WIDOWHOOD ONLY WITH HENS - A SYSTEM IN 7 DAYS
by Steven van Breemen
(Our sincere thanks to Steven for permission to reproduce this article - Cameron & Les)
Steven van Breemen
The racing with hens on widowhood is getting more and more popular. The system originally comes from Germany, where smart fanciers noticed that hens on widowhood had better results in bad weather conditions and during long and hard races than cocks. They thought it was a waste of good hens to lock them up half a year in a small box or in an aviary.
In Holland the system became known as the roundabout system in the sixties and at that time it was popularized by the Breman brothers of Genemuiden, but at the moment not practiced a lot. Following the system like it should be done, costs a lot of time. When summertime, with one hour less daylight in the morning was introduced in Holland, there was the problem that the hens could not exercise early in the morning with no widowhood cocks of other fanciers disturbing them.
Another reason was that fanciers noticed that during the first weeks the cocks had excellent race results and later on their results became worse. Because in Holland we have a lot of overnight races (we send a hen in such races 2 and sometimes 3 times a year to a race of over 1000 kms; and because of the long period they stay at home between those races, the system is not quite all right here) and 5-6 autumn races (you have to race them natural, because of natural moult problems) and the already mentioned summertime problem, the roundabout system is not practiced a lot anymore.
The last couple of years the system became popular in Belgium. In regard to the Dutch roundabout system the Belgian fanciers only race their best hens. This system was published after the great results of Remi de Mey. In this system they keep the cocks at home. As the sport in Belgium is professional a lot more than in Holland and almost all top fanciers there keep pigeons for a living, they have more time available to race hens alone on widowhood. And the racing program in Belgium gives the fanciers enough room each weekend to race cocks and hens (both on their own system) of different races so they don't disturb each other. The problem of sexes arriving at the same time was easily solved. In Holland there is each weekend in April/May only one race.
Why some of the Belgians just race their hens on widowhood?
The roundabout system was designed to race both cocks and hens together. For a fancier with limited space and only a few birds it was an ideal system to make the best use of both sexes at the same time. To each system however always come some problems. When you follow the roundabout system, both hens and cocks are basked for the same race. Here is at once...
Especially when the race distances are short, there is a possibility a cock and a hen come home together from a race. And if those two happen to be partners, it is not hard to imagine the fancier easily loses time and some nerve before he is able to clock them.
In the beginning of the season the races are relatively easy and both sexes are normally home quickly, if they are well trained, often within half an hour. But when the distances increase and races get harder or even end up in a smash the fancier is in real trouble. A hen has to wait a long time before her cock arrives home; imagine her disappointment of the long waiting (and when it happens more than once....). And what to say if it turns out that you paired your best cock to your worst hen and you lose that hen?
In the roundabout system the cocks in the beginning do as well as the hens. However they are easier disappointed than the hens when they have to wait a long time for their partner to arrive. The hens seem to have no problem to make love to the cock next door. The hens know of this habit of each other and hurry home faster because of jealousy. This is what hens have extra in relation to cocks and we have to make use of it the best we can. If we don't, we meet:
Hens mating with each other. And when this happens it is over and out with the system and so it will also be with the results. The hens will lose form and the cock meets a hen that is not interested in his advances anymore. And no doubt about it he will stop doing all right in the races also.
What can we do to avoid problems?
It is not so difficult to solve the above mentioned problems and to make best use even of both sexes at the same time. When you have time and space enough, pair your best cocks against your worst hens and race the cocks on normal widowhood. Pair your best hens against your worst cocks/or your yearling cocks. Doing this, hens and cocks coming home from a race always find their partner in the nestbox. The first 5, 6 races I put my yearling cocks as well in the races so I can find out about their individual qualities. Later on I kept them home and put more energy in sharpening the system for the hens in order to get the best out of them.
Doing so is the safest way for having the best race results, however not concerning the breeding aspects. When you don't have a breeding loft to produce the next generations in order to keep the quality high, you run into another kind of problem: you'll lose quality on your racing loft in no time. But most fanciers nowadays keep some breeders I think. The fact that hens mate very easily amongst each other is known by each fancier.
What can we do to prevent them from doing that?
The first thing that is very important is the way how to put them on the system. The best results I had was mating them already half December. They were allowed to raise a youngster from the breeders and with this youngster being on the age of 2, 3 weeks they went, mother and child, into the young bird loft. Then half march they were re-mated and once on the nest the training tosses started. All of them were allowed to feed and bring up one youngster. As soon as they were not sitting in the evening on the youngster anymore, the sexes are separated. The cocks did most of the feeding. The hens were allowed to stay with their youngster in the evening after the cocks fed it. This method seemed to make it easier for them to "walk" into the real system and to carry on better and for a longer time than normal.
Concerning the feeding we have to be at nearly all times very careful: we have to feed them enough but tight at all times. They must be kept a little hungry. Hens can eat a lot at all times. When cocks are nervous, they stop eating. Hens will eat at all times. One time fed wrongly and the damage already has been done: you'll find them the next day with 3 or 4 of them together howling in a corner.
So concerning the feeding keep the following in mind: On the Saturday bring them back in good shape again quickly. Peanuts or a breeding/racing mixture are the best for that job. Keep them a bit hungry the following days. And bring then them bit by bit into top form. Only the last evening before basking day they may be fed enough. You'll notice that a hen needs one day less good food (breeding mixture), in contrary to the cocks, to get in the right race form. Always remember that!
It is really a must to basket the hens for a race each week, even if they have been on a long distance race. Primary is to see the cock again and to lose their energy. It will prevent them from mating amongst each other and from just laying eggs. When it really gets summer, one really must watch them closely on this last point. When the days get longer and warmer the hens will lay easily and when this happens they stop training and we can forget racing them for a couple of weeks.
The best weapon we have is called: jealousy! We must try to make them as mad as possible on each other. So they will chase each other through the loft. Some examples: After each race let the hens stay loose on the loft. They'll pay the cock next-door a visit. The other hens know that and hurry home in order to kick the visitor out of their nestbox. After each training toss put some small seeds in a couple of nestboxes. Each time in different ones; knowing this the hens will search for that and the hen that finds the candy knows she has to defend it from intruders. Keep two lofts that look alike. You can lock one hen in the nestbox and let the other one, which lives in the same nestbox of the other loft, sit on a perch attached to the nestbox. This will drive them very mad as well.
As you know the system at first became known as the roundabout system. That means a lot of changing from one loft to another. The changes are meant to refresh their minds each time. However to realize that, a special designed loft is needed.
The total plan of the loft.
On the right side there are the two sections for the cocks. At the back there is a corridor where we can enter each section and we need it to guide the birds to the other sections. Between the cocks-, and the sections of the hens there is another corridor. It is there because both sexes should not hear or notice each other. Next to that are the two sections of the hens and totally left is the aviary.
The sections of the cocks.
There are two identical sections with 12 nest boxes each. In each nest box there is a smaller "box" where under the nest bowl is and were the cock can sit on.
The rest section of the hens.
There are two sections for the hens with perches and it is not needed for these sections to be identical, because it could be needed sometimes to put a hen in the other section. Between the perches is a board, so the hens sitting on the same height cannot see each other. It is advisable to prevent them from walking the floor by putting wire netting there.
The aviary is only open on the front side. You can give the birds a bath there. The bottom consists of wire netting with wide holes. The holes so big the hens have problems to walk there and to prevent them from mating. There are pieces of different sized round stakes just big enough to sit on top for one hen. The difference in height is to cause a little bit of competition between them. To put the hens during the day in the aviary is another possibility to give them some more distraction.
The nest boxes.
Laying eggs can be prevented as well by not letting them have too much sex with the cock. For this special purpose is the small box fitting just around the nest bowl. They can only feel and touch each other there while being together, that's it. When the hen returns from a race she finds her cock under the small box. This box is two sides closed and closed on top. The hen can go round it, sit on top of it and can touch her cock through the bars. The nestbox can be closed totally or just half. When the nestbox is closed totally the bird in it is put somewhat in the dark. The door is made of board with a lot of small holes in it and four bigger ones to hang bowls on for food and water.
What is described below is how to get along with the system the whole week through in seven days:
When the hen comes home from the race she finds her cock in the small "box" standing in her own nestbox. The hen can move freely around the loft for about half an hour. In the meantime she can have a drink of water. Then she may enter the small compartment to join with her cock. They stay there together till all the hens are home. Then again only the hens fly free in the loft for at least two hours. They receive each half hour some small seeds on the floor. After two hours both sexes may fly together free within the loft for half an hour. After that the sexes are separated. The cocks stay in the section with the nestboxes and the hens are being moved to the rest section, where they get some more small seeds and a few peanuts and breeding/racing mixture plenty. I always feed my pigeons on the floor of the loft. Doing so I have a good contact with them, they are tame and I can observe them quietly for some time. Half an hour later they are let in the outside aviary where they find a warm bath. Once inside the loft again we give them some picking stone in order to level up the salt in the pigeon’s body back again.
Another possibility is to lock up the hens in their own nestbox after having been fed and to move the cocks to the rest section, where the hens normally stay during the week. This is even better because of the real rest they get and because of the affection towards their own nestbox.
After 5/6 races it is good for both sexes to let them fly around the loft together for some time. This can be repeated each 4 weeks; it will really cheer them up.
After a long and/or heavy race it is no problem to separate them the next morning. Doing so they think they may start a new nest again and they'll stay interested in the system.
In the morning the hens get some barley on the floor of the loft. After the meal the loft is darkened a bit to be certain of rest. In the rest section the seats are situated all on one wall, because of the rest. The vertical rows are separated by a board; this too because of the rest and to prevent them from seeing each other. In this section the corners are round and the surface of the floor is kept small. As we try to keep them as jealous as possible, they'll chase each other on the small floor surface. Wire netting can be used as well here.
In the meantime the cocks are allowed to train. They are shut outside for an hour and can take a bath if they want. After an hour they hurry inside and find enough barley. They stay free on a darkened loft in order to keep them quiet. In the evening the cocks train around the loft. The hens stay inside and get some barley, but take care they stay hungry a bit. Tea of herbs is served.
Monday morning only the cocks exercise around the loft. In the meantime the hens may stay in the section of the cocks for half an hour. They get some barley there. The hens train the Monday evening for the first time, but after the training of the cocks. Once outside they immediately want to enter the section where the cocks are. However all entrances are shut and they have to stay outside for half an hour. Then their own (rest) section is opened and they'll hurry inside. They are tightly fed with only barley. The tea is removed and replaced by fresh water.
In the morning they train very early, when no widowers in the neighbourhood are out yet. They are shut out till they all want to go in at the same time. They enter the section of the cocks (they were moved to the hen section) and find their nestbox closed. They get some barley, but still tight. Now the cocks fly out and the hens are being moved to their own section. In the evening they train late after all widowers. When they have flown enough, they are called inside and find their nestbox opened and the nestbowl turned around. For a few minutes they are allowed to "blow off some steam". Then they get barley a bit more than in the morning, but they must have the impression of being hungry a little. Then we lock them in their nestboxes with the nestbowl turned up again. The cocks get this evening breeding mixture for the first time. They may choose what they want; what is left over is removed all.
In the morning only the cocks train. The hens not, they move to the rest section and get some barley. The cocks get a bit of breeding mixture on the floor; in the evening they have a free choice of that again for half an hour. Late in the evening the hens are let out. They must show their form now and train tremendously. It will be very difficult to get them all together inside the loft the same time. However we must try it. When this gets a problem, we can flag them and stop flagging at the moment they all want to land on the loft. Another possibility is to give them a training-toss of about 30-40km. After the toss they'll land easily. Inside the loft they get for the first time a good meal: we give them hand after hand breeding mixture until one goes for a drink. In the water is some vitamin of the B-complex.
In the morning the hens don't train. They are allowed to visit the section of the cocks for some time, when these train outside. The cocks train now with the other cocks that fly the normal widowhood system. They'll train tremendously and will make a lot of noise. The hens get some breeding mixture in the rest section and are darkened off. In the evening the cocks train for an hour and after their meal, they are locked up in their nestboxes. The hens may train now and once inside the cocks section they may stay free on the loft for half an hour. Then we put all the hens in the basket and give them a training toss of about 10-15km. Before and after the toss they are not allowed to be close with their cock. Afterwards they get enough breeding mixture. They have a free choice for half an hour and then everything is removed.
Basketing this evening for long distance:
Further on in the season, when races go over 500km, we basket our birds the Thursday evening. Overnight races even on Wednesday or Tuesday evenings. To prepare our birds properly for such races we start giving them one or more days earlier breeding mixture. We adapt the system of training/moving of lofts too. Concerning the Thursday: our birds going in for the race this evening don't train in the morning. The cocks train between 13.00-14.00 o'clock. Once inside the loft we let the hens in, while the cocks are locked up in their nestboxes. After a few minutes we toss them 5-10km; once home they are moved to the rest section after half an hour being free on the loft. After one hour of rest both sexes are fed with peanuts and after that they are fed with some small seeds if they accept them. In the evening they are basked from their own section.
The cocks train for a short period. The hens do not train outside. They get a bath in the aviary. The time of feeding depends on how far the race of the next day is. Feeding time is 11.00 o'clock, light, for 100km; 13.00 o'clock, more, for 300km. Sometimes in case of expected headwind, on 300km, even 14.00 o'clock. Or when real bad weather is expected I even add some peanuts, in order to play safe and not to lose birds. Around 16.30 o'clock some small seeds to make them drink before basketing. In the evening they are basked from their own section. I recommend the first short races to toss the hens first a few km's; they don't no the system yet and they should not fly around too much the next day or to look to much to widowers arriving together with them.
A few last remarks
Hens that mate easily amongst each other have to be put quickly in the aviary. They are not the ones to use for this system. House 10-12 hens in one section. In case you have more, use more sections. When you race this system for the first time you'll find yourself with a lot of hens you cannot use. If you like the system, start selecting on the hens that fit in the system. It really takes a couple of years to build a good team. When you own a strain of long distance birds e.g. Aardens it will be more difficult then when there is a lot of Janssen blood running through the veins of your pigeons.
Another possibility is to move the hen to the aviary during the day, to another loft or just put her somewhere, dark in a basket. For this purpose I have build next to the rest section of the hens an aviary, front side opened, other sides closed, with a surface of iron with big holes giving problem to the hens to walk on, and with just enough sitting spots (posts) of different heights. This last because from the highest one down to the lowest one it will put them into competition.
It is advisable to separate the hens early in autumn in order to learn to live "peacefully" together. It will give the fancier the possibility to know more about his hens before they are put on the system. Important is the daily exercise, when the fancier starts feeding more and heavier. Loosing energy is good for them and they'll become quieter.
It is really a must to basket the hens for a race each week, even if they have been on a long distance race. It will prevent them from mating amongst each other. When it really gets summer, one really must watch them closely on this point. When the days get longer and warmer the hens will lay easily and when this happens they stop training and we can forget racing the hen for a couple of weeks.
Inside the loft the hens should not have the slightest idea where the cocks are, or even hear them. To keep the loft interesting for them, put in the loft entrance some wire gauze so they can look inside a bit (through a small opening) but not enter after the training. Once the entrance opened they will enter the loft quickly. After each race they will enter the loft quickly as well.
After writing a lot of articles on the breeding subject it was very refreshing to do finally one about racing. I did a lot of research and questioning in order to present to you a complete method together with an unusual loft and with specially designed nestboxes adapted to a new system that will bring hopefully a lot of new excitement. I wish you lots of success trying!
Elimar - November 2014