Back then the two categories had to race against each other, which means that the yearlings were considered old birds. A pigeon was considered a young bird in the year of its birth and after that they belonged to the old birds category. So it was basically one or the other in pigeon racing.
Many fanciers tried to prove that yearlings are a lot less strong than old birds and eventually it was decided that old birds and yearlings should race in a separate league. But there was more. Summer youngsters do not have any racing experience but they also had to race against the old birds in the same category. So in fact only the youngsters that were born in the same year as they were racing could race in a separate category.
Before the Second World War there were already some separate races for yearlings but the organisers did not pay much attention to this category. But in the meantime things have changed and nowadays we have fanciers who are specialised in yearlings.
What is a yearling?
A yearling is a one year old pigeon or a pigeon that turns one year old and which was ringed the year before. In Wallonia a young bird is often called a junior; in Liege they are called a nominated young bird. So in some parts of our country 'young bird' does not have the same meaning. In Liege for instance there are races for young birds but yearlings are also allowed to participate; they even have races for youngsters in which only yearlings are allowed to race. The real young birds, the piepers, have their own races as well.
In Liege we often hear the term nominated youngster, because pigeons did not have to be ringed before 1914. In their year of birth and after the moult of the primaries a mark was placed on their wings. That way they could easily be recognised as nominated young birds. Nowadays this has no use anymore because all the pigeons have to be ringed; their year of birth is mentioned on the rings.
That is why we think it is completely illogical to give the rings around New Year. Young birds that are born in 2011 are now carrying a ring of 2012! Wouldn’t it make much more sense to give the rings a month later? The young birds’ competition would be fairer and it would be a good thing for the old birds races as well.
Basically we have a few different types of yearlings: there is the true yearling (which has fully moulted) and there is the late young bird (not fully moulted yet) or summer youngster. The true yearling has renewed its primaries; the summer youngster has only renewed a few of them, if any. We also distinguish between two types of summer youngsters: some of them moult their primaries just like the old birds, starting with the first. There are also summer youngsters that start to moult in two places at the same time. The moult continues where it has started but at the same time it starts all over again. As a result they have some empty spots in their wings and they cannot be raced then.
We also distinguish two types of ‘true’ yearlings: the ones that have already flown in their year of birth and the ones that have not been raced yet. The yearlings that have already gained some experience as a young bird can now be raced as an old bird without a problem. But the ones that have not been basketed yet have to be trained with great care. So it is self evident that a distinction should be made in the races.
How does a yearling behave?
The least you can say about a one year old is that they are peculiar racing birds. A new fancier who was successful with his youngsters in the previous season will think that these birds will be successful as a yearling as well. But this is often not the case and the fancier is very surprised about the bad performances of his pigeons. 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! 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 a two year old.