RACING DARKENING SYSTEM
The past few years have
produced an evolution in young bird racing. The large amounts of prize
money and the instant fame a top young bird season produces have forced
changes in the methods used.
Not to many years ago,
young birds were raced to the perch. If we wanted to send young birds to
the races in full feather we had very few options available. We could try
to pair them. While they were brooding and raising youngsters the moult
would stop. But not all young birds mated easily, many were not yet sexually
mature. Young birds were sent with bare heads and covert feathers missing
over the wings, not very aerodynamic. When they are moulting there are
hormonal changes in the bird. These changes resulted in birds that were
reluctant to leave the loft for exercise, making it difficult to keep them
in top condition for the races.
About ten years ago several
lofts in Europe started to show unbelievable race results with their young
bird teams. They were dominating the races, sometimes getting large drops
of birds well ahead of the competition. In the second half of the young
bird season when their competitors birds were going into the heavy moult,
they became unstoppable.
With these record breaking
results came accusations of drugging and doping. It is human nature to
suspect the worst in people. "Whatís going on ?", " What hit us ?". Everyone
was dumfounded and couldnít understand what had happened to them.
What had happened?.These
young bird specialists had developed a system that allowed them to control
the moult on their race team. They had observed that the young birds born
early in the winter moulted their head and covert feathers but did not
moult their primary feathers. These birds had an almost full complement
of feathers during the racing season. Knowing that day length causes hormonal
changes that stimulate the moult, they put two and two together and said,
" why not keep all our youngsters, spring and winter, in artificial day
length and see what happens". The predictable happened. The birds under
artificially shortened days moulted their head and covert feathers but
their primaries either did not drop or dropped very slowly.
While these specialists
were developing their darkening system there were other flyers who had
noticed that while they were treating their birds for conjunctivitis with
some of the steroid preparations commonly available, the birds stopped
moulting completely. No head feathers, no covert feathers and no primaries.
This seemed to be an easy solution to the moult problem in young birds
and was readily adapted by many flyers. It was learned very quickly that
these steroid containing products created serious problems for the birds.
The kidneys , sex organs and the birds resistance to disease were all adversely
affected. The ruling bodies in several countries have now ruled against
the use of these products and many others are in the process of developing
rules and testing procedures . Hopefully this will eliminate the few who
were abusing the use of these products. It is to bad because the original
purpose of these products was to help the birds, to heal them.
Now that we have some
background on the darkening system weíll try to explain how to use it.
First let me say that I believe we should keep our birds as naturally as
possible. There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding out there about the
day length and what it accomplishes. Many flyers are under the impression
that by shortening the day down to eight or ten hours the birds will moult
faster. Not so. The moult will proceed at a rapid rate if we use the amount
of daylight of our shortest day in the winter. This is about twelve hours.
This amount of day length for ten days in the spring will start the moult.
The length of day is
what is important, not when the curtains are dropped or when they are raised.
Personally I darken from seven thirty to seven thirty because this is what
is most convenient for me. For someone working to a different schedule
perhaps nine to nine or from noon to midnight by providing lights after
dark till midnight. All of them work, as long as the length of day light
is right and we do it everyday at the same time. Donít darken one day from
nine to nine and the next from seven thirty to seven thirty, the times
must be consistent.
Go back to natural day
length about four weeks before the young bird schedule starts. They seem
to reach top form about six weeks after darkening has stopped. They will
start to drop a few flights but very slowly, the body feathers stay tight.
When the day length gets down to sixteen hours, around the first of August
here, I put my lights on timers so that the birds receive sixteen hours
of light right to the end of the season. In the past I didnít do this and
had a hard time holding the body feathers in Sept. when our big races took
place. Giving them a sixteen hour day held the feathers.
You will notice that
youngsters that are darkened donít take their exercise well in the spring
and early summer. This is only natural. Remember there are hormonal changes
in birds that are moulting, donít force them to exercise at this time,
be patient. Shortly after they receive natural day length you will see
them blossom. They will begin to exercise freely and range for hours. This
is the time to begin their education.
How dark do we keep them.
Pitch black is not necessary, think how dark it is on a moonlit night.
You can still see. When you darken your loft and you no longer have birds
moving around, if it is quite, it is probably dark enough. Remember we
are attempting to imitate nature.
There is no point in
putting winter born youngsters in the dark. The day length at that time
of year is short enough and the birds will moult their body feathers naturally.
Shortening days at this time of year accomplishes nothing. With these youngsters
you donít have to start till some time in March. Youngsters born in Feb.
and later can be put on the system when they are weaned.
When the racing season
is over turn of the lights and let the birds go back to natural day length.
In no time they will start a second body moult. The primaries keep moulting,
sometimes two and three at a time. Last season I had several birds moult
all twelve tail feathers in a matter of a few days. Ninety nine percent
of the birds will moult completely. Some drop their last primaries in Jan.
and Feb. but, moult them they will.
Having your youngsters
on the dark system in no way affects them as old birds. The yearlings can
not be used for early breeding because they are in a heavy moult early
in the winter. These birds are raced into Oct. and having just completed
a heavy race schedule they need rest and lots of food till later in the
spring before breeding should be attempted. If these birds are treated
with care and patience they race well in their yearling year. My best old
bird last year was a yearling who had been on the dark system the year
before, he won two firsts a second and a fifth in a eleven week schedule
and raced every week.
When you drop the curtains
and try to keep the light out of your loft be careful, watch that you do
not stop or hinder your ventilation. I have seen lofts that were closed
up so tight that the birds were getting little or no fresh air. Look over
your situation and see if perhaps a few modifications will ensure the birds
get lots of fresh air.
With a little thought
and planning anyone can adjust this system to suit them. By flying youngsters
in full feather you should be more competitive. You will give them a chance
to show their worth.