Miracle Pigeons

I am constantly perplexed by two beliefs that permeate through the fancy and influence the actions of a large percentage of fanciers. I guess it has to do with the desire to win – which all who aspire to be good fanciers should have and all champions must have – but it is the ruthless and reckless style of pursuing that goal that causes concern. That and the perception, which they create and perpetuate that the only road to Rome lies in this 'modus operandi' – this line of behaviour.

What it is all about?

The basis for my concern rests firstly in the overriding belief that only the 'best' pigeons will take one to the top. 'Best' is in parenthesis because it is a very poorly defined concept when applied to racing pigeons. Make no mistake, a bird that can beat 10 000 pigeons from 600km on the day was the best that day. No argument! But is it better than the bird that wins 2nd spot against 20 000 from 600km or better than the winner from 400km or 800km? Well, at this stage we'll leave that discussion, as it'll take another article to sort that one. What we must concern ourselves with is the question, "What makes the winner to be a winner?" For the sake of our argument our fictitious winner beat the 2nd bird home by five minutes – so it was clear win, not just a trapping result. If it can repeat that triumph a few times, it becomes a 'miracle pigeon'. And miracle pigeons become the most expensive pigeons. But, are miracle pigeons always the best breeders? And the answer is no, definitely not. They can be but they can also be worthless as breeders. Do not be fooled by the often-quoted examples where the miracle pigeons bred outstanding offspring. They exist. But how many other miracle pigeons breed nothing? Naturally these are kept quiet and are not reported on. Leading on from there, the next obvious question is, "Are miracle birds essential for success"? And I venture to say that it is not so!

The hopes of the big buyers for the 'miracle' pigeon is continually kept alive by the steadily revolving stream of bought breeders, with the attrition rate of their new purchases and their offspring, being continually high. Unfortunately for the pigeons but good for the feather merchants. The end result of one, who regularly spends fortunes buying expensive stock without getting results, is his farewell to the pigeon game. And as it is, the sport can ill afford the loss of any fancier.

There is a second aspect that worries me concerning the buying of expensive pigeons. Only the 'big guns', the well-heeled fanciers, can afford these 'supposed-to-be-superior' pigeons but in doing so, the belief is created in the mind of the 'little' man that it is impossible to do battle with these 'big guns'. When this belief grows into an obsession, warning lights begin to flicker. Eventually he comes to accept that because he cannot spend a small fortune on stock, his chances of success are minimal, practically useless. It then requires only one or two good performances from the affluent fancier and a poor showing by the little man, to convince him of his inability to compete. The loft is hammered shut and his clearance sale is announced. Result; one fancier less in a dwindling pigeon world!!!

Yet this belief is completely wrong! In theory and in practice, it is far from being accurate! There is much more successful racing than expensive pigeons and when all the prerequisites for racing are followed, the small man can often beat his more affluent rival. And it happens. Frequently!

The secret? It is no secret at all; it is Time! Time in the loft watching, noticing, absorbing, planning and selecting. The most successful fancier is the most observant fancier. Most big men (as opposed to little above) lack time in their lives, are rushed in their activities and do not notice the 'little' things in the loft. They have the loft and the pigeons, can afford the food, medicines and training but cannot reach the top. If the time and enthusiasm to pay attention to the small details are lacking, theirs will be a never-ending quest for glory. Even if totally the same time were spent by both men, the small team flier would be able to spend more time per pigeon – and it will show the results. Of course the quality of observation is crucial!!

How many times have we not heard that, "If I were to bet, I would rather put my money on a good fancier with a loft of average pigeons than a poor fancier with a loft of good pigeons." And why? Because the good fancier will see to it that all the prerequisites for successful racing are in place. He will extract all the effort possible from his charges and will always be a serious contender! Usually somewhere near the top and on days when conditions suit his birds, walking away with top honours! And this illustrates the bare hard fact about successful pigeon racing. Very few fanciers can annually breed miracle pigeons. Most good fanciers – the ones that are Club, Federation and Union champions, begin the season with a loft of young birds derived from breeders that have during the years produced good and reliable racing pigeons.

There are occasionally miracle pigeons amongst these youngsters, just as there are weak racers amongst them but more often than not they are just good pigeons. However – and this is the crucial part – their loft, management, training feeding, health regime etc. is so good that they are constantly at the top. With miracle pigeons it is easier and they then become unstoppable but mostly they rely on their intimate knowledge of the pigeon game and their proven routines to success, always attempting new techniques but making few mistakes as possible. Remember; the one who makes the least mistakes usually wins the trophy.

Conversely the good birds of the poorer keeper will never be in a fit state to race. His losses are high and his results dismal. If it were so that a pigeon should come into form in his loft despite his shocking management, it would be fleeting and over in a flash. The pigeons that do return to his loft do so through their quality and not by his management.

Regular winning cannot be achieved if the birds are sub-standard. Don't we all just know it? But how do we know when our birds are sub-standard and to blame or when something besides the quality of the pigeons, lie at the root of our failures? We can select pigeons using race results, eye sign, muscle development, wing design or whatever we choose but NOTHING guarantees success. The birds may have all the physical attributes we like to see but if the loft is not right, or the feeding, the management, the training, the health of the pigeons – whatever aspect of pigeon keeping we choose – isn't right, success will stay away.

So what do we do if we are certain that everything is in order – barring maybe the quality of the pigeons? Buy new stock of course! And if they do not turn the tide and bring results? Cull them and buy more new stock of course! And so we carry on till eventually we hit the jackpot! Right? No! WRONG, WRONG, WRONG! Very good for the feather merchants but totally wrong if you wish to be counted at the top.

Too many fanciers keep on breeding from new stock, hoping that the pigeon that's going to create miracle results for the will be born out of one of their many purchases. And too many, far too many pigeons are culled as useless because they fail to deliver miracle results. Sure they failed. No one can argue with results, but did they fail because of poor quality? Did they EVER have an even chance of showing what they were capable of? There are so many factors and so many questions. Suppose that they emanate from a family of pigeons that usually excel at fast races and that they were always prepared for fast 'blue sky' racing.

Then ask yourself:

• Were the conditions always in keeping with their breeding?

• Were the conditions in keeping with their preparation? In other words, are they being written off after a season when they were only entered in slow races?

• Was the loft in form? This can be judged by the performance of the other birds in the loft. Did they race as was expected?

• Were they bred to handle the distance raced? Do they not perhaps belong to the group of pigeons that only excel at 800km and further or shorter?

• Are they perhaps from a slowly maturing family? Were they ever raced as fully mature pigeons at two or three years of age?

• Did they come from a loft of widowhood racers but they were tried only on the 'natural' method?

• Were the correct pigeons chosen for the right races?

• Was their training too hard or too light?

• Was their feeding related to their training and racing?

These few questions all presume that the birds were in a fit state to race and every question has its alternative – i.e. where the birds have been bred and prepared for hard, slow racing. And there are more questions, each with its own variation. During the rest period the preparations for the racing season are laid. Be a detective! Collect all the facts – both the unchanging and the flexible, weigh them against the results and think. THINK! THINK! THINK! And do not stop there. Visit the fanciers in your area that are successful and keep your eyes and ears open. Search for the 'missing link' – the link that may be missing from your loft. Many times the missing link or trigger will not be obvious. Even if the champion visited is eager and willing to help you, he may unwittingly say or do something that he regards as unimportant. Something that proves to be the trigger that you need to lift your performances. Do not visit him with an all-knowing attitude. (It is astounding how many beginners know it all after one or two successes!) Go to learn. Ask questions and sift the answers. Weigh them against common sense! Even old-timers occasionally do strange things! (Sometimes they even get away with it.) It bears repeating; the one undeniable truth in pigeon racing can be boiled down to just one sentence, the eventual champion is the one who makes the least mistakes!

We race pigeons to win and but it takes more than a fat purse! So, let's do a quick revision, enumerate the essentials for producing winners and discuss them.

Winning pigeons must

1. Come from an effective loft,

2. Be bred from good pigeons

3. Be in super health

4. Be correctly managed – under which we include

a. A suitable training programme

b. Sufficient good food

c. No overpopulation

Should one wish to be more than just a competitor, these fundamentals are absolutely cast in concrete. Not concerning yourself with them, may allow you to be amongst the frontrunners now and again but you will never ever advance to championship status.

An Effective Loft

Everyone who has been in the game for a year or two can vouch for the fact that should a loft not be constructed according to certain rules, it will never lead to continued success. But as there are so many different styles of racing and so many variable climates, it would be impossible to lay down measurements or a description of plan, design and fittings. It is however so that the principles governing loft construction are universal. An effective loft is closely associated with the health programme as one can hardly be achieved without the other. Dryness, ventilation and minimal temperature extremes, must be the main concerns when a loft has to be constructed. Correct ventilation will ensure that there always is an ample supply of fresh air without allowing a wind to blow directly into the loft and onto the pigeons. The loft must be built in such a way that stale air has an easy escape route – again without creating draughts in the loft. I believe that a sloping ceiling with an opening of 400cm on one side (furthest away from the resting pigeons) running the length of the loft, is ideal. An adjustable cover for this channel and an opening in the roof to allow stale air to escape will go far toward creating the right atmosphere in the loft.

At all times the loft must be dry, warm in winter and cool in summer. To this end the walls can be double sided but it is not essential. The local climate will determine to a large extent of what material the loft must be constructed. A visit to the good fanciers in your region can inform one of the best materials and construction style to use. The presence of trees or buildings in the vicinity of the loft will play a role in the placing of doors, windows, ventilators or other openings. It is advisable that the loft is sited in the open, not under trees or in the shadow of buildings as that may prevent proper drying in wet seasons. This will influence the microclimate inside the loft; a damp atmosphere is never good for either man, beast or bird as it will lead to fungal and respiratory diseases, besides which coccidiosis could become a problem.

Good pigeons

It's on the second essential – that the bird must be bred from 'good' pigeons – that I want us to spend a little time. What are good pigeons or put another way, what is good stock? As in racehorse circles, where the sire or dam may have been rescued from being a carthorse or something similar, there are wonderful stories about strays, pet shop birds or even rescued feral pigeons, becoming good stock birds. Most definitely these cases occur but they are by far in the minority and one cannot adopt this method of procuring good stock. Good stock pigeons usually come from firmly established and recognized racing lofts or breeding stations.

However, and this is my problem , having spent a small fortune on stock, the purchaser often has unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of the young. Piles of money are spent in the mistaken belief that the new acquisition is immediately going to provide the new owner with 'miracle' pigeons and raise the standard of his loft. Pigeons that will win against thousands – possibly tens of thousands – and bring the owner fame and fortune. One could go on and on but the one burning question is, "Is it really the quality of the original pigeons that was at stake or is there another factor amongst the 4 enumerated above, that is to blame for the lack of success?" I think that the question just asked must be one of the most difficult to answer truthfully. It is extremely difficult to be dogmatic about anything in racing but by and large it can be accepted that if the fancier had been winning fairly regularly before acquiring the new pigeons and nothing else has changed, then the results of the newcomers can safely be compared to the results of the established birds.

A similar situation arises if someone else races successfully with pigeons of the same stock. If so, provided that your system of management matches his, do not search for the problem in the quality of the new pigeons. We also recognize of course that even following the same routine with youngsters off the same breeding stock, does not always equate with getting the same results year after year. We are only as good as the competition allows and other competitors may have put more into their efforts, obtained new pigeons, erected a functionally more efficient loft and so on. The objective of fanciers must be to raise the standard of their own loft. Not by comparison with others but by comparison within their own establishments. Only then can it be seen whether or not the new arrivals have improved the overall quality.

My biggest concern is that pigeons bred off newly acquired stock may fail to deliver exceptional results – often not of their fault – and are summarily judged as being not good enough and done away with! Many good pigeons – potential champion breeders amongst them – are annually culled because they were insufficiently tested. What a shame! And their owners? They move on to the next highly publicized auction and spend more money on buying their next hopefuls! To start a new cycle. Before I am misunderstood, let me state categorically that I am not against pigeon sales and have no problem with anyone spending money at pigeon auctions. It is after all, their own money to do with as they wish. A fancier that has an established loft of pigeons and gets his fair share of success can only improve by bringing in fresh blood now and again. But by then he has had a chance to study the pedigree, found out all about the prospective purchase and will have estimated whether or not the new bird will 'fit' into his team. The large sums, for which pigeons often exchange hands at auction sales, also play a role in enhancing the image of the pigeon sport in general. The standard of pigeon keeping is raised, pigeon lofts improve and the image of the sport in the public's eye is lifted.

Super Health

Continued success is not possible without the super health of the pigeons. We are probably all agreed on this one point, though very different means are used to gain this state. There are some who believe that additives must not be given at all. Others believe in the power of herbs and yet others trust only the most modern drugs and chemicals. The majority of fanciers employ strategies that use ingredients from all three different disciplines, as they see fit. But always the sole objective is the continued super health for racers.

Effective Management

The correct population density is crucial to good health. Overcrowding must therefore prohibited at all costs. Because of the host of successful styles of exercise and training it would be impossible to discuss these in detail. It is important to remember though that exercise and feeding must be relevant to one another, as are climate and feeding. By and large the pigeons must be fed more both when the temperature drops and when more training is required of them. (This holds true also when the distances that they have to race, increases.) When the birds have their rations increased it must be a caloric increase too; an increase in barley only, for instance, is not good enough. More attention needs to be paid by the length of the rest periods between races. This will, to some extent, be governed by the degree of difficulty of the races, which again is largely a function of the weather. I hope it has become clear; miracle pigeons are not just bred or bought and neither are they essential. Successful pigeon racing is an integrated activity requiring correct thinking, breeding, feeding, housing, training, observing, handling and luck. And it is as true in pigeon racing as in other sports; the more you put in the more you get out.

By Dr Wim Peters

Find us on Facebook
Follow Us