The expression “natural habitat” is not the best choice of words: after all, our racing pigeons cannot be compared to pigeons found in the wild. Racing pigeons are true, well developed and well taken care of domestic animals. Wild pigeons such as the wood pigeon will definitely not breed during the winter. They do not have this option due to lack of food. They can hardly find enough food to feed themselves, let alone enough to raise youngsters.
Winter breeding often involves hens not being able to lay eggs, a high number of unfertilized eggs and of course the traditional fights between the most difficult breeding pairs. This regularly results in a high percentage of useless youngsters and a lot of struggle. This percentage is higher in lofts with poor accommodation. Technical devices such as heating and lighting can significantly improve the overall climate in the loft.
The climate in the loft depends on the relationship between temperature and humidity and this differs a lot from loft to loft. As a general rule, a pigeon loft should be dry and the temperature difference between day and night should be kept to a minimum. In other words your loft should not be hot and dry during the day and cold and humid overnight. A pigeon can cope with very high and low temperatures but you should avoid sudden changes. Bear in mind that paired pigeons will not make a nest or lay eggs in very cold temperatures. This might occur with 100% of your breeding pairs even if they are completely healthy. In such a case you need to seperate your pairs at once and improve the accommodation of your loft first.
Another option is to wait for the weather to improve, which most fanciers will find particularly difficult. You can also stimulate the breeding pairs with a hormonal injection but this should only be used in exceptional cases. Racing pigeons cannot be compared to wild birds; they are more like domestic animals. This means artifical means are not out of the question; they can be a useful solution in exceptional situations.
There are fanciers who have had unpleasant memories of breeding youngsters in winter. To some, this was reason enough not to start breeding so early in the season. This is not a rash decision. We are thoroughly convinced that a lot of fanciers in Belgium would change their mind about winter breeding if we would see a few very harsh winters in the future, similar to some winters in the past. This is not only because the breeding itself is not without issues in cold winters; the newly born youngsters also have to grow up, make their first flights and discover the area in unfavourable weather conditions. In Germany and in other regions with longer and colder winters, winter breeding is very uncommon. The same applies to fanciers from The Netherlands. We have nothing against early winter breeding, however, you cannot ignore these observations. Sometimes we see that hens do not have fertilized eggs or no eggs at all, even after three or four weeks. Some fanciers think this has to do with a serious illness among their pigeons whereas in reality his birds are completely healthy. In addition to that, we often see hens that do not want to be paired and the traditional fights between pigeons. These problems are the cause for approximately 25 percent of the failures in winter breeding.
In practice, however, we see that some fanciers manage to be 100% successful. They are understandably very satisfied and enthusiastic about winter breeding. Let’s take a closer look at the problem. What are the reasons for failure? What are the common mistakes and what is the rational solution to these problems?
Racing pigeons are domestic animals rather than feral animals. Racing pigeons are living creatures and they are sensible to variations in methods, different environments and a change in partner. You should mind their mental balance and avoid introducing new methods every once in a while. You can help the pigeons by using the following technique:
The new young birds that are moved to the breeding lofts are housed together with the retired widowers or future breeders in the actual breeding loft. All male breeding pigeons have to get used to each other and the new environment for an extended period of time. Every pigeon should be able to choose a box freely, depending on the position. We advise having this adaption period in November, when the pigeons are separated.
The cocks that are paired (the cocks that get a different partner) and the young pairs that are new in the breeding loft can possibly be paired in advance for a few days in November, together with the older pairs. You will notice that interesting facts come to the surface in this period. For instance you will be able to identify the hens that do not want to be paired. You can also see which of the hens prefer a different partner or breeding box. You can easily distinguish the pigeons that tend to fight a lot as well. Basically you will be able to notice all possible problems in advance, which you can prevent from happening in the actual breeding period. After this period the pigeons are separated again until it is time for the actual breeding period.