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Modern Pigeon Transport & Facilities

When the racing season for the young birds starts, every year many young birds are lost during the first training races and the first 3, 4 races. Why is this happening each year again? In the beginning all of us have our lofts full of splendid youngsters and we dream to finish off everyone in the big young bird National. The question is how are we going to do that and how many youngsters we manage to have back from the original team where we started with? It depends. But of what?


Know what you should know.


The number of youngsters that are left over after the final young bird races depends on various things. But one thing we know for sure: we can influence the result of it a lot! The further the temperature reaches over the 20 degrees Celsius into the direction of 30 degrees the greater the losses of young birds will get. What can we do about it??
At first our youngsters should be healthy, well trained(at least 5-6 times up to 60 km), 3 months old and know were to find the fountain hanging on the basket.
Secondly you should try and get the transportation facilities changed. And try to get the number of birds per basket lowered as soon as the outside temperature reaches the 25 degrees Celsius.
Thirdly the first choice in case of young bird losses depends from the fancier’s choice. He chooses to participate in the race or keeps his young birds at home because he knows trouble is near. Or we don't do anything, because it always has been so. And we are afraid to change. So we face every year an almost empty loft and next year? Next year we breed more youngsters, because we have the chance to have something more left over. And what do we do about the bad press after another crash? We put everything as quick as we can in a big black kettle and the president of the federation watches closely nothing comes out. Then one day animal welfare organizations are spotting us.
And then what??


At first we look into the direction of science.


What does science teach us and what can we learn of it to optimize the facilities during transport, the stay at the release point and the liberation of the birds.


Climatological circumstances.


Climate(temperature, the quality of the air that is breathed and the circulation of it) inside a basket, inside the pigeon transporter and the climatological circumstances outside are of great importance for the health and welfare of our pigeons. It is very closely related to the results the birds of each fancier have. Also the truck and the circumstances on the road to the release point play an important role. To reach and maintain the same climate conditions inside baskets that are mostly placed closely to each other and on top of one another in the pigeon transporter is very difficult. It is likely that after this research report the next generation of pigeon transporters will be totally different from the ones that are on the road right now. The total control of climate within a pigeon transporter puts a high demand on the construction, the basket loading facilities and the ventilation system.


Learn to control the temperature.


When the temperature increases around pigeons in a basket placed in a pigeon transporter, the metabolic processes increase inside a pigeons body especially when this high temperature meets high moisture in the air. Then the pigeons start to use already the energy reserves they normally need to fly back home and achieve good results. When the temperature is high the pigeon produces more heat in the form of moisture. When you think of this you realize that a ventilation system which can be controlled easily is very important. It should be able to adjust the ventilation system according to the changing of the weather: when the temperature is high, a high speed and when the temperature is low we want no draught, a lower speed. Draught is an unwanted stream of cold air that cools down the body. With pigeons it irritates mucous membranes of eyes, nose and the ones inside the head. In this way the pigeon gets sick sooner or later. When the temperature is high a good ventilation takes care of the cooling down by the replacement of hot, humid air by cooler and more dry air. In this way the pigeon can loose its high body temperature better.


Carbon dioxide.


Carbon dioxide(CO2) in to high concentrations in the air which is inhaled, causes the body to grow soured and has so great influence on the quality of the race results. This problem disturbs the process of making energy available for the muscles. The CO2 contents in the breathed air increases when the ventilation is insufficient and at lower temperatures it is the other way around. In the last case we must be careful not to ventilate too much. And at higher temperatures it is just the opposite. When the CO2 contents in the air increases, the oxygen contents of the breathed air decreases rapidly because of the oxygen intake of the body.




When the breathed air contains too much ammonia it causes respiration problems, the bronchia get irritated and this sharp penetrating gas influences the operation of the nerve system and the sense organs. So it influences the homing ability of the racing pigeon in the way it will have problems finding its way home after having been released. Again good ventilation solves the problem. Suck the ammonia out and lower the humidity so that there will not be to much new forming of ammonia out of the shit of the birds.




Out of the feathers and from the shit of the pigeons fine dust comes into the air. We put sawdust in the baskets so that the thin shit is quickly dry. All this dust comes into the air in the pigeon transporter and is breathed by the pigeons. This dust carries with it all kinds of viruses and bacteria. So because all of this dust our pigeons get easily infected with ornithosis and other kinds of contagious diseases. Again the problem is solved by a good ventilation system.
After two years of transporting pigeons in the modernized pigeon transporter all members of our association say that they visit the vet less and use less medications than before.


Influences from outside.


Also we have to think of bad exhaust gases from trucks and other vehicles. To take well care of this problem in a pigeon transporter by a good regulated ventilation system is practically seen almost impossible. Of the greatest importance is the choice of the air inlet where the fresh air comes in. This should be out of the way from the exhaust of the truck. In the exhaust gases of the truck we know there is CO2. This bad gas influences negatively the oxygen intake of the blood of the pigeons needed for top performances. It takes a long time before the muscles of the pigeon operate normally again and so it happens the pigeon returns too late from a race.


Early prediction.


June '96 I predicted a coming disaster for pigeons in a full loaded pigeon transporter in combination with high temperatures coming to an un-willed standstill in heavy traffic and straight in full sunshine. The people in charge waved away my prediction that however sadly came true one year later at six o'clock in the afternoon on the péférique, the highway around Paris. In a pigeon transporter of the Dutch Zealand region many pigeons suffocated. The next day the birds were released early and the race ended in a complete crash. In the baskets later on many dead pigeons were found. This Dutch region immediately phoned me to discuss the problem and the result of this talk was that in august of this year they were able to put the most modern pigeon transporter on the road and many regions follow the good example now.


Bad factors.


When we read and think over what already has been written in this article, we should realize that many things can happen and have negative influence on the results of our birds:
a. a pigeon transporter that is not constructed all right and therefore the ventilation is not functioning correctly;
b. in case of problems the conveyor doesn't know when and how to handle the problems;
c. the place of the air inlet is very important in relation to the quality and the quantity of the air which is breathed by the pigeons inside the transporter;
d. all colors except white are wrong to paint the pigeon transporter with. The color white plays an important role when the pigeon transporter is driving on the day in full sunshine: less rising of the temperature inside.


To show the way.


I can understand that there are regions where the pigeon transporters seem to be all right according to the above mentioned points. But when this region races together with another region were the circumstances in the pigeon transporter are out of the last century one can easily understand that these people start to complain now right away. This has happened in Holland and "people" tried the hard way to end this project quickly.
Why? Because the pigeon organizations had to invest quite some money to optimize their pigeon transporters. And you and I know that those people rather sit on our money than to spend it. And why?? You and I don't know why. But it should be clear for everyone that:
a. that animal welfare organizations are watching us closely and that in case we keep on following our old ways that we cannot defends ourselves from the attacks of these organizations. Surely not if we know the solution for the problem after having studied this research report. We should try to avoid young bird crashes as much as possible. It makes it so easy to defend ourselves from the side of the government and animal welfare organizations because we simple don't have to defend ourselves anymore in future;
b. so many pigeon organizations in the world are facing each year to problem of less and less members. When races are getting better all the time for fanciers and birds this can be an important moment of a turn-around. Realize this!
c. many things can get better functioning in and around the transportation of pigeons to the release point. This know-how should be better available for everyone who wishes to improve the quality of the pigeon transporters in his region. But now back to the reality of every day.


Report of a race.


On the 13th of June 1996 Mr. Roelf van der Molen chief conveyor of the semi-national races in Holland writes in a Dutch pigeon magazine about the circumstances on the Orleans release point the previous weekend. At 18 o'clock it was 34 degrees Celsius, how high the temperature was on the middle of the day was not mentioned, but that it was much higher than 34 degrees one can understand easy. But what he fails to mention was the temperature inside the pigeon transporters and inside the baskets. Our conveyor told it me later on: 42 degrees Celsius!!! Mr. Van der Molen mentions about the circumstances created by region G. They could have gone to the race with 2 pigeon transporters, which they didn't. They showed up with 3 transporters and it is clearly understood that their birds had better circumstances inside the transporter than all the others on the release point. Everyone should think like that, he said. Our own conveyor stopped regularly on the way towards the release point in order to water the birds and give them fresh air. Our birds came well home from the race thanks to his extra care and especially my own birds because the National was won by the writer of this article with 8 minutes ahead.


The Wageningen research report.


This pigeon research report is quite famous in Holland. When we study it closely all the Orleans pigeons should have died. I have traveled the world so many times and have whiteness several times the racing circumstances in Thailand. In that far east country the pigeons always race at extreme high temperatures, so I know for a long time that pigeons can handle high temperatures a lot better than the report of Wageningen tells us. However in regard to Thailand is it so that they donut race 3-6 months old young birds over there.


In my opinion you can't:


a. imitate a pigeon transporter in a little room on a University; we should be interested at all times in the reality;
b. compare birds in heavy moult with birds that are not moulting at all because they cannot use their feathers for isolation in case of heat;
c. compare untrained birds that have started in October to create fat reserves in the body with the well trained racing machines we find in the summertime in almost any loft. Why? I have send many times pigeons to Thailand. I do this in the months November or December and it has happened often enough that some young birds could not handle the changing of climates, from cold to tropical, and because of this died. They are too fat the Thai said. Pigeons that are too fat have problems in rapid changes from cold to extreme temperatures. If you want to do this kind research, it is clear that you should do it in summer when there are pigeon races and inside the pigeon transporters where the pigeons normally stay. In this time of the year the pigeons know how to handle transportation problems and extreme temperatures. That's why my research was done inside pigeon transporters, transportation baskets and on my own loft!


Let's look at my own loft first.


Pigeon fanciers of the world consider me as one of the greatest specialists in the field of young bird racing. This because of the quality of the results I have with my youngsters over a very long time. This means that the circumstances regarding to my young bird loft are of a high standard over all those years. And over all those years the loft has never been changed and so weren't the breeding methods. So there was a period what could be used as basics for research analysis. Let's look at some figures and see if they can teach us something. A long time standard in pigeon sport is: 1 pair of old birds or 4 young birds on 1 m3 of loft space. In the middle of the racing season you find 160 youngsters on my loft on 2,5x3,5x2 m of space and totally that is 16 m3. Normally 64 youngsters should be the maximum number to live in that loft. That is correct, because years ago, when the loft set up was different, I put 100 youngsters in the same loft that after some time got sick. When after sickness-, normal selection followed by training tosses etc. the number of 60 was reached, the problems were over. But the results in the races still were nothing special so I started thinking how to improve that. In 1979 I started to experiment with a mechanical ventilation system. I closed my roof and 3 wall sides, except from parts of the front, totally and above the ceiling I placed a 25 cm pipe with a 1500 m3/hour ventilator of which the speed could be controlled step free. From that moment on I was immediately a specialist with youngsters and sicknesses such as ornithosis were never whiteness again.


Now watch our pigeon transporter.


Its sizes are 11x3,75x2,5m=110m3 contents in which can be stored 212 boxes with 28 pigeons=5936 pigeons totally. That is 6 times as many pigeons as in my own loft as it was as big as the transporter was! Would you put so many birds in your own loft? Never I think! But in a pigeon transporter we put 6000 in without thinking. So did we until the start of the 1996 racing season with the help of only 1 ventilator of 300m3/hour.
Although you cannot compare a pigeon transporter with a pigeon loft, but when our transporter would be your loft, you would immediately change some things wouldn't you. Ventilate better and reduce rapidly the number of birds. Or am I telling lies here???


Result: a comity of investigation.


The Wageningen research report has hit some targets indeed. But the arrows missed totally when the target was the organizations that were in charge to organize the transport of the pigeons. The reason: we don't change because it has always been like this. And is this a good reason not to change anything? I don't think so. In my region 4 pigeon fanciers, me included, were allowed to investigate transportation facilities and when one of the 4, Mr. Will Calis, was appointed chairman of the transport organization things changed very rapidly. At first a new set of race rules(later on these rules were taken over by the Dutch national pigeon organization NPO) was set up with the look towards the future.
With these rules in hand, where the welfare of the pigeon is number one, the pigeon transporter was re-designed. Our first thought was to take care of a standard pigeon transporter for the whole Dutch pigeon world and to teach how-to to every interested fancier. Now we feel that we cannot hold back this vital information for the rest of the pigeon world.

What did we do exactly?


Water supply.


An automatic water supply was wish number one of our conveyor Mr. Bertus Smeink, who was in the comity also. It is every fanciers wish that the conveyor takes very good care for his birds. So it is very important that the conveyor enjoys his work and that it is an easy job. We had two 1000 litter tanks installed under the transporter, both easy to be cleaned. The water is pumped up by an electric pump in the middle of the transporter. We chose for a division of the water trunks before the baskets in two sets; one going from the middle to the front and the other to go to the back. So if the transporter is only half loaded you only need to fill one side of the trunks with water. Before water is running into the trunks the transporter is set level with the air pressure system of the truck. So in front of every basket there is the same water level. The trunks are connected with a rubber tube to a plastic canal. If the canal is pulled down in matter of seconds the water trunks are emptied. With this watering system you can stop on the way to the release point and water the birds within half an hour and go on the journey.


The outside.


We isolated the roof and put a white plastic layer on top that could easily be cleaned. Further the whole outside too was painted white. The color white takes care of keeping the heat out better and so we can keep the temperature inside the transporter several degrees Celsius lower than before. We also found several big firms interested to put their Public Relation on the outside walls. This is very interesting for them because our pigeon transporter is traveling a lot. And when it is not it is located on a spot next to the highway and is easily spotted by thousands of people every day. Doing so we get every year quite some of our investment back.


The ventilation and the power supply.


According to the knowledge I had from my own mechanical ventilated young bird loft, we improved the ventilation of the pigeon transporter. The air inlet was put on top of the front side and is as wide as the corridor between the baskets inside the transporter. The inlet was connected without corners to a big square hole under the floor. In the floor we made round holes so big and far from each other so that the fresh air comes in through each hole everywhere, in front, in the middle or in the back of the transporter, in even quantities. This could of course only happen when the pigeon transporter was driving on the road. If it is standing still, in a traffic jam(remember!!) or on the release point noting happens. So we installed a 1300m3/hour ventilator inside the air inlet and had the possibility to put fresh air in when needed(remember the standstill in the traffic jam!). To let this ventilator function all right, we installed a thermostat in the ceiling in the middle of the transporter. If the temperature inside the transporter comes above the temperature set on the thermostat the ventilator starts to blow fresh air in. Further we installed 6 ventilators in the roof and 1 over the backdoor. These 7 ventilators were divided into 2 groups. One set was connected to the earlier mentioned thermostat in order to pull the in-blown out. The other set of 4 ventilators was connected with a step free speed regulator. All together the 7 ventilators have a total capacity of 5000m3 of air/hour. If we look back to my own pigeon loft the conclusion is easy: the capacity of the ventilation system inside the transporter is not sufficient enough but so much better than it was. We started with a transporter in which 1 ventilator was installed over the truck's battery and so we had an electrical system of wiring etc. already. All the ventilators together emptied the battery of the truck very quickly when it was standing still. We solved the problem to install under the transporter a self supporting electrical system. However this had to be 24 volt & 220 volt at the same time and this system turned out to be very expensive and a little bit noisy. Also the choice in 220 volt ventilators is much better. You can install ones with greater capacity and less noisy from the first moment on. So when you start from the beginning my advice is to start from 220 volt right away. It is a lot cheaper and your conveyor can install, like ours did, in his small office inside the transporter his fridge, microwave, coffee machine, radio, personal computer(with Internet access to world-wide weather sites that are every 30 minutes updated through the meteo satellites!!!), television set and portable phone. So all is present to take real good care of the birds, for a successful release, for a safe journey home and not in the last place for the conveyor himself.


The registration system.


Of course we wanted to know what really happens inside a pigeon transporter in regard to temperature and ventilation. So a number of temperature feeling instruments were installed that are readable through a personal computer monitor in the conveyors compartment. The temperature feeling instruments can be placed anywhere in the transporter, high or low in the corridor as well in the baskets right between the pigeons. We did many diffe-rent tests and came up during the re-search with a lot of variables such as: outside temperature, number of birds in the baskets, the total bird number in the transporter, driving speed of the truck, stopping in order to load somewhere baskets with birds of another association, the way the baskets are placed in the transporter, that it is needed to do a long time scientific research in order to under-stand all questions and problems better. The Dutch National Pigeon Association(N.P.O.) has assigned a research group of the University of Wageningen for this purpose and we were happy to be invited to work closely together with them. The research project started in 1997 and by the end of this year we expect to present a report published by the N.P.O. If you are interested to receive this research report please contact the N.P.O.




The fresh air enters our pigeon transporter on top of the front side. Nowadays trucks have spoilers installed on their rooftops in order to save fuel. When the truck starts driving the following happens. Between the spoiler and the air inlet an air vacuum exists and without a ventilator installed in the air inlet no fresh air enters the pigeon transporter. So an air inlet behind a spoiler doesn't work at all. This we tested out with a truck plus spoiler. When the pigeons were inside the spoiler was down and on the way back home the spoiler was up. Our conclusion was right because with rising outside temperatures, the inside temperature didn't change. This was not only because of the spoiler but also because of the white outside colors and the isolated roof.


The first figures of the measurements.


When our pigeon transporter is driving on the road the rising warm air leaves through small holes in or next to the doors and through the ventilation system. Depending on the outside temperature the inside temperature rises within 1 hour after the standstill between 2-5 degrees Celsius. As soon as the sun rises the awakening pigeons let the inside temperature rise another 2-6 degrees Celsius extra. These measurements were carried out on a pigeon transporter with a so-called half door release mechanism which is very popular in Holland, in cold springti-me, with the ventilation system running, when the doors were kept closed close till the release time.


A hint for conveyors.


The normal procedure when the transporter has come to a standstill on the release point is following. The conveyors open the doors immediately half or full. This disturbs the birds a lot also when many liberation's are planned every 10-15 minutes from the same spot. But apart from that a great problem is the strong cold draught coming up as soon the doors are opened. When the ventilation system operates well it is good to keep the doors closed as long as possible. Our computer registered after the doors had been opened for 30 minutes a fallback in temperature of 11,7 degrees Celsius. And ladies and gentlemen that is a lot. Also the backdoor should be kept closed because that causes a strong down ventilation into one direction. Things not really good for pigeons of which we fanciers expect top results in races.


A test under extreme circumstances.


In the weekend of 8 June 1996 we carried out a very interesting test. We blocked both the ventilation system and the air inlet. We tried doing so to registered existing temperatures inside a pigeon transporter that occur under influence of extreme high outside temperatures. The only ventilation openings were the narrow openings next to the doors and the openings in the 7 little ventilator shafts in the roof and backside. We tested during 38 minutes driving on the road from Utrecht-Meerkerk in the evening around 22.00 hours. The top temperature inside the baskets was 42 and in the corridor 36 degrees Celsius. When the ventilation system was put on again the temperature dropped quickly 4 degrees and later on another 2.


The difference in temperature inside the baskets.


When we take a pigeon basket sized 80x90cm and we put in it 30 pigeons and we place one close to the ceiling and one close to the floor of the transporter the difference in temperature is average 3-6 degrees Celsius. So down it is cooler than up and everyone knows that at cooler temperatures there is more oxygen present in the air. So the best place to have your birds placed inside the transporter is close the lowest point. A basket with 23 and one with 30 birds high up gave the same temperatures; so 23 birds produce, because they have more room to move and fight, more heat. Also tests with 2 baskets of 30 placed on the same row as 1 basket with 30, but the last one with 2 rows left and right of it empty, gave a difference of 3-6 degrees. So it is useful to keep some rows empty horizon-tally and vertically in case of tropical temperatures. This knowledge was "installed" in the latest pigeon transporter in Holland constructed after this publication: between the rows there is vertically 5cm free space were ventilation can take place.


What happens next.


Every test we did only one time and is very well possible that another test gives different figures. So conclusions, as already earlier mentioned, are very difficult to make. However what everyone could do now is to think, look at everyone's own transporter, study the losses and talk about a way to solve the problem. I think that a ventilation system installed inside a pigeon transporter is a very good thing. And we in Holland are eager to be informed about the thoughts of the readers throughout the world in regard to this report. In the meantime we go on and will publish later on the official report which is availa-ble through our National Racing Pigeon Association(N.P.-O.) for interested fanciers world wide. Of course expertise from every-one interested in this matter is welcomed.


At first: learn how to become a pigeon between the pigeons.


I once said in an interview that you should do so in order to understand pigeons fully. Place yourself into the world of the pigeon. Young birds are open minded totally because of their youth for all experiences from the outside. At their first training toss they walk through the door of the basket at lie down in the grass to enjoy the sun. At the third time they shoot up as a rocket in the sky in order not to miss the first leaving batch. You can teach them almost everything as long as you do it step by step. When they are facing the ins and outs of a heat stress situation inside the transporter, I think that is almost an trauma-tic experience for them. If they have dealt positively with this heat stress situation they know how to handle it later on. What we should do is think about what is normal, what is warm and what is an extreme situation. Then we know when we should call off the race and when it is okay to go on. And if we go on what is the best way for the pigeons to do that. When this article was published in the Dutch pigeon magazine "De Vredesduif" I advised to lower the number of birds in a basket of 80x90 cm. The number was by the N.P.O. brought down from 30 birds to 28 to stay one night in the basket. The number with a two nights stay became 25 birds and in case of 3 or more nights in the basket the number of birds became 22 in one basket. I also advised to create extra free space around the baskets, to basking birds later on in the evening in case of a short race and to shorten the flying distance of the birds by changing to a release point closer to home. These things all under extreme temperature conditions. One year later it is good to notice that people have listened well to this advice.


Because a good start means a good future!


If nothing really bad happens during the first 5 young bird races, than most problems are over. Most of the young cocks are kept at home and reserved for next year. The fanciers have more birds left over and are able to raise the average quality of their loft. On the other side if we can influence crashes positively we have a lot of birds in our transporters all the time and can keep the costs down. For the fanciers it means that transportation costs are low. Less fanciers consider leaving the sport because pigeon racing is cheap and fun!


An important conclusion.


Last year I read an article of Curt Vogel in "Die Brieftaube". He trained pigeons to fly against a strong air stream inside a wind tunnel. He tested at different temperatures. At 10 degrees Celsius pigeons could stay in the air for 15 hours before they had to land in order to drink. At 15 degrees they landed after 7,5 hours and at 20 degrees they could fly for only 4 hours. However at 25 degrees it was only 2 hours. Pigeons stop to have a drink as soon as they have lost 4-5% of the total amount of water that is inside their body. The higher the outside temperature is the quicker they stop. One thing important: pigeons flying at lower speed can fly a longer time!
What we can learn of the above is something very important: the watering of our birds when they are staying inside the pigeon transporter is very, very important! Old birds all know the game. When the light is turned on in the middle of the night all the heads of the birds search for water in the fountains. We don't see this happen at the first young bird races. So if youngsters don't drink before they are set free to fly home they have used their water reserve already a long time before. If this happens during the first 4-5 young bird races my advise is: the youngsters should be able to reach their home within two hours after having been released.
In our region we solved this problem for our youngsters. We took an training race and held the birds liberation one day over. All fountains were kept filled with water all the time. We saw almost no young birds drinking. However after the 18.00 o'clock meal the conveyor had to fill the fountains with fresh water three times because it was empty. After this special training session all our youngsters know where they could find the water. We feel doing so that we have solved one part of the problem of young bird losses.


The very important conclusion of the wife of a fancier.


When I discussed this matter with my friend Mr. Willem de Bruyn(Holland’s Best Fancier in the 1996 season) he told me that his wife, also a doctor, had an interesting thought:


"As soon as young birds are released with temperatures over 25 degrees Celsius there is a crash or an almost crash. I think that there is a relation with small children that have a problem to regulate heat in the body because of the fact the heat regulating center in the brain is not yet fully grown. Probably young birds have a similar problem: they have great problems regulating their body temperature. Inside your loft such birds drink after the race a lot and sometimes throw over in order to lower their body temperature".


If you think deeply about this thought you are willing to believe that something is true about it. But this is the territory of real science. But as long as we are not quite sure it is good to keep this remark in our minds. It could be the cause of young bird losses at extreme temperatures. Willem de Bruyn is one of Holland's top fanciers and has each year several birds in the top ten National ace pigeons. Anyway someone to listen to when he speaks. Willem had my ventilation system in his lofts installed already a long time ago. For Willem this is very important because he has the problem of a pigeon lung disease and cannot enter a pigeon loft without a mask. However he was anxious to see our transporter and could stay inside and to his great wonder without a mask!

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