Eddy Noël (left), part of the Team Noël-Willockx combination
Things are wat they are. It might be quite a setback but there are more important things in life now than racing pigeons. Still, we don't know what the rest of the season will bring, or what's still to come. And whether or not we still have training flights or races coming up, the fact of the matter is we have to continue to look after our pigeons and take care of them, day in day out.
Two crucially important elements are training and nutrition. It is crucial to keep your pigeons in top form. However, physical condition and form are two different things. The better their physical condition, the easier and quicker it will be for your pigeons to reach peak form. But given the current situation, no one can tell when we are going back to racing, if at all.
Which type of feed?
It goes without saying that the type of feed that your pigeons need for their daily training flights differs from the nutrition that they need on race day. Pigeons burn not nearly as many calories as they do while racing. Besides, these calories will come from other nutrient sources.
For training flights at home, pigeons should mostly rely on carbohydrates, with few or no fats. This is where you have to opt for a mixture with a relatively low fat content. If you want your pigeons to stay fit and slim, we also recommend using mixtures that contain plenty of crude fibres. Among the grains that are high in crude fibre are barley, paddy, sunflower seeds, kardi, buckwheat, oats and hemp seed.
Barley Kardi Paddy
Buckwheat Sunflower seeds Hemp seed
Crude fibre or the fibres that are found in these types of grains are indigestible carbohydrates with no nutritional value. On the other hand, they promote a healthy gut flora, and they act as nutritional substrates for probiotics. This, along with the fact that they help cleanse the pigeon's intestines, will make sure that your pigeons maintain good fitness, and that they put a lot of effort into their training flights.
Condition – form
The better your pigeons' physical condition, the better they will perform in training flights, and the more energy they will consume during training. It is the responsibility of the fancier to meet your pigeons' increasing energy demands. You have to provide sufficient feed if you want your pigeons to perform well, and you have to make sure they eat everything. Although some pointed oats or barley leftovers are acceptable. It is key to accommodate for their increased training load and energy demands. If we fail to do so, we risk disturbing their training intensity and training regimen, and consequently their further development.
This is no longer required, since pigeon feed has improved a lot recently, making it easier to digest and easier to absorb. Depending on the situation we get calories from different sources that are either low or high in calories. Head lettuce and a few tomatoes will have a lower calorie count compared to a portion of Belgian fries, to give you an idea. In fact, a rationed portion of pigeon feed tends to be counterproductive: their metabolism will slow down, their bodies will automatically begin to use their energy resources more sparingly. As a result, they will no longer be able to complete longer and more intense training flights, or build a base fitness for the upcoming season. Besides, if you go then back to a more generous diet, pigeons will begin to store more energy, which increases the risk of getting overweight. And that is something we want to avoid for pigeons that are expected to deliver a top performance.
I will often go out of a bike ride, simply because I enjoy it. I am not planning on racing the Tour of Flanders or setting a new hour record. I just want to enjoy the surroundings, it helps me relax and it is good for your body.
Likewise, I initially started keeping pigeons because I like these animals. I was not immediately thinking of competing in races, let alone try to win Bourges or Barcelona. I just enjoyed doing it.
Racing your birds
The pigeon racing competition can very fun of course. But if racing is out of the question, like today, I still really enjoy looking after my pigeons, simply because I like working with animals, or in this case pigeons. Pigeon races are not a goal in itself. And even if it were, you should still try to enjoy the path to your goal. The daily involvement is more satisfying to me than the competition itself.
Make a virtue of necessity
This might be a perfect time to get better acquainted with pigeon nutrition, and to learn how to use it. Pigeons react differently to each type of mixture, and this can be quite useful to master. And the effectiveness of a certain approach depends on how well you know the approach!
- Mixtures with a lot of crude fibre and a relatively low fat content (6-7%) without corn will easily allow your pigeons to train for an hour up to an hour and a half in good weather. They fly high and fast. However, it is crucial that the 6 to 7% fat content comes mostly from seeds with an optimal omega 3 and 6 ratio. Those include hemp seed, linseed, coleseed and rapeseed.
- You get similar results with mixtures that are high in crude fibre and low in fat (6-7%) and that contain corn, which you can also add yourself. The difference is that your pigeons can fly for longer. However, towards the end of the day they will be flying lower and they will circle the loft at lower speeds.
- If you opt for a mixture with a higher protein content, and these proteins come mainly from pods such as peas, vetch, lentil or katjang idjoe, your pigeons will be more eager to take off but they will be flying for a shorter period of time, at lower altitude and at slower speeds.
- If you use a mixture with a higher fat content (12-14%), your pigeons will quickly take off and will initially fly at higher altitudes and higher speeds. After a while, they will fly a bit lower and reduce speed but they will spend more time circling around the loft.
It would be a good objective to try and experiment with pigeon nutrition, to get your pigeons to fly higher or lower, for a longer or shorter distance, at a higher intensity, etc. Keep in mind that nutrition rich in fibres and carbohydrates will have an effect the very next day. Mixtures with a high protein and/or fat content should be given for two days straight for optimal results. We recommend that you take your time to observe your pigeons, during their training flights as well as in the loft.
Taking a gamble
Your pigeons digest everything they eat, and as far as energy supplies go, all nutrition gets converted into glycogen (to put it simply), which is then stored in the liver, their blood and their muscle cells. When this process is complete, a pigeon feels nice and round and light. It takes 12 to 24 hours for carbohydrates to digest, whereas fats need 24 to 48 hours to be converted into glycogen. Depending on the types of carbohydrates and fats (short, medium and long chains) in their diet, digestion times can vary widely.
Reaching peak form
If you want your pigeons to be topped-up on energy right before a race, it is crucial that their feed has been properly digested by the time of release. If your pigeons will be spending a night in the basket prior to the race, it would not be useful to give them a high-fat mixture on the day of basketing, since this would not be an optimal energy source: most of these fats would not have had the time to properly digest or get converted. And this would significantly affect your pigeon's action radius and overall speed.
In order to become more familiar with the different types of nutrition and to learn how to use them, you can try new things during training flights. But that is not your only option in this long period without racing. You can also use this time to optimize your pigeons' nutrition plan in the build-up towards future races, to get them to perform at their best.
The idea is that you adopt the same nutrition plan as you would prior to a race. And the time that you would normally basket your pigeons, you can actually put them in a basket, to simulate an actual race. You provide drinking water and they ready for a night in the basket. You can also simulate a race with two or three nights in the basket, if relevant. They get nothing but corn during their stay in the basket, just like they would before an actual race.
Monitor and adjust
At the moment when your pigeons would be released for a race, you open the baskets and pick up your pigeons. They should feel like blown-up balloons. If not, something has gone wrong. Their feed has either been digested too early, in which case they would feel like balloons that have been blown up a day or two ago. On the other hand, if their feed has not been properly converted yet, they will only feel like blown-up balloons by the evening or the following day.
You learn by doing of course, and you can adjust the timing of your nutrition plan depending on your findings. Optimally fed pigeons will be properly topped up on energy at just the right time, and this can easily help you gain two minutes per hour of racing.
It goes without saying that we are talking about healthy birds that can easily find their way back home. Good nutrition does not turn untalented pigeons into champions, but it does allow decent racing birds to perform even better.
It is good to know that you can get a different outcome for each type of nutrition and each brand, largely depending on the composition of each mixture and the balance between the different types of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
It is definitely worth trying out a few things and to adjust accordingly. The better the fancier gets, the better his pigeons will perform. This could be a good time to experiment and it could be an interesting goal to work towards. This is a matter of trial and error. We reckon the most successful fanciers have had more failed attempts compared to the successful attempts of many of their opponents.
In concrete terms
We provide our pigeons with feed with the highest fibre and carbohyrate content possible, with a fat content of around 6-7%. Do not hesitate to provide an adequate portion, until they start to skip the barley, once a day after training. Feel free to drizzle over some linseed oil, given its optimal omega 3 to 6 ratio. Administering probiotics once a week is a good option as well but we urge you not to use any supplements for the time being. Pigeons are strong animals, and if your birds need supplements only to complete their daily 60 to 90 minute training flight around the loft, they are not likely to become successful racing birds. Besides, many of these supplements put unnecessary strain on the organism. A cyclist does not take an energy gel for an easy one hour ride either.
There is no harm in a weekly bath or putting your pigeons together every once in a while. It keeps stress at bay and it makes your birds happy and content.
Best of luck!
Comments, ideas or questions pertaining to pigeon racing during the corona crisis can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org