This article is based on something that never seems to be talked about very often in the Birmingham Roller world, especially to new fanciers… and that is the Fancier himself! The birds dominate most every discussion including; feeding, flying, training, breeding and the list goes on. The development of a Birminghamroller seems to be the thing that is talked about the most. I am not talking about the development of the breed itself…but the development of the pigeon from hatchling to Flyer to Breeder. This subject is talked about so often in Books and on the Internet that a new fancier knows ahead of time what to expect as the roller goes through its many stages of development.
Little has been written on the many different stages of development that a fancier goes through to progress as a successful roller flier. The fancier is 80% of what the birds put out, yet we do not let the new flier know what to expect mentally and physically to move forward in this very sophisticated hobby.
You can get a very good established family from a well-known fancier and never get them to perform like that well-known fancier. No matter what you do, you never get them to live up to the name behind the bird. Yet another fancier can take that same strain and make them rock and ROLL. So, it is not the birds, it is the fancier that makes the birds good.
Just do not forget that if you have poor quality birds, it does not matter how good a fancier you are, they will always be poor quality birds. As a fancier you have to always look at yourself first and the birds second. If the birds are not performing well, maybe you are the one that is not performing well. You only get out what you put in. It is you, the fancier, which brings out the best in the birds. You are the one that feeds, picks the team members and future breeders, culls and establishes the guidelines that you will follow in YOUR loft. You are 80% of what the birds put out.
I was talking to a fellow fancier over the phone. He is at the spot I was years ago…and that is a NEW fancier to the roller pigeon hobby. We were talking about how young birds go through many stages as they mature. He was experiencing frustrations about the same things we all stressed about when we started: the birds aren’t kitting, one rolled down, they are landing on the roof, they won’t trap…etc.
I told him not to worry, that when you get a season under your belt, training young birds gets easier. Then the conversation turned to what to expect the second year and third year as seen through the fancier’s eyes, triggering a discussion about writing an article about the fancier’s development. So, this is my attempt to put into words the many stages of development fanciers go through to get a loft of Breeding Stock that are producing top quality spinners.
The first stage of a fancier’s development is building the loft and the kit boxes. From the very beginning there is stress and anxiety in this stage. You are wondering how big to build the breeder loft, open loft or individual cages, where do you want the nesting boxes, cement floors or wire, where to put the loft and so on. The same goes for the kit boxes.
How many boxes, what dimensions, what style and where to set the boxes. Then there is the anxiety of wanting to build the lofts fast, so you can get going on raising birds. Most of the information about getting started in rollers is easy to find. Do some research on different loft and kit box designs and pick what is best for you. Read about the pros and cons of open and closed loft breeding.
Just absorb all the information you can find on starting out in rollers. Then take what you have learned and what will work for you and write it down. Then start the building process. Take your time and do it right. This is the first stage of being a fancier and the first time of many to come that patience will need to be exercised.
Flying out young birds is the first strip of pavement where the rubber meets the road. Training young birds is not only about how the birds themselves develop, but also about how the fancier himself, is going to develop. This is what I call the stage of frustration as well as pure enjoyment.
This is where the fancier has to exercise the most patience and be able to sit back and look at the enjoyment of a bird’s development. Young birds are like young kids. They are very inconsistent, but what you have to realize most is that before they can run they need to learn how to walk. As a fancier this is the point where you have to let young birds be young birds.
The only thing that a fancier should do when the birds are young is let them fly and control the feed just enough so that they will trap fast. You will have to exercise patience. Do not expect too much to fast. If you do, it will drive you crazy. Just keep the birds fed on a nice rich food and let them fly until they come into the roll. The only thing that you should really pay attention to is a bird that will not kit or a bird that pulls the kit down early. Cull those birds and move on.
Do not stress and do not try and cater to the one problem bird. Give young birds a little more time than you would older birds, but at this young age it is important to recognize that you want the birds to fly a good time and kit. Don’t expect the birds to fly the same way every time. Just relax and let them fly the way they want to fly. When they are real young, just let them take to the wing…your only job is to monitor feed for trapping and eliminating problem birds that are disrupting the development of the kit.
Thinking that you will be able to put a championship team together your first year is a big mistake. You must set goals that are obtainable. Setting up you loft and kit boxes, obtaining birds for breeding or flying, and learning as much as possible are goals that are not out of reach. Getting birds and learning as much as possible were the goals that I set for myself the first year.
Do not set yourself up for failure or you will ruin your love for the hobby. The first couple of years should be the years of really opening your mind and learning every aspect of flying rollers. So many false hopes and false beliefs will be truth in your mind. You need to know that you will suffer losses in the old bird teams, in the young bird teams, and even losses in the breeder loft. You will have to be prepared for set backs and lessons learned the hard way. If you are prepared for the setbacks and realistic goals are set, you can recover and grow from your setbacks.
The young bird stage is by far the most frustrating time of learning to be a roller fancier. You wish these birds would do what you want them to do….but they do not! Teaching the birds to trap is a point where the fancier has to be very patient and calm with the young birds. The birds are stressed from being pulled from mom and dad. They are in new surroundings and they are very scared. The fancier must be calm around the new kit birds.
Let them get used to there surroundings for a few days and then start the trap training. The fancier will learn that the first birds trained are the hardest and it gets easier the more birds you have to train. Remember to be calm and gentle with the young birds when pushing them through the trap…when they go through reward them with food.
Food is the key to success in roller flying. Proper feeding will give you the control. Too much, to little or not the right feed and you will lose control. Feeding is a two edged sword. Be prepared to be very flexible when it comes to feeding and pay attention to the birds. The birds will let you know when the feed is right with trapping, fly time and performance.
When the birds finally learn to trap… put them on the kit box. DO NOT force them to fly. Have Patience when dealing with young rollers... They will fly when they are ready. Expect them to be all over the sky the first time…instead of getting upset if they do not kit…be excited that they took their first flight. Imagine what it must feel like to them to take to the wing and do what they are made to do.They will kit soon enough…if they do not….I’ve already explained what has to be done. The fancier must expect the young birds to land in places that you do not want them to. Again, they are young, give them time. It is not uncommon for a young bird to get tired on the first flight, land and spend the night outside the loft and return the next day.
You need to be prepared to lose some young birds during the first couple of flights. Accept the losses and move on. The birds that come back after a couple of days make you feel better about the unfortunate losses. Young birds can drive a fancier crazy….you will get discouraged…and frustrated. There will be days that you will want to cull every bird. Just keep your head up and …as I said before…have patience. Nothing good comes easy. As you mature as a fancier…you will find that training young birds is the easiest part. Just be prepared for a roller coaster ride your first year.
When the birds come into the roll is the next stage of a fancier’s development. At what age the birds come into the roll is irrelevant in this article. When the birds come into the roll is the point where the fancier starts looking at the kit and giving the birds a little more rest. At this point the fancier has to start putting birds with like performance together, or birds that are at about the same stage of development. The fancier needs to start flying birds that are well into the roll every other day and adding a little straight wheat to the diet.
The fancier needs to take notes on when certain birds came into the roll and how they are kitting or “ACTING” when they really start rolling. The fancier again will have to exercise patience. Some birds will land from being “freaked out” about the roll, some will not want to kit, some will do just fine. At this point the fancier needs to take a deep breath and let the birds develop. Again, you have to give the birds a little time to get a handle on their newfound roll. Give the birds time…. but not to much time. Do not get upset if a couple birds come down early or trail the kit when they are new to the roll. Just keep flying them every other day, monitoring their feed and taking notes on how particular birds are acting during this stage. What you write down about the birds during this phase, you will refer back to these writing years later. So take a lot of notes. You may have to eliminate birds that just seem to not get a handle on their newfound performance. Do not waste your time trying to cater to problem birds.
During the phase of coming into the roll, the roller will come into the roll many different ways. Your job as a fancier is to recognize and learn the many different ways rollers come into the roll and take note. The birds that come in to the roll too early and seem to be having a hard time handling the roll may need some care. For example, if a bird rolls and bumps hard after finding the roll, lock down the bird and feed it up for a week and then fly it again. If it continues to bump, you need to cull and move on. You need to focus on the birds that are doing it, not the birds that have issues. I have seen fanciers cater to a bird that continues to bump and bump and then the bird pulls through after weeks and weeks of mothering.The fancier at this point needs to look into the future of his stock.
There is no room for chronic bumpers in your future stock, I would not advise a fancier to breed from such birds. You need to ask yourself….do I want to go through catering to my young birds year after year? The answer is no. If you give the bird that has an accident a little help that is fine. Too much help, and your time is being spent looking left when you should be looking right. You want to keep focused on the birds that are not giving you problems. The fancier should not get caught up focusing on trying to feed up faults. At this point, stand back and look at the overall kit. Eliminate problem birds and focus on the birds that are doing just fine. Do not get too excited about birds that are rolling hard at this stage. As long as you see the birds as potential only, you will keep moving forward.
Soon you’ll have birds that are well into the roll, working very hard, breaking together, kitting well and flying a good time and actually acting like a kit of rollers should act. You now have to enter a new phase of your development as a fancier. You have already learned not to get worked up over new flying young birds and to let them be young birds. I’ve talked about eliminating birds that will not kit and not stay on the wing. I’ve discussed feeding them a good feed and enough to keep them trapping fast. Then the birds start rolling and you have matured and learned to take notes on the bird’s development and recognizing the different ways the birds come into the roll.
You learn that you have to rest the birds more at this point and maybe tweaking the feed a little bit. You eliminate the birds that have chronic accidents from not having stability and the birds that are scared to fly with the kit because it makes them roll. You learn to focus on keeping the young rollers kitting during this very stressful point of a young bird’s development into a top quality spinner. Most of all you start to see the potential! Then the next phase begins.
Now your birds are starting to do what rollers are bred to do. You have eliminated the stress and headaches through culling. Your focus now is giving them more rest. This is the hard part for a new fancier to handle. You are so used to flying every day and enjoying the birds at flight. It kills the fancier to have to rest the birds for two days and not be able to fly them. You must again exercise patience.
The birds NEED rest if they are working hard. The fancier will see a change in the bird’s performance with the rest. The birds seem to shift into a higher gear. At this point the fancier needs to put it in neutral. It is time to really pay attention to each individual bird’s performance and team flying characteristics. The fancier needs to start tweaking the feed and cutting the feed back.As the birds get older they need less feed because they are no longer “Growing”. The fancier will find frustration from trying different ways of feeding…usually on getting a handle on how much to feed. Many fancier pull out their hair when the birds are flying 2 hours. Just take a deep breath and cut the food a little more for the next flight.
The fancier has to really start focusing on the quality and depth of the birds, as well as how this kit is flying as a team. The birds are still young…so taking notes is still a must. Really start paying attention to how they react to different feeding habits as well as coming off of a certain amount of rest. The birds will start to roll faster, harder and deeper at this point.Some stable rollers will start to become unstable rollers. Again, you have to eliminate the birds that can’t keep up with the work pace and birds that lose their stability. Focus on the birds with HEART. You will have ups and downs and some days you will feel that your birds are getting stiff or losing performance…or performance changes from fly day to fly day.
This is where the notes you take on feed and rest come into play. Record what works and what does not work for your new young team. If a bird goes stiff or is not working as hard….simply demote the bird to a lesser team…if it does not improve…eliminate it.This is the point where you should start having little patience for problem birds. It is hard for the fancier to not have patience when you have been practicing patience from the beginning. The fancier has to learn to have patience for young birds and little patience for older young birds. To move forward you may have to eliminate birds that “had it” months earlier but then lost it. Again, at this point, keep good notes and exercise little patience. This is the cream rising to the top. Keep the cream and eliminate inferior birds. As a maturing fancier you really have to tighten up your waste belt and be less forgiving of problem birds to move forward. Your patience should start to move into the thin area.
Now that you have worked your young team through the paces and they are at the point of full maturity, you should be working with a good team of birds. You should have very little patience at this point. All the birds in the team should have EARNED their place.Proper feeding is always a work in progress. You will have to change feed amounts and types as the seasons change. The fancier needs to recognize that when it gets colder that the birds need more feed to keep warm. With the cold weather, come bad days to fly as well as the possibility of predators. You will have to except that predators are going to dictate your fly days as well as the weather. You should really be looking at your team through a different set of eyes. These eyes are going to be very critical of the quality of individual performance as well as the team’s performance. The birds in your top team need to constantly be under your microscope to remain a member of the team.
The fancier has to keep in mind that feeding the birds up for winter will affect their performance. Don’t be surprised if your winter flying consists of smaller breaks and kit birds that are strong on the wing. The most important thing the fancier has to pay attention to during the winter is weather to fly the birds or not. If you feel for one second that you should not fly or ask yourself…should I fly….keep the door closed. You lose your team; you lose your hard work. Do not risk it!!
As for predators, you will have days that you will want to just quit the sport. You will be sad and angry when the predator takes your best bird. I would assume that the best birds taste better. If you are losing birds to predators you need to lock down. If you feed your best birds to the predators, the fancier must keep in mind that they may be feeding their best future breeders to the predators. This should be an easy decision to lock down the birds if you can’t fly. It is hard to be a roller flier and not fly your birds. Just look at it as protecting your investment.
When you start flying your old bird team you should really start focusing on the team as a whole, looking at every aspect of the team. You need to look at the team before a break and after a break. Look at what is happening in the team. What birds are your trigger birds, your lead birds, your worker birds and the birds that are causing minor problems. You should have very little patience for a problem bird in your old bird team. The fancier has to be able to cull a bird that has been a “good” bird for a year and then starts acting up. You demote it and if it can’t make it…cull it.
You should be using your rich feed as a supplement to your standard diet of wheat and milo. Supplement the feed when the birds feel light in the hand and need to gain a little weight. The fancier really has to start focusing on the quantity of feed and the fly time. The birds should fly for about 30-40 minutes and working hard! It they are not working hard you need to step back and look over the kit and then look it over a second time. You have to get into the mindset that you are not only looking for good kit birds, but you are also looking for potential breeders. You want birds in your team that do it right most of the time.
The focus for future breeders, is to look for birds that do it right most of the time, but also are a step above the rest of the team. You will know a potential breeder when you see it. You should always be prepared for disappointment and be able to adapt. The birds will not fly at there best all the time. As a mature fancier you need to be able to recover and be able to change. If you can’t change you will be stuck and will not move forward. Change can be as simple as cutting the feed, or adding a bit of rich food or an extra day of rest.As old kit birds, the birds have again changed. You the fancier has to change along with the birds. You have to change the quantities and types of feed yet again. The birds will need an extra day of rest to recover from rolling fast and hard. Make sure that you can make the change from training young birds to old birds and be able to draw a distinction between the two.
Feeding changes have the most impact on an old bird team. You will have to find what changes help and hurt your birds. Feed changes do not affect the birds quickly. Keep in mind that if you change feed type or quantities, that it takes a week to ten days to notice the affects.You need to accept the fact that trying different feeding styles will take TIME to determine if it helps or hurts your birds performance. Taking notes is a must when flying an old bird team. Record feed type and quantities for each day, if it is a fly day or rest day, the birds performance every time you fly, weather conditions on rest and fly days, time the birds fly and the time that you release the birds. You will learn the most about your birds overall performance and potential as old birds.
When the old bird team in flying, all attention should be focused upward to the working team. All fly time should be spent looking at every aspect of the team’s performance. Notes should be taken when the team is flying. Record anything that you feel is important. When you are new, I would suggest you write down everything. As you learn your birds and mature as a fancier, you will determine what has the importance to be recorded. Study your notes and see if there is a pattern to the team’s performance based on your notes. To be able to truly study your birds you need to have something to compare to.
You need to get out of your backyard and stand underneath many fancier’s kits. You need to pick the brains of the seasoned fanciers to learn what to look for in a good team of birds. Have them explain to you what they look for in a team. Take notes and compare them to the notes you have written about your team. Without seeing a good team of birds with your own eyes, you will never be able to set a standard for your birds. Have fanciers look at your birds and give input. Be prepared to be criticized and learn from it. Have an open mind and you will go far in rollers.Taking lots of notes will assist you in you loft management and progression as a roller fancier. The new fancier must be able to except the fact that time MUST be taken to write a note or two. I have had to refer back to my past notes numerous times to make sure that I was making the right decisions on a pair selection. I had a cock and hen that I had put together, and they clicked.
I decided to split that pair and try them with many other mates. You would think that you would remember a click pair, but I could not remember which mating clicked off the top of my head. I had to pull my notes on all the pairings, to find my click pairing. I used the past notes that I had taken on the pairs themselves, as well as the development of their offspring. I actually found two good pairings while I was only looking for one. Feeding rollers is something that is experimented with on a constant basis. I use my feeding notes to make sure that I know what is working and what is not working to get the best out of my birds with performance, flight height and fly time. Notes will save you more times then you think.Picking Stock birds has to be the most exciting and disappointing part of raising rollers. You find a couple of birds that you want to try in the stock loft. You have given them ample time to prove themselves in the air. They’ve shined through every stage of their development. You are excited to try them in the breeder loft and see the performance that they may produce.
But then you have the disappointment. You are pulling your best birds from your A-team. Pulling the best birds will have a negative affect on your team. You will have to replace the birds with inferior birds. The very reason for flying rollers is to produce a championship team.To move forward you may have to drop your team down a level. So, you are lowering the quality of your team and pulling birds that may or may not produce. You will now have to go back to your notes and pull from your past experiences to get your team back to its previous level of performance. Putting the birds in the stock loft will most likely ruin the chances of ever returning as an A-team bird. If they do not produce in the stock loft, and can’t make it back as a kit bird, you have to cull the bird. It is hard to accept that you pulled champion kit birds that may have to be culled.
The fact is that you have to accept it. Understanding that you have to play the odds and breed from champion birds to get a higher % of champion birds will help in your decision process. When it all works out and the champion kit birds you pulled produce offspring better then themselves, the excitement overshadows the past disappointments. Expect more misses in the breeder loft than hits. The stock loft is where you can relax and enjoy the cycle of life. You still have to keep good records on your birds; recording hatch dates, banding young birds, recording band numbers, keeping the loft clean and healthy, keeping track of sire and dam information. There is still a lot of work to do in the stock loft, but the work is fun. Let the birds be birds and let Mother Nature take its course. Have the understanding that not all birds will survive, not every hen will lay like clock work and not every egg will hatch. Don’t count your pigeons before they hatch.
Finding a mentor is something that will help you develop at a faster pace. Mentors will assist you in not making the same mistakes that they made. You have to LISTEN to your mentors. They have “been there and done that”! Open your mind to suggestions and criticism. If a Seasoned fancier tells you that you are feeding to much, then you better listen and try cutting back on the feed. The mentor will guide you down the right path, only if you want to be guided. I have had some of my mentors give me suggestions that I did not agree with, and they ended up working. It is a good piece of mind to know that you can talk to somebody if you need a question answered or a problem solved.
You have your loft and kit boxes set up, you have trained your young birds, separated them into teams, adjusted flying and feeding, recognized the difference between young and old birds, picked your stock birds, bred the young, and started the process all over again.
Each time going back to your previous years notes and adjusting accordingly. Watching other fancier’s kits fly and seeing different management techniques. Meeting seasoned fanciers along the way to help guide you through this hobby. Most of all you are keeping your mind open, mouth shut and learning everything you can about managing The Brimingham Roller Pigeon. Just remember, that when you are wearing the old bird training hat, the young bird hat has to be hanging up. You have to be able to wear many different hats, but only one hat at a time. Be patient, allow yourself to change and you will go far in your development as a Roller Fancier.
Paul Fullerton edited by Darin Olson