The least expensive way is to buy in volume, buying a large number of late-hatch babies. Some people even arrange to purchase eggs from a breeder. Late-hatch babies can also be a good way to go. When I’m interested in buying birds from a breeder, I examine the race records and futurity records of their birds to determine the answer to these questions: How successful is the loft in its own competition? How successful are this breeder’s birds for other fanciers?
We go to Europe once or twice a year to purchase birds. Sometimes I go into a loft that I have been studying for some time, watching the results, to see the kind of pigeons that I’m looking for. We like to purchase middle-distance birds that have the ability to fly 300- and 400-mile races as young birds. These are the areas where the biggest money is to be won in the sport, and it’s certainly nice to have birds that can do that.
In selecting these young, we ask the fancier what his most successful pairs of breeders are, and at this point we are gathering information. It’s most important for us to know what the successful breeding pairs are in any particular loft. For example, in a loft of 40 to 50 pairs, surely there are 8 or 10 pairs that are outstanding among them in producing a higher percentage of good birds than the other pairs will produce.
We also will not restrict ourselves just to birds from established breeders. We also like to find a particularly hot young pair, especially if it’s a pair of birds that have produced two or three really good racers. We like to take babies from these. They often produce a higher quality bird.
Once we identify the top pairs in the loft, we make arrangements to purchase their young. Of course, we’re always trying to deal with reputable people, so we can be sure that we are getting what we select. Many fanciers in Europe will ask you to come and choose the young in the nest, letting you into the loft to copy their band numbers for later verification.
One problem with buying young birds is that you don’t always know how they’re going to turn out. We all know that, percentage-wise, fewer than 20% of all racing pigeons produced turn out to be good birds. So we know going in that in purchasing unproven young, you’ll be getting only 2 out of 10 “keepers.” You should keep this in mind when you purchase. If you’re dealing with reputable people, you can generally buy 10 youngsters for the same amount that one adult bird would cost you. Most top lofts in Europe will not want to sell their best racers or their best breeders for an affordable amount of money. In most cases, purchasing young will be the best shot you have. And if you do this, buy them from the pairs that have the highest success percentages, so that the chances of your getting good birds will go up.
A possible pitfall in buying unproven young birds is that you have so many more birds to breed from, and it takes so long to find out what their talents are. But there can be a real gem in the group, and if this bird were in the hands of the original owner, you’d not be able to buy it for any amount of money. So while there may be many birds produced that don’t pan out, you will get some truly good ones. All in all, purchasing young birds is not a bad way to buy pigeons.
The other way to purchase birds is to go after proven racing stock. Often, we purchase birds that come right out of the racing loft. Oftentimes, a bird that is not a great racer but a very good racer can be a very, very good or even a great breeder. Depending upon how they’re bred, some birds that are only average racers become great breeders. Naturally, if you can afford it, buying a great breeder gives you a much better chance of getting super racers. The old adage “the apple never falls very far from the tree” often applies in the case of breeding but not in all cases. Sometimes, a super champion that costs many thousands of dollars can be an absolute “dud” in the breeding loft.
Some considerations in making decisions about purchasing birds are how much you can afford to spend, and how good are the birds that you are considering purchasing. Often, we go in and buy birds that are going to be retired from the racing loft. We know of European lofts that like to retire their racing birds at four or five years of age. At this stage, these fanciers have already got a well-stocked breeding loft with an excellent reputation, and you can go in and buy a bird that’s been flying on the widowhood team or the racing team for two or more years. The bird is obviously a high-quality pigeon if it has managed to stay in a high-quality loft for this long and has earned its keep. A pigeon like this may be expensive, but will be very well worth the purchase price.
Regarding buying hens, we often like to go to a loft that races only cocks and has a number of excellent widowhood hens that aren’t being used for anything but to stimulate the cock birds. In many cases, you can purchase a good quality stock hen from a fancier’s widowhood hen loft. This fancier obviously uses some method of selecting the hens that he keeps. In many cases, they are racing these hens as young birds. So we try to select young hens that have had excellent racing records and have been put into the breeding loft or into the widowhood loft.
Many times these hens produce exceptional racing birds. As an example, a few years ago, we obtained a hen from Ferry Lambrecht that had been the ace hen of his club. He had been using her as a widowhood hen. She had no pedigree. All we knew was that she had been given to Ferry as an egg by Jean Claude Debieve. Ferry hatched the egg and put his own ring on the bird. He flew the pigeon as a young bird, and it turned out to be the ace pigeon of his club. To this day, we still have no pedigree for her, but we have bred from this hen. And in her first breeding season, bred with two cocks, she bred six multiple clock winners. She is truly an excellent breeding hen that is valuable in our loft, even without papers.
Another way to buy pigeons is to go for the really big money and to buy birds out of the breeding loft, or ace pigeons of certain competitions. Every year at the end of the season in Europe, champion birds are put up for sale. We’ve all heard about how much money these birds can go for. And while it is true that these birds are very valuable and have been great racing pigeons, in many cases they don’t prove to be good in the breeding loft. I would have to say that this is true in most cases. Few champion racers ever produce pigeons that race as well as they have raced themselves. Breeding from first ace pigeons is not a guarantee that first ace pigeons are going to be produced.
Very often, it has more to do with a pedigree. We like to follow a pedigree, meaning a family of birds that produces a high percentage of first ace pigeons. It’s likely to be a very good family to purchase young from. If you can obtain a high quality racing cock bird from the loft and a high quality hen from the widowhood loft, such a pairing of birds from a good family will very often produce much better than average pigeons, especially if the birds are related.
While ace pigeons are nice to have and can certainly be good advertising, the average fancier doesn’t need ace pigeons at all to compete at the highest level.
Purchasing birds from a breeding loft can be risky business. A pair of birds in the breeding loft that are for sale has probably not been as successful as the owner had hoped they would be. Sometimes, birds are sold from the breeding loft only because they didn’t pan out.
Occasionally older birds can be bought that have been high-impact pigeons, because sometimes fanciers want to breed only from very young birds. In this case, some older breeding pigeons can be purchased at fairly reasonable prices. You have to be patient and willing to work with these birds. I advocate putting their eggs under younger foster parents. You can produce extremely high quality pigeons from such pairs. Normally the reduction in performance that you see in the youngsters of older breeders doesn’t have to do with the parents’ genetic quality as a breeder but in the reduced level of care that older pigeons can give the young once they are hatched. A younger pair can care for the babies better, but the genes of the parents are obviously still the same. Set up foster pairs that are young, and “float” the eggs from the older breeding pairs to them to be raised. In this way, high quality genes can be brought into your loft without spending an exceptional amount of money.
We have managed to purchase birds from lofts that are being completely sold out. Such sales, in which every bird is accounted for, often yield gold-mine pairs for fanciers that are lucky enough to purchase them. All the records are available for the best pairs in the loft and the best results in the loft. If you manage to get those pigeons, it is up to you the fancier to get the same kind of results.
Another way to buy birds, especially in the U.S., is from the auctions of convention races and futurity races. After these races, the top position birds are often sold. Frequently, we’ve seen some of these birds go for very small amounts of money. If I were a beginner and I knew that a fancier had entered stock into a futurity or convention race, I would not hesitate to try to purchase this man’s birds after the race. For as little as $75 to $100 you can acquire these birds that have gone through all the training, and have given a good accounting of themselves in the race. Once you have the bird, you can even call the breeder and ask to purchase a pedigree. Most breeders are very hesitant to just give a pedigree, but some will. High quality pigeons can often be obtained in this way.
I’ve often been asked this question by new fanciers: What do I look for in a breeder? One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is what not to look for or pay so much attention to. I think it’s very important to try to look for in a breeder exactly what the owner of the family looks for. We’re going to make the assumption that you’re only dealing with very successful fanciers in trying to buy breeders. Some of these people are eyesign specialists and they only want to look for eyesign. Others look for performance only. Some look at the wing and the overall body make-up. Generally, I’ve made myself aware in the years that I’ve been in the sport of the various things that I like in my own pigeons. Then I look at the pigeons in a particular fancier’s loft to see if he likes the same things in his breeders that I do. Is the pigeon I’m interested in first of all very closely related to his best breeders and racers? Do not buy a bird from a fancier if it is not of his core bloodline.
Many fanciers will sell birds that they have brought in and tried without success. If the bird up for sale is not at all related or closely related to the core blood of the family, you have to assume that the fancier wants to sell it because it has not been successful. You need to be purchasing from the stock that is producing the very best for him. The first criterion is “Is the bird from the same genetic background as the core birds in the man’s loft?” This is what I mean by pedigree. I am not referring to just a piece of paper. In Europe and in the U.S., lots of fanciers don’t like to write or keep pedigrees. When I refer to pedigree, I am really speaking about the actual genetic background of the bird. Sometimes we get hung up on a paper pedigree and forget to look beyond that.
Second of course, is the bird itself. What did the bird accomplish? Was it a racing pigeon? Did it race well? Was it a breeder? Was it simply a pigeon that was bred for stock? Is it a baby? If so, then it should be from a pair of birds that has been very successful. If it was bred to be a stock pigeon, it should be easy to determine why it was bred for stock. Perhaps the brothers and sisters of this bird are great breeders. This could be a very wise purchase.
The third thing to look for is whether the bird is well balanced. I think balance in a pigeon is a very important factor. Is the bird strong? Does it give you the impression of having strong character, not only in the body and the muscles, in the frame of the bird, but also in the will of the bird? Is it a bird that gives you the impression that it is an athlete?
Many fanciers, of course, like to look at the eye. I like to see a beautiful eye, but be aware that there are a number of families of pigeons whose owners paid no attention to the eyes at all, yet managed to bring out great quality pigeons. Some of these families of birds became very linebred and inbred pigeons, so that the inherited qualities, i.e., the fixed traits in the pigeons, may not include a great eyesign. One such family that I can note is the Dr. Horn Busschaerts. I’ve seen a number of these pigeons, and these eyes not impressive. They’re certainly not pigeons that would win an eyesign show, but I know of some of them that have bred outstanding birds. So eyesign is a personal matter, one that you must decide whether it is something you prefer or absolutely must have in your own loft. But be aware that eyesign in and of itself is not a major criterion for top racing or breeding results in some families of birds.
What do I like in the muscle? Personally, after having handled many thousands of pigeons, and having such noted experts as Brad Laverne and others teach me a few things about handling pigeons, I have come to be able to recognize suppleness in a muscle and feel the vibrations in a muscle. Suffice it to say that I like to have a pigeon in the hand that has the feeling of buoyancy and has a good supple muscle, a muscle that I can dig my fingers into gently and feel a swelling of muscle. This generally indicates the bird possesses, and is likely to pass on to its young, an abundance of the tools that are necessary to fly, not only for a long time but also quite quickly.
In terms of wing, I personally have seen champion pigeons that had both strong wings, very abrupt, (sometimes called “snappy” wings) and other birds that had very loose wings. I am not enough of an expert in that regard to give an opinion. I just know that there are certain things that I like to feel. I prefer to have a supple wing in my hand, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t breed from a bird that has a snappy wing.
One of the other criteria that I might look for is a rear end that’s got strength. The tail set is not wobbly and moving around when you’re handling the bird. A bird with a strong back will generally have a tail set that extends straight back from the pigeon when you hold it in your hands. In holding a pigeon, I see some fanciers squeeze and almost mangle a pigeon when they handle them. I like to hold a pigeon as gently as possible, as though the bird hardly knows it’s being held. Pigeons are highly sensitive toward people that are manhandling them, and they tense up. Allowing a bird to relax in your hands will enable the bird to reveal its inner qualities. So, I like to hold a bird as gently as possible, and in many cases after I’ve held the bird for a few minutes, I can open my hands and the bird will just sit in my palms, not even attempting to fly away. When a bird is totally relaxed, you can then feel its inner qualities.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a great student of the genetics of racing pigeons. I like to pair birds in such a way that I bring out a common inheritance. I firmly believe that any great family of pigeons has a founding pigeon or two at the base of the family. Those founding pigeons had special gene combinations, or gene pools, and a percentage of that gene pool is passed on to the babies. We have discovered that in linebreeding very often a combination of the genes will bring back a high percentage of the gene combinations that formed the family. But random inbreeding can deteriorate a family faster than anything. So we never breed from pigeons for more than two generations that have not been tested very thoroughly.
In pairing two birds that are related, we try to breed to a breeding coefficient between 28 and 37 percent. That is the ideal that we have discovered for producing not only a high number of high quality racing pigeons but also a very high number of very good breeders. Breeders are discovered through the racing. Very often a bird with a breeding coefficient of 28 to 35 or 37 that has been a very good racer or even sometimes just an adequate racer will make an exceptional breeder. This has happened so often, not only in our own loft but also in the lofts that we have studied for over 20 years, we know that finding the proper coefficient and breeding to that coefficient, meaning related pigeons, is important. Taking a good or better than average racing bird with that coefficient and putting it in the breeding loft is the surest way of succeeding from one generation of birds to the next in any breeding loft.
I often hear fanciers make the remark that this or that bird is not “pure” so they don’t want to breed from it. I can’t imagine this statement being made in our sport. First of all, to attain “purity” from a genetic point of view, you’d have to breed a brother to a sister for five generations or more, and you’d have to start with inbred stock to begin your process. So to attain genetic purity in the truest sense of the word is a completely false statement. If by “pure” the fancier means he’s not working with linebred or inbred stock, there is a little bit of merit in that statement only from the point of view that he feels he’ll get better results from a linebred or inbred pigeon. But in reality, it’s not so much the individual bird itself but the combination of that bird to the other pigeon you’re pairing it to that provides you with the breeding coefficient or racing coefficient that you’re looking for.
One great example of this in a family we should all be aware of is the Meulemans pigeons. In the 1970s the famous “Golden Couple” was put together in Karel Meulemans’ loft. This Golden Couple was a combination of a supposed Janssen hen and a Van Den Bosch cock, and it was supposedly a well-known fact that the Van Den Bosch pigeons were some of the original birds of the Huyskens Van Riels. So some people like to say that the Meulemans are a combination of the Janssens and Huyskens, and this could be a somewhat accurate statement.
But to make the statement even more clear and to understand the study, the Golden Couple itself was a crossing of Janssen and Van Den Bosch. Their children were super pigeons. Indeed, there are few pairs of birds ever put together that were more prolific than this Golden Couple. But what made the Meulemans family so popular, and still popular today was that the children of this pair were such great breeders. The famous “Piet” which went to Germany and bred for the millionaire Hermes. Of course, everyone knows about the famous “Kadet” and how many champions that bird produced. There was the “Merck,” the “Schone Donker,” the “Junior,” and on and on—so many champion birds. All of them were crosses and were great breeders, and in many cases great racers. So there is a prime example of a complete outcrossing that produced great pigeons.
So what did Karel Meulemans do with these pigeons but breed them back to the family. As an example, Kadet was bred back to another Janssen hen. Some of the other brothers and sisters were bred back to children of the other birds. The family was basically put together after first discovering a super gene pool and then combining this gene pool with itself. I think if there was any mistake that Karel Meulemans may have made in his ongoing breeding performance was that he bred the birds too close for too many generations and probably sold too many birds from the family without positive proof that his pairings were working. Yet today, there are still quite a few supreme Meulemans pigeons in the United States breeding really good quality birds.
We imported a Meulemans hen from Wilhelm Wulfmeyer in 1994 and sold that hen to a friend of ours in 1996. That hen bred the second National AU Hall of Fame pigeon in 1997, crossed back to a Janssen. So Meulemans pigeons still have quality, but the fact is that the whole family was started with an outcross, a pairing of two totally unrelated pigeons whose children turned out to be great breeders. So don’t shy away from an outcrossed pigeon as a breeder. Only remember that in using an outcrossed pigeon as a breeder, the bird it’s paired to is ultimately of great importance. Often, the final impact that a bird has as a breeder is based on the bird it’s paired to.
As a rule, I don’t like to see more than two crossings done in the breeding procedures with my own birds. Once I make a crossing, the criterion for the crossing is that the bird has to be supremely successful in the racing. Not just a one-time big win. What we look for is a pigeon that is consistently in the top 10% of the birds entered. If it’s in our own loft, and we send 10 birds, it should be the first bird home. If we send 20 pigeons, it should be the first or second bird home. If we find a bird that does this very often, then we consider this to be a top 10% pigeon. In club competition, if it’s in the top 10% very often and occasionally may fall into the top 20%, this is very good. The same goes for combine or concourse competition.
If we can get a bird that is in the top 10% consistently and the top 20% most all of the time, and it is carrying a breeding coefficient or not, then it is considered a possible breeding quality bird. If it is an outcrossed pigeon that has been a consistent racer and we want to consider breeding from it, then we will try to find another bird that is related to this pigeon.
In the end, there is only one standard for choosing breeding stock, and that standard is success in the racing performances. Pigeons that cost virtually nothing can have good racing performances and can be valuable from a breeding point of view. Other pigeons that cost many thousands have great racing records are also probably valuable for breeding, but only in the right combinations. If a supremely valuable pigeon is not paired properly, it won’t produce good pigeons. So keep in mind that the value of the birds you select as breeders lies more in how you pair them than in anything else.