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What is Condition?...
Author: Old HandTitle: What is Condition?
Date: 2005-01-04 14:21:10Uploaded by: webmaster
I happened to be standing among a group of fanciers at a show when one of those present popped this question. I wish you could have seen the expressions on the faces of the fanciers, and sampled the stoney-like silence that greeted the query. "What is meant by 'condition'?" the asker repeated, obviously delighted by the consternation he had caused. 'Come on, you experts, why don't you give me the proper answer?'

There was no doubt that the asker was deliberately goading the experienced fanciers among us. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

'Don't ask me,' piped up one of those present. 'I'm an outright novice with only five minutes of experience behind me!' Then eyes began to swivel in the direction of the four 'Aces' who up until that moment had tended to lead and dominate the conversation. As in all other spheres, those with little experience tend to look up to and defer to the acknowledged veteran. One of the four Aces, goaded beyond measure, at last dared to give a reply. 'I define 'condition' in racing pigeons,' he said, with his chin jutting, 'as being in that state in which every animal must be in order to perform satisfactorily any arduous task which may be demanded of it!' He paused to study each face and to learn from the expression of his audience whether they thought he had said the right thing, and had said it well.

'Couldn't put it any better than that myself,' I said, although I thought that he had done well to come up with such a good definition. Questions shot at fanciers without warning, demanding answers off the cuff, can often be confusing and daunting, yet given a few moments in which to wrestle with the query, any problem can be solved. It then occurred to me that the biggest disadvantage any novice labours under is that of not knowing what 'condition' looks like and when a racing pigeon has it on him. How does he tell? I've done a lot of thinking along these lines, asking myself over and over again, 'What is condition?' I always end up by giving myself the same old answer. 'The symptom, like the effect, is always in the plumage!' I wonder how many fanciers are going to disagree with me on this subject?

If I want to recognise a bird that is in 'condition' I look at its plumage and note the extra high polish of the shine given off by the sheen on the bird's neck and throat; I see the 'bloom' laying like a layer of finely ground French chalk over its back and on its feather. I see the outline, sketched in 'grease', of the upper primary where it overlaps the one beneath and I want my fingers to confirm the evidence of my own eyes so I put my fingers and thumb under the bird's wing and try and detect, by touch, that greasy condition of the feather that is indivisible from 'racing form' or, if you prefer it, 'condition.'

A bright eye does not always tell the truth! One day I looked into one of those much-praised 'bright eyes' and thought I saw in the glitter of the iris that which was not gold at all but the horrid and heightened glaze of fever. But the condition of the plumage never lies. If the bird is abundantly fit - not just well but super-fit - the plumage will tell the story clearly, plainly, so that those who know what they are looking for can seek and find it. It is a pity that novices don't make this search after 'condition' their very first priority because once seen and understood no one can ever again fail to see 'condition'.

Birds of 'good condition' keep their coverts tight and flat so that the surface area of the wing, for instance, looks like a marbled flat and hard surface with never a feather out of place, or raised and bearing the outward appearance of a feather. Instead, one is presented with the fascinating view of a beautiful silk counterpane that radiates fitness along with its great beauty.

If you take up one of your birds, and you hold it against the surface of your jacket, something should happen. What? The bird's plumage should deposit a mass of white 'bloom' on the cloth of your coat. If you look down at the cloth and find that it has collected nothing from the contact, then you may be quite sure that the bird is sick and ailing. Fit pigeons make clouds and clouds of white 'bloom' with which to adorn their plumage and it should pass from them to you, on contact. The 'bloom' should whiten your fingers when you have held a pigeon and if the pigeon tends to shake itself after you have put it down, the air around it should be loaded with a cloud of 'bloom'. Watch the bird if it steps into the bath. When it leaves the bath the surface of the water should be covered by the spreading dust of the 'bloom'.

I once read an article in the pigeon press, written by a well-known fancier, who went to some pains in pointing out that the 'condition' of a show racer was different from that of the working racer pigeon. He referred to 'the high gloss' of the show racer and the 'matt finish' of the racer, thereby artfully suggesting that the condition put on by both types was different, that it was better in the show racer than in the actual, genuine article. My reaction to the above writer was that it is a thousand pities such eminent fanciers should write so much nonsense. There can only be one kind of top condition in any species of pigeon because 'condition' is merely a term for 'bouncing good health.' High gloss and matt finish! Sheer baloney!

The 'greasy' feel that one can find beneath the wing is also apparent to the fingertips when holding a bird that has mounted to the dizzy heights of 'condition.' While I repudiate 'high gloss' and 'matt finish' I must also agree that there must be degrees of fitness, or 'condition.' In other words, some pigeons achieve a stratum of 'condition', which others never rival. These are the supremely fit pigeons, those whose metabolism is capable of exceeding the average. Hence my reference to the 'greasy' plumage feeling which is given off by the superior pigeons, those who are of the highest degree.

In another article, written by another fancier, but on a similar subject, I was informed that 'condition' is the sole product of specialised feeding. I deny this and I deny it with vigour. 'Condition' in racing pigeons is not the product of a single factor but the end reward of many, after they have been made to operate in unison. No one can deny that the diet must be part of the package deal which we call 'condition.' I would say it is essentially the second thing to be considered.

Only the second? Yes! The second! The first thing is to be sure that the bird is housed in a hygienic and well-ventilated interior and that it has been provided with a wire-mesh aviary into which it can go whenever it wishes to take the air, or have and feel the rain falling on its back. One of the reasons why it can be so difficult to settle ('break') an old pigeon to a new loft is because the bird is denied access to rain on its back whenever it wishes. It is imperative that the conditions inside the loft are manifestly contributing to the bird's state of health before coming to the subject of the diet.

I do not intend to use my remaining space on a discourse on dieting so I will take it for granted that the novice can, by taking up one of my works, select the kind of diet which I have described, and he knows, is best calculated to bring the bird into condition. However, first find the 'conditions' in the loft and make sure that the bird is getting plenty of room and an abundance of breathing space. I know of more than one great national flyer who, when conditioning his birds for a national race, removes every bird from the loft which is not a national candidate, purely to provide more breathing space for the birds he is trying to 'condition.'

If I were asked to name the important factors in conditioning racing pigeons, other than housing and feeding, I would name 'specifics' and training. Why? You can look hard at a pigeon and then swear that it is 100% fighting fit, only to wake up next morning and on your first visit to the loft discover that the pigeon is ailing. You can say that with Homo sapiens there are only a handful of common ailments that attack either the young or older version of the human being. That is because modern medicine and hygienic environments have held at bay a number of ailments that were common enough a couple of hundred years ago. One cannot say me same thing for the racing pigeon. Even the greatest champion can contract one of these causes of illness and it can also die from it. Most of the bacteria that create complaints are brought into the loft by agencies other than the pigeons themselves, and in spite of all you might have done to preserve hygienic conditions that favour the birds, the odds are in favour of the bacteria, not of your attempts to fend it off!

It is with the above in mind that I suggest to the novice he is unlikely to succeed in his task of putting 'condition' on his pigeons if they go and contract an ailment, or a disease. An accident of this kind can ruin the work of weeks and months. But why let it happen? A number of ailments and diseases are brought into the loft on the backs, and in the saliva, of parasites. Novices should remember that it was the saliva of the flea that infested the back of the black rat which infected their victims with bubonic plague. Therefore, in 1348 AD it was the tiny but voracious flea that destroyed half the population of England. Diseases carried by the numerous parasites that attack racing pigeons can also decimate the inhabitants of a pigeon loft. Therefore, it is up to the novice to use the kind of specifics which kill all and every kind of external parasites. Remember, all of these parasites are not insects so that specifics sold as 'insecticides' will deter only a section of the range of parasites that attack your birds and live on their blood.

The worst offender is undoubtedly the mite family. There are in the blood of racing pigeons, and often in their internal tracts, residual bacteria which are in what I term a state of 'hibernation'. Take canker, for instance. The germs that causes this nasty pigeon disease are known as the 'trichomonas' and residual but hibernating examples can be found in most pigeons, However, in spite of the presence of this germ in its body, a pigeon can be brought into a high state of fitness always provided nothing happens to wake the hibernating germ from its unharmful sleep. However, only a slight change in temperature (upwards) or some other little factor can cause the residual bacteria to become active and begin to procreate and multiply their numbers. This can happen almost overnight. For this reason I treat my race candidates with an anti-canker specific on the day they are first mated and I keep up the treatment by applying it once per month throughout the season. I do this on the assumption that it is much better to prevent a catastrophe than to try and overcome it when it has descended on the loft and caused havoc.

Any fancier who allows his pigeons to root in the earth, even on a lawn, know that his birds are bound to pick up and contract roundworms. No one owns a special sort of pigeon that does not have roundworms because no such species exist. Pigeons with worms can't win races, so be warned!

Perhaps the most pernicious, disgusting and horrible parasite that ever gets inside a racing pigeon and destroys it is the cocci worm. This pest is known as 'coccidiosis' and it kills more pigeons than anything, or anyone, including fanciers. Yet it can be knocked down and destroyed by the attention of just one specific tablet, in a matter of minutes!

I could carry on in this style but I have achieved my end if I have reminded the novice of what is expected of him by way of pigeon management, if he hopes to bring his racers into winning 'condition'. The old theory that all you need is a shed, some birds, a drinker and a handful of mixed grains, in order to be a pigeon fancier, is just a pipedream. As any reader of these notes must have realised, there is more to keeping and racing pigeons than wishful thinking. The road to success calls for a deal of hard work, very keen attention to the birds, and an intelligent approach to pigeon health.

Nor am I proposing to enter into an argument about training racing pigeons. Of all the chores a fancier has to face and carry out, none is more onerous, time-consuming, or costly, than that of training the birds. Yet to give up regular training is voluntarily to yield up the prizes and pools and to lose your pigeons because they have not developed the muscle and the stamina called for by the job. If a boxer refuses to train his manager is obligated to report him to the British Boxing Board of Control and that boxer is then called to order. If a footballer doesn't attend his home stadium for daily training stints, he is soon sent packing. Athletes must train because there is no alternative.

At this juncture of our treatise on 'condition' I feel obliged to point out another salient factor in athleticism. One does not start to be an athlete when one has become an adult, that is, if one covets any success. One starts when one is very young, especially if one has had the good fortune to have a professional for a parent. If one's object is to make muscle then the manufacture of this elastic-flesh must be carried out from the time when the body is still growing. Athleticism will assist the growth of the muscle but it will make very little difference to it once the body has reached its growing peak and is starting down on the reverse slope. So, remember that athleticism must begin when the pigeons are young, only a few weeks old, in fact.

Another thing to bear in mind is that a pigeon is made, or broke, in its first three months of life and that its future is decided by the time it is six months old. Therefore, training is essential while the bird is still a squeaker and if it is to do the bird any good at all it must be continuous. Fanciers who 'can't afford to train' can't afford to be fanciers, unless they just wish to sit and look at their birds and nothing else. And that's the rub!

Old Hand

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