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The Descent of the Racing Pigeon...
Author: Old HandTitle: The Descent of the Racing Pigeon
Date: 2003-04-12 17:52:33Uploaded by: webmaster
All fanciers talk about inheritance as being something passed down from one generation to another, something they expect a sire to pass to his son and daughter and the dam likewise. Therefore, the average fancier thinks about heredity as a kind of 'passing on' of virtues, vices and all sorts of things but mainly, he hopes, the will to win. When one of his birds win a race the first thing he asks himself is 'Who is it off?' because, like the ancient Chinese, all that is good in a person or bird must be credited, in full, to the ancestors who contributed to its being. Ancestor worship in pigeon racing is no less prevalent than in Old Cathay, even more so.

What do we mean by 'inheritance?' Do we mean those methods and processes by which the constitution and characteristics of an animal are handed on to its offspring, this transmission of characteristics being, of course, associated with the fact that the offspring is developed by the process of growth out of a small fragment detached from its parents? and those fragments are tiny when compared with the size of the living beings who contributed them.

But the reappearance of a character from generation to generation does not necessarily prove the inheritance of that which is originally due to the influences of food and feeding, climatic conditions, or other influences and surroundings operative on the body, and if there be a persistence of the conditions from generation to generation which were instrumental in evoking the character. In this case, it would appear that the reappearance is the result of similar conditions operative on each successive generation.

Plants which in their natural growth are peculiar to high altitudes, have been known to become much changed when brought down to a lowland garden, and their descendants also, so long as they remained in the lowland garden but returned to their original form immediately they were returned to their alpine habitat. This was 'inheritance' at work but only in cooperation with that other moulder of form and character, the environment. The observant fancier, especially he who is able to convert what he sees into meaningful significance, is forever impressed by the vast power of the environment. He knows that it's environment that holds the organism in its vice-like grip and hammers it into shape. This one factor no fancier will deny but we know that similar conditions may have different results on different natures. One strain of pigeons may thrive and give a winning sequence in one kind of loft but languish and fail in a loft which is an exact copy but erected on a different kind of soil, with a different c ompass exposure. Indeed, it will at times happen that characters will reappear from generation to generation which it is impossible to say are due to environment or culture.

As intelligent fanciers we must also know that in many instances inheritance is wedded to environment and in many other instances the two things are entirely separate and without any affinity at all. At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that an organism cannot be separated from its environment except at the risk of some fallacy. It would appear that along with the organic heritage contained in the germ cells, every organism has a heritage of appropriate influences which supply the stimuli for normal development. We know from the work of our scientists that the form that is to be taken by any new life is controlled by the genetic pattern, or the blueprint made by the genes. This form is known to the scientists as DNA. It operates by dominating the species at a time when a male and female are producing a new generation. Thus the blueprint governs the issue, deciding that horses can produce horses and not goats. So, DNA is a 'species fixer' which can safely be trusted to preserve the species, provided a male and female are permitted to survive and breed together. What I am trying to establish is not the inviolability of the pattern of the species but those forces which, while not constituting a hereditary force, nevertheless bring irresistible forces to bear on the way that the new generation is to behave. Appropriate food is part of the normal environment and the supply of oxygen and water may be grouped in the same way. Others, like light, heat and damp tend to accelerate or retard.

I have often mentioned the importance of loft design on the prospects of the inhabitants, while at the same time I have warned of the danger of allowing rising damp to penetrate the structure. I have been a hot gospeller of dryness inside the loft at the risk of irritating thousands of good readers. In how many of the lofts of Britain have the fanciers inserted a dampcourse to stave off moisture and general dampness reaching the floor of the loft? To stand a loft on a pile of bricks, or concrete piers, without first insetting between piers or posts and the loft structure itself, a sheet of copper, polythene, formica, sheet aluminium or some other non-porous and waterproof material, is to expose birds to unnecessary risk. Those same fanciers who shrug their shoulders at advice on damp-coursing do not know that their birds would be better off in a loft with an earthen floor. I have always considered it a great pity that fanciers who are prepared to pay large prices for pigeons aren't prepared to spend a few pounds on improving the birds' environment. I put the vice down more to lack of interest than to downright meanness. It would seem also that combinations of particular factors are required for the liberation and development of particular requirements and characters in the embryonic organism. Development is the expression of inheritance and to obtain the maximum of inheritance development, one must have adequate environment. What fanciers might call a defect in heredity may simply be a lack of development due to inadequate environment or the want of suitable external conditions.Those fanciers who think that environment is 'just one of those things' which may not embarrass or harass a fancier in the act of producing a winning team could not be less wrong. I think that environment, if it be made to include the loft, its design and site, its material, food and the system of feeding, the exercise, and training schedules, are all parts of the birds' environment and that, taken altogether, they account for more than 50% of the inheritance. And that percentage is a lot.

I know a racehorse owner who owned a fine stallion, but it refused to win a place in a dozen races. Its enraged owner instructed his trainer to 'get rid of the damn thing' for whatever price the new owner was prepared to pay. The proposed new owner visited the trainer's stables and gave the horse the once over. He was surprised to hear that the horse had not won a single race. 'What kind of food do you give to it?' he asked the trainer. 'Barley' the trainer replied. 'All the horses here are fed on barley and they can like it or leave it.' The proposed new owner of the horse perked up. He was now more than interested in the horse that couldn't win. After a few minutes of keen haggling the horse was purchased for the knock-down price of 1,750. When the horse reached its new home the new owner tried it out on a series of different meals, watching the horse closely to try and discover what particular kind of food pleased it best. He could not fail to see how greedily the horse went for the nose bag that contained a factory-manufactured kind of cake called 'nuts'. The horse nuzzled into the nuts in a manner which left no doubt about its preference. Once again, science ? in the shape of a 'balanced diet' of the 'Golden Boost' kind ? has beaten the so-called 'natural' foodstuff, such as barley. Further, when the new owner put the horse into the competitive sphere of the racehorse it won and won and won. Where it failed to put up even a fair show before when fed on barley, it now won every race in which it was entered! Eventually, when it grew too old to win the mile events it was retired to stud but not before it had become 'Britain's Horse of The Year'. A Japanese millionaire offered to buy the horse for 200,000. This is a true story and it happened only a few years ago. Note how a change of diet converted a poor athlete into a world beater and then ask yourself if you think that your pigeons are being properly fed.

As we have demonstrated, feeding is definitely an environmental factor which is capable of exerting enormous influence over an animal's future. Look around you and see how many fanciers who have never had a win in 20 or more years, but still refuse to change their birds' diet and continue day after day in the bad old way, rather than let the 'wind of change' blow through their lofts. If you have competed in a club for a number of years without winning your share of the prizes, have you not seen a case made out for a re-assessment of your management system. What is wrong? Is it the diet, the training, the lack of quality in the breeding? It is very necessary to test out each factor in turn. For example, if one thoroughly tests out the environmental factors without finding a solution to the problem, one is left with only one suitable conclusion ? viz that the breeding of the birds is at fault. Unfortunately, on too many occasions, frustrated fanciers (nearly always new starters) rush to the conclusion that the breeding of their birds is at fault when the real cause of the trouble is an environmental one.

How fundamental is the germinal nature may be realised if we consider Heape's experiment of transferring the fertilised ovum (eggs) of an Angora rabbit into a short-coated Belgian hare. The young were no less long-haired or less white because of the transplantation of the ovum. Similarly, Castle & Phillips removed the ovaries from a white albino guinea-pig, inserted those of a young black individual and had the grafted animal mated with an albino (white). Normal albinos mated together always have albino young, but the animal experimented on had, by the albino male, three litters (6 young) all black! Obviously, in the scheme of reproduction the foster body did not count. However, if we accept the dictum that 'like begets like' we must also be prepared to believe that while 'like is like', 'like is also unlike' in a minor if not a major sense. By this I mean that while all the birds bred in a pigeon loft from pigeons must be pigeons the likeness stops there. Any fancier with a slight knowledge of human nature can gaze at the young bird team and from his knowledge of their individual behaviour in his training tosses equate each one with a human comparison. That one over there will be the epitome of laziness, that one will be greedy for food, that one a flirt and so on, crediting, or debiting each bird with its own personal characteristic. What I wish every new starter would do is exercise his eyes in a similar confrontation immediately after his ybs have been trained and now await the first race of the season. Take pencil to paper and write down against each bird its virtues and vices, as they would appear to a human being. His next procedure is to race these young birds through the programme and note, week after week, which of the virtues he has noticed, and which of the vices is proving to characterise the best racer, that is the best yb flying as a consistent worker. In this way the new starter will teach himself which virtues and which vices give him the best indication of a bird's future worth. Knowledge of this kind will make it possible for him to cull and select with a measure of confidence in his ability to define that which is wanted in a bird and that which is not. Naturally, he will not be bigoted in his assumptions but will always allow a margin for error and toleration.

Cocks that fight a lot and make a lot of noise usually get turfed out of a loft as being undesirable breakers of the peace when, in fact, they are most likely to be the best racers. Precocious hens who betray all the wiles and lures of the 'hookers' identify themselves as probably the best long-distance hens, as do those super-jealous hens who can hardly wait to deposit an egg in their nests before rushing out to terrorise an unfortunate hen to whom they have taken a violent dislike. I am mentioning characteristics which I have found to be certain 'indicators' in my own loft and in my own birds. There are plenty more to be spotted of these 'do's 'and 'don'ts' or 'goods' and 'bads' and the wise fancier learns about as many of them as possible.

Naturally, the result of good, hard work on the road must supercede any other kind of device used for culling and selection. We must not get sold on the idea of just one environmental pressure, any more than on one personal virtue or vice. A pigeon that works well and with the utmost satisfaction cannot be a bad one, regardless of its personal make-up of behaviour but it will be found that only on very rare occasions does a personal vice offset a good training and/or racing record. It will invariably be found that what are known as outstanding virtues go automatically with a good work record. What about heredity? The fact is that there is nothing wrong with heredity. One must realise that a champion pigeon is a complex build-up of a number of virtues and vices other than his marathon-winning ability and when the 'champ' is reproducing he necessarily passes on his conglomeration of different characteristics. They are passed on with, we hope, his race-winning ability. Therefore, these hereditary factors which have nothing directly to do with the factor you are aiming at (his racing-winning ability) have got to be passed onto its progeny, whether you like it or not. Remember, however, that there is one kind of factor it cannot pass on and that is any environmental factor which might have contributed to its race-winning achievement.

Therefore, apart from studying his bird to note and record its personal virtues and vices among the idiosyncrasies which make up its complex nature, the new starter must also try and grapple with the kind of pressures which also exert influence on the bird from its direct surroundings, its meals, its training etc. I have known not one but many instances of fanciers who buy birds from famous 'Aces' not being able to win even a club race with such stock. These unfortunate spenders of hard-won cash often write to me, usually in despair, begging to be told what is wrong. Those who have read so far will have a better idea of what those unfortunate fanciers should have looked for but there is yet another factor which must be taken into consideration. I have found in many instances that the 'Aces' have enjoyed a very favourable loft position. No fancier in this category will admit it! Instead, he will hotly deny it but I have noticed that such fanciers do not move out of the neighbourhood but remain tied to the spot. I do not intend to offend friend or foe by naming fanciers who owe 90% of their good fortune to the environment and only 10% to the quality of their birds but I do commiserate with the unfortunates who have spent good money on birds which appear to excel only to the one loft site. The new starter should cast around and before spending his 'hot' money, make sure that the breeder he intends to patronise has parted with birds that have excelled in other districts as well as to his own loft. However, I mention this matter only to illustrate further that the environment plays a greater part in our affairs than would appear to be the case at first sight. In spite of the misconceptions of the facts of heredity, there is undoubtedly a recognition of the power of similar use and environment in producing resemblance and also the recognition of another fact ? that of 'variation'. Because the new life is the result of a blending of minute particles donated by both parents, it is reasonable to assume that the germinal matter from which it sprang is never quite the same as that from which its parents developed, or not exactly the same as that from which its brothers and sisters developed. Even within the family no two are alike! Each shows 'variation' in the true sense.

Those who, like me, make a lifetime study of heredity, soon discover that sons don't take after their fathers. They may inherit just a little bit of the 'old man' but never a lot. In fact, most male progeny inherits mostly from its dam. Only the female progeny slightly resembles the sire and is in the nature of being a 'chip' off the old block. This is one of the reasons why there appears to be a 'fallow generation' (a generation which produces nothing but mediocre stock) between the mating of the champ and his reproduction two generations or more later on. I can remember the occasion when I acquired the daughter of a very great pigeon. Every one of her nests produced mediocre pigeons. Her sons and daughters also begat rubbish until I almost despaired. However, the great-grandchildren down from this hen were nearly all champions. I know it is useless for me to imagine that all new starters will be so patient and be prepared to wait so long for results. The majority would tie a knot in the hen's long neck and promptly forget her.

The new starter must believe that if there is a champion in the blood who is not too distantly related to his birds, that the virtue must come out provided the stock be given a reasonable and favourable environment with a measure of good inbreeding. If we accept that 'racing virtue' must be a recessive quality (its rare occurrences and general fugitiveness indicate this), then we must go out of our way to promote those particular matings which we calculate must give the special virtue we seek an opportunity to come out and shine. It is for this reason that the use of a good sire as the g.sire on both the paternal and maternal lines so often pays off. The inbreeding involved in this kind of mating doubles the chances of the g.sire reproducing his own particular virtues as a race winner. I commend this thought to all new starters as one they should try out, without delay, always supposing they have a suitable bird to make into a g.sire.

There are other aspects to this essay on heredity, which I commend to those who share my inquisitiveness. In humans, twins which are the result of a single conception are always more like to each other than to any other of their brothers and sisters, because the germinal material from which they (the twins) developed, was more nearly alike than that from which any of their brothers and sisters developed. All, twins and singles alike, are the result of single conceptions, yet the resemblance between twins is always more marked than is the resemblance between brothers and sisters who have been born separately. Once again I draw the new starter's attention to what I have just written down and which he has read. What is emerging from this essay on heredity is a strong case for inbreeding. The closer the germinal material resembles itself, the better are the chances of producing one like the champion. However, in order to pursue this theme to its ultimate conclusion, one would need to breed a great number if direct children from the champ so that the law of selection could be ruthlessly and stringently applied to find those two special daughters through which the concentration of the blood was to be made. Once found, such matings should be capable of producing champions galore!

Countless pigeon fanciers throughout the English-speaking world have met with success after following the teachings of our famous resident expert.
Old Hand
Thanks to the British Homing World

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