At this time of the year a lot of fanciers are busy with mating their birds on paper. ďHow do you do that yourself?Ē several of our readers asked me. In the technique of breeding there is a lot to learn. The learning process never ends. Nature makes strange moves every once in a while giving unexpected surprises. As a breeder you simply must be able to work your way up with the sudden chances you get.
I recieved a question from a young fancier, Gregory Large, from Port St. Elizabeth in South Africa. What do you look for in particular? And if the bird did not have this specific characteristic, would I use this bird in the breeding at all? Well, it isnít that easy. In the history of pigeon sport quite a number of fanciers have been out looking for The Holy Grail. W.E. Bishop (Eye Sign) and Charles Vanderschelden (Wing theory) are the most wellknown exponents. Their search has made their name into ones we will never forget. In their own field they have added quite a lot to the practical knowledge we all have nowadays. But both of them went just too far and did not notice anymore that there are a lot more colors in the genetic painting. I donít think that amongst the top fanciers anywhere in the world you will find one to ground his breeding on just one specific characteristic. Neither am I.
Sorry Greg, but it is not that simple at all. The secret lies in the ability of the fancier to know and recognize as many different characteristics as possible. In short we have to concentrate and to work hard on the following:
Not in one of the three in particular, but in all three together because they are connected. And this means again and again practice, practice andÖ
The feeling resides in our fingertips, palms of our hands and in the muscles of our hands. With our fingertips we examine the breast muscles of the pigeon. Are they the muscles of a sprinter or the ones of a long distance pigeon. Are they filled up with energy or is the pigeon not in top form and because of that handles too light. You can learn the right feeling for this, but youíll have to practice many, many times. The weighing of the pigeon is done with the palms of our hands and with the fingers around the pigeon when you pick it up the first moment. To be able to do that youíll have to put some pressure on the bird otherwise it will escape. With the force of the pressure the pigeon itself reacts to put force on its muscles and bone structure. You can feel this reaction. With every pigeon it is different. With the one bird it is something natural, because of the high inborn vitality. This is the fact with a lot of Ace pigeons. With a lot of other birds with less natural vitality it has to do with the form of the day. The feeling in your hands must be able to make the right translation with regard to the results on the race day. Of course we can do a lot more with our hands. Feel the pressure of the wings and the shoulders. The back. And maybe we can think of a couple more.
The sight is situated as you expected it in our eyes. With that we observe a pigeon. How is itís personality and itís intelligence. How does it look around and behave in the loft. Those are for me very important characteristics. And both very difficult to grade right the first moment. It takes a bit longer to be accurate here. It is needed to add the points of different grading rounds. Intelligence for me is very important in the breeding. Animals with a low IQ almost always have children with the same level of intelligence. With pigeons it is very much the same. If you want to raise the level of intelligence you need to know where to look for it. Then you can go out in search for better breeding material. This is the only way to make your way up to the top.
The third and most important ďstoring diskĒ is our memory. The feeling and what we see, those impressions we store in our memory. The same for every experience we have out of breeding. How does a pigeon passes on its genes? What kind of partner fits best? How were the parents and the greatgrand parents? When we are going to mate our birds we need to have this information ďby hand.Ē Everyone understands here we are talking about knowledge one can gather. By reading. By asking the right questions to the right fanciers. The champs. Forget about asking Joe Sixpack. By making loft visits and going to auctions. Donít listnen to all the crap that is written and said about strain, pedigrees or whatsoever. All not important. It is up to storing information. And to see if you can use that information readily. If you are right. Or wrong. AgainÖ Breeding is the occasion for how to learn to feel and to look, and to page through your memory files for identical birds and situations. And again and again try to add information in order to get the right outcome. That means you'll have to concentrate and to work hard. If you set high goals for yourself youíll be able to learn. And to learn more.
Back to Gregís question. Iím not looking for the Holy Grail, or the one important thing I use to grade a bird okay or not. What Iím doing is adding points gained out of the grading for the most important characteristics. The total points should be as high as possible. I have set high standards. Itís perfection or not. When Iím grading for breeding qualities I do that in a specific order which Iíll describe below.
It starts from the moment I pick up a bird out of the basket or the auction pen. I like the hard, strong feeling of a bird in my hands. I donít like the feeling at all of a bird that gives the impression of a sponge. But for a lot of fanciers there is a field between the hard rock and the sponge. I have set the standard high and go just for perfection. Sometimes I donít even take a bird out of the pen. The first impression wasnít good enough right away. Leave it be. Better forget about it right away.
How the body puts the force on the wings is important. The shoulder should be as short as possible. In case it is wide, in my opinion these wings belong to birds good enough for the short and fast track with the wind blowing from behind. To be able to fly long against the wind a pigeon must not waste its energy. A pigeon with no extra space between the body, the shoulder and the wing structure doesnít have this problem. Thatís why I prefer this type far above all others.
Next, I watch closely how the pigeon behaves. I donít like the easy going types doing nothing else than show off in your hands. I like the purebreds. The ones thinking what am I doing here and want to take off. They show that by wriggling in our hands and make the same movements with their heads. These go to the next selection round.
The last thing Iím looking at is the eye. I look at it with an eyeglass. For the simple reason Iím as blind as a bat at close range. I look for things like a small pupil that adapts easily. A wide and rough looking first circle around the pupil. A lot of dark and deep colors in the color circle. And for special connections between lines. My best breeders have those characteristics and Iím looking for look-a-likes because I have the idea these types might click best and not change existing characteristics within the strain too much.
It is very hard to judge intelligence and personality in a pen. I try to do it, but if I decide to purchaise the bird Iím taking a gamble. From the first moment on I put the bird on the loft I observe it often with regard to both mentioned characteristics. More than once I removed a bird I just bought after 5 minutes of observation.
What matters for me as well when Iím interested in buying a bird or not is how good it is at passing on of good gene material. Does it breed the good ones? And do the brothers and sisters breed the same or close? What about the children? Is he or she the only one, then we take a big risk. Is he or she out of a good producing family then the gamble is smaller and we have good chances for success.
I have set high standards for myself. They donít have to be so high for you. Especially not when you are trying to climb up the ladder of success. It is possible to breed well out of almost every pigeon when good birds are present in the bloodline. But the number of good offspring will be much different in outcome. This youíll understand of course. But with what you have learned you must be able to detect better birds then the ones you already have. Those are the ones we need. They open doors for us to higher levels. Thatís the way I started many years ago. Understand, the gathering of knowledge takes time. A lot of time.
So we have chosen and purchased the birds we would like to use in the breeding loft. How to proceed? What matters is that the birds we would like to use for the breeding are high in quality and that the difference isnít great. If this is so, we can start concentrating for the mating on paper.
And I understand it matters for you also to look over my shoulder into the decisions I make in thisÖ.
During my stay in Australia I was complimented by Richard Clingan. He also studied the big world renowned strains and we both wondered where the real strain makers are. Adriaan Janssen. Valere Desmet-Matthijs. Alois Stichelbout. Arthur Bricoux. Maurice Delbar. Gerard Cattrijsse. Great names from the past. Where are the new age breeders to take their places? Fanciers with the breeding in the top of their fingers and where the breeding is no. 1. I know of oneÖ Why donít you put the thoughts you had when mating on paper not in an article? Richard suggested. ďThe last of the StrainmakersĒ is the next article in which Iíll try to put my brainwaves down for you to read and study.
One other thing. Perhaps you know fanciers from our generation belonging to ďThe last of the strainmakersĒ? Fanciers putting a lot of effort into the breeding and who own an inbred family? If so, please do not hesitate to fill out the feedbackform below and perhaps I will do an article on this contemporary strainmaker.