essentials was established in 2009 as a small family company manufacturing advanced nutrition for farmed and ornamental fishes. It was founded by long term aquarist and wildlife naturalist Chris Englezou and nowadays is the go-to hub for all knowledge related to aquatic habitats, biodiversity and aquaria.

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