Ad Schaerlaeckens

Light and Dark

It was in the early 1990s that the pigeon sport gained a new dimension. We had to deal with a new kind of pigeon enthusiast, the so-called young bird specialist. Some became so superior racing their young birds that their competition became dejected. They couldn’t possibly have a loft full of good ones, could they? Or was there something else, were they new trendsetters, did they all share a similar secret?

Indeed, there was something, but not one or the other antibiotic, as was suspected. These trendsetters had learned how to control the moult. They raced with youngsters whose moult had been stopped, and that was undoubtedly an advantage, especially in August and later. It was no longer an even fight. How did they do that? In Belgium, it was drops en masse, at the same time darkening came in vogue in the Netherlands.

Especially in Limburg, Antwerp and the South of the Netherlands, the “Peters drops” were used. In Flanders, it was the devastating Ledercort drops. And there were rumours, indeed, a lot of stories.


A short time later, there appeared in the Duifke Lacht, then still a serious magazine, an article that offered new insights. It was hopeful for the pigeon sport. The darkening was no longer necessary, neither were the drops, a drop of Decadron in the drinker was enough to stop the moult. “And that’s how everyone had equal opportunities again.” Or was that wishful thinking?


But that wasn’t the end of the story, on the contrary. It was whispered that there were youngsters who moulted irregularly, and there were disturbing messages, from Taiwan, that pigeons they had purchased were already infertile as yearlings. It was time for the KBDB to intervene. This couldn’t continue any longer. 

Through a new “doping regulation,” there was a general ban on the use of Cortisone drops and ointments. The “Peters drop” (much less harmful than Ledercort,”) and the widely used Neo Cortef were also banned.  Some veterinarians argued that they allow (hydrocortisone), but cortisones are cortisones, it was argued, and they do not belong in the pigeon sport. And that made everything a lot clearer.


The Belgians were left with no choice but to follow the Dutch, who were initially laughed at by some. And now it became widely known what “the secret of the specialists” was, and many took a deep sigh of relieve.

The era of the young bird specialist was over. Now that everyone knew the darkening system, we would all be able to come to the fight equally armed.”

But there was one thing many overlooked. There was also the quality of the pigeons to be considered! I myself had heard of the darkening system from the very start. Now that it became well known, I also thought that our predominance on the young races would be over. But that turned out to be wrong. I can still hear Bosua say, “Don’t be afraid. They also have to have the pigeons.” Those turned out to be prophetic words.


At the beginning of this century, reports were made when someone darkened their young birds, now it is written about if someone doesn’t darken. The darkening system has become commonplace. Beginners, unfortunately, there aren’t many of them, use the system right from the start, although most of them don’t understand the reasoning behind it. They darken but don’t know why. Just because everyone does.

Winter Youngsters

To understand why and the sense of darkening, we need to go back to the behaviour of winter youngsters. Winter youngsters are those that hatch around the New Year. They almost immediately begin to moult, and that gives them a considerable advantage at the height of the season. After all, unlike other youngsters, they will no longer be moulting, and we all know that pigeons that are in the moult barely win prizes. Their specific weight is too heavy (just watch what they look like coming out of a bath) and their moulting hormones are at their peak, preventing them from coming into form.  

It’s the short days in the middle of winter that are responsible for the moult, so what can be done with the later bred youngsters? The answer is simplicity itself. Change their daylength to those of winter so that these later youngsters also moult like the winter youngsters. In this respect, several comments.

Not Necessary

What many do, as I did in the past, is to shortly after weaning darken their winter youngsters. This is not necessary. You can begin to shorten their daylength in March, even the end of March and a week or six is sufficient. Rick Herman, who aims for the nationals in the late summer, does the same. If you race your winter youngsters no longer, then mid-August, you don’t have to shorten their days at all.

Different Ways

Most darken their lofts from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. the next day.  Or about that. If this doesn’t fit your work schedule or whatever you can schedule the darkened time differently. Drop the curtains around 4:00 p.m. and lift them after dark, before you go to bed. This means the youngsters see the sunrise the following morning. This is done by some very successful fanciers, especially Eijerkamp. What matters is that there are no more than 10 hours of daylight. The time of day they get those 10 hours is not all that important. With youngsters born in March and are not darkened, you are basically without a chance at the height of the racing season.

And ending the period of shortened days shouldn’t that happen gradually? It doesn’t mean anything. Neither is resetting the clock.


Give the birds extended daylight before breeding is a must if you want the breeding season to go smoothly. Once I paired my winter breeding couples without giving them extra light. Although the eggs were laid a little later, the breeding season went smoothly. When I tried that again the following year, it became a fiasco. I haven’t been so cocky since and now do things as they should be done. The breeders get longer days before I pair them, but with the understanding that I only do so with the cocks. It is not necessary for the hens, at least that is my experience.

Another Thing

Some are not comfortable with the light turning off suddenly. They are afraid that the birds will fly into the wrong nest box with broken eggs as a result. There is a simple cure. Turn the light on at 3:00 a.m. and keep them on till 4:00 p.m. When the lights go out, there is still an hour or two of natural daylight, and it gets dark on the loft gradually. Why keep the lights on during the day? It’s winter and, sometimes, the days are very dark and dull. These are not conducive to breeding desire.


Our hens (racers) did more than excellent this year. Four old hens qualified in the ZAV in the top ten pigeons along with four yearling hens. As we flew no more than twelve, having 8 out of the 12 at the top was fantastic. Even more as there was one who placed 3rd National Ace Pigeon KBDB. She wasn’t even the best, but that has to do with the way the points are calculated. Well, to make a long story short, these hens were darkened!! Why darkening with the cocks doesn’t work, no one knows, it is a mystery to everyone?