Caring for pigeon latecomers

Do your pigeons always return after the others? Thomas Smit suggests some reasons for this.

The Dinokeng Loft isolates latecomers in a separate section. Here they are inspected for injury or disease and, if necessary, moved to a 'sick bay'
Photo: Courtesy of Dinokeng

It’s not a pleasant experience on race day to be the odd one out… when every pigeon fancier in your neighbourhood is receiving an early-returning pigeon in the winning pack but yours is nowhere to be seen. What can make a pigeon a late-returner? The first possibility is that your pigeons were not race-ready. You expected too much too soon. This is likely at the start of the pigeon racing season when the flock is not fit enough.

Race distances may be another factor. The SA pigeon racing programme begins in May/June, starting with distances as short as 280km and gradually being increased to the 800km mark in October. Pigeons must be given a chance to become used to the greater distances or they will be unable to cope with the jump to extended flying times. They will either return late or not at all.

Birds on medication
Sick pigeons or those suspected of being ill should not be kept in training, but quarantined and examined by a vet. If your pigeons are medicated, it’s wise not to road-train them. For example, pigeons on treatment for crop canker might have difficulty orientating themselves. They might even fly into obstacles during training.

You may also need to stimulate the orientation faculties of inexperienced young racers by liberating them in smaller batches in short road-training flights. This will help them to ‘think’ individually. You’ll know there’s a problem when the visibility is clear, yet your pigeons don’t clear the liberation site and head for home immediately.

Additional factors
Some other factors that might make pigeons latecomers:

  • Leaders versus followers – Pigeons are flock-bound while in flight and it demands a leap of confidence from one bird to break away from the pack to take the lead home.
  • Inferior pigeons – A ‘follower’ may not benefit from individual training because it’s not genetically endowed with the necessary attributes. It will remain a latecomer until it eventually strays.
  • Over-/under-training – Your training programme should provide for the demands of the expected workload on race day. The pigeons must have enough experience to cover the distance to be flown and handle the conditions on the day. Most fanciers study the weather and schedule their training programme according to the expected conditions on race day. An unexpectedly slow-paced race against a headwind often takes fanciers by surprise and their birds’ achievements are disappointing.The correct approach to training is less exercise, less feed and more exercise, more feed. However, training ‘on the edge’ with feeding methods means a fancier should give one maize kernel too little rather than two too many. The weight of the pigeon has to be kept down to increase its speed during fast-paced race events. Pigeons that make mistakes on such a programme need additional rest and nutrition to recover. It’s better to strike a happy medium with your training schedule and refrain from training too hard or too little once the pigeons are already fit.

Military-style discipline
The race team must be treated as a flock. They are rather like the army: if one soldier marches, all soldiers march. If one runs for an hour, all run. All pigeons within the flock get exactly the same treatment and are expected to respond in the same way. Specialist training – doing that something extra for individual pigeons for a forthcoming race event – can be done with more confidence once flock discipline is in place.

When some pigeons are under- or over-trained and others are too heavy or too light, the loft psychology is negatively affected. While some pigeons are in an ideal mental state and respond well to loft-training, others may be too lazy to stay airborne and drag the flock down. They are typically gluttons during feeding and dominate at the feed tray. Flock discipline is all-important.