Education Young Birds
Most say Training Young birds when they really want to educate young birds. Nature gives the pigeons a homing instinct and some pigeons have a better homing instinct than others. We must educate young birds to use this homing instinct and make the right decisions to go home.
If you train down the race course in a straight line from home, the pigeons learn to come out and head in a certain direction. As they get closer, they can use their homing instinct to find home. This all works great under ideal conditions.
The training in a straight line works great until the pigeon is not where it is supposed to be. If something goes wrong the pigeons will not have the ability to trust their homing instinct and head to the loft. If a pigeon has only flown west to east and ends up far north of any direction off course, it will struggle to find home.
Let us start from the beginning and use some common sense. In nature a young pigeon falls from the nest at say 28 days. In the next few days this baby must find food, water and shelter and be able to return to the shelter daily. Some may follow their parents for a couple days where others have to learn fast or not survive.
If we follow nature, it is best to wean the babies and get them in the settling cage as soon as possible. They learn fast when very young. After a week in the cage, it is time to let them out. Today hawks are such a big problem. It is sad how difficult it is to settle young.
I have found that even if a hawk attacks on the first day, many or most work their way back to the loft. One thing that has really helped me for many years is what is called an Air Dancer. This is a giant 20-foot red tube with arms you may see dancing in front of a car dealership. We use this thing to keep our hawk attacks to a minimum. When our babies are locked into the settling cage we fly the air dancer for a couple hours, two days in a row, right in front of the loft. We fly this air dancer during the old bird season so our young a used to seeing it.
Once the babies are not afraid of the air dancer, I push it right close to the loft and give open hole and leave. I cannot take the stress of the babies trying to figure out life on the outside. My babies are calm around the air dancer but the hawks do not like it at all. The resident hawks will get used to the air dancer after some time but will not attack the young on the loft. Hawks will chase them in the air and from behind occasionally.
When I go on a toss, I set a timer so the air dancer will come on right before the pigeons arrive home from training. We also turn on when the first bird arrives on race day. The air dancer can be bought on Ebay and has reduced all hawk attacks drastically and made racing and loft flying so much easier for us.
So sorry to get off course no pun intended with the air dancer but this is part of the process. Once your pigeons are going outside, I recommend you put them on 30% barley. If you mix your grain so it contains 30% barley your babies will start exercising fairly fast. I have to go more in depth on feeding but most feed too rich of a mix and the birds will usually not exercise well on a high protein high fat mix.
Going back to how the pigeons are genetically predisposed to learn young... Once your babies are settled and going in and out for say two weeks it is time to chase them into the sky for a fly. They may start to fly all over in different directions but soon will learn to flock which is another genetic nature thing as in strength in numbers. If a pigeon is in a flock the chances of being selected by a hawk is lessoned and the odds are increased another bird will spot the attack and warn the group.
Once the pigeons are flocking and flying in a group around the loft it is time to educate/train. Many wait until the pigeons are routing before they train but I feel best case scenario is to train them long before they start to route. There are many successful fanciers that wait until the babies are mature to train and some wait until the babies are routing for hours. These do work but I feel if you want to give your youngsters a big advantage start educating them at about 2.5 months old if possible.
When I say start educating them, I asking you to go very very slow. The first toss is only to get them used to the baskets and the car. Pigeons get car sick on the first car ride so the first time in the basket they are taken for a 15-minute drive around the neighborhood and brought back and liberated right in front of the lofts. We are educating them to get used to the car and get over car sickness.
So many throw them in baskets, drive down the road and liberate panicked car sick babies on their first toss. This can lead to disaster. Once the first toss in front of the lofts is completed you can start taking them down the road. We want to go slow and maybe start at 1/4 mile. If the day is cool you can call them in, give a couple handfuls of feed, wait 20 minutes and take them again 1/4 mile. This time go in a different direction. If you have time multiple short tosses can happen on the same day.
When you start training youngsters you are teaching them to home from any and all directions. If the two 1/4 mile tosses went well go 1/2 mile in two different directions and then 1 mile next. If they are arriving in a flock you can certainly continue to toss them maybe go three miles in two directions. Sometimes north, sometimes east, sometimes south or west.
Train and educate all directions with the same distance from two directions then increase the distance. Work all directions of the compass starting out. If you have time and they fly less than 25 minutes take them twice or more on a cool day. Increase three or four miles each toss once you get to 10 miles to 35 miles.
One thing to realize is after the first toss of the day the birds will home very fast on the second or third toss of the day. If anything, multiple tosses on the same day, teaches them to come out and go straight for home. They like to take their time on the first toss and go right home immediately on subsequent tosses that day. It may take a month to get them out to 35 miles training two directions with each distance but your patience and hard work will pay off.
Keep in mind that high humidity and heat does not go well with training. If you start early and pick your days you may be able to stay away from heat and humidity. Ideally in the northeast you could educate and train the babies in May to early June and do not toss at all during the heat of the summer. Train them out to 35 miles in the spring and then start again several weeks before young bird season.
Once the babies are out to 35 miles you have done the most important part of training. They are smart and will home from any direction. Now it is time to take them down the road in the direction of the race course but the education process is far from over. I have never taken my young more than 60 miles before the first race which is 120 miles. Taking out on a longer toss say 100 miles on a perfect day maybe helpful but for me winning is more important at the end of the season than the beginning of the season. No need to burn them up early in the year when the season is long and the money races are always at the end.
The next phase of education is mixing and breaking. Pigeons will not learn to break from other pigeons if they never have to break from other pigeons. Most will try training with others and the birds either home from the wrong direction and take a very long time. Occasionally the young get some sort of sickness after mixing which also scares the fancier.
The fancier then are less likely to mix with pigeons not coming to the same area or mix at all. It is the fanciers fear that holds back getting the full potential out of the pigeons. If possible, find fanciers that will commit to maybe 7 tosses. You must be at least 15 to 20 miles apart and train the birds learn to split from the other pigeons. The first few times they will go to one loft and then head home. After five to seven tosses the birds will split and head for their own home. Commit and train regularly with others maybe 45 to 60 miles. Expect to dominate your competition.
Here at McLaughlin Lofts, I have a training truck where 90% of the birds are going 25 to 35 miles south of me. The first few times my birds come from the south and take 20 to 40 minutes longer than they should. After maybe four or five times on this truck, my birds fly the toss in the exact same time as the pigeon's way south of me. I am not sure where they are breaking or maybe my birds learn these pigeons they are flying with are not going to the right spot so my birds pick a direct course to their own home.
Again, breaking is probably something that is innate in the genetics of pigeons. Should a wild pigeon be mixed in with a large wild flock it still must decide to break this group and fly to its own roost. If it learns to follow the big group it quickly learns that this big group is not going to his or her home.
Without mixing with other fancier's pigeons that are not in your area your pigeons will never reach their full potential. They are amazing and adapt fast so try to educate the birds will fly their own straight line to their home. Training all directions and then mixing the youngsters so they learn to break will lead to steady front flying performers.
Now we must get into some more things to consider while educating youngsters. Let the birds loft fly on rainy days and in fog. Train short tosses on days with good visibility but has some light rain or heavy overcast. Heavy overcast with good visibility gives the young great experience. In the beginning by training in different directions it teaches the young to fly in headwinds, tailwinds and side winds.
The birds will learn to fly through bad weather if they have experience flying through bad weather. Training only on days with big white puffy clouds and blue skies does not make them learn to fly when the weather is bit nasty. Pigeons should have the tools to deal with whatever they encounter and be able to home and figure it out.
When I lived in Oregon, I was trying to get my late breds started but ran out of nice weather. The pigeons learned and performed well on light rainy days and heavy overcast with good visibility.
How much training and how much rest is needed? For years I wanted to quantify rest in racing pigeons. What I do and preach is one day of rest for every two hours on the wing. Six hours on the wing and the birds need three days of total rest etc. Resting pigeons properly will extend their racing career and also keep them performing all season long.
If you feed correctly the pigeons do not need much road work. A race on Saturday, 35-mile toss on Tuesday, 60 miles on Thursday and a couple loft flights is plenty each week. Success will come if the pigeons are educated and the body weight is perfect. Pigeons should never feel round and full. If they are round like an apple, they are too heavy for the races. Master feeding and you will master racing.
With me not living at the lofts and only having minutes a day with the race team, I must do it with feeding. Pigeons should feel lean and V shaped. Muscles should be flatter and not round. Most pigeons when they return from a four to six-hour flight handle like they should have felt at shipping. Bring the bodyweight down including for long distance races and watch your pigeons climb up the results.
McLaughlin Lofts usually pour pigeons in on long tough races and the birds are light and buoyant at shipping. Extra weight may be good for geese taking a long flight south for the winter but not beneficial for racing.
Few easy tips to live by with feeding the race team:
1) Feed once per day during the race season. If you are feeding twice a day you are overfeeding.
2) Add 30% barley to the feed mix. Good high quality in the husk barley.
3) Feed once a day until they start leaving a little barley. That is plenty and they have had enough until the next day.
4) After the race, feed all they want of rich seeds, safflower etc and high protein mixes. Let them have all they want of all the best feed possible when the return from the race for one day only.
5) If you feed all they want of rich seeds and high protein mix for more than one day, the pigeons will get round and heavy.
6) Should you have several days of rain or periods of time when you cannot train feed 100% barley to keep the body weight down.
Hope you enjoyed my thoughts on educating young birds. Again, this is only my opinion on what I feel is best. I do have 50 years in this sport and gained much experience with trial and error. I have been blessed with owning great pigeons and without good pigeons no matter what you do you cannot win against top competition. With that said there are many roads to Rome and many fanciers have had success using just about every method imaginable.