Observing and training winning pigeons

Importing good pigeons isn’t as important as how we train the ones we have, writes Thomas Smit.

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Health management starts with observation and regular visits to the vet. Learning the art of attentive observation is the most important skill a pigeon fancier can learn to outsmart the competition. Once mastered, observation becomes a natural element during a champion fancier’s routine visits to the loft. Attention to detail is what it’s all about. We distinguish between negative and positive observation. Negative observation has to do with inspecting for things that are wrong and positive observation is about looking at indicators the pigeons are responsive to the system of health management and the training programme.

Observing health
Inspect the droppings for signs of disease each morning and during afternoon feeding. Ideally the droppings of fit, healthy pigeons should be about the size of a few peas grouped together, each firm with a white cap which is the equivalent of urine. Unhealthy droppings are green, sloppy and watery.

Remember to observe changes in droppings during feed changes and the administration of supplements. When the birds are fasted the droppings will turn green because of bile produced because of the lack of feed. Feeding black sunflower in excess will turn the droppings black. Feeding too many oil seeds and additives like cod-liver oil can also cause loose stools.

Racing pigeons aren’t well if they’re generally listless and refuse exercise or make sneezing sounds on the perches at night. Other signs are restlessness, feathers puffed up above the nose and at the wing butts, lameness of the wings or legs, wattles turning from white to grey, yellow deposits on the eyelids and sides of the beak or membranes of the nose, refusal to eat and rapid weight loss.

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One can smell when race lofts aren’t properly aired. One can see the watery bubbles in the birds’ eyes or slime in the throat, and unusual redness of the feet. Twisting of the neck, compulsive plucking of the feathers, a lack of balance during walking and general disorientation are all indicators of diseases of the nervous system. Besides observing signs of disease one should monitor fitness indicators. Racers should have a spontaneous need to exercise. Pigeons that coo all over the yard, pick fights and dive in the air with short sprints are happy pigeons.
Building a relationship
Stress control is the first step in taming pigeons to enable the building of a successful relationship. Don’t chase a pigeon all over the floor to catch it and place it gently onto the same perch after handling. Win the confidence of pigeons by letting them eat out of your hand. Feed them slowly while talking to them in a pleasant tone. Don’t make loud noises or sudden movements. Avoid stress by limiting overcrowding. Ensure there are a few extra perches per loft compartment to prevent the pigeons from fighting for a perch. Water fountains and feed trays should give simultaneous or easy access to avoid fighting for food.

Manipulating form
It’s not desirable to time the winning pigeon and worry when the next arrival reports stone last from a race event. This happens when the rest of the flock aren’t on the same fitness level. While key racers may need either more or less exercise in a specialised training programme, we need to treat the whole flock in the same way. Over-trained pigeons will refuse to exercise with passion and be late from road-training flights and in race events.

Weight control
Wait until all the racers are inside the loft before starting to feed the birds. Overweight pigeons become gluttons and lazy, pulling the flock back to the loft during training. Underweight pigeons may do the same, but will be too deprived to reach race condition. To build condition, serving two to three smaller meals will be more successful than feeding one big meal a day.

Feed slowly until the fourth and fifth pigeon reaches for water. Individual, run down pigeons can get an extra three to five peanuts fed from your hand. Learn the general weight of individual pigeons and note if they loose weight.  Training programmes should be designed around race dates. It’s a balancing act of work, rest and refill.