Creating the perfect kit.
By Graham Dexter
My definition of a perfect team is one that performs to an excellent standard on a regular basis. It has to be reliable in its everyday performance and regularly perform safely to a consistently high standard and exceed expectations from time to time. This does not mean that it is a team comprising of all star performers, indeed sometimes it is the individual star performer that betrays the overall performance of the team. The team that performs in competent unison, seemingly effortlessly, safely and stylishly, without significant errors is the perfect team for me. However that is simply my perfect team, each fanciers must set his or her personal objective from their own standard and vision of what they consider perfect. It maybe that other fanciers have other objectives. For some it is simply to beat the competition; to produce a reliable workmanlike performance, to produce a graphic advert in order to sell more stock, or even to set a standard for others to pursue. Any of these objectives can be achieved in time when a thorough path towards this goal is followed. My advise is thus to follow the following pathway.
Research, information and knowledge:
Any fancier embarking on this team building will need to ‘know his knitting’ a well known maxim for people in business. A team can only be built if the fancier has a good overall knowledge of what he is trying to achieve, a sound knowledge of management methods, a good grasp of training, feeding and keeping the team healthy. Usually this knowledge and skill is built up during an initial ‘apprenticeship’. This apprenticeship may have had with it many failures and disappointments. It will have had some sporadic success and these are from which we all learn. For the apprenticeship to be meaningful we must have learned hard lessons which gives us our motivation to succeed.
Vision and Recognition
The kit master is you. You will have learned what an excellent team is through seeing one in action or having exceptional vision of exactly what you want to achieve as an end result. It is well known that a writer who starts a story without knowing the end page will nearly always fail to achieve a good result. It is only when you are able to recognise what you want, or visualise the finished product that you will be able to move forward towards your personal end result.
The fancier who has the ability to see what is going on in the team, to be able to recognise the signs of excellence and also the individuals who are disturbing the team is the one most likely to succeed. The fancier, of whom I know too many, that watches the team for only a few moments then turn their attention to the tea break is sadly not going to make it. This type of fancier, when they are in another fanciers back garden, tends to study the construction of the loft, the breeding boxes, the kit boxes, the feed bin – while the birds are in the air. These fanciers will never learn what they need to learn about a team of birds from these efforts. Although all of the aforementioned curiosities are valuable – but should be attended to after the kit has landed or at least flown some time. The fanciers that don’t pay attention to the team in the air are seldom likely to become the astute observers that they need to be for success.
So what’s to look for!
Flight pattern: are the birds flying in a figure of eight, what speed do they fly at, are their tails tight or spread? This helps us know if the birds are in the right condition – thus are we watching a team ready to perform, or birds that aren’t really going to show us what they are made of yet!
Individuals: Which birds start the break? Are there any birds pulling the kit in different directions? Which birds are rolling too much – distracting from the bigger breaks? Which birds constantly roll from the back of the team and cause the kit to lose altitude? Which birds constantly fly above the kit causing the kit to lift too much? Which birds roll too deep and distract the team? Are there birds in the team that roll when about to land thus causing the rest of the team to be unsettled and more dangerous when approaching to land?
Markers: Are there birds in your team that act as markers for the team – i.e. are there some birds that when rolling deeper are showing you that the rest of the team are low in body weight? Are there birds that stop rolling first when you have been over flying the team? Are there birds that only land early when they unfit, too heavy or undernourished? Are these birds showing you that the team needs more feed, less, different? Do you have a bird in your team that only flies too long, too high, or doesn’t kit when you are doing something wrong in your management? Markers are valuable birds the less observant of us never identify them!
Quality: How consistent is the individual in the team, does it perform to a high standard in 100, 90, 80 50% of the breaks? In the break how many birds close their wings and glide down in the confusion of the activity without performing properly? How many birds commence the roll with a clap first, or end the roll facing away from the kit, or do a loose somersault to end the roll? How many birds perform to low standard but always roll on the break? What is the ratio of reasonable standard rollers to excellent standard rollers in the team? What is the ratio of frequent reasonable standard rollers to infrequent excellent standard rollers?
Finding the right individuals for your team requires a skilled eye and patience. The team will not be built overnight. Researching the best resources, by personal visit, reputation, or help from an expert will save time in the long run. A hastily acquired individual will cost time and resources that could otherwise be spent on developing a good team. Remember that ‘a silk purse cannot be made from a pig’s ear’. Taking time to acquire and put together the best team possible for the money and resources available will pay off in exponentially. Eventually you must be able to produce your own team and this is no mean feat. Acquiring and assembling a team is much easier than producing your own, however, with good observation skills and experimentation is possible to produce good to high standard performers which may enhance the team. Selecting birds to be the stock of the breeding pen is a separate topic, but be aware it will not always be your ‘star’ performers in your team that will produce you your best results, and yet neither will it be those ‘duffer’ with significant problems they just require culling!
Once a team is assembled the kit master is responsible for enabling the best performance from each individual. Balance is the essential message here. Too many frequent rollers will lead to highly energetic activity but with no team performance. Exceptionally high quality rollers may be somewhat infrequent, a few of these in the team will enhance the overall spectacle, but too many will lead to seldomness in performance.
There are several ‘types’ of roller knowing them and mixing them in a team can be done successfully if done carefully!
The 5 main types come in a variety of depths and frequency
Very Fast Tight rollers
Fast and Very Fast Wingy
VFT: In this category one should bear in mind that it is usual to find more short rollers than deep ones, and the deeper they are usually the less frequent. The deep and frequent ones are generally useless for team performance as they exhaust themselves too quickly and lose the kit.
FT On the other hand these can be found in deep and frequent, but one needs to remember with this type they will use up a lot of energy so they must be very fit to prevent them losing the kit or landing early. Successful fanciers with this type of bird are the very keen and observant ones that are able to balance its need for exercise to keep it fit and rest to prevent exhaustion.
FVFW These birds are quite entertaining to watch and come in all depths and frequencies. They are often quite energetic as they seem to use less energy and therefore don’t tire as easily as the ones that aren’t wingy. I think this is because it takes more effort to open the wing fully when rolling, the wingy ones seem to flick the wing beat which maintains speed but loses the impression of roundness. A variation of this type is the roller that looks very fast but if the observer looks closely they will see that the bird is in fact not rotating head over tail quite correctly, but is rolling head over one wing – this maintains velocity and the visual spectacle, but gives a slightly lob-sided picture to the careful observer. Please note that all these, although not the perfect type, are still quite scoreable for competition purposes, and certainly most casual observers would not notice the difference! Not a type I would give any quality points to though!
FG I have had a soft spot for this type of roller for years, and only recently acquired a few from Dave Moseley. Barry Shackleton in the 70’s had some wonderful examples of these, and in the past I saw some of these in Middlesbrough in the late 80’s and 90’s at fanciers who seldom competed. Last year I saw some wonderful rollers of this type in a near enough perfect team at Chris Robinson’s. This type is not as quite as fast in the roll as the other 3 types, but is very close. However I believe this type beats its wings fuller and spreads its wing flights in slightly more extended way reaching higher in its wing arc, thus when propelling itself in the roll it gives itself a rounder and cleaner shape. It appears that it does this using less energy than the other 3 types and therefore is able to perform quite frequently and often deeply without too much stress. This type instantly reminds me of the high diver in the Olympic games that seems to perform effortlessly.
SG As long as this type rolls fast enough it is a charmer to watch, this type will roll frequently sometimes quite deeply and fly long times without distress. It is in a way the best type for competition as it requires very little management, and is the workhorse of many teams. However it must have the ‘gracefulness’ without this aspect it is the worst kind of roller – the kind that is not in fact a roller at all.
So which should I select for my perfect team? It is necessary to remember that a very fast roller uses more energy than a slow graceful roller yet it is possible to fly all 5 types in one team. The more types you have, the more astute you need to be to balance the team. Fast deep rollers need more rest to maintain their frequency, any excess of body fat will inhibit their performance, the fast graceful type seem to cope with overfeeding much better and can carry a limited amount of excess without affecting their performance. Any roller that is frequent will need ample nourishment and rest, the blend of styles within your team is your choice, a lifetimes experiment may not be enough to get it right, but it can be a rather entertaining pursuit of perfection. (For me this year my 44th year with rollers, it seems perhaps a little too long!)
A few examples:
A team of 15 FGs will look even better with about 5 VFT in it, as long as they match the depth of the FGs.
A team of 15 FTWs will look much better with 5 FGs in it
A team of 15 FTs will look worse with 5 VFTs in it .
A team of 15 FVFW will look worse with 5 VFT or FT rollers in it.
A team of 20 of any type except FVFW with the same depth factor will look good.
A mixed type team with different depth factors will look worse that a mixed team of the same depth.
A team of FGs or SGs will usually get more points than a team of FVFWs.
A team of FVFW should score less quality points than a team of FT or VFT rollers – but often don’t!
Most teams of FT or VFT will receive more quality points than a team of FG’s or SGs. But probably not by me.
Feeding is extremely important because it is through feeding properly and maintaining exercise that you are able to see what quality of birds you have. Until the birds are in the proper condition it is impossible to evaluate them and therefore put your best team together. I believe a lot of good rollers are killed each year because their owners don’t have them in the right condition to evaluate them. Equally lots of poor specimens are kept because they were capable of doing a good job on one occasion. If you have to starve your team, give tonics, or mess with them in some way in order for it to perform then from my point of view – you probably haven’t got the right birds! That is not to say that from time to time your team will need boosting up, or their ration reducing to get them to the optimum weight and fitness, but this should not be necessary on a day to day basis. From time to time you may want to play with bits of folklore (Epsom salts, Rue Tee, Golden Boost, Brewers Yeast, Sulphate of Iron etc) to attempt to get that extra 10% out of them for a competition, but generally they should not need messing with. Clean water, mineral grit and wheat are the staple diet of the perfect team. They will require worming and occasionally some seed (for fat soluble vitamins –unless this is in the grit as a supplement).
However, one small tip I learned from Dave Moseley, which has stood the test over the last couple of years – balancing the team on food. The team will break more frequently together if they are at the same level of fitness and weight, to do this Dave feeds wheat to the team in increasing small quantities until the team begins to leave food. At this point he begins gently to cut back the food in equally small quantities until the birds fly for a good time. Keep them at this ration should ensure that they all have enough of what they need without as much as they want to eat . When the team is flying for about an hour on this ration they are clearly fit and not undernourished thus in a better state to be evaluated than half starved or overweight. Remember, once the team is balanced up in terms of fitness, the time the birds fly should indicate whether they need more or less food. Clearly be aware of weather changes, rollers will need more in cold weather than in hot!
This is slightly away from the main point of this article, but perhaps it is prudent to say a few things about the topic. Firstly breeding a team requires a bit more time and patience. Once you can recognise the types it is easier for you to decide which you need in more abundance and select breeding stock accordingly. There are a few points to make here:
Very Fast Tight rollers are difficult to produce! Along the way you will have rollers that are too deep and crash, birds that drop early, and birds that burn themselves out before they are two years old (become deep and sloppy as yearlings, or become more and more seldom as they get older). You will need to breed more rollers each year if you decide to go this route, unless you get very good at it very quickly or are very patient. For those that have these and manage to maintain their stud I’m sure its deeply satisfying.
All other types that last are produced by selecting your stock birds wisely and by following a breeding plan that follows the principles of line breeding. Outcrosses will not produce these types consistently!
How should I select stock?
Some simple rules here are:
Get good advice from the original stock supplier as to what to pair to what
Watch the birds in the air and select the type you want first.
Watch them for as long as possible before stocking – so you can –
Avoid birds which are too deep
Go for style before depth or frequency
Avoid birds which are infrequent or you notice don’t always roll in the break
Avoid birds which drop early, or hang outside of, above or below the kit
Don’t use birds with a fault you don’t like just because its excellent at something else
Don’t try to ‘average out’ a pair. A short and a deep does not give a medium – more often it gives one short and one deep or two short or two deep!
Use your 4 best rollers and feeders rather than 4 good and 16 mediocre.
Basic notes on training.
Rollers that are bred from good stock don’t take much training at all. Once the youngsters begin to fly ensure the only place they land is on the landing pole or loft top. Ensure youngster are fed what they need to build proper bones and muscle, but at all cost prevent them becoming overweight or emaciated. Fly youngsters once or twice a day but use your observation skills to ensure you are not exhausting them by over flying or losing fitness by under flying. Sometimes youngsters that are very active need flying less to allow them to get stronger, and sometimes they need flying more if their fitness is suffering or less because the rolling effort is making them tired. On the other hand lazy youngsters are often a problem, as they cause the rest of the team to drop early and thus their fitness suffers. Fly the lazy ones more often with other teams if possible, take them a ride out for a 1 mile fly back until they get on with it, and if all this fails (and don’t wait too long) send them back to the manufacturer with a note!
Selection and De-selection:
A good fancier will have a second team in training from which s/he can take reinforcements or replacements when ever the team requires support. Some individuals in the team will need resting, or an injury or illness may require the team member to be substituted. Therefore the second team must be as close to a clone of the first as possible. As any football follower will know it is rather silly to replace the first team centre forward with the reserve team goalie! If you know your two teams thoroughly, you will know which are the front birds, centre and back birds. It seems logical to only replace front pigeons with front pigeons – indeed front pigeons can be a replacement for any of the team, but clearly back position birds will do little good for your team if a front bird is needed.
De-selection can also be needed for birds that develop temporary faults – for example a white cock bird of mine gets much much deeper in the roll when he goes into the moult. Although he doesn’t leave the team too much, he does spend some time out. He also is prone to land earlier than the rest, although he will always do 30 minutes or so, he does tend to disrupt the team a bit. Once the moult is over he shortens up and goes back to his position in the centre of the team. I have a red chequer cock which flies in the second team which is a central pigeon and substitutes very ably for him. Very occasionally a first team member may develop a strange habit which distracts the team – landing away, dropping early, flying above the kit, pulling or drawing the team away from its best flight pattern, flicking over instead of rolling, or just stopping performance. The cause of this can be numerous, perhaps the most common is the moult or the bird pairing with another of the team. Resting the bird or birds for a month or six weeks will usually tell you whether this is a temporary or permanent development. Clearly demoting to the second team is necessary until such a determination is made. It would not be fair to condemn a bird before returning it to fitness with the second or third team first.
Some members of the team may need to be de-selected permanently, for example after a silly knock resulting in a stiff tail one of my favourite bronze chequer hens never regained her sharpness, the team suffered a lot from her absence until a suitable replacement was found. As birds get older they may need to be replaced, especially if they have been sound for three or four years and some progeny from them is needed for the future. Others will be lost via falcon attacks, even if not killed and taken many are maimed and unable to fly or perform to their former standard.
Sadly sometimes birds have to be culled from the team because they are too much the ‘star’ and not enough of the team player. The very deep roller that returns to the team reliably then rolls again is no doubt a star, but if this star is disrupting the team effort, losing the cohesiveness or general concert performance of the team – then sadly s/he will have to go. Last year I had 2 such rollers in my team, splitting them into another team halved the problem and doubled it at the same time. Whereas I only had one bird out of the kit most of the time, I had the same irritation in both of my good teams! Perfect in the roll, but not helping the team. Of course you could argue that if I had bred another 18 of these then I would have no problem, or that the 18 that didn’t roll as deep were the problem…..well in theory perhaps but practically the team has to take precedence over the stars!
When changing the team either substituting birds you fancy are better than the current ones in the team, or de-selecting ones you think are not helping or could be better, try to do this one by one and over some time not in rapid dramatic changes. The team will need time to get to know the new member, as will the new member need to get to know the team. Also the substitution may have unexpected consequences not foreseeable or surprising – good or bad. Time to evaluate the effects on the team needs to elapse, and your thorough observation of the effects calculated over time.
As most experienced fanciers fly in their competition team more than the required number – for easy removal of the excess, please bear in mind that too many extra birds may lose you the advantage of the excess. A team suddenly depleted of 3 or 4 members may respond badly and produce poor results. A better plan is to have only one extra bird and be sure that you watch that bird to ensure it does not become central to the teams’ performance. A nice steady centre bird is easier to lose from the team than a frequent ‘showy’ front pigeon.
On a final note in regard to selection and de-selection, remember that the reliable everyday workers in the team – especially the shorter rollers are often taken for granted. My advise would be don’t deselect them until you try them out in the stock loft!
Remember even the very best team cant stay in tip top performance mode for ever. The very best teams can be maintained in peak performance for about 12 – 20 weeks. Eventually the team will need rewarding with a long rest. Frequent periods of one weeks rest and careful monitoring of fatigue levels in the birds can forestall or postpone the inevitable loss of vigour, but eventually the team will lose lustre and have to be given a complete rest. Good food copious bathing and plenty of space would be the ideal. Of course this will inevitably result in some egg laying activity, but hey it is a holiday.
When the holiday is over be careful how the team is returned to full fitness. Reduce the weight of the team gradually and return them to a weight and diet similar to the old regime before trying them out again. Expect little performance at first, don’t despair if the kitting and performance are less than normal at first. In my experience it takes about 3 weeks for optimum performance to return after the long rest, about 3 flies after a short rest.
Lots of fanciers seem to be able to maintain a good standard of excellence for 3 to 4 years, very few for longer than that. If you look at the competition results it shows how fanciers emerge into the top positions for a period and then are lost. I believe this is because of an over dependence of one or two teams and one or two producing stock pairs. The fancier gets a bit complacent about being able to always put out a good team, and doesn’t notice the team depleting before their very eyes. A few Peregrine attacks, sickness, stock birds getting older, a key hen going barren, a key cock bird dies or becomes infertile, stock is stolen, a flyaway happens. Or simply as I did long ago forgot that my own stock was more important than helping others with theirs!
If fanciers wish to remain on the top of their game and last for more than a few seasons they have to take a few lessons from the ones that have. Bob Brown, Ernie Stratford, Bill Barratt and Ollie Harris may not have had the same vigorous competition that most UK fanciers now have, but they kept a high standard going for many many years. They did this by being ruthlessly selfish, and generous when they could afford to be so. They calculated who should benefit from their stock, so they had a reserve backup (being fed and cared for by someone else) should they need one. Their succession planning was never neglected, they always had breeding plans which would open up the next generation with some solid (I know this will produce) and some experimental pairing (might even be better) calculated to maximise their potential for the next 3 or 4 years ahead. Masters of success like George Mason, who relentlessly year after year continues to rise to the top, have clearly modelled themselves thus!
Finally, when I imagine my perfect team I have come to realise that its my perfect team. Each fancier will have their own dreams fantasies or visions of what theirs would be like. After waiting 44 years to see a ‘proper’ quality full turn, I finally saw 2 with 30 seconds this March over my own loft. Despite all the splendid teams I have seen over those many years I had never seen the perfect break before – so it is only now that I feel qualified to write this article. Although I realise that many more of you could have written this article before me as you didn’t I don’t feel to arrogant in doing so. To those of you that have had a perfect team and therefore know all this stuff I say I hope you weren’t too bored by it, and for those of you who have yet to achieve your perfect team I say – have patience! Best wishes,