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SELECTING FOR BREEDING & RACING

by John Halstead

Before the early part of next year some very important decisions will have to be made which will possibly influence the success of your pigeon racing for the next few years. This vitally important element of our sport is the breeding period, and this will be the focal point for providing ammunition for racing well into the future.

The two major aspects of breeding that I intend highlighting are the selection of just which pigeons are to be given the opportunity to produce your future champions, and secondly the choice of matching and coupling of your intended producers.

I am fortunate in that I have two exceptional pairs that have bred winners for the last three or four seasons up to Federation level and in the section of 'The Nationals', so obviously I will keep these pairings exactly the same again. I realise that, like us all, the pigeons also get older and will not continue to produce 'the goods' for ever, so as always I am looking to create other exceptional pairs of breeding pigeons. Undoubtedly the only way to find these 'golden producers' is to make your pairings and try the offspring in the races. Breeding beautiful pigeons and finding these top producers must be the ultimate for many fanciers, however, at the end of the day whether your birds produce super looking, streamlined handfuls of delight, is irrelevant. The all important question is, are they capable of winning at a high standard of competition, and are their brothers and sisters also high­class performers? This is the true measure of a really successful mating.

I usually recommend that any pairings which regularly produce winners, or pigeons that take good positions from high numbers of competing birds, because 10th position from 5,000 birds can be better than a 1st from 75 birds, should be kept together. Obviously there are exceptions, and from my own experience I had one pair that produced terrific young birds, which in consecutive years won excellent club, Open and National prizes in their young bird seasons, but then made no significant contribution to the loft after that first year. Upon realising this these stock birds were giverr different mates. I not only want to produce good young birds, but good old birds also. Proven breeders of winners are always a valuable asset and can be a good starting point in the search for that 'super couple'.

My stock loft

I believe stock birds should be perfect specimens in their own right; potential show class winners. They should have perfect shape and balance, vitality, good feather quality, and have a pedigree containing an abundance of actual winners, or high quality performance pigeons. This is particularly important, for winning pigeons almost always carry winning bloodlines not too far back in the pedigree. The saying that the apple does not fall far from the tree is always appropriate.

When I have assembled what I consider to be a group of high quality cocks which on pedigree have the capabilities of performing at all the distances I choose to compete at, and I am satisfied that they are all faultless in physique, constitution, health and shape, I then set about selecting a group of hens that will fall into exactly the same category - perfect shape, unquestionable health, superb balance and with good winning ancestors not too far away in the pedigree.

When the two groups are assembled it is time to match the birds together, with the aim of producing better offspring than the parent birds, or at least birds of equal stature to their parents. Certainly if you have chosen your base stock birds well in the first place you would probably be well satisfied in producing youngsters of equal quality.

If like me, your preference is for medium-sized birds, and you own a majority of these, then coupling becomes much easier. In my early years in the sport I would couple a large cock with a small hen to try to achieve medium-sized offspring. Even though the theory seemed good, in practice rather than producing two medium-sized birds I would end up with one large bird and one small one. Another plan I used to follow and one I believe many British fanciers also adopt is to always pair two pigeons with the same general family name together; this mating would be made without true consideration that the birds were suitable for each other. If you had two Busschaerts or two Van Reets then they had to be paired together no matter what. Quite simply there are good and bad pigeons in every strain, breed or family, so the chances of making a successful 'match' are always somewhat limited using this very British method. I say this because our Dutch or Belgian counterparts would not consider such a method of forming a breeding pair. Maybe very occasionally this could prove successful, but I feel this is not the way to build a team of breeders which will produce a high proportion of winners.

I do look to pair birds of the same family together where possible and this is termed 'line breeding', but certainly everything must be favourable with the male and female in question. Experience with pigeons prompts you 'to have a feel' for certain matings, they just seem right together, and you have a vision of what they should hopefully produce. As I mentioned earlier, starting with a base of excellent quality pigeons is the ideal platform on which to build.

I handle all of my potential breeders regularly to establish in my own mind the qualities of the bird, the size, shape, length and vitality. I then make a point of looking closely at the eyes of each bird; again to establish in my own mind the basic iris colour of the birds and then any further exceptional qualities that the eye might indicate, that is the eyesign of the bird. Over the last 15 years I have been convinced that stock birds with exceptional eyesign (but make no mistake they must have all the other basic qualities that I mentioned earlier) often produce the real top quality winners. In 1997 we made an eyesign video, and this involved photographing the eyes of my pigeons that had either raced exceptionally well or bred top-class winning racers. Throughout the making of that particular video I literally took the role of pupil whilst my teacher and instructor was Nigel Cowood who has had considerable racing, breeding and showing success with pigeons in his own right, as well as being acknowledged as something of an eyesign expert. I can confidently say that as a result of this whole video exercise my knowledge eyesign is much greater than before.

My racing lofts

Now the fact that I have these eye photographs and have been able to show them to many other fanciers, many of whom have instantly indicated that several of these eyes suggest real breeding potential has really strengthened my belief in eyesign, certainly in the breeding side of the sport. I do not need to go into this too deeply to say that I prefer most to pair two opposite coloured eyes together. For example, a cock with an orange or yellow iris to a hen with a pearl or violet iris. This basic selection does not require really close detailed scrutiny of the bird's eye with an eyesign glass, or being in any way an eyesign expert.

My breeding pigeons are not only from the stock loft, but are also selected from the very best race birds. Certainly by 'very best' I mean from multiple 1st prize winning cocks, Federation or National section prizewinners. Generally these cocks need to have had at least three separate good performances, which then rules out a bird with a 'one off' performance. These cocks are mostly paired with hens which are themselves perfect specimens, and these will most likely be full sisters to winning pigeons, or daughters of the very best race or stock birds.

It is so important to breed only from the very best pigeons you own. I am convinced that the high losses with young birds that are suffered around the country are very much due to a high percentage of fanciers breeding from almost anything or everything in their loft, rather than being ultra cautious, and highly selective, and taking young from only the very best. May I suggest before it' too late for another year to really give serious thought to which pigeons you are going to completely depend upon, and to wholly entrust with your immediate future in our marvellous sport.

John has produced a number of helpful DVDs on various aspects of the sport. These can bought through Elimar by clicking on the Pigeon Racing DVDs logo higher up on the left-hand side of this page.