Widowhood, Natural Pigeon Racing, by Robert Mihaila
For a long time I get many questions from the English speaking fanciers around the world to do an article about widowhood. As a system practised by myself for about 25 years did not reveal any secrets for myself, I could not see any reason to put my method on paper for the fancy. But the fancy “said” when you win the 1st Semi-National Championship three times in four years and flying 60 kms to the back, your system must be something special if you can motivate your team a whole the season long and to achieve such great results. And that’s the most important part of my method: motivation!
The loft set-up
In almost any loft you can fly the widowhoodsystem. However there are some points that matter to me personally:
The boxes should be on one side of the loft. This to keep the cock’s quiet on the loft. When they can see each other constantly they are all day busy watching, while they should be sleeping lying on one wing. I would prefer to have all boxes at the backside of the loft. From the training or from the race the cock can fly straight into his box or returning from the race, sitting on the windowbench, he can see his hen right in front of him closed in the box. Any box suits as long as you are able to shut the hen in when the cock returns from the race. There are quite some types of nestboxes, however I prefer the type were they are the closest together. It’ll give you quite some problems in the mating period and getting them used to the box, but later on you’ll notice why it is better so.
The windows should be big in order to let them fly in and out easily while training. In this way they can practise the landing and trapping and won’t be so easily scared in the beginning. If you have much time to get the widowers used to yourself you can trap them in their own box. However I prefer to clock them outside the loft in a kind of a stall-trap because this is quicker. And there is no catching and running around inside the loft that will make them loose time returning from the next race.
Important is to keep the cocks as quiet as possible on the day. This means that the fancier should keep himself far from the loft on the day, except from his normal routine coming and going. You’ll notice how easy you can disturb them and how long it takes them to be quiet again. Important is that you can darken the windows so much that they cannot look out. I just put some white removable paint on the windows. To make the loft totally dark is old fashioned. I have glass tiles in the roof giving the sun the possibility to shine straight into the nestboxes and to make the temperature more comfortable.
The winter time
Myself I separate the sexes half November. Till that time they train once a day, after the separation only once a week on Saturday. From half December till the birds are sitting on their first eggs again they don?t come outside for a training at all. I think there is no need to train your birds hard in winter time. Better it is to slow the training down so you can build it quietly up again.
Half December I move the old cocks to the youngbird loft and I put the young cocks on the widowhood loft were they can choose free out of the remaining nestboxes without being chased away by the old cocks. Doing so helps the young cocks building up their personality and the old cocks will have quite some problem defending their own box from the attacks of the young cocks later on! Take care that the young cocks cannot take another resting place than only a nestbox.
Important is that you sort the cocks without almost any personality out. When you have room for 10 young cocks put 11 in and the one with the least personality gets no box and I select those out no matter how good his results were as a youngster. Later on you have to get track of the troublemakers in order to get peace and quiet in the racing season. When I spot a troublemaker I just put him in another section till they all are happy and no one is being chased after because one cock hates the other.
Depends totally from the time racing season starts and from the way you want to start! Raising youngsters or not. To put them on widowhood from eggs or feeding a youngster for a couple of weeks. Dry widowhood or just normal. When you have made your choice how to do it, just figure out back in time(28 days feeding a youngster; 17 days sitting on eggs; 12 days chasing to get eggs in the nest) when you have to mate them up. The ways of how to put the cocks on widowhood will be explained later on.
Preparation for mating
As soon as the birds aren?t training anymore in wintertime they get 2/3 moulting mixture and 1/3 barley once a day and what is left over is removed. When they are going to be mated, prior 4 days to that date, I change to 1/1 breeding mixture. But they get that much so all is eaten the next day. Feeding is in the boxes till all are sitting on eggs.
Important is to give them extra light from 16.30 o’clock(sundown) till 19.00 o’clock. The extra light time is put till 20.00 o’clock 2 weeks before mating. This really helps the pairs to “click” right away. When mated the lights are on till 21.00 o’clock and in the morning from 06.00 o’clock till 09.00 o’clock. When all pairs are with eggs the lights in the mor-ning are off again; the same moment the lights in the evening are off again at 19.30 o’clock. The lights are totally off when the youngsters are about 2 weeks old.
With widowers I feel that love for the partner is of highest importance. When I see that there is some dislike I immediately change partners. What I further do is that birds stay in their old nestbox, this to avoid fighting as much as possible.
Some cocks really are heavy fighters and you can see they even like it and keep on doing that. In regard to such cocks I have for you a small trick: to fight well a cock needs to put his feet well and wide on the ground in order to push hard. Just attach both his feet to each other with a piece of plastic wire or a thread that keeps his feet at a distance of 4, 5 cms from each other. In this way he can move around but has much trouble to fight. You’ll see it really works! After a few days remove the wire or thread and all is back to normal.
How do we put our cock’s on widowhood?
As mentioned before there are quite some different methods how to put the cock’s on widowhood:
Do you want to have youngsters from the racers or not.
Does your racing season starts early or late.
Give climate conditions possibility to mate early or not.
Those things matter most for us.
Myself I mate early and I wait for a period when it is warmer so the birds have less trouble getting eggs and I adapt the system because I only raise youngsters from the breeders.
The classical way
The classical way to put the cock’s on widowhood is raising 1 or 2 youngsters and after sitting 10 days on the second round of eggs it is so far. The cocks are put in the basket for a training toss and when they return the hens are removed and put in the widowhen compartment. The cock’s are let out for a training around the loft and before they are let in the nest and eggs have been removed, the nestbowl has been cleaned and turned around. Now they are on the widowhood system. The best time to do this is 2 weeks before the first race. You’ll find the cock’s the first week a little bit difficult to handle, because they react the first week quite nervous. The second week, after having seen the hens once, all is going better.
The half classical way
When you have less time to follow the above system you can put all hens with the youngsters at age of 17-21 days in the youngbird section. The hens now feed the youngsters and are put in the widowhen compartment when the youngsters are about 4 weeks old. This system is about 2, 3 weeks shorter in time than the classical way, which I prefer to this. Feeding a youngster is loosing energy and I like the cock to get some extra weight again before the racing season starts.
Flying from a youngster
You can let the cock feed the youngster till it is 4 weeks old and is put on the youngbird loft. This system certainly costs the cock energy. Once I tried this system in 1 section one time, but in relation to the other team’s results it was worth nothing so I never tried it again. A possibility is when you can store the hens next-door and let them twice a day feed the youngsters while the cock’s are training. In this way feeding the youngster and training twice a day costs less energy.
This is the system I personally like best. My experience is when you follow this system the results of the cock’s stay good for about 5, 6 weeks. When you follow the classical way the results are getting worse after 3, 4 weeks. This may be because of a less quality birds problem, but normally it is a more a natural problem. When the cock finds his hen after the race their is only one thought: he wants to keep her and chase her on eggs again. And when the fancier removes his hen each time after a short while, the cock easily gets disappointed and that is translated in the results.
That problem is solved following:
They can get used to the system and find after 2 training tosses their hen in the nestbox. After 2 weeks they can keep their hen, get eggs again and after 10 days sitting on eggs the real widowhood season starts. To my experience following this system the cock’s have better results for a longer period than normal. When you feel the “dip” comes moving in you have to start using tricks. About the tricks later.
The loft-training system
As already mentioned my birds do not train at all in winter. I want to bring the flying condition back so I get later on the possibility to build it up again. The training starts when all pairs are sitting for about 5 days on eggs. During the week only the cock’s are let out at about 16.00 o’clock and in the weekend the hen’s at about 14.00 o?clock. First I have to get them instead from entering the youngbird loft into the old bird loft. When this is done the hen’s are let out by my wife each day at 14.00 o’clock and I let the cock’s out at 16.00 o’clock and all are chased up in order to fly.
When the youngsters are about 5, 7 days old, they are fed twice a day with some picking stone and pressed corn. From that moment on there is only 1 training a day. Around 16.00 o’clock I put hens and cock’s out and by then it should be clear for the fancier how the situation is:
they should train easily for at least 1 full hour! When the youngsters are about 17 days old this is getting a little bit less when they get interested to start a new nest again.
When they are sitting on eggs again both sexes are trained separately again. Till the point of 10 days is reached and the birds are put on the widowhood system. The first week of the widowhood everything is done quietly in order to get no nervous cock’s that stay out for a night or when trained twice a day they don?t fly the whole day and ruin their condition for a couple of weeks. The second week there are morning training?s also and the third week it is getting to how it should be. They have seen the hens again and are more attached to the loft and their nestbox than the first two weeks.
After the third week the morning training is easy, not forced. The cock’s are let out and may enter and find themselves not free to go out again. In the evening it is different. The windows of the loft are open for 1 hour and they may fly free in and out again. After a full hour they all are chased out again and when they enter again they to stay in and are fed.
The road-training schedule
When you fly the widowhood system instead of the natural system you’ll find the widowhood cock’s train easily 2,5 hour a day. By these training times I do not think it to be necessary to train my birds on the road daily. I only use the road-training as a way to refresh their attitude when I see less interest in flying or fear a “dip”.
Before the season starts I train them 4,5 times up to 60 kms when the weather is okay and not too cold. It has happened I put them without any toss straight into the first 90 kms race and found the results satisfying enough.
However when you want to do a road-training I prefer to do it that afternoon when the barley is exchanged for the “good” food, so they can deal with the extra sprinting they have done. Of course in the middle of the week no hens are shown to the cock’s ever!
The curing system
Because of my work for the Medical University of Amsterdam (AMC) I’m often considered to be a man who knows all about of medicine. How wrong however is it to give your birds all the products advertised in the magazines! The moment there is trouble be sure you are in trouble! You’ll find only the most strong product to work and when you work with that type regularly, when it is really needed, nothing will help your birds to get better again!
Sometimes I make use of medicines, but only when it is needed or when they are because of circumstances close to a “dip” and then be sure it helps.
When you have excellent results over many years you’ll almost never get the compliment of having such good birds. No, they talk in groups in the street what you could possibly give to your pigeons! Believe me there are only a few things you can believe in pigeon sport:
My well meant advice:
Good strong birds keep the sicknesses out easier. Work on this point! Once you have good strong birds, look for constantly for better and if you find them, buy them! Problems with the respiratory system are always a matter of a bad ventilation. Work on this point! Once you have a good loft: never change it!
Further work on your methods: that means reading, studying, thinking and using your eyes on the loft of a successful fancier. Never change your method totally but pick out the good points from somebody else’s method!
And last: don’t get lazy!
After the mating in case of not many fights I do not cure for cancer. When they are sitting on their first eggs they get two cures each for a week long: one with tea of herbs and the other with a half cut in bulb of garlic. That cleans the blood and makes it thin, both needed when you start training again.
When they are in the period of sitting on eggs close before they are put on widowhood I cure them for 5 days with Emtryl for cancer. You can only treat with Emtryl when you keep the birds home for a week and be sure to follow the guidelines going with this product! When you do this you keep your birds clean for 4, 5 weeks from cancer. Then use another product on rhonidazol basis for 4 days starting the day of the return. This you can use without doing any harm, and even overdose, between 2 races. When you go into a race over 400 kms when the birds spend more nights in the basket, then race every 2 weeks and you can repeat the Emtryl cure. However do not cure for cancer more than once a month.
When the weather starts getting warmer then you should think about a cure regarding the respiratory system. When it is getting dry in the air pigeons can get slime and a small light cure with a product for ornithosis mostly solves the problem.
And when you have a serious problem: visit a vet specialised in pigeons. For the rest use your common sense and try to be your own vet as much as possible!
“Cures” during the week
That’s it. Pigeons themselves can make almost all vitamins out of the food they get. Good food solves the vitamin problem. Giving lots of vitamins in fact is throwing away money. Only vitamin c they cannot make it themselves, so I give that separately.
Propolis is a product coming from bees and is considered a strong natural antibiotic; 12 drops on 2 litters of water keeps them healthy without destroying the good bugs inside.
Do you see any secrets?
The feeding system
First of all: buy good quality food! Understand the best corn is always used for human consumption. So the corn used in pigeon mixture is not the very best otherwise prices would be too expensive for us. But were we can choose from there is much difference in quality and I want you to think: why sometimes is a certain mixture so cheap? I give you two examples:
1. The La Plata maize comes from Argentina and is transported in a ship to our distributing firm. That takes quite some time and cert-ain chemicals are used to keep the “merchandise” in “good condition”. When the harvest in Argentina was bad there is much La Plata maize offer for pigeon mixtures. You understand why I pay some more in order to have a kind of maize in my mixture that didn?t travel such a long time?
2. Most of the barley offered for pigeons or in diet mixtures is European grown. Our own climate sometimes is very wet in the time the barley is harvested and has to be stored on a time it is not yet ripe and with a lot of water in it. To keep it well again chemicals are used.
Fact is the best quality is used for brewing beer. You understand why I buy brewers quality barley?
I hope I have given you reason enough when you decide to buy food for your birds and above all to use your common sense because for a lower price there is a reason!
In my feeding system is Saturday the day of returning from a race and Friday(or Thursday) day of basking.
Saturday on return: some small seeds.
When the hens have been removed: peanuts and enough!
Later on: some picking stone(salt!).
Saturday evening till Tuesday afternoon: hopper fed barley.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday evening: a mixture of racing & breeding of different firms and more than enough so they can choose! After half an hour the leftovers all are removed. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning for each 5 widowers 1 handful of small seeds. So they feel hungry again in the evening. It is important you decide when they eat! Is Friday day of basking the hour when you give them the last meal depends on the length of the race, the wind and the weather forecast. What I give as last meal is a mixture of small seeds and the racing/breeding mix. Around 17.00 o’clock some small seeds so they drink again.
When Thursday is day of basking I start with the breeding & racing mixture the Monday evening. Thursday morning only a little bit and Thursday afternoon enough, followed at around by some small seeds.
The motivating system of trics
To keep your widowers going full speed from the beginning of April till the end of July is a period of 16 weeks. To do that successfully you can understand your widowers get bored soon when you follow every week the same schedule. So you have to change your methods regularly to keep them going for the top. Some important guidelines:
The training is very important: keep them going. A bigger team is best. 40 widowers enjoy the training more than 10. Don’t kill the bad ones! Just don’t race them, but keep them to keep the others going on the training?s!
The feeding too is very important: never hopper feed the good food! One time just a little and the other time a lot to choose from. Above system keeps them on time hungry and going!
Because I like to keep my racing team young, it means you have to teach them the system and each tric is new to them!
Before the first race, the evening before basking I give them a short 5km toss. They get their training and feeding as normal. Direct after the feeding the nestbowls are turned around and I release the hen from the widowhoodhen section. After a short while they enter the loft and they have a get together for a minute. Then the cock’s are put in the basket and tossed at a distance of 5 kms. They hurry home and may approach the hen through the bars of their box. The ones that understand the system enter quickly and the others(feeling the food in their stomach) keep flying around for a while. Those cock’s we better not poole for the money or put them on top of the race sheet for the nominated championship. The second week we can repeat this short toss. And when we feel very sure about them entering quickly and about a quick race at high average speed the next day, we can do the short toss the Friday afternoon. This can be used in the middle of the season as well to awake the team from falling into a “dip”.
Important is that I explain to you what I do after the race. When your widowers race well you should not have the time to let them join the hen right away. I do this first when almost all cock’s are home. When I go to the clubhouse with the clocks I let them out all together free on the loft. This is to give them the idea that they can chase the hen again for eggs. Important is that they get a good chance to make love to the hen; this fact too keeps them sharp because they will be watching each other.
When the 2nd race was fast and all cock’s were home quickly, it is good to let all cock’s and hens out together fly free around the loft. This too keeps them awake and give them the impression they may keep the hen and build a nest.
I remove the hens when I return from the club and when the beer was good that sometimes may take a while. I never have thought or felt it was too bad to leave them together for such a long time.
When they understand what we want from them and what they can expect in return for it, the 3rd, 4th and 5th race we can only turn around the nestbowl without showing the hens.
The 6th race in our combine already is one of almost 400 kms and then you can expect the 1st “dip”, too because of the distance. Therefore you have to motivate them now for the first time. Around 17.00 o’clock you turn around the nestbowls and release the hens from the hen section. They may do what they want and stay free in the loft for about one hour. Then the cock’s are basked and the hens shut up in their boxes.
Another good trick is to let them out the Friday morning for their normal training around the loft. Coming in they find their nestbowl turned around and the hens join them shortly afterwards. They may stay together for an hour. Then the hens are removed and they are fed around 12.00 o’clock. Too you can give them a bath inside the loft. This is a good system to follow when you expect the next day a headwind race and you want them to go in it well fed and quietly.
The 7th race is in our combine a race of 475 kms and that means Thursday evening basking night. That day I’m home around 13.00 o?clock and the widowers go out for an hour. Then they are called in and the nestbowls are turned around. The hens join them a short time later and they stay free in the loft for an hour and a half. After that the hens are removed and the nestbowls turned around again. An hour later when they are quiet again, they get only peanuts and as much as they like. You’ll notice how good they will eat. Around 17.30 o’clock they get some small seeds, so they drink again. An hour later they are put in the basket and I’m off for the club.
The above I repeat on every following day race. I believe when you fly the distance nr. 1 is the quality of the bird that can fly the distance. Up to 400km with only 1 night in the basket it is the fancier with his system the has the biggest influence on the results over the 400 km it is definitely the bird. Important is therefore to have the quality birds and to bring them with the right feeding- and training methods to the race.
A good trick to do later on in the season is following: the Thursday afternoon the widowers go out for a training around 13.00 o’clock followed by their hens half an hour later. This you can understand is a big party for all of them! When all are in again you follow the system as described above under race 7.
Sometimes when I see they are getting into a “dip” I give them the Monday afternoon instead of a training around the loft a 40km training toss without showing the hen. This too sharpens them up again.
I have chosen for the program of races for the Semi-National Championship and that are for the old birds: 475km, 540km, 605km, 685km, 655km in the autumn followed by their last race over 475km(sitting on a week old youngster). The youngbirds fly 330km and 540km all together 7 races with an interval of 2 weeks. After race 7 I have no races shorter than 400 km. That means also that I have from time to time a free weekend to spend with my family doing other things than just pigeons. However the free Saturday morning early I give them a toss of 60km, to keep them sharp, and they may stay a short while together which leaves the rest of the day free for doing one time other things.
Taking care of the hens
Is very important!!! Understand they do not go in a race and do not spend any energy. When you are too nice for them, they will start being nice for each other and start laying eggs. When this happens you are in big trouble. The hen should only pay attention to the cock and when he doesn?t get that he will not surprise you with good results. So don’t be sweet for your hens and treat them hard! Do not have too much room for them; let them fight for a resting place. Sometimes after a race shut only the cock’s up in the nestbox and let the hens go free around the loft. Take care that they start hating each other! Another good weapon is hunger! On raceday they get like the cock only a bit of small seeds. Separated in their own section they get a picking stone, that’s it. The next day they get 1/2 grit, 1/2 barley. Monday, Tuesday only barley. Wednesday 1/2 barley, 1/2 youngbird mixture, Thursday breeding mixture. Only once a day and in quantity and quality going up towards the end of the week. If you have time and room you can let them out for a training around the loft so they spend energy. But in order not to disturb the cock’s I don’t let them out during the week.
Widowhood, Natural Pigeon Racing by Robert Mihaila