Always Something to Learn

Opening the Feb. 1 2010 issue of the Racing Pigeon Digest and seeing the research article written by Dr. William T. Keeton from over 40 years ago certainly jarred my memory. How could it be that long ago that I had applied for a job to work with that research team at Cornell University? At the time I was a young teacher who really enjoyed his job. I also thought I was a knowledgeable pigeon flyer. But oh yes, that is the joy of youth. As the years passed, I got smarter in both areas and realized I knew less and less. In retrospect, it was a good thing that I came to my senses and withdrew myself from consideration for the Cornell job. I had a young family, and yet I almost let my hobby entice me from the responsibility to build a career and keep my family secure.

As it turned out, a good pigeon flyer from Detroit, the very able Andy Gobert, became the person working on the Cornell project representing us pigeon flyers in the academic world. We fanciers expected great things to come out of this project, and read the updates with interest as they were published. Like I said, it does not seem that 40 years have passed.

This was also the time in American pigeon history that seminars given by fellow pigeon flyers became part of our conventions. I was one of the early group of fanciers who were seminar speakers. Shortly after Andy Gobert left the research study at Cornell I was asked, along with Otto Meier, to be on the platform with Andy in Texas. For whatever reason, I was reluctant to accept the invitation. It was only a comment by my friend Ken Wetzel that Andy Gobert had a new theory on the metallic fleck theory of eyesign that made me accept the invitation to also present a seminar.

Now this triggered my curiosity. I’ve found that if you keep an open mind while listening to any seminar, you usually come away with something that you did not know before. As it happened, it was not the metallic fleck theory in which I had such great interest that eventually impressed me. Granted, as the seminar was discussed, many were ooh-ing and aah-ing about this new theory. Birds were being graded by a number of self-proclaimed experts on the theory. It was the buzz of the weekend. But for me, it was more of a bust.

In those days I had a very exceptional breeding pair that had produced numerous big winners in 300-mile young bird derbies as well as 500-mile derbies and races. This pair was truly outstanding. They would have made anyone, even with minimal skills or knowledge, look good. So when I came home from that seminar, I immediately checked that pair, along with a number of their excellent children. I found that the new metallic eyesign fleck theory was a failure when applied to my proven birds and so I trashed it immediately.

But as I said previously, if you have an open mind you always walk away with some bit of knowledge from a seminar. The data that Andy Gobert presented about the Keeton studies were certainly interesting. But the highlight for me was learning how Andy supplemented his old hens. He said that if an old hen didn’t have a perfect egg shell any more, or if the eggs became smaller, or if she laid only one egg, then he would give the hen calcium gluconate. Specifically these were large tablets made by Lilly that you could snap diagonally and put down the bird’s throat. This supplementation of calcium, although it now seems so obvious, was something I had never thought of or done before. It turned out to be a wonderful tool for me that I used for a good number of years.

Oh, before I forget, he would start giving an old hen this calcium pill when he mated the pair and kept on giving it until the hen would actually lay her eggs. In my lofts, this produced a number of extra eggs from special pigeons that I would never have had otherwise.

Another related subject that came up during that weekend concerned an exceptional flying hen that Andy owned. This hen had a fantastic record at all distances. But she also had the unique characteristic of laying three eggs in a clutch instead of the standard two. But here is where Andy took it one step further, and he claimed with no harm to the hen. When this hen would lay, he immediately removed the egg. His thinking was, the pair would not know they had an egg, especially the cock. He would keep the calcium supplementation up and remove one egg after another. He claimed to have taken as many as 14 to 15 eggs in succession. This is something I had never heard of before or since.

However, hens that lay three eggs are out there. Emiel DeWeerdt, a well-known loft of Belgium, had three hens that had done this. The three hens were related, and the trait skipped a generation each time. And these happened to be exceptional hens. Now I am certainly not claiming that there is any correlation between a hen being a good hen and a hen laying three eggs. Presently I have several hens that lay three eggs. One does it consistently, in other words, nest after nest. The others may do it twice and then skip and go back to a normal two eggs. My hens are related and they also happen to be what I consider very good hens.

Is the laying of three eggs a good thing? I would say probably not. It does not seem to hurt the hens themselves. But I find the actual sequence of laying three eggs is the problem. The first two eggs are laid in the usual time frame. In other words, the first egg is laid in the afternoon, skip a day, and the second egg is laid the next morning. Then the incubation process begins. However, the hens that lay a third egg do this two days after the second egg has been laid. The incubation of their first 2 eggs has already started, which is the natural timing. Therefore, if you want to keep the third egg, it must be fostered out because that egg will hatch two days after the first two eggs in the nest. Although a pair is quite capable of raising three youngsters, a youngster born 2 days later than his nestmates quite often will not get the necessary food and will end up dead underneath its bigger siblings. When that third egg is moved to a foster nest, then of course everything can proceed normally.

So I went to give a seminar and was also eager to learn something new from a fellow seminar presenter. Although my original quest did not work out, I still came home with some very useful information that I utilized for many years.