Loft Darkening

Orleans: Distance 340 miles; 3001 birds in an Open race; headwind; Result: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-13-16-17-18-19-20-21-22-24-etc Someone doing similar things with young birds in your area ?? It's no magic ! It's called: Loft darkening!! The result is not a dream; it was reality on my own loft in the young bird season 1989. In that year my young bird team won 4 big provincial races in 4 weeks time:


Peronne 190 miles 15.304 birds: 1-3-5-9-14-24-25-33-43 etc.
Soissons 220 miles 14.089 birds: 1-21-23-70-131-158-174 etc.
Ghislain 130 miles 8.061 birds: 1-2-6-7-8-9-10-11-19-22 etc.
Orleans 370 miles 12.178 birds: 1-4-5-6-7-8-10-11-12-14 etc.

The province where I race pigeons has 3500 fanciers and my birds have to fly 40 miles more than the shortest distance.


However I want to make a few remarks before I start giving you more details about the darkening system. Please consider the results you just have seen not as a way to promote my birds. Sure I have excellent birds, they prove that for almost 30 years now. But they are not so good as the above results do believe. When fanciers have such results it's almost never the only matter of having super class pigeons. I never believe that story. It's always a story of a very special method!


When I was racing pigeons at my parents house, my young bird loft was in the attic of an old shed. It only had one very tiny window where the birds could enter the loft. In the period 1967-1974 I won the regional championship overall young birds against 600 fanciers 5 times and their racing results were excellent. One time in 1968 I put 2 young hens in a 450 miles race end of September. They came home wing to wing winning first and second inter provincial.


My old birds never had such results. My yearlings were raced natural because I always had problems getting them as a young-ster properly through the moult. 1975 I got married and started racing pigeons in Hilversum. That time my results with young birds were nothing special, however my old birds were doing super.


In that time I started doing loft reports for the dutch pigeon papers and one day I ended up in the home of Mr. Jan van Tetering in Laren, the village where I was born. Jan was considered THE young bird specialist of the region since his start in 1975. Questioning him he told me he copied my old loft, because he wanted to specialize in young birds. But why he did that, he did not know and did not wanted to know. My curiosity however was awakened and I wanted to know the why.


I started to compare the lofts of fanciers having year after year excellent results with young birds. The conclusion was: their lofts were darker compared to my own loft which looked like a green house with its plastic roof. In that loft the young birds started moulting after 4 races and the young birds of the other fanciers were already moulted out on their body before the first race. They could be raced without any problem till the end of septem-ber. In the winter of 1986 I covered the inside roof and windows of my young bird loft in order to have a similar loft to the ones of the young bird specialists. The re-sults of my young birds in 1987 were fantastic from the first till the last race! They won the provincial championship young birds plus the 1th and 5th National Ace Young birds!!


The results of the team in the first 3, 4 races were about the same as I was used to. But the last 4 races on the greater distances they performed fantastic. The only difference with their competitors was: they were not moulting!


Which young birds can be used for the system?


Each year around the 10th of December I put my breeders together. The first two rounds I use for racing. Of my best breeding pairs one time I move their eggs to another pair. I never breed youngsters from my racers. I use only the youngsters hatching from the eggs laid before the 10th of march. My experience has been that you'll easily loose the younger ones if it's really gets though and they'll start moulting sooner and quicker. Young birds born before the 20th of february are the best ones for the system. In total my team consists of 180 young birds. After the first selection one month before the start of the races there are 140 left. The average left after the races is 125 young birds. 


My young bird lofts.


I have a two storey loft. Downstairs there is a section for widowhood hens and one section 1,5 x 2,5 m for 50 youngsters. Upstairs I keep 130 youngsters in a two compartment loft of 3,5 x 2,5 m. After the first selection all youngsters are moved to the second floor. I know that it is hardly impossible to keep such a number of birds healthy in such a small loft. Keeping pigeons healthy that comes all to a perfect ventilation. 


When starting darkening your young bird loft?


I wean my youngsters at the age of 4 weeks and they find a loft darkened then already. The only daylight that enters the loft comes through the two lower sputniks, that serve mainly for ventilation. They are open at all times. At 9.30 the two upper sputniks are opened for the training and closed at 16.30 In the beginning of may, when there is more daylight, at 12.30 


What is the difference between darkened and normal youngsters?


When you keep young birds in a darkened loft, you'll give them the impression that it is still wintertime and they'll react like late breds: they keep their primary flights and start moulting all the small body feathers. When they are three weeks in the loft it starts. Two months later they have com-pletely moulted out on the body and the young birds almost look like old ones nice and shiny. After having been put 3, 4 times in a race at the end of July normal youngsters start to moult on the body and you can forget having good results with them. Here and there a few mate and once on the nest these are the ones you can expect something from in august on the longer races. The difference in results between normal youngsters and their darkened rivals is unbelievable. I mean for the other fanciers! They just cannot believe what is happening. A couple of years ago I published an article about this system and a video was brought out. At the moment 9 out of 10 Dutch fanciers use the system. I suggest you do the same next year! 

The racing program for young birds in my region 1992:

1. 4/7: Minderhout 60m;
2. 11/7: Duffel 90m;
3. 18/7: Strombeek 110m;
4. 25/7: Soignies 130m;
5. 1/8: St Ghislain 140m;
6. 8/8: Cambrai 160m;
7. 15/8: Roye 210m;
8. 22/8: Cambrai 160m;
9. 29/8: Orleans 340m;
10. 12/9: Etampes 300m;
11. 19/9: Limoges 490m;
12. 26/9: Bourges 380m.

The last three races are races of the long distance club. 


Two different methods of loft darkening.


When we look at the above program and you want to be in all races with your youngsters it will be soon clear to you that you need to specialize. When you want to have good results till the end of September, you need youngsters who have enough primary flights left at that time. That is no problem at all if you keep on darkening your loft till then. However if you want to use those youngsters next year as old birds you are in real trouble because you won't get them properly through the moult. I have chosen to follow the normal program till the end of august, separate both sexes and let the birds moult out. To achieve that I stop darkening my loft one week before the first race. Once returned to the normal day and night time they start moulting the primary flights quickly. Doing so my birds will have completed their moult by the end of November and will even have renewed the body moult for the second time. I have followed this system for 6 years now and I was able to race them as old birds very well too. Each year my best young birds turned out to be my best yearlings too. After two years I always put the very best on the breeding loft and I have never noticed the darkening system effected their breeding qualities. 


Another way of racing young birds.


I'm very sorry to mention it, but there is another system. I have tried to fight it in the press for several years, but the pigeon papers just refuse my writings! Reason: the editors fear the influence of the veterinarians & associated firms because they take 50% of all advertisements. These thoughts is turning the (pigeon)world upside down! However the turning point has been reached by an initiative of Mr. Joseph De Scheemaecker of Natural Belgium, who sponsored an investigation concerning the influence of cortisone based products on racing pigeons. I need not to say it but you have my full support Jef!


This method has started in Belgium and was followed by Dutch fanciers later on. Even when you darken your loft it is impossible to race youngsters three weeks in a row 500 miles! Look at the pictures in the papers when the owner shows the birds wing. When such a winner hasn't moult one primary flight in September it is clearly a matter of the use of a cortisone based product! Handling such young birds look for marks as:

small watermarks at the end of all body feathers
more than normal muscle volume
eyes without any richness in color
as mentioned earlier: no primary flights moulted
After the racing season, when the cortisone treatment has been stopped, we can notice following:

primary flights unregularly moulted, all in different length
the muscle volume immediately collapses
hens will not lay or just very small eggs
birds are not fertile.
In regard to above I must give following advice to fanciers who regularly search for fresh blood:

never buy young birds with results;(would you sell them?)
be very careful to buy from so called youngbird specialists. For sure their quality of birds must be high, however not so supreme as their results let you believe.
A lot of big fancy names in Belgian and Dutch pigeon sport will not like what I have written above. But let us be honest. Ben Johnson was out of sport because of the same stuff numerous fanciers drop in their pigeons eyes to "prevent" against head disease! How did it come so far? Most of the famous fanciers in Belgium and some in the south of Holland are professionals and live from the money their pigeons bring in. And when someone is taking week after week all the money from you, you can either stop pigeon racing or start following the same system. But don't close later on your eyes for it!!


It will take some time when the initiative of Mr. Jef De Scheemaecker will show what some products really can do to our pige-ons. Till then I can only advise you to study thoroughly the breeding and racing qualities of pigeons(I hereby refer to the series of articles out of my book "The Art of Breeding"). And to buy from fanciers who fly their successful youngsters as old birds well too, use them later on as a breeder and above all: know how to breed! Some of them were on top 20 years ago, they are on top now and still will be over 10 years after the shameful decade of eye-dropping(or perhaps not.......)


This article was written in the early 90-ies. In 1997 in Holland the Dutch Pigeon Association(NPO) has forbidden by law every use of doping related products to racing pigeons. One year before that step in Belgium the same decision was made. An excellent step of both national associations. 


The feeding system.


From the time of weaning on my young birds get once a day a rich breeding mixture. As said they will be start moulting soon. Therefore I want them to do that as good as possible and to grow and develop fast into a nice pigeon. Around the begin-ning of may I force them to fly and not to walk around on the roof: I chase them up with a broom! From that moment on they get 50% breeding/50% youngbird mixture. After the races go over 200km they get again just breeding mixture. When I start to train them twice a day, they get fed twice a day. Once on the nest they are fed up to four/five time a day; they will train better and longer and won't return to quickly to their nest. The Thursday afternoon, when the birds are basked already on Thursday, and the Friday morning(Friday afternoon basket) they get peanuts. 


Free loft training.


In the beginning the youngbirds may train free around the loft for as long as they want. End of may beginning of June both sexes start attracting each other and they won't train so long anymore. When I notice this I start with another training at around 16.00 o'clock in the afternoon for about one hour. If they don't want to fly freely, I'll flag them for one hour.


Race training.


In the beginning of June I start training the youngsters. I start at 3 miles, then 6, 15, 25 and last training is 40 miles. All youngbirds are released at the same time, simply not to loose the youngest ones. One week after the 40 miles training, they'll enter a training of our area. One week later is the first 60 miles race with a release of over 10.000 youngbirds.


Training tosses.


After three races I start tossing my youngbirds if the whether is good and permits me to be at 7.30 at the University to start my job. I have following schedule:

Saturday is race day
Sunday morning & evening free training
Monday & Tuesday morning free training
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday , Thursday afternoon one hour training with the flag; Friday afternoon they stay inside
Wednesday morning: 40 miles
Thursday morning: 25 miles
Friday morning: 15 miles.
I toss the youngsters basket after basket; if I had the time to do it, I would toss them 4 by 4 birds.


The medical side & other products.


One month before the first race I treat my youngbirds against small-pox and they get an injection with Colombovac vaccine for paramixo at the same time. Two weeks before the first race I cure the youngbirds during 5 days with Emtryl against cancer and after 3 races with the same product each week for 2 days. I never use any vitamins, because I do not want to hurry the moult to much. Twice a week I give them Natural picking stones because of the salt. Three times a week I give them Propolis drops in the water. Propolis is a product of nature which comes from the bees and is supposed to be a natural antibiotic causing no harm. 


The actual racing system.


After the third race I change the interior of my loft. I change the normal resting places into small nestboxes and try everything that is possible to get as many youngsters on the nest. At the same time I put my old racing team back on natu-ral. This takes care of eggs that will carry a youngster and when I basked all youngsters for the race, the can take care of warming the eggs. When I let the sun enter the loft free one week before the first race, the pigeons completely change. Mainly I think because of the plastic roof. From that moment on they start throwing primary flights quickly. To be certain that I can basken on the famous Dutch grand national Orleans, with a release of 150.000 youngbirds each year, my youngbirds should at least have 4 primary flights left. To achieve that I must put them on the nest. Every youngster goes into the Orleans race. Last year I send 126 youngsters of which 90 were on the nest. I took 4 clocks home, filled them(76 prizes) and when I stopped the race went on for 45 more minutes. In my region against 4500 birds I won the 1th and the 2nd prize with 8 minutes ahead. My best results I always had with youngbirds on the nest. The best were the hens, especially on the heavy races, on the easier races the cock's would beat them. After the Orleans race I separate the youngsters after a heavy selection, let them rest, moult and develope into the successful yearlings I always have each year in my old bird team: 23-5-92 two yearlings win 1st and 2nd in a hard 300 miles race in our City. They, their parents and grandparents were aces as youngbirds!


If you want to sit and watch the system you can order a video released by Boddy & Ridewood (England: fax**44-723500107). The video is very informative and will provide you with even some more details printed in a small booklet. And might there be any questions left, I'll be happy to answer them.


Once again I hope I have introduced with this article a new item to pigeon sport, that will give everyone lots of new exci-te-ment. And a method that will keep your birds winning natu-ral-ly like it should be all the time!