Selection – our approach

Steady progress should be made in the breeding loft so that there are more above average racers in the the race loft each year.

That’s what racing is about – to basket the best pigeons you have for a race with confidence in them to do their best for you. They can obviously only perform to their natural ability and nothing more. Thus if they cannot keep up the pace with the others, they will fall behind and be less competitive. Selecting the right pigeons for the stock loft is key. As we all know it’s easier said than done!

In order for a pigeon to perform to his full potential and ability, a few things should be kept in mind:

  1. Perfect health

  2. Optimal fitness

  3. Motivation

All these thing fit together like a puzzle. Excellent pigeon + perfect health + fitness + motivation = a CHANCE to do well in the races.

In our loft selection covers all four the above criteria. Pigeons are thus selected on:

  1. Natural ability. Champion blood and good genes.

  2. Health. The ability to stay healthy and recover from setbacks.

  3. Fitness. The ability to become fit and stay fit. Ability to recover quickly.

  4. Motivation. They should want to come back home.

I’ll briefly discuss each.

Natural ability (talent)

We all know that not every pigeon has the same racing ability. Even babies out of your best pairs are not all on the same standard. Some win out of turn. Others struggle. But that being said it’s also clear that some families produce more winners than others. They are able to produce winners for generations down the line. Thus the odds of producing better racers using these birds are higher. But remember Ad Schaerlaeckens’ famous quote – ‘Pedigrees don’t fly’. It does however give you something to work with. Especially when you’re building a family and want some specific genes to line or inbreed with.

At our loft we do value certain families and their traits. Some families are specialists on distance and conditions. Other’s just fly in front any given day.

End of season selection takes into account the following factors:

  1. How tough/easy was the season? We had a very fast average velocity during 2013 (1450mpm plus). To only select on this you might sit with a loft full of pigeons next year that can only perform on blow home races. What will then happen if the next season is a tough one? “In die bos” might become a weekly saying in your home then 🙂

  2. Young birds who are well bred/handles well and did not perform to their potential will get another chance as 2 year olds.

  3. What was the competition like that you are doing your selection against? Surely a 3 time winner against 4 fanciers with a total of 60 birds should not get preference over a 1 time winner and two other top 100 positions against 140 members and 1500+ birds? We select only on union results. That’s the ultimate goal – to do well in the union.

The basket stays the ultimate selector.

Your race loft should supply your stock loft. We move our best racers over to stock after retirement.

Experience at our own loft also indicate that the constant or ‘banker’ racers are better breeders than the ‘flash in the pan’ winners. Those pigeons that race in the positions every week and not necessarily wins the race – they breed well for us.

Health

Health is a much debated topic. Some so-called pigeon ‘ghurus’ make you out to be ‘old fashioned’ or ‘not keeping up’ or ‘this is not 20 years ago – the sport is professional now’ if you do not medicate you pigeons weekly during the racing season.

I’ve seen this time and again. Some pigeons have natural health. Others don’t. By natural health I mean that they are more resistant to disease and also recovers more quickly than others. A fellow fancier recently had a PMV outbreak. A lot of babies died. After checking his breeding records he found that babies died out of random pairs except for 1 pair where all 4 babies did not make it. Why? I reckon because that pair bred babies with a sub-standard immune system!

During the racing season I agree that medication is sometimes needed. Especially when talking about common things like canker, worms, cocci etc. Strong antibiotics should however only be needed if something serious goes wrong. This is where I think fanciers make a big mistake because they are giving these super antibiotics without any reason. Just think what it does to the pigeons’ immunity. They are so used to getting this stuff that they simply cannot function without it. A cycle is started where the pigeons do not reach the required level of health without getting medication. We do not believe in such tactics and only medicate when we deem necessary.

Our babies are raised on no medicine as far as possible. They must build immunity. Only supplements like vitamins / pro-biotics / minerals are given to all pigeons during the off season. We’ve had cases where canker or cocci flared up but a 3 day treatment with a light medication restored their health.

I believe pigeons with natural health retains their form for longer. The question I always ask myself – Why medicate my pigeons when they race well? A loft on form should not be tampered with. Healthy pigeons have shiny feathers. They are active and full of energy. All signs of race condition.

Another question I always ask myself – if I have 60 babies and they are in good health except for the same 1 or 2 that always seem ‘off’ – what’s different for those 1 or 2 pigeons? Is there a general problem in the loft or do they just have a sub-standard immune system? Nature is a ruthless selector.

I believe that good health and a good immune system is a genetic trait which might have been neglected in the past few years. The luxury of having antibiotics available to ‘fix’ the pigeons’ health is very bad for the species in general. A breed of pigeon is being developed with little to no resistance to disease. Without the antibiotics they do not perform. We need to be very careful on how and when we use medicine.

That’s why our off-season selection focuses on pigeons with good health without having to continually run to the medicine cabinet. If they cannot cope during the off-season it will be much harder for them to cope during the racing season when the is much more exposure to germs in the panniers. As said before – if there is an epidemic breakout, you will have to treat the flock. Individual treatment is also an option if only a few pigeons are not well. Pigeons that recover without too much assistance should have a good immune system because their bodies learnt to fight the disease.

Fitness

Fitness as a selection criteria differs from loft to loft. The fancier’s loft management and the way he trains his birds differs. Some fanciers prefer to road train a lot. Others don’t. Some race their birds each weekend. Others only race them every 2nd or 3rd week.

On the shorts we race the front flyers weekly. Then we change to bi-weekly. Thus we require pigeons that can recuperate quickly on the shorts. They should also not put on too much weight during the week that they rest.

Our ideal pigeon for the short and middle distances is thus a bird that’s not heavy. We’ve seen that those heavy ones do not keep up at our loft. They also need much more training to get them fit enough for the races. Even though some of our birds get fat during the off-season, they are able to shed those grams very quickly during pre-season training. Thus they reach the required level of fitness before the first race.

We select for pigeons that can reach their fitness quickly and maintain it. Thus recuperating fast and keeping their form for extended periods.

Motivation

Racing pigeons must race home. Gone are the days of homers just plodding home. We need to time them in the shortest period of time. Motivation plays a key role to achieve this.

I think motivation is also a genetic trait. Some pigeons are motivated by flying to eggs/babies. Others do their best when flying on the widowhood system.

We predominantly race our pigeons to the perch. Due to work commitments etc. we cannot spend the time to manage nest positions or widowhood cocks. Thus we select pigeons that are good at racing to the perch. They might be good at other methods as well but for our management system they perform satisfactorily.

The basket stays the ultimate selector.