Q: I would like to know what I should look for in a good foundation cock bird and hen.

First, I look for a well-bred pigeon. Then I look for a bird with as few faults as possible. Also, a bird that has traits that resemble brothers and sisters or uncles and aunts that have been good producers. And, are there close relatives that have been exceptional breeders or flyers?Having that in place, the bird then needs to be tried out. If he or she breeds winners with multiple mates, then you have struck gold and you have a foundation breeder.

Q: What criteria should a new flyer use in buying birds?

You asked me what appears to be a simple question, but in reality it is far from that.

Many people are very willing to pass on artificial selection tips to new flyers. You can read the canned so-called shortcuts described in various publications. What I am referring to of course is the "strong back, tight vent, supple muscle, buoyancy, balance" type of criteria. Then you may also hear at great length about the "eyesign" theory, and to top it all off, you will sooner or later run into "inbreeding and creating your own family". Those all sound very good and many people take one or some of these criteria and think they now have a shortcut to success.

Breeding is just not that simple. The first and foremost criteria is for the breeder to know what he is trying to achieve. This leaves about 98% of fanciers in the dust. Just go to a pigeon auction or show and observe when people handle birds. They all go through very similar motions and it is because the other guy does. If you ask them point-blank what they are looking for, you will probably create great embarrassment because they really don't know. Some of what they want to see is impossible to be seen.

In obtaining birds, it really comes down to hopefully be dealing with someone who has a partial clue of what to look for. Now please don't hold this against people who breed and sell pigeons, for most of them think they know what they are doing, either by using pedigrees and certain strains, by breeding to famous grandparents or great-grandparents, or using some of the criteria that I mentioned above.

Kind of look at it like breeding a white pigeon. Seldom do we find good white pigeons, the reason being that most white pigeons are produced because of their color, not how successful they are racing. If we like white ones, we will keep them even if they are not the best in the loft in order to produce more white ones. We forget about the rest of the bird and carry on mediocrity. (I do not mean to imply that there are not breeders who go to great lengths to breed good white performing racing pigeons.) The same thing easily happens when we want a certain color of eye and usually the rarer it is, the assumption is that it must be that much better. We can also go on and on with wide backs and other criteria that breeders select and aim for.Why do they select certain characteristics and breed for them? It is usually because someone who visits them says "Gee, that's a nice bird". By the time the second or third person has said that, the bird is elevated in stature and certain to become one of the main breeders of the loft.

There are a very small percentage of people who have a true knack for breeding. The Janssen Brothers, of course, stand out, since that little loft produced an unbelievable amount of breeding stock across the world. Then you take Jaan Grondelaars -- for many decades always a very good loft in Belgium. He sold out his complete loft of pigeons several times but always returned to a high level in a short period of time. Yes, he bought very exceptional pigeons, but he knew what to do with them.

You will also find that many of the very exceptional racing cocks of the world are not the exceptional breeders. It takes a very honest person to admit to that, especially when a pigeon like that commands a very high price. But you will normally find very good racing cocks to have good offspring across the country. But let us just assume if the racing pigeon is an average breeder, but very expensive, who will his mate be? Of course a good proven breeding hen. If that youngster is sold for a high price, the person purchasing it will in turn mate it to the best that he owns. Now we are down to 1/4 of the original cock bird, still carry his name, and there are bound to be some good pigeons.

One thing for sure -- do not purchase recycled or used pigeons. No matter how much people tell you they must reduce their birds, or they have a lot of good young ones from a certain bird and now are willing to sell him, it just does not work that way. When a bird is truly a special breeder, he will not leave that person's loft unless there is a funeral involved.

Now how do you buy decent pigeons? You are really at the mercy of the seller and that is if he realizes what he is really doing. A seller has a good idea where his potentially good pigeons are coming from. In other words, he knows if there have been brothers and sisters to these particular birds that have bred good pigeons or have performed racing. And even then, you are only buying "potential". Nobody can honestly guarantee that you will get what is called a foundation breeding pair. This is why in my loft I always fly youngsters from new and untried matings. I am constantly searching for what is going to work next. Remember, when you find those rare birds that breed winners with multiple mates, and also their children breed winners, then you have a bird that you can call a foundation bird, and only then. It will be based on fact, not someone's "prophecy". We are all after that super star, a Michael Jordan. I don't know of another Michael right now!