The breeding of top quality racing pigeons is the key to being successful. A top fancier can make average pigeons perform better than others, but when handed good pigeons he will murder you in competition! To be successful in racing, the breeding of pigeons should always be at the back of your mind at all times through the racing season. You should also be thinking about things like possible birds to cull in your team, or why a certain pigeon is so good. All these types of thoughts will help you become a better fancier.
There is no better selector of pigeons that the basket, and EVERY fancier should tell you this. The next best selector is yourself, so don't always rely on the basket. Many fanciers have good pigeons in their loft but often don't realise the potential of a bird. This is because some flyers buy pigeons from 500 mile stock and expect them to win at 50 miles! When this doesn't happen, they continue racing them into the ground so that by the time a 500 mile race is lined up, they're too exhausted to compete well and show the fancier what they can actually do.
Assessment of Pigeons:
Assessing pigeons comes in many forms- eye, wing, tail and so on with most of these being theories so don't take them as gospel. However, certain elements of a pigeon can show through so that you look at the bird and say to yourself 'that will breed winners'! This sort of approach can only come with time and experience but I myself think I've reached the stage when I can assess a pigeon by just looking at it, simply because I know what the good pigeons look like in my particular family. If you have a good family of pigeons, within which there are many winners, then compare their qualities with the also-rans in the loft. To me, winners in my family can be spotted a mile off, but not in the eyes of any show judge, my eyes only. This is because I know what I'm looking for in a certain pigeon. Let me explain further.
Pigeons which are particularly inbred often look the same, usually say all blues but it is the smaller things which shine out on good pigeons. Here, I'm not taking about how deep the eye colour is or the wing length but a different type of quality. I tend to look for a quality which relates back to one specific pigeon, that being 'Silver Shadow' of Martyn Mitchell. This pigeon was a direct son of the Janssen's 'De Rode Zot 57' and bred so many winners it's untrue. Now, I have 2 direct daughters of this pigeon in my stock loft which don't look that alike to each other, but one hen called 'Lucille' does look like her father. Therefore I have paired her in the last two years to 2 cocks, one a Targa and the other a Janssen. Now, the youngsters from Lucille all race brilliantly but the other direct daughter called 'Kala' breeds a very specific type of pigeon when paired to the said Janssen cock alone. All her youngsters race equally as good as Lucille's so this pointed something out to me. The pigeons from Lucille are finer than her, as are the youngsters from Kala. They all have the same appearance even though from 2 different hens. This shows me that the line is carried through the hen to her sons, the only ones I raced at the time. Armed with this information, I've quickly found which hens in my family have the genes to reproduce top quality racing cocks when crossed with another line, used as a first cross.
X Chromosome Theory:
This theory is now proving to be a fact. I first read about it in Masters of Breeding & Racing and then it was just a theory. But, during 1994 I drew up many experiments to which I set about conducting in 1996 to the present day. All results to date show this so called theory is a fact. To me, any superior breeder cock who throws good racing hens and cocks out consistently in every nest HAS to have 2 brilliant X Chromosomes in his genes. Now, I also place greater value in the hens from superior breeding cocks simply because of this reason- all cocks pass 1 X Chromosome to their daughter who in turn passes it onto her sons only. This is where the theory bit comes in again. It is possibly why you often get top racing cocks in the second generation from daughters of top class pigeons. Now, the book I learnt the theory from stopped with it there but I carried on experimenting with another theory- the reproduction of top pigeons by line breeding.
This approach has been developed entirely by myself and has been tested and found to be possible in a few cases. Briefly, what we are trying to achieve is the reproduction of both the original X Chromosomes in a cock via the use of line breeding. I'll try and explain it now:
Say we have a champion pigeon such as 'Silver Shadow'. We know he has 2 excellent X Chromosomes but only 1 can be passed to his offspring. Now, we'll name these X1 & X2. In his first nest, he may pass X1 to a son and X2 to a daughter if the nest contains a cock and hen. But, he can also pass X1 to both, or pass X2 to both. We never know the result because we'd have to genetically test it out. Now, if the cock and hen do contain X1 & X2 then we are fortunate enough to be able to pair these together, in essence putting the X1 & X2 back together in 50% of the cocks they produce. I say 50% because the cocks carry 2 X Chromosomes and therefore one in the cock comes from his dam which is completely unrelated to Silver Shadow.
So, by experimenting with direct offspring we can feasibly get one nest pair, or a brother & sister who carry both X Chromosomes and these can be paired to create a cock which will carry both of the originals. In theory this sounds quite exciting but in practice it is very hard to achieve simply because you never know which chromosome it contains. We can relate this back to the Kala & Lucille example. I believe that because they look different, they are carrying different X Chromosomes from Silver Shadow. Therefore, I need to pair both back to their father and the offspring should be 50% copies of their father genetically. But, I think this is too close for breeding purposes so what I intend to do is use the offspring of these 2 hens which have been raced and pair them together at some point in the future. this also gives the other chromosomes a chance to break up differently and hopefully I won't end up with runty looking inbreds in my loft which don't perform. I must stress that the X Chromosome is the largest information carrying gene in the pigeon and that is why I place such significance upon it through my breeding evaluations. As soon as I get a good pigeon, I immediately retrace possible X Chromosome transfers through its pedigree to find the history of it. It mustn't be forgotten that the other genes may be responsible for other factors such as vitality and so on, so it makes sense to breed around one particular pigeon which is known to be a superior breeder, NOT A RACER!
If you wish to see another example, I urge you to read Steven van Breemen's website pages on selection. He has done a similar thing to what I'm trying to achieve but based his selection on different things which are also important factors. If you wish to try this method out, you have to think many years in advance and know what sort of pigeon wins for you. This system isn't possible is all your birds are crosses or from different families because you will never know what stage to start from. Basically you need to have a few offspring, preferably breeding winners which have come from a top breeder to try this out, and be prepared to see it through as a few bad pigeons may crop up. This system can also be done with aunts & nephews and uncles & nieces in your family.
The above table gives a typical representation of how some colours come about, this being the example of the famous Meulemans pairing.
The sire on the left is a Chequer who carries the recessive chocolate (red) gene to his offspring. The hen is a blue barred who carries 2 blue genes. The principle is very similar to X-Chromosome
theory but here we aren't dealing with mother to son, father to daughter genetics.
The table shows 4 possible offspring- a cheq who carries blue, a pure bred blue, and 2 pigeons who are blue but carry the recessive red colour (often these appear pencilled as the blue is masked over the red because neither colour is more dominant). By then pairing these last 2 pigeons together, one in four of their offspring will be chocolate (when both 'r' genes come together. Try it yourself on some of your pigeons after reading more on the subject. I find it very useful in determining the true offspring off a pigeon, e.g.- reds from chequers.
Much has been written concerning selection of pigeons in recent years. The old chestnut eyesign always seems to come about every 5 years or so but never reveals anything new or outstanding. I pay no attention to half baked ideas like eyesign because you can go to the best racers around and see for yourself that pigeons only need 2 eyes and a brain to function. I'm not going to enter the discussion because I've no time for eyesign. What I do have time for is the selection system which I use. It is based on experience and has proved to me that it works in most cases. This is below:
Selecting Old Pigeons:
· It must be bred from a top class hen who's father was a good breeder, and if possible the hen has won in big competition regularly.
· It should have proved itself as a breeder, failing that performed well as a racer. I always prefer proven breeders to racers.
· It must resemble the family type in some ways like head structure, wing length and colouration.
· It should breathe slowly in the hand.
· It should not be overweight. Many pigeons are deliberately fattened up to give the feel that it is a big pigeon when it's actually overweight.
· If it's from a long distance strain, it's heart rate should be as slow as possible when timed.
· The throat should not have been eaten away by canker, and be calm.
· The pigeon should wriggle and shake when you pull its beak forward. Only the best ones ever do.
· The pigeon should not feel like a door wedge. The best all distance birds appear slightly square in shape, tapering off very gently to the tail when in the hand.
· The wing when viewed on edge should be arc shaped.
I only know how to select old birds because I never buy young birds from fanciers
I bet you think I'm literally talking all theory by now, but trust me on this. I happened to find a pigeon with ALL the above characteristics in 1998 at the Blackpool Show- the only one from the hundreds I examined. The sad thing was I never bought it. Why? Well, whilst I was performing my 10 point examination, a man was happily stood next to me, observing every action I took with the bird. I handed it to him when he requested a feel of it, and I was off to approach the vendor about negotiating a price. Whilst my back was turned, this git bought the pigeon by approaching a helper at the stall and then made a swift exit- and he knew I was intending to buy it because I told him so. If I see him again this year, I think I'll do the same to him!
It is important for pigeons to have a lot of character. My favourite birds are the ones who will go out of their way to attack you, even though you're not provoking them. Some of my best birds will leave their nest to come and have a fight with me. One such bird is pictured here, I call him BITER for obvious reasons.
Ok, lets look at some of the theories in pigeon racing and try to dispel some of the nonsense which is currently doing the rounds. Many things are being talked about at the moment so lets take each and see if there's any substance to it.
I've never believed in this theory from day one but there are so called 'eyesign experts' out there who would gladly like to prove me wrong. My opinion is that an eye is only good if you can see accurately through it. It doesn't matter about the colour- that comes from the genetics side of breeding. However, I wouldn't listen to the experts because if you notice, most of them don't fly well at all. If they're so good at selecting through eyesign alone, they would have a loft full of top racers & breeders wouldn't they? The only thing I think is relevant in terms of the eye is what Steven van Breemen says when he states intelligent pigeons look like owls face on, that is to say the eyes look directly forward. This has to be a good sign, rather than having the eyes directing outward slightly. Colouration is irrelevant as there are only 2 types of colour- white and yellow. All the so called violets, pearls etc are slight variations on the white eye, depending on the pigment concentration. It doesn't mean it's a top breeder!
Many theories have been put forward concerning the wing, it's structure, size and shape over the years. There only appears to be something relevant in the wing theory in terms of the shape. Many good pigeons have defective flights, just as some have 11 flights in both wings instead of 10. Regarding the shape, I think it's important to have the arc shape when the wing is viewed on edge. This helps the bird gain height and helps it stop quicker. Another important factor is the wing shape in terms of the flight feathers. My opinion is that good long distance pigeons possess slightly longer flight feathers which are quite well spaced, especially the last 3 which power the bird. The last 3 flights should also be fairly similar in size.
This one is a classic! I remember reading that a fancier once went round to another fancier's loft and condemned most of his birds because the top tail feather wasn't dead centre. If it was slightly left or right of centre, then the bird was seen to be no good. Have you ever heard anything so stupid?
The theories get even more idiotic! This one is concerned with the placing and colouration of the pigeon's nails. If it had a white nail on one foot, it was a good breeder etc. Total nonsense! This is only down to the keratin in the nail and the melanin content.
This one I do believe has some relevance. The wingpit (armpit in humans) has a collection of about 5 feathers which are of different sizes. They appear either long or short but with one distinct difference- their cut. This cut is seen at the tip of the feather and it makes the whole thing look like someone has trimmed it with a pair of scissors at 90 degree angles (square appearance overall). Now, go into your loft and handle your best breeders, cocks & hens. Open their wings and look at their feathers- nearly all of the best breeders have square shaped wingpit feathers that I've seen. This could be a genetic trait but the racers often don't have this feature, their's being a more pointed structure. However, some of my best racers who do have a square cut feather are good breeders as well.
Have you ever noticed some pigeons have very dark bands of black on their tail and flight tips when compared with others? This is due to the melanin content in the feather. The darker the feather, the greater the content. The relevence here is that melanin makes a feather stronger in structure, a bit like keratin makes our hair and nails strong. With pigeons therefore, a darker feather colour may mean the birds flights could withstand a longer duration of flight when compared to an average pigeon. Not many have the very dark feathering though, but I think it would be beneficial to have more melanin in feathers for Long Distance racers - this is my theory anyway, due to the extended flying times they are put under.