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Part 6

The muscle quality

How do we recognize what to breed for?

This part of our series on breeding techniques deals with the pigeon's muscles. The quality of the muscles in a pigeon is of enormous importance, especially when you want to do well on the long distance races. This, of course, doesn't mean that excellent chest muscles in a pigeon turn the bird into a favorite automatically. On the other hand, when this quality is absent, it will have a surpressing effect on many other well functioning characteristics.

"De Jonge Baron" won the 1th National Etampes in a field over almost 12.000 birds. He arrived together with his nephew "De Jonge Sturen". Both birds finished 9 minutes before the 3rd bird! "De Jonge Baron" was bred out of "De Zwarte Baron"(grandson "Het Boerke") and "Yearlings Blue Lady" daughter of "De Goede Jaarling". Get good birds and concentrate the blood well is the hidden message after "The Art of Breeding". Make good use of the lessons of Prof. Alfons Anker they may help you also!

A well experienced judge of pigeons has to be able to interpret the quality of the muscles by touch, and by doing so he can determine the degree of competitive endurance for individual pigeons. On top of that, it enables him to tell the distance this bird can bridge completely. It is possible to guess the distance accurately with only a variance of 125 miles. Of course, it takes an awful lot of time to be able to assess the different qualities. The more fighting spirit and drive are present in a pigeon, the higher the need for supple and springy muscles to unfold these qualities.

If in a pigeon the muscle quality will only be sufficient for competitiveness up to 250 miles, she'll be very reliable on distances as far as 220 miles. However, because of her character, a class pigeon always manages to fly a few more hours than a pigeon is really able to, considering its' condition. In this case where the pigeon is judged to be able to competitively handle 250 miles, he will manage bout 300 miles. The consequences of putting these extra strains the pigeon?? Early wear and tear! Therefore, it doesn't make sense to put too much pressure on your birds. By limiting such a bird to 220 miles, we spare the pigeon from having to use energy reserves when he's confronted with strong head winds or very high temperatures. Everyone knows that on a race of 300 miles, with the winds on the tail, a pigeon uses less energy than on a 220 mile race under normal circumstances. We have to consider all these factors very carefully every week.

The ability to stay in the air for many hours increases according to the pliability and elasticity of the muscles. To start with, muscles are a collection of fine fibrils, which you can study quite easily by making use of a special microscope. Many fibrils together form the muscle fibers. In a cross section their diameter measures no more than a few microns. From fifty to a hundred fibers, join in forming a muscle bundle, which is covered with connecting tissue. Finally the muscle as such is made up of many bundles. From small to large we can categorize it like this: fibril, muscle fiber, muscle bundle, muscle.

The exact number of muscle bundles is determined in the egg. On the academic level they are still arguing about the question of muscle fibers; are they formed after birth?? As far as I know, up to this point, a satisfactory answer hasn't been found yet, although it seems that the most accepted answer is that there is no increase in the amount of fibers. By providing and adequate feed supply to our pigeons they will never form bigger sized muscles, but on the other hand, feeding them the best meals possible will not trick the pigeon system into growing bigger sized muscles than the size which was determined by its genotype.

All this is of the greatest importance when we consider that the muscles of our pigeons, who play such a prominent role in the achievement capacity of the birds for a major part, can't be formed anymore in the course of the pigeons later years. When fanciers, before entering an exhibition, feed them a special diet, to give their birds the "full muscle" look they're only adding extra fat to their bodies. You add extra muscle to a pigeon by breeding, not by feeding.

It may be of some importance here to mention that with an increase in the length of the bones, the made to measure muscles don't become shorter but thicker. Consequently, it looks as if the bird is muscled heavier, but this is misleading. Both birds have the same amount of muscle.

As we all know, the most significant group of muscles are those found on the chest, attached to the breast bone. The curvature of the breast bone may be flat and in such a situation the bird seems to be built with less depth. When, however, the breast bone curvature is deep, when holding the bird in your hand, it feels as if the bird is built to deep. Birds which aren't deep create the impression of having a generous supply of muscles, while those who are considered too deep, appear to be on the skinny side, with very little muscles. In reality, the amount of muscles in both types is equal. The difference is that in the one type the muscles are growing lengthwise, while in the other, they grow in width, all in according with the length of the bones.

It appears that there are more of the 'deep' type of pigeons around and they are endowed with just as much muscles as the other birds. The amount of muscle fibers can't be increased by either feeding or training. Still training plays an important role. Just like all organs used from the very start, so the muscles will adjust to the jobs given to them, with the result there is less energy loss. There isn't going to be a difference in the amount of cells in the muscle tissue, but with exercise the tissue gains in volume.

Those of you who have examined a butchered pigeon are aware of the fact that the entire chest muscle is formed by two muscles. The one on the outside, which surrounds the entire thorax , is known as the large chest muscle. The one laying underneath, is the small chest muscle. When a bird is flying, the small chest muscle lifts the wings and the large one pulls them down again, thus making the pigeon fly.

It is possible to compare this movement with the breast stroke in swimming. You need less energy and force to stretch out the arms, which determines the pace, than you need for pulling them back under the water, which makes the swimmer move forwards. Flying is a rhythmical movement which consists of the small chest muscle dictating the speed of movement while the large chest muscle retracts the wings. Researchers claims that during a race the pigeon moves its wings 300 times every minute. On a race of 360 miles this amounts to 180.000 wing beats. Mentioning this number, in my opinion, puts enough emphasis on the most important significance of the quality of the muscles. When the small chest muscle is active, the large one rests. It's called a rest period. During this period it takes fresh oxygen from the blood circulation and in this way feeds itself. After this, when the large chest muscle is at work, the small one enters the rest period. For fuel the muscles use fat and glycogen.

From a biological point of view the difference between the supple and springy muscles, compared to stiff and massive ones, lies in the amount of blood vessels which, in the first group, are present in much greater numbers. The advantage of this is that the blood is better able to supply the muscle cells with fuel. The nutriment reserve is much higher, the ability to store food is better and less energy is used when both muscles rub together. This is easy to explain. During the rhythmical, changing activity of both chest muscles, one is always in its rest period. The better it is able to relax in this position, the less it will hinder the other muscles in its activity. This saves a lot of energy, which, on a race of 300 to 400 miles, may become the deciding factor. We will never spend enough time on the improvement of the quality of the muscles. The quality of the muscles is genetically transmitted intermediary, which means, that the offspring inherit half of the combined qualities of both parents.

Notice, that in connection with the muscles, there is no ideal example either showing how it should be, or how it shouldn't be. The size of the muscles is very important; a dry, stringy pigeon is able to achieve much more than a pigeon with a heavy load of muscles, when those muscles are very rigid. The deciding factor isn't the amount, but the quality. Under the pressure of our fingers those parts of the muscles, which we are able to feel, should give the impression of being loose and capable of shifting around. When we remove our fingers, or we release some of the pressure we're applying, the shifted muscle bundles should spring back immediately. This movability of the muscles has to create in us a definite impression of super elasticity, never an impression of soft flabbiness without any resistance. The best is when our fined tuned finger tips not only discover a compact mass of meat under the skin, but that within the muscle itself the separate muscle bundles can be distinguished and we are able to trace them entirely lengthwise with our fingers.

Fingers? No, not with long nails, or with brute force. If we want to examine a pigeon with our fingers, we have to put all our concentration behind it. We don't hear anything anymore, we don't see, we withdraw ourselves and only our fingertips are alive. In no other way is it possible to discover anything under the skin, and will we be able to notice any differences.

We should hold the pigeon in a very relaxed way. A squeezed bird will not be able to show its muscle quality. Neither will a bird which is held the wrong way. When you let a pigeon slide forward in your hand, so you can hold onto its back end, you have to realize that you have a firmer grip on it than you would normally have, to compensate for the shift in balance towards the front. Next you put pressure on the end of the breastbone and in that way the pigeon can't get away from your hands anymore. You should always hold a pigeon in such a way that your grip is like a caress to the bird. Firm, so it can't escape, but loving, to make the bird feel completely at ease. Only under those conditions will you be able to estimate the muscle quality. Never torture your birds, make them feel that you care for them.

First we let the fingers trace the muscles which are found up front, at the beginning of the breast bone. Here the circumference is the biggest and at this spot we first find the different bundles, many of them together forming the large chest muscle. We finger them lengthwise, applying a bit of pressure while we prove their suppleness and elasticity. Carefully we encircle them with our fingers and perceive the activity underneath. We may find a tenseness or not, a fibrillation in the separate bundles and/or a feeling as if the bundle is made up of several air filled bicycle inner tubes. It is not a good sign when our fingers are unable to comprehend much of what is going on underneath that skin. Let's, for example, compare a pigeon from a good loft with a pigeon who is stiff muscled. We finger both ten times in turn and immediately we will have learned to detect the big differences.

Over the years, I have noticed that the quality of the muscles in hens always is better than that in cocks. For that reason, a cock who has excellent muscles doubles its value in this respect. On the difficult long distance races very often a hen will out race a cock, a fact which in my opinion also has to do with the superior muscle quality in hens. They can keep it up just a bit longer. The elasticity of their muscles is able to withstand the extra burden.

Steven van Breemen

Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole, in part, in any form or medium, without the express written permission of Steven van Breemen, is forbidden.

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