COVID-19 and Old Bird Racing

Today, April 3, 2020, for the past hour and a half, the Ontario Premier, Doug Ford and the President of Public Health Ontario, have presented a detailed report on the projection of the COVID-19 spread and its consequences for our province. The report makes it clear that we will not be through this pandemic for at best several months.

Their detailed report on the consequences of non-compliance with the isolation regulations now in place and the expected timeline of these mandatory regulations will have implications for this season’s old bird races.

One can conclude from their report that the soonest we will race our old birds will not be any earlier than sometime in July. Any fanciers holding out hope for an earlier start are not being realistic. Like all of you, I am disappointed. But, there is little we can do to set back the clock and start over without this cloud hanging over our heads. It is what it is. We have to look forward. We should make a plan on how to manage our birds, so that when and if we can race our birds again, they will be able to come into race condition quickly.

I have been running through scenarios in my mind for several weeks now. Like most, I’m not sure if my plan is the best one. We have not faced a situation similar to the one we are facing now. Misgivings abound! But actions are required.  

Yesterday, my old bird team excersize for the first time this year. Their youngsters had were weaned a week earlier. The same day the youngsters were weaned, I switched the old birds’ feed from a breeding mix over to a lighter blend, Beyers Race Light. To this mix, I will now add a few handfuls of western malt barley to lighten a bit more.

By-products, such as vitamins, secret elixirs etc. will be used sparingly, if at all. Probiotics and acidifying the drinking water several times a week should ensure that the birds stay healthy.

I aim to keep them from coming into early form.  The plan is to exercise each sex separately once a day. I fly both hens and cocks. To keep them from becoming too stale, I will leave them together for a day and a night once a week.

We live in an area of Ontario where ginseng is a significant cash crop. Gensing is grown under a shade cloth, creating a forest type canopy for the crop, which is the natural condition for wild ginseng. As a result, I have access to shade cloth. If the birds get too active, I will use shade cloth to cover the windows. Shade cloth will lessen the amount of sunlight in the loft. This shade cloth is not a tight weave and is open enough to allow air into the shaded loft freely. Ventilation should not be a problem.

The cocks, hopefully, will lie in their boxes quietly for most of the day. The hens, in turn, after finishing their morning fly, will be fed and spend the rest of the day in an aviary. From experience, I know that should decrease the urge to pair up with each other.  I will feed the hens around three in the afternoon, after which they will also have the shade cloth covering their window. Just before I go to bed, I will remove the shade cloths and let the birds wake up to a natural sunrise. Hopefully, this shading will slow their wing moult enough to leave them with a relatively full wing for racing this coming July.

The birds will be road trained once a week in stages up to a distance of 60 to 80 km. After arriving home, they will stay together for the day and that evening as planned. Seeing each other every week should keep them sharp and motivated.

If and when the present restrictions are lifted, and we can race our pigeons again, feeding them a  high-fat diet for a day or two, plus a few short tosses, should have them ready to race in only a week.