About winter breeding – part IV

Evolution or revolution in pigeon breeding? There is not a lot of difference between the two as both evolution and revolution indicate a change. There is only a small difference between the two but there is one.

A revolution is a sudden and fundamental change. It usually takes some time before it occurs but the change is almost always effective, thorough and it is mostly a topic of debate. When a revolution takes place there is usually some grief as well. Grief and misery is sometimes an integral part of the revolution; sometimes it only comes afterwards. We will not go into further detail about revolution, because this article deals with evolution.

Evolution is everywhere, everything evolves. It happens continuously. The world we live in has always been evolving; we do not know where it began and when it will end. This is a big mystery; a bigger mystery than how the earth was made. Everything changes, including pigeons. This is of course the topic of our article.

Some fanciers have doubts about this: does a pigeon really evolve? It could be interesting to take a look back to the pigeons you started with, to see what they looked like back then and what kind of pigeons they were. It is often surprising to read reports about big champions in pigeon racing and the kind of pigeons they had in their lofts in the early days.

Colour is often a point of discussion. Fancier X had a blue coloured type of pigeons. No, I’m mistaken. He had chequered pigeons, which came from a hen from fancier Y, and we know that every pigeon that was bred from that hen had the same colour. This was also the main colour in the loft of fancier X. Another example: one reporter thinks that the pigeons of breed X were very big. A second reporter has seen that same breed in the loft of fancier X and he thinks they are in fact medium sized. Which reporter is right?

We have seen books about the eye colour of the first racing pigeons in the history of our sport and they want us to believe (and they are very serious about that) that every pigeon in a particular loft had the same eye colour. We will not interfere in that discussion. As we said, everything changes and evolves and that applies to the pigeons of the very first pigeon fanciers as well. None of these fanciers wanted to add pigeons from a different breed into their own. This would mean that all the pigeons in one loft had the same plumage, size, eye colour and shape, which is all but impossible.

We know that no one has ever been able to achieve that. Of course the pigeon fanciers with the most inbred pigeon breeds were always reluctant to add strange bloodlines to their breed. This means they are very careful in selecting other pigeons they wanted to cross with. Still, even these breeds have had a degree of change, there is no denying it.

Fanciers have always been and will always be selecting. They will always prefer a prize winning pigeon to a less successful pigeon. If the two pigeons were equally good they would both win the same prizes as well. A prize winner is always a bit different. It seems he has something that makes him a prize winner. It could also be the other way round, the less successful pigeon has something that prevents it from winning prizes. If you breed new pigeons from prize winners there is an increased chance (there is no guarantee) that the youngsters will be successful as well. They will look a lot like their parents. They are possibly more distinguished from the less successful pigeons as well, which makes them even more interesting.

Over the years, loft and accommodation have improved, the pigeons have a scientifically based diet and the racing methods have been fine-tuned. In short: pigeon racing now cannot be compared to pigeon racing in the old days. The sport has evolved and the pigeon itself has been influenced by this evolution, as well as by fanciers who select them.

Tangible effects?

The fast pigeons from earlier decades are no longer at the fore. If the first pigeons from Bordeaux arrived on Saturday evening there was still a chance that your pigeons could be clocked on Sunday morning and that you could still win a prize. That is no longer the case now. If your pigeons do not arrive home within an hour after the first have arrived you should not count on a top prize these days. True or false? Some would say that the first prize winners from previous decades could fly as fast as the pigeons do today. According to some, the races were much longer back then because the average pigeon was not as fast as it is today. In fact we used to share these views but we changed our opinion. There is no doubt that there were great pigeons in the early days as well. Still, we honestly believe that the best pigeons of today are still a bit better than the pigeons of earlier generations.

We have evolved. A lot has changed over the years. What did the sprint pigeons used to look like? They looked like workhorses. They were big and a bit heavy. The fancier Vanderschelden discusses them in his Revue Colombophile.

We translate:
There was a time when heavy and strong pigeons were very popular among fanciers because they believed a pigeon needed physical strength to be able to win prizes. This idea confused many people because the strong pigeons were indeed able to beat smaller pigeons with shorter wings. This misconception was soon corrected when lighter pigeons with long and powerful wings became more popular.

One day we went to Adegem to visit the loft of one of our uncles, who was waiting for the pigeons to arrive from Bordeaux. Our uncle had two respected long distance pigeons in his team. The Genopte looked like a heron, with a long neck, long legs and long wings. He could not win prizes in races from below Orléans. The Witpen was smaller and it had shorter wings. He could never win prizes, except in the race from Bordeaux. The two pigeons were fast birds and they were fairly heavy. Someone pointed out that almost nine out of ten top class pigeons have a name with the prefix klein (Dutch for small): Kleine Rode, Kleine Blauwe, Kleine Vale, etc... According to a fancier from Brussels the most successful pigeons are increasingly smaller compared to previous generations. More and more fanciers pay attention to the wings of their birds as well and I agree that this is a good evolution. Even fanciers who have never heard of wing theory will try to leave out the pigeons with primaries that end in a bayonet shape. The tip of the primaries of a racing pigeon are more and more round shaped.

When it comes to size we would not say that a pigeon needs to be small or medium sized to become a top class racer; that would be exaggerating. We honestly think that the pigeon is becoming lighter, especially in relation to its size. When a fancier has two pigeons of the same type and size, he will tend to pick the smaller of the two as the best one, even when the two pigeons are of equal quality. Large pigeons generally have a deeper keel compared to smaller birds, as a result of which they are usually a bit heavier as well. If you opt for pigeons with a rounder keel (not flat) you will notice that they are lighter than equally sized pigeons with a more or less deeper keel. As a result these large yet lighter birds will perform equally well as their smaller sized counterparts. I think it does not really matter if a pigeon is small, medium sized or even large. It is much more important that a pigeon has a proportionate body. A second factor is their figure, the length of their wings and especially their weight. Due to performance-based selection we continuously improve the quality of our pigeons. We are moving towards a pigeon that weighs less than a true sprint pigeon. We do not believe that pigeons are generally just smaller than previous generations.

Over the years we have noticed that lofts with relatively small birds are more and more successful. However, this is often short term success only, because the fancier has had too many inbreds or because he only used his small pigeons in the breeding loft. It is not a good idea to focus exclusively on the size of the birds...

Maurits Vandevelde, a well respected fancier, has warned us about small pigeons: They are as good as a medium sized or a large pigeon but you should be careful for pigeon breeds with increasingly smaller birds. The size of the bird is not important to me. I focus on a proportionate body, the shape of the pigeon and also the weight/size ratio.

We have visited lofts with large, medium sized and small birds. We never pair two small birds; we try to find a balance when it comes to size. Vandevelde is a good source of inspiration: he has been successful for many years and he has had champions of all sizes in all disciplines. He says you should be careful with small pigeons. We couldn’t agree more.