Lamberton Racing Pigeons

Loft Management Series

"The Delight of Obedience"

According to the MSN Encarta online dictionary, the definition of obedience is: "the act of obeyingthe act or practice of following instructions, complying with rules or regulations, or submitting to somebody's authority."

In order to consistently play the racing pigeons game at the top of the race sheet, racing pigeons must be obedient. That is, racing pigeons must meet our expectations and follow our commands on a daily basis.  Everyday, both in or out of the loft, the behavior and temperament of every single pigeon on the race team must meet our expectations to perform well.  Although homing pigeons are naturally a "domesticated" bird and therefore relatively tame, each racer must learn how to obey and meet our expectations or be removed from the race team for a period of time or forever. 

Not all homing pigeons are capable of this essential basic expectation.  Not all homing pigeons are physically and mentally capable of playing the game at the top of the race sheet.  In earlier blogs, we have estimated that less than 10% of the pigeons bred each year are capable of playing the game near the top of the race sheet.  If this statistic is relatively accurate, that means that as fanciers we spend most of our time and most of our energy and resources training and managing pigeons (90%) that will never meet the criteria or expectation of performing or racing at the top of the race sheet.

Frequently we hear fanciers speak of how few birds they lost in training or how many pigeons were left at the end of the race season.  Less often do we hear about how many of their pigeons raced in the top 10% or 20% of the race sheet.  Although fanciers may have 30 or 40 pigeons remaining at the end of the young bird race series, we are more interested in how many of those remaining pigeons consistently flew or performed in the top 10% or 20% of the race sheet.

In many areas of Belgium, "prizes" are allocated on the basis of one "prize" for every three pigeons in the race.  Consequently, if there are 90 pigeons in a race, there will be 30 prizes awarded.  In other words, the top one-third of the pigeons in the race receive a "prize."  Belgian fanciers are primarily interested in winning prizes - especially 1st prizes - whether its in their club or province or inter-province or semi-national or national or international.  When we read that a champion homing pigeon in Belgium won 25 prizes in his or her lifetime, it probably means that the pigeon performed in the top one-third of the race sheet 25 times.

Rather than valuing how many pigeons remain after the race series has completed, Belgian fanciers value how many pigeons consistently win prizes in each race in which they compete.  We have observed that many fanciers value their race team from what we call the "bottom up" (how many pigeons remain) while Belgian fanciers value their race team from the "top down" (how many pigeons consistently won prizes).  Ad Schaerlaeckens has written extensively on this subject.  He states that just because a pigeon has won several "head" prizes doesn't necessarily mean that it is a "champion" racing pigeon.  He believes that the number of prizes won must be a ratio of how many races the pigeon competed.  If a pigeon is advertised as a champion with 4 head prizes out of 40 races flown, is that pigeon really a champion?

In order to race week after week in the top one-third of the race sheet, racing pigeons must learn how to be obedient.  Although the homing instinct is innate and most pigeons will fly home, actually racing home and playing the racing pigeon game at the top of the race sheet is entirely another matter.  To meet this lofty expectation, pigeons must be taught how to play the game at the top of the race sheet.

Educational lessons should be intense yet uncomplicated.  Pigeons learn the meaning of each command and expectation very gradually in small degrees over time.  By managing the race team consistently on a daily basis, pigeons will steadily begin to positively respond to commands and expectations.  In our lofts, every correct move is rewarded with positive reinforcement while every incorrect move is rewarded with negative reinforcement. 

Fanciers and their race teams should go about their daily tasks together.  Instructions to every member of the race team must be clear.  Expectations and commands must be seen, heard and understood in unmistakable terms.   Racers should respect and reverence for their handlers or fanciers.  Racing pigeons should hold fanciers in such loving esteem that to be without direction from their mentors would cause a degree of fear or uncertainty about the future.  Reverence is built upon mutual trust which is based upon a consistency of daily behavior.  Our race teams should be eager and anxious to obey us.  If this goal can be accomplished, the end result is a remarkable collaboration that culminates in the accomplishments of smoothly functioning teams of pigeons and fanciers at the top of the race sheet.

"Taming," teaching obedience or teaching pigeons to play the game consistently at the top of the race sheet is a pilgrimage in which fanciers transform wild and uneducated domestic pigeons into champions.   People created the sport - the racing pigeon game.  Pigeons didn't create the game.  While most pigeons naturally know how to find their way  home - they do not naturally know how to play the game - especially at the top of the race sheet.  When fanciers let the races do the training, they are abdicating their role as teacher to the random forces of the races or the random forces of chance. 

These same tenets are true throughout the animal kingdom and especially true among people.  Beyond our basic abilities as humans, people must be taught how to perform well in society or how to be successful in an occupation or sport.  Just as living life well is an educational process for people, racing pigeons well is an educational process for  pigeons.  And, our educational process should be a happy and uplifting experience both for our pigeons and for us. 

There is a great joy, delight and self-satisfaction that comes from obedience and performing well in any life venue including sport.  As fanciers and stewards of the racing pigeon game, we must be obedient to the true essence and values of the game as it has evolved and been handed down over centuries of time just as our homing pigeons must be obedient to us.  Obedience involves both fanciers and pigeons.  If we do not perform well, how can we expect our pigeons to perform well? 

If there are racing pigeons that are currently playing the game without the benefit of knowing and understanding an effective motivational system that they have learned through an intense yet uncomplicated educational process over an extended period of time, then their performance in the game will inevitably be a matter of luck.  If pigeon races are used to condition and train pigeons to return home quickly, then performing at the top of the race sheet will require many birds on the race team to increase the odds that lightening will strike and one of them will accidently perform well.  We prefer to play the game by relying on education and obedience rather than luck.  For us, there's a lot more delight and satisfaction in the game.