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Pigeon Fever ~ Buying more pigeons (2)…Henk Simonsz
The acquisition of the right potential breeding pigeons is immensely important as the basis for a successful pigeon sport. Both for the beginner fancier and for the champion who wants to maintain the same high level of racing. Or for fanciers who are searching for pigeons to excel in another discipline. It all looks very easy when you read the sales lists and background reports. Just buy some pigeons from a successful loft and off you go.
However, when you don’t think things through and don’t pay attention to the facts, it could be very difficult to find a breed with which you can be successful. Especially when you have to start from scratch again, like me. Because one thing is certain, it all requires a great deal of precision. But whether you start anew or not, everybody needs that little bit of luck to find a couple that produces good offspring together, and only then you can seriously start a colony and build it up step by step. To some degree, you can make that luck yourself of course. I don’t mean the fanciers who proclaim to have the ‘feel’ for putting together top breeding couples. That is often a lot of blah blah blah with not very much to show for it, because top pigeons are 90 out of 100 times produced by couples from which you would least expect it. What I mean is that the basic pigeons that you put together must be super. There are certainly fanciers who have more of a feeling for quality than others. And your chances of success are considerably better when you can bring that sort of quality together.
Sometimes, I read articles about certain lofts and I see the successful fancier standing in front of a very long row of boxes, often together with a full-time caretaker, plus someone who is in charge of the administration. When I read further and it appears that they can only put forward two really good pigeons, I couldn’t think of a single reason why I would want to buy young from that colony. They breed a few hundred young, of these only one or two perform so well that they get into the publicity, and then I should buy pigeons there to put in my own breeding loft? How big will the chance of success be then? Almost nil, I believe.
However, my attention is drawn when I hear of several lofts that are racing at a top level with pigeons from one specific fancier. And especially when a child out of the children of these pigeons has also flown in the lead. If, in addition, it also appears to be a loft that is not yet commercially spoiled, then it seems a likely candidate for me to keep an eye on.
I prefer to do my buying at lofts that have not yet been discovered by the masses. They are still honest in telling about their offspring, about their best couplings, and you can still buy good quality pigeons for a decent price. And if they have a super breeding-pigeon, it is often possible to get young from this pigeon with 2 or 3 different partners. Now that is useful to me. Assuming of course that I like the fancier as a person as well, and that he likes me. If I don’t have a good feeling about pigeons, I don’t want to buy them, and it is the same with the fancier.
When you follow the masses and go to the known lofts, you can forget at the outset about buying from their stock pigeons, you are only allowed to order from descendants of the super pigeons. So you end up racing with young that are already three to four times removed from that super pigeon. What then is the added value of such an acquisition?
Or you’ll have to start waving big money about. If you have enough money, you can sometimes buy good pigeons, but (luckily) that is still no guarantee for success. I believe that when you assess your own best pigeons, most of them come from a friend in the sport who was happy for you to have it, or by way of a trusted swap. My own best pigeons come almost always out of that last group.
Anyway, when you buy willy nilly from a renowned loft, and when you put these pigeons against others with big names and pedigrees, the way to success could be very long indeed. Because I presume that the intention is to breed top racers? I know it is mine! If you want to win first prizes in large competitions, the pigeons that you buy will have to distinguish themselves from a few hundred other lofts and a few thousand other racing pigeons. Those pigeons of yours have to be able to outdo the competing lofts and the already proven couples. When you take the time to think about that, you begin to realize just how difficult that could be. Especially when you keep following the beaten track, because nowadays, all lofts will have pigeons with good pedigrees, and most lofts have a more or less proven couple at the basis of their colony.
The goal that I have set for myself for now, is participating in several one-loft races, among which in any case the Belgian Master and a few other European races. In 2015, I hope to send my first pigeons to the famous race in South Africa, of which the finale will take place at the beginning of 2016, if everything works out well. The Belgian Master is obviously already an enormous challenge, because you have to compete against the very best speed and middle-distance pigeons. Because of the distance, South Africa will be a bit more difficult, but there is also a worldwide participation in that race. I had a good look at the photos of the participating lofts that were sent to me, and when you see lofts with space for some 9,000 (!) pigeons, you have to be careful that you don’t lose heart straight away.
It makes me wonder what kind of a pigeon I will have to breed to make a realistic chance of finishing among the first 100. Sometimes, when I’m interested in certain pigeons that appeal to me, or that have had a really good PR, it helps to put things into perspective to take out such a photo of a loft with 9,000 perches. When you are then honest with yourself and only look at the facts, setting aside the lyrical descriptions of the birds, it often turns out that these pigeons that you so wanted to buy, are not good enough for your purpose. Because, trust me, nobody sends a few trial pigeons to a one-loft race just for the fun of it. The performance level is very high, but with that the challenge as well. Just the anticipation of it all is special in itself. It gives me a huge amount of pleasure to breed a kind of pigeon that I hope will do justice in the different races.
Basically, it almost always comes down to forming a top couple from which you can start breeding. If you succeed and the couple produces a series of good pigeons, with one or two really good ones among them, you then have your start. If you are fortunate enough that the children of that couple also produce good descendants, then you can build up a good base stock. I believe that it is as simple as that. Just look at the composition of the existing top lofts. And with that I mean the real champions, not the ones elevated by the press. In the latter group I often see a mixture of expensive purchases that are housed in a just as expensive loft. Hobby for His Lordship, so to speak… I think it’s more buying attention.
When I want to try something new, I don’t just buy one pigeon, but four or five from the same line. Breeding with different partners will tell a lot during the span of a year, which gives you less chance of wrong conclusions, and it saves a lot of valuable time. Time that a worthless line sometimes wastes in one of the scarce nest boxes in your breeding loft. When you couple these four or five new pigeons with five of your other proven lines, you will know almost everything after one year. Do these five couplings barely produce a useable pigeon, or do they give especially high quality youngsters, then you can very quickly draw your own conclusions. You can’t accurately tell with one new pigeon and it is also more difficult to assess the offspring, especially over a short period. If the performance of the young out of the different trial couplings is disappointing, but you don’t lose too many of them, it can sometimes be worthwhile to put them in the aviary for a year and see if they perform better as yearling. You could be pleasantly surprised. And if they still disappoint, you can dispose of the entire line at once. Fast and efficient…
It can also help to use the information from other lofts with certain couplings. There are lines that are usually doing well coupled to other specific breeds. If you can make a couple with these, it saves a lot of searching. And I always look out for lines that have not yet been coupled to each other before. I have great confidence in couplings that clash strongly in ancestry. With clashing I mean lines that have not been put together for breeding in the last decades.
I myself use the following method. I try to get three to five lines in my loft that comply with the three conditions that are so important for me. For instance, if I want to breed from a pigeon out of the line of the ‘Kannibaal’, then I try to find a partner that has almost no connection in the lineage, for example a pigeon out of the line of the ‘Acefour’. Then I’ll study the pedigrees meticulously to see that they do not have any overlaps in their ancestry. If they do not, I like the combination and will try to breed good racers from the couple.
Both families have produced lead racers for generations, and the quality of their offspring has proven to be superior as well. If you manage those three to five lines in such a way that you can always make another fresh cross, I believe that then the chances of breeding a real top racer increases. I also try to keep the original lines in the breeding loft intact. If one of these couples produce a super racer that you also want to use for breeding, you can then make a fresh cross again with one of the other three to five lines.
Once more it does not mean that this is the ultimate truth, I just write it down as I see it, and how I am constructing my new breed. I realize fully that I put myself in a vulnerable position as well, but I have no problem with that at all. Time will tell if my approach will bring a chance of success for me and for other fanciers who will race with my pigeons, or not. Already this year, a friend in the sport will enter some of my young pigeons in the Belgian 500 plus races. Actually, it is still a year or two too soon for me, but I am curious how the first couplings of pigeons destined for the harder one-loft races will perform. For instance how high the losses will be and how hardy the pigeons will turn out to be.
Obviously, it is not easy to start with absolutely nothing and then trying to create a top breeding loft. But I am doing my very best and I have a lot of pleasure from it. So what do I have to lose?
I ended my last article with the phenomenon of the eyes of a pigeon. I didn’t mean the colours and blood richness, stripes and lines and so on, which in itself can be interesting as well, but purely the appearance of the pigeon and his or her eye. For me that is, besides the factual information like offspring and performances, the most important indicator and it can be the reason that I go totally off a pigeon or that it very much appeals to me.
When I tell other fanciers that I can get a lot of information out of the charisma of the eyes of a pigeon, they give me a strange look. They won’t say it, but you can see in their eyes (!) that they find it strange and that they don’t really believe it.
When you think about it, it is quite extraordinary that you can see the character through the eyes. The eyes are actually an open nerve of your personality and they reveal a lot. Too much in fact to just ignore it, because you can really learn a lot from them. When I am allowed to choose pigeons from a loft, I often choose different ones than the owner expects me to. The deciding factor is for me almost always the appearance/the eyes.
Despite the fact that we are talking about pigeons, I will make a few comparisons between people and other animals. I think that it will clarify what I mean and it will show that we all, whether or not subconsciously, already use it often.
Let’s start with assessing people, because we all have experience with that. One a bit more than the other, but we know more about it than we think. For example: imagine you are an army commander who has to carry out a very difficult task in enemy territory with a group of men, and you can choose 10 men out of 50 men that you have never met before. You also have no background of these men; you just have to pick them out of the group.
I imagine that you would make your choice of the 10 most suitable men mainly on the basis of the appearance of these persons. Their posture, their build, but mainly their eyes. You would very probably pass over the dreamers, the smiley faces, the softies and the nervous ones. You will choose the men with the appearance that you need, and I am almost certain that 90% of your choice will be correct.
Despite the fact that you don’t know any of them, that is quite something, don’t you think? The eyes also betray if someone is dissatisfied, underhand, sly or aggressive, or if they have what is called an open look. People in whom you can’t see these things and who put you on the wrong foot are for instance con men, or certain politicians who can tell one lie after the other without blinking their eyes.
When I want to do business with someone that I do not know, I sometimes show my wife a few photo’s of people with this business man among them. It is my belief that women are even more adept at assessing a person than men. I ask her to give her opinion of the people in the photograph, among them my ‘candidate’, and she is almost always right. So if it works this way with people, then why wouldn’t it work the same way with pigeons. You will of course never get it right 100%, but I am very content with 90%. The keyword appears to be experience.
People who have no or almost no experience with for instance dogs, and who want to buy a dog and choose one themselves, often don’t realize which kind of character they take home with them. The only requirement for making a good decision is experience, are they people or a pet that you want to choose. If I had to choose the most suitable horse for riding, it wouldn’t surprise me if I came home with a biting and kicking animal because that is how little I know about these noble creatures. But if I have to pick the cutest puppy out of a group of dogs, I think I wouldn’t have a problem. I have five dogs myself, and I can usually see from their expression what they’re up to, and I know their characters like the back of my own hand.
Pigeons tell you so much by the way they look at you, how they look around, how they notice everything in their surroundings, how curious they are. And in the loft their behavior shows how courageous, inventive, loyal and loving they are. If pressed, I would recognize my own pigeons just by their heads. Just because over the years, I have started looking at pigeons in a different way. Chinese people visiting the Netherlands for the first time, say that all Dutch people look alike, and vice versa. Until you spend some time with each other, then the feeling disappears very quickly. Just take your best and brightest hen in your hand and look at her head. How she looks around and takes note of everything, I find that fabulous. And after that, take your worst pigeon in the hand and do the same… What a difference!
When a pigeon is perfect in appearance, it does not automatically follow that it will also become a good breeder, but when you can choose 10 pigeons from a loft and in addition to good physical qualities, they show such character, it is highly likely that these are the best pigeons. And that one pigeon with its perfect body but with a stupid head, that proves to be smarter than its companions, may stay in the loft as far as I am concerned…