The widowhood system is one of, if not, the most popular systems of racing pigeons and involves using the hen to motivate the cock bird through carefully controlled contact after racing or training chucks.
System for Racing Widowhood Cocks
Below is the widowhood system as implemented by John Murray, a UK fancier well-known for his success racing widowhood cocks.
The loft and nest box setup
Before attempting the widowhood system it is vital to make sure you have somewhere to put the hens that is completely separate from the cock birds, i.e. another section but preferably a separate loft of some kind. It’s very important that the cocks do not know where the hens are.
In their own loft/section, the hens are kept on grills in individual boxes to prevent them from pairing with each other. The hen boxes are cleaned out while the hens are in with the cocks at the end of each week ready for the start of the new week.
In the widowhood cock section, the type of nest boxes used are slightly different from the standard nest boxes.
The widowhood nest box
There are two compartments to each widowhood nest box, a compartment on the left for the nest bowl and a second compartment on the right for the cock bird with a partition in the middle that can be open or closed as required. This is so the hen can be locked in with the nest bowl and kept separate from the cock bird, therefore denying the cock and hen physical contact but still enabling them to bill and coo.
John’s modified version of the widowhood nest box varies slightly from the standard widowhood box in that the left compartment (with the nest bowl) is a fraction smaller than the right compartment. This allows for four sets of nest boxes to be placed side by side in a 6 foot section – the typical length of most garden loft sections.
Rather than using a communal feeder or drinker, each widowhood cock has a feeding pot and drinker on it’s own box as some of the cocks tend to bully the others.
Basketing for training and races
15 mins before basketing the cocks for training or races, the nest bowls are placed in the nest box with them. This signals that the hens will be there when the cocks return.
After basketing the cocks, the basket is covered with a sheet or a board to keep them calm and stop them fighting each other.
The hens are then put back in the loft ready for when the cocks return. The hens should fly to their respective boxes as fast as possible, being careful not to let them pair with each other as they will not be as keen for the cock birds.
Once the hens are on the bowls they are locked in the left compartment of the nest box with the bowl ready for the cocks.
The hens are offered some food in case they are hungry while waiting for the cock birds. It’s important that the hens aren’t looking for food when the cocks get back. The only thing the hen should be interested in is the cock bird.
After the cocks return
After the cocks get back they are allowed a 5 to 15 minute visit with their hen, for long distance races 3-4 hours or perhaps even overnight.
Ultimately, it’s up to the fancier when to allow physical contact and for how long. If you do want to allow a proper conjugal visit, open the partition to give both pigeons free roam of the widowhood box but keep them locked in the box.
After their visit, the hens are taken out of the widowhood section and each nest bowl is removed while being careful not to upset the cock. Nest bowls are never left in the box upside down or otherwise, as the cocks may think the hen is under the bowl.
Feeding regime for widowhood cocks
- On arrival from training: one desert spoon of widowhood mixture in the pot. Then a further desert spoon on a night if necessary.
- Saturday after returning from a race (1-2 pm): a desert spoon of golden boost mixed with hormoform. If hens are still in with the cocks then 2 spoons.
- Saturday night after race: each cock is given 2 desert spoons of 50/50 (50% widowhood, 50% depurative).
- Sunday: A desert spoon of 50/50 in the morning and 2 desert spoons of 50/50 in the evening.
- Weekday morning: 1 desert spoon of widowhood mixture.
- Weekday evening: 1 desert spoon of widowhood, if they eat all of it then another half desert spoon of widowhood.
- After 4 or 5 races at around 200 miles: on the night after the main feed, they are given 1 desert spoon of an energy mixture with lots of fats for longer distance races.
One week before racing, the pigeons are started on supplements in the drinking water, i.e. on Sunday.
Sunday/Monday (all day)
Pigeons are given either tranzform in the water (5ml to 2 liter) or Sedochol, along with 20ml of garlic juice to 1 litre water – this helps to promote the fall of the down feathers.
Only fresh water
Wednesday/Thursday (all day)
Given a tonic, either red cell or force 13. Red cell may be more preferable as pigeons seem to prefer it.
Clear fresh water and nothing else.
Saturday (returning from race)
Just fresh water. If it's early in the year and the water is cold add a bit of hot water.
Given an electrolyte or probiotic in the water such as vit-pre pro.
If the pigeons are performing well they are left alone, if not they are treated for diseases through a process of elimination (explained below).
Before starting pigeons on the widowhood system, all the widowhood cocks and hens are treated for canker and coccidiosis, using either 3 in 1 tablets from Harkers or the water-soluble alternative, Harkers 3 in 1 Soluble.
Sunday (day after racing)
As pigeons come under stress, canker tends to build up. If the pigeons are not performing, they are first treated for canker with a spartrix tablet. If results are still not as expected, they are given nazaline after a couple of weeks to clear mucus.