One of the great difficulties which faces the beginner is the provision of a suitable loft in whichh to keep his pigeons. On the continent, most fanciers keep their birds in a convenient attic above the bedrooms. Whilst this undoubtedly makes a wonderful home for the pigeons, and is certainly handy for the fancier, it is not, I imagine, always equally appreciated by the rest of the family. The idea never became popular in Britain, and in any case, it would not nowadays be allowed by the local authorities.
Author: Guy Barrett
|Title: The Loft and its Fittings |
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If the potential fancier is fortunate enough to own a piece of land where he can erect a wooden loft, this should not present such difficulty, although he may have to obtain clearence for his plans from the local authority. But many people live in houses renter from the local council, and their permission must certainly be obtained before a loft can be built. Some local authorities, unfortunately, do not allow pigeon lofts to be built in the gardens ajoining their houses, but many do now agree to fanciers keeping pigeons providing that the lofts conform to a laid-down standard and are kept in a good state of repair. Councils are begining to realise, I believe, that on account of the shorter hours which will be worked in the future, people must have one or more hobbies to occupy their leasure time, and consequently more and more are following the lead of those who do allow the keeping of pigeons, and are becoming more fexible in their outlook.
Some people are lucky enough to have a suitable building near at hand which can be turned intoa loft, but failing this, they should either buy one of the excellent lofts advertised in the Fancy magazines or procure a suitable wooden building or shed. The local authorities usually allow their tennents to erect a loft about 12 to 14ft long 7ft deep and 7ft high. This is probably about the best size for the beginner. It is essential that the loft should have a roof which is absolutely waterproof. The inside must be completely free from damp, because it is impossible to condition pigeons in a damp loft. The fancier must see to it that the roof is covered with a layer of water proof felt, and if this layer is nailed down to the boards, and a further layer is stuck to it with bitumen-based cement, so much the better!
The loft should be erected on brick piers so that is stands a foot or so off the ground: this will prevent the bottom parts of the timber from rotting and will help to keep out the vermin. In the northern hemisphere it should be fixed so that it faces as near due south as is practicable. Pigeons enjoy sunshine, and enjoy nothing better to sit and bask in it. Next, it must be fitted with a wooden floor of close-boarded tongued and grooved boards - this will make for easy cleaning.
Having procured or erected a suitable building, it should be divided into two compartments, each about 6 or 7ft wide. One of these will be used for Old Birds, and the other for Young Birds. The partition can be made either solid or of laths, but it must have a door to enable the fancier to move from one part to the other. The two halves will also serve as seperate lofts for the cocks and hens in the winter, when the sexes are seperated. It is usual to fill in the front of the loft above the dado height with dowls, say ½ in. in diameter and 2 in. apart (however it is now popular to have a completely closed-in loft - Team). These should be covered, on the outside, with wire netting, or 'Weldmesh', to prevent the entry of sparrows. I prefer this combination to having wire-netting by itself as the birds, tend to cling to the netting with thier feet, and this bends the tail feathers and wing flights. Sparrows should be kept out as there is no doubt that they carry disease, and they certainly foul the drinking water. It is amazing how quickly these birds will find their way into a pigeon loft in their never-ending search for food!
It will be necessary to provide a "trap" to each compartment (a door will suffice - Team), which is the name we give to the opening by which the pigeons can enter and leave the loft. This can be shown in my sketch:
It is simple to make, and is the type of trap which I use in my own loft. It will be seen that one part (B-B in the illustration) allows the birds to go out and in, which the other part (A-A in the illustration) allows the birds to enter only. This enables the fancier to leave the loft open to birds returning from a training "toss", or from a race, whilst birds already in the loft are prevented from going out. A landing-board must be fixed, on which the birds can pitch before entering the loft. This should be the full length of the loft and about 2ft wide. An alternative trap is a sputnik. This style of trap also allows a fancier to control the departure and arrival of birds and is available from most accessory suppliers or can be made using wood and perspex.
Particular attention must be paid to the ventilation of the loft. This should be good, but draught-free. No amount of cold will harm pigeons, but they do not like draughts.
Ideally, fresh air should enter the loft at the bottom front, and the stale air should leave at the top back. Many lofts have louvres in the front, beneath the dowels, by which the fresh air enters. These should be designed so that the pigeons inside the loft cannot see marauding cats or dogs which happen to pass in front and which might frighten them. The louvres should be covered with half-inch mesh wire-netting to prevent the entry of vermin. Holes drilled at the back of the loft, below the roof, and again covered with wire-netting, will allow the stale air to leave.
Next, it will be neccessary to provide perches. "Box Perches" are probably the easiest to make, and I believe that they are the best. They should be about 10 or 11 in. square, and 4 or 5 in. deep - although for the Young Bird compartment, I prefer them to be 8 or 9 in. deep. This makes for easy catching of the Young Birds when basketing for a training toss or race. These box-perches can be made in groups of four, six or more, and should be fixed to the walls of the loft with metal brackets, so that they can be removed when required.
In the Old Bird compartment, nest-boxes will be required. These should be at least 2ft wide, 16in. high, and about 16in. deep. If the Old Bird compartment is 6ft. wide, it will be possible to accommodate nine such boxes in three tiers of three. these boxes can be removed in the winter and replaced by the box-perches. There are many different kinds of nest-box front. The main thing is that they should be either removable, or hinged, so that the insides of the boxes can be cleaned. And they must, of course, have a door by which the birds can enter, and which be used to shut them in, when this is required.
Having completed the loft and its fixtures, we must now turn our attention to the various loose fittings which are needed. Firstly a water fountain will be required for each compartment; also troughs for food. The troughs can be made simply, as shown in the sketch, from two pieces of 3in. by 3/8 in. timber.
Various small pots for grit etc., are easily obtained. Two nest bowls will be required for each nest-box, and a supply of pot eggs - two per pair of birds. A galvanised iron pigeon bath, watering can, and various cleaning utensils (scraper, brush, shovel etc.) complete the loose fittings. All these items can be found at a good pet store, or at some ironmongers.
Lastly, and this is most important, fix a strong padlock on the loft door. Even the best lock may not stop a determined thief, but he who does not even attempt to deter the burglar is hardly in a position to complain if his pigeons are stolen!
Each year a number of fanciers lose their birds in this way and, although the birds often return to their owners, they are in many cases minus their metal rings, which of course, renders them useless for further racing.
The loft which I have described is of the simplest type, and therefore is the easiest to construct, put pigeons will race just as well to a small, well-constructed loft as they will to a palace! There are, it is true, many different kinds of loft housing winning birds, and there are many sorts of trapping arrangments. Many fanciers swear by the "open door" method which, as it allows the birds to fly directly into the loft without alighting outside, may enable the fancier to time in more quickly, but it has its disadvantages. Unless the openings are sufficiently high off the ground, marauding cats can very easily enter and create havoc among the birds and it can take months, or even years, for the pigeons to get over such an experience. It is therefore important to ensure that the loft is proof against cats, as far as possible. If there are cats about, a wire-netting fence erected some distance from and around that loft can prevent them from coming too near.
The pigeons must be able to regard their loft as a safe, comfortable refuge where they can spend their waking and sleeping hours secure from all dangers. As a pigeon grows older, it develops more and more a tremendous love for its home, and the fancier should do all he can to foster and encourage this in his ambition to become a successful pigeon racer.
Most fanciers mate their birds between the end of February and the middle of March. The problem of which bird to pair to which, in hope of breeding a champion, is one which deserves much thought. Good fanciers spend many hours considering this point during the winter evenings, and it is true to say that the fanciers who race successfully year after year are those who have the knack of paring the right cock with the right hen.
|Author: Guy Barrett||Title: Breeding |
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Having decided to pair up, the box-perches on the back of the loft should be removed, and the nest-boxes fitted. The floors of the boxes may then be covered with a layer of sand to make them easy to clean. Allow yourself plenty of time when pairing up, and be prepared to proceed slowly. Choose a sunny day if possible, for the birds will pair more readily on such a day. Begin by putting all the cocks into the boxes, as previously planned, and shut them in. A cock should be given the same nest-box each year throughout his life. He will always try to claim the one he had the previous year, so if he is allowed to retain it, much unwanted and possibly bloody fighting is prevented. If he is to be paired to a different mate from the one he had before, it is the hen which should be moved to a new box. Hens are much more amenable as regards which nest-box they occupy and are therefore easier to settle to a new one.
When all the cocks are in the boxes, put the hens into the boxes one by one. Spend a few minutes watching each pair to make sure that they take to each other. Some cocks are extremely vicious, and care must be taken to see that such a cock does not scalp a young hen which is unwilling to pair, probably because it is not used to being confined in a nest-box. Old Birds pair more quickly and more easily than yearlings.
If after five minutes or so it is apparent that a cock and hen which you have put together are not going to pair, try putting them by themselves in the Young Bird loft for an hour where they will not be disturbed by the other birds. If this is successful return to their nest-box; if not, let them out of the loft for a fly and they will usually pair up on the loft-top after landing. This is no doubt due to the fact that they feel more at ease out in the fresh air than in a strange box. When the pairs have settled down nicely (after an hour or so), the nest bowls in which the hens will lay their eggs can be put into the boxes - one to each box. Put a small amount of sand into each bowl first and place them at opposite ends of adjacent nest-boxes so that, later on, if a bird goes into the box next to its own by mistake it can tell the difference.
The birds must be taught to recognise their own nest-boxes. Let one pair out at a time, for about half an hour. If it is possible let them find their way back to their own box before shutting them in, and letting out another pair. Much patience is required for this especially with yearlings, and if they do not go back to the nest-box on their own, they must be caught and put back. After a day or so, it should be possible to let out two pairs at the same time - say the right pair in the top left-hand box, and the bottom left-hand etc.. By gradually increasing the number of pairs out at a time, all the birds should be trained to their boxes within five or six days.
As soon as this stage is reached, let the birds out for a fly. Allow them to come and go as they please for an hour or two, but you must watch them to make sure there is no fighting caused by birds getting into the wrong boxes. Be careful not to leave too many free in the loft at night until they are completely settled in their nest-boxes. It is important to achieve this before the hens lay, so as to avoid broken eggs through fighting.
After they have been paired a day or so, the cocks will start to "drive" their hens to nest. This means that the cock follows his mate everywhere, and is only happy when she is in the nest-box. Driving continues until she lays, eight, nine or ten days after pairing. Besides making sure that she does not become the victim of the attention of the other cocks, it also, due to the exercise involved, has the effect of removing any excess fat which might otherwise prevent the hen laying easily. During this time the cock even tries to prevent his mate from eating but, in fact, she receives quite sufficient for her needs from him, by regurgitation. So there is no cause for the new fancier to worry.
Pigeons lay two white eggs, as do all members of the dove family, the first one about six o'clock in the evening, the second 46 hours later. A great advantage of allowing the birds outside for a few days before they are due to lay is that it gives the cocks the opportunity to mate their hens without being interrupted by the other cocks, as they often are in confined space of the loft. Also some cocks spend many hours collecting twigs and sticks for the nest, and the hens place these in position, which helps them to learn their boxes, and makes "a house into a home".
The pigeons begin "sitting" in earnest as soon as both eggs have been laid. The hen sits from about five or six o'clock in the evening until ten o'clock the next morning. The cocks sits the remainder of the time, that is, from ten o'clock in the morning until five or six in the evening. The bird which is sitting will not leave the eggs until it is relieved by its mate.
The period of incubation is seventeen or eighteen days, that is nineteen or twenty days after the date of the first egg. During this period it is important that the birds should be allowed to sit without being disturbed, especially if the weather is cold. Your goal must be "to breed a champion", and if you are to do this, everything must be as favourable as possible. Obviously, if eggs are allowed to go cold for a time, the youngsters they produce cannot be as good as they would have been had this not occured. When the eggs are about nine days old, those which are fertile can easily be distinguished from those which are not; they become opaque, whereas the infertile eggs remain clear.
Usually both youngsters hatch within an hour or two of each other. The first sign that eggs have hatched is the presence on the floor of the empty shells which the mother has brought out of the box. The youngsters are completely helpless at this age. Their eyes are not yet open and, if left for a few minutes while the parent feeds, would quickly die of cold. Both parents feed the nestlings during their respective duties on the nest, on what we call "pigeon milk". This is a creamy yellow substance formed in the crop of the parent bird. It is regurgitated and fed to the young bird, which puts its beak into that of its parent, so that the food is transfered directly from one bird to another. This "soft food" lasts about four or five days, and is extremely nutritious. So much so, in fact, that the youngsters grow at a tremendous rate. In the first six days of its life the weight of a youngster increases from three quarters of an ounce to six ounces. The parents only make this soft food when the eggs are due to hatch. As the milk is fed to the youngsters, the supply increases. If the eggs do not hatch, of course none is used, and the small initial supply is absorbed by the adult bird, and no more is created.
When the youngster is 7 days old, it must be "rung". The fancier must obtain a supply of the official Union metal rings from his club, and one must be put on each youngster. (These are in addition to the rubber race-rings which each bird carrys when racing. If the ring is put on when the bird is too young, there is always the danger it will come off and, by the time the fancier finds this out, the youngster will be too big to be re-rung. The ring should be put on the right leg, and upside down (as in the photograph). This is not so that the pigeon can see its number, but so that the owner can read it conveniently when handling the bird! The three toes which point toward the front must be put through the ring first. The ring is then pulled over the pad, the back toe and claw, until it is possible to pull the back toe through the ring.
I have found it very convenient to sex my youngsters when ringing as, from this age until they become adult, it is often impossible to tell with certainty. I cannot guarantee this method 100% sure, but I can say that I have never found it to be wrong. Looking from the underside of the foot, lay the three toes straight alongside each other. If the outside toe is longer than the inside one, the youngster is a cock. If the outside and inside toes are the same length, the bird is a hen. The difference in length in the cocks is about one sixteenth of an inch. This method can also be used with pigeons up to one month old, but after that it cannot be relied upon, as the feet alter in shape when the bird has been walking on them for some time.
When the "squeakers" as they are called, due to their habit of squeaking when in need of food, are about 10 days old, the feathers begin to appear, and the parents prepare to go to nest again. The cock starts to drive the hen, and the youngsters are left on their own for part of the day. At this stage, the fancier must put a second nest bowl in the box, at the opposite end to the one in which the squeakers are living.
The hen usually lays again when they are about 16 or 17 days old and from now onwards practically all the feeding is done by the cock. When they are 24 days old and nicely feathered under the wings, the young birds should be "weaned", that is, taken away from their parents and placed in the Young Bird compartment. Any that are not sound in every way should be suppressed.
For two or three weeks after weaning they should always have a supply of corn before them. I use a water fountain for this purpose. Do not worry if they do not eat for a day or so, but make sure that they drink and if you see a young bird huddled up in a corner, dip its beak in the water and it will soon recover. If possible, put the bath in the Young Bird loft. The squeakers soon become inquisitive and will quickly learn to drink, and will bath in the water, which helps the growth of the wing and tail feathers.
The Young bird loft is opened at the same time as the Old Bird loft from the day that the squeakers are weaned. The Young Birds then see the Old Birds going in and out through the trap before they themselves can fly so that, when they are a few days older and begin to fly up to the perches, they quickly learn their way in and out of the loft.
Some of the old cocks will come into the Young Bird compartment for several days after the squeakers are weaned to feed them, and they do not seem to care whose youngsters they feed. I used to worry about this, and think that it was taking too much out of the Old Birds, but I no longer do so, as I have found that the cocks who do this "extra feeding" are invariably my best birds.
For two or three days after weaning, the young birds huddle together in a corner of the loft. They soon begin to fly up on the perches, however, and as their wing and tail feathers grow, become stronger and more adventurous. After a week or so, their wattles turn white and their plumage tightens up. In short, they are begining to look like "racers".
Pigeons are inquisitive creatures and, once the youngsters find their way outside on to the landing board or loft-top, they will inspect every part of it. For a few days they remain on the board and, every time the Old Birds fly off, scuttle inside. At about 6 weeks, however they are usually begining to fly around once or twice, and by the time they are 7 weeks old, are nicely "on the wing".
Every year, very many fancier lose all, or nearly all, their Young Birds in what is known as "flyaway". When the youngsters are 8 to 10 weeks old and flying well round the loft, suddenly, without warning, they fly off and do not return. This is extremely distressing for the owner for, not only does it mean that he has no Young Birds to race, it also means that he will have no yearlings the following year, and no two-year-olds the year after that. It is I believe, usually the best which disappear, as they are the strongest and fly the farthest before finding that they are lost.
The racing pigeon is descended from the rock dove, which lives in colonies. As the breeding sites from time to time become crowded batches of young birds leave the site to start another "family" elsewhere. These flyaways by our Young Birds, therefore are probably caused by some inherited characteristic handed down through generations. Flyaways must be avoided, and the best way to do this is never to let your Young Birds out unless your Old Birds are out as well. This has two distinct advantages. The Old Birds flying out with the Young Birds do not allow them to stray too far from the loft and the Young Birds, in their turn, keep the Old Birds flying, thus causing them to have far more exercise that they would otherwise have, were the Young Birds not out at the same time. Avoid letting the Young Birds out when there is likely to be race-birds flying over; they may follow these birds and become hopelessly lost. Sunday mornings in June require special care, particularly when the weather the previous day has not been good and the races have been postponed until the Sunday morning. If the new fancier follows the foregoing advice, it is extremely unlikely that he will suffer from one of these very distressing flyaways.
When the youngsters in the nest are about 16 or 17 days old, and the hen lays again, these eggs must be replaced by pot eggs if you do not intend to rear further youngsters. The birds will sit for 3 or 4 days after they are due to hatch, and will then leave the eggs and prepare to go to nest again. The hen therefore, lays about every 35 days if the eggs are allowed to hatch, and about every 31 days if they are not allowed to.
Many fanciers say that breeding should finish when racing commences and that the birds should be raced sitting pot eggs. I have never agreed to this, and shall discuss the point fully later. The reason why I mention it here is that there is nothing to prevent a fancier from rearing a single youngster from the second round of eggs under a pair of birds he intends to race. If he wants two further youngsters from a certain pair, he should transfer one of the eggs to another pair, as we cannot expect two pigeons to rear two youngsters and race at the same time. Each of these two pairs, therefore, will have one pot egg and one real egg. And it is important to select the pair to which the good egg is transfered, from those which laid on the same day or the day after.
There is no doubt that very many good birds have come from the second or third round of eggs. I always breed a second round of youngsters from the six best pairs and usually a third round from one or two pairs. If you have a really good breeding pair, the eggs are too good to throw away and, in any case, there is always a better chance of breeding a winner by taking six youngsters from a good pair, than by breeding two youngsters each from three ordinary pairs.
Many fanciers separate the sexes immediately after racing has finished and this means that for nearly six months, the cocks and hens must be exercised separately. This is not nearly so convenient for the owner, nor do I think it is as good for the birds and this is not my method.
As soon as racing has finished (usually about the third week in September) the nest-boxes should be enclosed and removed as the birds desert their pot eggs. The box-perches should be put back. A few birds will continue to build on the floor for a few days, but they must be discouraged. When the eggs are taken away, they soon lose interest.
The hens and cocks can then be left together, Young Birds in one compartment and Old in the other, throughout the autumn, until after Christmas. They can be let out together and are generally much happier than if separated. As soon as the days begin to get longer (even two or three days after mid-winter day[21st December in the UK) the birds seem to know. The cocks and hens begin to take an interest in each other again, and the sexes must then be separated. The cocks can be accommodated in the Old Bird compartment, and the hens in the Young Bird compartment. By this method the period of separation is cut down to two months. During this time, the birds should only be let out for short periods, and as soon as they land after exercise, should be fed in and not given an open loft. The hens tend to become very nervous, and can be very difficult to get in if left out too late in the afternoon.
If you intend to make any alterations to the loft, the time to do it is the winter. The birds can be kept inside for a few days without harming them, and if these alterations can be made before the sexes are separated, so much the better. They will be less likely to be frightened than when separated. While alterations are being made in one compartment, all the birds can be put in the other compartment.
We have now turned a full circle and have arrived back at the point where we began this chapter, namely, the time of the year when we consider the following season's matings. Inevitably some of the Old Birds of the previous year will have been lost racing, and some of them we shall have decided to part with to reduce numbers to nest-box accommodation. But we have a number of promising yearlings (last season's Young Birds) to take their place. So that as each year's breeding season approches, we must turn our minds once more to the most fascinating and rewarding study of "which bird should I pair to which, in order to breed a champion?".
Pair up: End of February to mid March.
First Egg: 8,9 or 10 days after pairing, between 6 and 7pm.
Second Egg: 46 hours after the first egg, that is between 4 and 5pm on
the next day but one.
Incubation period: 19 or 20 days after the first egg.
Ring Youngsters: 7days.
Wean Youngsters: 24days.
Hens lay again: When the youngsters are about 16 days old.
There are well over a hundred thousand racing-pigeon fanciers in Britain. Some are extremely successful and win many races each seson. Others are less so, and manage only occasionally to win a race, whilst a great number fly their birds for manny years without achieving any success at all. These fanciers nevertheless derive great pleasure from their love of their pigeons, and their friendship with their fellow fanciers.
|Author: Guy Barrett||Title: Feeding & Management |
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Even the most skilful fancier cannot expect to win unless he has good pigeons and, conversely first-class birds in poor hands will be equally unsuccessful. Luck also plays its part, of course, for the best pigeon can fall prey to the shotgun in the hands of a man who does not know a "racer" from a wood pigeon just as easily as can the useless one. Success depends about 45% on the pigeon, 45% on the man, and 10% on luck. We should all have our share of luck, so we must obtain good birds and manage them correctly.
Amongst the most successful fanciers, it is probably true to say that no two of them manage and feed their birds in exactly the same way. There will be many old fanciers who will not approve of everything I write, but I feel that all will agree it is important to have a system of management, and to stick rigidly to it. Nothing upsets pigeons more than living under continually changing methods of feeding and exercise. Indeed, regularity is of prime importance, so try to feed your birds at the same time every day - let them out at the same time, and clean the loft at the same time. The birds then know what to expect and what to look forward to at all times and, consequently, they will be contented and happy.
Always move about the loft slowly. Avoid sudden movements and when handling the birds, do so as gently as possible. Refrain from catching them except when necessary. It is better to catch six pigeons on one visit to the loft than to catch one bird on each of six visits.
The best way to catch a pigeon is to focus its attention on the left hand by moving it slowly from side to side at shoulder length, and then to catch the bird by placing your right hand quickly over its back. The left hand can then assist in carefully taking the bird from its perch. It should be held in one hand with the fingers under the body, with the bird's legs gripped between the first and second finger. In this way you will gain the confidence of your birds, and each time you enter the loft they will not be wondering whether they are going to be caught.
What and how much to feed are problems which most beginners take some time to solve satisfactorily. Many writers nowadays recommend hopper feeding of either beans or peas. This method undoubtedly suits those fanciers who have to be away from their lofts for extended periods, but I am sure it has many disadvantages.
Firstly, only one type of grain can be fed. If the hopper were filled with a mixture, the pigeons would only eat the kind of corn they preferred. In the same way, if given the choice, some children would eat nothing but sweets, but this would not be beneficial to their future developments and well-being. Secondly, having corn always in front of them, the birds never become hungry - they never show a healthy appetite, and therefore are consistently bad "trappers". Because they are never hungry, the owner has no control over them. We humans do not like to live on one sort of food alone, and neither do birds! in their natural habitat all wild birds live on a variety of foods. But their food is not always before them. If it were, I feel they would lose much of their zest and become lazy. For these reasons then, my birds are fed twice a day on a mixture of grains.
It is essential that the corn should be absolutely free from dust, and of the best quality the fancier can afford. It should be hard, well harvested, mature grain, and it should be fed to the birds in a trough - not just thrown on to the loft floor.
Humans like their food nicely served and completely clean, and it is just as important that, if we are to get the best out of them, our birds should receive their food in a clean receptacle where it cannot become fouled by excreta.
English tic beans, maple beans, Indian corn (maize - Cinquantina if possible), tares and a small amount of clean, hard wheat in the following proportions, form the diet of my birds the whole year round:
4 parts - peas
1 part - beans
1 part - tares
2 parts - maize
1 part - wheat
Pigeons require about 1oz (35grams) each of corn daily, but this varies according to the time of year. During the spring and summer when they are leading very active lives, and during the autumn when they are moulting, pigeons eat far more than they do during the months of January and February. In these months the moult is finished, the days are short, and the birds spend fourteen or fifteeen hours out of every twenty-four roosting on their perches.
The novice will wonder when he has given his birds enough to eat. This is learned only by experience. Generally speaking, however, he should give no more corn when the birds start to drink or when they start picking out certain types of corn and rejecting the rest. In any case, no corn should be left in the troughs. The troughs must be removed, and the birds will then search around and eat any grains which have found their way onto the floor before they become soiled.
Pigeons should always have a supply of fresh water before them. This is best changed twice a day before feeding, and should be in one of the purpose-made pigeon water-fountains, so that it cannot become fouled by excreta. Pigeons always drink after eating, and will nearly always fly down for another drink about an hour later. This is because the corn swells as it absorbs water in the crop before passing into the gizzard. This way a pigeon which still appears hungry immediately after being fed, will not come down for further corn an hour or so later. It is therefore preferable to feed a good hour before dusk in the winter to give the birds an opportunity to have this second drink. They should, in any case, be fed at the same time each day for, as stated above, regularity is one of the keystones to success.
When the swollen and softened corn passes into the gizzard, it is ground up by the pieces of grit which pigeons (and all seed-eating birds) eat, and which perform a similar job to the teeth in mammals. Hence pigeons must have a supply of grit constantly before them. This can be put in a small pot on the floor of the loft. Feed only a small quantity at a time, just sufficient to cover the bottom. The container may then be cleaned regularly without unnecessary waste. Also some kinds of grit tend to attract water if left in the moist atmosphere for any length of time. My birds have two well-known makes of grit, also black mineral salts. Packets of these salts, which the birds love, can be obtained from any corn merchant. These salts contain all the essential minerals required to keep pigeons in perfect health in body and feather.
Several years ago, I sold a pair of pigeons to a man who lived about ten miles away. He settled the birds successfully in his loft, but every day they used to come to my loft (the cock in the morning, then hen in the afternoon) just to get their daily requirement of these salts. This continued for a number of weeks until I happened to meet him and told him what was happening. He got some minerals and I never saw those birds again!
There are certain other kinds of corn which the birds require occasionally. Linseed is a valuable source of vitamins, and my birds get a small amount of this after their evening feed, once or twice a week. On race days in the summer, I use a mixture of seeds as a trapping mixture and tit-bit. This is made up of hemp, linseed, groats, rice and safflower seed, in approximately equal proportions. Pigeons love this, especially the hemp! A small amount is given when each bird returns. All the birds get some, of course, and the returning racers soon learn to expect this tit-bit, and 'dive' through the trap as soon as they land. No other food is necessary and I never use any patent tonics.
The next question is that of exercise I am a firm believer in allowing the birds an open loft if possible. My birds are let out at eight o'clock every morning - winter and summer - unless the weather is foggy or there is snow on the loft roof, and they are permitted to come and go as they please till dark. This system has much to reccommend it. When first let out of the loft the birds, enjoying the exercise, will fly for perhaps half an hour before they land. During the day they are continually 'striking off', that is, taking to the air and flying for a few minutes each time before returning - thus they get far more exercise than if they were left in the loft all day. My pigeons are able to spend many hours in the sunshine and I am sure this is beneficial, particularly to growing youngsters. They love to lie on the loft roof, in the sun, with their wings stretched out to catch every ounce of sunshine. The fact that the birds spend many hours outside means that they learn as much as possible about the surrounding landscape. They live a more natural life, they develop a greater love for home, and I am sure that they 'sit' their eggs more keenly (both the cock and the hen bird take turns at incubating the eggs).
Pigeons kept as prisoners can never get away from the vicinity of the nest-box. Whilst not sitting, they probably stand on a perch only a foot or so from their mate on the eggs. The more that the birds can get away when they are not sitting, the more varied their life, and the more keenly they incubate their eggs. But it is important that pigeons should not be allowed to stay out all day if they are likely to be a nuisance to the owner's neighbours. They should not be allowed to sit about on the roofs of other people's houses! Indeed, one of the conditions imposed by the local authorities is that they must do this, and if one of your birds alights on a neighbour's house, it must be frightened off immediately, so that it does not develop the habit and so encourage others to do the same. Many fanciers therefore, are not able to leave their loft open all day. Consequently, these birds should be let out in the morning hungry and as soon as they land, must be fed in. They can be exercied again in the evening before their evening feed.
I am entirely against forcing pigeons to fly round home in any circumstances. If you are continually making your birds fly, they will think you are trying to drive them away from home. This must tend to make them into bad trappers and when they refuse to enter the loft after returning from a race (they are often more nervous than usual when arriving home), it will be your fault, even though you may put the blame on the pigeons. If you think your birds need more exercise, it is far better to send them on a short training toss than force them to fly at home.
Once a week your birds should be given the opportunity to have a bath. Put the galvanised iron bath outside on the ground or on an old wooden table reserve for this purpose and fill it with cold water to a depth of about four inches (100mm). The birds will really enjoy this, especially if the sun is shining. Even on a frosty winter morning, they will crowd into the bath despite the cold, and then lie in the wintry sun until they are dry. In the summer, I give my birds a bath on a Sunday (that is, the day after the race). The natural oils then have a week to return to the feathers before the next race. These natural oils help to deflect the water from the feathers during a long journey home through the rain, thus preventing the pigeon becoming drenched so that it cannot fly.
The next question we must concider is that of keeping the loft clean. The loft floor and perches are much easier to scrape clean if they are covered with a layer of sand. Washed river sand - the kind used by builders - is the best. This dries up the droppings and therefore renders them harmless to the health of the birds. And it makes cleaning-out a simple and easy operation. The sand in my loft is renewed once a week. On the other six days it is put into a ¼ in. mesh sieve (18 in. diameter) with a shovel, and riddled to remove the droppings. I have often seen a fancier stuggling with a scraper because he does not use a floor dressing. Mistakenly, he believes he is using the most hygienic method, but infact, he is not. The loft floor is always damp and this encourages bacteria. The sand dries up the moisture in the bird's droppings and keeps the loft dry. It should be spread like an even 'carpet' all over the floor area, and on the perches. A loft kept in this way is always a pleasure to visit, and a credit to its owner.
Once a year, before mating the birds, it is a good idea to paint the walls of the loft and inside of the nest-boxes with a solution of Duramitex (a patent insect repellent). This treatment will keep the loft free from lice. Pigeons are hardy creatures and fanciers who look after their birds properly very seldom have case of the more serious diseases in their lofts. The most common complaint from which pigeons suffer is 'One-Eyed Cold'. This disease is extremely infectious and is passed from loft to loft in the race basket, when pigeons from different lofts are of necessity in close proximity to each other. It is always most prevalent during August when the fancier would be particularly alert for symptoms and seems mainly to affect Young Birds. The Young birds, during this month, are racing and moulting profusely at the same time. These two things taxing their energies simultaneously, seem to make them very susceptible to infection if there is an epidemic in the neighbourhood. some years this disease is very widespread and most fanciers have one or two birds affected. In other years, there is hardly a bird with the complaint.
One-Eyed Cold, as its name implies, affects only one eye. An affected bird, in the initial stages, continually closes one eye by raising the bottom lid. The eye waters and several small bubbles appear in the lower front corner. It also loses some of its colour and is paler than the other one. A bird suffering from this disease must be immediately isolated from the rest of the colony.
There is, to my knowledge, only one quick and certain cure for One-Eyed Cold, namely a 12.5% solution of Tiamutin added to the drinking water at the rate of 3ml per litre of water. This can only be obtained on a vet's prescription, but will cure all but the most severe cases in twenty-four hours and even very severe cases of the disease are cured in forty-eight hours. At the same time as treating the affected bird in this way, all the apparently healthy birds should be put on a ten-day course of Terramycin which is administered by putting it into the drinking water, one teaspoonful to a gallon of water. This treatment will quickly ensure that the infection does not spread. The prblem with this disease is that - like some children's ailments - the complaint is passed on to another pigeon before the affected bird itself develops the symptoms. We cannot be sure that a pigeon 'cured' of a severe attack of One-Eyed Cold will be unaffected in the future. The eye is a very important part of its anatomy and it is possible that it may be permanently damaged. In my own experience I can think of only one pigeon which was cured from this disease as a Young Bird and subsequently proved that it had been worth keeping.
In the autumn of one year, four of my Old Birds contracted a from of nasal catarrh which was very prevalent that year. The birds recovered, however, after a course of Terramycin as described above, and seem to be completely cured, two of them having scored well from France the following season. There was an epidemic of coughing among racehorses that same autumn, and it would be interesting to know whether this was caused by the same virus or bacteria.
There is no doubt that the best way of preventing your birds from getting these diseases is to ensure that the loft is well ventilated. Avoid keeping too many pigeons in the amount of space available. This type of infection always starts in August, when the loft is housing the greatest number of birds, that is at the time when there is least 'airspace' per bird.
Pigeons suffering from other ailments, such as canker, coccidiosis, going light, etc., and all birds which show any sign of weakness, should be suppressed. This is the fancier's best method of preventing the spread of disease throughout the loft, and it also ensures that these birds do not produce offspring, and so pass on their tendency to these diseases to future generations.
Since around 1980, pigeons have been at risk from paramyxovirus which causes, amongst other things, partial paralysis. Outbreaks of the disease must be notified to MAFF (now DEFRA). To protect the birds a programme of vaccination is in force and all pigeons which are raced or trained must be vaccinated each year with an approved vaccine.
Each year most fanciers have one or two birds which arrive home injured. It is amazing, sometimes, how they manage to get home at all! They must have hit electricity cables, telephone wires, or television aerials, or they may have been shot by some trigger-happy youth. Pigeons undoubtedly have wonderful healing powers. It is surprising how quickly a nasty wound will heal, but when is appears that a wound may require stitching, the fancier should not hesitate to take the pigeon to a vetinary surgeon. A broken leg is a fairly common mishap, and it is comparatively easy to set, providing it is the lower part of the leg and not the leg with the ring on.
About ten years ago, just before the first Young Bird, one of my young hens returned from a training toss with her left leg broken. I splinted the leg with a matchstick and wrapped it with Sellotape. I put the bird in a spare nest-box, with a supply of food, water, grit, etc., and in three weeks she was walking again, and was let out into the loft. The next week she had two training tosses, and was entered for the race (about 120miles). She was my third bird home. The next week she flew a 160mile race and was my second bird home, and the following week she flew from Folkstone (a distance of 225miles), and won first prize with 847 birds competing - still with the Sellotape on her leg. Afterwards she was always known as Sellotape and, in the years that followed, she won many prizes and flew 500miles on the day from France against a head wind in fourteen and a half hours. She was finally retired from racing at the age of seven.
Decide on a system of management and stick rigidly to it.
Feed mixed, clean, good-quality corn at regular times.
Allow your birds as much time out in the sunshine as possible.
Move about the loft slowly and quietly.
Each time you go into the loft, make a habit of noticing each bird - in
short, be observant!
When the squeakers are taken away from their parents at 24 days, although their bodies are completely covered with small body-feathers, the wing flights and tail feathers are only half-grown, and it takes a hirther two or three weeks for these to attian their full length. As soon as this is achieved, however, and the Young Birds are 6 or 7 weeks old, the standing corn should be removed, and the fancier must begin to give them two meals a day, just as he does the Old Birds. But care should he taken to see that they get as much corn as they require at the evening meal, although the morning feed should he light. As the youngsters are still growing, it is very important that this system should be maintained throughout the summer and during the Young Bird races.
|Author: Guy Barrett||Title: Training & Racing Young Birds |
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As soon as they have been switched to two meals a day, you can begin to teach the youngsters their first lesson - to trap quickly - that is, to come into the loft when required. Those which do not come in the first evening when called will be the first in the following morning. So they quickly learn that their owner’s whistle or call means food, and soon to trap immediately becomes second nature to them. It is a good habit which will remain with them for the rest of their lives and will stand their owner in good stead on the race days that follow.
Young Bird races usually commence about the third Saturday in July. I have never believed in starting training too early; it is better to let the Young Birds develop at home for as long as possible. If training is begun too soon, by the time actual racing starts the birds are thoroughly fed up with it and become stale.
What do we mean by “training"? In the case of Young Birds we mean, firstly, getting them used to the basket; secondly, teaching them to come out of it; thirdly, teaching them that they have to go home; and lastly, teaching them the straight and therefore the shortest way home.
Young Birds generally fly freely when let outside, so they do not need additional exercise and I have deliberately left exercise out of the training programme. But with Old Birds it is quite different. They do much less flying around home and one of the main reasons for training them is to bring them into peak condition.
Therefore, let us consider one by one these four aspects of training Young Birds. I prefer to start about two weeks before the first Young Bird race, and to train all youngsters that are over 10 weeks old. The best way to accustom Young Birds to the basket is to put an old one on the loft floor with the front flap open, and a water trough, complete with water, hooked on to the back. The birds soon begin to investigate this new addition to their home, and will quickly be walking in and out, and on to the top. Before long they become thoroughly used to it and sample the water. Some of the cocks even try to claim it as their own property. Thus the first object of training is accomplished and birds introduced to the basket in this way are never frightened of it.
The next day, put into the basket all thie birds which are to be trained, before letting them out in the morning. Leave them while you have your breakfast and then put the basket down on the ground in the garden, and release them. At first they will not come out, but soon one will lead the way, and the others will follow. Repeat this lesson the next morning!
Now we have come to the third aspect of training, namely, teaching the youngsters that they have to go home. These first “tosses" away from home are best given on the Saturday and Sunday a fortnight before the first race. By choosing the week-end, the fancier can take his birds twice each day.
Once we start training Young Birds, it is important to keep them going, but they must only be taken if the weather is suitable. This point cannot be stressed too much. Thousands of Young Birds are lost each year because their owners have begun to train them in unsuitable weather.
Never train Young Birds in an east wind, or when there are heavy clouds about, or when the weather is thundery. Always choose fine, warm days, and never liberate unless you can see the sun. This point about the sun is an extremely important one and applies to Old Birds as well as to Young. Always remember, if you cannot see the sun (or where it is in the sky), do not take your birds training. If you should have taken them to the release point, and on arrival the sky has clouded over, either wait until the clouds disperse, or take your birds home.
The Youngsters should be given two tosses one mile from home in the direction of time first race point in the clubs race programme. These can be given morning and evening on the Saturday, unless you live in a district where there are likely to be a lot of race-birds passing over, in which case, it may be better to avoid Saturday altogether. The next day, weather permitting, take them for one toss of three miles, and one of five miles. Each point must be in the direction of the race points.
Some fanciers believe in giving the first short tosses from all points of the compass and train their Young Birds ten miles north, south, east and west. But I consider that this is entirely wrong. Many - indeed most - of the shorter races are won in the last few miles from home and, therefore, it is essential that we teach our birds the straightest and shortest route home, and do not encourage them to come home by some devious way which they have learned when being tossed in a direction opposite to that of the race route. In fact, the more often your birds fly over the last twenty or thirty miles of the route from the race points to your loft the better they will get to know it.
This must be the keystone of your training programme. They must know this terrain so well that whem they reach their usual training point in a race, they can say to themselves, “Right - I know exactly where I am”, and can head for home on the direct amid straightest route, ignoring all the other birds in the race.
These first four short tosses should be folowed during the week by further training from points of eight, ten, twelve, twenty and thirty miles from home, each place being in the direction of the first race point as before. Thus, if you are fortunate with the weather, and can send each day, your birds will have been trained thirty miles by the Friday. If you are not so lucky, it will take a day or two longer.
These nine tosses can be followed the next week by a further two - one from the twenty mile stage, and one from the thirty mile stage. Your Young Birds should now be capable of putting up a good performance in time first race on the Saturday. My Young Birds had eleven tosses like this last year.
It is a good policy not to send more than half your Young Birds at a time to time first Young Bird races as there are more pigeons lost in the first two races than in all the other Young Bird races put together. This is because there are thousands of birds, equally inexperienced, in the air for the first time and often flying on different routes. Pigeons are gregarious by nature and Young Birds are easily deflected from their own routes to fly along with birds from another club in a diferent direction.
When your birds return from the race, use a mixture of hemp, linseed and rice as a tit-bit for trapping. With Young Birds especially it is wiser not to 'time in' too many. If they are caught two or three weeks in succession in order to remove the rubber ring for putting into the clock, they soon become shy and reluctant to trap on arrival home from the race.
Try to organise your other race entries so that each Young Bird gets three or four races during the programme. This is quite sufficient. These Young Bird events provide good sport, but should be regarded mainly as education for the future. Some fanciers send their Young Birds to every race, but this cannot possibly do them any good as they are moulting profusely, growing two long wing primaries, and probably a number of tail feathers, besidies countless bodyfeathers, all at the same time. We should endeavour not to take too much out of them, and they will be better pigeons in the years to come. It is particularly important to avoid sending a bird to a race if it is bare on the head or the back of the neck. Keep it until the next week, when it will be better able to withstand a possible downpour of rain.
Now we come to the question of what training should be given between races. At the beginning of the week, select the youngsters you intend to send to the next race. Give these birds two tosses, one from the twenty-mile stage, and one from the thirty and preferably on the Wednesday and Thursday if the weather is suitable. Leave at home all the other youngsters which are not going to the race. Birds which have been to the race the previous week and are to go again, will only need the second of these tosses. By this means, they see the last twenty vital miles again once or twice, a day or two before they are to fly in the race on the Saturday. Also, their muscles are toned up, ready for the event, whilst those birds which remain at home do not become stale from over-training and are not being risked unecessarily. If the birds are to be basketed for the race on the Thursday, these tosses should be given on the Tuesday and Wednesday.
When the Young Birds have flown three races of distances up to 120 miles, the wise fancier will stop a few of the best from further racing. He thus ensures that he will have a number of promising yearlings for the folowing season. He must stop birds which are from the best pair’s and which are coming in from the races consistently well. They are better left at home and allowed to complete their moult, and will not be improved by further racing at this age. Those which are coming in late, or the next morning, should be kept going and sent to the longer events, for they obviously need further education before they can be proved useful or otherwise.
Too much emphasis should not be placed on Young Bird performances. It is very nice to win Young Bird races because a bird flies well as a youngster, this does not necessarily mean that it will win prizes as a yearling or as an Old Bird. On the other hand, a bird which puts up only a moderate performance as a youngster might easily mature into a champion in later year’s. Young Birds which come home from each race about ten or fifteen minutes behind the winners often make the best Old Birds.
Many fancier’s despise the youngster which has spent a night out, failing to get home from a race on the day and arriving back next morning. But this youngster can often make a very good racing pigeon as it has learned very early in life to “work on its own”, and has certainly gained more experience than the Young Bird which has always come with the majority of other pigeons flying to the same locality. As a Young Bird one of my best pigeons spent one night out at both his first and second races, but he has never made another mistake, and has won from all distances up to five hundred miles.
Young Birds race home for two essential reasons: firstIy, a safe and secure place to roost and, secondly, for nourishment. They do not have the same anxieties to encourage them to hurry as do Old Birds, which may have eggs to incubate or youngsters to feed. Occasionally two youngsters will pair up, and if a nest bowl is put on the floor in the Young Bird loft they will soon take to it, and if supplied with pot eggs will incubate them. But I have never achieved much success with paired youngsters, and when I have sent a young cock or hen, sitting on pot eggs, often this has been my last bird home. The novice will be wise if he races his youngster in the usual way, and ignores advice to race them “mated”.
Youngsters from a third round off a good pair will usually be hatched in June and consequently will he too young to be trained with the first and second round, but in my experience, they are definitely worth all the extra effort. Supposing the fancier has six third-round youngsters off his three best pairs, he should begin training these as soon as they are ten weeks old, which will be about the second week in August. They should be trained by themselves, just as their older brothers and sisters were trained a month or so before.
About the last Saturday in August they can be entered in the race, which at this time of the year will be from a distance of about one hundred and twenty miles. The majority will come home all right and can be sent the following week. The birds which fly these two races successfully are well worth keeping. They are from the best pairs, and have been bred in the best weather, and they will be a great asset to the loft in the years to come.
Many of my best birds were hatched in early June, and were trained and raced in this way as youngsters. In a recent season, two of them were third and fifth out of nearly fifteen hundred birds taking part in a 350-mile race. They were then two year oId birds. The following year, another scored well in four races, the shortest being 200 miles, and time longest, 500.
Youngsters bred later than June are known as “late-breeds” and are too young to be raced as Young Birds. Consequently it is necessary to keep them until the next year before it can he ascertained whether they are going to be worth the trouble. Third-round youngsters, on the other hand, prove themselves useful or otherwise very early in life, and the following year they can be trained and raced in the same way as the rest of the yearlings.
Training Programme Summary
Begin 14 days before the first Young Bird race with all youngsters over 10 weeks old.
Get them used to the basket.
Teach them the way out of the basket.
Teach them to go home.
Teach them the shortest way home.
Train only in the direction of the race points.
Train only those which are being entered for the next race.
One toss of 30 miles for those which raced the previous week. Two tosses of 20 and 30 miles for those which have not raced for two or three weeks.
The most interesting and pleasurable months of the fancier's year are those in which the Old Bird races take place - May, June and July. What a long time it always seems from the end of Young Bird racing one year to the start of the breeding season the next. And - in contrast -how quickly the weeks appear to flick past once the racing season has begun. It seems no time at all from the race on the Saturday till the time we are basketing for the next, on the following Thursday or Friday.
|Author: Guy Barrett||Title: Training & Racing Old Birds |
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The racing of our Old Birds is certainly most fascinating and exciting. We are racing, sometimes over great distances, birds which we have come to know as individuals and companions. The thrill experienced when a favourite arrives home from a long race, possibly on the edge of darkness, never seems to fade, and likewise, the sadness and grief which follows the loss of a champion remains for many a long day. Indeed, for several months afterwards, the first thing a fancier does on coming home from work is to go into the loft to see whether the bird has returned.
I well remember losing a particularly good hen in a race from the Continent. She had won several hard races, and for months, as soon as I arrived home, I would go down to the loft to see if she had come back. She did return, but it was fully two years after she had been lost. She came into the loft and flew straight up to the nest-box in which she had been paired two years previously. I was delighted to get her back for, when she went missing. I had six pigeons in the loft which were off her and when she returned I still had all six, and they were all excellent racers. Therefore I was able to pair her to the same cock the following year. I believe she had been kept a prisoner in a loft on the Continent, and at the first opportunity had made her way home.
Young Birds come home for two essential reasons: fiistly, for a safe place to roost and secondly for food. The fact that Old Birds are paired during the racing season gives them an additional incentive, namely the desire to get home to their mate and eggs (or youngsters as the case may be). Fanciers must make use of this urge to the best of their ability. They must learn at which period in the nesting cycle a pigeon is likely to be most anxious, for it is this anxiety which will spur the bird on to reach its loft at the earliest possible moment . But pigeons are all individuals, and whereas one bird will race well in one nesting condition, another may perform best in different circumstances. This method of racing our birds "paired” is known as the Natural System, and this is the system which is used by most fanciers in the British Isles (when written - now widowhod).
On the Continent the majority of fanciers fly on the Widowhood System. Under this system, after rearing one round of youngsters, the hens are taken away from the cocks, which are kept spare in their nest-boxes. Only time cocks are raced. They are allowed to be with their mates for a short time, when (and only when) they return from a race. This system makes use of the natural desire of the cock to mate his hen, and this is, without doubt, a very effective incentive. Some fanciers also show the hen to the cock behind bars before he goes to the race. The details do not matter here, for the system has a number of disadvantages for the small loft, and the novice should fly his birds on the Natural System.
A decision which often worries the new fancier at the beginning of the season is at what time he should pair up his birds. Some old fanciers will tell him to mate up early -some will advise him to wait until the middle of March. The answer is simple: he should pair up eight and a half to nine weeks before the date of the first race. Assuming that the hens will take 9 days to lay after pairing, and allowing 20 days from the first egg until the eggs hatch, and 24 more days until the youngsters are ready to wean, the total is 53 days or 7 ½ weeks. Therefore, if the above assumptions are correct, the youngsters can be weaned a week before the first race. Obviously all the hens will not lay on the ninth day alter pairing, but this is the usual date for the majority.
Many fanciers make the mistake of beginning to train their Old Birds whilst the first round of youngsters is still in the nest. The weather in early April is often very cold in Britain and the wind is frequently in the north-east. To train the birds under these conditions will do them no good. It will tend to make them dislike the basket before the racing season has even started. Also, if any Old Birds are lost, or are away for a day or two, the youngsters are left without one, or even both parents with disastrous consequences for the coming Young Bird season. This does happen. I have been told by several fanciers that they have had Young Birds die in the nest because they have shivered to death whilst their parents were away training, or had been left orphans because their parents had been lost.
Our first duty then, is to make sure that we have healthy well-reared Young Birds from the first round of eggs, then - when these have been weaned - training may begin. Avoid the temptation to enter the various pre-season races which are held each year. Leave these to the other fellow!
Fanciers who start to train early may do well in the first race or two, but then their birds go off form for the remainder of the season. Endeavour so to arrange things that your birds reach peak form in time middle of the racing programme. Some of them will achieve this condition sooner, some later, but for the bulk of the races some of your team will be in top form.
Old Birds do not fly as freely around the home as Young Birds and they spend a considerable portion of the hours of daylight incubating their eggs, during which periods they are getting no exercise at all. It is therefore necessary to get them physically fit by sending them on a number of training tosses. Besides toning up the pectoral muscles (these being the muscles on either side of the keel, or breast-bone, responsible for raising and lowering the wings), this training also serves to revise their knowledge of those vital twenty or thirty miles. As with Young Birds, your Old Birds must be thoroughly familiar with this last part of the journey.
We have seen that, if the birds are paired eight and a half weeks before the first race, the youngsters can be weaned about a week before. All the birds which are to be raced durimig the season should then be given six tosses from ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, thirty and forty miles on consecutive days during this last week - all points being in the direction of the race route.
As with Young Birds, should the weather be unfavourable and therefore unsuitable for training, it is better to keep the birds at home and wait for an improvement.
A careful note must always be made of the dates on which the hens lay as it is important that hens should not be sent racing or trianing if they are due to lay in the next seven days, or have laid within the previous four days. It may also be necessary to keep at home, and not send training, a few birds to keep warm eggs which you are wishing to hatch or to look after small youngsters. These rules apply throughout the racing season and not just to these initial training tosses.
If the weather during the week prior to the first race is good and you manage to give the birds the six tosses, it is best to send as many of the yearlings to the race as possible, for these have less experience than older birds and will benefit from flying this first short race. Also the older hens which laid their second round of eggs early can be sent, for they will already have been sitting ten to fourteen days on these eggs and, if they are not allowed to hatch, it is only possible to send them to two races before they forsake (we say “desert’) the eggs. They will lay again but will be out of training and racing for a fortnight.
If the weather is poor, however, and you cannot give the full number of tosses, then only enter a small team, and complete the six tosses the following week.
After the first race, it will be necessary to remove those eggs which you do not wish to hatch, and to replace them by pot eggs or, better still, by old real eggs which you know will not hatch. The eggs which are removed can be marked with a cross, and used instead of dummies later on in the season. I always feel that an old pigeon can tell the difference between pot eggs and the real thing. Pot eggs have a completely different feel. It may be only a small point, but it is important that the pigeon should believe whole-heartedly that the eggs are going to hatch, if the bird is to give of its best when racing to them.
Many experts say that once racing begins, all breeding operations should cease. In other words, all birds should be raced to pot eggs rather than real eggs and youngsters. I believe this to be completely wrong. These second-round, and late on in the season, third-round youngsters in the nest can be extremely useful and a valuable aid in the successful racing of the Old Birds.
Those eggs which are required to hatch (presumably from the best pairs) should be put under pairs where the cock is a yearling (the reason for which we shall see later), one good egg to a pair. We cannot expect birds to rear two youngsters and race at the same time. Each of these pairs therefore will have one good and one pot egg. Foster parents for these eggs must he carefully chosen from those pairs which laid on the same day, or the day before, or after, and if both parents (or foster-parents) are sent to a training toss or race, the eggs must be temporarily placed under another pair. They should, of course, be carefully marked - with a felt-tipped pen - so as to ensure there is no mistake.
For the second race, the team should be selected early in the week, and all those birds given two further tosses, preferably on the Wednesday and Thursday, of twenty and thirty miles. If the weather appears promising for the Saturday, the chance must be seized to get as many birds as possible into this race, with the except of the older cocks which can be left at home. The birds will be sitting seventeen days, or more, and the hens should be extremely keen and put up a good perfomance, as the eggs are on the point of hatching.
Before the third race, the good eggs which have been allowed to remain will hatch, and the other pairs will be sitting over the normal incubation period on pot eggs. They will sit for three or four days after the eggs are due to hatch and will then desert them. When a pair deserts, the pot eggs should be removed and the nest bowls transferred to the other end of the nest-box. If the nest-bowls were left in the same position the birds would be unwilling to lay in the same place which had not previously yielded any results! The cock and hen will be upset for a day or two because the eggs have failed to hatch, but will then commence to nest again, the cock driving the hen as before.
In selecting candidates for the third race, all hens which have deserted must be left out as they will be going to lay again in about seven days, and should not go into the basket for at least four days after they eventually lay the second egg of the next round (which will be the third round of eggs). This brings us to the advantages of allowing a few eggs to hatch.
The hens looking after these small youngsters from the second round will be very keen and can be sent to this third race. Their mates could also be sent, but it is better to keep them at home to look after the nestlings whilst the hens are away. Note: if the cock and his hen are sent, another pair must be found to attend to the youngster whilst they are away, and it must be a pair with one of the same size. But I recommend that the hens only are sent when the single youngsters are under five or six days old.
All yearling cocks which have deserted their second round of eggs should be left at home with their mate, and neither raced nor trained until their hens have laid the first egg of the next pair of eggs (the third round). The two-year-old cocks, and older, which are driving, can be sent to this third race. They will probably not have flown in either of the first two races, and have been kept for this race when the team is of necessity small. They must be given two training tosses during the week prior to the race, together with the other candidates. These older cocks while away at the race will be very anxious about the whereabouts of their mates, and, providing they are fit, should make every effort to reach home at the earliest possible moment. Yearling cocks, on the other hand, are very unreliable if sent driving. They are very easily lost, and this is why they are left at home.
Now to the fourth race. Probably none of the hens will have laid yet again, and candidates must be chosen from the following:
2-year old cocks (and older) driving
Hens with youngsters 7 days old, or younger
Yearling cocks, and other cocks with youngsters 7 days old, and
Any birds which are still sitting on their second round of pot eggs.
Here is the second advantage of the Natural System with youngsters. The yearling cocks can be sent to this fourth race and their hens left at home. Whereas it has previously been stressed that yearling cocks should not be trained, or raced when driving, this does not apply when they have a youngster in the nest. They are then much steadier than when there is no youngster and can be raced with safety, and often with very satisfactory results. This youngste, therefore, enables the fancier to send the yearling cocks to the fourth and fifth race, when they would otherwise have had to be left at home.
By the time the fifth race arrives, some of the hens will have laid their third round of eggs. They can be given the usual tosses and sent to the race. The hens which are rearing the single second-round youngsters will probably not have laid, but their cocks can be sent, as described above, while they remain at home.
The same rules apply to the selection of cadidates for the remaining races. And the training method is always: two tosses of twenty and thirty miles for those birds which have not raced the preceding week, and one toss of thirty miles for those which have.
By the time the sixth race has been flown, the second-round youngsters will be weaned, or ready for weaning, but they should not be weaned just prior to basketing one of the parents for a race, nor within twenty-four hours of its return.
When the third round of eggs is about 14 days old, those which are not wanted must be replaced by pot eggs (or real eggs marked with a cross) as before. One or two eggs can he left to hatch under pairs which had pot eggs in the second round. These pairs must be carefully selected after consideration of the races to which you wish to send each particular bird. For example, let us suppose you wish to send a certain hen to race on Thursday 5 June. On Iookimlg back at your Loft Book (of which more in you find that she laid on 12 May. The eggs will, therefore, be due to hatch on 1 June. However, should the eggs not be allowed to hatch, the pair will desert just before 5 June and you will not be able to send your hen to the race. But should you allow one of the eggs to hatch, then you will be able to send your hen with confidence knowing that she is in a really favourable nesting condition as on basketing day she will be feeding a 4-day old youngster. Sometimes it is possible to anticipate or delay the hatching date for a pair by transferring from another pair, an egg which was laid either a day sooner or a day later, so as to obtain the desired nesting conditions.
Birds are usually basketed for the longer races on a Thursday, or on a Wednesday, and occasionally even sooner. In these circumstances, preventing the bird at home forsaking its eggs when its male is away for three or four days, is always a problem. But if both birds of a pair are away, it is simple.
Providing both pigeons return on the same day there is generally no difficulty in getting them back onto their eggs. But if (as is often the case) only one of the pair is sent to the race, then the other bird must be taken off the eggs the morning after basketing, and put in a spare basket until the mate arrives home. This necessitates having two baskets for these birds, one for the hens, and the other for the cocks. When the pigeon which has been sent to the race returns, its mate can be released from the basket, and they will both carry on incubating the eggs quite happily.
This difficulty of keeping the birds sitting shows up another attraction of the Natural System using the small youngster. The cock, if left at home, will usually look. after it for the whole time his mate is away, and need not be put in a basket. But if he does appear likely to leave the youngster at night, the youngster must be transferred under another pair which have a youngster of a similar age. Put the cock in the basket until the morning, when he can again be given the Young Bird. On returnng from a race, a bird will always take to its youngster, but after several days in the basket on the way to a distant race point, and especially after a long hold-over when the birds have not been released for a few days owing to bad weather, it is often tempted to leave a couple of eggs.
As the Old Bird programme proceeds, and the races grow longer each week, the new fancier will wonder how far he should send his birds. Just as he was advised with the Young Birds to stop a number of them at the 100-mile stage so, in his first season of Old Bird racing, he must not send his yearlings too far. Two hundred miles or so is sufficient, so he will not be able to compete in the longer events. The following year he should then have a number of two year old birds, and these can be sent up to three hundred and fifly miles, and the next year he should be able to race right through the programme. It is then a four-year task to establish a loft of pigeons, and the new fancier should be content to make haste slowly for if he loses all his Young Birds or all his yearlings, it will take him a year longer before he can compete in the whole series of Old Bird races.
Whilst it is the ambition of most fanciers to succeed in the long races of 400 miles and over, it should always be remembered that, in the normal club programmne, there are probably nine out of ten races of 300 miles or less, and the fancier who has a good pigeon which wins consistently from these shorter distances, should not spoil it by sendimig it further. A pigeon - like a runner - paces itself in a race in accordance with the distance it expects to have to fly and, once a pigeon has been to a long race necessitating a twelve-hour fly, it is unlikely to be as fast again in the shorter events.
The programme for each pigeon must be carefully planned, so that the distance of the races for which it is entered is gradually increased. After flying a race of a certain distance, the bird should not be “brought back” to a lesser distance, for there is always the danger that if this is done, it will “over-fly”, that is, go past its destination, thinking it still has some miles to go. Therefore, if a pigeon is flown in a 300-mile race one week, it should not he sent to a race of 120 miles the followimig week, but should be kept for the 400-mile race the week after that.
It cannot be over-emphasised that no pigeon should be entered in a race unless it is physically fit and pigeons which spend a night or two away must be given pleanty of time to recover before they are raced again.
Learn to recognise the signs of good health and peak condition of your birds. Spend as much time as you reasonably can quietly watching your birds, both inside and outside the loft and make a mental note of those which are in perfect condition. Notice if any bird is particularly keen on its eggs or youngsters, and any other signs which may lead you to think that a certain bird will do well. A hen jealous of another hen which is spare in an adjacent nest-box, and is trying to steal her mate, is an example. The cocks when supremely fit are continually on the go, striking off for a fly round every few minutes - in fact they show all the signs of thoroughly enjoying life and appear to he bursting with energy. The hens will stand with their tails shivering, every feather tight, so that it is impossible to see where one finishes and the next begins. The feet of the birds appear pink, clean, and warm to the touch, Their wattles are as white as snow and their eves unblinking.
When making out his entry form for a race, which he will receive from the Club Secretary, the fancier should write down the ring numbers of the birds in the order in which he thinks they will arrive back. To get this right is not easy. In fact I am always pleased to see a pigeon doing well unexpectedly, and beating the fancied bird. The fancier who can always forecast correctly which will be his first bird is probably a man with only one good pigeon.
In choosing which bird to put at the top, there are four things to bear in mind. They are :
The breeding of the bird (the racing performances of its parents
The bird’s previous performance.
Its general fitness.
Its nesting condition.
Earlier in this chapter I have discussed the various nesting conditions in which pigeons can be sent to a race. Of these the best can be summarised as:
COCKS Sitting 9 to 14 days from the second egg.
Driving to nest (yearlings not to be sent in this condition).
With a youngster in the nest over 7 days old (and driving, or
sitting the next round of eggs).
This last condlition is especially valuable for the longer races. The cocks eat better in the basket, and the big youngster provides a great incentive to him to get home late at night, rather than wait until the next morning. He knows that his hen will be sitting the eggs, but he must get home to feed the youngster, as he does most of the feeding after the hen has laid again.
Many fancier’s hand-feed a large young bird in the nest, in order to relieve the cock of this task, so as not to tax his energy overmuch prior to a long race. But I am against this, for if the cock finds that the youngster does not need feeding he will lose interest in it, and therefore it will not provide an incentive to encourage him to get home. Incidentally, I have found that if the large youngster in the nest is a hen, so much the better.
Due to hatch (15 days and over).
Sitting a small youngster 4 to 7 days old.
Sitting 9-day eggs and over.
When a hen which is due to hatch is sent to a race it can be given a youngster on its return, and can be sent again the following week whilst feeding the small youngster. Thus she can be sent three weeks in succession instead of the normal two while sitting the eggs.
Sometimes (especially with yearlings) it is necessary to rest certain pigeons from racing whilst the longer events are taking place. This should cause no worry. I believe it often does the birds good. They come back to the racing after a few weeks completely fresh and considerably keener. Provided they are given two training tosses of twenty-five and thirty miles on the Tuesday and Wednesday preceding the race, there is no reason why they should not put up a good performance.
A year or two ago two of my yearlings (a cock and a hen) had each flown four or five races, including two from 225 miles. Then started the races from the Continent, and in between these were short, what we call “come-back” races of about 120 miles. I was not anxious to send the two birds to these short races, and so they were rested for five weeks. At the end of the programme there was a further race from the 225 mile point, and the two yearlings were entered, after having had two trained tosses just before. They were clocked to win first and second Federation, with over 700 birds competing.
Having discussed the steps which must be taken to ensure that our birds are entered for the races in peak condition so that they may have the best possible chance of scoring well, it is important to see that we do not make a mistake at home and so spoil those chances.
It is very distressing to time in a good pigeon, and then find a few hours later that the timing clock has stopped. Therefore, make sure that your clock is reliable. Have it cleaned and overhauled at least once every two years by a reputable clock repairer who understands pigeon timers. lndulge in a little time and motion study to ascertain in which position to put your clock on race days. Much time can be saved by a little thought on these lines. Place the thimbles (open) near the clock, with the two halves of the thimble side by side so that you know they will fit together easily. And endeavour to be at your loft in plenty of time on race days, so that you can prepare for the birds' arrival at your leisure.
A mixture of hemp, linseed, rice and groats (and if possible safflower seed) should be used as a trapping mixture on race days. The birds soon learn to expect and look forward to this titbit on their return, and enter the loft quickly.
Once a bird has trapped it should he caught with care, so as to avoid upsetting it unduly, thereby preventing it trapping so quickly the next time. When two birds arrive together and one of them traps first, it is always better to catch the bird first, and time it in, rather than wait for the second bird to trap.
Most pigeons (including the good birds) sometime during their racing career make a mistake, causing them to spend a night or two away from home. Often they benefit from their mistakes and thus become better pigeons, having learned to work on their own rather than follow the pack. Therefore we must be prepared to forgive one error, but if the same bird makes a second mistake, and on a day when the majority had no difficulty in getting home, than that is the time to consider whether it is worth keeping.
I believe that pigeons are three years learning, and three years at their best, and even the best bird can be lost if sent often enough and far enough. So - if you have a good pigeon which has flown well for, a number of seasons until it is about six years old - be prepared to retire it and keep it for breeding purposes. Races are won - it is true - by seven and eight - year - old pigeons, but even experienced pigeons can be lost on a bad day, and their blood gone for ever.
We must be prepared therefore, to forgo a possible win by these old-stagers, and build for the future by retiring them whilst they are still full of vigour, so that we may look forward to a number of years of successful breeding from them. It is extremely useful to have one or two good pigeons which are not being raced, in any case. They can be paired to the best racers, and we can then avoid the misfortune of losing the mate of one of our long distance candidates a week or two before the big event.
Many a new fancier has wondered, when taking up the sport of pigeon racing, where he should buy his foundation stock, and whether they should be Old Birds, or Young. Should he obtain birds from one man only, or from several?
|Author: Guy Barrett||Title: Establishing a Family |
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In a successful loft the birds are usually all of one ‘family’, that is, they are all descended from a few common ancestors and are thus all related in one way or another. Their owner has probably spent many years establishing this family, and has improved it over the years, by careful1y selecting his breeding pairs, and by rigorous testing of their progeny in the race basket. If the pedigrees of the birds were examined, it would probably be found that there are winners in each generation, and that the successful fancier has bred winners from winners, which were themselves bred out of winners.
The owner of a loft of pigeons such as these does not have to depend on one or two birds to win for him - he has many good pigeons capable of winning. He has concentrated the desirable qualities by generations of planned matings, and has purified the blood. There is one old saving, ‘Like begets like’, and another, “Like father, like son”, and both these phrases ring true when applied to a loft of birds which are a “family”.
It would be foolish for the novice to think that he could improve on the work of a really successful fancier until he has gained some experience. Therefore he should obtain birds from one man only. Were he to procure pigeons from several fanciers and pair them together, he would be destroying much of the good work done by each of those successful fanciers.
The novice should decide to purchase six or eight late-bred youngsters from his selected fancier, who should win year after year out of his turn, and preferably live locally or within easy visiting distance. No fancier who is racing can afford to part with his best racers or stock birds, except at a very high price. Also, no fancier will part with his best youngsters in April or May. He wants the first and second rounds of his very best birds for himself. Therefore, latebreds are the logical answer. In July and August it is possible to purchase youngsters from the pigeons, which have won during the Old Bird races, at no great cost, and these will make an ideal foundation stock. But (and this cannot be over-emphasised), they must all be from one successful fancier.
You may be sure that fanciers do not sell their good pigeons unless it is a clearance sale and, in these sales, the really good birds often fetch very high prices. Sometimes one sees an advertisement that reads, “Proved Stock Birds for sale - I have enough from them”, but if the birds offered were breeding winners, their owner could never “have enough from them”.
Tell the fancier that you intend to keep the latebred youngsters for stock. He will then (if he is genuine) take great pains to pick youngsters, which will have the best chance of breeding winners - those that are truly representative of the family. You cannot do better than leave the selection to him. Having procured your youngsters at about 24 to 26 days old, you should be able to take them home, confident that you have put one foot very firmly on the ladder, which leads to the top. Providing you do as you have promised, and keep the birds for stock, you will always be able to return for another pair at a later date and, if you manage them correctly, you will have just as good a chance of producing winners the following year as the established fancier from whom you have purchased the Young Birds.
The following season the birds should be paired at the beginning of March (on a sunny day), and two rounds of youngsters reared from each pair. Some useful advice on which bird to mate to which can often be obtained from their supplier. With luck, you should then have a dozen or so youngsters with which to fly the Young Bird programme. These should be carefully trained and raced to a distance of about a hundred miles, when the best six or eight should be stopped and allowed to rest and moult. You are then assured of having a small team of yearlings to race the next year.
Establishing a loft of pigeons is at least a four-year task, and the new fancier must be prepared to enter only a few of the races for the first season or two. If, after a year or so, it is found that one pair is breeding winners, it would seem to he common sense to keep that pair together, but otherwise the pairs can be changed each year amongst the original pigeons, and also these original birds can be paired to the younger birds bred by the new fancier himself.
This pairing of birds within the family is known as ‘line-breeding’. And if the relationships are really close, that is brother to sister, or father to daughter, it is called ‘in-breeding’. If you have a Labrador and you wish to breed another like it, you would not have it mated to an Alsatian. In the same way, there is always a better chance of producing winners from a winner, by pairing that winner to a bird from the same family.
It is true that many winners are produced out of a direct cross; that is when two unrelated birds are paired together. But the products of the cross themselves very rarely produce winners, unless they are mated to a relation on one side of the family. If this product of a cross is paired to an unrelated pigeon, that is out-crossed again, the qualities of the original pigeon have been lost and dispersed. After a direct cross, such as has been described above, it does not matter how close the relation is to which the progeny is paired.
We often read that such close ‘inbreeding’ should be avoided. Many people hold this opinion on religious or moral grounds. After all we humans are not allowed to marry very close relations. But inbreeding has the effect of purifying the blood. It concentrates the good qualities of the common ancestor, and also the bad qualities, where they are present. Therefore we may produce a super pigeon by pairing a champion to his daughter but, on the other hand, we may he unfortunate and breed an inferior specimen. But this does not matter with pigeons. We can get rid of the bird or, alternatively, it will be lost in a race. We should not, then, be afraid of arranging a close mating occasionally, although it should certainly not be indulged in for several successive generations, for this will result in loss of stamina.
Line-breeding, however, can be practised for many generations with distinct benefit to the stock. Such matings as grandsire to granddaughter (or great granddaughter), uncle to niece, half-brother to half-sister, come into this category. This method of arranging matings, so that the ‘blood’ of the important ancestor appears on both sides of the pedigree, is the one, which in my opinion is most likely to produce winners.
The mating of full brother to full sister does not appear to me to serve any useful purpose. It does not aim to reproduce either the father or the mother of these two birds, and the cock may have inherited entirely different qualities from his parents from those of his sister.
Consequently, in deciding which bird to pair to which, we should work on two main principles, namely: either pair the best to the best and hope to produce something better than either parent, or try to reproduce a champion pigeon already in existence by careful line or inbreeding.
Every fancier should make a study of that most interesting subject - the inheritance of colour and wing pattern. First, we must distinguish clearly between the different meanings of these terms. By colour, we mean either the Ash-Red or the ‘Blue-Black’ colour. By wing pattern, we mean either barred (as in the Blues and Mealies), light chequering, chequering, or dark chequering (as in the Dark chequers and Reds), Birds of the Ash-Red colour are the Mealies, Light Red chequers, Red chequers and the Reds, and their equivalents of the Blue-Black colour are the Blues, Light Blue chequers, Blue chequers and Dark chequers.
The important facts are these: when a pigeon inherits the Ash-Red colour from one parent and the Blue-Black colour from the other, the Ash-Red always prevails over the Blue-Black and the pigeon is of the Ash-Red colour. The Ash-Red is said to be the ‘dominant’ characteristic. The Blue-Black colour is suppressed and is said to be the ‘recessive’ characteristic.
Hens only pass colour (Ash-Red or Blue-Black) to their sons. Cocks pass colour to both their sons and their daughters. Conversely, a cock inherits colour from both his sire and his dam. A hen only inherits colour from her sire.
Therefore when a Blue-Black cock is mated to an Ash-Red hen, the cock youngsters of the mating will inherit the Blue-Black colour from their sire and the Ash-Red colour from their dam. And since Ash-Red is dominant to Blue-Black, they will all be of the Ash-Red colour. So Red, Red chequer or Mealy hens cannot breed Blue or Blue chequer cocks. The hen youngsters of the mating will inherit the Blue-Black colour from their sire and no colour from their dam. Therefore they will all be of the Blue-Black colour.
The fact that cocks inherit colour from both sire and dam is the reason why some Red cocks have black flecks in the tail and wings, whereas hens - which only inherit colour from their sire - do not possess these flecks. Thus a cock which has inherited the Ash-Red colour from one parent, and the Blue-Black colour from the other, will be of the Ash-Red colour with black flecks. He will be able to pass on to his progeny either the Ash-Red or the Blue-Black colour. The hen is the colour, which she has inherited and that is the colour she passes to her sons.
The wing pattern is passed from both parents to both sons and daughters. Thus a Blue cock, paired to a Blue chequer hen, could produce Blue and Blue chequer cocks and Blue and Blue chequer hens.
The bird shows an inherited darker wing pattern rather than a lighter one, as the darker must necessarily mask the lighter pattern. A pigeon which has inherited the barred pattern from one parent, and the dark chequer pattern from the other, will obviously appear as a dark chequer, but it could pass on to its offspring either of these two patterns. If it were mated to a Blue, it would produce either dark chequers or Blues. Similarly Blues and Mealies must have received the barred pattern from both parents, and this is the only pattern, which they can pass to their progeny. In pieds, which is the name given to birds which have a number of white feathers, the white colour masks the colour ‘beneath’ and it is amazing how a gay pied (one with the majority of its feathers white) is produced occasionally from two birds which possess very few white feathers.
In this short explanation of how colour and wing pattern are passed from the parent birds to their offspring, the use of scientific terms has been deliberately avoided, and it is hoped that because the subject has been treated this way, it will be more readily understandable than might otherwise have been the case.
Perhaps the following further example will illustrate all the points raised. A dark chequer (Blue-Black) cock is mated to a Mealy (Ash-Red) hen. The cock was bred from a Dark chequer cock and a Blue hen. What colours can we expect the progeny of this mating to be? Firstly, we know that all the cocks will be of the Ash-Red colour and the hens of the Blue-Black. Therefore, the young cocks will be either Reds (the equivalent of the Dark chequer, but of the Ash-Red colour) or Mealies, and the hens will be either dark chequers or Blues.
On the continent, fanciers always seem to have many more stock pigeons, which are kept solely for breeding purposes than we do. This is because most of them only fly on the Widowhood System, and therefore cannot breed a second round of squeakers from their racers, as we can, flying on the Natural System. But the Widowhood System has much to recommend it. If the Continental fancier is unfortunate and has a very bad race, thereby losing many of his best racers, he can nearly always breed more like them, as he has the parents safely in the stock-loft. We often find, that by the time we realise we have bred a champion; we have lost its parents.
There is a lesson to be learned from this. We must always be on the lookout for a potential breeder of winners. And as soon as we have found this pigeon - be it cock or hen - it must be withdrawn immediately from the racing team, and reserved for stock. We must be prepared to forgo any success, which that pigeon might achieve in the races and build for the future.
Pigeons, which consistently turn out winners every year, are worth their weight in gold. And the sooner in their life, that their merit can be recognised, the more years will be available for it to be used. It is far better to stop a breeder of winners from racing in the prime of its life, and put it to stock, than to wait until it is too old to race. Even the best Old pigeon can be lost in an effort to extract one more winning performance from it and in addition the offspring it would have bred, had it remained in the loft for a number of years in well-earned retirement, are lost forever. This is one of the best ways of ensuring that, once we have reached the top, we stay there.
Providing they maintain their health and vitality, there is no reason why good stock pigeons should not continue to produce winners for many years. I have two old cocks (one 15 and the other 14), which are still breeding winners. The elder of the two is just beginning to show his age, but the other has all the energy of a two year old.
Just as cattle breeders try to improve the quality of their beef herds and the milk yield of their cows, so we must, by careful selection and well-thought-out matings, endeavour to improve the racing ability of our pigeons. As the years go by, if we are successful in our efforts, we shall find that we are losing fewer birds, and that we are breeding a greater percentage of good pigeons. Also, we shall discover that our birds are breeding true to type, and that certain pigeons appear in the pedigrees of nearly all of them. In fact, we have achieved what we set out to do, and have ‘established a family’.
|Author: Guy Barrett||Title: On being a Good Fancier |
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It is probably as true of pigeon racing as of any other sport that, once one has taken up the hobby, one never leaves it. The saying, ‘once a fancier - always a fancier’ is not without foundation. It is also fair to say that those fanciers who put most into it, receive the most satisfaction from the sport, and the most pleasure in return, for it is generally managed and run by the fanciers themselves, who put in hundreds of hours of voluntary work. Although club secretaries are paid an honorarium, the money they do receive is in no way comparable to the amount of work they do.
Therefore the new fancier should be prepared to help with the general running of his club in every way he can. He should be willing to lend a hand at marking and clock-setting, in fact for instance, he thinks that the result of a race has been wrongly calculated, and that he has been given too low a position on the race-sheet, he should approach the secretary quietly with his problem. This gentleman will then be only too pleased to investigate the matter, and you can rest assured that he will not have made an error on purpose.
No fancier should be afraid of voicing his opinion at club and Federation meetings, but once a resolution has been passed by the majority of the members, he should cheerfully accept that decision. There are many fanciers who rarely succeed in winning a race. These men, nevertheless, are the backbone of the fancy. They are often cheerful and diligent workers for the sport in general and for their own club in particular. These fanciers continue to fly pigeons throughout their lives not for the money, which they might one day win, but for the love of their birds, the thrill of seeing them return from a race, and for the comradeship and companionship of their fellow members.
Having a father and two grandfathers who were successful pigeon fanciers helped shape Guy Barrett’s destiny as a prominent fancier and administrator. Educated at Giggleswick and Bradford Technical College, Guy followed a career in structural engineering and became first managing director and later chairman of the family’s steel stockholding group. During 1988-89 he was elected president of the European Convention for Constructional Steelwork.
Guy married Mavis in 1950 and they have two sons and a daughter. They live on the out skirts of Leeds where Guy races to a splendid loft, part of which was used by his grandfather.
Early success in the sport was achieved with a fine team of Van der Espt pigeons and with these Guy won the Queen’s Cup from Lerwick 3 times. To date the family of pigeons, enhanced by the introduction of Van Bruaenes and latterly Imbrechts, has topped the Great Yorkshire Amalgamation 9 times and scored many other positions.
Guy has always been willing to contribute more to the sport than he takes from it and, in addition to offering training facilities for local fanciers, has been secretary or president of ten different organisations. These include Yorkshire North Road Federation, The Great Yorkshire Amalgamation and The Great North of England Flying Club. He has represented the North East Region on the R.P.R.A. Council since 1968 and served as president of The Royal Pigeon Racing Association from 1976-79.
International relationships have always formed an important part of Guy’s involvement in the sport and he served as president of the Federation Colombophile Internationale from 1983-87 and again from 1997-99.
In 1986 Guy was awarded the OBE for services to pigeon racing and the steel industry.