The racing pigeon as we know it today never existed as a separate species, but emerged due to selective breeding. Its ancestors go back to Antwerp. England imported racing pigeons from Belgium, and their offspring were in turn exported elsewhere. Most, if not all, of today’s superior pigeon stock has its roots in Antwerp.
In 1932, a diamond cutter and pigeon fancier from Antwerp, Frans Putterie, settled in Kimberley. In 1940, he moved to Johannesburg and two years later began racing pigeons. His results re-wrote the performance records and soon his pigeons were in demand, as they outclassed the strains in South Africa at the time. Gradually, the Putteries merged with our SA strains.
On Frans’s advice, another fancier, Sonny Kippen, imported a pair of pigeons called Slimme and Boerin from Antwerp in 1942. These formed the basis of what became known as the Slimmes. Many more imports followed and although veteran SA fancier Monty van den Burg and others referred to ‘Old Putteries’ and ‘New Putteries’, the basis has remained a mix of Slimmes and Putteries.
The first challenge was to breed a racing pigeon with advanced direction-finding ability. Selecting for a combination of speed and endurance occurred only once the direction-finding ability had become more evident. More recently, early maturity has become key. This is one reason the latest European imports seem to outclass our SA strains, which seem to mature more slowly on average. However, our ‘golden oldies’ should not be discarded just yet.
It has been shown that once a strong hereditary transmission has been established within the foundation breeders, it’s crucially important to stay ‘near the fruit of the tree’. Selection for purity within a family is not the be-all and end-all; it’s better to focus on the ability to secure a performance index in active racing competition at the highest level.
Inbreeding and line-breeding to a desired sire or dam can provide a strong foundation. It’s true that superior pigeons can emerge from a ‘weaker’ genetic combination. But that’s because the ‘super breeders’ that produce such pigeons have a strong singular hereditary transmission. The risk is that they may not pass it on for too long if the blood is diluted with indiscriminate outcrossing.
Yet cautiously crossing valuable new imports with our golden oldies often lifts the performance of both. In fact, this has become the only way to go for most competitive fanciers worldwide.
It has long been taught that the more one inbreeds or line-breeds, the harsher one’s selection should be. True. Yet ‘panel-beating’ a mating by using a pigeon with show-type physical features to better the physical attributes of an ‘ugly duckling’ has often paid dividends. Seldom are both of the royal breeding pigeons that make up a ‘click pair’ found to be of a perfect show type.
We must introduce new genetics from the top of present-day competition and steer back to the proven foundation from where the performance originated. We should also be more tolerant of ‘mistakes’ in physical features, taking due care, of course.