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Successful young bird racing (part IV)

In the old days fanciers in Europe did not start breeding babies until February when the days got longer and temperatures higher.
But times have changed.
Nowadays most Dutch and Belgians mate up the birds end of November so that there are babies on New Year when the new rings are distributed.
As far as Belgium is concerned, it is a necessity to have youngsters that were born in December or January at the latest.
There they start racing youngsters early May and naturally birds must have a certain maturity to be basketed.

In Holland, young bird racing starts nearly two months later but the Dutch too have been practising so called ‘winterbreeding’ since long.
This has to do with the growing popularity of the young bird races.
In the old days this was different.
Young bird races did not matter too much; people raced babies because they had to be taught for the future, they needed experience.
Nowadays youngsters are raced to win, for that you need older birds, which explains why the Dutch also practise ‘winterbreeding’.
The definite change took place way back in 1953 with the start of National Orleans, an initiative that created a lot of opposition at first, which was sparked off by the fact that the first Orleansrace was destined to be a complete disaster.
'See, that was too far for young pigeons' sang the pessimists.
As for Germany young bird racing is no big deal still, that’s why the Germans mate up the birds later than the fellow sportsmen in the neighbouring countries.

Since the 80-ies young bird racing did not only become popular, fanciers also found that babies could easily handle 3 or 4 long distance races and
these races became the icing on the cake for many.
Even those who always were against them felt forced to conform.
That’s why older birds one needed; they can be better motivated, they are easier to race on the nest or widowhood, and there are fewer problems with the moult.
But in 1999 people of the ‘Animal protection’ spoilt the fun.
They said races farther than 450 kilometres are too hard on the birds and they were banned, including the greatest race in the world, Orleans, with one time an entry of over 200,000 birds.
The fanciers that had specialised on long distance with babies were furious. Young birds get lost indeed but this happens mostly to inexperienced babies the first times they are being raced from shorter distances.
Their protests were in vain though and long distance with babies became history.

Talking about early breeds the Belgians and Dutch have never understood why foreign buyers want such birds. They themselves do not even think about buying them.
The reason is no serious fancier will want to get rid of them, they need these for themselves, as they cannot race summer breds and they think about the future as well.
Young bird racing became popular but old bird races are more important still and for that you need birds that are experienced in their year of birth.
Late breds are unfit to race as a baby and as old birds, that’s why the champions can spare them.
So unlike foreigners it is summerbreds Europeans want when buying birds. It seems as if they are more patient. Waiting for half a year or so to breed from the birds they bought is the price they gladly pay for quality.

As mentioned before the young bird racing in Holland does not start off until summer.
In the past babies were trained just before the racing season started but fanciers have learnt their lesson.
Pigeons that are not trained until they are six months old will not make it so they started training youngsters earlier, when they are four months old maximum.
Especially during the first training tosses the weather must be nice, of course.
Watch out for strong winds when training birds that lack experience. Whether it is headwinds or tailwinds does not matter.
Now everybody knows what it means to race birds that hardly ever saw the inside of a basket before.
Sometimes you can read about Super champions that dominate the young bird races with birds 'that were never trained’.
I think they are not Super champions but Super liars.
They claim ‘they never train’ because they want to impress. As if they want to say: 'I can even be that good with birds that have no experience. Imagine how devastating my results would be if I would race birds that were trained well.’

The result of not training birds properly can clearly be seen with late hatches that are raced as old birds.
No plumage will be left of these summerbreds raced as yearlings.
'Because summerbreds are stupid' is the saying.
I think this is a strange point of view. I don't see why birds born in autumn should be classed as more stupid than their brothers and sisters born early in the year.
Such birds are not stupid but behave stupid.
So training is a must, all those champions who take their birds training regularly don't do that because it's fun. They do it for a reason.
What I am saying can be highlighted with concrete examples.
- In some clubs here are separate competitions for early breeds and late breeds, in fall. They are released at the same time, but there are different result sheets.
You should compare these results!
I have never ever witnessed a race where the younger birds could compete with those bred in winter. Only occasionally does a late bred win a decent prize but on the whole the differences are enormous.
- In the past ‘Holland Belgium contests’ with babies were organised in autumn. The Belgian birds had been basketed about 15 times, Dutch birds about 5 times. The Dutch could hardly hit the prize list with their inexperienced birds.
- There is the smash from National Orleans in 1981.
In those days some combines raced on Saturday, others on Sunday. We raced on Sunday and due to bad weather 3 races were cancelled.
Those who raced on Saturday were luckier and were able to race every weekend.
Then Orleans came and we all participated. The race ended in a real disaster for us.
6 Days after the release only 25 per cent of the birds had returned home.
The birds of the 'Saturday flyers’ however did better and made mince meat of us.
I do not know if it is necessary to toss the birds five times a week as Americans do but I do know that even the best birds will fail if they lack experience.
- I live in Holland, right on the Belgian border.
Some of my neighbours are Belgian fanciers. The last week of July we, Holland guys, have our fourth young bird race from 210 kilometres.
The same day the Belgians race the same distance. Their birds get home far better than ours but... those Belgian birds may have been basketed 15 times or more by then.
A few weeks later both the Dutch and the Belgians race from 400 kilometres. Now there is no difference, as the Dutch birds are more experienced.

I have never heard such a lot of nonsense spoken about pigeons as when I was in America years back.
I won't say Americans are dummies but the questions I was asked were dumb indeed.
- I was asked for the address of Bricoux who passed away about 50 years ago.
- Somebody claimed to have the pure Wegges. Wegge’s birds were auctioned after he passed away in 1898 and they turned out to be mainly birds he himself had bought)
- Another guy wanted to know how I felt about crossing the Hofkens strain with that of Mr X . Hofkens had no strain and that name of Mr X I only know from advertisements in foreign papers. Not only hasn't he got a strain; he hardly wins any prizes, either.
- And I was stunned to hear that some sportsmen over there worm their pigeons every month regardless if there are any worms or not. Such remarks alone are bad enough to make you tear your hair out.
- What surprised me also was the way they train their birds. Three or four times a week.
I wrote about that in a Dutch magazine, some Europeans picked up the American system and began to train their youngsters very frequently too.
But in spite of that they did not find themselves better young bird racers.
Why such intensive training works in America and not in Belgium or Holland?
I think because the Europeans live close to each other and the mass of birds need not split directly after the release, like in America.
But what the Europeans found was that training made a difference indeed, provided one does not exaggerate.
They also learnt that an introduction to the basket is tremendously important.

You put birds under enormous stress when they are basketed for the first time.
They are scared stiff and wild.
They mess each other up, because they are anxious.
How different pigeons behave that are used to the basket. These are calm.
To know what I mean you should release your inexperienced birds together with those of a fellow fancier who has taken his pigeons training often.
His birds can't wait to fly; even without one single turning they will leave for home.
Inexperienced birds, however, are so shocked and stressed that they may not leave the basket, sit still on the ground or won't move from the roof of your car.
There is something else to consider, though!

Years back Japanese filmed the Orleans race and sent me a video copy.
I looked at it boringly until it reached the point where the pigeons were given water. Those pictures made me open my eyes wide with amazement. The birds rushed to the water troughs, and when birds are in such a hurry to drink, it means they are thirsty.
But... the tape also showed that some birds did NOT drink, because they didn't expect to be given water it seemed.
Those birds that did not drink must have been at a tremendous disadvantage when they started the journey home.
From the same race my first bird would not trap because it was completely worn out.
Three minutes got lost and that was enough to NOT win the National.
The funny thing, however, was that it was an easy race with tailwinds. It couldn't have been the weather or the distance, which had been so tiring for the bird.
After I had seen the video, I think this bird of mine had not drunk and I know why. It was my favourite and as I was scared to lose it, some races were skipped. The other birds arrived home not tired, as they had learnt how to drink in the basket.
It happens to me that while my babies come from a race during hot weather, stray birds follow them into the loft.
The first thing they do is look for the drinker.
Birds can stand the heat while flying home, but if they did not drink in the basket this seems to make all the difference.
From 300 kilometre races the birds in our Federation are sometimes basketed the night before the release, other times two nights before.
It seems to make more to be in the basket for only one night when the weather is hot, but… most losses are suffered when the birds are basketed in the evening and are released the day after.
When being in the basket for two nights birds get a chance to drink and there is a better race.

Once a champion described the way he trained his babies.
This was done gradually. Five kilometres, then 8, 10 and so on, until one day he took his first round about 15 kilometres away from his home.
And while he sat at the roadside next to his baskets, he saw his second round fly over.
'What the heck I am doing here?' he asked himself.
It seems that young, healthy pigeons fly much farther away from home than we think.
So taking them away for 3 or 5 kilometres as some do seems to be a waste of time.
What some do is put the birds in the basket and release them in their own backyard the following day, just to make them used to the basket and teach them to drink.
This is far from stupid.
An advantage of frequent training is also that it seems to delay the moult.
Fanciers found that birds that were given a few weeks off in the racing season will moult quicker than those who are raced frequently.
The big question for many is how frequent birds should be trained.
I think that it depends on the country or the area in which you live.
If you live isolated from your sportsmen, training should be done more often.
The Belgians do not train during the season. They think it is a waste of time and a waste of gas but this does not seem to be a good method for those who live in America or other countries, though.