Young Bird Racing
A timely article as our young bird races will begin in a few weeks. A […]
By Mike van der Jagt
Niagara Region Pigeon Club
An amazing thing happened in 2019 with the CU Overall Ace Pigeon National Awards. The same flyer won both the best overall Ace old bird, 18-CU-215, and the best overall Ace young bird 19-CU-Niagara-219. Impressive, yes, amazing, maybe not, quiet. However, when a little investigation reveals that both birds, the overall Ace old bird, and the overall Ace young bird, were bred by the same sire, that has to be considered amazing. Has it ever happened before in history? Where the same sire produces both the Ace National old bird and the Ace National young bird in the same year. At the national level? I have never heard of it.
Even further investigation reveals a pedigree loaded with performance. The sire in question is Niagara Thunder, 15-CU-LakePort-1868 BLBR. This pigeon was bred by Tony Alves and purchased by Rick Fyfe as a youngster, along with several others. Rick’s intention was to fly them all, but he liked 1868 so much, he stocked him instead. Good decision. Not only did this bird sire the two Ace birds, but he has also sired many other 1st place winners, including 227, 1st Latchford 300 miles, 2nd Latchford 300 miles and 1st Englehart 320 miles all as a youngster, 17-CU-6778, 1st Hearst 500 miles as a yearling, 18-CU-242 3rd 200 miles, 5th 150 miles, 1st 170 miles, 19-CU-Niagara-242 1st 300 miles etc.
The sire of Niagara Thunder is 12-CU-WW-Gold-1164. This bird was 1st combine or arrived with the combine winner the first three weeks it raced as a young bird. The fourth week it arrived home injured and was still 5th combine and immediately retired to stock. The sire of 1164 was The Sniper, 05-CU-SCBR-527 himself equal 1st in the Oshawa Gold Bond Race, 22nd AU Open Smooth Rock Falls 1045 birds, 6th Estaire 641 birds and sire to 1st Ace young bird in 2011.
The dam of Niagara Thunder was also from a strong performance background. She was a daughter of Big Dog X Sure Pick. Big Dog has bred many combine and OLR winners including 1st Empire Classic 2007 and $50,000. Sure Pick was dam to 1st UNC AU Band Race 2003, 3rd Oshawa Gold Bond Race in 2003, 2004 and again in 2005, 3rd Cannington/Stouffville Blue Ribbon race etc. Has there ever been a clearer example that like breeds like?
Champions never rest on their laurels. That is what makes them champions. The Overall CU National young bird loft champion in 2019 was Nick Oud. I caught up with Rick to interview him about his young bird methods on his way to visit Nick Oud. Rick was taking his overall Ace young bird to Nick to pair against a couple of Nick’s best hens and split the young birds. It almost seems unfair to rest of us mere mortals. Anyway, both Nick and Rick were very generous in sharing their methods. Nick is just putting the finishing touches on an article outlining the methods he used during the 2019 season. I have detailed Rick Fyfe’s young bird methods below.
Rick flies a very unorthodox method, that he has developed himself. It seems to combine several elements of the traditional darkening system with some of the elements of the lighting system. To begin with, until 2020, Rick didn’t even have a stock loft. His small number of breeders were kept in the old bird racing loft, right alongside the race team. He pairs everything up right around December 1st. A week or so prior to that, he turns the lights on and leaves them on 24 hours a day. The first eggs are laid 7 to 10 days after pairing. All the youngsters go down on the floor between 18 and 21 days of age, where they learn to eat and drink by watching the old birds. At about 35 days of age they are transferred to the young bird loft, still on 24 hours of light. They stay on 24 hours light until about the first of May, when they go on the dark system. He sets the lights to come on from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and they sit in total darkness the rest of the time. Not gray, not dull, not dim. Total black. The shortened light period is only maintained for 6 or 7 weeks. About June 21st he takes down the blinds, opens up the loft, turns off the light timer and the birds are placed on natural daylight. This allows them to see both the natural sunrise and sunset. After the 4th or 5th young bird race, which would be in early September, the light is set to come on in the afternoon and stay on until about 9:30 p.m. The birds continue to see a natural sunrise.
Using this method, Rick’s young birds are totally molted, both body and wing, in time for the young bird races. That is what sets his system apart. In the dark system, the body molts, but the wings do not. On the light system, both body and wings molt, but at a slow pace. It is generally necessary to pull the 9th and 10th flights to get them through the wing molt. Not so with Rick’s system.
After the last young bird race, Rick turns off all the lights and the birds go back onto the natural sunrise/sunset cycle. Rick reports that most of the young birds have a very mild body molt at this time, but not heavy. A few birds drop the odd flight, but no too many. They are ready to join the old bird team and start getting ready for breeding by the middle of November. How do they perform as yearlings? Well this is the same system 215 flew as a young bird, and he ended up being the National CU Champion Ace Old Bird overall as a yearling! I guess it didn’t hurt his chances.
In 2019 Rick was a little delayed in getting the young birds out and flying. His method was to get them out into a large aviary and let only two or three outside at a time. They would play around the roof, loop around the yard a bit, and then he would call them right back in, release a few more and work through all the birds this way. He kept this up until about the middle of April. The worst of the hawk season was over then, and Rick started letting the entire group out to loft fly. It did not take them long to start kitting up and travelling for up to 15 minutes. That is just about the time the young birds go on the dark system (01 MAY). While on the dark, Rick continued to release the birds to loft fly, always in the morning and shortly after he opened up the loft after 9:00 a.m. They would continue to kit and rout for 10 to 15 minutes. If they were showing any signs of lounging around the roof of the loft, he would chase them up and keep them in the flying routine. The darkening period ended about mid-June but the loft flying routine remained unchanged.
Training started early July. Once training started, loft flying stopped and the birds were trained every day, if possible. Members in the Niagara Peninsula have a special challenge. To keep their birds on a direct line home from the races, they must get them to cross 33 miles of Lake Ontario. The real problem is that the birds have the option of crossing on line, or flying around the end of the Lake. If they chose the latter, they are about 40 minutes behind the combine winners, as the majority of the combine lofts are located north of Lake Ontario. For better, or for worse, the shore of Lake Ontario starts to swing south west right where the birds homing from a race first encounter the lake. By simply adjusting their line a few degrees west, they can continue along the shore and skirt the Lake, rather than cross it directly (see attached map). This has proven a huge obstacle in the past, when flying the north course into the Niagara Peninsula. Rick came up with a unique training program to address this issue. He started by giving the young birds 2 tosses online north at between 5kms and 10 kms. He then gave them 5 or 6 tosses online north at 25 km, which was right at the south shore of Lake Ontario and as far as he could go and stay on line. Rick has a great life long friend that runs a charter fishing business out of the port of St. Catharine’s. Rather than take the traditional training route west, along the south shore of Lake Ontario, Rick got his friend to take his young birds off shore, maintaining a direct path right on the line of flight. He took them twice 3 miles out, twice 8 miles out and 3 times 15 miles out. From that point on, Rick drove right around the Lake and released at the Toronto Islands, again right on the line of flight and about 50 miles to the home loft. He made this toss 4 or 5 times, then took them further north up to an additional 50 miles. Once racing started, he continued with one or two tosses a week from the north side of the Lake Ontario only. After the third race much of the training was replaced by loft flying. This system worked out pretty well. Not only did Rick win the National Ace pigeon award, but his loft was also 1st average speed in the North Road Racing Pigeon Association with around 100 members and was 1st club 8 out of 9 young bird races and 2nd in the other race.
Rick only raised one round from his breeding team and flyers, so they were all pretty much mature, fully molted and pairing together long before the first race. Having them all the same age was also helpful. Many of the young hens were laying eggs on the floor of the young bird loft. After the races started, Rick installed four nest boxes in the young bird loft and four pair took immediate possession. His National champion, 219, took one of these nests and flew the entire race program moving through the breeding cycle, i.e. setting, driving, and setting again. 219 is a heavy driver and very strong on the nest. He flew equally well in all nest positions. The eggs were not allowed to hatch, being replaced after laying with plastic eggs.
Rick raced the entire season on Versele-Laga Dark and Junior young bird mixes from weaning to the final race. On the day of return they were fed Versele-Laga depurative. Supplementation included Versele-Laga Boost on the feed 4 times per week, Ideal pills, once mid-week, and Versele-Laga All-In-One grit every day immediately after feeding. They also received the all-natural red drops in the nose and eyes and yellow drops by mouth from Feathers Elite in the morning on the day of shipping.
Medication was limited to vaccinations for PMV one week after weaning followed up one week later with KM-1 for salmonella and a follow-up KM-1 three weeks after the initial dose. He also administered Quest wormer at weaning and a repeat two weeks before the first race. No other medications were needed or used. Of note, the stock birds/breeders/old bird racers were also vaccinated with KM-1 and PMV prior to the race season and no other medications were used.
To qualify for overall ace pigeon in the CU National awards, a young bird must score a coefficient in 5 races. To score a coefficient a bird must clock in the top 20% of the birds shipped. The best 5 races are used. The total distance of the 5 races must be 1500 km or more. A minimum of 1 race must be less than 300 km and 1 race must be 400 km or longer. Rick’s champion, 19-CU-Niagara-219, flew the following positions: 1st 203 km 178 birds, 2nd 281 km 653 birds, 2nd 353 km 158 birds, 1st 353 km 1245 birds and 3rd 474 km 625 birds for a world class score of 0.538.
It was a pleasure talking to both Nick and Rick and hearing them exchanging ideas and watching the bird exchange. They also discussed a further exchange where Nick will bring a couple of his best hens over to Rick to pair to his Old Bird Ace pigeon and maybe the golden sire, Niagara Thunder himself. It is how the elite stay at the top. Both had outstanding seasons in 2019 and I saw nothing to suggest anything different will happen in 2020.