The Dark System manipulates the length of the day artificially to cause the young birds to molt their body feathers very rapidly while not molting the flight or wing feathers. This system tricks the pigeon’s biological clock to think winter is coming. Think of a late bred raised in the fall. It will molt the body very fast but not drop many flight feathers.
Do not panic if some of the Dark System pigeons continue to molt flight feathers. Some molt the body and will also molt the wing. Some young never drop a flight and other stop after molting a flight or two. Some young will molt many wing feathers. This does not matter it is about the body molt.
When a pigeon is on a short day length it will only drop the body feathers, which includes the head, neck and shield and not the wing flight primary and secondary feathers. This gives the pigeon the best possible chance of surviving through a harsh winter with a full wing and a fully feathered mature body. The pigeon grows and matures during the body molt. This big burst in size, strength and maturity is nature’s way to best protect the pigeon. Like reptiles that grow during shedding of skin, pigeons grow very rapidly during the body molt.
Here are a few reasons that make the Dark System such an advantage for racing young birds:
#1. The young birds are sexually mature.
#2. The young are adults in every way except they do not have the adult flight feathers.
#3. The young birds have mostly adult pigeon immunity and are not effected as readily by respiratory, Adeno Virus, Circo virus etc. #4. The young can be raced on a double widowhood system but to the perch or no motivation works as well or better.
#5. The young have a full wing and are not stressed by racing during the body molt.
#6. The young pigeons are ready every week unless the race is a real disaster.
Here are the disadvantages to racing young birds on the Dark System:
#1. The young will reach maturity so fast; they may be too old physically and mentally when training begins. Losses could be great.
#2. Lack of ventilation during the darkness period could lead to many health problems.
#3. Problems with pigeons going into the old bird season with several baby flights still on the wing.
#4. The young tend to begin to molt the body and wing feathers six to eight weeks into the young bird season.
Here are the misconceptions about the dark system:
#1. You do not have to mate right after Thanksgiving. The pigeons finish the molt in 9 weeks, so if a round is weaned in April and then another in May there is still time to finish the body molt before the young bird season.
#2. The pigeons fly terrible as old birds. Some fanciers report this others have no problems. This could be due to the young being pushed too hard or not finishing the wing molt before the spring old bird season. My suggestion would be, to only race the hens as young birds on the dark system if you are worried. Most likely cause of a drop in results as an old bird is due to the young birds win because of the system. In old birds you are tricked into thinking the birds are better than they really are. Let the young cocks remain on natural light. Use the cocks as widowers during old birds.
#3. The pigeons can suffer health problems during the darkened stage if the birds are crowded and the ventilation is poor. Install exhaust fans in the roof of the loft that run at all times to draw stale air out. Cut some openings in the floor for the airflow to come from the bottom of the loft without light coming in.
#4. The loft does not have to be totally dark. As long as it gets dark at the same time every day the birds will molt fine. My pigeons can still go down and drink when the loft is closed up. I will explain how the system works followed by how to prevent the problems that may come about. Dark System Procedures: Wean the young into a section that has been designed to allow ventilation but can be darkened to somewhat darker than dusk.
#1. Let the sun come up in the morning naturally and darken the loft 9.5 hours later. By doing this the pigeons have the sunrise to adjust their biological clock. Remember you must open the loft at night for it to get light in the morning. If this is not possible you must adapt the system to your schedule. In this case open the loft up and close it up leaving the light for 9.5 hours. You must do this at the same time every day.
The strict timing is very important for the pigeons to adjust to the dark system. You may be able to put some king of automatic blinds that opens and closes when you set a timer Letting the sun rise naturally for the babies is the best system but I have used both with success. If you cannot have a normal sunrise make sure you only train or exercise always during the pigeons 9.5 hours of light. If you open the loft at 9am daily you cannot train the birds before 9am
#2. Feed a high protein grain and give vitamins, mineral and grit regularly. Feed very heavy because the molt will be rapid.
#3. Use garlic or Jedds Avian Solution and friendly bacteria builder in the water four days per week as a natural antibiotic.
#4. Let the pigeons out as much as possible and start them flying young.
#5. Start short tosses as soon as they are flocking. Begin across the yard and down the street and go in very short increments. The young should be trained very young for them to be able to learn. Once they are trained out to 25 miles you do not have to worry but losing them. The dark system pushes the young bird through its learning phase very quickly. On the dark the young become adults at 13 weeks of age instead of five to six months when not darkened.
#6. Once the young are trained out to 25 miles several times, stop them, let them molt and restart again before young bird racing later on.
#7 Option One Best Option: Keep the youngsters on the dark system to midway point in the racing season and then go to 17 hours per day of light for the remainder of the season. You can extend the length of time the pigeons stay in form. This is for a young bird season longer than 6 weeks.
#7a. Option Two for short young bird seasons of six weeks or so. Two weeks before you begin the second phase of training for the young bird season, put the pigeons on natural day length of 17 hours. After two weeks on natural light start your training the same as you start for every young bird season. The pigeons were already trained out 25 miles earlier in the year, but start slow again unless the pigeons are routing real well.
#8. Separate Sexes if you like and have them mix upon return from the races. Separated sexes makes things much more difficult so I suggest leave them as one group and do not try to motivate. Motivation is not really helpful anyway.
#9. If you do not have the space leave the sexes together the entire season which keeps it simple.
What to do during the Race Season?
#1. If the sexes are separated allow them to spend 30 minutes together before shipping.
#2. After returning from the race leave the sexes together for two hours.
#3. The separated sexes must be trained and exercised separately during the week. This is just too much work. Easier to have one group.
#4. Use natural daylight bulbs that provide the full spectrum of sun light. This causes the young to believe it is mid summer when the wing molt is so very slow. The young will begin to drop the first few flights but the season will be over before the young reach the third or fourth flight. Around 17 to 18 hours of light is best.
#5. Race and win! What to do After the Race season? #1. After the race season return to normal day length for one month. This will cause the pigeons to begin the molt really fast. The pigeons will start another body molt along with the completion of the wing molt.
#2. When the month is complete run the lights 18 hours per day until the wing molt is finished. use Natural day light bulbs to provide the full spectrum of sun light. Another option is to cut and pull remaining primary flights.
#3. If you did not race the young cocks on the system there is no need to run lights after the month. The young hens will finish the molt the following year unless you pull fligths or run lights. If you need to race the hens and or cocks that were on the dark, try to get them through the molt for old birds by using lights or cutting and pulling flights.
#4. Feed high protein (16%) with extra flaxseed, safflour, plus plenty of vitamins and minerals until the body molt is finished.