Culling latecomers? Think again!

Many frustrated fanciers get rid of their under-performing pigeons. But is culling the best option? There are certain factors to consider before deciding to cull a weak pigeon, writes Thomas Smit.

Pigeon racing is an expensive sport and loft space should be saved for strong racing pigeons, not for weaklings who return late from training flights week after week. But is culling these weaklings your only option, or could your management be at fault?

Problems with latecomers
Once your racers have returned from a training flight or racing event, you feed them and examine them individually to select your candidates for the next event. Latecomers disrupt the routine of this smooth training programme. What do we do? Well, first we need to ask ourselves if we’re to blame. Do we have latecomers because of a problem in the training and housing of our pigeons? Or are these birds simply useless? If you’re a new starter who’s acquired pigeons from all over, you’re likely to have a few “duds” in your team. Just remember that not all latecomers are poor quality pigeons. There are some factors to consider before you cull.

The late pigeon may be sick. When the pigeon’s immune system is under stress, it can’t perform. Viral diseases will compromise the pigeon’s fitness, forcing it to rest halfway through a flight. Studies also show that pigeons with avian malaria or cancer have difficulty orientating themselves. These birds won’t be able to stay on the direct line of flight, and so will arrive late. We should do a proper health inspection of our latecomers – the more latecomers there are, the more likely it is that some form of disease is affecting the loft’s performance.


Serious injury is easy to spot. Besides sitting in a corner looking ruffled-up, injured pigeons won’t leave the loft voluntarily and won’t be interested in food, even if you place it right in front of them. However, a slight injury that will hinder speed, such as a bumped muscle or wing joint, is harder to spot. Examine the angle at which a latecomer flies upon its release – if it “hangs” to one side it’s probably injured. If its pedigree is high-quality, retire it to the breeding loft.

Loft conditions
Overcrowding causes stress as pigeons fight for perch space. There’s also a continuous struggle at the food and water trays. As a result, the pigeons don’t settle in the loft, and won’t accept it as their “home” or as somewhere they want to race back to. Unsettled pigeons are unhappy pigeons. Cold draughts, wet floors and fluctuating temperatures affect form and promote disease. If you have many latecomers, it could be your loft design that’s at fault.

Race distances and velocities

The race programme gradually progresses from short- to middle- to long-distances, and it may not suit your slower racers to fly in front simply because the shorter distances don’t suit them. Some pigeons excel on faster flights at high speeds, while others are slower, but can carry on for longer. So we can’t blame a bird for being late if it’s in the wrong category for its genetic ability.

Late maturity and patience

In my view South African pigeons mature more slowly. We need faster-maturing bloodlines. Above all, be patient. Get to know your pigeons individually and don’t cull for the sake of culling. Even champion pigeons have preferred race velocities, specific environmental conditions and distances in which they score best – so give latecomers a fair chance. Look for any mistakes in your training and health management first – don’t be too willing to blame the pigeons when they don’t score! Have faith in their ability.