Selection methods: performance-based selection - part IV

Some time ago I was reading an interesting article about the selection of race horses based on their performance. Most fanciers select their pigeons on the basis of their performance as well. Since pigeons are often called the race horses of the sky I would like to further discuss the possibilities of a performance-based selection method for your pigeons.

Bloodlines and setting your goals

Just as for race horses, a fancier selects pigeons which he uses in the breeding loft for different goals. A sprint racer should have a good speed which it can sustain for longer periods of time. A long distance pigeon, on the other hand, should have the determination to keep on flying. Pigeons that have to do overnight races should be able to fly until sunset and should be back under way as soon as the sun comes up.

If you are planning to select that way, you will have to use measurable standards to achieve this goal. You could focus on a pigeon’s speed per minute, the prizes it has won or its co-efficient, its record speed, its ability to fly at night, etc.

These results should be registered or monitored. Modern data tracking systems and electronic data processing systems allow us to analyse the results of your pigeons and to gain new insights into the way they perform.

But the question arises whether your selection should actually be based on measured performance. Basically it depends on the accuracy of the measurements (its measurability). In a race our pigeons are ranked according to their speed per minute but this is in fact unreliable. Why? All pigeons start from the same location but they have a different finish. It would be impossible to come to a fully accurate system but better systems have been suggested in the past: Georges De Paduwa suggested converting it to the same finish for every pigeon. Jean Hoche wanted to adopt the system of Jules Schwartz (a ranking based on the number of kilometres that a pigeon has covered). These methods would provide a more accurate reflection. The performance of our pigeon in a race is also influenced by environmental factors and the way the pigeons are taken care of (this is the job of the convoyer and the fancier). We should not forget to mention the pigeon’s pedigree: a pedigree is not always reliable either. The only way to verify the correctness of a pedigree is by a blood type test. In pigeon racing we have to rely on a piece of paper without a value which you can fill out as you see fit. A permanent marking for the pigeon would have a lot of benefits.

Degree of heredity

The degree in which a bird’s feature or characteristic is hereditary is usually indicated by its degree of heredity. This value is lower than one and indicates which of the characteristics or features that are found in a bird will likely be present in the bird’s descendants.

For a race horse it is possible to make an estimate of the degree of heredity of a particular characteristic with the help of complicated statistical calculations. Unfortunately I have no idea if this is also applicable for the heredity of a pigeon. If someone knows something more about this we would be glad to hear about this.

Selection rate

This is what we call selection. This is influenced by several factors. The annual progress of a bloodline and the way it develops is influenced by the degree of heredity, the selection rate and the generation length. Selection rate is the number of pigeons that you use for breeding compared to the total number of young birds bred. For race horses the selection rate is very high for the stallion. In pigeon racing however it is the hen that has the highest selection rate, according to most fanciers and according to literature about the breeding of pigeons. On the basis of the performance of your pigeons a fancier usually has a variable selection rate for his cocks and hens. It is important to have an indication of the performance of the pigeons as soon as possible. In an earlier stage, selection is also based on the outside characteristics of the pigeons, including its body, skeleton, wing, eye, throat, muscles, etc.

Another possibility is an examination of the descendants. This is very useful for characteristics with a low degree of heredity and for birds with a high reproduction rate. For a fancier, an examination of the descendants of a particular bloodline is of course very important. The problem with this method is that you can only learn something about the qualities of a pigeon at a later stage. This means the time interval between generations increases. This interval on which the selection of birds is based is about three years and maybe longer for long distance birds. The so called interval is the age at which a bird can show its potential as a breeder. The longer the generation interval the slower you can improve the quality of your bloodline every year.


Selection based on the performance depends on the purpose of your bloodline, for pigeons as well as for race horses. Depending on your goal you can make use of different methods that determine the degree of heredity. The authoritative writer of the article I mentioned in the introduction said that it would be desirable to get a better understanding of the heredity of such characteristics as behaviour and personality in relation to whether a horse can be used at a top level or a recreational level. This is of course an interesting question for a fancier as well: should the selection methods used at a top level also be adopted at recreational level? Something to think about.