All material Copyright © 1996-2014 by Silvio Mattacchione & Co. unless otherwise noted.
The Tough Young Birds Race In Taiwan
by Roger Liu, with introduction by Silvio Mattacchione
Spanjaards/Janssens: What is the master plan? To compete and succeed in the most demanding pigeon races in the world, Taiwan!
For quite some time now I have been following my own direction. Many of my friends failed to understand what I sought to achieve with my pigeons. Most really felt that the quality of pigeon that I had was really being wasted in my hands. Many considered that I was not really committed to racing. In a sense they were right, but at a more fundamental level they were dead wrong! They did not see or set goals in the same fashion as I did.
My goal was not in producing the type of pigeon that was of interest to most fanciers in the western world. I had long ago come to understand that the "we are number one" syndrome rampant in the USA, especially, but also in Europe, was really short-sighted and ultimately doomed to failure. In other words, once your superstar is incapacitated, what then? The East understood intuitively that the team was more important than the superstar in achieving your ultimate goal. You were only as strong as your weakest link. This is the key! It is wonderful to have a superstar but it is more advantageous to have a team of lesser lights that are totally consistent, trustworthy, indefatigable, reliable, and always gives an honest and worthy performance.
The goal of my breeding program was, and has been, the production of a family of pigeons that was honest, hard-working, and indefatigable. A family of birds capable of performing with little or no training under many different types of management regimes. A dependable warrior that would try to do all that his master asked of him, or die trying. In 1998, I put my birds to the first of what will be many tests. I described this test towards the end of my article entitled Myths. Please read it to see how fourteen yearlings flew ten races in ten weeks from 150-550 miles with no training and no rest-every bird, every race, every week! Was my campaign a success? The answer was yes! Superstars? The answer is no, just honest, hard-working, well-bred pigeons able to perform the tasks asked of them.
As others revel in selecting what their best bird may or may not be, I stress only the importance of my weakest link. I work to improve my colony and the superstar will then not thwart my efforts.
There are many ways to continuously test and retest your birds. My birds are released in all weather-fog, rain, winds, and bitter cold. Every day they must learn to deal with the vagaries of weather as well as the predators that are a natural part of their environment. No single bird is important, only the whole. To admit anything different is ultimately to admit the failure of my colony.
As fanciers have bred for their local conditions, I have tried to produce the type of pigeon that will survive in the toughest most demanding style of pigeon racing in the world! I refer to the racing in Taiwan, the home of the richest, most demanding type of pigeon racing in the world. I will have either achieved or failed to achieve my breeding goals based only on the type of racing that takes place in Taiwan.
In order for you to appreciate the ruthless, demanding nature of pigeon racing in Taiwan, my friend, Mr. Roger Liu, has given me permission to reproduce his article on pigeon racing in Taiwan. I am sure you will find it of great interest.
Taiwan, also known as Formosa, is an island about twice the size of New Jersey. The island of Taiwan is shaped roughly like a tobacco leaf. It is located off the eastern coast of Asia in the Western Pacific. At its widest point, it is 395 km long and 142 km in width. Unlike China, Taiwan is a free country where citizens elect their own president and congress. The population is about 21 million.
The remarkable economic successes in Taiwan for the past twenty years has made Taiwan the fourteenth largest trading country in the world. Taiwan is the head of the well-known "Four little dragons of Asia." Taiwan exports many products such as shoes, textiles, personal computers, and more to world markets.
However, the Taiwanese sport of pigeon racing is also very well-known throughout the world. There are approximately 500 clubs and 50,000 pigeon flyers resident in Taiwan. The prize money is so great that no country in the world can match it. Every year Taiwan imports a lot of pigeons from Europe and some from America. It is safe to say that every month there is a race in Taiwan. If it were not sponsored by one club, it would be sponsored by another. The competition is so fierce that it is beyond one's imagination. This article is meant to share with you the fascinating pigeon sport in Taiwan.
Since Taiwan is 395 km (247 miles) long, pigeon clubs located in the middle of the island can only fly 196 km or 123 miles over land. This is not much of a distance for old birds to fly (recently, they have started to fly over the ocean to increase the distances of the races). For this reason, there are no old bird races at all and flyers in Taiwan only fly young bird races. A bird's racing career finishes in one season, some five or six consecutive weeks of competition. One could say, "What a way of retiring a pigeon." Nevertheless, this is unique in the world.
There are two kinds of young bird races: one group includes the young pigeons that are 100-120 days old; another is aged 180-240 days old. To make sure that every flyer races birds of the same age against each other, bands are sold within a specified time span, usually three days to a week only. If you forget to pick up and pay for your bands, you miss the entire season and the young birds that you breed would not be able to compete in this race. The chance to compete in another club is quite slim. The rules are very strict and there are no exceptions.
The prize money comes from band sales and pooling. A club offers different denominations of bands for members to choose. They are the equivalent in USAdollars of $30, $60, $100, $150, and $300 apiece, respectively. A flyer can buy any combination of bands depending on his/her budget and the number of young birds that he/she will breed. Usually, it is required to purchase 12-15 bands and you can buy up to 60 bands. Some clubs do not set a limit on how many bands one can buy.
Assume that there are 100 members of a club, and each member buys 15 bands at an average of $150 a band. The band sales would be $225,000 ($150 x 100 x 15). Some readers may think that this figure is inflated. As a matter of fact, this figure is quite typical in any given race in Taiwan. Some big clubs have much larger band capital than the one I just mentioned above.
Now, let's talk about the pool money. Unlike in America, where flyers pool birds mostly on the shipping night, pigeon clubs in Taiwan, in addition to pooling the birds on the shipping night, also conduct two to three sessions of pooling three to four weeks before the race. The good thing about this is that the club can deposit this pooling money into the bank, accruing interest, which produces income for the club.
Traditionally, the club takes 4-5% of the total prize money and the interest income to run the club. These two incomes are sufficient to pay salaries for two full-time club employees, rents, utilities, etc. The bad news is that flyers are forced to commit a lot of money up front. If a pooled bird is lost before the race starts, the pooled money is lost.
The pooling system is quite complicated-too complicated to discuss it here. The pool money is usually three to four times more than the band sales capital. It is the so-called "Where's the Beef?" If you add the band sales and pool money, the total prize money is approaching one million dollars.
Do all flyers in Taiwan have strong financial backing? The answer is no. Lately, many lofts are formed by two, three, or more flyers to share the financial burdens. It is common that several people form a company, which owns lofts competing in different clubs in different cities. They hire a full-time loft manager who cleans the loft, feeds, and trains the birds. If they win, this loft manager gets a certain percentage of the prize money.
They treat racing pigeons just like running a business. It is not a hobby anymore. Is this good or bad for the pigeon sport? You decide. So far, the flyer population has stayed about the same for the past two or three years. Believe it or not, you may have to wait for a year or two to join some prestigious clubs.
In terms of the racing system, Taiwan has developed a unique system in itself. All pigeons must pass three or four qualification races before being allowed to enter into real races. A qualification race is a race where birds must maintain a minimum speed of 600 to 800 yards per minute (ypm). You must ship the pigeons just like regular races, and clock the birds. If a pigeon does not clock minimum speed, this pigeon is out for the rest of the races regardless of how expensive this pigeon is banded. The distance of the qualification race is not all that great, ranging from 95-180 miles. But it runs three or four weeks in a row. It could be rough for young birds that are just two months old.
The real race is five successive weeks of racing, called the Five-Race Championship. A Five-Race Championship is equivalent to young birds or old birds season here in America, except each club in Taiwan runs an average of three series of Five-Race Championship races a year. The minimum speed of 800 ypm is imposed, and the club training on Wednesdays of 700 ypm is also required. In any of the races during the five weeks, if a bird does not maintain minimum speed, this bird is automatically disqualified for the rest of the contest.
For example, even a great young bird that has won four races and does not make minimum speed in the fifth race is disqualified. There is no mercy at all. The idea is to find out the toughest birds, which can endure this kind of brutal contest. Speed is desired, but consistency is more important.
Endurance is the characteristic that pigeon flyers in Taiwan have been searching for throughout the entire world. Taiwan is in subtropical weather and three fourths of the island is forest. The weather is unpredictable, mainly the notorious island air turbulence, strong ocean winds, thick fog, etc. Therefore, in any month, bad weather can be encountered. The liberation policy is rain or shine, let's liberate except when there is a hurricane. It is common for any race in any month to have the contest ended early due to bad weather.
To demonstrate that races in Taiwan are tough, Table 1 and Table 2 will give you the idea. Table 1 is 1997 race results provided by my friend, George Chung of Tai-Liao, Taiwan. (George is a construction contractor. He is a member of the Wen-San club and has been racing pigeons for a few years. He has two lofts made of steel frames on his roof.) George participated in three Five-Race Championship series in 1997. Two of the three series were stopped before the end of the contests, due to bad weather.
Table 1: The Wen-San Club's 1997 Racing Results
( 1 ) 1997 Spring Series
( 2 ) 1997 Autumn Series
( 3 ) 1997 Winter Series
Incidentally, George won both the club and the combine in the autumn series, receiving prize money of six figures. Can you imagine a combine starting with 8,325 birds being stopped after the third real race with only 26 birds left (i.e., eligible for the fourth race) in the whole combine?
What were the problems? Rains and strong winds that wore out the strength of birds. Too many poor youngsters just could not hold on to the minimum speed.
Table 2 is racing results of another club, which also had disastrous results. All three series (100%) were forced to stop because only less than 1% of the birds was left after the second or third race.
Table 2: The Tse-Chang Club's 1997 Racing Results
( 1 ) 1997 Spring Series
( 2 ) 1997 Autumn Series
( 3 ) 1997 Winter Series
I will use 1998 young birds racing schedule and band sales information (See Table 3, 4 and 5), also obtained from George, to show you that the race is tough. This is a series for young birds, which are 100-120 days old. A total of 1,804 bands were sold in the time period of December 4 to December 10, 1997. When the birds were approximately 60 days old, the club started to conduct mandated club training. Members shipped banded pigeons to the club on the evening of February 1, 1998. All birds were required to stay in the clubhouse that night to be guarded by security systems or trained dogs. The idea to keep pigeons in the club is to prevent members from doing something illegal to the birds.
Table 3: The Tse-Chang Club's 1998 Young Bird Race Schedule
The birds were trucked 12 miles away early the next morning and released. There is no minimum speed required at this stage. But, if you forget to ship birds on any shipping night, your birds are all disqualified for the rest of the contests. The club repeated this club training six times.
When the birds were approximately 75 days old (Feb. 15, 1998), the club started to run three to four qualification races. At this stage, a club-specified minimum speed of 600-800 ypm is enforced as a requirement. Members ship and clock birds as if it were a real race, except speed is not included in the computation of the real race scores. But every pigeon needs to maintain a minimum speed to earn the right to enter into the next race. Drastic reduction of bird numbers takes place at this stage. Many young birds just cannot withstand this kind of bombardment.
The real races start when the birds are approximately 100 days old (Mar. 13, 1998). Flyers who have birds competing in the real races are the lucky ones. Only a few are confident that their birds will be able to finish five races. Most flyers are nervous. Huge prize money is at stake. The distances for the real races are longer than the qualification races. In addition to maintaining 800 ypm in the real race, the club imposes a minimum speed of 700 ypm for Wednesday's club training. It is just like a one-two punch. The total mileage for a bird to fly from start to finish is 2,569 miles. Any bird that can finish the five races at the age of 120 days old is undoubtedly a great, tough pigeon. The financial rewards for these pigeons are quite satisfying. The winners can usually receive prize money in five or six figure range.
In summary, pigeon clubs in Taiwan fly young bird races only. The age of these young birds range from 100-120 days old. A single station winner (for example, 250 miles) does not present much value to other flyers. Often, many single station winners get disqualified before the end of the contests. It is the average speed winner of the Five-Race Championship that would draw a lot of attention. To win the Champion bird crown, this young bird has to maintain 700-800 ypm at least 15 consecutive times and fly approximately 2,500 miles within a period of three months. Speed is desired, but endurance is more important. They prefer marathon birds rather than short distance sprinters.
Flyers in Taiwan call this Five-Race Championship the toughest race in the world. Do you believe that your birds could compete in this type of race and have a chance to win? Many flyers in Taiwan want to know where they can find these kinds of birds.
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.