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Educating Young Birds...
Author: Old HandTitle: Educating Young Birds
Date: 2005-01-17 06:14:10Uploaded by: webmaster
I have personally sampled upwards of 60 years of young bird racing and I can truthfully say that in every year the outcome has been the same, the senseless slaughter of young birds in the first young bird race of the season. Before I visited the club headquarters with my clock I knew what I was to meet, faces as long as a yard of pump water, dismal Jimmies complaining that out of 12 sent they've only seen four, of hopes dashed to the ground and ambitions smacked callously on the head.

'I've lost too many youngsters', they moan. 'The race has been a disaster'. I heard this kind of remark being broadcast a lifetime ago and for some 50 years running I have deliberately deprived myself of any chance of winning the Young Bird Average by abstaining from participation in the first young bird race. I simply don't send any entries to it.

One has only to look at the birds as they are being marked and dropped into the baskets or crates. Watch them mill about and compare them with the old bird racers when they are marked and go into the crates. The latter stand still and quiet, as much-experienced travellers to racepoints, whereas the young birds fight and stamp around, sometimes out of sheer panic at finding themselves confined in a cramped container. Even those youngsters who have been properly basket trained, and well trained along the road, are not averse to catching panic from others. One glance at such a crate is enough to convince one that tomorrow's race is going to be a disaster. And, sure enough, that is exactly what it is going to be, a smash! Isn't every first young bird race of the season a 'smash' of a kind?

A goodly number of fanciers flatly refuse to train their birds and put them into the crates with no experience of any kind behind them. The result? Stark panic at the racepoints when the birds are required to come out of the crates for the first time. They go haywire, as any liberator or convoyer will confirm. In fact, one convoyer told me that his hardest job was in persuading youngsters to come out of the crates once they had been opened. This meant that most of the drag had cleared the racepoint while he and his assistants were still trying to drive birds out of the crates and get them airborne.

Most fanciers try and train their young birds when they are too old to be taught. For example, the practice of not training young birds until a fortnight before the first young bird race is sheer folly. By that time, youngsters bred from spring matings are already too old to be taught. They will already have developed some bad habits, such as flying aimlessly round the chimney pots in dull and dreary circles. They simply can't be taught how to fly a straight line in time for the first young bird race of the season in a matter of 14 days.

By the time of the young bird racing most of the youngsters will have reached sexual maturity without having experienced a single training toss. With what result? I think that a 'fly-away' is almost a certainty! Fly-aways are made by youngsters who have done nothing but amble round chimney pots everyday with the result that they know nothing of local terrain. Then, one bright day, they go up higher than usual and in response to their inherited racial memory they make off and try to 'range'. Far too late, of course! They range all right but by the time they feel heated through exercise they have covered too much country and can be hopelessly lost.

The way to avoid 'fly-aways' is to get the youngsters on the road for day-by-day training tosses when they are still only a few weeks old. I wouldn't dream of trying to road train a youngster who was more than 10 weeks old. As soon as a squeaker reaches its tenth week from day of hatching I take it out for its first toss, putting it in the basket with a few old birds of experience, or perhaps some more experienced youngsters. I've trained upwards of 40 young birds every year and never drop more than three or four in training and I put this down to the fact that the youngsters are trained when they are still young - too young to have developed bad habits.

The other day I noted an article by an old fancier who said, 'When you take a basket of birds for a training toss don't tip them out the moment you arrive at the training stage. Put the basket down and let the birds rest for half an hour, then let them go'. The same fancier told me that one day, on his way home, he was crossing a field when he saw one of his birds walking through it. He caught up with his bird and walked beside it for two miles until they both reached the loft. Well, I wasn't surprised! The moment I take a basket of birds out of my 'bubble car' and place it on the ground as a preliminary to dropping the flap the birds start to push and shove against the inside of the drop-flap. When I release the flap they can't wait to rush out of the basket and get up into the air. Now ask yourselves, which birds are likely to be those that the convoyer has to drive out of the crates with his cap - mine or those that spend 30 minutes in taking a nap in the basket at the training stage?

Young bird losses would decrease the moment fanciers generally start to put on their thinking caps and get with the problems of young bird training because problems there are - in plenty! For instance, it is quite insane for any novice to look on his young birds as so many birds who are at such and such an age. While it is necessary for us to take note of the age of youngsters we must also be prepared to treat them not merely as 'a mass of pigeons' but as individuals. You do this by watching them when they are going about their business such as at mealtimes, etc.

Every one of us, regardless of our experience, breeds fools. You can mate up pairs of national winners and breed birds whose IQ ratings are worse than mediocre. Therefore, it is your job, as well as mine, to try and spot these useless ones before they incur the expense of training. Daft pigeons have a habit of advertising their general low standard in one way or another but you'll never know about it unless you spend the time they need with them.

The practice of giving young pigeons two square or round meals a day (one in the morning and one at night) is a very bad one, a piece of archaic pigeon management which went out of date in my grandfather's time. If you wish to control your young pigeons and bring them up in the way you require them to grow, give them one good meal per day, immediately after they have (1) come in from exercise, or, (2) entered the loft from the daily training toss. The one exercise or training toss and the one meal to follow is the correct way to rear young birds, day by day.

If your birds are turned out twice a day you may soon be writing to me to say, 'My youngsters refuse to fly long at exercise. Just a few turns round the chimneys and they drop!'

Let me make another thing plain. Youngsters should never be turned out of the loft in the afternoon, or evening. Get the training done in the morning and the birds fed and on perches by lunchtime. Let them build up huge stocks of energy through the afternoon and the night that follows and let them burn it up next day during training. But train them hard - very, very hard!

There are certain things about racing pigeons which no amount of clever breeding or management can change in them. One is their preference for gregarious living and flying. To put it another way, pigeons like to live in colonies. Unlike some wild birds they don't find and fight off other birds from their home territory as loners. They prefer to settle down in a well-defined colony to breed. At the same time, they prefer to fly in 'drags' (or flocks) because their inherited instinct is to chum up and stick together. Nothing you can ever do will change that instinct, not one little bit. So, if you want to own the sort of bird that will fly its own course and 'to hell with the others' you will have to work on it real hard, such as in repetitious single-up flying, etc.

There is absolutely no way in which you can teach your birds not to mix up with other bunches they might come across in the sky, no matter how carefully you train, because one day instead of your little mob dropping in one cohered drag they are going to 'break up' and reach home in dribs and drabs, at varying intervals of time. It is in the nature of racing pigeons to do this sort of thing so don't imagine that you can avoid it.

Too many novices continue to keep 'suspect' youngsters, even though they have a sneaking feeling that this and that one is of no value at all. These youngsters are a menace to the team proper because pigeons, like men, much prefer to learn bad ways than good and just one youngster who does not comply with your management requirements can infect a dozen with his bad ways. The thing to do is turn out every youngsters who does not toe the line, being absolutely ruthless in this respect.

Of every 100 novices who are racing youngsters, 98 overfeed them. Therefore, the net result is a very large glut of letters arriving at my office to the following effect: 'My young birds are coming home some five to 10 minutes after the winner every week! Why is this?'

In almost every club there is at least one member who threads a piece of strong linen thread through a maple pea. When it is time to feed his young birds he tosses this pea among them and when they make a rush at it he snatches at the thread and causes the peas to fly away from them. If you think that you are going to beat this fancier in young bird races by feeding your youngsters a proper ration you are more than an optimist. It just can't be done, that is, until the day when the race becomes tough and calls for extra stamina and then you might expect to get a good one whereas the one-pea-on-a-thread members will be lucky to time in. I'm afraid that in young bird racing 'you take your pick' by making up your mind that you are likely to break your heart by not winning, or whether you can regard young bird racing purely as a means to an end, so that you can win well next year with properly matured old birds? To put it another way, do you favour a short-term or a long-term policy?

I never expect to win young bird races and feel somewhat startled when I learn I've actually won one! On the other hand, if I didn't get a bird from 500 miles, well up and in the money, I should be so annoyed that I'd want to demand a public enquiry, with a firing squad for the convoyer! Starved young birds never make up into good old bird long-distance winners and that's a fact.

Every now and again an Olympic gold medallist, or a member of the FA Cup-winning team at Wembley, opens his mouth and then puts his foot in it. It happens so often that I find myself actually glancing through the newspapers in the hope of coming across such a crack. Truly, it has been said that footballers keep their brains in their boots and I also believe that athletes keep theirs in their spiked shoes. One of the 1976 Olympic track contestants gave it as his opinion that he won his gold medal because he gave himself a carbohydrate diet. This utterance caused quite a number of panicked novices to write to me with requests for a carbohydrate formulae for feeding. They one and all said, 'Carbohydrates give energy to the birds!'

Let me begin by saying that birds extract the energy they need to fly with from the oxygen they inhale when they take in air. The amount they get from food is trivial and trifling by comparison.

Now, if a racing pigeon expends all the energy it extracts from air and food and at the moment of making it, the bird would never be any better off, regardless of what energy it inhaled or extracted from its diet. Therefore, it will be obvious to all of us that when the bird inhales (and eats food) it stores its surplus energy away somewhere in its body. Where? I'll tell you. It stores the extra surplus energy in its liver!

However, there is more than one energy source-type food. On the one hand one can extract some energy from carbohydrate-type food and yet some more but slightly different form of energy from protein-type food. Here again, after it has extracted these two similar energy-type chemicals, the bird does not allow them to mingle and fuse into one energy source. Instead, both supplies of surplus energy are stored separately in the liver where they are handy when needed.

It is necessary for us to know that birds fed on a carbohydrate-type diet, such as the cereals (wheat, maize, barley, rice, dari) will make carbohydrate-type energy but because the proportion of protein in such grains is extremely small, no comparable amount of protein-type energy will be extracted and stored.

It is just as necessary for us to know that when the bird in flight is compelled to draw on its stored energies it calls first for the stored carbohydrate energy and it continues to use this stored energy until it has all been expended. Not until the carbohydrate energy has been totally exhausted will the bird next begin to draw on its protein-type energy store. Thus, if a bird has no stored protein-type energy what happens when it runs out of stored carbohydrate-type energy? It drops! It has to! On the other hand, if the bird has been nourished and raised on protein-type diets it can switch to its protein-type of energy store the moment it has exhausted its carbohydrate energy store and thus keep flying. Here again, I feel reluctantly required to tell you that 'you take your pick'. You, and only you, can make up your mind and decide on what kind of pigeon you wish to keep and race, whether your policy shall be short term or long term.

It should be understood that any track athlete who merely wishes to storm down a 100-metre track in an all-out one-breath inhalement, ten-second burst, doesn't have to worry about having any store of protein-type energy! He can get by nicely, in such a short period of ten seconds, by running on just one mouthful of inhaled air. However, racing pigeons who have to call on enormous amounts of stored energy over long hours of endurance have a much different problem to solve.

Here I would like to leave my reader with a somewhat sobering thought. I once knew a very great fancier who complained that other fanciers kept their fancied racing pigeons too long. 'Energy', he would say, 'like that expended in all sports, is something that is reserved for the young. Isn't it for this reason that professional footballers and track athletes are 'old men' at 30 years of age?' One can talk about protein and carbohydrates and all manner of technical data related to energy and stamina but there is no substitute for youth. Youth is but a synonym for boundless energy.

This is one of the reasons why I advise my novices to work young birds very hard, as against the kind of advice published by most technical writers who prefer fanciers to 'go easy with the youngsters and stop those who are showing signs of excellence on the road!' I am diametrically opposed to such advice. I believe that in its tenth week at the latest the youngster needs to be put on the road and trained over and over again. I like to make my young birds fly a minimum of 45 young bird training tosses before the first young bird race of the season and from that moment of its first race the young bird never misses another, unless conditions of moult make it necessary for me to stop it awhile. Work, work, work, is what young birds need and plenty of it!

What I do deplore is the over-long young bird race. No organisation of repute should stage a young bird race beyond 200 miles, especially towards the end of the young bird season (September) when deteriorating atmospheric conditions rarely favour the bird but are often lethal to it.

Some of the best old birds I ever owned were young birds who flew both Wednesday and Saturday in races, flying some 18-20 races during the young bird season. They made up into some of the finest old birds I have had the pleasure of feeding and roosting. The theory that you can overwork or overtrain young birds is entirely without any solid foundation of fact. You can send them too far, as most old birds are eventually sent too far (too far for their physical powers) but both yearlings and young birds can only benefit when they are kept flying in reasonable stints, day by day.

Too many novices worry over bird losses. It is on this account that so few novices train their birdsí single-up. I assure every novice who reads my notes that if he stays in the sport (and I hope he will) the time will come when he will not be able to calculate the future figure of his losses - they will be too great. It is a remarkable thing that no amount of bird loss seems to destroy a loft. One can always produce more birds to fill vacant perches and the supply invariably appears to be greater than the demand. With this thought in mind, don't hesitate to stiffen up your loft discipline and make your demands on the birds even more demanding. There is no point in pressing you to 'aim high' because the phrase means nothing more prosaic than a ballistic trajectory. I would prefer to ask my novices not only to be hard taskmasters but to be more selective in the matter of keeping and disposing of birds. If it hasn't been bred right, or it doesn't look right, get rid of it. You cannot afford to keep abnormalities and non-conformers.

As for the young bird losses - I repeat that I've never known one young bird season which was free of smashes and on those occasions where only one 'smash' was flown it always occurred in the first young bird race of the season, usually in excellent weather! Imagine what is likely to happen when the huge race drags meet in the air ... the mind boggles! Isn't it high time that our administering organisations took over the responsibility for ensuring that race programmes did not promise huge young bird clashes.


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