Factors affecting the CFV

The CFV – (Comfortable Flying Velocity)

The CFV is the flying speed when there are no complications affecting normal flying (no wind – not even tail wind -, rain, snow, electric storms, dust etc.) and before fatigue or thirst plays a role. The ultimate winning velocity, however, depends on the combination of several individual factors. There is the speed of direction finding, the accuracy of navigation, the weather influences (heat, wind, rain etc.) on the day, the various loft positions with regard to mountains or large water expanses, the CFV of the front-runners, the distance of the race, the time (of the day) of liberation, the guts and determination of the leader pigeons etc. These factors all combine to either slow down the contestants or to favour them. In this article we will concentrate only on the various physical attributes that determine the CFV in other words – we will discuss the muscles, wing, conformation etc. – everything that fanciers look for and have been looking for years when seeking a possible winner or breeder of winners.

I am a little reluctant to write about these physical features for three reasons. (I say this even though I realise that besides selecting on pedigree or race results, that selection on physical grounds is the only method to improve racing stock). The first reason for my reluctance is the fact that they have been discussed ad nauseam before and there is precious little that can be added to the debate. For the sake of better understanding the issues, however, I will contribute my bit!

The second is more serious and has to do with the difference between theoretical knowledge and practical expertise. In the past I have frequently experienced that an explanation about the good and bad points of a certain physical feature is something which can be grasped by most but to RECOGNISE those same points, is another matter totally. To know that a pigeon's back must be strong is not the same as being able to recognise a week back. Even more difficult is the assessment of keel length or muscle quality. One fancier would judge the keel to be just right whereas another would condemn (?) the pigeon for having a keel that is too short or too shallow! (I have found that acting as a judge or steward at pigeon shows, helps tremendously to sharpens one's powers of observation. (This type of observation is not with the eyes only but uses the hands to a great extent as well.) Even though all judging ultimately tends to be a subjective exercise (though it should not be!), its value lies in honing the recognition skills (of the judge!) – so that eventually the tiniest difference between two or more outstanding birds becomes readily apparent.)

The third reason is closely linked to the second and relates to the mental picture that every fancier has of his perfect pigeon and if the bird in question does not measure up to that picture it must be less than perfect, not so? It may have to do with one or two major experiences that the fancier concerned has had which have imprinted on his mind the 'perfect' pigeon – like, for e.g., winning or handling the winner of a huge race.) Or it may relate to handling too few winners from different distances or at different velocities to what he is familiar with. For example: a fancier who concentrates on distance racing could easily condemn a winning pigeon from 300 kilometres. Or a pigeon winning at 600 kilometres with a velocity of 1600 metres per minute might find little favour with a fancier who comes from an area where winning velocities seldom exceed 1200mpm. It becomes even more difficult when a successful fancier with a certain type of family – let's say family A – is asked to evaluate a certain pigeon from family B and if that bird exhibits a characteristic which would make it a sure loser had it originated from family A, it will surely be condemned! This would not necessarily be the opinion of someone familiar with family B, who perhaps knows that the same characteristics is often found in winners from family B! When we look at strange birds or pigeons competing under different circumstances to what we are accustomed, our opinion therefore should always be followed by "in my circumstances".

Feathering

When first taking a bird in hand, two immediate features become apparent, the balance of the bird and the feathering. The feathering is determined by the genetic composition and by the state of health. Nothing can be done about a pigeon's heritage so a less-than-perfect plumage cannot become the soft, silky and pliant feathering we all want. But would less-than-perfect feathering affect the pigeon's racing abilities? Certainly NOT! (Some fanciers will not agree.......... but please read on.) Why then, through the years, has so much emphasis been laid on feathering and plumage quality? Because the state of the feathers is a reflection of the pigeon's state of health. In addition to this the state of the feathers are a record of the amount of work that the pigeon has had to do since the moult.

In the days before antibiotics and other drugs were commonly used, the naturally healthiest pigeon became the best pigeon. Which, in those days, emphasized the value of good feathering. It does not mean that today poor feathering is OK – as it will wear faster than good feathering and handicaps the pigeon accordingly. But when given a choice between birds that seem equal in quality, the darker of the two should be chosen as the darker birds (dark chequers, T-patterns, dark reds and blacks) generally have more pigment and better feathering.

The plumage of a group of birds can very often be reflection of the health of that flock. It is possible to walk into a loft and from the state of the feathering pronounce that something is wrong! The cause can be varied – overcrowding, poor quality food, worms, disease etc. It can be any of these and it shouts a wake-up call to do an investigation to find the cause.

Balance

The balance of the bird is of paramount importance and there are expert pigeon classers who rest their whole examination on this one feature. Having taken the bird in the hand they will, after a few seconds, put it down and pronounce on it, looking no further at the wing, muscle, eye, conformation or anywhere else. Personally, whilst recognizing the importance of good balance, I cannot agree with this attitude.

It is difficult to describe the balance of a pigeon and it is successfully determined only after many hundreds of winners have been handled. The front part of the pigeon must be in balance with the rear and the whole bird fits nicely in the hand. Care must be taken when awkward deep-keeled birds are being looked at because they appear to be so 'out of shape'. Above all, a balanced pigeon handles as a whole with every body section forming an integral part of that whole.

Musculature

Much has already been said and written about examining pigeons and when the excellence of their musculature is discussed, the same is repeated over and over. I can only do the same, namely that the muscles – these are the large pectoral muscles that cover the keel bone – must be soft, pliant and feel like a pumped bicycle tube. The accurate palpation of the muscles is a difficult task and is one that is only learnt after many birds (winners) have been examined. Particularly difficult are the deep keeled and long keeled pigeons where the muscles are more thinly distributed over a larger area. Most fanciers have little problem with the typical apple-bodied birds, especially when their muscles swell to below the keel making this bone difficult to feel. (Be careful not to confuse the truly fit pigeon with a mildly affected muscle-bound one! They can be very similar! As a general rule treat with suspicion those birds that suddenly and without apparent reason appear to be very fit and 'blown'.) The apple-bodied pigeons are easier to discern whereas the rangier birds handle differently and deserve special attention – but never underestimate them. The desired muscle may be there but often it is not so easy to find!

Consider for a minute that a long muscle has more contractility power than a short one. (This is true where lever ad- and disadvantages play no role.) In reality it means therefore that the longer muscles of deep and long keeled pigeons are more effective. Which is why, for most races on an average day and average distance, the slightly deeper keeled birds are desired. ('Hot days with headwind' is another story.) Pigeons with a very long and deep keel tend to become heavier but can still be effective on the shorter races or on the faster long races.

In addition to this we all know that the fit pigeon must feel full ('blown') and 'weightless'. The fuller and lighter the better. (True for shorter or medium distances and fast racing but possibly catastrophic when foul weather unexpectedly occurs). It is an indication of correct conditioning and is best seen when fit birds are confined to a (preferably darkened) loft and not fed for 24 hours. The muscles swell and the body becomes relatively weightless. When looking at breeding pigeons, be mindful of the fact that the weight of a bird cannot be used in judging the bird's potential at stock! Some stock birds are light and full but on further examination are well feathered specimens where their lack of condition is covered by an excellent feather covering.

The supple muscle description is true in general and is fine........ however, there are exceptions. The description only applies to fit pigeons in active racing and particularly to those going to middle and long distances! In addition, just to complicate matters, the winners of fast long distance races may also have hard unyielding muscle! It cannot be used to identify prisoners and short distance racers can also be successful even when not sporting a soft, resilient musculature! This does not mean however that all stock birds have hard or doughy muscles. Some of them, hens particularly, manage to retain their supple muscle feel but it is not constant and it can be very difficult to accurately gauge the true state. When breeding stock is overweight, the palpation of their musculature becomes well nigh impossible. Certain prisoners will be found to become overweight much more easily than others. This is not a reflection of their breeding potential!

It thus becomes obvious that though the correct muscle tone is extremely important in racing pigeons, one cannot rely upon physical palpation in prisoner birds to reveal the state of their musculature. Neither do we gain any surety about their ability to transmit the desired muscle state to their offspring. For that we have to rely on the musculature of their young when in training and fit, or revert back to notes, which were made when they themselves were still racing.

Conformation

The frame of the racing pigeon should be sturdy and the bird should handle as if made in one whole. In addition all parts should be in proportion to each other. Pigeons that are not in proportion are limited to races during which the conditions of the race are suited to their build.

Deep-keeled pigeons often have longer legs and necks and larger wings. A small-bodied bird should not have large wings and similarly a large frame should not come with small wings. Such pigeons will be severely handicapped on average days. The small frame / large winged bird will be suited for fast racing whereas the pigeon with a large frame and small wings will perform at its best with a headwind and then only up to the middle distances.

For the main muscle action to be rhythmic and strong without the onset of undue fatigue, the frame should be sturdy but light. Sturdiness of the frame can be felt when one feels the vent bones. They should not be hard but sturdy and pliable and the opening between them should be small, particularly in cocks. Some families do tend to have open vents and race well in spite of it. The distance between the vents and the ends of the keel should not be too large and above all should not 'fall away', producing a 'hook'. To facilitate egg laying the keel-vent distance in hens is larger than in cocks and the vents tend to be more open.

The back should be strong and slightly wedge-shaped, moving smoothly into the tail, which ideally should be narrow (1.5 feathers wide) and which should turn neither up (short back) nor down (drag). I have seen winners with wide tails but they are in the minority, so if you have the choice, select the one with a narrow tail. Winners with short (weak) backs do so in spite of having a suspect back.

Throat

When looking down the throat of a pigeon much can be learnt but mainly in respect of the health of the bird. Some fanciers, when selecting for possible winners, look only at the epiglottis of the likely prospects. It is not advocated, being mainly a reflection of the health and fitness of the bird even though some families do normally tend to have a rounder epiglottis opening than other. Some attention has also been given to the 'curtain' at the back of the throat and the indentation between the two halves. Apparently the better racers have a straight bottom edge of the curtain with only a small or no indentation. I have not examined this sufficiently to reach a realistic conclusion.

Eye and Wing

The eye does not affect the CFV and will not be discussed here.

The wing, on the other hand, plays a major role in flight and the CFV but is such a large subject that we will leave it at this time and talk about it fully in a separate article.

Above all, please remember that the CFV though important in racing, comes secondary to the mental characteristics, as discussed previously. Without an efficient compass, they will to be home as soon as possible and the strength to persevere in the effort, are worth nothing! When this happens, all the factors that affect the CFV have no meaning.

By Dr. Wim Peters

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