Sunday, March 2, 2014

Changing interests, pigeon politics & a dove cote

Hello Canberra and readers from afar. This is my first post for 2014 after a few months break from blogging. In fact it's the longest I have stopped in 4 years of penning posts. Put simply my computer crashed and I haven't replaced it. I have adapted to an IPhone and am indeed punching this post into an application.

It's known that I have a deep respect for animals in general but little known is I keep a few pedigree racing pigeons. A Belgian family of exceptional racers called Van Loon. The bird pictured is a blue-bar chequer pied. His brother won a Nyngan-Canberra race of 520 km. So I have been slowly working towards a breeding program to develop a race team for the 2015 Canberra racing club season.

Six months ago I secured some white birds, some of which I discover were from an old Australian racing family bred by the late Alan Fear. Easily picked from the average bird by the narrowness of the tail. There is a short Canberra white race but the competition is limited. Anyway down the track.

Interestingly enough one of the Van Loon racers has appeared to have paired with a Fear bird. Breeding dictates some of the offspring will be white and a better bird for racing. Anyway that's the extent of my pigeon life. I find it calming being around these gentle birds and I can literally call them home from the sky after their morning fly, my birds do not free loft. Some people do but I see it as a situation that may upset neighbours and it effectively establishes a 12 hour menu of pigeon to the majestic peregrine falcon. Bit like a raptor's Maccas I suppose.

Enter my Daughters involvement in my zen pastime. She has always helped me with the menagerie that home often is but took a shine to the seven doves that had by now homed to the loft. Being newly 18 and a bit of an entrepreneur she became keen on utilising these homing doves for ceremonial releases. I had never thought of that but have since learned that dove releases are very popular at Weddings, Funerals & event launches and that the availability in Canberra was limited and those limitations were dictated by the local operators trained stock capacity.

Daughter convinced me of the sentimental value of the service highlighting the significance of a lone dove flying skyward at the conclusion of a funeral and I got that.

It was at this stage Daughter declared that she didn't want to run around town with a dozen doves, she had visions of launching 100 from the front of Parliament House or any other venue happy to enter into a commercial arrangement. She sees a bigger picture.

That's how the breeding program came about. The fact is these doves are white homing pigeons. As such they must be secured as squeakers, a few weeks old who have not flown before so they will home to the new loft. This although ideal is not practicable because not that many people have white pigeons and those that do know the value of them. Collecting and paying for 2 birds at a time would take years to buy 100 working birds. The only other option was to breed.

As it would transpire after a bit of time on pigeon forums we located a racing pigeon breeder in SA with white racing pigeons who was breeding for his own dove release business but for whatever reason he was giving it up. We made the decision to buy 10 pairs of 2 and 3 year old stock birds. And erect a 5 metre 2 section stock loft where these birds will have 3-4 rounds of eggs. 2 eggs each time. The stock birds will produce 60 squabs a year of which the first round will achieve breeding age at 6 months and an accumulative effect progresses from there. I'll put it at 100 flyable birds in 12 months.

That's the breeding, I can do that for her and in some respects even with comprehensive breeding records, feeding and daily cleaning, that's the easy part. The birds must be trained.

Nature does a lot for you in that the birds home to a location but it's not as simple as letting a bird go at the crematorium and it flying home. It probably would but you would lose a proportion of 'silly' as yet youngsters. Young birds must be trained daily and it starts before the birds first flight. Feeding time is 10am. Like clockwork. They are let out about 7am and they leave one after the other like a Gatling gun.

At 10 am a plastic shaker of corn is rattled and from a distance they return and enter through a one way trap called 'bob bars' just as quickly so they don't miss out on the choice grains.

Young birds at first hang around the loft trying out their wings and taking short vertical lifts followed by circular flights around the yard... Then they run home to the loft.

Soon they start flying properly. And within a few weeks start loft flying. Joining together and flocking to destinations unknown. ( if eBay has a tiny gps tracker I may be tempted.) Yearly they enter a moult and look rough and lose flight and tail feathers. They hang around because flight is impaired. When the moult is finished and equipped with beautiful glossy new feathers the birds start being 'tossed'.

At first a few kilometers away, followed by 11 kms, 20 kms, 50 km et al. Birds can race from 800 km and do it in a day. Daughter's birds from the extremities of Canberra will only have a 15 minute flight. A very leisurely life for a pigeon bred for distance but a daily regime for health and fitness Whether they are returning from a wedding or not. These birds love a daily fly it's just they spend their resting hours in the loft rather than sitting around on houses and pecking at the local shops.

The business end is up to my daughter but I have enjoyed helping out with her white birds. She now owns over 30. Some breeding some flying, some training and some still eggs but business stock that can be calculated to the day.

I'm very proud of her. She is young, attractive and mature for her age with a good head for her future. What I have tried to convey in this post is the complexity of maintaining & training a commercial business stock difficult enough before the challenges my daughter faces marketing and providing a professional dove release business in this fair City.

Last I heard she has wedding bookings coming in as the plans calendar progresses. She's not overcommitting releases based on working birds available and the breeding and training program but within months I reckon she'll be the go-to girl for anything doves in Canberra.
In other news... (This hasn't turned into a pigeon blog) I'll probably be posting more Canberra Community posts in the future. 600 posts and the google algorithm have continued to supply this blog with a steady stream of visitors so I may as well share the Canberra love.

I haven't been out bush much lately, too hot. I'll leave you with a cheesy pop video I captured of my Granddaughter (no. 1 from Daughter no. 1) The wiggle song... with filter.

YouTube Video

Checking out a scarred tree on Isabella Drive

I know of probably 20 or so authentic Aboriginal scarred trees dotted around the landscape of suburban Canberra. I have posted a few time...