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The Search for Perfection...
Author: Old HandTitle: The Search for Perfection
Date: 2003-04-24 22:40:58Uploaded by: webmaster
A percentage of my incoming mail is devoted to the problem of how to produce producers? This is to say that a number of novices constantly broach the problem of how to go about breeding the kind of gold mine stock birds who can be relied upon to churn out winners for the home loft. Now, a number of very experienced fanciers, including myself, wish they had the complete answer to this problem but in all truth no one has yet been entrusted by a bountiful nature with this particular secret. We are allowed to learn a little, which some of us are prepared to pass on, but the final key to the puzzle has not yet been handled over.

I can not quote from my own experience, which covers more than 60 years as a fancier. No doubt some of you are saying, 'Well, if he can't find out in 60 years what is the point of devoting even more years to the problem?' The fact is that blokes like me, who study racing pigeons as a hobby as well as a profession, always live in hope that one glorious working day when we may not even be looking for the answer it will suddenly be revealed to us, in all its simplicity! That is what we hope for but have not even the courage to pay for lest we innocent blaspheme.

When I look back over my life as a dedicated, full-time fancier and try to recollect my thoughts on the subject of breeding winners, a number of very interesting and perhaps pertinent facts make a habit of springing up to attract my attention. For example, what was the most important thing about my past and present top producing hens? It was that each and every one of them had an exceptional sire! I know what you are going to say. 'If they had an exceptional dad they must have had an exceptional mum, too!' Well, that just isn't true. I've searched all the turnings and back-alleys of my memory and I can't recollect one of my top producing hens who could boast a mum out of the ordinary. That's the word to describe them with 'ordinary.' They were even 'ordinary' as racers. They homed and were consistent in that, they were consistent losers, never much shakes as winners.

Here I must quote another inference from my memory alley. Big-winning pigeons don't necessarily become the producers of big-winning birds. I wish they did, then we could all become top breeders of top racing pigeons. I can remember the years when I bred a late round of youngsters because I was searching around for producers. I found most of mine among the latebreds. Not all my top producers were latebreds, only most of them.

After Christmas I would sit down with a couple of baskets, one of which contained my team of latebreds and then work my way through them, just culling. I can't possibly underrate this job which, in my opinion, is the most important of all the pigeon fancier's tasks. It takes time, too, if the strain is well-bred. Take a dozen birds from a loft of riff-raff pigeons and one could probably cull them in a matter of minutes. Take a dozen from the loft of an experienced fancier who knows what to reject and what to retain and the variation between each bird will be slight by comparison. However, slight or not, the variation will not escape the notice of the practiced hand and eye.

No matter how many latebreds I breed in a round, from a dozen to four dozen, I have never known a season when I have been able to choose more than 2 birds worthy of being kept as producers, or probable producers. You may suggest that the older one becomes, in this game the more finicky becomes one's choice so that instead of keeping all reasonable types, one becomes a perfectionist and possibly rejects some very likely winners or breeders of winners.

I can remember one year, when just after I had finished culling the latebreds I had to make a hurried call in the neighbourhood. I asked Veronica to telephone the local poulterer who had a standing order with me for young pigeons which he plucked and sold under a name of 'game' names, such as plover, etc. However, it seems that before she had time to make the telephone call Nobby Clarke, a fancier friend of mine, had called. She gave the birds to him but forgot to tell me when I returned home. A couple of years later Nobby revealed that he had taken the birds and that he had tried to breed from them, having no success at all. This convinced me that the birds I culled deserved to be rejected because, as Nobby had discovered, they weren't of any use as producers, anyway.

To return to the point I was making, it is apparently hopeless for anyone to expect to be able to breed a special producer hen except as the daughter of a very special sire. So, is there anything else that is important when a fancier sets out to stock himself up with some top producing birds? Well, I must admit that there is something else I discovered about my own breeding history (I said 'own') and that is, that in every case where I bred a top producer hen she was the product of a first cross.

Somewhere in my pigeon library is a textbook containing pigeon racing advice among which is this gem: 'A first cross can often be lucky and produce winners. The blow falls when the fancier tries to breed winners in the next filial generation.' This means that whereas the first cross can throw up winners no one should try and breed winners in the next generation to that of the cross. I can't speak for the experience of others but I can confirm that in so far as the production of the very special 'producer hen' is concerned she is the daughter of a first cross and her winning offspring are necessarily the product of the next filial generation. As this statement conflicts with that little bit of pigeon wisdom I read out to you from someone else's book, you must decide the issue for yourself.

Anything else that we can look on as a clue to the top producer type? Yes, funnily enough, I've discovered that the best racing sex bred down from the producer daughter of a very special sire is mainly female. Here and there a good cock but, in the main, the winning sequence over some four generations has been hens. I realise, not without a pang, that this kind of information is of little or no use to those fanciers who specialise in widowhood racing because they wish their winners to be cocks. I append no apologies because I entertain a very strong feeling that somewhere, someone is going to benefit considerably from these notes penned beside the roaring fire, while the snow falls outside, to play games with the panorama.

Come on, can't you think up some more clues? Yes, perhaps I can. These gold mine producer hens not only betray a special trait. They pass one on to each of their best offspring. This means that the fancier must make a point of studying his offspring in the hope of finding out if it is blessed with a trait. First of all, I can hear someone asking me to define a 'trait.' Well, you breed four pairs of youngsters from a given pair of old birds and then you watch them. Seven of them fly round with the kit and pitch with them when they have collectively decided that they've reeled off the maximum number of circles round the chimney pots. But not the eighth one! It keeps flying for a half to a full hour after its seven brothers and sisters and all the rest have pitched and it repeats this performance every day, regularly. That's what we call a 'trait', because in that respect (the continued additional flying) the bird is different to the others.

I know that every pigeon is 'different' from the others, no two being exactly alike but I don't like to quibble. To me, a 'trait' is a difference in a physical performance, not just in its appearance. I think that one should really understand what I mean by 'trait' because this clue is a valuable one which I never undertook.

No one can stand outside a loft and merely by looking into it recognise a champion producer. One must get in very close to it and handle and study it. In fact, it is no job for a stranger, but one a fancier should carry out for himself. Even the novice with his limited knowledge can be successful if he applies himself to his task and practices, practices, practices. I'm not sure that I'm a supporter of those who demand that experts should help novices by running through their birds and telling them what to keep and what to get rid of and what to mate to whom, for a fee. Novices who are too idle to find out for themselves are not likely to find much of a future in pigeon racing. The thing is not just to be a fancier, one should also be a learner and keep learning.

I can't suggest that a fancier should pay too much regard for the shape of a pigeon. A few years ago I called on a very good friend of mine and he placed a young bird in my hand, saying, 'Here is the perfect pigeon!' Now, people like me, who put their necks out by writing for the press, thus inviting someone to come along with a 'karate' chop, can never bring themselves to admitting that there is such a thing as a perfect pigeon. We bleat continually about the need for perfection and how we should all try so hard to produce the unproduceable, the perfect pigeon but if we were tied to wild horses we still wouldn't admit that anyone could breed such a prized specimen. However, in the privacy of my friend's back garden, where we were safe from being overheard, I had to admit that he had handed to me a very special specimen. 'It's as near to perfection as I've ever come across,' I grudgingly admitted. 'Yes, Jack, you might well claim this to be the perfect pigeon.' A few years later this hen flew into the first 3 in the open result of the Grand National race.

For those among you whose faces dropped after reading about the above my recollections, knowing that your chances of coming by a 'perfect' pigeon are almost non-existent, there is the story of what I called 'The Five-Mile Hen.' I wonder now that I ever had the patience to put up with this hen. It took me a week to train her to the 5-mile stage and when tossed there she took a night out. I was furious so I took her back and tossed her from the same spot. This time she stayed away 3 whole days before deciding to return to the loft.

Now, I've always maintained that a fancier has a 'sixth sense' to supplement his normal inheritance of 5. I don't know whether this is true or if it is just a bit of vanity on my part, imagining that when we have exhausted all practical and logical reasons for doing something some mysterious sixth sense can steal into our minds and tell us, that all is not what it appears to be, to any sane man. So, we have to admit the existence of our 'sixth sense' and instead of disposing of a bird who is patently crying out loud for reflection put it back on its perch and feed it for another expensive year. In this instance, I again allowed my 'sixth sense' to over-rule my commonsense and let the hen flutter back into the loft.

Next year I mated her and bred from her. As was to be expected, 75% of her progeny turned up from the egg with what I term unnecessary depth of keel. I could only blame myself for allowing a tiny little voice at the back of my mind to interfere with a life-time of experience. However, I put her youngsters on the road with the others and treated them exactly as with the others. I didn't race young birds that season and losses were light in the training schedule of my 60 separate tosses before the racing programme. Next year I was given a shock in the very first old bird race when a son of the 'Five Mile Hen' won the race by a street. From then onwards he raced regularly and was never less than a winner. For three years he won the club and frequent positions in the fed until, like all champions, he went to a race and never returned. I nearly cried when I dropped him.

However, my next job was to break up the mating and put a new cock with the 'Five Mile Hen'. It made no difference, she still churned out winners, nearly every one of which had a deep keel!

I never had any faith in the recognition of oddities (physical oddities) as pointing to any producer sublimation. You know, birds with 11-flighted wings and so on. None of these oddities has any influence on the bird's breeding potentialities. It just remains what it is, an oddity. However, when oddity is applied to action, as being something which is distinct from mere appearance, I'm always interested.

I once owned a cock who could not stand a pigeon of a certain colour. If one of them got near him he would go beserk in his efforts to kill it. This aggressive young cock became a big winner until one day the cock of the colour he detested went missing. From that very week he stopped winning. At one marking station I saw this cock standing in the corner of a race pannier, clearing a space all round him. Then I noticed that three of the birds he was picking on were of the forbidden plumage colour. He won that race and having learnt my lesson I promptly went out and bought a bird of the colour he hated and loosed it into the section. He perked up at once and tried to pick a quarrel with it. What is more, the cock resumed its winning streak.

These things must be mentioned because they have relevance. They are of the countless number of hints which when written down and collated make a pigeon racing textbook of infinite value. Somewhere, someone is going to read that hint and then keep his eyes open in the hope of seeing it repeated in his own loft. That is what is meant by that oft repeated pigeon term, 'observation'.

Never allow genuine 'hints' to get mixed up with the blarney and old wive's tales. A genuine hint can be worth a great deal whereas those tales that ring of magic and nonsense are worthless. One must discriminate between the two things.

There is something else I wish to say about culling. If you take, say, 24 fit and robust youngsters and run through them, straining your brain and powers of observation in your attempt to look for inconsistencies, downright faults and nonconformities and you finish up with only two pigeons which you care to retain as being up to standard you have increased your chances of producing a top producer bird of the goldmine variety by some 12 to 1! Never forget that the good fancier stacks the odds on his side so that when the top producer bird does pop up he well deserves the award for his good work. Don't let my experience with my old 'Five Mile Hen' prevent you from rejecting any bird whose physical properties do not accord with what you have been taught, probably by men, as being acceptable. The nearer you get to the 'perfect pigeon' the higher you will rate as a pigeon fancier, as the racing results will reveal. So ignore the 'Five Mile Hen' and concentrate on acquiring stock of the kind that breeds a good class of pigeon and then try and improve even on that. If you reject fearlessly you must, in the end, become an expert culler of racing pigeons and win more than your share of the prizes.
Old Hand
Thanks to the British Homing World

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