Selection methods: learn from the masters - part III

In the first part of the book 'A history of pigeon racing in Belgium' (Geschiedenis van de Belgische duivensport) by Jules Gallez there is a chapter that discusses the pigeons of the then world famous Huyskens-Van Riel family (p. 78).

Here is an excerpt from the book: “What the pigeons looked like? They had an average yet strong build which makes them solid pigeons. They were well muscled without being too heavy or too stout. The wings were in good proportion, not too big compared to the body: Huyskens-Van Riel did not like that. The eye shone as if they were varnished. They had a perfect throat; pigeons with weak throats were not allowed in the loft. Basically their pigeons had all the qualities that can be found in any first class stock.”

In the edition of 27 September 1949 of “De Sportduif” we can find a report about Huyskens-Van Riel, stating that their pigeons were regularly checked by Raymond Van Steenberghe. Anyone who knows Raymond or who has read his book ‘Select your pigeons yourself’ (Word keurder op eigen hok) knows that the pigeon’s throat and muscles are the most important characteristics when selecting birds. But he also pays attention to the quality of the plumes. It seems that many years ago the pigeon’s throat was already a concern for Huyskens-Van Riel, which is quite remarkable. Back in those days the doctor would also examine your throat if you were sick. Today the doctor still examines your throat but nowadays he uses a special light for this. We wonder why a doctor pays so much attention to it; according to some fanciers it is pointless to look at the throat.

The wonderful loft of Huyskens-Van Riel in Ekeren-Donk

Remi Hoebrechts from Hoeleden, the national champion long distance in 1993, paid a lot of attention to the throat of his pigeons as well. His successors in the national championships, the fanciers of Nouwen-Paesen from Grote Brogel, have always examined the throat of their pigeons as well. The former Belgian champion Victor Christiaens from Humbeek says: “a good pigeon has a good throat; a bad pigeon has a bad throat”. We would put it differently: “All good pigeons have a good throat but pigeons with a good throat are not necessarily good pigeons. This means some pigeons with a good throat are in fact bad pigeons.”

In any case a bad throat indicates a bad health or a bird past its best. A family of pigeons with a lot of bad throats is likely to breed a lot of birds with no value. Even when there are couples with a perfect throat you are likely to end up with some inferior birds. If you want to maintain a high quality in your loft it would be a good idea to get rid of the bad throats regularly.

Pigeons that initially had a good throat might develop a bad throat over the years. We have seen a lot of very successful young birds who had a bad throat after the racing season. None of these young birds has become a successful racer or breeding bird later on. When we get our hands on a ten year old bird (or older) nine out of ten will have a good throat. As soon as the condition of the throat deteriorates you will notice that the quality of its descendants goes down as well. But to be able to evaluate the throat of a pigeon correctly you need some experience. It is difficult to make a proper judgment if you examine the throat only once. Why? Well there are several circumstances that influence the appearance of a pigeon’s throat. We summarise: a pigeon that is a bit too stout, a pigeon that is (temporarily) infected with a parasitic disease and hens that are about to breed eggs or young birds. As soon as these circumstances disappear the bird usually no longer has a bad throat either. So it is important to know that a bad throat is sometimes a temporary phenomenon. In fact it would be useful to keep a record of the situation of the throat at different times of the year. With this method you can find out which pigeons had a good throat during the season and which of them had a bad throat at a certain point in time. You will soon find out which group the good and the bad pigeons come from.

It is very useful to examine the throat of your pigeons under the condition that this is done by an experienced person. If you are not used to looking at the throat of a pigeon it is impossible to draw any conclusions. That is why beginners should be careful: it takes skills to open the bird’s beak. You should do this very calmly and carefully without using any force.