It was supposed to be an empire built on pigeons. But feathered or not, it fell to earth with a thud. Last week, Pigeon King International, a Waterloo, Ont.-based pigeon-breeding enterprise, declared bankruptcy amid allegations of fraud—dashing the hopes of hundreds of Canadian farmers and raising the prospect of millions of homeless pigeons cruising the skies of North America looking for roosts.
Pigeon King, founded by Arlan Galbraith, sold beleaguered livestock farmers the prospect of a profitable future via some rather expensive pigeons. Farmers purchased breeding birds at $500 a pair. Pigeon King then promised to buy back all offspring at $50 per bird. Considering the birds reproduce several times per year, it seemed a sure thing. Since 2001,1,000 breeders signed up across North America and hatched millions of birds.
But long-term financial success required a consumer market for all those birds. As it was, Pigeon King simply bought young birds from established farmers and sold them to new farmers; and on and on. A promised pigeonmeat processing plant never appeared. Iowa’s attorney general investigated Pigeon King on suspicion of running a Ponzi scheme. South Dakota and Washington banned the company. No Canadian jurisdiction took any action against the company, however, and in a June 17 letter to breeders, Galbraith blamed “fear mongers” for the downfall. Callers to the head office are told that Galbraith’s voicemail box is full.
Bill Top, a former salesman for Pigeon King and now one of
Galbraith’s sternest critics, sees vindication in the bankruptcy: “It was going to end, no matter what,” he says. “It was totally dependent on getting that next farmer to buy in. There was no market.”
In addition to the substantial losses suffered by breeders, there remains the question of what to do with all those birds. Ontario is now home to an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Pigeon King offspring with no market. There are fears many breeders will simply set them free rather than pay to euthanize and dispose of them. Hide your statues.
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