However, this is no longer the case: the pigeons have a quiet time in autumn and winter but the fancier has to take care of his pigeons and his loft throughout the year; he can never take a day off. So the fancier has to try and keep his hobby enjoyable all year. A fancier should always keep an eye on his birds in the quiet winter months. In fact this is the moment when you have to prepare your pigeons for the next breeding season and the racing season.
In winter you have to pay special attention to the number of pigeons in your loft. An overcrowded loft - even outside the breeding or racing season - is not favourable and can pose problems for the pigeons that are housed in the loft. In a good family of pigeons selection takes place throughout the year to avoid loft overcrowding, but it is especially at this time of the year that a fancier should pay special attention to selecting the best pigeons and getting rid of the weaker birds.
Selecting pigeons after the moult is not a good idea: with a fresh pack of feathers a bird looks much more appealing and you tend to keep birds in the loft that are not very valuable.
With this in mind, it is always a good idea to keep close track of your pigeons: it is a very useful guide that allows you to select pigeons in an objective way. If you keep a record of your pigeons it is much easier to estimate the true value of your pigeons. It would be a good approach to keep all the pigeons that have won 50% prizes (1/4) and 20% prizes (1/10). With this approach you can still keep one or two pigeons that have not won top prizes but which you would like to give a second chance anyway. After a few seasons with a regular breeding programme you should be able to achieve a 40% percentage for your entire racing team.
We have visited numerous lofts of some very good fanciers who were successful for many years and who are seen as champions. We noticed that when they race at a high level, with many contenders they manage to achieve a prize percentage of 50% throughout the season. Of course a prize percentage does not tell the whole story. Sometimes we hear of high prize percentages with prizes 1/3 or even 1/2, but in fact the fancier races in a small district where the level is not very high. With such prize percentages you are fooling yourself: we think it is more important to focus on a strict selection procedure based on the results (for instance 1/4 or even 1/5) achieved in the more important races.
In this case we are talking about pigeons that take the regular racing programme. Of course the distance of the races they do and the caretaking of the pigeons differs in every loft. When it comes to safeguarding the future of the loft, we noticed that the true champions are very careful with their talented and promising birds as a youngster and as a yearling. They only race their birds to the full at the age of two. So the selection procedure we described earlier applies to their two year olds and their older birds.
What about keeping talented pigeons that did not meet the demands and the expectations but who are still given a second chance? We think you should only keep the bird if it is truly talented. Still you should keep a close eye on them. We would like to point out that you should be patient with a pigeon that stems from a proven top class breeding couple. To illustrate, we give an example from our own loft: By the end of the last century one of our international champions of box 5 bred an excellent and perfectly healthy cock in his breeding box. However as a two year old this cock could not meet the expectations, especially compared to the results of his brothers, so by the end of the season he was transferred to the breeding loft. There he bred numerous good youngsters with his hen in box 12. In fact box 12 became an extension of box 5, where several first class descendants of our stock were bred.
It is always a good idea to exchange pigeons with other fanciers on a regular basis. First of all you get some new bloodlines in your loft, with which you can experiment and mix with your own lines. In addition you can compare the results of your newly bred pigeons with the results of the loft of their origin. This can be very interesting: it allows you to gain some experience and insight about the buildup and the maintenance of good quality stock. We can assure you that this is a very satisfying way of breeding pigeons. This is one of the most interesting aspects in pigeon racing.