How does a yearling behave?
But this is often not the case and the fancier is often very surprised about the bad performances of his pigeons; sometimes he becomes disillusioned. We know plenty of young birds that have won first prizes from Dourdan and top prizes from Bourges and Argenton but who had very disappointing results as a yearling. Some fanciers would continue to race them until they eventually stay away. You would think that they are sick but that is not the case! Other fanciers think that the birds have lost the experience they gained in their first year and they train them again as young birds. This is not a good approach either! As a result they are basketed for too many races and that is exactly what should be avoided. There is also an increased risk of diseases. If you allow these yearlings a quiet season they are sometimes very successful as two year olds.
How to explain this behaviour
It basically depends on the details. A fancier often tends to forget that a yearling is still a young bird and we should not expect the same as from an old bird. If you want to train a talented yearling to become a future champion in the middle or long distance you should only start to train them along with the youngsters. They should not be raced on widowhood. The late doctor Bricoux, a big name in pigeon racing in Belgium, did countless tests with yearlings and was a strong opponent of racing yearlings on widowhood. More recently we told you about André Vanbruaene from Lauwe, an expert in pigeon racing, who successfully raced his yearlings on the natural system.
We are well aware that a yearling in widowhood can perform outstandingly well and sometimes even beat old birds. But after that there is the risk that the pigeon will never be successful again, even after only one season. It happens more than once that a fancier wants to focus on the middle distance and especially the long distance and that he gives his yearlings another training season in which they have to gain experience throughout the year. In some regions the competition for yearlings is very popular, with a lot of prize money to be won. Some pigeon are even doubled against the old birds. We also have plenty of smaller fanciers who think they cannot beat the big champions in the races for old birds. So they have no choice: instead of only racing their young birds they also race the yearlings. You might have already noticed that the more a beginner races his youngsters and yearlings, the more the big champions conserve theirs!
Before we discuss the different approaches to racing yearlings we first want to find out if it is possible to race yearlings without putting their future at risk. From what we have seen we could conclude that you can race your yearlings but you should never race them on widowhood.
No matter what people say we think the natural system can give you some very good results without harming the pigeon, as long as you do it correctly. The purpose of this method is to conserve your pigeon. This system starts late and ends early! The goal is to race your yearlings by the end of May or in the beginning of June so it is useless to pair them early in the season; you better wait as long as possible. Many fanciers pair their birds mid February or early March but that is too early, way too early.
If you are planning to race your yearlings on widowhood next season it would be good to transfer them to their future loft already and to let them find a nest box without a hen. They should only come into action in the second half of April or preferably in May. You should pair your yearling with an old bird that does not race, possibly a breeding hen. During the breeding period they are trained over a distance of 50 to 100 km, preferably even more in good weather. After that they are put on hold until they have a seed eating young bird and they are basketed for the first time for a flight from France. For the next flight one week later we advise to take away the hen on the day before basketing. For the third flight you do not show the hen anymore and you leave the cock alone with its young bird while the hen takes care of it during the night and partly during the morning. The cock’s third race could be one of about 300 km, for instance a race from Dourdan, Etampes or even Orléans.
After two races from France and in the best situation temporary widowhood with a growing young bird is advisable; the young bird will stimulate the cock to come home quickly. To conserve your pigeon it would be good to let the young cock rest for a while after these three races. Only when he has a seed eating young bird again can you basket him again for three races. After that you should allow him plenty of time to recover and let him moult.
This system can also be used for yearling hens although they can be raced after the eggs are laid. This might sound strange but the hens have a smaller chance of risking their future. They can also be raced on widowhood with a growing young bird. So widowhood with a growing young bird might be a successful strategy for hens as well.
The benefits of this approach
As we said this system allows you to make good results without being too demanding. On the other hand you allow the yearling to gain some experience without putting too much strain on them and without risking their future. A talented cock that was raced as a youngster and that has done about six races as a yearling has a good chance of a successful season as a two year old.
The long distance racers know well enough that you should not overstrain the hens as young birds or as yearlings if you want them to be successful as two year old hens. It also increases their chances in the doubles against the old birds. A yearling that races on the natural system might be a bit less committed compared to a yearling on widowhood but it gives more security towards the future. We have noticed in several lofts that it is not a good idea to race a yearling on widowhood right from the start of the season. Some fanciers have had good results this way but most of these yearlings were stifled as an old bird. There are always exceptions but there are not many lofts that have a lot of very good old birds. Just take a careful look at the ring numbers in national results!
Who should use this system and why
We would advise it to any small fancier, especially beginners. They can make the most out of this system. There are plenty of fanciers whose pigeons simply cannot compete with the old birds of the so called specialists or professionals. I think they should focus on the young birds and yearlings competition. For beginners it is not about what you like the most but about what is possible.