If you’ve been in the pigeon game for any length of time you’ll know by now that having an understanding of what to (generally) look for when pairing pigeons is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to breeding racing pigeons and optimizing for quality while getting the best out of what you have.
In all honesty if you want to stand any kind of chance as a competitive flyer it is essential you not only keep accurate loft and pedigree records but also have some sort of breeding plan in place. That can be as thorough as you like, at the end of the day you choose how much effort you want to put into the sport.
This article will touch upon some of the most common breeding methods and practices. The aim is to give you an idea of what is involved without a heavy science lesson. That said, if you want to really delve into your own research there will be some links and references for further reading.
Before you go on it would be advisable to view our post about what qualities to look for in a pigeon especially if you are brand new or would like quick a refresher.
The reason we stress proper knowledge of identifying optimal physical traits in a pigeon is because pairing pigeons to produce success takes the combination of:
a) the knowledge you gain from the bird’s pedigree, and
b) your experience and ability as a fancier in being able to judge everything you can from the outward and physical condition of the bird – you need to know what to look for.
c) a better understanding of what you’re actually looking at or handling may give further insight into identifying common traits in your pigeons through the generations.
Essentially a pigeon with an immaculate ‘looking’ pedigree but a poor body, physical structure, appearance etc., is most likely a no good pigeon that may have a significantly higher chance of passing on crap.
This is not always the case but your best bet is to always be ‘on guard’, especially if you’re looking at pigeons to buy. You might think of it as being a balancing act between the pedigree and the reality of what you have in front of you to work with.
Considerations When Pairing Up
Providing you are familiar with the core underlying traits of quality pigeons and how you might judge them let’s go further into some more things to keep in mind when pairing or matching pigeons to breed.
Here are a few basic points (keep in mind these are not set in stone):
- Often preferable to match short distance birds with short and long with long
- Size of the birds; ideally the cock and hen will be of similar size (John Halstead)
- From the same general family or bloodline, i.e. Janssens/Busschaerts
Now we will talk about the methods you will be putting into practice when breeding racing pigeons, namely line-breeding, cross-breeding and inbreeding, and how each of these relate and may be used in conjunction with one-another.
Otherwise known as the cornerstone of selective breeding, line-breeding in racing pigeons essentially involves breeding around usually a single pigeon, but sometimes an original pair, in an effort to cultivate and increase the potential of reproducing the favorable traits associated with the original genetics you are line-breeding around.
Additionally, by line-breeding as opposed to cross-breeding (more on that later) we are seeking to maintain the qualities of the original bird rather than diluting it down, or (crucially) adding to it.
Line-breeding in pigeon racing as it’s talked about and practiced today, is actually a form of inbreeding (to a certain degree) and as such is often mistaken as being one in the same thing, this is understandable.
Len Vanderline mentions the following in an article,
“In its true form a breeding line can be traced back to a single champion bird, whereas most so called line-bred pigeons are bred around a number of related birds and by the very definition these are in-bred birds”.
Line-breeding Vs Inbreeding
We can not refute the above statement so in order to alleviate any confusion met when defining what line-breeding of pigeons really entails and how it relates to inbreeding. Instead of trying to point out what makes inbreeding different from line-breeding, it is much simpler to accept line-breeding as a form of inbreeding with the difference being to what extent or degree a bird is inbred.
For example, father to daughter or mother to son, we may consider to be ‘extreme inbreeding’ while pairing half brother to half sister on the other hand is a lesser form of inbreeding and will most likely take place as we seek to maintain our chosen bloodline through our line-breeding process.
Example of Line-breeding
Below is an example of line-breeding through 3 generations of pairing an original Male to his best daughter (extremely inbred).
That was taken from Dave Shewmaker’s article (part 1) all about line-breeding in pigeons. The whole thing is a 2 part pdf that goes into a lot of depth on the topic. If you’re interested we’d advise taking a look and perhaps printing it out to read at your own leisure. Here you can find a list of all of Dave’s articles.
Cross-breeding or out-crossing, as it’s sometimes known, is basically when we mate pigeons of a different strain, usually with no common ancestors in the previous 5 generations.
We may be looking to introduce new genes into the pool or simply want to breed more dynamic birds with increased vitality.
“A crossing of two different bloodlines tends to result in more dynamic youngsters with increased vitality.” – Gallez Jules
That said, at the same time we must be sure that the genes we introduce have the best chance possible of improving the existing gene pool rather than hindering or diluting it. For this reason again, proper loft management and recording keeping must be emphasized.
When introducing new blood you might think of the initial round of youngsters as prototypes that need to be ‘stress’ tested before you really accept the new pair of breeders into your stock loft or long-term strategy.
Let’s say you breed 3 or 4 youngsters from the same crossed pair, now look at them as a collective unit, how these birds do as a whole will tell you a lot about the ‘overall’ effectiveness of a breeding pair. The testing might take place during training or young bird racing.
You have to ask yourself if getting one decent pigeon out of 4 is really that positive an outcome for the ‘test pair’, especially if the cock bird you’re breeding from has great breeding himself with results in his own right and a clear family history of successful ancestors.
Some fanciers like to ‘split test’ the same cock with multiple hens simultaneously. This is a very quick way to test out multiple pairings (and hens) but you run the risk of spreading yourself (and the cock bird) thin, and perhaps only allowing him to produce 1 or 2 youngsters with a specific hen in the process which alone may not yield enough data to properly test that pair’s compatibility.
An interesting point to make here is the combination of both of the above strategies by first casting a wide net, i.e. split testing the same cock with multiple hens to yield a few prototypes and then testing these out. Providing you see some clear potentials you then proceed to breed quite a few more from that same cock and hen combination and do a second round of testing being sure to look at the group as a whole as well as each bird individually in your considerations moving forward.
As stated previously, inbred pigeons tend to have poor vitality and are more prone to sickness.
John Halstead mentions that he tries to keep a line-breeding theme in his breeding and goes on to state he rarely inbreeds pigeons too closely, though “half brother and half sister may be considered”.
While the issues of vitality and sickness are clear, what is also apparent though is that when used correctly, inbreeding seems almost central to the success of many champion fanciers, playing an underlying role in many breeding plans and strategies.
So far we’ve covered how inbreeding relates to line-breeding and determined that it is indeed a tool for success providing it is used correctly and controlled. Now we will consider how pure or extreme inbreeding itself might be used as part of a potential long-game strategy.
There are cases in which very close inbreeding is used to create pigeons bred with specific genes solely for stock, generations down the line. Almost as if the later generations are being primed or engineered to be ‘Super Breeders’ ahead of time.
Let’s examine this idea a bit closer with a very simple chart showing inbreeding within just one generation followed by an example real-life case.
In the chart below we can see that inbreeding between the ‘original cock bird’ and his best daughter yields us with reliable carriers of the original cock’s genes albeit low vitality birds. As such these pigeons are not to be raced nor judged on any kind of performance.
We then cross-breed those with birds from a completely different strain to produce dynamic youngsters with good vitality and a very good probability of carrying the desirable genetics from our original cock.
The concept shown above is a much simpler breakdown inspired by an interesting piece written by Steven van Breemen. In his article Steven explains how he created ‘super breeders’ originating from a pigeon called Old Klaren from De Smet-Matthijs.
Steven did this through numerous generations (over a period of 25 years!) in which he paired the grandchildren of Old Klaren with each other. He then paired these grandchildren with his next generation of direct Klaren inbreds creating his so-called ‘Super Breeders’. He then went on to cross these pigeons with other strains, he mentions Janssen’s as being the best combination for him though he tested numerous pairings.
Thank you for reading this far, in truth we’ve really only scratched the surface here but hopefully this article has given you a bit of insight into what breeding for success in pigeon racing really involves. If you want to learn in more detail you might take a look at a few of the references linked in this article, and if you really want to go deep into the genetics side of things we highly suggest taking a look at this website as a potential starting point.
It takes a lot of time, study, testing, planning and perhaps above all patience to do really well in this sport. A successful loft that produces consistent results is built up over many many years.
If you have any tips on how we could improve this article, any suggestions or topics you’d like to see please contact us via our contact page or leave a comment below.