The end of the racing season is the occasion to look back. And not to forget to look ahead toward the new season because we wish to improve. Or do we? At this time of the year we must ask ourselves a number of questions:
What went well or even better than the past season?
Which things turned out badly?
Will we make some changes to the loft?
Will we try a new method next year?
Will we separate early or late in consideration of the molt?
Which birds are going to be transferred to the breeding loft?
Which pairs have produced the best youngsters?
Which breeding pairs will stay together and which pairs will be changed?
Will we import fresh blood?
Quite a lot of questions to address! A lot of important decisions are taken in this time of the year. We think a lot. We must analyze what went well the past racing season and especially give thought to what went wrong. That is the most important of all. We must not repeat our mistakes next year and we have to figure out what to do about them.
Selecting Youngbirds For The Future
The selection of the young generation comes first. I do this with two questions in the back of my mind:
If this particular pigeon is still in my loft in 2-3 years, would I put it in the breeding loft no matter what its results are?
Is this the type of pigeon that can handle the day-race program (4-5 races) successfully?
If these two questions can be answered in a positive way, then such a youngster passes the first selection round. What is the use of keeping a bird with little or no future?
The central idea here is that selecting for a certain type of pigeon is important, but difficult. We all know the saying: “A good racer doesn’t have to be a good breeder.” But it would be nice if this was so. For this same reason, I’m trying to breed a type of pigeon that I can use at both levels. If a good racer has served its time, then he or she also can go to the breeding loft.
Of course, much depends what type of racing you engage in and what your local race conditions are like. Long-distance racing is the most difficult part of the program. It is much more difficult then the short races below 400 kilometers (264 miles). The short-distance pigeon doesn’t have to be so complete. Here the selection is not so hard. What counts are the results. I put a direct link to speed, intelligence and orientation capacity. Those are the most important characteristics to top the speed races. The fancier puts the cream on the cake here.
In the long-distance races, the pigeon is much more important. Character, willpower and vitality bring the bird to the top of the results lists. In the overnight, long races, totally different factors come into selection. This type of bird matures more slowly and testing is out of the question because these types of races are not part of the program for youngsters.
The fanciers normally breed fewer long-distance youngsters and only off their proven racers and breeders. These youngsters get all the time in the world to develop fully. Selection of long-distance birds spans a number of years.
But most fanciers are specialized on the full program and a sharp selection is the only way to go ahead.
Molting, Health and Vitality
At this time of the year we have to be very keen, because with the changing of feathers all kinds of diseases carried by bacteria and viruses may come in through the back door. This particular problem will be the greatest threat. During the racing season all birds put into the basket meet birds of other members of the pigeon club and also in an indirect way with birds of the whole region inside the pigeon transporter. The last couple of years Dutch transportation organizations tried to save money by circulating the baskets through a large area. Often, keeping the baskets clean is not a high priority. And the link toward problems is not difficult to see. When the molt begins, the problems we did not notice before come to the surface. That’s why this time of the year is of utmost importance. We cannot do without selection now for the vitality of the birds we are evaluating. These are the foundations of the results in the sport. It does not matter if you are selecting for racing or breeding. That’s why we must start at the beginning. For me this is the molting period.
In this time of the year the bird will show itself for what it really is. The fancier does all he can do to make this period into a successful one and offer his birds good facilities. A pigeon in full molt must have space with light and air. Fresh oxygen seems to be especially important. In this time of the year birds eat and drink more than normal. The metabolic system functions totally different. And inside the loft you “smell” this. It smells not so fresh. There is more moisture and it seems warmer inside than outside. The problem is solved by selecting now, cutting back on the number of birds housed over the winter and giving the birds more space to live in. Don’t wait to long to do this. By waiting you will make it more difficult. As soon as the birds are molted out they shine like a pair of new shoes. And they start building up winter fat. This will make it more difficult to do the first selection on natural vitality.
Keep A Few Spares
The second selection round has to be focused on the results. And a longer period with fewer birds in the loft gives more information. This is needed to get to know each bird better. It is all about mapping the strong and weak characteristics. With these in mind, the use of a small notebook to make records will make the second round of selection a lot easier. Do keep some spare birds, because you never know if you will need them for insurance. A bird may get lost in unexpected fog or a hawk may take one of your better candidates. Or the one you like most shows itself as a coward once in the old bird racing loft and chooses the grit pot in the corner as his nest box. Then you will be glad to have kept a few extra birds.
In your old bird racing loft you also need to swipe the deck as soon as possible. A racer that did not come up to expectations doesn’t get a second chance. After the widowers have brought up a round of late breds, as a reward for a whole season acting as a bachelor, you need to take a decision about who goes into the trash bin and who stays to race another season. Shortly after that you need to take a second decision: early or late separation. To separate early means the birds will finish the molt early. Separating late means a late molt. The next year birds handled this way will start throwing their first primary flight late. And you’ll be able to fly such birds until the last race without any problems of interfering molt. It all depends on your goals. Old hens sometimes will keep old plumes for quite some time and an old tail feather may stay in. We don’t like to see this and often it is a sign of a health problem or that vitality is weakening. The next year such a hen will not perform well. Reason enough for a lot of fanciers to separate early.
Also we need to clean up in this time of the year. The nest bowls are brushed and disinfected. The nest boxes are freshly painted and stocked elsewhere dry for the winter. This makes space in the loft and makes for peace and quiet. When the first egg shows up in a corner between a couple of last flights, most fanciers separate sexes.
In this time of the year it is important to feed the right way. Not too heavy, but a bit lighter with more ingredients. Quite a few firms have good molting mixtures at stock. When the molt is finished the molting mix is completed with some good brewer’s barley. In wintertime the birds must not get fat. In the spring fat will not come off easily and it often leads to wing injuries. Your best racer is flying out of balance; one must not permit that. Every fancier knows a bird with a wing problem will not top the results sheet anymore. So we must take care by feeding right in the winter to prevent this from happening.
When last years results did not come up to expectations in this time of the year one needs to think what could be done better next year. Often the fanciers start making changes in the loft now. A new roof comes on top of the loft because one thinks ventilation is not good. Or a set of new tiles is put on the loft. Also, this is the right time of the year to do some painting jobs. Paint is a chemical mixture and it needs quite some time to clear out of the loft. The painting jobs must have been finished before winter arrives in order to be protected against frost.
Some fanciers go too far at times. One of my best friends is a fanatic when it comes down to changing the loft every year. But change has its limits. It can turn the loft totally the other way around. My personal opinion is that when a loft is good and it has won nationals, not another nail or piece of wood must be put in the loft. Perhaps it was a little change that has made the loft into a super loft and a small change can make this disappear again. You’ll lose birds more than ever from the races as a result.
Sometimes fanciers take the decision to try something totally different: another system. This also means changing the inside of the loft. This also is a great risk, because you never know what the results will be. But this also means a challenge. Changes are a learning process and the top fancier needs to experiment in order to stay on top. Willem de Bruijn experimented this year with young cocks on the widowhood system and I intend to check his thoughts one of these days.
The last couple of years racing youngbirds has changed quite a lot. Until a few years ago Orleans was the only race where birds stayed two nights in the basket. And you could fly the youngsters from the nest. Now, a lot more races with two nights in the basket are on the program and after the first race the youngsters spent two nights in the basket, all the nest positions are gone in the wind. Most Dutch youngbird specialists have changed to a system named “racing on the door.” In a future article I will go into detail about this racing system for you.
I also want to give you one more piece of advice: to keep on racing a good breeder is pure suicide. A good breeder is worth a lot more than a good racer. Smash races happen a lot and the birds that are lost are always the good ones. Years later one still looks for such a bird to show up again. A widower that has proven to be a good breeder has to be moved to the breeding loft. And nowhere else. I learned this the hard way.
Once I brought my “411” to the breeding loft. In the winter, a good friend came visiting and I owed him a bird. I loaned my friend a racer that just conquered the old box of the “411” and for that reason the “411” returned to the racing loft. The first race was a smash and one of the birds lost was the “411.” Today, my entire family of birds are the direct descendants of the “411.” Every time I think about this expensive lesson I could bang my forehead against the wall………