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A FEW THOUGHTS ON BREEDING by Dennis Barrie McCarthy.


Besides racing pigeons, the successful pigeon fancier always strives to improve or continue his pigeons’ racing capabilities and no better way than through his breeding program and the testing of progeny on the road. or in the races. It, will surprise many fanciers to find that many winning pigeons may neither have athletic looks, that show judges are interested in, nor conform in the hand to the standards that even some of the Aces in the sport set for their own lofts, or in the selection of other fancier’s pigeons. It has always been my own goal to breed pigeons that I enjoy to look at and that will also perform well. Every fancier has his own likes and dislikes, but ultimately his pigeons must be competitive. To accomplish this he will have to exercise a selection strategy. Firstly, eliminate or break up matings or pairs that do not produce birds equal to your best and consistent performers. Before a fancier and particularly a novice eradicates any of his existing stock he must first determine all the contributing factors for the poor performance of the siblings or progeny. Individual birds within a pair that carry any sub standard "faults" which have been transmitted to or inherited by their progeny must be eliminated from the breeding program. Some fanciers are so severe that any directly related offspring from former matings are also eliminated. When this exercise has been successfully undertaken the fancier goes one step further and sets a higher standard for his racing team to only keep the best racers, which will ultimately become part of his future breeding colony. The fancier can decide according to the number of positions that his birds fly or achieve in various levels of competition whether in loft, club, union or higher. In my loft birds must have scored more than once in a season in the first 100 positions of the union result to earn their perch. If a young bird in a winning family has always shown keenness and been knocking at the positions, patience exercised is very often rewarded in the following and subsequent years.

Each season some fanciers stick to a ratio of 5:3:2 for their pairs, i.e. 5 proven pairs: 3 changed matings: 2 experimental pairs or introductions, respectively. This can be superseded by the "bull" or stud method where the best proven male producer or cock is allowed sole access to more than one hen at a given period. Specially designed stud breeding pens are constructed to make this possible, but I will not handle this. Enough to say that a family of your own design can be developed far quicker with this method. The progeny of up to 5 different hens can be monitored and tested in a single season. Obviously only the best hens that have returned the better siblings are used for further matings to the cock. The non-performing hens are eliminated from any further breeding program, unless they have produced successes, previously with some other cock. The fancier must then make his choice as to which line he wishes to follow in the production and development of his family. Very often we find two to three lines running in a successful loft, but in most of the Belgian lofts that I have studied there always appears to be one very successful and prepotent sire to the entire loft. When you study the breeding charts of each individual bird you find that the Sire progenitor is the same cock bird.

An introduction to "other" blood is done via a new hen and she is usually the daughter of the best racing cock in the region. Any new cock to the breeding loft introduces a complete new line or family. We normally find a short distance family or sprinters and a long distance family in most lofts. It is the exception that an all-distance family is found in a single loft, as the temperament of the sprinter and its build normally differs to that of the medium to small long cast pigeon that excels at the distance. Certain fanciers prefer to keep the small to medium long distance racer for all their racing events, as they are easily exercised for race fitness and fewer losses are experienced should the races become tough and lengthy. It all depends on what management and time you have to spend with your birds and in which competitions and championships you wish to contend. It is a well-recorded statement by many fanciers that in the endeavour to acquire other breeding material from a successful loft, no fancier can be guaranteed, that these birds will be successful in their new owners’ lofts as breeders. The laws of nature and specially those governing genetic inheritances are far greater than the racing pigeon sport. We can learn quite a lot from the basic genetic studies and findings. One of my greatest lessons learned is not to select a pigeon, because it resembles in colour the markings of one of its successful progenitors. Racing abilities are not linked to colour, sex or visible features.

Pigeons win with various colours, pigmentation intensities, patterns and eye colours. These factors can possibly play a part in an intense line-bred or inbred family where "phenotype" can be linked to "genotype", but I have found no scientific observations to substantiate this. Where a knowledgeable and selective fancier has used genetics to isolate or eliminate unwanted characteristics from his pigeon colony, the end result could look very different from the original foundation birds and even the family. The fancier could have even started with a family or strain of pigeons known for their "pure blood" where little or no introduction of other pigeons to the breeding program had been introduced for the previous fifty years. The genetic combinations are so many, as are the recessive inherited qualities; it takes a lifetime to obtain relative competitive and successful matings. Very few of the former Racing Aces carried any knowledge of genetic inheritance factors and resorted to mating the best to best. This in its own was and is a very good choice, provided you had or have easy access to obtain the best. Unfortunately the normal salary worker does not have these kinds of resources. Fanciers will at various levels of competition can and are prepared to have the hen taken to another’s loft (provided it is secure and healthy) and put down a set of eggs or two, which are shared. Some of the old Belgian lofts allowed only a single set to be laid where the first egg was kept by the loft owning the cock and the hen was returned to lay the second in her owner's loft, thereby ensuring it was the hen's egg. The wise breeder looks for an inbred family with which he is well acquainted. He considers their achievements both in the racing and breeding loft and whether their features conform to his own high standards or could improve them. Some successful fanciers keep two inbred lines in their breeding loft and use them to crossbreed for what is called "hybrid vigour". This term is confusing as hybrid refers to the crossing of two distinct species, which any domestic pigeon is not. What is achieved is the robustness and stamina associated with hybridisation.

Ultimately "winning genes" and their reproduction in future progeny are what are aimed for. However, unless all these super performance genetic qualities are housed in a perfectly fit, balanced and healthy bodily vehicle or machine, continued success will avoid you. This is true for all other theories of eye-sign, wing or colour. Imagine the latest "breed" of supersonic aircraft design with the latest aeronautical technology being driven by jet engines of the 50’s, then you may understand somewhat of what is expected of pigeons bred in the purple, but raised under appalling hygienic and dietary conditions. It is vital that any introduction to your loft has the potential or adaptability to prosper in your loft or under your management. The acceptance of any bird into your loft on "name" or family alone must be avoided. Firstly the bird must conform to racing pigeon standards in the hand and secondly it must be supported with preferably a successful breeding and then a racing record. Thirdly a breeding pedigree is advised with winning and breeding performances by the direct sire and dam as well as the more distant progenitors. Assuming that a preferred hen is introduced I personally concur with many other fanciers that her "tail dam" on the pedigree be an excellent producer and winner. You need to be assured that your acquisition is from sound and reputable sources, if you are not already familiar with the loft and inmates.