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|News > Lou Coletta|
A Master of the Game
Lou Coletta holds a foundation hen
|"Buffalo Bill’s Lofts" are tucked into a narrow courtyard alongside Lou and Dona Coletta’s handsome home on Garrow Drive in Antioch, California. The average person would never guess that behind the cedar fences lining the back yard are four lofts of racing pigeons. Not just any racing pigeons, but birds that have made Lou Coletta’s name well known among racing pigeon enthusiasts due to the extraordinary success of their progeny in major futurities around the world. At any given time, these lofts have approximately 60 racers placed in futurities around the United States and other parts of the world, such as China and South Africa. Anyone paying attention to the top spots on the race sheets for these special races has seen Lou Coletta’s name appear time and time again.
Why the name "Buffalo Bill’s Lofts"? Lou says it goes back to the days that he lived in Brooklyn, New York. Lou grew up in a close-knit neighborhood there, and became interested in pigeons when he was eight years old. He started with the name as a young boy, and it has stuck throughout his racing career. Lou was encouraged in the early years by a fancier who lived down the block by the name of Mike Langella who flew under the loft name, "Sunrise Loft."
Lou flew pigeons in Brooklyn as a young boy until he went into military service. While he was stationed in Germany, his mother took care of his birds. One weekend in 1957 Lou and couple of his buddies decided that they would take a few days leave and decided to travel to Belgium. Little did Lou realize the impact that this short trip to Belgium would have on his racing pigeon career. By a stroke of luck, or divine intervention, Lou and his buddies stumbled upon a pigeon auction, but not just any pigeon auction. Lady Luck had brought Lou to the final sale of one of the world’s most famous lofts, that of Huyskens and Van Riel.
Lou holds top sire
Lou had heard of Huyskens and Van Riel but he had not realized how fantastic their pigeons were until he found himself in the thick of a mob of fanciers bidding like crazy on a group of slick looking dark checker pigeons. It didn’t take Lou long to figure out that if he wanted to rise to the top when he was able to resume his racing career, he’d better not pass up this golden opportunity, so he bought three birds. Only after the auction was over and he had refused several offers to buy the birds he had just obtained did he find out that his birds were direct descendants of the world-famous "Blisken" and "Steek."
Lou sent the birds to his mother, and when he returned home began his racing career anew. The progeny of those three birds founded Lou’s loft. They were easily better than anything he had ever flown before. In fact, they were so good that Lou decided that he needed no other bloodlines. They won at short and fast and long and hard. From those early years, Lou has progressed with these birds, keeping them extremely inbred, a practice he continues to this day.
About Jeff Van Riel, Coletta says, " He was a master breeder. I follow his breeding techniques completely." Coletta has kept the birds so intensely inbred that an unusual feature is now showing up after sixty years--a rare bronze coloration, whose source is a 1938 hen called "The Bronze Hen." She was given this name, Lou says, by Huyskens and Van Riel themselves, since it shows up in the pedigrees of some of his birds.
"When I flew in New York, I earned All American honors and Combine Hall of Fame awards. I also won lots of races and futurities, all with this same family of birds. They were as good as any pigeons on Long Island in those days and they did all that I asked them to do. I got out of the sport in 1978-1979," Lou says, "and at the time of my final sale, I gave my dear old friend Mike Langella my two Hall of Fame winners.
"When I came back into pigeon racing 14 years later and 3,000 miles from New York, I immediately tried to get my old blood back. I got descendants of my Hall of Fame winners from Mike to restock the loft, and I got birds back from other friends in the sport who had acquired birds at my final sale, guys such as Dick Lisicki and Fred Calderone in New Jersey. Fred had bought my foundation pair, and from them he had bred ‘329’ in 1979. Ralph Leggio had purchased ‘329’ from Fred Calderone’s final sale. That foundation pair had bred 51 winners, and they’re responsible for hundreds of winners through their grandchildren. Ralph was good enough to send me ‘329’ and ‘239’ (his daughter) and ‘1770’ (his son). With those three pigeons, I told my wife Dona in 1993 that we’d be on top again in two years.
Lou's birds are kept warm by lights, under sheathing
"I had Don Hart breed me six young birds. One of them is my best foundation hen, ‘Judy Hart.’ Another is my ‘453’ cock, a great pigeon who produced ‘Dream Girl.’ Another was the mother to my China winner, which was ‘0789’ and was sold last year. These bloodlines went back to George Shilton’s ‘523,’ a son of ‘Blisken.’ With this handful of birds, I started inbreeding and re-creating my HVR family.
I’ve only done new introductions in 1996 with ‘Super 73’ blood from Campbell Strange, so that now I basically have two distinct families. I’ve kept the families intact. I will build around the ‘73’ bloodlines as a separate entity, and I’ve done some successful crossings between the Huyskens-Van Riels and the ‘Super 73s’, but I would not destroy either distinct family. For race purposes, I’ll send them out as crosses. But the birds are kept in separate lofts as separate families."
What is Lou’s preferred breeding method? Brother to sister, father to daughter, and mother to son. His birds are basically bred for futurities, especially the 400-mile young bird races, where he scores extremely high. In old bird races, though, his birds are doing well on 400’s, 500’s and 600’s, even as yearlings.
"1180" is one of Coletta’s foundation cocks. He came from Dick Lisicki and when blended with the ‘Judy Hart,’ (Shilton 901-523) blood this pair became one of Lou’s foundation pairs.
"I have a bird that Gayle Renfroe flew well with, a straight ‘Super 73.’ The mother is ‘6812’—a wonderful daughter of ‘2778.’ I’ve had a couple of offers for her, but I doubt I’ll sell her. She has bred a lot of tremendous pigeons, and there are some excellent breeders down from her. Johnny Matthews in Louisiana has a son—‘1007’-- that has bred lots of winners for him crossed with Van Riels and produced a champion racer in the Texas Center. He won Kenneth Smith’s one-loft race in Louisiana with one. When Johnny first bought the birds from me, he won 11 of 11 young bird races and has won 6 or 7 races in 2000. He purchased both families from me, and I told him how to mate them. He’s happy with them."
We asked Lou to detail some of his successes in races during his second venture into the racing pigeon sport. "In 1994, the second year after getting back into the sport, I had three birds on the drop in a big race in China. I won third place in that race. In 1994, I also took second, third, fifth, eighth and eleventh in the Mardi Gras Race in Louisiana. That same year, I also had a good bird in the Snowbird Race flown by Arthur Deluze. My birds also placed fifth and seventh in the IF Convention Race in Arizona that year.
"In 1995, I won the Montana State Race, the Keys Memorial Race, and my bird came in 4th in the IF Convention Race. We won 3rd in the Texas Center Convention ‘B’ Race in 1995, and I had a good bird in the Snowbird that year, too, handled by Marty Ladin. I bred two for John Bellandi that were multiple winners that year. Today, one of my hens in Taiwan is breeding extremely well. And a cock bought by Ron Actis has bred him his second place futurity winner in 2000 in the first year of breeding. And he’s also the father of a couple of foundation breeders. He’s a son down from ‘239’ mated with a cock from Nick Corini that he called ‘Montana.’
"But my big year was 1996. I had the only day bird in the City of Hope Race, a one-loft race with about 300 birds. She was a direct daughter of ‘Coco,’ and I named her ‘Home Alone.’ Now she’s one of my foundation breeding hens. That year I won 3rd and 4th in the IF Convention Race. In 1996, my birds achieved something that had never before been done in the history of the Hayward Green Band Race. I shipped five birds, and all five were in the money, taking 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, & 8th. I won first (with a daughter of ‘Louisa’), second (with a daughter of ‘Judy Hart’ and ‘1180’), third (with a daughter of ‘239’), along with fifth and eighth, with birds from my three foundation pairs." This is a 400-mile young bird race. "We also won the Montana State Race again, and scored high in the CBS Race. In 1996, I was also 4th in the East Meadow Futurity on Long Island.
"In 1997, we took 11th in the Snowbird best average speed. My birds placed 12th and 17th. We won the Louisiana Classic with William Tarver. A bird of mine came in 3rd place in the Montana State Race. Also in 1997, ‘Miss Regret’ off of ‘Dream Girl’ won 2nd Ace Pigeon.
"In 1998, I won 4th in the President’s Cup, and in the Montana Race, I won 1st. I came in 1st and 2nd in the Central Louisiana Classic that year, and won 3rd place in the IF Convention Race.
"In 1999, I had the best loft in the South African $1 Million Race. That year, I also had the 1st Best Ace Pigeon American Long Distance Champion, bred by me and flown by Gayle Renfroe. And I received the 2nd Ace Pigeon Award from The Racing Pigeon Digest. My birds also came in 1st in the Louisiana Classic, and 1st and 2nd in the CBS Race. In the Antioch Futurity, I took 4th. In the following 400-mile young bird races, I took 7th in the Martinez Futurity, 4th in the Martinez Golden Gate Classic, 3rd in the High Sierra Futurity, and 2nd in the Hayward Gold Band Race. That year, in the President’s Cup Race, I took 4th, with four birds coming in on the drop.
"In 2000, my birds came in 4th, 23rd and 50th in the AU Race in Detroit. We also placed 31st in the Las Vegas Million Dollar Race. Also in 2000, I had an AU Hall of Fame winner."
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Lou picks a bird for sale to Taiwan
With race results like these, it’s clear that within two years of getting back into the sport, Lou Coletta’s momentum started gaining speed and it has not slowed. He flies only in futurities, where his birds are highly sought after, and he averages $40,000 a year in winnings. He strategically places his birds with different handlers in different climates around the country.
Coletta says, "Fanciers who have purchased birds from me have reported some big winnings in the futurities--the Frank Viola races, the President’s Cup races, the Golden Gate Classic—almost every time the big futurity winners have been at least half of my blood." Lou adds, "Since 1994, the documented feedback that I have had from people who have bought my birds is that my loft has produced breeders that have produced more than 200 winners. Seventy-five percent of them are straight HVR or ‘Super 73’ blood, and 25 percent of them have been crosses or blends. Just a couple of examples are the 1999 1st Ace Pigeon of Gayle Renfroe’s (a long-distance champion in the 301-700 bird division) and the 2000 1st AU Hall of Fame bird, off of ‘Judy’s Best.’"
After returning from a futurity, Lou’s birds are quarantined for an entire month. They get a bath three or four times a week, and they’re kept on a strict health program. "I like to give my birds natural products like honey, peanut butter, iodine, garlic and tea, and I use Naturaline (from the Natural Company) and lots of minerals, Biochol from Oropharma and anise oil for good feathers. And the birds are treated with medications only when needed. Droppings are checked monthly while we’re scraping lofts for anything suspicious. Our lofts are very open, airy and very sunny (see photos). We maintain the finest and best of health, and I think this gives the youngsters I send out a huge advantage by being in extremely good health and in tremendous form. There’s no reason to be set back, which puts them ahead of the other birds.
"My motto is to keep the best. All of our breeders have bred winners. Or when being mated to birds that have performed well in the races. I get birds back from various futurities and mate them back to their parents to maintain the lineage and the winning gene. The birds have tremendous muscle and eyes, and tremendous wings and feathers. The bird should not be long- or short-casted, but medium-casted, and with perfect throats. I emphasize that the throat must be perfect—healthy.
"Most fanciers need to learn about their birds’ bodies. I’d bet 99 percent of the guys in the sport don’t know where the oil gland is and that they should massage it. My birds’ oil glands are massaged twice a year to make sure that they’re open, not clogged. And this goes a long way in helping to maintain perfect health in the birds.
"The perfect throat should be pink. The larynx should be oval-shaped, almost like a marquise diamond. If they’re slightly like an egg shape, you know your bird has a respiratory problem. If it’s round, the bird should be eliminated from racing or breeding, because the efficiency in breathing is just not there. There is not enough oxygen going into the blood, and the stamina for racing is just not there."
Asked how his best money-winning birds are bred, Coletta replies that he selects birds the way he feels they should be mated. "I mate not by pedigree but by type. I look at throat selection first, then the eye, wings, muscle, and feather quality. To me, pedigree is the last thing because my birds are so inbred, and the success is still there with the inbreeding, so that’s not an issue with me.
"I believe in the eye. In years past, I used to teach eyesign, but I’ve sort of gotten away from that. I believe in a strong sphincter muscle in the eye. I like a very small pupil, and I like to see a lot of depth in the iris. The color of the eye isn’t as important to me as the alertness of the sphincter muscle and the size of the pupil. I will mate two birds with similar eyes with no problem. My birds’ eyes run from yellow to orange to green to violet. A lot of the ‘239’ and ‘329’ blood has this rich chestnut eye color, which is really distinctive in my birds. It’s easy for me to spot birds in others’ lofts that are down from my birds. This eye color comes down from the ‘Old 58 Hen,’ who died when she was 22. That year, she laid one egg and we banded the baby with #200. Ciro Cepatano won the 200 mile combine race with that baby.
"I think the longevity all comes from keeping the birds healthy. I don’t believe in breeding the heck out of a hen. At most, I’ll pull six eggs out of a hen, no more. Try to maintain the hens’ weight, and don’t let them get chunky and fat on you. If you feel they are getting fat, put them on 100 percent barley, and on occasion five percent wheat with the barley. Then they’ll get buoyant after they get rid of that yellow fat tissue. My birds also get apple cider vinegar twice a week.
"I like to choose the healthiest bird in the nest to send out to a futurity. Picking a healthy bird really gives a breeder an advantage. Also, people should shoot their birds for PMV before sending them to futurities. Sometimes the futurity handlers don’t shoot for PMV, and you know your bird has been taken care of. If they do vaccinate for PMV, your bird will just have a booster. I shoot all my birds for PMV at 26 days in the nest.
"I also think that if you have any young ones or any pairs of birds that breed young ones that have wet droppings around the nest, the pair should be eliminated along with the young ones. Period. I don’t think they should be tried with other birds."
We asked Lou if he had any recommendations for other fanciers. "When people buy breeders," he says, "they should select birds that are well balanced and buoyant. Also, I would urge all experienced fanciers to go out of their way to help beginners in our great sport."
Lou Coletta can be reached by telephone at (925) 757-9297.
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