Pigeon races in South Africa are held on Saturdays. Starting with the sprint series, the distances are gradually lengthened to allow the pigeons to gain form. The pigeon’s muscles are therefore not strained, but toned gradually. Younger pigeons are also allowed to first gain experience over the short distances. Champion pigeons have the ‘will to win’ as a natural temperament and give their all in the air on race day.
However, this needs to be complemented by their being on top form on the day of the race. As a result of pre-race home and road training, and providing they’re healthy, most pigeons are in reasonable condition, but not all are in peak form.
A pigeon may train well and appear fit by performing consistently in road training flights, but it may need a little more or, sometimes, a little less exercise to bring it into top form. A fancier can make minute alterations to their training schedule to assist their pigeons achieve peak form. The secret is to make these changes at the correct time.
To focus on a single pigeon that appears to ‘come alive’ with form just before a race is certainly helpful, because it could do well. But to win the race while your next arrivals struggle home late, waters down your overall performance. The problem is that the pigeons within the flock are all in a different shape and stage of either losing or gaining condition, but most are not in peak form, or are on form on the wrong day.
The answer lies in flock discipline. Some are too heavy, eating too much, others are too light, eating too little, and then you get the lazy ones that fly at a plodder’s pace. Wait for all the pigeons to enter into the loft after a training session and feed them little by little until the fourth or fifth pigeon aims for the water through. If one pigeon gets a brewer’s yeast tablet or a peanut or two, give the same to every pigeon within the flock.
We should also control the times of training flights, to ensure all the pigeons within the team spend the same amount of time and energy during home and road training. An extreme late-comer from a flight should be allowed a rest to recover, otherwise it will hover around the loft and slow the pack down during home training.
Once flock unity in terms of condition is reached and the birds are disciplined and motivated you can attempt to manipulate form to procure an ‘explosion’ on race day. Besides superior health, the four ingredients for manipulating form are: orientation, feed, exercise and supplementation. The basic guideline to feeding is more work demands more feed, and less work requires less feed. Despite less training time and a lower expenditure of energy, an increase in the food ration allows the storage of reserves and strength needed on race day. How do we achieve this scenario? Manipulating form requires close observation of how the pigeons react to the programme and minute changes to the programme, on a daily basis.
Withholding exercise to load on energy should be done wisely. Here’s an example of a programme. Starting on Saturday, all the pigeons not participating in the race get a road training flight of 140km to 160km during which they’re liberated together.
The feeding the previous morning should have been scrumptious, without allowing the pigeons to over-indulge – only 70% to 80% of the usual ration must have been given on the previous afternoon. We want the flock to be a little hungry, but not starved when they return from the Saturday morning flight.
They should arrive together and enter the loft within minutes of each other. I usually wait for 15 minutes to allow each bird’s body temperature to cool and then commence feeding. Then all pigeons must be allowed immediate access to the food. Add an iron tonic mix with glucose to the water before its arrival and a little wheat germ oil over the feed. Now, do not let the birds train around the loft on Saturday afternoon, because they will overdo it due to the oil supplementation.
Feed 80% to 90% of a normal ration on Saturday afternoon and add a pudding of dehusked sunflower to make up for the cut on the ration. Handle each pigeon gently and inspect it for possible disease or injury, weight gain or loss and administer two Brewer’s Yeast tablets to each. Place every pigeon back onto its own perch.
Ensure there are no draughts entering into the loft for the night and close of portions of the loft front if it’s unusually cold. Leave the lights on for a while to allow the birds to drink water before perching for a good night’s rest.
Contact Thomas Smit on 011 680 4778 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Pigeons’ in the subject line of your email.