My Management System
Here in Brisbane we race during our winter months, from May until October. We start at approximately 140 klms and race out to 1000 klms. It is far too hot to race during our summer and so our aim is to get the birds through the moult and ready to race from the 1st of May. We race mainly young birds or more correctly yearlings, 9 to 12 months old and have no need to “darken” the loft to delay the moult, rather the opposite is true, we need to get the birds completely through the moult before the first race.
The peregrine falcon is our biggest challenge, falcons are quite common and they have a major influence on our racing and releasing pigeons in general. If you keep the birds at it, sooner or later a falcon will take the bird, hence the reason why we mainly race yearlings and hens in particular!
I am often bemused to read where Europe is starting to at last race their hens, realising that they are just as competitive as the cocks. We have been doing that for the last 60 years, particularly for the long races. Also a lot of our longer races are won during the hours of darkness. The so called “old Brisbane family” of pigeons are renowned for their ability to home during the night and fanciers go to a lot of trouble to enhance this ability. There is no twilight here, in the middle of winter sundown is at 5pm and it is dark by 5.30pm. Feeding them after dark is also a big help in getting them to home during darkness.
The Federation has special rules to cover birds clocked during the hours of darkness (see www.qrpf.com for details)
I mate-up my stock birds 55 to 60 days prior to the last race of the year. This ensures my first round of youngsters are ready to enter the racing loft on the weekend of the final race of that year (1st or 2nd week in October).
I have never had much success with late-breds, and they interfere with my system, so I do not plan to breed any. Two rounds from the stock with all the young in the race loft well before Christmas, and ready for my off season routine is my aim. I breed approximately 100 to 110 youngsters to add to the 20 or so old birds that I like to carry over each year.
I do not treat my stock birds for anything other than lice and worms before breeding starts. I want the stock and the young to develop as much natural immunity and resistance to disease as possible.
I use Eprinex, a product registered as a cattle wormer, but also very good to treat pigeons for external parasites, such as lice, and I have not had any adverse reactions to its use in my birds. I do not find it is not much good for worms, but neither is the Moxidectin Plus that I also sometimes use. Avitol Plus I have found to be the best for worming the birds, but it is harsh on the stock and I don’t use it every year.
I do prepare the stock for the breeding season by reducing their internal fat, I cut their feed rations and increase the amount of barley a couple of weeks prior to mating.
During the actual breeding season they are fed a varied mixture of grains, as many different grains as I can find, plus some pellets to try and ensure they have everything they need for healthy, well reared young. They also get all the usual pink minerals, various grits and pick stones. I also grow green feed, New Zealand and Indian Spinach; that I try to give them as often as possible. In addition there is a pot of dun peas in front of them all day once they have young in the nest.
I also believe it is very important to have some dry droppings in the stock loft that the birds can pick through, which they certainly do. Pigeons are a flock bird, and I believe they pass their natural immunity to each new generation through the dry droppings. I have proved this theory to my satisfaction a number of times. It is possible to cure a loft of resident canker, by obtaining droppings from a loft that is normally canker free.
I separate the young into hens and cocks as I put them over in the race loft. This is an important requirement for my system. I want the birds to learn to break either to the left or the right, into the hen or cock sections, as they enter the loft through the corridor after exercise.
I can also allow them to move from their sections into the rear nest box section via the small openings in the bottom of the doors, which I allow them to do every Saturday and every time that they return from a toss or race. This is part of the reward I use to stimulate and motivate them to race home, I consider it a type of semi-widowhood
I am now in my off-season or moulting season.
The young are not medicated at all during this off season, except a treatment for lice and pigeon flies. I will dip all the birds in Coopex (Permethrin) for pigeon flies, if they are a problem, to ensure the new feathers are not damaged by these blood suckers that can be a problem in the warmer months here in Brisbane.
I may treat the odd bird for canker if needed, but no mass medication program. Any bird that gets really sick, losing weight etc. will be disposed of. It is hard enough to win races with healthy birds, let alone sick ones, as I was told by a good mentor many years ago.
The youngsters when they come over to the race loft are fed very well, all they want, and again with a good variety of grains & seeds, plenty of grits, pink minerals and pick-stones.
Every Wednesday every bird in the yard, including the wild birds, get iodine in the drinking water, 6 to 8 drops of Sanichick per litre for the day (3ml to 10 litres is the correct dose). In the evening I give the race birds vitamins & minerals on their feed, moistened with a special oil that I make up. I do this 52 weeks of the year, to ensure it is part of their normal weekly routine.
I only let the young birds out of an evening, hens one day, cocks the next from October to January. This way I keep them under control and get them use to coming in when I call them to be fed as the sun goes down. I turn the loft lights on and feed them all they want before turning the lights off again up until February.
Between Christmas and New Year’s Day the birds are vaccinated for pigeon pox and lately for PMV1. I also cut, and 10 to 14 days later pull the last flight during this time. I have tried cutting and pulling the last two flights, but I prefer doing just one flight, which allows the birds to stay more mobile.
Every effort is made to get the birds through the moult with a good set of feathers, too much work for the birds at this time only slows the moult in my opinion; they also get a bath out on the lawn as often as I can during this time. My aim is to get them through a full moult as quickly as possible. I also use garlic in the drinking water several days a week, and apple cider vinegar during wet weather, all through the off season.
The loft fans that I mentioned earlier, are set to run automatically for 15 minutes each hour during the day, all through the hot humid summer days.
I should also add that I attach my training crates to the front of the race loft during the off season, to allow the birds to come out and get more sun, and also to get them used to entering the crates. I can also teach them to eat & drink in these training crates.
In late January to early February I start letting them out in the morning and teaching them to trap. The hens will go out each morning and the cocks in the afternoon for one week, and then the roles are reversed.
They fly for as long or short as they want for the first couple of weeks, until I get the flag out and put them all up, and then take the flag down straight away. I am looking to achieve two things, firstly to get them to all go up together, and secondly to get them somewhat use to the flag.
I continue to feed them all they want to eat, but any birds that are slow to trap may not get anything to eat to teach them to enter the loft when I call them. I use a rattle to call them in.
The falcon can be very bad around the loft at this time of the year, as it was in 2014, and this can make it very hard for me to get them up and going. I am letting them out at about 5pm at this stage and will work back as the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, until I have them out and working for 30 minutes and back in the loft before dark. In the morning they are out about 6.15am and called in about 7.15am
My racing season starts on the 1st weekend in May, and I want to start tossing the birds at least 6 weeks before this date. My aim so far has been to get the race birds through the moult. Get them use to the loft routine, the flag as a signal to work, and particularly the expectation that every Saturday they get to go into the rear nest box section.
Feeding has been all they want and out for exercise once per day up until now.
By late February (late summer) I am looking to have the birds packed up and flying a little, but still separated, one lot out in the morning and the other in the evening for the first week or so. I put them all up with the flag, let them fly and come back down as they please, but with the loft locked-up. 15 to 30 minutes later I put them all back up again using the flag. I continue this until they are packed up and working on their own.
On the 20th March the day of the equinox, when there are equal amounts of light and dark, I turn the loft lights on to auto. These lights have special daylight tubes and simulate normal daylight.
Sundown in Brisbane on the shortest day of the year is about 5pm, so I set the lights to come on just before 5pm, and to go out in a staged manner from 7.15 to 7.30pm to give the birds time to find their perches. The lights stay on auto from now until the end of the race season, and the birds are fed after exercise in the morning, and in the evening at 6.15pm. It is really noticeable that birds fed after dark with the lights make no effort to perch until they are fed.
The lights also help the birds to complete a full moult of the flights as quickly as possible, by keeping the light at least 12 hours each day, and I find they stay more active throughout the race season with the extra light.
By the middle of March they are on the lights every day and are now let out altogether morning and night. I have roll up blinds fitted to the front of the loft and these are let down each night during the winter months, to keep the moisture out of the loft. The fans that were on auto during the summer months are now turned off. I may use the fans manually if needed during the race season.
The birds are now used to the flag and realise that when it is up, they stay up but come down as soon as the flag is lowered. I work the team for 30 minutes only; morning and evening. My birds work in a tight pack and tend to fly fast in straight runs, going about a 1 kilometre away and racing back.
The 10th flight that I pulled back in January was fully grown in 8 weeks and this gives them a very stable wing, which makes the job of getting them up and working much easier at this time of the year.
The birds mainly self-separate as they enter the loft, because that is what they have been used to during the off season. There are always a few that get it wrong and I use a tennis racket to get them over into their correct side. It is surprising how quickly they learn the routine, and I can have them all in, fed and separated in 10 minutes.
As soon as I have them up and flying freely for at least 30 minutes, and ranging a little, I start tossing them at short distances of 5 to 6klms, I am just looking to get them into the habit of going into the training crates, coming out at the release point, returning home quickly, and finding the nest box section open for them.
I use Google earth on the internet to determine the flight path from the first & second race point to my loft, and I look for toss points on this line of flight for the first 6 or 8 tosses.
As I said before they are allowed to mix freely in the nest box section every time they return from these tosses, and every Saturday.
I run the birds into the training crates, the same ones that were on the front of the loft all through the off season, to take them tossing. I have also taught them to eat in the crates by adding feed troughs to the back of the crates with small seed.
I look to get my young race team trained up to 100klms prior to the first race. At this stage I am now into my regular weekly race routine. Every bird that is well enough goes to a race or a 100 klm toss every Saturday. They are allowed in the nest section when they return and are well fed. I want every bird to spend a minimum of 1 hour on the wing from the toss and prefer an hour & half flight.
I am looking to have them fit and raring to go by Saturday each week, but certainly NOT in the early part of the week, and my efforts are therefore aimed at bringing them down in the early part of the week and lifting them up at the end.
I do this by firstly racing or tossing them on the Saturday and then reducing the quantity and quality of feed on Monday and Tuesday. After which they are very hungry, and I start to increase both the quantity and quality of feed from Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on whether we are basketing on the Thursday or Friday night.
They get more wheat and barley in the earlier part of the week, and more maize towards the end, plus some small seeds on basketing day just to top them off. I read somewhere that feeding them maize is carbohydrate loading, but I don’t believe this because maize also contains significant quantities of oil and I also believe that it contains the correct balance between oils or fats and carbohydrates, which is very important.
My aim, and it not always easy to achieve, is to create appetite in the birds early in the week, and to satisfy their hunger, so that they do not want any more to eat, by the afternoon of the basketing day, even though their crops are pretty much empty. When I get them like that and they handle with nice rounded “blown-up” breast muscles, I know they are ready to race for me. They now must use up that condition with a race or toss to bring them back down, and get them ready for the next week’s preparation.
My basic race mix consists of 4 parts corn, 3 parts wheat, one part milo, 1 part Barley, 1 part peas and 1 part each of sunflower, safflower & pellets. I add barley to lighten the mix and more corn when needed. The corn ration is also increased during the race season, depending on what type of races we are experiencing, usually it gets up to 8 parts corn or double what I started with.
All these grains are cleaned, mixed and sun dried by me before use. I also make-up a small seed mix of equal parts canary seed & French white millet with rice, linseed, safflower & sunflower kernels added. They get this seed mix every Saturday & Sunday and a small amount as their last feed prior to basketing.
Just before the start of the race season I may start medicating my race birds, depending on how they are going, every year is different, and I try to change to suit what the birds are telling me through observation of their behaviour. I will treat them for coccidoisis, e-coli, canker & respiratory problems if required.
However once the race season is in full swing and the birds are going in the race crates and mixing with other birds, I start a regular medication program against canker & respiratory problems on a 3 week basis. I use the usual medications, Resfite, Triple X, Turbosole, Emtryl, Baycox & Sulpha AVS as needed etc
Grit and pink minerals are replaced every Saturday. On Sunday they are out together and given a bath and allowed to relax for an hour or two while still mixed together, after which they are called in, fed and separated.
It is hard to keep my pigeons at their peak for the entire race season, but by racing or training them every weekend, bringing them down in the early part of the week, before lifting them again as the next weekend approaches, as well as giving them preventive medication, I can get them through the season in very good form for most of the races.
I rarely toss them during the week, except perhaps in the lead up to a major race, but I have found that, if I have my birds in form they do not need the mid-week toss, in fact they perform less well when tossed during the week in many cases. Again it is something that changes from year to year or race to race depending on the response I get from the birds. A late afternoon toss can be a very good weapon to bring the birds on if that magical form is missing.
I race my pigeons in teams, on a fortnightly basis, but I don’t hesitate to double a bird back if I notice it has come home from the previous race well, and has bloomed during the week; and I have had a lot of success with these double-back birds.
As I said earlier the birds get iodine in their water and the race birds’ get oil and vitamins on their feed every Wednesday evening for 52 weeks of the year. I make up my own oil mixture, using a variety of oils that are available in most supermarkets or health food shops, I look for those that are particularly high in omega 3 & 6.
To this oil mixture I add crushed garlic, multivitamins, vitamin E and Co-enzyme Q10 and shake the lot together and store in the fridge. I add this oil to their grain and cover the lot with powdered minerals/vitamins before giving to the race birds. I have found that Wednesday is the key day of the week for me to give them this during the race season. I have also found that powered minerals/vitamins on their feed are better for my birds then those added to the water
Good quality feed is vitally important to me, but is not always easy to find. I try to have enough corn, wheat & milo in store for the entire season.
I use a lot of maize during the race season and I usually buy my feed in bulk from the grain silos, and as stated; I clean the grain very well before mixing and sun drying it and then storing in my feed bins. It is a lot of work but I think it is worth it.
I will worm the race birds out around about the 350 klm stage, just before we get to the Thursday night basketing. I use Avitrol Plus at this stage, which is harsh on the birds and takes them down a bit, but of course they come back up even better, just as the good middle distance races are starting.
Every race season and race team are different and therefore I will make small changes to the system, mainly with the medication program, tossing and of course feeding. Feeding is without doubt one of the most important components of my system, if I can master the feeding, I know I will have a good season.
Well that’s about it, I think I have pretty much covered all that I do with my pigeons, but as I said, not every year is the same and I make small but necessary changes to the system to suit.
I have tried to be open and honest in explaining my system. I hope that the information provided maybe of use to other fanciers, particularly the new comers and those that are perhaps not as successful as they would like to be.