Young Bird Racing

A timely article as our young bird races will begin in a few weeks. A lot of excellent info and advice from Wim. Enjoy!


Do you know how many different makes of cars there are in the Netherlands? 20? 30? Naturally each make has at least 5 to 15 different models and of course each model comes with various options. A while ago I read in the newspaper which of all these different types of car made the top 20 list. There were some cars marked with a check mark and some of them had some spectacular failings. It was just like the top 40 hit parade. Sometimes we must get the feeling that our pigeon mixes are heading in the same direction.

As a pigeon fancier you often can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. There are racing mixes that have anywhere from 20% to 35% legumes, high protein low legume mixes and low protein mixes without legumes. It seems that peas have suddenly become poison. The variety of mixes and advice available can drive you crazy. When the specialists and feeding experts discuss and argue with one another, their point of view often depends on their commercial interests and this doesn’t make us fanciers any the wiser. You almost have to become an expert yourself in order to gain a better view of the subject.

Those who should know
Which one of these advisors is right? Which one is neutral? Who is speaking the truth? The answer is simpler then you think: not one of them is right and not one of them is neutral. We are all conditioned by our past. I agree with all of them. It depends on what you want out of life. Do you want to spend your life proving you are right or do you want to look for some happiness?

There are people who are always trying to prove their point and doing so makes life miserable for themselves and others. If a snake bites you, there are two things you can do: you can go after it till you find it and kill it or you can suck the poison out of the wound and make sure you don’t get bitten again. We all see things differently and to each of us the world is as we see or perceive it, not as it actually is.

There have been scientific studies done and because of these we know much more about feeding then in the past. We know for example that in order to reach home the pigeons use fat as their main source of energy. The experts of the past, in which I include Arie v.d. Hoek a man I have the greatest respect for, could not know this. This (still scanty) scientific knowledge has changed our insights into feeding racing pigeons. As we learn more in the future no doubt our feeding methods of will also change.

Lately young bird racing has greatly increased in popularity. In fact, there are many fanciers that now specialize in this facet of our sport. I often hear the complaint that the information published on this subject is not very concrete and often is difficult to follow. We are always guessing when problems raise their head. I will try to give you my interpretation of young bird flying in a clear and practical manner in this article. But you have to understand that there are many roads to Rome. My way is not the only way, you and others may disagree with me. There are many roads that lead to Rome, but there definitely are many more that lead away from Rome. That is the attitude with which to read this article.

A Plan for Those Who Want To Keep It Simple
First we will make a simple mix for our young friends we will send into battle in the upcoming races. We will take a bag of a good racing mix containing a lot of corn (approximately 40%), just a regular racing mix, mixes like those we have known for years. We will also take a bag of cleansing mix and a bag of Super Diet. The last two are easily digested mix and should have a high fat content. There are Diet mixes with 5% fat and there are Diet mixes with 14% fat. I suggest you get a bag of Diet or energy mix with a fat content as high as possible. Mix these three bags together. This will give you a very good, light mix that contains sufficient energy. You feed this mix the entire week.

That’s all there is to it. At the beginning of the week you feed a little less and at the end of the week you give them more. The day before shipping, give them all they want. Pigeons that eat a lot on shipping day as a general rule are not the first one’s home on race day. If they only spend one night in the basket their crops should be empty, if they spend two nights in the shipping baskets they can have some feed in their crops: no more than half full.

Light Mixes
If we start with the assumption that the race mix contains 25% peas then adding the other two mixes (which don’t contain peas) then the total amount of our finished mix contains 3X fewer peas (24:3= 8%). These peas are the most difficult part of the mix to digest. They require energy and moisture from the body during the digestion process. Feeding too heavy can weaken the pigeon and the wrong intestinal bacteria will rapidly take over. I don’t have to explain what happens next.

The many experiments that I have carried out on many lofts have proven that the lighter the composition of the young bird mixes the better the young birds trained and raced. A content of 8% peas will not give the young birds any problems, but as far as I am concerned the amount could be even less. Peas are not poison as long as you use them in moderation. That is especially true for young birds during the racing season. The fat content of the mix will probably average out to 6 %( racing mix) + 3% (cleansing) + 12 %( Super Diet/Energy): 3 = 7%. The pigeons in general will have no problems racing up to approximately 350 km using this mix. The conversion of fat to energy makes moisture available to the pigeon’s body. A mix somewhat higher in fat ensures that your pigeons will come home less thirsty at the end of the race.

Another Step
If you want to try to get a bit more out of them or you have more time, then only mix a part of each bag together. You will have a base young bird mix plus three different feeds which you can use according to your needs. I would also suggest that you get a bag of corn. As the races get longer and tougher then you can add some corn and some Super Diet (energy) at the end of the week. If the race was an easy, then you can add some Cleansing mix to the base mix. If you want to feed in an even more specialized manner, then ask your feed dealer for a feeding plan using his feeds. Don’t just go by the promises in their fancy advertising folders, choose a plan in which you yourself believe and one you can stand behind.

Darkening youngsters causes the body feathers to moult and greatly slows the moult of the flight feathers. If you want to race the entire young bird schedule, you can hardly ignore this phenomenon. Usually the darkening begins in March. Don’t worry if the darkened youngsters don’t want to fly too much in March and April. It doesn’t matter there are no races to win at that time of year anyway. When the small feathers are almost grown in they will start to train better and better. I would suggest that you don’t darken any longer then the middle of May, at the very longest the end of May. Don’t stop the system suddenly, that is in one day. Increase the day length over a short period of time. You have heard of jetlag haven’t you? You need time to adjust to the new conditions.

Pigeons also need a period of adjustment. It would be sensible to let them adjust for a couple of weeks before training them. Their constitution and organs have then had time to adjust to the new conditions. If you want to send them to the longer races at the end of the schedule, you will have to lengthen their days beginning on the longest day of the year.

Their total hours of light will be held there (the longest day) up to and including the last race. They will moult a few flights but they will hold their body feathers. From the moment they begin to roam, feed as light as possible, their growth period is over. Take for example: half racing mix and half cleansing mix. Two weeks before the first race gradually add more Super Diet (energy) mix till you reach the proportions suggested for the base mix. The more fiber in the feed the better it is for the intestinal system of the young pigeon

This is part of the racing pigeon sport. You have racing pigeons and ultimately they have to be able to come home under the most difficult circumstances. We need strong animals. This requires that we select severely. If you constantly make use of medicines, you will not end up with strong, vigorous animals. Pigeons have to be given the opportunity to develop their immune system. A pigeon that cannot fight minor illnesses does not belong on a good pigeon loft. In other words, cull it. Be a strong but fair coach.

Training (Teaching)
Now we have arrived at the time we have to teach or train them. Through regularly making them familiar with the basket and the drinkers on the basket we decrease any stress they may experience. You could also feed them in the baskets in order to decrease any anxiety the basket may give them. Stress can cause the constriction of the small intestine, the consequences of which are all detrimental. Most e-coli problems occur during this time of training and teaching and during the first races. Therefore, feed light at this time and bring the ph of the intestines down by feeding products like yogurt and by using products like apple cider vinegar in the drinking water.

The bad gut bacteria don’t like this lower ph and will not multiply as rapidly. We can start training just a few kilometers from the loft and slowly increase the distance to 5 km and then in steps to 10 km and 20 km. It is important to always release them from a different point within a half-circle of the race direction so they become very familiar with their home area. Training when there is EAST in the wind should be avoided. We race from a southern direction therefore it makes sense to train in that direction. Naturally it wouldn’t hurt to take them in the opposite direction once in a while.

They also have to know this area in order to turn back to their loft. If they come home from that direction when racing they will be too late, but sometimes the wind can cause them to over fly, so it is important that they know the entire area around the loft. We can begin training several weeks before the first race and we can’t train often enough. People with a lot of time are definitely at an advantage! There is much more to tell about training but I will leave that to the specialist.

Shipping day
 Hot weather and high pressure makes young birds thirsty. We have already mentioned fat in the mix as a solution; treat seeds for example. We can also feed them rice, ordinary white rice. Some people still think that paddy rice is better suited. Run this test and draw your own conclusions: put a handful of paddy in a glass of water and in another put a handful of white rice. After a couple of hours observe the result.

The paddy is still exactly the same paddy, while the white rice is swollen with water. White rice holds moisture. The hard fiber on the paddy rice first has to be digested in the intestines. This draws and requires moisture from the pigeon’s body. This has the opposite effect of the one we are after. Electrolytes also retain moisture. They contain sugars and mineral salts. When the weather gets hot they are very useful the day before shipping. You can also add them to the drinking water on shipping day but then only in the morning. After the morning meal replace them with clear water the rest of the day.

One of the most asked questions is: “How much should I feed?” As an answer I can only give guidelines, because the weather and the difficulty of the race play a large role in the amount and how much to feed. Many fanciers feed their youngster much too much.

Under normal circumstances a level drinking pot like the ones attached to show cages is sufficient for 10 pigeons. “Gluttons are made not born”, is a well-known saying. You tell by the actions of your animals when you have fed enough. If you feed on the floor you can see when their appetites have been satisfied, a couple will go for a drink and others begin paying more attention to the birds around them then to the feed.

Then you know, most of their hunger has been satisfied and you should stop feeding. Only on the day before shipping should you feed them all they want (with a light mix). If you have fed them right, then the pigeons will barely eat anything on shipping day. Then you can be sure they will come home well. It will never change, those who know how to feed will be the champions (naturally only if they have healthy good quality pigeons). Often there are many questions about racing young birds. This article can only skim the surface of this subject. You can ask questions via “DUIF 2000”. If enough questions are posed, I will try to give a more detailed answer to the most frequently asked ones. Don’t be afraid to ask, we will do our best to answer them.

There are 1001 different products on the market. Some of them make the most unbelievable promises. In my opinion you should keep it simple. I will briefly talk about a couple of useful products. Good grit is very important for pigeons. It is a good source of calcium. This is one of the most important minerals. Pigeons should be provided with clean fresh grit daily. It is important to regularly refresh the grit, or cleaning yesterday’s grit before putting it back in the loft. Oyster shell is the most easily assimilated and that is what’s most important.

Brewers Yeast and Bakers Yeast are very useful products. They provide amino acids that are easily digested, minerals and B vitamins. The B vitamins are important the day before shipping; they allow the pigeon to rest. That is why the B vitamins are known as the anti-stress vitamins. Putting yeasts over feed once or twice a week is sufficient. A good mineral mix belongs on every pigeon loft. Pigeon mineral powders have very small amounts of salt added to them, approximately 0.1%. Chicken minerals contain too much salt for pigeons (12%). Multivitamins can be given to the pigeons after a tough race. Don’t overdo it and don’t expect them to provide miracles. Vitamins are not performance enhancers, rather they provide protection.

Life revolves around the things that you concentrate on: (read it again).
I want to bring up the subject of illness. Firstly, I’ll tell that I am not a specialist on this subject; secondly there is a lot of attention paid to this subject in the pigeon press. Just look over the article titles. I gladly leave this subject to the specialists. But, I do want to get this off my chest: aren’t we too worried about all these illnesses, many of which will never break out on our lofts? All this negative thinking creates perceived problems.

If you worry about sickness, then your anxiety and limited knowledge will often make you see things that aren’t there. Wouldn’t it be better to put more thought in the direction of health? Be an optimist, not every wet dropping means they have coccidiosis, not every sniffle means they have a head cold. Stay alert, but react more positively to what you see on your lofts.

I want to wish you much success.

Wim Mulder