All material Copyright © 1996-2014 by Silvio Mattacchione & Co. unless otherwise noted.
Myths and the "Quick Fix"
To say that the pigeon racing sport in North America, or for that matter, in the rest of the supposedly civilized world is steeped in myth, would be to utter an understatement... in fact, an understatement of grand proportions. Though most in the sport pride themselves on their knowledge of science, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, what most fanciers practice is pseudo-science, nay, in a sense witchcraft would be a more appropriate description.
What is a myth? A myth can be defined, and is defined by my Webster's New World Dictionary as: 1) a traditional story of unknown authorship, serving usually to explain some phenomenon of nature; 2) any fictitious story; 3) imaginary or fictitious.
We should also define the word mystify: 1) to deliberately bewilder; 2) to puzzle or perplex; 3) to involve in mystery and make obscure.
As in all of life's pursuits there exists a group of people who make it their life's work to obfuscate, or take what should be clear and turn it into a mystery. What should be clear is made, deliberately, into an obscure and perplexing puzzle. These obfuscators then pawn themselves off as the Grand Pooh-bahs of this wonderful and enjoyable sport of ours.
Why is this done? Well, how else can they, the obfuscators, become the supposed experts, the Grand Pooh-bahs, if everyone else, the normal pigeon fanciers, can also come to a common sense understanding of what one needs to do to understand, enjoy, and become successful with one's own birds? How else can someone who has generally no more knowledge than you do benefit emotionally, socially, and yes, even financially from this pastime if he is somehow not at a level perceived to be higher than your own?
The North American mentality, unfortunately, is totally prone to this ruse. In North America, we truly have this misguided belief in the "We Are #1" syndrome." Our sports teams are #1, our country is #1, our schools are #1, our financial enterprises are #1, and our corporations are #1. This leaves us totally opened for the inevitable broadside. When we least expect it, we are taken out because we never had the common sense to understand that to really be #1 and to maintain this status perpetually you must strive to develop depth. In order to develop depth, you must take the emphasis away from #1 and concentrate on developing an overall level of excellence and consistency of performance. Some European pigeon fanciers understood this long ago; we have yet to even begin to grasp this fundamental concept. We have not yet learned to develop a plan that recognizes that you (your family of birds, your loft, your team, your government, etc.) are really only as strong as your weakest link.
All of our efforts-in so many areas-in North America are to be likened to a huge rudderless battleship. Great resources are capable of tremendous effort, but have absolutely no way to steer and maintain direction. If you cannot maintain control and direction, speed and destructive force do you no good.
OK, so where is all of this going? Recently, Shannon Hiatt and I hosted a web conference for Jim Reynaert on The Racing Pigeon Support Web The more I tried to explain an overall philosophy or approach, the more the participants insisted on a magic bullet! They were not interested in learning; they were only interested in that quick fix-their approach being, "Do not encumber me with an understanding of the problem; just give me the ability to quickly fix the symptom." In a very real sense we are all guilty of this drawback, of this weakness. That is why in previous writings I have always insisted upon all fanciers reading, doing, and trying on their own without worrying about wining or losing, but initially only in the doing. As you do, you begin to understand; as you begin to understand, you begin to recognize; as you begin to recognize, you begin to appreciate; as you begin to appreciate, you can begin to protect yourself against the pigeon charlatans who prey upon all of those who insist upon the fallacy of the magic bullet and the "We Are #1" syndrome!
One of the greatest myths that we suffer is that of eye sign in all its myriad forms, the perfect example of pseudo-science, quackery pure and simple in all its forms. Yet these charlatans will tell you how they have studied the great books on iridology, have studied eye muscle, motion, etc. They bamboozle you with anatomical details with their own better system that is more foolproof (than that of all the other quacks). Then they deliver the coup de grāce, "You know, I have handled 100,000, 200,000, 500,000 pigeons in my lifetime-more birds than you have every seen." Well, now, does that not prove their theory is correct? Yes, this no doubt is science. What I find amazing is the further assertion that these self-same wizards can remember-if not the eye of every bird they have ever handled-at least 50% of all the eyes of all the birds they have ever handled. Imagine 50,000 to 250,000 eyes committed to memory when the rest of us poor mortals find it hard to remember, describe, and illustrate the colors of the eyes of our wives and children! Oh, yes, but then we do not proclaim the special attributes that these pigeon Grand Pooh-bahs do!
So on this note, let us focus on an article that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, October 19, 1984, in Australia. Why Australia? Because, for those in the know, the Australians are great eye sign aficionados. The title of the article was Pigeon Breeder Admits Fraud. The personages involved do not matter, other than to say that one was an author who had published a well-known work on eye sign-a work that many, many follow and attempt to apply. Oh, what a tangled web we weave! I have a much more descriptive word, but for now, as you can guess, eye sign is what I would call the mother of all pigeon myths. For every winner of a race with perfect eye sign-as practiced or defined by any supposed expert-you or I or we collectively can point to a thousand that have the same attributes and are totally worthless! The reality is, without critical information on background or family, the experts' opinions are just that-groundless, subjective opinions. And as they say, opinions are like another piece of anatomy of which we all possess one. As far as eyes are concerned, here is what is important: All pigeons should have at least two for maximum performance.
Well, what other myths are out there? We all have heard of the wing theory. The other night I heard about the dominant left- or right-tailed theory. I have also seen grown men discuss, the closed upper palate theory as well as the step theory, the tail like a one feather theory, and then the back theory, the vent theory, and the pull-your-beak theory, to mention but a few. Each has its adherents-no doubt prepared to wage war to protect the veracity of each of these earth-shattering theories! Couple these "foolproof" theories with motivational techniques, feeding regimes, and so many others yet unborn, and you have the outward proof of that group of people, who I call obfuscators, whose role in life is to confuse and to make unclear what should, in fact, be totally clear.
Further myths, I will now give you a practical example:
. We all have been told repeatedly that inbreds cannot race effectively, that inbreds are all small and physically faulty, and that inbreds, though possibly good for some breeding, most certainly will not race. We have even seen some people on both sides of the pond describe proper inbreeding as the act of keeping those birds that most would discard. (Thanks for this secret).
. Only crossbred pigeon race and race well!
. Only breed from young pigeons as your best will come from these birds!
. Never breed two pearl-eyed pigeons together!
Training and Racing Myths
. Pigeons must be trained and trained hard to race and win!
. Racing pigeons must be motivated to race consistently and to win!
. You must have sufficient numbers so as to insure that you can go through a whole season!
. Be consistent in your dealings with your race team, i.e., feed at the same time every day, feed the best you can afford, and exercise at the same time!
. Natural birds cannot compete with widow cocks or double widowhood systems, or dark systems or light systems!
. Racing pigeons must be given sufficient time to recover, i.e., if a bird has been on wing over eight hours, rest it for one or two weeks!
. Horses for courses: You need different strains for different distances and courses!
. Janssens cannot fly the distance races!
. Yearlings should not go over 300 miles!
. You cannot fly well on a depurative mix!
. Janssen pigeons are for easy, fast races only!
Disproving the Myths
Well, I could go on and on, but I think you catch my drift. So, being the old cuss that I am, and wanting all you little guys out there to really start using your own God-given intellects, I set about attempting to disprove all of the above referenced gobbledygook.
Now, first and foremost, let me stress that I have never considered myself to be a dedicated competitive racing pigeon fancier. That is, I do not have the time to dedicate to this sport as others obviously do. What I am about to prove is more significant in light of this fact! I have three children (one on the way will be four), a 100-acre farm, a publishing company, and very little help. I scrape my own lofts and care for my own birds. I follow my own advice and try to make my own mistakes (only once). Most years I rarely complete an entire series, let alone both young and old! I am rarely there to clock my pigeons; thank goodness for Jim Reynaert and my Tipes Pigeon Electronic Clocking System. As a matter of fact, the only thing consistent about my pigeon keeping is my total inconsistency. Let me explain: I feed at all times; the only thing my birds know is that twice during the day they will be fed. Now, that could be at 6 a.m. or 11 a.m. or 6 p.m. or midnight. Now, that is pretty consistent, do you not think?
Now compare this to the fancier who tells you that you can only succeed by feeding at exactly 6:56 a.m. and 4:59 p.m. every day-regularity being his point. Well, great, but you obviously do not have four kids, a wife, a dog, a farm, and a business. And if you do, you will not have them for long!
To disprove once and for all these myths, here is what I did: One month prior to May 1,1998, (first old bird race) I choose an old bird team. This team consisted of thirteen yearlings and one two-year-old hen. The fourteen birds consisted of nine cocks and five hens. These fourteen birds were placed in one section with nine nest boxes and two nest bowls. They were not allowed to breed any youngsters; they were given pot eggs until they left them. Hens and cocks were exercised every day together.
Before the season began, they were trained eight times-seven to approximately 25 miles and once to the narrows about 50 miles. That is all of the training they received.
In regards to feeding, they were fed twice per day on depurative. They were fed this feed all of the previous winter. This was the only feed they got during all of the races. As a matter of fact, this is the only feed I fed all year, as can be attested to by Dr. Hossom Yassein, Jim McLean, Dave Booth, Nello Sirica, and others.
All of these inbreds were bred down from the original foundation pair, both of which were pearl-eyed!
All of the fourteen race pigeons (thirteen yearlings and one two-year-old) were bred from older pigeons-some eight- and ten-year-olds.
All of these birds were Spanjaards/Janssen type pigeons! They were flying on no system whatever, fed when I could. They were never trained once the races began, but were exercised twice per day in between races.
So how did this experiment work out? Well, we flew in the strong Kawartha North Shore Combine against exceptional flyers who are serious names like the Yassein Brothers, who fly mostly Campbell Strange Pigeons; Frank and Bruce Bidon, perennial threats and master handlers; John Ludwinsky, competitor par excellence; Jim Reynaert, my kind of flyer; Joe Martire, powerhouse; and Dr. Hossam Yassein, a famous eye surgeon who doesn't believe one iota in eye sign, a methodical competitor without equal!
My birds were required to fly every race without any rest; four races were Thursday night shipping and the 550 was Wednesday night shipping.
Our races began at the 130 mile station on May 1 and ended ten weeks later at the 550 mile station approximately the first week of July. My birds raced every week, no rest in ten weeks, a total of 4,500 km. We lost two birds at the 550 mile station, Longlac, after nine races in a row.
So how did we do? Well, our blue checker cock called "Phar Lap" (CU-97-OGB-2074) won 1st Champion Old Bird of the Oshawa General Racing Pigeon Club as well as 1st Champion Old Bird of the Kawartha Northshore Racing Combine. He raced ten races in a row from 130-550 miles, a total of 4,500 km.
He was a yearling. So much for all of the theories about inbreds, pearl eyes, training, feeding, weak backs, strong vents, open palettes, consistency, and all the other myths that we have been saddled with by these experts and charlatans.
Our slate cock, "Hot Copy" (CU-97-OGB-2511), was 6th Champion Old Bird of the Oshawa General Racing Pigeon Club and 10th Champion Old Bird of the Kawartha Northshore Racing Combine. He flew ten races in a row, no rest, from 130-550 miles, a total of 4,500 km.
Our blue cock, "Newsprint" (CU-97-OGB-2082), was 10th Champion Old Bird for the Oshawa General Racing Pigeon Club and 15th Champion Old Bird of the Kawartha North Shore Combine. He flew ten races in a row, no rest, from 130-550 miles, a total of 4,500 km.
Our loft was also 5th Average Speed in the combine, as well as 7th Total Points Champion. I flew fourteen yearling pigeons (ended the season with twelve) ten races in a row, all distances, against seasoned old bird teams of far greater numbers, against far more serious fanciers who spent considerable money buying serious pigeons from all of the top names in the USA and the world. My birds were untrained once races began, fed only depurative, essentially unmated (nine cocks, five hens), small, inbred, mostly pearl eyed, Spanjaards/Janssen pigeons, flying all distances in races where many of my competitors averaged 30-35% losses in some races-competitors who fly predominately crossbred pigeons, bred from younger breeders, flying proper widowhood, fed and trained consistently. For those who have eyes to see, there is a real lesson here!
So what is the moral of this story? Well, it's the same moral in all my articles: Stop listening to the supposed experts. Do not be afraid to actually make your own mistakes and in so doing, really learn for yourself. Stop looking (and pulling) at beaks, inspecting eyes, checking vents, and worrying about backs and wings and pedigrees and look at the whole bird as it was meant to be. Learn to do proper research on the background of your birds; look for the steak and do not be tempted by the sizzle! Read, read everything, good and bad, so you can develop a sense of what is true and what is absolute nonsense. Associate with good, serious people; as my friend and partner, Jim McLean, always says, "You become what you are around." Stop looking for the magic pigeon, magic potion, and magic cross, as the reality is there is no magic. Work hard, keep your loft clean, keep your birds healthy, practice some form of bio-security, and do not under any circumstances neglect your real family for your birds, as in doing so, you truly prove yourself to be a true loser! Lighten up! After all, it's supposed to be a pastime that we enjoy-not something to add more stress to our lives!
Remember these words of my father who said, "Son, your eyes will not recognize what your mind will not see!"
In closing I leave you with a brief story:
A pigeon is much more than the total of its parts, but it's hard for the charlatans (experts) to understand this. They would have us believe otherwise, as do all those pigeon experts who create reputations and theories based on eye sign and wings and backs and throats, etc. Some say that the brain is greater as it controls all functions; some say that the eyes are the most important; some say that the heart is the key; some say the kidneys, the back, the muscles, etc. Well, eventually the rectum got tired of all of this confusion and bickering because he knew that the pigeon was more than the sum total of his parts. So he set about rectifying (no pun intended) this unfortunate situation. The rectum, in an attempt to restore order, shut down the entire system. In time, the brain became drowsy, the eyes became cloudy, the heart began to palpitate, the kidneys were forced to shut down, the muscles became weak, the vents ached for relief, and the back went into spasms. They-all of these parts-finally cried to the rectum for relief. And so the rectum heard them and gave them relief. There was no more talk of the importance of parts but only an increased awareness of, and appreciation for, the importance of the balance of the whole.
Balance, my friends, is the key in all things. We must all be purged of the poison that most experts would have us consume! Enjoy your birds and your family and your friends and forget all of the useless myths and you will be the true winner and real champion in all things.
Racing Pigeons Section Contents
Background on Silvio Mattacchione, his pigeons, his loft, and inbreeding program.
A group of articles and editorials addressing various aspects of the sport of pigeon racing and the history of Silvio's line of Spanjaards/Janssens pigeons.
Buy fantastic pigeon books online! Selections include The Will to Prepare by Robert Kinney, Rotondo on Racing Pigeons by Joseph Rotondo, and The Pigeon Guide by Dr. Jon Esposito and Shannon Hiatt.
Some of Silvio Mattacchione's own winning stock is for sale.
Sivio Mattacchione offers a wide range of racing pigeon consulting services and consults with owners as far away as Australia, Mexico, Taiwan, The Philippines and the United States. Each consultation is tailored specifically to meet the client's needs, and is conducted in as thorough a manner as possible.
Good causes supported by Silvio and the racing pigeon and parrot communities.
Clever pigeon pictures constructed of keyboard strokes by artist Jerry Downs.
Links to other racing pigeon sites including those of clubs, products, and information resources. An easy way to navigate a series of pigeon web sites!
Silvio's e-mail, mail, phone, and fax contact information.