So much depends on a successful moult

The last week of july the noise was tremendous in our lofts when the widowers came home from their last race. They were allowed to stay with their hens. For them the season was over. It is fun to be among young pigeons that are just remated, it is all excitement.
Some are building their nests, others are driving their hens. They allow her no rest, not even for a drink or a little grain. Fun to watch. Soon they start to lay and then rest in the loft. At that time we are facing one of the most important happenings in our sport - the moult. Let me try to help my readers, to talk about the moult in all its aspects. First and foremost one should never forget that good results depend on a succesful moult. Indeed, pigeons that moult completely, do enjoy better health. The form will show early and will remain longer. These pigeons make the heaviest exertions with a maximum of effort and with a minimum of wear on their tissues.

During the month of September the moult reaches its high point. During this renewing the pigeons must get a new feather suit, a plumage which must be silky, smooth and glossy. It allows them to fly smoothly through the air and offers more resistance to rain and fog. Whoever has once handled a heavily feathered, silk-soft champion, knows what I mean. It is this rich quality which indicates a solid athlete in our winged friends. A "wooden frame" with hard, stiff flights and a plumage like straw goes through a normal moult too. With the best of care he will never receive a more beautifull "coat" than the original. Pails of oily seeds
will not help. What I am talking about are pigeons that are full of these qualities.

In lofts where the feed is in balance, not too much breeding is going on, cleanliness is maintained, and the change happens normally, regularly and without any problems. Fanciers who neglect the moult will never get far in our sport. We should never forget that excellent health is the base of a regular moult. Everything hinges on health. Avoid excessive breeding and flying. Be sure of proper feeding and you will not run into problems. The moult is a natural occurrence and in normal situations, does not need anything special. What do I mean by normal circumstances ? Like I said, health, lots of rest, no racing and no breeding. Too much flying during the moult will lead to problems.

I know two strong lofts where the birds flew all the competition literally off the sheet in an extremely heavy season, and the next season they were almost off the sheet themselves. Once in a while they had five or six birds in the first twenty, but the regularity was gone. What is the cause ? In my opinion they overworked their birds in order to win the championships in the year 1959. They wanted to have their cake and eat it too: widowhood till the middle of August, after remating they raced till the end of September, then in Octobcr they raised two youngsters in every nest for the several eager buyers. One thing compounded by the others, gave their strength, potential and recuparation capacity a savage blow.

During January, two weeks before mating, I handled these same pigeons again and was forced to tell the fanciers that they were going to have a poor season. The last three or four flights were heavily marked, some had old tail-feathers, even worse there was too much old down. The marked flights occured after the season, they are eloquent evidence that something was very wrong. That year, like I predicted, our friends really failed. It was their own fault. The birds' health and physical strength had been undermined. The form, which was so badly needed during an irregular season, stayed away. I advised these two fanciers to stop racing in the middie of July and not to breed. Only eggs and youngsters up to eight days. As soon as the milk is gone, take the youngsters away. After that, once more on eggs for about ten days, then the nest bowls go outside and the nest boxes are closed. Then it would be the middle of September and the moult could finish unhindered. One of the fanciers followed my advice with A SUCCESSFUL YEAR. The other one could not decide to stop racing that early because by that time they were flying a little better. He kept them on widowhood till August, flew them driving and once on a youngster of ten days. His results in August were on the skinny side. The following year was a complete disaster. All this proves that even the best fliers become mediocre if they are pressed too much. Let this be a warning to fanciers who want to follow the same path.

My experience in my own loft, and I have oftcn found it to be true in other lofts too, is that pigeons in perfect health go through the first phase of the moult beautifully without any special help from the manager. It is during the last stage when the last two or three flights are renewed that problems most often arise. This is not the first time I write this. But I think it important to remind readers not to make the same mistake again. Whoever follows the moult carefülly will soon find that everything is normal. The defects which were written in the last four flights happened after the season. They won't stop them from flying, but indicate a mistake was made. This happened through your own fault. Why is that ? I can only explain it as follows. The last couple of summer months they seemed to have plenty of reserves left. These same birds, after the first phase of the moult, lacked reserves to moult the last flights the way they should. The fancier tries his best to find out what caused it. He wants to avoid it in the future. Was the food too light or too one-sided ? It is possible that there was a shortage of bodily strength due to the food not being right, resulting in their not being abie to produce quality new flights. This does not mean we give them a high percentage of peas or a lot of oily seeds. We don't do that. The complaints which come from that are as a rule of a much worse nature. The misery may also be caused by an extended season. It is clear that the manager's knowledge plays an important role. It is his duty to make sure that the birds are kept as quiet as possible from the middle of August in order to finish the moult in the best possible condition. His first duty is to prepare for the next season. That is why we should not neglect anything at the end of the moult.

We do not have all these problems in our loft. Our birds are stopped early, do not feed youngsters after the middle of September and receive a variety of food as long as the moult continues. They exercise only once a day, for as soon as the last two flights have grown back they would stay in the air too long and lose some of their reserves which they need so badly. This is our system, a system which has always pleased us. Plenty of other successful fanciers swear by it too.

While we try to do everything to complete a successful moult, there are still some fanciers who can't stop racing ! It is probably all right to try a few young hens. These are the so-called "specialists" in the late races - guys who only shine during the last two months of the season. I know a few of them. In full season, with good pigeons, they just can't make it. Nonetheless they have good lofts and a good standard pigeon. The problem lies in these late races; they are too much work, too late and the birds cannot recuperate before the moult sets in. The first part of the moult is usually good but towards the end their reserves run out. The "specialists" have to pay for that in the long run. Not only the tail and wing flights suffer, the down moult leaves a lot to be desired also. In healthy pigeons it should start immediately. The down moult is so important that all serious fanciers pay close attention to it. In August when it has been really warm for a long time they may be raced again. But if the owner tries to gain lost ground, he again makes the same mistake. The best remedy is a full year of complete rest. He will really shine again in the big races when all the real competiton is in full swing. During the moult when the down does not come out like it should, whether a mistake has been made or not, the fancier may give a "vegetable drink" which stimulatcs the moult. This "tea" is also given as a blood purifier. Many fanciers give it in September and October. Using several plants, one may indeed come up with a tea which purifies the blood. The following tea may be given twice a week : an extract of rhubarb roots, roots of chervil, roots of dandelion, a handfül of linseed and add a coffecspoonfül of kitchen salt per two litres of water. Let it boil, then cool off and pour through a sieve. Every two weeks give a tea of willow leaves, wild thyme and dead white nettle in about equal amounts. Boil together and add some sugar, honey and candy. Of course there are good teas on the market, making it casier.

These remedies do stimulate the moult, they work nine times out of ten. It is especially effective on birds with weak constitutions when the owner is not satisfied with the down moult. It is necessary to clean them out. I know remedies out of bottles that work like lightning : fast but all too powerful. The pigeon squirts out its guts. This is too radical and too dangerous for me. We prefer a purifier which works slowly. It is very possible that there are more modern remedies than these "old teas". Also more money. But are they more efficiënt ? This remains in doubt. I do not use any tea myself. The way they are used is redundant for the pigeons. What I do every once in a while is put a little garlic in their water during October. We do this as follows : first put a few cloves of garlic in a bottle of water, let it sit for a day and pour some in each drinker. As soon as the water in the bottle gets milky, throw it out. The cloves can be used again. This simple remedy is a good blood purifier.

Around the middle of September our late youngsters are weaned. At that time they have been on eggs again for a few days and the moult has started. Once the youngsters are gone the moult quickly rcaches its high point. Around that time we piek up bushels of feathers every day. We take all the eggs and nestbowls away after ten days sitting so that the moult will continue uninterrupted. No more milk is formed and the moult continues. We store the nestboxes in a barn, and they are replaced by perches placed on the back wall of the loft. Although they are still together they usually lose the desire to mate due to the change plus the moult. If they still lay, remove the eggs. Where the nestboxes can not be replaced, you should cover them and put perches on the front of each nestbox. This is done to avoid fighting and subsequent flight damage. This activity does not influence the moult adversely. If they do not understand that breeding time is over and keep on trying to get into their nestboxes, cover the front with cardboard. This will help to calm them down and get the rest they need. As long as they are not separated, they sit together in front of their closed nestboxes. If they still produce eggs in a corner or elsewhere in early October, don't worry. It will not hamper next season. Open the nestbox again and let them sit ten days. If they continue laying, we then take the hen out. Repeated laying would be a mistake. It is not conducive to a good moult and is not good preparation for the next breeding and flying season. To do well they have to go through a complete moult.

I am an advocate of finishing the moult carly; at least before the winter starts. It is wrong to plan for the end of the moult in November or December because that is too late if we run into an early winter. An old flight or tail feather is not always a sign of too much brceding or flying, but the down moult should be in time and early. That is a fact. Let them talk, those who claim "I don't trust it, they are too beautiful too soon" or "Their candles will burn up too soon". These boys are wrong. The smartest fanciers know better and have been champions all their lives. These experienced fanciers know how to keep their birds calm during the winter, how to manipulate form when needed, how to increase it slowly, and how to maintain it. I have written about this many times, it is cenainly no secret. I have never heard that good looks are counterproductive ! Fanciers who have good aviaries for their hens, where they can exercise daily, can separate after the second set of eggs. They can be sure that the moult be normal. In any case this system offers the most security.

Others keep them together as long as possible. To bring this about, they let them go down on eggs until they leave the nest.I don't like this system, it is against nature. In this system they create "milk" and the stuff does not find a way out and is bad for the digestive system. A colleague wrote a very interesting arricle in "De Belgische Duivensport" a few years ago. After the last round, he let them nest again. Some sat on pot eggs for a full month. Soon he found out that the moult, in comparison to other years when he separated early, was behind time. As though oversitting and not getting rid of the "milk" was hard on the birds' physical state. To be sure he killed a bird that had been sitting twenty-two days. He checked the crop carefully and came to the conclusion that the "milk glands" were dried up. A thick mess of sour milk had settled on the tender walls and caused inflammarion, the smell was terrible. He thus learned that oversitting may cause a total disability. Could this be the explanation of the fact that some champion-pigeons fly everybody under the table one year and the next season hardly make the prize sheet ? Gust Ducheyne, the champion from Antwerp Union, who really knows that he is talking about, is very careful in this field. In no way will he allow that to happen to his pigeons. Instead, he keeps two youngsters in the nest in each month of the breeding and flying season. At least until the milk is gone. One mistake in the pigeon's "factory" can influence the moult adversely. I would rather see them sit ten days twice than twenty days once.