An Idaho family business that produces specialty animal feeds is eyeing Taiwan's multimillion-dollar pigeon racing business as a target for a new export line. The AP reports that Zamzow's Dynamite Marketing is looking to transform Idaho-grown safflower and corn, and a top-secret, blood-boosting brew of mushroom powder and yeast cell wall extract it makes in its 102-year-old feed mill, into an annual export business worth up to $15 million. Click below for the full story from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho feed biz homes in on Taiwan's racing pigeons
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press
MERIDIAN, Idaho (AP) — Jos Zamzow was blasting southward on a train on the island of Taiwan last December, looking out the windows at colorful structures atop apartments and houses passing by in a blur. The train was traveling too fast to make out exactly what they were: Bird coops, it turns out.
"When I got off, the first thing I did was ask what kind. Somebody told me pigeon racing in Taiwan was big business," Zamzow recalled.
Zamzow was in Taiwan working to expand existing sales of pet and commercial pork feed made by his family's southwestern Idaho company, Dynamite Marketing. But he quickly realized there was a market for something different: High-performance racing pigeon chow, to create a super bird capable of flying faster than a mile a minute, sometimes for 200 miles.
Now Zamzow is betting that Dynamite can transform Idaho-grown safflower and corn — and a top-secret, blood-boosting brew of mushroom powder and yeast cell wall extract it makes in its 102-year-old feed mill — into an annual export business worth up to $15 million.
In Taiwan, pigeon racing is a national pastime. There are racing clubs all over the island, and the sport is so lucrative — with race-winnings in the tens of thousands or more — that it is a top draw for illegal gamblers and crime rings that kidnap pigeons to demand steep ransoms. Bird-doping has even been alleged.
Already, Dynamite makes feed for competitors at New York's annual Westminster dog show and the Kentucky Derby. The company expects its first test shipments of pigeon chow to head overseas later this summer, enough to feed 1,000 young pigeons, also called squabs, slated to race in the coming season.
"After they start winning races, we expect there will be significant demand. And not just in Taiwan. Pigeon racing is popular all over Asia," said Zamzow, who returned to Taiwan in April with Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to meet with pigeon fanciers.
Earlier this month, a Chinese businessman paid 310,000 euros (or about $400,000) for a single bird at an auction in Belgium, the cradle of European pigeon breeding. In all, 530 birds were sold at the event, yielding a record $5.6 million. Nine of the 10 top-grossing birds went to China or Taiwan.
Racing generally involves taking trained pigeons to a location before allowing them to fly to their respective homes. Older timing systems have given way to more sophisticated radio frequency identification tags and small GPS systems to track birds' performance. In Taiwan, pigeons are often taken via boats to platforms far offshore and then released.
Just how big and how profitable Taiwan's pigeon racing world is isn't known, in part because gambling on the races is illegal. But between breeders, racers, gamblers and others, the industry likely generates several hundred million dollars a year.
"There is no official record for this, because pigeon racing is in a gray area," said Eddie Yen, Taiwan-based director of the Idaho Asia Trade Office and a key contact between Dynamite and the island's pigeon industry.
Once Zamzow's test phase is done, the Taiwanese government must give its stamp of approval for commercial sales. Yen said that could take between three and six months, or longer if more testing is needed.
If Dynamite-fed birds turn out to be fast, they could become targets.
In 1998, a Taiwanese gang armed with nets collected ransom of more than $1.5 million after capturing birds mid-race, then using their numbered ankle rings to find and shake down desperate owners. Last year, Taiwanese police made multiple arrests for a similar bird-napping scheme.
Others have even used performance-enhancing chemicals on their birds. In 2001, Belgian police raided 80 homes of breeders and feed and medicine suppliers, confiscating suspicious products.
Zamzow won't disclose the blend of his pigeon pellets, but maintains the concoction is natural. His dad, Jim Zamzow, the company's founder and chief formulator, borrowed nutritional principles from his existing work with show dogs, champion 4-H livestock and thoroughbred racehorses, rushing to complete the test formula in time for racing in Taiwan this summer and fall.
Associated Press writer Peter Enav contributed to this story from Taipei.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.