When it comes down to it, breeding racing pigeons for success takes dedication, knowledge, time, testing and perhaps above all, patience. Of course, a little bit of luck sprinkled on top doesn’t hurt.
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.
This page and subpages of content are all aimed at guiding you through the breeding process.
While there is no sure fire way to guarantee outstanding youngsters, quality shows, to a certain degree, in the physical form of a bird.
Proper knowledge of identifying optimal physical traits in a pigeon is important because pairing pigeons to produce success takes the combination of:
- the knowledge you gain from the bird’s pedigree and
- 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.
- 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 will unlikely pass on anything worthwhile.
Grading a pigeon
Below are a few of the most basic things to look at when judging pigeons and choosing breeders.
It’s important to note there are many other contributing factors involved in producing a winner but these should serve as a solid starting point as you get your bearings.
- The body:
- Strong back and pectoral muscles
- Tail orientation – neither left nor right leaning and should be aligned to be almost like one feather
- The body shape – a perfect pear (tilted forward weight)
- Should have a degree of “tenseness” indicating good oxygen supply.
- Size of the bird – medium size may be preferable
- The wings
- Primary flights shouldn’t be too wide and there should be a step up between the 4th and 5th.
- Last flights should be rounded slightly, not like scissors
- Small feathers should be on top and uniformed
- Feather quality – silky and smooth
- Eye – ideally strong but be careful when judging eyes as they can often be misleading
- Breast colour – a rose pink with almost translucent layer of skin comparable to clingfilm, very clean and not scaly:
- Too dark means wrong feeding - too much protein, or not enough oxygen
- Too light means no condition (for whatever reason)
Here’s a short clip from John Halsteads Breeding, Feeding, and Tactics to Win Races in which John talks about the physical aspects he looks for in a breeding pigeon.
The late Frank Tasker placed a lot of emphasis on the throat theory, as do many other top flyers.
Essentially the theory claims that a bad or poorly-formed throat may indicate subpar respiratory capacity in a pigeon.
Throat judgment is based primarily on the fleshy curtain in the upper portion of the throat at the back, but the overall colour of the throat is also considered and should ideally be a light rosy pink.
When judging the curtain, the line in the centre should be as straight as possible, the less visible the better. Additionally, the more symmetrical the left and right sides of the curtain are, the better.
A poor throat, for example, may have too wide a line, be positioned at a wrong angle or creased.
If a pigeon has had a bad race it will show in the throat curtain as a “fret” mark. If the stress has been considerable the throat curtain will be wide open indicating the pigeon’s racing days are done.
Also, be on the lookout for horizontal lines across the curtain often seen during the racing season. These can be hard to notice but indicate stress and are not a good sign, however, by winter, after the moult, these lines should be gone. If noticeable lines can still be seen it may be better not to race or breed from the bird again.
Throats are graded on a points based system from 1 to 10, 10 being the best.
When selecting breeders it is especially important that cocks have a high score, ideally a 10. You may be more lenient with hens aiming for a 7 or 8 to give a combined score for the pair of 17 or so.
Here's an example of how a points based system may look:
- 10 points = line in the middle is the width of a human hair and should generally be straight but there may be a slight curve depending on how you hold the bird.
- 9 points = line in the middle twice as wide as a 10 pointer.
- 8 points = line in the middle twice as wide as a 9 with an obvious gap but as long as it's straight the bird still has potential.
Considerations when pairing up
Providing you are familiar with the core underlying physical traits associated with a "good" pigeon and how you might judge them, let’s go further into some more things to consider when pairing or matching pigeons to breed.
Here are a few basic points (keep in mind these are not set in stone):
- It's often preferable to match short distance birds with short and long with long. Ad Schaerlaeckens mentions that pairing long distance birds with sprint birds will yield “poor or average birds”.
- Size of the birds – ideally the cock and hen will be of similar size. (John Halstead)
- Old hens should not be considered but old cocks are acceptable providing they are fertile.
- Good to good – it doesn’t matter what “strain” the pigeons are from.
As with selective breeding in any (or most) species of animals, there are a few well-documented methodologies that can be put into practice when breeding racing pigeons, namely, line-breeding, inbreeding and crossbreeding.
Once you have acquired more first-hand knowledge and experience as a fancier you may want to start experimenting with these different breeding methods to get the most out of the pigeons you have purchased.
Prior to pairing up, the breeding pigeons need to be prepared to ensure eggs are filled properly and the whole process is smoother.
These preparations should take place 3-4 weeks before pairing up, so if you’re breeding in mid December start preparing in November.
Firstly, it's important to test and if necessary treat the pigeons for any diseases such as trichomoniasis and coccidiosis. Preventative medications can interfere with fertility so any treatment has to be done ideally a month in advance. Another important protocol is testing for salmonella, especially if any foreign pigeons have been introduced into the loft.
Aside from disease, another important factor is how you feed the breeders. See our page on feeding and nutrition for more information.
Frequently asked questions
How long does it take a pigeon to lay an egg?
After pairing pigeons, the first egg usually comes along within ten days, providing the weather isn’t too cold. This is often followed by another a couple of days later. If fertile, the eggs hatch after around 18 to 20 days.
How to tell if an egg is fertile?
After an egg has been laid wait 5-7 days and shine a light through it. If you see spidery veins developing then the egg is fertile.