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Building Consistency

By Ken Easley - June 4, 2009

I have written many articles over the years about my experiences with pigeons. I spent most of my life building a top notch strain of rollers. I painstakingly built a family of pigeons that consistently scored higher quality multipliers by the judges in World and National competitions. One of the most important aspects of putting together a family of pigeons that will perform to the strictest standards is starting with good stock. You can't expect to build a great family of birds using inferior stock.

You would spend years trying to compensate for flaws in the gene pool by mating birds in a manner to compensate for weakness. You are fooling yourself to believe that this would come quickly. It is only wishful thinking at best.

So, to start we must find top quality stock. It is worth the price if the birds are truly top quality. The quality may be found through paying a lot or it just as easily may be found from a gift of a friend in the sport. Some of the best pigeons I have ever owned came from a gift and were the basis for my strain.

It is rare you will find someone that truly knows his line of pigeons and is willing to give up a great prospect to a stranger, even for a price unless he has plenty to spare. You will more likely get his second best. The only time it goes the other way is if the breeder has plenty of great birds and can spare one. I have seen some that got through because the owner didn’t really know what he had also.

Most guys that get started in racers will begin with substandard pigeons and spend several years learning the difference. All is not lost since much can be learned from such experiences.

You will be extremely lucky to find two truly top pigeons but this is the basis for a foundation. The best pigeons will be bred by you in your own loft providing you stick to the plan, pay attention to details and have the tenacity of a wood pecker. I was once asked which animal was my favorite in the animal kingdom. I answered it would have to be the wood pecker. When asked why I would choose a woodpecker from such a wide variety of animals I said because a wood pecker can peck a hole in a tree with his nose.

This takes great determination and steady pecking. I now use this in my business to motivate and focus, steady pecking will win the day.

To identify which pigeons are the ones to surround your program around you must breed many youngsters from them and fly them out. I have never been one to coddle my young up and coming pigeons. My best stock birds and proven champions get my respect and are given the best, but they must earn it. I don’t give any preference to youngsters off of “big name” in the sport pigeons or imports. They are flown just like the rest. They have to prove to me they are worthy of any attention.

It is best to keep notes. I keep a notebook handy so I can write down what I observe. I used to use my memory for everything but realized that writing things down keep it very realistic. You cannot be sentimental about the birds that are in the process of proving themselves if you truly want to build top quality pigeons. I am now sentimental toward some of my champions and best proven stock birds but they earned it and after all we do keep pigeons because we enjoy having them.

There are many things to look for with the building process. One of the major things not to look at is physical appearance. Beginners to the sport will begin listening to all the old secrets of champions. There are no secrets. If there was a secret it would be this, “do the work”.

I would advise against looking at wing length, structure, keels, eyes, feather etc until you understand what it is that gets the job done. A pigeon may look like someone poured the feathers on and they are truly beautiful but the bird could be a hopeless cull.

Learn what a true champion looks like then you might begin to pay a little attention to the physical characteristics. The most important aspect of a great pigeon is what he has to commend himself in the smarts and intuition department.

You can always make a pigeon with excellent character and tenacity more beautiful through selective breeding but you cannot make a beautiful pigeon smart by using just beautiful pigeons in the stock loft.

For myself personally I prefer the look of a true champion above any others and until proven I am highly suspicious of the pretty ones.

Once we have a few proven champions we keep the parents and discard all of the other breeders that did not make the cut. Culling the stock loft is more important than culling the flyers. The flyers will cull themselves but you and you alone are responsible for what goes in the stock loft.

When you have several proven champions from the air you will want to try them at breeding. There are countless methods of breeding but none have ever out matched the pretzel breeding method. I ran across it by accident really. When I was a boy my father and grandfather advised against breeding too close. There was a lot of apprehension associated with breeding close relatives. Since then I have bred them very close and tried every kind of mating you can imagine and using the very best of stock. Having tried inbreeding, line breeding and just plain old out crossing I can tell you, the best method has proven itself over and over again to be the pretzel breeding method.

The Pretzel breeding method is simply trying to keep your best three or four pigeons blood at the forefront of your breeding program in heavy concentration without breeding brother/sister or mother/son or father daughter mating. It is geared toward mating uncle / niece or aunt / nephew or cousins. Double cousins is a favorite of mine. It is not good enough to just mate double cousins and expect excellent results. They must be all proven pigeons and this takes time. They have to be flown out to prove themselves worthy of a shot in the breeding loft. Then they must prove themselves as stock birds. They must reproduce as good as themselves or better and in good percentages.

So, now that we understand the basic principles of Pretzel breeding we can begin.

The best proven racers you have may not be good producers. It is best of they come from a consistent family. A consistent family would be made up of birds that win on a regular basis and carry many common genes in the flock. You can rely on pigeons like these far more than any other. You can make them consistent yourself but it takes time.

Try to get as far up the ladder as you can when starting buy obtaining good stock. This way it takes you less time to reach the upper rungs.

Mate the champions together in every possible combination that you can. In other words, mate every champion hen to every champion cock that you own.

Fly the youngsters in competition if possible to really test them. They should be flown out to at least 400 miles as youngsters to really test them, 300 miles being the minimum.

Keep records of every pigeon that does well and who it is out of. Give a check mark to each individual parent that produced a winner. Don’t worry about the pairs just yet, just look at each individual parent to see how many good ones they produced with each mate.

I would look for pigeons that compete in the top 20% most of the time.

It won’t be long until you can clearly see which cocks and hens are your best producers. You may find a nick pair in the group also. This is a pair that produces several good ones when mated together but not as much mated to others.

A truly top producer will produce good ones with all mates providing they are of some quality. These are the best pigeons for our purposes and to be valued the highest.

In several years you will have a family of pigeons surrounding the best producers and you will learn what is missing from the equation. Don’t bring in lots of pigeons until you know what you need to complete the flock, at least during the building phase. It may be toughness or it may be speed.

Some pigeons come home like they were shot out of cannon. Others come home at a slower pace. Some are good for the distance and some are good for sprint racing. I personally like all around pigeons that do well from 150-450 miles.

When racing with a club on a regular basis there will be a smash race sooner or later. This is a race where many pigeons are lost. It may be due to bad weather, a break down of the hauler and let out from an odd location behind mountains or just an odd circumstance, maybe even falcon attacks. This is when you really learn something about the pigeons you are working with. You may lose some of the faster ones. I have lost birds that have built themselves good reputations as young birds only to be lost on a smash race.

Some of the “perceived to be” lesser birds that hang around in the top 20% from first place may show themselves to be the sharpest and toughest pigeons in the group.

In 2008 I sent pigeons to the World Ace Challenge, the Vegas Classic and flew them locally.

I bred three brothers from one pair that flew in all three. One flew local; one flew in the WAC and one in Vegas. The one in the WAC placed 12th in the 300 mile race. He also placed 60th in the 400 I believe. He never won top honors but was always there and one of only 160 plus pigeon left at the end of the competition. I had them mail him home to me. The other brother flew in Vegas and the results were similar. The last brother flew local and to my surprise had the same results. I sent other full brothers to all three and the results were similar too. That was a good lesson and well worth the price of admission.

It takes good pigeons to win, plain and simple. I flew the youngest brother in old birds locally. He had an equal first trapping behind his loft mate, a hen, and placed respectable in the others as well.

The next race was a 500. The hauler broke down at 400 miles and released the birds on the side of the freeway. They were behind a 16,000 foot elevation mountain range in Colorado. Many of the club members were calling wanting to know if I had received any pigeons as happens in a smash race. I was worried because I hadn’t flown in the 300 due to work schedule and my pigeons hadn’t been out that far since young birds, in fact I hadn’t had time to road train them at all. Out of 8 pigeons I got back four. The first one home and in respectable time was the third brother.

After talking to the guys in our club everyone had heavy losses with a couple of guys getting none back. This is something to consider keeping in the line of pigeons, toughness, tenacity and good intuition.

I had a champion hen in the breeding loft in an individual pen for a couple of months. I sent her as well. It was her first race of the season, a 400. She came in second for us. One faster diploma winner and a National Ace hen never made it back. So, speed is good but it isn’t everything.

After you have all the important ingredients built into the family it is a matter of maintaining and enhancing it.

It is advisable to maintain about 4 lines within the family; even five or six lines are good if you have the room but four works fine. You keep these lines separate and maintain them through flying and breeding. You can use these lines to cross to one another when needed.

You can maintain a line pretty well with four legs for 15-20 years without too much complication. After that you may need to add some blood to spark up the genes again.

When looking for new blood, remember it took you a long time to get where you are so bringing in inferior blood would not be an acceptable option.

Find someone that has built a loft of consistent birds that match your philosophy on what constitutes a great racer. They may not click the first mating. Sometimes they click right from the start and sometimes it may be the grandchildren that kick it in high gear.

Remember also that in the beginning it is like casting a net for fish. You may not get anything worth keeping on the first few tosses. You try many times and only keep the best.

After the family is established your main attention should be in your family and not chasing rainbows by continuing to buy pigeons from different families. You will never gain the true satisfaction of building a family of consistent pigeons unless you stay the course.

Every time you bring in new birds you bring in a whole host of new genetic material to weed through. The more of this type of weeding through process you have, the less serious time you give to your line. There is nothing wrong with trying a lot of pigeons on the start to find out what suites you but after that move forward with your line. If you continue to purchase pigeons and play the addiction to acquiring new blood game you will be destined to fly other peoples work. This is fine for some but not for a true stock man.

Many will tell stories of brothers to the champ being the best producer. This is a sign that the family is not established. In an established family the champions will produce the best.

This is evidence of a family built from top class proven champions. Once you learn what a champ looks like you begin to recognize some of the traits. You can see confidence in the expression of the bird. Nothing beats a real air proven warrior.

Enjoy your quest and remember it is for your enjoyment, have fun.

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