Good Feather & Handling for Quality

Every champion racing and breeding pigeon has good feather.

Handling For Quality
When the experienced fanciers handle a racing pigeon they are assessing its racing ability by judging its aerodynamic soundness. Their skill has been taught by time and their success in predicting the quality of the race pigeon rests with the fact that the aerodynamics of every champion is sound. The “expert handlers” cull birds in the race team that handle poorly, because the chances of a poorly conformed bird doing well are extremely low. It is good practice to cull “poor” pigeons from the race team well before training begins, but the decision to cull must be made by a good “handler”. Remember, the expert handler is always a very good flyer or breeder of pigeons and never a poor or mediocre fancier.

Although the athletic potential of the pigeon cannot be determined by its physical qualities alone, an understanding of the features of the racing pigeon which enable fast sustained flight provides the fancier with the knowledge required to both select and breed aerodynamically sound race birds. When handling a bird to assess its aerodynamic efficiency pay special attention to the feather quality, wing, body structure and balance.

An understanding of the aerodynamics of flight will improve every fancier’s skill at handling pigeons correctly. Around the world there are many families of pigeons varying enormously in appearance, size and shape, but the very best birds share the same important physical features. These features give the best birds an aerodynamic advantage. Every champion racing and breeding pigeon has good feathering, a good wing, a balanced body and are naturally buoyant. Every one of these is a hereditary feature passed on from parent to offspring.

Good Feather
The importance of good feathering as a reflection of the quality of a pigeon can never be overemphasised. For every fancier the quality of the feather is a very good and immediate indication as to the quality of the pigeon. A good quality feather is the foundation stone for breeding the champion pigeon and a pigeon with poor feathers should never be considered for stock because good feathering is a reflection of both good breeding and good health.

The healthy feather is silky, flexible, strong and waterproof. These features are all important for efficient flight. The high oil content of the healthy feather gives it the silky feel. The silkier the feather the greater the lift due to the streamlining effect required for efficient flight. The dry feather we get with many illnesses means that there is less streamlining (over the body and wing) and more drag with a subsequent loss of lift and less efficient flight. More energy is required causing the bird to tire more quickly. The dry feather being less flexible means that the twisting motion of the end flights that gives forward thrust is lessened, which results in a slower bird. The dry feather is brittle and lacks the strength of the silky feather, wearing out by the time the long races, when flying efficiency is needed most. Dry feathers lack the waterproofing qualities of the oil laden silky feather and flying therefore becomes more difficult in wet weather.

The feathers of the racing pigeon in top form are tight and silky. The aerodynamics are further improved by the feathers covering the body. These contour feathers of the body and the coverts over the wing and tail feathers of the bird in top form overlap each other very tightly to create a very smooth surface. We describe such a bird as having “tight” feather. During flight this very tight feather allows the moving air to flow smoothly and quickly over the body and wing surfaces in what we call “streamlines”. “Streamlining” gives “lift” to the flying pigeon and is one of the reasons why it can fly for sustained periods without tiring. For whatever reason (health or breeding), poor quality feathers fail to form the tight smooth surface required for “streamlining” and efficient flight. When the surface is not perfectly smooth the air does not flow smoothly across the surface and creates air eddies and bubbles of turbulence. Turbulence has the effect of slowing the airflow over the wing and body surfaces that increases the “drag” or “resistance” and reduces the “lift”. Therefore the bird with poor feathers flies slowly and requires more effort to stay aloft. The end result is a bird that tires sooner. A good feather is essential for racing performance because it is the basis of “lift”.

Sunlight and the elevated flight
Sunlight is a basic requirement for all birds and it is easy to see the positive effect that the sun has on the health and well being of our pigeons. On sunny days the birds look so much brighter and more alert than on overcast or wet days when the birds look depressed and disinterested.

It is known that direct sunlight provides birds with the vitamin D, that is so necessary for bone, feather and reproductive health, but it must have other positive effects on the metabolism and immune system, because the birds look so strong when they have access to direct sunlight. For this reason, it is recommended that every bird in the loft has access to direct sunlight. This is best achieved by an elevated flight.

The elevated flight is ideal for baths, protecting the loft from wetness and the race birds from potentially harmful ground germs associated with free lofting. The elevated flight is usually opened directly to the breeding loft, whereas the flight of the race loft must be closed off at night from the rest of the loft during the race season. The flight quickly becomes a favourite rest and recreation area for both the breeding and race birds, playing an important part in strengthening the loft bonding process of pigeons.

Security and rest at night
The special attention that is given to providing the pigeons with a loft that promotes complete rest at night will reward the fancier with a healthier flock and more consistent race results. Both the breeding and race lofts must protect the birds from moisture, temperature extremes, too little or too much air movement, predators, noise, fumes, light and other disturbances, so that the birds can rest, especially at night. Proper rest is a major pre-requisite for continuing pigeon health and race performance.

The breeding loft
The design requirements of the breeding loft are simple compared to the race loft. The best breeding loft is very open, because breeding takes place during the warmer months. At night the birds usually rest comfortably in their nest boxes and during the day a large open flight provides the adults and babies in the nest with the health benefits of direct sunlight. The open breeding loft improves the circulation of fresh air and promotes a drier loft, which in turn improves the breeding performance. Breeding is far less stressful to the pigeon than racing and maintaining their health is so much easier, because the birds are not exposed to the outside diseases and hardships of the race basket.

The race loft
The race birds are exposed to many more stresses than the breeders and require much more rest to remain healthy. Consequently, the requirements for a successful race loft are more exacting and complicated than for the breeding loft and must provide the race team with the necessary rest to recover from their strenuous physical exertions. The darkness of night provides the pigeon with the time to rest and the conditions in the loft at night are of the utmost importance if the pigeon is to fully recover from the exertions of the previous day.

The conditions inside the race loft which promote restful sleep at night are:

  1. No rapid fluctuations of humidity and temperature.
  2. Good ventilation (i.e. the air circulation is good, the air is fresh, not heavy or stuffy, no drafts and no dust).
  3. The pigeons numbers are controlled i.e. no overcrowding.
  4. There is no wetness in the loft.
  5. The loft is clean.