There is a saying..."if you become a master at feeding pigeons, you will become a master at racing pigeons." This is very simplified, but the body weight going into a race is extremely important. I would say that over 75% of pigeons shipped to races, are too heavy. Many fanciers have their pigeons better prepared for a show, than a race and most are under the impression that the pigeons should be round and full. This could not be further from the truth.
A pigeon should be light and buoyant with the muscles nearly lying flat, even for long distance races. In most cases, how a pigeon handles when it finishes the race, should be how it handled when it started the race.
Just a tiny bit of fat will keep a pigeon flying for many hours. By combining this tiny bit of fat with super health and condition, you will see excellent results. A fat pigeon can certainly win a race against other fat pigeons. However, lean pigeons have a better advantage, as most prefer to send their pigeons big and full for the long distance. These big, full pigeons will be beat by the properly prepared pigeons every time. When I refer to being lean, I do not mean skinny.
With regards to feeding, pigeons trained very heavy will need more rich feed to sustain the perfect body weight. Pigeons trained efficiently and fed correctly, can achieve the same fitness, with much less road work. Pigeons also do not need more than two feedings of rich feedings, for a short race 300 miles and under. Nor do they need more than four to five feedings of rich seeds for a long-distance race. If you are shipping a 500-mile race on Thursday, for a Saturday liberation, feed high fat seeds. Try one feeding Tuesday evening, two feedings Wednesday, and a feeding on Thursday.
Good, quality barley makes up most of the feed the rest of the week. I am referring to barley that is plump and in the husk. If you learn how to use barley, you will save loads of gas money and training. For most of the week, the pigeons feed on 80% barley and approximately 20% racing mix. On a day of return if you are racing under 300 miles, feed them all the rich seeds and racing mix (16% protein) they want . In addition, a half ration of feed on shipping day for 300 miles or less , comprised of 50% barley and 50% rich fatty seeds. The most important day to feed for a race is two days before liberation, NOT the day before.
Once the pigeons return from a race 300 miles or less, they are fed all the rich, oily seeds (safflour, etc.) and racing mix (16% protein), as much as they want until dark, then back to 80% barley the following day. The most important meal after a big workout, is the first meal, so let them eat. For long distance races, the pigeons can eat all the rich seeds and racing mix they want for two days before shipping. Upon return, they get to eat rich feed and racing mix. On the following day, it is back to 80% barley. If you use this protocol when feeding your pigeons, they should never round out and get heavy after a big workout.
If for some reason your pigeons do blow up and, feel like lead balloons a few days after a race, your feeding system has really missed the mark. McLaughlin Lofts pigeons never blow out and never get heavy after a race. It is all about the feeding, as we do not like to train much. Sure, there are many roads to Roma with feeding. However, by simply feeding with quality barley, you can maintain weightless, well-conditioned pigeons, without endless road work.
Loft flying or moderate road work will keep a correctly fed pigeon in great shape. Speaking of loft flying, you will not believe how well the pigeons exercise on the 80% barley mix. If you take away anything from this remember that you probably ship your pigeons much too heavy for the races. Pigeons for long distance races should not be full and round. Long distance pigeons are not flying south for the winter, as they are flying for 12 to 14 hours.
Pigeons racing for under six hours should be light as a feather, but not skinny. They should be buoyant, with muscles lying flat, not full. A lean, buoyant pigeon has a big advantage even for headwind races. Adopt this feeding method for old birds, and you will see the most amazing body and condition!
Until Next Time, Frank McLaughlin