We race the cocks on the classical widowhood system, it is an easy system that does not require a lot of time and it suits us due to our time constraints in the spring. We also race with widowhood hens, their partners stay home. All the race birds are mated at the same time as our breeders, usually the middle to end of February.
We breed young birds of about half our racing team. The others will get eggs from the breeders. Most pairs will raise 2 young birds until they are about 12 days old, then the hen with 1 young bird is moved to the young bird loft with. We do not want the race birds to have a 2nd set of eggs at that time since that will trigger an early start of the moult. All cocks keep 1 young and they raise it till the young birds are about 23/24 days old, then those young birds are also moved to the young bird loft. While they finish raising the young the widowhood cocks start their loft exercises. The racing hens will go to their section when the young birds are around 10/11 days old, the cocks will continue to feed them and the hens will go in once a day for a couple of hours after their loft exercise and after the cocks have fed the young, therefore limiting the stress on the hens but also keeping them from mating.
The widowhood cocks are mated up again about 2 weeks before the 1st race and get shipped to the 1st race, at that time sitting on eggs for about 4-5 days, they go on widowhood the evening after the 1st race. When mated again they will get their road training. Once the races start we do not road train anymore except for birds that miss a race, those will get a training toss of between 70 and 110 km depending on conditions. As a rule we do not show the hens on shipping night, we do not have the time to bring in the hens and we like to ship the cocks as calm as possible. The hens are always in the nest box when the cocks arrive home from the race.
The widowhood hens are not mated again, their road training will also start approximately 2 weeks before the first race. The hens are let into the nest section on shipping night.
We use the light to heavy feeding program, when they arrive from the races they will get some light digestible high carbohydrate feed and in the evening they get a good feeding. The next 2 days they are fed a light mix and then gradually back to the regular mix.
Unless we suspect a health problem, we stay away from medication, the only scheduled treatment is with B.S. (for 3-4 days) after the 1st or 2nd race .
B.S. is a Dutch product from Belgica deWeerd which is very effective against cocci, canker and hexamitiasis.
We race our young birds on the darkening system. A big misconception about the darkening system is that you have to breed early, nothing could be further from the truth, young birds that are weaned up to about 9-10 weeks before the 1st race are easily old enough to still go on the darkening system.
Our young birds are generally weaned at the age of 23/24 days and start on the darkening system about 3 weeks after weaning. They will start to drop a few flights but that makes no difference to racing and it will give them a much better chance tom finish in the fall. Once they are on the dark system they are in the dark from +/- 5pm till 8am, that gives them about 9 hours in the light, during their light period they have free access to go outside into the flight cage, we believe it is very important that they can get out into the sun as much as possible.
While on the darkening they are fed once a day with our breeding mix, at that time we add about one cup of flaxseed for 60 young birds. They are fed after their morning exercise, which is usually about an hour.
Once they have finished their body moult, their feeding changes to 50% mix and 50% barley for the next 2 weeks, this will usually get them loft flying really good, if not, the 3rd week will be at about 75% barley.
We usually keep them on the darkening system until about 2 ½ -3 weeks before the 1st race, this way they stay in excellent feather condition for the whole racing season.
Most years we do not start road training till about 2 ½ weeks before the 1st race, this is actually too late to get them going real strong for the 1st two races but those 160 and 195km races are not the interesting races for us, we prefer races of around 300km to 600km.
Before we start the road training the young birds are put in shipping baskets for 2-3 days to teach them to eat and drink in the shipping baskets.
Once the road training starts we go every day weather permitting, we start with 2-3 tosses from 10km, then 2-3 tosses from 20km, then 3-4 tosses from 40km, then a couple at 70 to 90km. Once the races have started we usually give them 1 toss a week two days before the scheduled race date from between 70 and 90km depending on what we feel they need.
We usually separate the sexes after either the 1st or 2nd race and are then raced separated the rest of the season. We do not let them together before shipping, after arriving home from the race they do usually stay together till the following morning.
Once the races start they go every weekend. They are fed the same way as the widowhood cocks from light to heavy.
One of the most important aspects of racing young birds successfully is health, healthy young birds just want to fly, if you have to force your birds to fly there is likely something wrong. You have to start with top quality bloodlines that have natural health, trying to get and keep them healthy with medication is only a temporary solution and will not work for long. We do give them 1 scheduled treatment with B.S. the same as the widowhood cocks after the 1st or 2nd race, after that we try to stay away from medicating and only use it if we feel it is needed.
SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q. Do these darkened young birds finish the flight moult?
A. Most do, there is the odd one that does not but I don’t really worry about whether they finish or not. I have not noticed any difference in the performance whether they carried 1 or 2 old flights or not.
Q. Do they race well as yearlings?
A. Some people feel that young birds that were darkened do not race as well as yearlings, I feel there is no difference, some do think that if they were too long (number of weeks) on the darkening system as young birds it may affect their performance as a yearling. I expect them to race well as yearlings but may not be as consistent as your good 2-3 year olds, if your yearlings are consistently better than your 2, 3 or 4 year olds, you either have a very good yearling or your old birds are not up to par.
Q. What would you say is the most important factor in the success of your young bird racing?
A. A consistent system, do not change much, and all the other regular things like, quality birds, feed etc. also cull any birds with bad habits.
Q. Do you have any special ventilation in your young bird loft? That seems to be a problem for many who try darkening lofts too closed up and then have respiratory problems.
A. We do not have any specialized ventilation system, there are 2 sections of 7’x 6’ and they have 32 (cock section) and 50 (hen section) box perches, the most young birds we will have per section is 25/30, enough room is a good start. The ceiling can be opened up 2 feet but when darkening it’s closed down to 2 to 4 inches, there is an air inlet of 4’ft x 4 inches in each section in the front wall at floor level and this keeps the air circulating good without having a draft. The air inlets are hooded to prevent too much light from coming in and also to keep the wind from directly blowing in. This system has been very good for us so far, if you feel that you do not have enough ventilation, you could consider installing some sort of electrical fans like bathroom fans.
Q. How dark is your loft when it is darkened?
A. It is not totally dark, once your eyes have somewhat adjusted you can easily see the birds and can read large print. Birds can and will go down for a drink.
Q. How many tosses do you give before the 1st race?
A. Since we usually start late (2 to 2 ½ weeks before the 1st race) the most we have ever had was 11, most years it’s 9 or 10.
Q. How long will your young birds exercise for, once the races start?
A. Usually only 20 to 30 minutes at the start of the week when we are feeding them light and will increase to 1 / 1 ½ hours later in the week as we start to build them up for the next race, also the way they exercise is more important than length, for example, near the end of the week when I open the widows to let them out, I better get out of the way, they will burst out of the loft and do not even circle , they disappear in a semi straight line and are gone for 45 min. to an hour, that is 100x better then flying little circles around the loft.
Q. Do you force to keep them up? Separate times for hens and cocks?
A. If your young birds (and old) are healthy they want to fly, if they refuse there is likely a problem somewhere. We do not flag them, at the start we may throw a ball the odd time so they discover that they can fly, the ones that do not want to fly (lazy, bad habit) are eliminated.
After we have separated them, after the 1st or 2nd race they are exercised separate , 1st the cocks and then the hens, we have noticed that the hens sometimes go a little stupid (seem to scare themselves) and we have had them fly for 5 to 7 hours.
Q. On the toss, the day before shipping, are they or are they not allowed to mix?
A. Normally we do not allow them to mix, Linda usually takes them for the toss and I chase the cocks in as soon as they get home, then move them into their own section before the hens arrive, it does sometimes happen that they mix but it does not seem to affect the results any, it is just more work separating them again.