Jeff Lamberton 
Dr. John Lamberton
About the Global Sport of Racing Pigeons




I received an interesting email from a fancier in a country other than the USA who is returning to the Sport after a long lay off.  It is our understanding that the local fanciers generally race their young birds to the perch and race their old birds "naturally."  Most local fanciers race from 80 to 150 pigeons.  This new fancier has been reading our blogs and is very interested in racing a much smaller team on the classical widowhood motivational system.  However, the new fancier has some doubts about striking off in a completely new direction by racing a small team of pigeons on widowhood.  However, the new fancier thinks that it may take as many as 100 pigeons or more to be highly competitive in the demanding weather that is typical of the local environment.  The following blog is our response.  We have changed the name of the local town.  We hope you find it useful and interesting.

Thank you for your email.  It is totally understandable and predictable that you are influenced by members of the local club to play the game using the same system that they are using.  It will take incredible conviction and determination for you to break the historical stereotype that is prevalent in the local club.

Once upon a time, the world was thought to be flat.  Sailors would always warn other sailors not to sail too far near the edge of the world or they would fall off the earth and perish.  However, human history always has a way of changing sooner or later.  Eventually, some ship's captain who was either a dreamer, a rebel, certifiably crazy, or totally drunk decided to keep sailing when he reached what he thought was the edge of the world.  And a strange thing happened.  His ship never fell off of the earth.  The captain and his crew didn't perish.  The captain's courage or foolishness subsequently revealed that the world was round instead of flat.

It may be that pigeon racing in Smallsville is flat.  And it may, in fact, be flat.  It may actually take 80 to 150 pigeons to withstand the extreme weather in your area.  We have never been there.  It may be that the heat and the humidity of the local area requires more pigeons  than areas of the Sport that have a cooler climate.  But it is our belief that the world in Smallsville may actually be round.  We believe that a new fancier who practices the classical widowhood system will eventually dominate those fanciers who race the natural system or a system to the perch.  That's the way it has been all over the world.  Classical widowhood usually produces superior motivation each and every week of a race series while the natural system only produces peak motivational nest positions several times per race season.

But changing a culture takes great courage and conviction.  Because you are just getting back into the game, you will probably have many failures.  It may take you several years or more to establish a great breeding loft and a great old bird race team.  Every time you fail over the next few years, the locals may scoff at you, tease you and puff up their chests because they may think that your failures are justifying their historical beliefs.  They may think that you are foolish.  But if you remain steady to your game plan, sooner or later, we believe that you will change the fabric of the racing pigeon game in your area.

Let's evaluate the local system for a moment.  You say that your race season is usually 12 or 13 weeks long.  If there is only one race per weekend, you could race one new pigeon every week that is completely rested and need only 12 or 13 pigeons to race for the entire race series.  If there are two races per weekend, double the number of pigeons to 24 or 26 pigeons that are required to successfully complete the race series.  In no case do you need 80 to 150 pigeons to successfully complete a 12 or 13 week race series.  In Belgium, the four annual National races are two weeks apart beginning at the end of July.  The game theory for the National races in Belgium assumes that it takes about two weeks for most young birds to recover enough to race well again.  Even if you stretch the recovery time to three weeks, Belgian game theory assumes that a pigeon can be raced at least 4 times in a race series in Smallsville.  Consequently, if there is only one race per weekend, it would take a race team of about six pigeons to well race in 12 races assuming there is only one race per weekend and each pigeon is raced every two weeks.

Do us a favor, check the race results for any race season and inventory the first pigeon to the loft in each race for the best fancier in the area.  Compare that number with the total number of pigeons that the best fancier races.  150 pigeons cannot win 12 races or cannot be the first bird to the loft in 12 races.  80 pigeons cannot win or be the first bird home in 24 races.  It is mathematically impossible.  Only one pigeon can be the first bird home in each race during the race series.  Only one pigeon can win a race.  Assuming one race per weekend, it is our belief that the best fancier in Smallsville will actually have a small team of about 8 to 10 pigeons out of his total team of 80 to 150 pigeons that scored first for him during any race series.

You have a big decision to make as you prepare to build your new loft.  Should you follow the status quo or do you strike off in a new direction?  At this point after reading your email and sensing your doubts about racing a small team in your area, you probably should build your loft big enough to accommodate the number of pigeons typical of most fanciers in Smallsville.  If you don't build a loft that supports the local system and you don't race well using the classical widowhood system, you will not be happy with us and our theories.  We don't want or deserve that unintended responsibility.

However, let us point out that there are two very important variables in the racing pigeon game: motivation and selection.  Unmotivated pigeons
fly home.  Motivated pigeons race home.  Over a 12 week race series, highly motivated widowhood pigeons will race much faster than pigeons on the natural system or pigeons raced to the perch.  In 12 weeks, there will be only two or three weeks that pigeons raced on the natural system will be in a "peak" nest position.  Widowhood racing pigeons are usually in "peak" race positions and ready to race each and every week.  Nest boxes, nest bowls and passionate widowhood mates will almost always generate more motivation in widowhood racing pigeons than sitting celibate on small perches can generate.  It is our belief that if a new fancier enters the racing pigeon game in Smallsville and creates more passionate motivation in his or her racing pigeons week after week than the local fanciers can generate in their pigeons racing the local system, the new fancier's pigeons will smash the results of the local fanciers over the length of an entire race series.  The world is not flat.  It's round.

The second variable is selection.  Not every pigeon makes a great racer.  In fact, only a very small percentage of the pigeons that we raise each year actually make great racers.  We select our race team out of the total number of pigeons that we raise each year.  We raise from 100 to 200 pigeons every year.  But we only select about 24 of them to play the game during the young bird race series.  It would take a huge loft and a full time commitment in order to race 80 to 150 pigeons on the classical widowhood system. 

Because the young bird race series in Smallsville begins in early May, there is not much time to select a race team before the first race is scheduled.  In Oklahoma, the young bird race series begins in September.  So we have the summer months to train our young birds, evaluate our young birds, and select a small race team.  That is not the case in Smallsville.  We realize that it is much easier and more practical to race every pigeon that is raised starting in early May than it is to select a smaller race team before May 1st.  What you may want to do is take the first bird home each week during the race series and place it on the widowhood system in a smaller adjacent widowhood loft section after it has excelled during the race series.  Maybe you will create a hybrid race system that starts with 80 to 150 pigeons on May 1st; but ends up with a much smaller race team by the end of the race series in early August.  Whatever system you ultimately use, it is imperative that you motivate your pigeons more than your competitors or you will become an average fancier whose pigeons only win once in a while when the wind favors your loft position or one of your pigeons just happens to want to come home early.

We keep 6 males in a loft section that is 5 ft. wide by 6 ft. deep by 6 ft tall.  Our nest boxes take up the back 2 ft. of the loft section space and are 24 inches (.61 meters) deep by 30 inches (.72 meters) wide.  So the 6 race pigeons only have about 4 ft deep in which to move around.  The actual living space for our 6 racing pigeons is 5 ft wide by 4 ft deep by 6 ft tall.  Although we keep 6 racing pigeons per section, we build the section large enough for 12 pigeons.  Each pigeon has a mate that stays in the loft for a period of time after races and during several short breeding seasons.  So each loft section is built for 12 pigeons; although only 6 pigeons stay in each loft section during the race seasons and the off-season.  Therefore, when there are 12 pigeons in each loft section, each pigeon has 10 cubic feet per pigeon.  when the race pigeons are in the loft by themselves, they have 20 cubic feet per pigeon.

We agree with you, it is unrealistic to build a loft big enough to accommodate 100 pigeons at 10 cubic feet per pigeon.  That is why racing a small team of pigeons on the classical widowhood system is superior to the racing systems in Smallsville.  Most fanciers don't have the time or money to build a large enough loft to race 80 to 150 pigeons on the best motivational system - classical widowhood.   So they tend to "water-down" their motivational systems due to loft space limitations and race their pigeons to perches that generate little, if any, motivational value.  However, designing a new hybrid system will allow you to build loft sections with 100 perches in them and 2 to 4 adjacent loft sections with 12 to 24 widowhood nest boxes.

Each "arm" or wing of our loft is about 30 ft. in length.  But that figure is completely arbitrary.  We decided to build 36 nest boxes in 6 sections in each wing.  Build your loft large enough to accommodate the number of loft sections you want to use.  You may want 2 sections or 4 sections or 6 sections or 8 sections.  The number of sections will determine the length of the the wings of the loft.

Each loft section is separated by a sliding door.  These doors remain closed except when the pigeons exercise, train, or are raced.  then, the sliding doors are opened in order for the racers to find their proper nest box.  We keep the doors closed to "control" the pigeons.  They will tend to fly away from you down the hallway if the doors are not closed between loft sections.  We want our race team to stay in their nest boxes when we enter a loft section.  If the section doors are not closed, some racers may fly down the hallway as you enter the loft section.  This is an undesirable behavior in our racing loft.  Each loft section is designed for us to control the behavior of our pigeons.  By building 4 ft by 4 ft by 6 ft loft sections, the pigeons cannot fly around us or over us or away from us.  Their only plausible option is to remain in their nest box when we enter a loft section.

Build the entry foyer and the landing board big enough to easily handle the number of birds you want to race.  For example, if you want 100 pigeons to land, it is unreasonable to build a 3 ft by 3 ft landing board.  100 pigeons cannot land at one time on a small landing board.  Instead, they will learn to land on the loft roof or somewhere other than the landing board.  After repeating this behavior over and over each day, the race birds may not land on the landing board after returning from races.  If they do not land on the board near the trap, the time it takes for them to "clock" using a scanner may be greatly increased.  Our landing board is about 4 feet deep and 6 feet wide and accommodates the average number of pigeons on our race teams.  Our foyer is about 9 ft wide and 6 ft deep.

We built our own traps.  They are completely open - no bobs; but the pigeons cannot get out of them from inside the loft.  We'll send you pictures and dimensions of our traps at a later time.

To be continued.........................................................................Thank you.................................................................Jeff and John