The Phases of Training the Roller Pigeon
by Guil Rand
Much has been written about how to properly train the Birmingham Roller. Most of the articles I have read concerning this subject usually only address one of the several phases of the training process. Rollers develop through several different phases. The first phase is starting with good breeding stock and healthy babies. The second phase is weaning the youngsters from their parents. The third is young bird training, which continues until the birds are rolling with stability. The fourth phase is when you start to create a kit of performing rollers. And the fifth phase is flying a mature, hard working kit of rollers. I do not profess to know all the answers, or to be an authority on this subject. I have been fortunate to have had some success the last couple of years, and have developed a philosophy that works well for me. I owe thands to Rod Elsner, Monty Neibel, and Jerry Higgins for the bulk of this information, and for teaching me how to be somewhat successful with my pigeons. Please understand, that it is not my intention to just regurgitate their writings. I have worked with these concepts, and know that it has helped my kits to be consistent, and have made modifications to fit my family of birds, and my local.
PHASE I – GOOD BREEDING STOCK
Having a good kit of rollers that work together obviously starts withgood breeding stock. My philosophy is that once you have found the breeders that consistently produce high quality rollers, it is important to use them as much as possible . Get as many youngsters as you can out of them as fast as you can. Use foster parents for the best pairs as ofter as possible. If you put your birds together by the first of March and break tehm up in September, you should be able to get at least 12 rounds from on pair using foster parents. This past year I used a polygamous breeding program and was able to raise 41 youngsters out of one cock. I could have raised 60 if I hadn’t made so many mistakes with the first round of hens, and if a stray dog hadn’t gotten into the pen and killed the cock in July. Fortunately, I have 41 young out of 10 different hens, so I will have lots of options next breeding season. If you have a pair that is really clicking, then it only makes sense to get as many youngsters out of them as quickly as possible, so that you can start developing a “family” of rollers. It seems such a waste to only raise three or four rounds from a pair each season. It will take forever to develop a family that way.
The first step in developing an excellent kit of rollers is to make sure that the youngsters are healthy. I use ‘Lay Pellets” for my breeders during the breeding season. These pellets are very high in protein (20% – 22%). They also have the calcium to help form strong eggs, and all the vitamins and minerals that the birds need to be healthy and strong. Another reason that I prefer pellets is that they are easy for the adult birds to digest, and they can feed the squeakers almost immediately after they have eaten. They don’t have to wait for the grain to break down. The babies also seem to be healthier because they are receiving a high protein diet with all the necessary vitamins and minerals. These healthier babies seem to be able to make the transition to independency very easily.
PHASE II – WEANING
The babies are removed from the nest at about 18-21 days, and placed on the floor of the loft. a 1 x 8 wooden board about 12″ long, leaned against the wall of the loft is provided for the squeakers to hide under. I haven’t had any problems with cocks scalping or beating up on youngsters, but the babies seem to like to hide under the board anyway. By placing the babies on the floor of the loft at this young age, they learn how to eat and drink and fend for themselves. At about 28 days the babies are moved to a weaning pen.
The youngsters must be watched closely for the first couple of days to make sure that they have learned where the water container is, and how to eat. Most of them do not have any problems. If a bird does not pick up eating, then it is returned to the breeder loft for a couple of days so that it can get fattened back up again. Then it can go back into the weaning pen. If a birds looks listless and mopey, then it probably just needs a drink of water. Dip its beak into the water container, and it will usually suck up several large gulps of water, and return to its healthy state.
I treat the water with Aureomycin for the first 5 days of weaning. The Aureomycin is an antibiotic, and will knock out a myriad of possible illnesses. This insures the babies health during this tramatic time of becoming independent. I also allow the youngsters to have all the feed they want for the first 5 days. I start them with pellets, and gradually change over to pigeon mix that includes popcorn, wheat, milo, safflower, and Canadian peas. After the first 5 days, I cut back the feed quantity, so that they will eat it all when it is given to them. I always use my call (a whistle) when I feed them. At about 5 1/2 weeks I start leaving the door of their weaning pen open so that they can start flying in and out of the loft. Each time I allow them out, I call them back in and give them a little feed. By 7 weeks they are up and flying about the back yard. One day they decide it is time to take off into the wild blue yonder, and they look like a swarm of flies all over the sky. About the third or fourth day they will come together as a kit. Getting the birds to the point of kitting is the first phase of training. Very seldom do I have to cull a bird because it will not kit, and I rarely lose a bird following this system. I have found that I can add another round of youngsters to an older kit very easily if I wait until the younger group has been properly trained and is kitting on its own. Then they can easily be added without causing too much disruption. I do not like to fly birds more than a month apart in age in a kit. At least not for the first 3 or 4 months.
A young bird kit should be flown every day if possible. Train them to fly not more than 45 minutes, and make sure they don’t fly too high. Thirty minutes is preferable. If they start flying too high, or for more than 45 minutes, then cut back on their feed, until they are flying the way you want them to. The young birds should be flown this way until they start rolling hard and deep. Some families of birds will start rolling with style and depth as early as 3 or 4 months. I have found these early developers to be as stable as later developers in my family. If a young bird can show me that it can remain stable for a few weeks, then I pull it out, and promote it to a kit of more active birds that are working harder that the others. These hard working birds seem to do better when they are together as a kit.
PHASE IV – COMPETITION TRAINING
I will continue to fly these faster developing birds daily, as well as the less active birds. Each time another bird can demonstrate that it has developed the roll, and can control it, then it is moved up to the “N” team. Occasionally a bird can’t keep up, and so it is returned to the “B” team. If it still can’t make it, then it is eliminated. These more active birds can be flown daily for a short while, but soon they are only flown every other day, and I start varying their feed quantity each day. The day the birds are flown, they are given a very ample quantity of feed when they come in. 1 3/4 to 2 cups of pigeon mix for 20 birds is a good starting point.
The next day, the birds are rested, and given about 1 cup of wheat or milo. This is the amount they are fed during the cold winter months. The feed quantity will have to be varied slightly depending on the temperature. The colder the weather, the more feed they need to keep their body heat up. The warmer the weather, the less feed they will need to keep in good condition. I feed my birds twice as much in the cold winter months, than in the hot summer months. The key to knowing how much feed to give the birds is to watch how long and how high they fly. It is important, that you watch the kit every time you fly them to ascertain the amount of feed they should be given. Remember that as the weather gets hotter, then the feed amounts must be decreased. Feed quantities and type of feed must be adjusted daily depending on how long, and how high the kit flies, and by how cold or hot the weather is.
PHASE V – THE OLD BIRD KIT
Phase five of training starts when the birds are eight months to a year old. They should start being flown on a 3-day rotation. This schedule is for a mature competition kit only. A group of birds that works hard for the few minutes they are flying does not need to be flown every day. On the day the birds are flown they are given 2 1/2 to 3 cups of pigeon mix when they come in. The next day they are rested, and only given 1 1/4 cups of wheat. The next day, they are again rested, and given 3/4 to 1 cup of wheat. The quantities will need ot be adjusted slightly based on how long and how high they flew the previous time out. I have found that by using this 3 day “yo-yo” feeding system, the birds seem to be much more consistent when they fly. Every time I flew my competition kit last spring, they put on a pretty decent show. Sometimes they were better that others, but they were always fun to watch. Monty Neibel has used this method for his competition kits for years, and has had tremendous success with it. A mature, active kit of rollers needs to be rested in between training sessions. Another advantage to flying the competition kit only every third day, is that there are fewer chances that the birds will have an accident, or have a run in with a bird of prey.
I realize that this may sound fairly complicated, and it will require you to spend some time with your birds, watching and analyzing them each time you fly them. But it gets easier as you learn how to do it, and the rewards of being able to put up a nice kit of rollers every time you fly them is well worth the effort. Last year I was able to get my birds to be consistetnt. Now I have to learn how to get them to that next higher level on competition day.