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Successful young bird racing (part II)

To be successful in young bird racing a good relationship with the birds is of vital importance. To me it seems even more important than feeding, vitamins and the medical part. The problem for many people is, that this is hard to learn. You can be taught how to feed, how to deal with sicknesses, but building up a relationship with live animals some may never learn.
They just lack the good feeling.
Furthermore champions know how to condition (Pavlov) their birds and that requires skill too.

Concerning this a little story about the aging Belgian Staf Martens.
He was a blacksmith, busy all week pounding on his anvil which caused a lot of noise of course.
From an important race his first bird was an early one but it landed on the roof and stayed there. Martens was desperate but not for long. Being the champion he was he realised very soon what was wrong: The bird could not get used to the silence! So he rushed inside, started to make a terrible noise on the anvil and the pigeon immediately recognised his own environment, and trapped!

It is the easiest thing in the world to upset young birds forever.
Take the hands of the fancier. They mean a lot to the birds. With the hands they are picked up and held. How they are being handled is important but unfortunately plenty of fanciers who don't know how to hold and handle pigeons in a proper way.
Because of that I am not real keen on going into the lofts with visitors, especially not in the young bird section.
One cannot always avoid this, though. Sometimes people come from far and it stands to reason they are curious.
Then I let them hold a pigeon and, but, it's often hard work to even watch that. Not to mention the fact they can't open a wing or beak properly.
Pigeons should know they are treated quietly and respectfully. Picking up and holding them must be done in calmly. The abdominal cavity must be flat and should lay well supported by the hollow of the hand. If you can't hold on a pigeon properly then he will try to wriggle, and you will react by wriggling as well, because he has started you off. In the meantime, the pigeon won't trust you anymore.
Thus you are creating pigeons yourself which will cause you a lot of trouble.

Even the letting go of a pigeon seems a skill not everyone is capable of possessing. It should be unnecessary to even have to write about something so natural, if it were not for the fact that a lot of fanciers just can't do it.
Too often I have watched people just throw the pigeon on the ground or just drop it out of their hands. This never will happen to an expert handler, though.
And people who are so clumsy with their birds will never be champions.
If you throw a pigeon on the ground or just drop it, then such a bird is under a tremendous amount of pressure to spread its wings to land safely.
So always put birds down gently or allow them to fly out of your hand round about the height of the perch or nest box.
If you think these are details, well, maybe they are, but they are important. Believe it or not, the way a fancier holds his pigeons shows whether he is a champion, or if he is someone who will never achieve this status.

It's best never to allow strangers in your loft or let them grab birds. Do not pick up the same birds too often, either.
You know how it goes. When fanciers come to visit you, you want to show the birds off, but I have sometimes been sorry, afterwards. You always want to show your favorite birds because you feel proud of them. But it is often these birds that go lost as they do not feel at ease any more in their loft.
Don't ever lose temper. Never get mad, pigeons have a good memory.
Being too rough can have nasty results and to regain a pigeon's trust is not simple. It may take weeks or, sometimes, you will never succeed.
As I said before the hands of the fancier play a big role in the relationship between fancier and pigeon as you have contact by means of your hands, during the week when feeding and whenever grabbing a bird for whatever reason.
Pigeons should not regard hands as something to be afraid of. Scared birds are made so by the fancier's hands.
They have been taught to fear them!
Successful young bird racers have hands as well, and they are no different from the hands of those clumsy fanciers!
I will tell you about a routine of mine, it is fun and it is rewarding.

Every night before the birds get ready to roost, the same ritual gets performed.
When I arrive with my feeding tin containing grit, different sorts of seeds (treats), I pay attention to every single bird. They get some seeds and peanuts, and sometimes, I stroke them on the head to allow them to play with my hands.
Sometimes that playing looks more like fighting (I pretend to throw the bird off the perch) but I always make sure that the pigeon stays in charge. And every evening the same thing happens, all over again.
Quite soon the birds get used to that routine and enjoy themselves. When I enter the loft no bird moves. It is as though they are saying: 'Oh, you have finally turned up?'
It happens that some will start cooing as soon as they see me.
When I hold out my hand birds will even want to come and sit on it because they expect to get a treat.
Sometimes fanciers say pigeons do not hurry home to join their partner or to be on the nest but they do it for the fancier, that’s why they trap so well.
If there is one thing I cannot stand it is pigeons that won't trap.
Being home in time but not being registered is something to cause a nervous breakdown.
My babies trap as though the Devil himself is behind them. They storm in! How different this is from fanciers who can't control themselves, and are eaten up by their own nerves when a race is on.

So my birds love my hands, they expect a treat or a nice fight whereas others have hands birds are scared of.
And a hand is a hand I would say.
If pigeons have no confidence, the owner will hold his hands out only to find the birds want to fly away.
I mentioned grit.
One may wonder why it is necessary to give grit every day?
Well, grit is a most important substance to pigeons.
It is far more important than vitamins and other things, which are being talked about as though there is some mystery attached to it.
Why does one pay so little attention to grit?
One cause is that grit is not advertised, however important it is. And why does one rarely see advertisements for grit?
There is no profit in it! In fact one does not earn much selling pigeon food either, which explains why you see so many other things are advertised.
The strange thing is, though, that grit which is so useful, does not belong in the loft. Dust will gather on it and for some mysterious reason pigeons won't eat grit that feels used and dusty.
It should be fresh always.
That's why new grit should be given regularly and you should not leave it in the loft for days.
Some fanciers will throw the grit that pigeons do not want any more on a stone terrace in front of the loft and whenever it has rained and the grit is clean again the birds will go to the ground, as they now seem to be fond of it.
If you have had grit in the loft for a longer period of time, you should wash this, give it to the birds again and see what happens then.

As grit is of such a great importance a fancier should do whatever he can to have his pigeons eat it as much as possible. The calcium and minerals will do much good to the birds.

The fact that it is so cheap does not mean that it is not valuable, on the contrary.

Perches have got to look like perches. The so called ‘vee perches’ (like a ‘v that is upside down) are good for birds that rest, they are no good in a racing loft for babies.
Occasionally you see those ‘vee perches’ neatly arranged next to each other and underneath each other.
It looks nice indeed but they are no good for the following reasons:
- If I want to get hold of birds it's too easy for them to flee.
- It's impossible to leave peanuts or treats on them.
- The pigeon is incapable of holding on to it if you want to play with it.
- They don't offer opportunity to pair.
- Pigeons like hiding away. In a loft where there are only vee perches this is impossible.
Furthermore there should be lots of perches. Pigeons don't feel right when there are 40 of them and 40 perches as well.
If all the perches are occupied then that may be a pretty sight but for a good atmosphere it is not recommended. If a bird finds it hard to actually get a perch then that won't make it any easier for him to feel settled.
All champions are aware of the fact that birds should be comfortable in their loft at any time.

(To be continued)