Swallowing the ‘365 pill’

The pigeon racing off-season might be a time for rest, but that doesn’t mean you must neglect your birds, cautions Thomas Smit.

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South African pigeon organisations’ racing programmes start in May/June and finish by the middle of October. There are about 24 consecutive Saturdays of racing, with many organisations having two races scheduled from different liberation points on the same day. Fanciers in the larger organisations also have the option of participating in two clubs simultaneously, which means they have three to four races every Saturday to prepare for.

In addition, the SA pigeon breeding season commences in May, which coincides with the demands of training the race team. That means some very busy weekends. Many fanciers first test the youngsters from last year’s breeding pairs, before matching these up. It’s also wise to mate the breeders after the extremely cold winter months have passed. And let’s not forget the basketing. This is done at the club on Fridays for the short distance races and on Thursdays for the longer distances. After the races, the results are tallied at the club on the Saturday afternoon.

The 2012 season will be remembered as a year of extremes due to the weather. A merciless north wind blowing against the returning pigeons would become a south-easter the following week and literally blow the birds home. This made preparation tough, as fanciers often inadvertently entered the wrong birds for the prevailing conditions into a race and lost out as a result.

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This also underscores the fact that the aftercare of the pigeons differs. While one section of the race team may require an extended period of rest and recovery, others may need more hours on the wing to keep them in condition. Communal road training is arranged two to three times or more every week. When not in road training, the pigeons are being loft-trained around the home. Morning and evening feed is supplemented with a lunch-time snack. The feed rations and mixtures are also arranged according to the day-to-day needs of the race team.

The pill
In short, a fair amount of pre-planning and a full commitment to daily pigeon care is essential to make your pigeon racing season a success. Thus, the pigeon racing off-season is a time for rest, but not neglect. Veteran racing pigeon fancier Uncle Frans Fouche once said that the best medication in pigeon racing is the ‘365 pill’. What he meant is that our racing pigeons demand quality time and care every day of the year.

As we’ve noted before, it’s often the case thatmany pigeon fanciers get a wake-up call to improve care for their pigeons just before the racing season starts – which is too late. Worse, the competitive spirit dissipates – along with pigeon care – once the racing season is over. The point Uncle Frans was also trying to make is that not only are races won due to year-round commitment, but especially as a result of the extra care given during the off-season.

Intense affection
Finally, remember racing pigeons bond with humans with intense affection and passion. It’s this that has us rise early in the morning to greet a cooing flock of feathers that can’t wait to ‘engage’ with us. This is also why pigeon racing can, with the right approach, bring the family together, making the ‘365 pill’ easier – and more pleasurable – to ‘swallow’.
After all, it’s not for nothing that many of the best pigeons in history carry the names of a fancier’s wife.

A vet’s recommendations
I asked leading SA vet Dr OC Botha what the best routine medication is for pigeons during the off-season. He replied: “None. Unless your pigeons are ill.” He also made the following recommendations:

  • Pigeons will be entering the moulting period soon and their natural immunity should be built up with vitamins and supplements, such as Avio-Moult.
  • Minute iodine supplementation supports the hormonal balance and improves metabolism.
  • Keep the feathers clean by getting rid of external and internal parasites to ensure the best conditions for new feather growth.
  • Inoculate the new youngsters against paramyxovirus at weaning with a registered vaccine specific for pigeons and again 14 days later with a chicken vaccine to ensure optimal protection against this disease.

Contact Dr OC Botha at d[email protected].

Contact Thomas Smit on 011 680 4778 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Pigeons’ in the subject line of your email.