|Author: Liam O Comain||Title: The Sport Of Pigeon Racing - An Introduction For The Non Fancier|
|Date: 2005-02-27 14:24:41||Uploaded by: webmaster|
The modern racing pigeon is descended from the species called the Rock Dove. In fact, the modern bird, to be more accurate, is a dove rather than a pigeon, and is not a relation of the wood or stock pigeon.
Ancient man would have seen the dove's fanatical attachment to its home, and therefore, tamed it not as a pet but as a message carrier. Although the Hebrews and the ancient Sumerians used the bird as a sacrifice in their religious ceremonies, the ancient Romans used it to carry messages during the period of empire building.
As the Romans conquered most of Europe Belgium and a part of Holland comprised the base camp for their legions. The principle camp was in the Netherlands (Holland), the nerve centre of ancient Gaul and research confirms that in this region there existed lofts of pigeons for their aerial post.
Thus fortune played its part in that Holland would share in the development of the racing pigeon. That is why the specific development of the sport in Belgium in the 19th century to the extent of becoming a national sport is due in some measure to the Dutch and the Romans in ancient times.
For their national sport, the Belgians have an almost fanatical passion. In fact, it is a major industry in that country and the modern racer is developed from the Flemish Smerle. Since its origins in 1830, long before fanciers elsewhere had accomplished three hundred miles, the Belgians had conquered the massive distances from Rome, Madrid, and Corsica.
Speculation about its origins is as fascinating as some of the theories on its homing instinct, but certain facts emerge that cannot be overlooked, the racing pigeon was produced like all thoroughbred stock from the best endurance champions of the day.
Here I must refer to the feral or ‘common pigeon’ which we encounter in the streets of our cities and towns. The latter is distinct from the racing pigeon although an odd lost racer maybe seen in the ferals’ company, especially in the aftermath of a hard race against the elements.
The racer will be identified by a small ring on his leg. If it has been lost in a race, it will also have another ring made of rubber. The first ring, made of aluminium, contains its year of birth and a personal identification number. The ring will also contain the initials of the national organization in which country the bird was born. In Ireland - IHU are the initials for the Irish Homing Union. This ring has to be placed on the young pigeon’s leg (known as a squab or a squeaker) no later than seven days from hatching. Otherwise, it will not possess an identification ring and be unsuitable for racing. Some squeakers develop so quickly they have to be rung at 5 or 6 days otherwise it is impossible to place the ring over the foot.
The presence of a rubber ring implies that it was in a race. On the evening prior to a race each pigeon is given a rubber ring containing a series of numbers allocated to it specifically. This takes place at an agreed venue or at a pigeon club’s headquarters when pigeons are ‘basketed’. This number is recorded on a race sheet along with the pigeon’s number on its aluminium ring. When the latter arrives from a race the rubber ring is removed and placed in a small shuttle and then deposited into a tamper proof racing clock which time stamps the pigeons arrival.
As they meet prior to sending the birds via official pigeon transporters to their place of liberation, the member’s race clocks’ are synchronized with a master clock, which is an official time source. After the race is over the fanciers return to their club or agreed meeting place with their automatic timing clocks where they are giving a final time stamp to synchronize with the master timer. This helps to calibrate in the event of a clock being fast or slow. Then each clock is opened.
To decide the winner of a particular race the club secretary must possess the exact measurements of each member, i.e. the distance from the point of liberation to the member’s pigeon loft. The secretary must also have the longitude and the latitude of the race points for each member. This requirement is based upon commissioning a professional survey to determine the latter. He or she must also have the exact time of the release at the race points. Thus with distance in yards and the flying time in minutes the average velocity can be calculated. Therefore, the fancier with the fastest average velocity wins the race.
But the joy or the rewards of racing is not the be all and the end all of the sport. The spring of the year offers one the opportunity of mating a female (hen) with a male (cock) for the purpose of breeding. Indeed, the aspect of breeding is a source of much interest for the fancier. And there are many who are in the sport for this alone. Racing is silver and breeding is golden for many as the saying goes.
And one can understand this for it is a source of joy to see eggs hatching after approximately 18 days with the birth of two young who are destined for training and racing. Each will grow to a weight of approximately one pound and 12 to 13 inches in length. The wing span will be about 20 to 24 inches in length and yet this small bundle will battle against the elements after being liberated from distances up to and beyond one thousand miles.
Prior to the racing weeks of the fancier’s year, baskets of birds will be released in training exercises. This is of vital importance in order to bring the birds into ‘form’ for racing and to ensure the removal of any metaphorical cobwebs from their brains which may have arisen during autumn and winter.
There is also the important training of young birds for the races which start in July. In some cases, this begins when the young are merely three months old. These must be handled carefully for a fancier’s future breeding and racing depends upon the young of that year.
As I draw to a close, I must emphasize that racing pigeons must be kept in what the fancier calls ‘a loft’. The name derives from the fact that in Belgium pigeon fanciers kept their birds in the loft spaces of their homes. This abode must be well ventilated and free from dampness. Each pigeon must have enough space and perches where they can sit. For breeding the fancier must provide nest boxes. The latter can be temporary or a permanent feature of the loft. The loft also must have an entrance aside from a door, the latter is referred to as ‘a trap’ and it allows a one-way entrance from the outside to the interior by the pigeons.
It is also important to ensure at least a weekly bath for the stock and above all a daily supply of clean water and corn of good quality plus grit for the eating process. And, as for people cleanliness is a virtue for the thoroughbreds of the sky. In no way must their hygiene be neglected.
Where I live, in Ireland, there are a few clubs as well as a Federation and many from different backgrounds and status enjoy the sport. In fact, Derry fanciers have clocked pigeons on the day from French race points at distances exceeding five hundred miles. Again, think about it! A little bundle being released in France at approximately 7am on a Saturday morning and arriving in Derry after crossing two seas plus hundreds of miles of land to its loft at approximately seven thirty that night. What a thrill!!!
In concluding this brief introduction to the sport, I must add that there is a social aspect to the fancy. Events and functions are held which bring the members of the clubs and their families together. There are also the competitive showing of the racers during the winter months. Yes, pigeon racing is a sport for the young and the old, and in particular, for those of retirement and the third age.
Liam O Comain
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