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Successful young bird racing (part I)

From conversations with fellow fanciers it appears to me again and again that a lot of them are stuck when it comes to understanding how some competitors manage to dominate races the way they do.
That is why eyebrows are raised, accusations of drugging are made and people are guessing in the dark.

This, in particular, goes for young birds because especially in this game the differences are big. So big that even a child can understand that it cannot just be the quality of the birds that can be blamed.
In the modern 'young bird game' it is not only a question of the best pigeon, but, also of the best man it seems.
The time that young bird racing was so attractive for the average fancier because everybody had a chance to win lies behind us.
Some people (the so called ‘specialists’) made it a kind of art.
The ‘specialists’ were the artists and performed their show, the competitors or better those who tried to compete were the on-lookers.
And unfortunately the tragedy of the pigeon sport is that the common fancier and the champion are committed to each other.

As there are too many fanciers still asking questions about things that wouldn't puzzle the insider it is our responsibility not to leave them in the dark.
That’s why we will pay attention to young bird racing in a series of articles.
We start off with birds that are only some months old and finish off with what for some people is the most interesting part: The medical aspect.
The articles are meant for those fanciers who need some help and support but of course it will not be possible to have a ready made answer for all their questions.
Every bird has its own identity, just like a human being, and apart from that there is no such thing as 'the ideal system' or 'the ultimate secret'.
Anyone who thinks he alone has got it right or, he alone knows how to win the races, will fall flat on his face when he is confronted by reality. Because reality shows that there is a clear distinction between the works of one so called 'specialist young bird racer' compared with another.
They all have a good method but this does not necessarily mean the same method.
Since my results in young bird racing were described as the best in Holland and Belgian in several magazines my method is also a good one, though not the one and only.
So here we go.

Healthy babies will start to train spontaneously for at least one hour a day when they are about ten weeks old under normal conditions.
That's good. It encourages the appetite and will develop muscles, lungs and other organs. Every year, however, you hear the same old story: After having spread their wings enthusiastically for a few weeks this stops and they refuse to move an inch.
Some people get worried then, wondering whether they have bred some lazy bones that won’t be able to win them a few decent prizes. This need not be the case though.
We talked about ‘normal conditions’, which means that birds at that age start moulting. And pigeons that moult don't fly.
You can clearly see that in the moulting season: the birds are unwilling to leave the loft.
There is another reason why pigeons may stop training, though: they are sick.
How can you know WHY the birds refuse to fly?
This is not difficult. If youngsters have an appetite, if the droppings and throats are okay there is no reason to worry.
The moulting process is to blame.
But If pigeons don't fly and at the same time feel weak, won't eat or can barely digest their food you can expect them to be ill, and then you have a problem indeed.

So it is not so difficult to make your own diagnosis.
First of all the droppings are a good guide. The whiter they show the better. The more they show green the more reason you have to be worried. When droppings are slimy and clotted and stick to the scraper, as well as combined with throats that are too red, that means big trouble. A treatment with Ronidazole and Altabactine for a week may solve the problem. (Altabactine consists of chloramphenicol and furaltodone).
They will tighten themselves up, start to eat again, the droppings improve and they will start training again. They will listen to you and they will also take a bath! Pigeons that are sick do NOT listen and are NOT interested in having a bath. Never!

The first few months of a pigeon’s life are the time to teach them good manners.
They have to behave like the fancier wants them to behave.
Young pigeons are just like people.
Everybody bringing up children knows that a good attitude comes from habits formed in early childhood.
A child that has not been brought up with a certain set of standards during the first years of his life will find it very hard to conform it later on.
At the start of the racing season you often hear fanciers moan:
'The birds were on time but the trapping was a disaster. Why the heck should this always happen to me?'
Why do others have pigeons that trap so good?'
Of course others do NOT have the sort of birds that trap good.
And those who complain do NOT have bad luck.
There may be naturally bad trappers but very few. The fancier who is not a pigeon man has MADE his birds bad trappers.

A 'young bird specialist', as he is called in Europe can easily be recognised when he is among his birds: The pigeons know him and he knows his pigeons.
If you, on the contrary, have someone who is barely capable of grabbing a bird because they are so panic stricken that they fly out of the loft when they see him, then you can be sure you have a poor young bird racer.
How can you expect pigeons to settle in the loft and become attached to it if, at the same time, they feel threatened or scared to death whenever the boss enters the loft? Sometimes you feel sorry for both men and their birds when you see how they mix up with them. On occasions, they may have to grab a pigeon by its wing or leg that tries to escape through his legs.
A cloud of feathers is the visual proof of the ignorance of such a man. You have got to be a big optimist to expect such pigeons to storm home and trap well.

It is really sad to see how someone, who appears to be a normal human being, can change completely when birds refuse to trap after a race. Pacing the floor, he runs up and down, beads of sweat on his forehead.
'Come on, come on' he begs and when finally a pigeon 'comes on' and dares to land on the flap, the bird often gets a load of food thrown on top of him. The result is that even more time gets lost. In the meantime other birds may have joined and they seem to not understand. They seem to think:
'Why does this man act like a madman?'
'Why does he, like an idiot, rattle the feeding tin, and even does not hesitate to throw bits of sands or little stones?'
Poor pigeon, but even more so, poor fancier.
Loft, pigeons and fancier should be one together: a unity.
To the pigeon, the fancier should be as familiar a part of the loft as its perch. Like every animal, a pigeon gets attached to its surroundings. But if they cannot adapt themselves they may feel unwanted, and this has consequences.

The lesson is clear. Never chase a pigeon, not under any circumstances. Always remain yourself, even more, always try to wear the same clothes, if possible.
When I am miserable or in a hurry, I stay away from the loft because I know myself. By trying to grab a bird I might lose my temper, when I have to do so for a second time.
And under no circumstances do I want to upset the birds
So to be a successful young bird racer more is needed than a good loft and good birds. You also need to know how to get on with youngsters, have knowledge of how to bring them up and feed them.
In the past I sometimes took pictures of my birds. You should have seen how they welcomed me, when I entered the loft with my camera.
They did not even move and would pose willingly!
As I know exactly where my birds are at all times, all I had to do was hold my hand up. They did not even look like pigeons wanting to fly away and, of course, it is not in the nature of a bird to like being photographed. The birds WERE MADE to perform because I know how important that is. In the loft I move like in a slow motion film. At any time, I treat the birds with respect.
The result is that seeing me alone is already a signal to enter the loft.
I do not need to rattle with food nor do I need to use a whistle.
Not one second gets lost after they have come from a race and now you may understand this is not quite coincidental.
(To be continued)

About the author: Ad Schaerlaeckens
- He is known as one of the best young bird racers of all Holland and Belgium, in his area no one ever has won so many races.
- Since 1980 he was 1st Champion yearly without any interruption.
- He is known in Holland as ‘Mr Orleans’ as no one else in the country raced so good from National Orleans, the biggest race in the world.