At this time of Year Christmas/New Year, in the UK, many fanciers are mating or contemplating mating their pigeons and thoughts go towards how best to breed winning pigeons.
I have been asked to pen my thoughts on the subject of breeding so with a guaranteed reading audience of one I will give you my thoughts on the subject,
There are several methods of breeding pigeons and many theories to support or otherwise the merits of each method. This article will outline a pragmatic rather than a theoretical theses approach to the subject that I hope will be of benefit or interest to the fancier.
The first thing I will do is state the obvious and that is no method of breeding is cast in stone or offers any guarantees I feel it is a matter of finding a system that improves your chances of success. The second consideration is to have a clear vision of what you want to achieve e.g. short distance winners, national marathon winners, good looking and tractable pigeons etc. The third consideration is to keep records to help you know what you are doing, what you have done, the results of certain activities. etc.
So having decided what you wish to achieve with your pigeons
Short, Medium, or Long Distance and at what level, Club, Federation, Combine or National
These ambitions will dictate the type and quality of your stock pigeons
It is probably possible to eventually achieve success with indifferent pigeons, by continuously using the basket to select your pigeons eventually one will have a loft of pigeons that will be able to compete as there are some good genes in all modern racing pigeons and if you are selective with them over years one will eventually have some decent pigeons. There is one major problem with this approach it can take many year.
I feel that winning Genes will tell and it is better to start with stock pigeons from a proven source, I personally would start with
1 Pigeons from a loft that is currently winning at the level that I wish to compete
(I see little point in starting at a disadvantage. If a fancier is not winning with his pigeons then your chances of winning with them are even less. I also suggest you get pigeons from a fancier that is winning regularly, one result means very little that can indicate one good pigeon or one lucky result I have a preference for a Fancier with a medium to small population of pigeons as they cannot afford the room to house indifferent pigeons and the average quality is likely to be high)
2 Pigeons from a Fancier I like and trust
( With the best will in the World even the most ethical and talented Fancier cannot guarantee their pigeons will win or breed winners but some will try to give you a fair chance with the pigeons they supply and often provide a word or two of wisdom that can help towards your success)
3 Pigeons that physically conform to my idea of beauty and athletic perfection
(Your pigeons will take a lot of your time so it is better to have pigeons that you admire and in which have some confidence will achieve your racing goals)
In my case I have a mantra ‘pedigree with performance’ I like to see a pedigree in which the ancestors and immediate parents have won races at Federation Level or higher, (I will comment later on some exceptions)
I also have a ‘standard’ for the physical type of pigeon I am looking for – that for me are they must be pleasing on the eye and have the attributes I think are needed to win races. This is purely subjective I have read many articles written by famous fanciers who talk about the wing, the pectoral muscles, feather quality, tight vent, strong back, buoyancy, eye sign etc. They are all very interesting but slightly conflicting with mant details as to the difference between sprint pigeon and marathon pigeon wings and the various lengths of keel etc. The differences between eye signs of racing and breeding pigeons. I can only surmise that a good pigeon may well have many of these assets but obviously not one asset on its own is conclusive proof that a pigeon containing that feature will win, otherwise the sport would be easy one would simply look for pigeons with the ‘magic feature’ and corner the market of winning pigeons I am please the sport is more interesting than that and although I am pretty sure that I sub consciously use many such criteria but I am only aware of a few. These are
When I look at the pigeon it must look ‘special; it stands out from the other pigeons, full of vitality. This often means I often pick up larger pigeons than I generally like as somehow they. especially the cocks often look ‘more grand’.
I really like pigeons that are medium size, full of vitality, glowing with health, and are muscular. I like them to resemble a wrestler a ball of flexible compact muscle that is perfectly balanced, The buoyancy I only take into account if the pigeon is fit for racing – off season or some young birds are not buoyant and it is your job to feed and train them so they acquire buoyancy. I like good soft silky feathering, I like the keel to be shallow or medium depth as deep keels do not seem so streamline although it could be argued there is more room for muscle and many deep keeled pigeons have won races. I like a step between the secondary and primary flights although I have handled many good short distance pigeons that have a very small step. I like rich eyes reflecting the vitality of the pigeon but do not follow any particular eye sign theory. As soon as I pick them up I will sense the elasticity of the muscles, the quality of the feathering and the balance. I sometimes think that when looking at the wing, the eyes and feeling the vent etc, I am going through the motions as I have made up my mind before with the look and in the first few seconds after I pick them up sensing the musculature, balance and quality of feathering.
Anyway I give pigeons between 3 to 5 stars on physical attributes
I then look at the Pedigree – this can often come first, but I think I can be influenced about how I feel about a pigeon from its pedigree so it might be best to short list your pigeons from physical attributes and then make a final selection from the pedigree.
In the pedigree I look for winners on both sides ideally at a similar distance to that I wish to win at, I am happy to see the same winner named on both sides of the pedigree. I prefer to have pigeons direct from winners, although there is in my experience little evidence to suggest that brothers or sisters to winners breed more or less winners than the winners themselves.
I then give the pigeons between 3 and 5 stars on the strength of the Pedigree
The next step is you must give the pigeon a FAIR trial in training and racing, that is the golden rule of pigeon racing you simply have to be selective to have any chance of winning.
I give pigeons 6 to 10 points for Performance
Any pigeon with less than 3 points for Physical Conformity or Pedigree would normally be culled unless they score 8 points or more for Performance
Pigeons with less than 6 points for Performance would be culled irrespective of Pedigree or Physical Conformity.
I would like to say that a fair Performance Trial is over two or more years however with the cost of keeping pigeons I do not think one should keep young birds that in your opinion will not make the levels of performance you desire. This is why many Fanciers train and race their Young Birds ‘hard’ this is to give them every opportunity to show their performance capability e.g. a pigeon that consistently is out of the top 1/3rd of your pigeons in training and racing is unlikely to make the grade even in later years.
I would suggest that your training and racing records are key to selection. They will provide a level of performance over time, with the pigeon in different condition, over different distances and being measured against its peers and other pigeons.
If one takes Yong Birds as an example in the first year they will have a minimum of Training Tosses before the first race, then say 6 races and then a further 10 training tosses between races. This will provide the young bird with 26 opportunities to show some sort of racing form.
I split my scoring into 3, I award 3 points for pigeons in the top 1/3rd, 2 points for the middle 1/3rd and 1 point for the bottom 1/3rd. (You can obviously add extra points for winning a Club race or Federation)
At the end of the season I simply add up the points and ONLY select those on the top third, half or 2/3rds depending how many I have room for in my loft.
NB: Those you are considering for Breeders must obviously have greater number than 6 from 10 in your Performance Analysis.
NB: In general to succeed you must look for an opportunity to reduce your number of pigeons i.e. you are ‘striving for excellence’ – Do not look for a reason to keep a pigeon. This selection starts before they are born if the eggs are not perfect and smooth it is unlikely to develop into sound offspring, If any young bird is always in a mess it is either ill or its parents cannot feed it properly again it will not develop into a champion, all yb’s should be able to be taken form their parents within 28 days if they are still dependent after that time they are not likely to make the grade. All winning pigeons have fantastic constitution they recover quickly from races and exercise and always seem in good health. Pigeons that regularly seem to be under the weather or need medication will not make champion stock or racers.
When evaluating your Breeding Stock Performance – as I mentioned earlier they must be given a fair trial, – I would suggest that this is 10 offspring over 3 seasons ideally with different mates unless you find a winning goldmine partnership earlier If at the end of that period the Breeder has not produced a winner then frankly it is a luxury you cannot afford in your stock loft – if you want to win.
So when we have some pigeons we set about breeding some winners. There are several methods and they go by the common names of: Line Breeding, In Breeding, Out Crossing, Super Breeders. I will briefly describe each system and add my comments.
Line Breeding is effectively breeding to protect the qualities of one or two exceptional pigeons. This is trying to keep the percentage of genes in the offspring of the ‘cornerstone stock bird’ as high as possible.
Line Breeding is a less extreme form of In Breeding e.g. Father to Daughter or Mother to Son or Brother to Sister would be extreme line breeding or In Breeding whereas Half Brother to Half sister is less extreme and could be regarded as typical Line Breeding.
I personally am in favour of half brother to half sister and then mate the offspring of these pairings, ‘grandchildren’ back to the original cornerstone stock pair. This maintains a high percentage of the cornerstone stock. There is one provision the offspring must be stress tested by training and racing.
The recognised problem with Line Breeding is the lack of vitality sometimes experienced after a generation or two. This must be countered by vigorous performance testing, if this is carried out then this method often produces a family of constant winners.
The other method of countering this diminishing vitality is to look for ‘Hybrid Vigour’ this is achieved by ‘Out Crossing’ which is crossing one Line Bred family of pigeons with another family of similar Line Bred pigeons. In this case by similar I mean the same physical type, similar high levels of racing achievement, racing over similar distances. This sometimes means looking at pigeons who have great ancestors in common, but this is not necessary to find a good outcross.
On the question of distance I have a few prejudices namely I am not in favour of ultra long distance racing i.e. where the race will generally extend to more than one day my reasons are many and complex but include, I think the result is even more of a lottery, e.g. a pigeon that spends the night in shelter or even fed and watered would have a massive advantage over a pigeon left out in the elements with no sustenance. A natural pigeon would only roam from home looking for food within a distance from which it could return at night – they are not terns or albatross so the extreme overnight distance is totally unnatural. When we race pigeons we ask a lot of them and they generally try their hardest often losing a large percentage of their bodyweight, an amount that would kill a human, so I can see nothing laudable in carrying this to an extreme. I have read several articles on training pigeons for marathon events and it seems to me the percentage of Fanciers contribution to success is far less than that required for sprint or medium distance racing and the outcome is more reliant on the contribution of the pigeon.
The other point I would make about distance is that when looking for an Outcross I would look for a Fast Pigeon over the same distance or shorter than that I would normally race. I would explain that I am looking to win races and SPEED WINS although I admire pigeons that have the stamina and tenacity to win in a head win I believe the following. I cannot provide speed that is in the genes and make up I can however train the pigeon to be fit enough to win a tough race and if I am a good fancier motivate the pigeon to race home.
Having found your Outcross you must give the experiment a Fair Test by mating the Outcross with more than one of your Good stock Pigeons and then stress performance testing the offspring as vigorously as young birds bred from your own stock. This if the Outcross is right should produce some good to excellent Performance Pigeons and this is my favourite way to breed winners.
It is often the sad case that the offspring of the Outcross are disappointing as breeders, however you must obviously give their young a opportunity. The outstanding offspring resulting from an outcross can however be bred back into your original stock and produce results as you have kept a high percentage of your original gene pool and provided an element of hybrid vigour I feel this continuous experimenting is I feel the way forward and will produce results if one keeps testing the performances of the offspring and only keeping the best.
I believe a super breeding pair will most likely come from a Outcross of two Line Bred families where the outcome produces some outstanding performance pigeons that are then bred back into the original stock pigeons.
- You must obtain winning genes from a loft that is winning consistently at the level you wish to compete NB I think many Combine races are more competitive than so called Nationals, often there is a greater number of entries and secondly the race is more fairly competed with less obvious advantages afforded to Fanciers distributed over a wider area
- Provide the pigeons with a Fair and meaningful Test and keep records to prevent any bias to the price paid. pedigree or good looks NB: I award max 5 points for Physical Attributes, 5 Points for genes and Pedigree and 10 points for Performance (this includes the attributes we seek but cannot ascertain i.e. courage, will to fly home etc.
- Stay by the golden rule only keep the best whether that is the top 10%, 20% 30% or more depending upon the size of your loft, budget and time available.
- Review your Stock birds Performance by the performance of their offspring having tested them over 2 to 3 years (10+ yb’s) with more than one partner.
- Look for a Outcross of a similar type of line bred pigeon from a consistent winning loft to provide some hybrid vigour. Examine the performance of the offspring and mate exceptional performers only back into your own line/family.