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 Ask Ed > How do you pair your breeders?
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  How do you pair your breeders?

Fanciers start looking back at their old and young bird racing seasons in November and start to look at bringing in new birds to their lofts. If they didn’t do well in the short races, they’re going to be looking for speed birds. If the long races were a problem, they’ll be searching for distance birds. You can investigate, search out good birds, buy them at live auctions where you can see them and handle them, or through online auctions which are becoming quite popular. You can do it all right, but remember that luck still plays a big part in getting the right birds to do the job for you.

One of the things that I’ve found to be the most successful is to get youngsters from very successful pairs. Highly successful pairs have proven that their gene combinations work, and will continue to work past the first generation behind them. I like to find pairs that are super successful, the more successful the better. The more pigeons that have come out of a pair and raced well, the better I like it.

As far as pairing the birds is concerned, I like to breed birds of the same type, unless I see that there’s a deficiency in a certain type. For example, if I am working with a short distance family that is becoming incapable of clocking at anything beyond 150 miles, or only on easy races, I feel that a deficiency has developed that needs to be addressed. In the U.S. this is not really good enough, because we fly a regimen that includes 350-mile to 400-mile races in young birds. In some combines, you don’t even start combine competition until you get to a distance of 150 to 200 miles.

You can improve that distance performance in a short distance family by bringing in a little bit of distance blood. And you can do this without necessarily sacrificing the speed. You’d bring in a distance bird whose family has proven it can also win at some of the shorter and faster races. Breed that bird into the speed family, and race the youngsters thoroughly. Then breed one of the best of these youngsters back to the speed family.

You can also go about this the other way, breeding speed into a distance family. Breed that cross back into to the distance family to introduce a bit of speed. One of the best known lofts that has done this successfully was the VanHee lofts. The Motta line of distance birds were found to be getting too slow for the races in Europe, so they bought direct Janssen pigeons. They introduced the Janssens one time as a cross, and then they took those half Janssen and half VanHee birds and they bred them back to the VanHee side, coming up with a ¾ VanHee, ¼ Janssen bird. They produced many national winners with this combination of bloodlines.

I like to pair my birds so that there’s always a genetic link between two pigeons. The studies I‘ve done on the subject really back this up. I’ve spent countless hours studying genetic percentages. I’ve found that there seems to be a common denominator between 28% and 37% common blood and a high degree of success in racing, and also in breeding. Especially linebred pigeons kept at a linebred coefficient of between 28% and 34%, or sometimes higher, seem to have more consistency in winning races than either outcrosses or birds that are inbred or linebred closer than that.

I try to find a dominant gene pigeon, a bird that has proven itself to be a super breeder or racer, and I prefer a super breeder that was also a super racer. Line breed at about a 31% ratio to that particular pigeon. This is the exact ratio of my bird that won 6th place at the Snowbird race and was also the 6th overall best pigeon in the Snowbird race and Snowbird futurity combined last year. It’s also the same percentage that was successful for me in some of the local futurities and the New Orleans Open Classic. It’s proven itself in my loft over many years of racing and keeping these records. In comparing it to outcross birds, in other words, those with no common ancestry within 6 generations, it is much more successful.

Often, outcrossing is just a shot in the dark. You can sometimes have fantastic success, but also a much higher degree of uncertainty or of complete failure with outcrossing. Why do people do complete outcrossing then? Because of the hybrid vigor that can sometimes result. If you pair two inbred pigeons that have no relation at all, you can sometimes get a boost called hybrid vigor. The percentage for success is around 17% or between one in five and one in six, according to the Europeans. A fabulous exception to this is finding a "nick pair" that gives you a much higher percentage of success. But generally, two complete opposites will give you between one in five or one in six success with a good bird.

With linebred pigeons from a good origin, the percentages go up to anywhere from one in four to one in three. So you have much higher odds for success with steady pigeons through linebred pairings. In some situations, a complete outcross pigeon will become a superstar, because it has not only the hybrid vigor but also the combination of genes that allows it to be a steady racer. And the hybrid vigor allows it to be a steady, great racer. So sometimes the outcross is a worthwhile effort. We do this to some extent every year, especially if we want to introduce one of the outcrosses back into one of the existing families later.

Using outcrosses that have a known probability of nicking is one way to reduce the uncertainty of combining two families. An example of one of these combinations is the pairing of Huyskens Van Riels with the Haveniths, which is done quite a bit in New Jersey. Many people know that Janssens have proven to be great crosses with many families. The Stoces with Grondelaers is another natural nick. One of the best natural nick pairs is the Golden Couple from Meulemans with Van Den Bosche blood crossed with Janssen blood. That produced an entire family of great birds based on an outcross pairing.

So there can be great value in pairing complete outcrosses with one another, but you increase your chances of success if you have some idea of the crosses that have been done and proven with success before. Some families of birds crossed with others have no success at all. The average combination seems to be no better than one in five or one in six.

We like to do a majority of our pairings linebred, but when we have a very inbred bird, in other words where we’ve made a combination of father-daughter or mother-son and produced a very inbred progeny, we like to cross that progeny to a completely different family. We do the father-daughter, mother-son pairings because we have found that when we take a very successful racer out of a super breeder and pair that successful racer back to its parent, we often get above average and sometimes even great breeders. If it’s a successful cock, we like to pair it back to its mother. If it’s a successful hen, we like to pair it back to its father. We try to race their young ones, and we don’t ask those young ones to be as successful in the races as we would expect an outcross to be, because those babies don’t have the advantage of having hybrid vigor.

We set a different standard and set of goals for the inbreds than for the linebreds and outcrosses. If they meet these goals, which are basically to be a good homing pigeon, be a steady racer, show some intelligence in coming home in a decent time (not necessarily win the race or even score a diploma, but come close) then we would consider that an indicator that this bird has ability and intelligence and should be given a chance as a breeder. We cross these to other families that we’ve done the same thing to, one that we already know would be a good nick with the first family.

In 1998, we took our best Horemans hen and bred her to her son From that pair we raised four babies and raced all of them. Two did fairly well, never winning but coming in good time. We bred from three of them in 2000. The ones that did OK in the races have both produced excellent clock birds for us. The one that did not race well has not. It’s something we’ve always done and will continue to do. We’ve had a great deal of success with it. Now we’ve found two future breeders for our loft, and they’re young, only ‘98s, so we know that we’ve got a young breeder that we can go with for a long time to give us a percentage of good pigeons every year.

So to summarize, we look to pair genetically linked pigeons, or we look for a complete outcross if we’re dealing with two fairly inbred birds. If we’re not dealing with an inbred pigeon, we prefer to line breed them because chances of success are greater. We’d outcross a bird that is heavily inbred. We’d line breed a bird that is not so heavily inbred or not inbred at all.

How are the inbreeding coefficients calculated? If you look at a 5-generation pedigree, the father and mother are considered to be equally responsible for the gene pool of the young one, so the pigeon in question gets 50% of its gene pool from the father and 50% of its gene pool from the mother. The offspring also gets 25% of its gene pool from each of its grandparents. 12.5% each from its great-grandparents, 6.25% from its great-great-grandparents, and 3.125% from its great-great-great-grandparents. This is as far as you need to go to figure out the genetic linkage.

I take the common genetic link between the father and the mother to figure out a bird’s genetic coefficient. If a bird is from inbred pigeons on only one side of its pedigree, its inbreeding coefficient is zero. But if it has common ancestors in the father’s and mother’s sides, or top and bottom of the pedigree, it has an inbreeding coefficient. How high that coefficient is, is just a matter of adding up the percentages.
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