Starting in the parents nest box I place two small pots in the box for food and water.
These are primarily for the Old Birds so that I am sure they always have food available and are feeding the Young Birds with food not regurgitated water. At 21 days I keep a closer eye on the Young Birds (YB’s) and when they are self sufficient i.e picking up food from pots and drinking ( generally before 28 days) I separate the YB’s from their parents.
I train my YB’s on the Darkness System that I will comment upon in a separate paper, I put the YB’s straight from the nest onto the Darkness System. So I bring down the blinds at a set time every evening and remove them at a set time in the morning. I have two unusual practices 1) I have two sets of Blinds one more dense than the other that is brought down one hour after the thinner one and is removed one hour earlier the next day I will explain this oddity in a later article. 2) I also bring down the blinds later than most Fanciers as this enables me to remove the blinds later the following morning.
I put the YB’s in a liberation crate placed on the floor of the YB loft or section. The crate has clean straw as a bedding and has food and water troughs on the outside, this should get them use to a crate at an early age and conditioned to helping themselves to food and water. I dip their beaks in the water trough a few times during the first few days, although they should learn from other older squeakers in the crate. I know some fanciers that do not do this, working on the theory that if a pigeon is too stupid to find food and water it has no place in their loft. I am of the opinion I have already invested considerable in breeding the YB’s so a little more effort will not hurt me or the squeakers. After one week of food being available all the time I switch to feeding them twice per day. They are called to feeding by a whistle and a flashing light. If I have the time I try to feed by hand and stop feeding when four birds stop eating and go for a drink. In practice I probably feed by hand 1 in 4 times but I stay in the loft whenever the pigeons are feeding,
The YB’s can during the day wonder out through a flap placed low down on the side of the loft into the aviary (if they so desire). This should provide them with a sense of their bearings and enable them to sunbathe.
Before the YB’s can fly up to a perch I place them in a temporary cage that is placed outside the loft with access to the trapping system. The cage serves a couple of purposes, they cannot attempt to fly off, they are protected from any predators, they can get use to using the trap to get to food and water placed inside the aviary/loft.
When the YB’s are gaining in strength I place a bath in the aviary and open the aviary/loft doors to the outside so that the YB’s can explore the outside World without the cage. I do not bother if they sit on the loft roof and I never willingly frighten them from the loft and force them to fly out.
When the YB’s can fly up to a perch and are starting to take off from the loft: Before the evening feeding say mid afternoon I put them back in a crate within sight of the loft with a water trough on the outside (in case they need a drink) I leave them for few hours and then release them. They are encouraged to come to the loft and immediately trap, encouraged by food, the whistle and a background flashing light. (NB I use the whistle as a audio cue and a Flashing light as a visual encouragement to trap and enter the loft.
I let the YB’s out twice per day for exercise before they are fed. The period of training gradually increasing from 15 minutes to 1 hour. They are encouraged back to the loft and to trap by food, the whistle and a flashing light.
When the YB’s start to roam, on a good day with a moderate temperature they are put into a crate/basket (before feeding) and taken 1 to 3 miles from the loft. When I arrive at the release point I take the pigeon crate/basket out of the vehicle and let the pigeons settle down, if I have the time I wait 15 minutes but always 5 minutes. If I have travelled a Long way I put a drinker on the outside and fill with water hoping the pigeons will learn to take opportunities to drink. I always choose a release point that is clear of any obstructions e.g. I do not release into obstructions or across roads. I try to release off the ground e.g. of the vehicles tail lift or a rest the weight of basket on the top of a five bar field gate and hold it steady when I drop the release. I try to release on an easy to recall time so that I can record how long the pigeons take arrive at the loft. At the loft the timing system is set and a 1/2 ration of food and fresh water is available.
The next release point is approximately 5 miles from the loft along the expected line of flight for the first race. I follow the same procedure as the first training session.
I stay at 5 miles until the pigeons are recording a good time and beating me home I have theory that pigeons fly around the loft to build stamina and muscle, Pigeons are given training releases to learn to race. I like to see my pigeons heading straight for Home when released with the minimum of circling I want my pigeons in front right from the start when it comes to racing and I think this can only be achieved with Training Tosses.
I do not think training tosses have to be great distances but they have to be as regular as you can afford.
I extend my next training toss to 15 miles and again wait until the birds are racing home before I move on to greater distances.
If a bird comes home late or the next day and is obviously stressed I let it race for 2 days by which time it should be recovered if not it is put a black list as I need pigeons with strong constitutions that quickly recover, I allow pigeons three strikes or black book entries as they are learning.
I have written previously on diet as it goes hand in hand with training, I personally feed my pigeons rather well as I think to grow muscle and stamina and train hard a pigeon should not be on starvation diets this is a minimum of 1.5 ozs per bird per day.
When the YB;s are weaned they are kept on Breeding Mixture for a few weeks and then a Young Bird Mix is gradually added until it is 50/50.
If they have a hard training toss they are given a pick me up drink comprising 25% Cows milk 75% clean water, with a tablespoon of Malt extract ( or Honey), a spoonful of live Yogurt and a pinch of salt per quart of drink,
I give Cod Liver Oil with Brewers Yeast and Seaweed once a week given over the feed.
When the YB’s are training less than 15 miles I also provide Olive Oil with Human Baby Milk Powder and Vitamins Powder once a week. When the YB’s are Racing I change the Baby Powder for Body Builders Whey Powder.
Fresh Greens: watercress spinach, kale or cabbage is given once a week
I would like to train my pigeons most days depending upon the weather, I do not believe in taking unnecessary risk so if the weather changes when I am going for a toss I turn around and come home as losing a YB team can be devastating. I also divide my team into two or four squadrons the major teams being dictated by age e.g. first and second round YB’s. I then often then break these two teams into a further two teams generally putting e.g. nest mates in different teams. The reasoning is simply I am not putting all my eggs in one basket, I do not train or race ALL my pigeons together, in these days of abundant Hawks I even prefer to let them exercise around the loft in two groups.
I often take two squadrons training at the same time, but release them in at least two groups by waiting ten minutes before I release the second group or driving for 5 minutes further from the loft and then letting the pigeons settle for at least 10 minutes before I release the second group.
I am often tempted to send all my YB’s to the same race if it is short and the weather forecast is good and often regret not giving them the experience when that is the case but equally how would I feel if it turned out to be a ‘smash’ and my YB season is ruined!
In summary I try and get all my YB’s up the road three times a week and exercised around the loft every day.
I also continue my basket training by putting my pigeons in a crate the night before a training toss, and leaving them in the back of pick up truck overnight. The next morning they are taken to a training drop given water and a 15 minute rest before being released.
When your pigeons are racing home from 15 miles I personally think they can be dropped from anywhere. I go out to 20miles and then 30 miles
I only do 30 miles once a week and then say two training sessions from 15 miles.
this should provide enough experience for your YB’s to do well.
On the question of direction, I have some views on this but equally I have some contrary experience so I leave the reader to make up your own mind.
I will record the experience first I use to race the North road as it was the only show in Town. My work offices were 30 miles North of my loft so most days of the week I simply basketed my pigeons and set off for work gradually increasing the distance that I released the pigeons. I deducted that the line of flight would be down a certain valley West of the M1 so I found few good release points on this route and religiously trained my pigeons’ with some great results. Then another club set up in the Town racing on the South Road which sounded much more exciting with all those foreign race points. I joined the South Road Club, where most Members where training there pigeons from the South. My problem was I travelling North everyday and there were not enough hours in the day or money in the bank for me to train South as well. I continued to train only from the North with my Old Birds with only a few compass point tosses at 5 miles with the YB’s.
When I entered races I simply placed an equal number of birds in two baskets, one a took to the North Road Club and the other to the South Road Club, the following week I reversed the pigeons so they all flew both the North and South Roads. I know you want to know the results I am pleased to say I won the Old Bird and Young Bird Averages in both clubs and Federations and my YB’s won every race on the South Road, So that told me I knew very little about where I should be releasing my pigeons for training or in what direction.
In spite of the above experience I am only comfortable when I feel there is some reason or logic in what I am doing so generally I train along the expected line of flight.
The exceptions to training along the line of flight are as follows, once I feel that from 10 miles the pigeons know what they are doing I take them to all the local high points in every direction within 5 miles, I know pigeons rarely fly over hills when they do not have to, but I think that if they have had a good look around where they live when they are young then the experience cannot be all bad!.
When I get to 30 miles I cover the compass with release points say 10 miles East and West of the ideal line on the assumption the wind or weight of pigeons could easily drag the pigeons off the ideal line. A week or two prior to the first race I focus on release points 30, 15. and 10 miles on the expected ideal line.
I always assume the Ideal Flight Line is a straight line from the Race Release point
to the centre of the Federation subject to wind and the drag of racing birds, I further assume the pigeons will try a use the valleys and only climb over hills and mountains if they really have. I would like to put a tracker on some real race pigeons and get some collaborative information. I look for a valley not to far from my loft roughly pointing in the direction of the Race Release points I train my pigeons along that valley and at 5 miles the hills on either side. At approximately 30 miles I have Motorway running East to West so having calculated the service station closest to the ideal flight that is my main release point, I then go one or two service stations East or West to give my pigeons a different experience before going back to my main release point.
Once I have got my Pigeons fit and trained I need to get them to peak for racing.
This involves watching the diet, the weight and the pigeons habits. I will now go off on another odd ball theory based upon the experience of elite endurance athletes. The very best do not just ‘put in the miles’ all endurance athletes do that, they run their set number of kilometres per day and gradually increase their schedules gaining stamina to say run a marathon. However the elite runners who win marathons also endure short intense exercises, this gives them even more strength and that little more speed that wins the races. What has that got to do with racing pigeons nothing probably unless like me having copied carbo loading from elite athletes years ago with considerable success I am thinking how can I provide my pigeons short intense exercise and will it work? The answer is I do not know but this is what I am trying when I have the pigeons fully fit twice a week I am going to try and provide them with two sessions of intense exercise (when racing not later than Wednesday) . How do I give pigeons intense exercise I cannot put weights on their feet but I can train them into the wind. As I mentioned it only has to be a short session say 10 to 154 miles into the wind (not a NE wind or when the temperature is to low)
So in summary I will generally train my YB’s along the line of flight up to 30 miles I will train off the line to provide some experience and for a few weeks when they are fit I will train them up to twice a week into the wind up to 15 miles.
As I only send half my YB team to any race, the other half will have 30 mile toss on the day after the race to try and balance the effort and exercise throughput the flock and keep the diets and additives synchronised. I think sending alternate weeks reduces the stress on the birds ( I will write more on this with articles of The Darkness System and Young Bird Sickness)
The number of training tosses required once YB racing starts is greatly reduced as mentioned above flying around the loft get a pigeon fit, training teaches a pigeon to race as does racing itself so we can reduce the number of training tosses. Those pigeons that raced on the weekend do not have toss on the Sunday and might benefit from a shortened exercise session on the Sunday morning.
As we have the pigeons fit we need to keep them in form with diet a settled environment, no overcrowding or over training. As above I am happy with 15 mile tosses and flying around the loft with one training toss per week ideally Tuesday or Wednesday into the wind (in fact if the weather does not permit I would not have intense exercise into the wind on other days.
I am not keen on hard exercise on the day of basketing and if the weather is poor I would sooner leave my pigeons if the loft. There is an expression about sportsman ‘he/she left the performance in the gym’ so we do not want to risk with our pigeons leaving the performance in the training basket. Train them to fitness and keep them fit with regular training tosses say 3 or 4 per week and exercise around the loft. Keep an eye on the number of hours on the wing for each pigeon. YB’s in the short term have to win on Saturday but they are the future and we would be equally happy if they win next week or go on the win as yearlings or old birds. If they have a tough race or training session give them a rest and a chance to recover and race another day. I also do not train hard after administrating medicine, give the birds a chance to recover from the shock.
Exercise them often with ideally one or two SHORT INTENSE exercise sessions each week
On the question of creating a ‘Incentive’ to race among the YB’s my birds generally race to the perch. I do not breed very early I like there to be sun on the back of my YB’s and as my Stock Lofts are very airy I like the temperature to be well above freezing before my birds mate and have young. My Young Bird loft has rows of perches with the top row being small nestboxes with a perch on the front. Although I do nothing to encourage it if some more mature YB’s wish to mate near the end of the race season I do not nothing to stop them as it may act as an additional incentive near for the longer races at the end of the season.
I will just mention briefly coming off The Darkness System
I am expressing my thoughts and observations as I feel that no one really seems to know what is really going on.
I have observed that before YB’s were raced on the Darkness System there was no YB Sickness and by definition Old Birds do not have YB sickness even though they are racing.
Another observation is that YB Sickness seems to occur more often near the end of the Darkness System than at any other time.
There does not seem to be a definitive illness i.e. Young Bird Sickness which can be specifically diagnosed and treated it seems that YB’s suffer from a number of symptoms that lead to a number of different illnesses.
I think the YB Sickness is brought on by stress, The Darkness System causes the YB to moult rapidly, putting additional stress on the bird, The changes in the lighting is rapid a disturbance to the pigeons senses, this is coming at a time when the pigeons body is undergoing rapid change, the training routine is becoming more intense destroying and rebuilding muscle tissue whilst all the time the pigeon has to adapt to strange environments like the inside of a pigeon crate and travelling. A lot of these stressors are unnatural so it is not surprising that YB’s fall down with illness. This occurs at a time when temperatures are rising and diseases become more active.
To mitigate the effects I suggest coming off the darkness system gradually starting a little earlier say two weeks and gradually increasing the ‘light hours’ rather than changing the hours in one go. The reason I suggested having two blinds of different opaqueness is so that the light can also be changed slowly. Another reason I suspect is that by putting up blinds many lofts simply reduce the number of air changes required for good health especially as the weather near the end of the Darkness System is getting warmer. I would therefore suggest that the ventilation in the Young Bird section/loft be improved, personally I have looked at commercial chicken farms who need to keep disease at bay and they change the air several times per hour I use a power fan and a timer so that I have the fan running for short periods of 1 minute on a regular basis to extract stale air and induce fresh air.
In summary I use the Darkness System as evidence suggest that better race results can be achieved using this system. I however believe there is a connection between the system and YB Sickness. To mitigate the risk, I change the ‘blind hours’ over slowly and fit a extraction fan to compensate for the blinds reducing ventilation and the climate becoming warmer at that time of year. I guard against overcrowding ( the main stress inducer) I train and condition the birds in the early weeks to be familiar with crates/baskets/feeders etc to reduce stress later in life, I train and race the birds intensely but keep an eye on hours on the wing each week for each bird and ensure that birds are not over worked and have the energy to win races. I do not train to the feed I provide a good balanced diet that keeps in sync with the exercise and effort required.