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Motherhood and the Racing Hen...
Author: Old HandTitle: Motherhood and the Racing Hen
Date: 2004-09-30 12:56:13Uploaded by: webmaster
What happens to the 'hen-in-egg'? Is she just a natural-born egg-laying machine which according to facts and figures drops a pair of eggs when required? Or is she a living animal and no stranger to pain and the stresses and strains that bear on her, especially when in the act of performing female productivity?

For example, when she is in egg does her act of creativity bring about changes in her body temperature, in her metabolism, or does it effect her racing capabilities? These questions have not been answered satisfactorily by any other pigeon scribe so I feel obliged to clarify the position without delay.

Some fanciers, finding that their favourite racing hen has got herself into egg at the wrong time, fume and say, 'Ah well, in any case she's got to go - she can lay her egg in the basket!' This remark ranks as one of the fancy's most scandalous. It is the reason why a few conveyers, according to report, built up bank balances from the sale of eggs and why so many fanciers mourn the non-return of racing hens. No real fancier would give tongue to such a cruel policy; far less would he ever dream of putting its import into practice. The full extent of this scandal will become apparent after I have described what is involved in the hen's motherhood status.

A hen pigeon is fitted internally with two separate systems of reproduction known as the left and right ovaries. But the right ovary is atrophied (inoperative) so that the new life she makes originates always in her left ovary. The ovary is connected to her left kidney by a membrane. The surface of the hen's ovary is dotted with follicles ending in tiny eggs. All of the eggs that a hen can lay are already implanted there in the ovary. For a rough comparison think of a small flower bed planted out. Each of the microscopic eggs or follicle endings contains the germ of life, i.e., the germ nucleus and the yolk from which the new life will extract its first nourishment. In the meantime the eggs are neutralised but quiescent, being incapable of growth and fruition until such time as the hen is stimulated. Again for rough comparison, note the flower plants in the bed, waiting for the stimulation given by daylight to awaken their sleeping winter chemicals and bring them into action. It is not until the moment of stimulation that we, as fanciers, begin to look on our hen as being something more and something different, from a normal racing pigeon. Immediately after the hen has been stimulated the egg starts to grow. It grows larger and larger and continues to increase in size so long as the cock continues to stimulate his hen by driving her to nest.

Let us look further at her anatomy. Extending from the vicinity of the growing egg is a separate anatomical wonder known as the oviduct. This is a kind of tube, some three-quarters of an inch long. The end of the tube that is adjacent to the ovary is bell-mouthed, in the shape of a funnel. Now, when the ripened egg has finished growing and is ready to drop away from the ovary (very much like the ripe apple when it drops from the branch) it is the duty of the bell-mouth to catch and grasp the egg firmly, before passing it into the tube of the oviduct itself.

The moving egg first passes along the tube until it reaches the section that secretes the white of the egg (albumen) and when coated with it moves on to the next station where it is given two layers of membrane (the skin one sees just under the egg-shell). It is not until the egg reaches the section known as the uterus that the shell gland positioned there gives the egg its hard outside shell. From thence onwards the egg passes to the cloaca to be laid. The above describes the egg-making in simple but brief terms. I won't go into technical detail because I don't think my reader wishes to submerge his mind in Latin nomenclature and complex jargon. Yet I believe that I am telling you enough to give you a good idea of what happens during the manufacture of a pigeon's egg. However, bear strongly in mind that a hen cannot start to grow an egg until she has been stimulated. This psychological stimuli Is quite indispensable to the growth of an egg and it can only be given to a hen pigeon by a cock pigeon, or by a hen in a hennery who assumes the role of a cock, as when two hens mate together and nest. Do not confuse stimulation with fertilisation, because the two things are quite different and distinct. First must come stimulation and then fertilisation if the egg the hen is making is to be fertile (filled). The important thing to bear in mind at this stage is that the origin of a new life is vested not in mere chemical formula but in the incidence of a strong emotion. The biological urges that play on both cock and hen alone provide the spark that makes a new life begin to move and mature. This means, of course, that the creative force behind new life is an awakened special emotion which is latent in all forms of life. Life passes on the form of new life in a million different physical patterns but in one respect the inheritance is the same, when it is the basic biological emotion. This very strong and seemingly imperishable emotion is the sole fount of stimulation without which - be it noted - there can never be fertilisation. When a hen is stimulated, not one but two of her egg follicles start to increase In size and fill with yolk. No male sperm is needed to spark off this initial growth of the egg-follicle and this is the reason why a hen should lay two eggs per round or nest, not one, nor three or more, but two only. Any deviation from the pair of eggs can only be caused by a defect which may be temporary or permanent according to its seriousness. Some 4 days must elapse before the growing eggs can ripen and drop away from the ovary to pass into the oviduct. During the whole of this time the hen must be given constant stimulation by a cock who must drive and chase her without once easing up. I now come to the crux of the matter and by describing what happens in the next stage of the cycle of female reproductivity I hope to show why a hen-in-egg shouSd not be trained or sent to a race. At 4'/2 days of normal 'ripening' it is time for the egg to drop away from its anchorage in the left ovary, somewhat like a ripe fruit preparing to drop from its tree and allow itself to be caught and grasped by the bell-mouthed, funnel-shaped end of the oviduct. Thus the time has come for the fully developed egg (germ and yolk) to be wrapped, packaged and laid. Now, supposing the egg is about to break away from the ovary and drop at a time when the hen is confined in a race pannier, the said pannier standing on the floor of a transporter, or a railway truck, or in the hold of a ship or aeroplane, when a sudden jolt or a series of holts shakes the hen's body, such as when a transporter bounces on the uneven surface of a road, when a railway carriage sways or brakes, or a ship or aeroplane pitches or tosses - and the bell-mouth misses the egg instead of catching it as it drops? Result -- the ripe egg plummets down past the oviduct and descends into her body cavity. A hen in this fix would be neither a starter or finisher of the course and her days would be numbered.

Nature, which designed the internal organs of a hen's body quite irrespective of man's racing requirements, must have been conscious of the fact that its finished job was little better than a rough improvisation (I refer to the chancy method of consigning the egg to the oviduct) and had second thoughts on the subject because it later installed a biological time clock in the hen's reproductive system which stalled off the dropping of the egg from the ovary until night time. In its infinite compassion for new life it ensured that the egg would drop from the ovary only at a time when the hen would normally be at peace and her body standing still on her nightly perch or in the nestbox. What nature could not foresee and inteliigently anticipate is the cruelty and appalling ignorance of the type of fancier who sends a hen-in-egg to the racepoint. No hen in the act of motherhood should be caught standing in a vehicle that is lurching and trundling through the night. When the egg has been caught and gripped in the bell-mouth it passes on into the oviduct itself where pressure exerted by the muscles of the inside wall of the tube passes the egg along the duct. The first gland to treat the egg is the one that makes albumen (egg white). Layer after layer of white is wrapped round the germ and the yolk. The next of the several packaging stages is the wrapping round the egg of two layers of thin membrane (very thin skin) after which the egg again moves on until it reaches the uterus where the egg receives its hard, white, outer shell.

It should be noted that during the entire process the oviduct increases its size fifty times! Very little can go wrong with the hen's reproductive system while the egg passes from the bell-mouth to the uterus. It is when the egg reaches the uterus (shell-making stage) that a defect can occur. This usually results in the laying of a soft-shelled egg, i.e. an egg wrapped in membrane but having no hard outer-shell. There is nothing one can do to remedy this defect which is not caused by lack of grit in the loft. In most instances the defect is only temporary and rights. The egg-in-packaging passes through the oviduct smartly and fairly quickly. It dwells its longest in the hard-shell making department. Let us say that the overall time for the production of the egg, after it has ripened for four and a half days and passed into the bell- mouth of the oviduct, is no more than 44/48 hours. As oniy one egg at a time can pass through the oviduct for the essential 'wrapping and packaging' processes it will be understood why there is a time-gap of 44/48 hours between the laying of the hen's two eggs. The time taken for the entire process from that of egg-stimulation (when the cock starts to drive) to that of laying should be approximately eight days. During the whole time the hen must not be regarded as a flying machine but as a pigeon whose internal condition calls for peace and quiet, especially at night. According to my own observations, the body temperature of a hen about to lay rises slightly above the normal 105/107'F. My records also reveal that a hen weighing 14ozs before mating gradually increases her body weight to 15 1/2 - 16ozs. This increase in weight imposes a heavier wing-loading on her and presents us with another reason for why hens should not be worked when they are in egg. By comparison, a female human athlete would be required to carry an additional 71b on her back. What sort of fancier would penalise his racing hen in this way? The hen takes very little interest in food during the period of stimulation and laying. Even if she was prompted and driven by appetite she would get little chance to stuff her crop, with her cock constantly treading on her tail and pecking her every time she strays from the nest. She is given no chance to put on weight or fat from feeding and if well driven by her cock for eight days she will most certainly shed any surplus weight or fat she might have acquired during her winter's rest. Those who talk glibly about hens being too fat when they make their eggs indulge in sheer nonsense. Nature provided the driving-cock to make sure that the hen carried no surplus fat inside her when she was making her eggs. insidentally, it is a very good thing for a fancier to install feeding pots in the nestboxes but I advise against doing so before the hen has laid her eggs. If nature insists on the hen being lean during her egg-making stage we must not interfere. The hen must extract the maximum of nourishment from her food in the weeks prior to laying and thereafter during the entire nesting period. Her case for blood enrichment is of the soundest. Anything you can do to enrich her blood should put gold in your pocket in the shape of perfectly robust progeny.

Nature also helps to preserve her body in a high state of nourishment as, for example, when she lays her next round of eggs (usually at a time when the nestlings from the previous round are about 3-weeks old) she automatically stops feeding the nestlings. It is the sire who bears the brunt of the feeding. He does 70 per cent of the work in the nestlings' first three weeks from hatching and 100% after his hen has laid her next round of eggs. Thus nature compels the hen to stop feeding youngsters so that she can re-build her strength after laying her eggs. A hen-in-egg is a precious animal and one who deserves great respect and appreciation from her owner. We must remember that she can produce new life which, if appreciated by the owner when it is in the making, might develop into a champion. But responsibility rests on the owner. He should never let anyone, including himself handle a hen-in-egg, never let her be chivvied by any other pigeon when she is getting ready to lay. She is not an automatic machine that was sent to be abused but an anatomical miracle that is fraught with peril for herself. If she is not accorded proper respect, as is due to motherhood, she in turn may fail to shower us with any blessings.


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