I have had great success using the Darkening System with my young
birds. It has helped me overcome other disadvantages I have, like
poor loft location and headwinds off the Great Salt Lake. This is
the eighth season I have used this system. I had some success the
first year, 1997, while I was learning, great success the second
and third years, 1998 and 1999.
In 2000, my fourth year, my young
birds picked up the Adeno Virus. I lost many birds before I got
on top of it, so I stopped flying to tend to my birds and so I
would not infect the other pigeons in the club. I learned a lot
about the Adeno Virus that year which has been helpful to me and
others since that time.
In 2001, 2002 and 2003, I flew only young birds so I could spend
more time with my kids and be able to watch them play sports. I
had some good results with my young birds, but spent a lot of time
these years experimenting with breeding theories. I used the darkening
system with my young birds. My results were good, but not spectacular.
This year, in the 2004 young bird season, I am seeing some phenomenal
results. I think what we have done with the breeding is really
working and we are able to fully use the power of the darkening
system. We are really excited about the results. It looks like
we are going to have an awesome season.
Using the Darkening System causes the young birds to moult
their body feathers very rapidly, but they do not moult the
The system tricks the pigeons biological clock through manipulation
of the length of the day. The shortened day forces the bird
for winter by moulting the body feathers. As the bird moults,
it also grows and matures. It becomes stronger and more muscular.
the bird an advantage when racing against birds that have
not gone through a moult. The larger body size gives the
pigeon more power
During this moult, each pigeon loses all of the feathers
on the head, neck and shield, but will not lose the primary
flight feathers. This moult occurs before the racing season
starts in the fall, so the birds have great body coverage
entire young bird season. They are not falling apart like
most young birds do.
One huge advantage I have seen is that the young birds are sexually
mature for the racing season. They can be put on the widowhood system
and respond very well to it. I fly the double widowhood system with
my young birds which really helps to motivate the birds to come home
My birds seem to be in top form week after week on the Darkening System.
I usually have a large young bird team and most weeks I have more
than enough birds ready to go on the race. The birds have a full wing
and good feather coverage on their bodies. They are not stressed and
they always seem to recover easily from a race.
Proponents of the Darkening System claim that the birds acquire adult
immunity to diseases under this system. They are less affected by
respiratory problems and viruses. Since beginning the sytem, I have
had less health problems and diseases in my young birds.
Opponents of the Darkening System claim that the birds reach maturity
too quickly and will be too old when their training begins. They claim
that great losses will occur because the optimum time for teaching
the bird to home to the loft has passed. I have not found this to
be true. I rarely lose any young birds as I train and I lose very
few birds throughout the race season.
With the loft being closed up for a big part of the day to cause
the birds to be in darkness, there could be a danger of poor
for the birds which would cause respiratory problems and poor
health. I have overcome this by installing a ceiling fan to
air. I only run the fan when the birds are closed up. The rest
of the time my loft has plenty of air circulation.
Another disadvantage of the Darkening System is that a few birds
may begin to moult their flight feathers near the end of the
have only had this happen a few times. Most of my birds hold
their feathers very well all through the season.
Birds on the Darkening System fly throughout the season with
their baby flight feathers. This may be a disadvantage to them,
but I don't
think so. I feel it is better to fly with a full wing of baby
feathers than to fly while trying to moult them.
It is very painful for a bird to fly when a new feather is errupting
from the quill. If stressed during this time by flying a race,
feather may be permanently damaged. The bird may return from
the race, but probably not with a winning time. When you don't
feel well, you
don't perform your best. The same is true for your pigeons.
I put my breeding pigeons together near the end of January. My last
birds come out of the nest near the end of May. As soon as I wean
the first round, they go on the system. All of the birds I raise during
the season are put on the system when they are weaned. Some moult
earlier than others, but they are all ready by the time the season
My young birds go into a large loft with three big sections. There
are two aviaries on the front where the birds can go out and get a
drink and get sunshine. There is also a large aviary on the back of
the pen. The pigeons go out a walkway, down the side of the loft and
then into the back aviary.
I am a school teacher, so I leave for work early in the morning and
arrive home in the early afternoon. I like to spend time with my pigeons
every day, so the traditional method of darkening the loft in the
afternoon and evening hours didn't work for me. I would never be able
to spend time with my birds under that system. I set up my system
so that the loft is darkened in the morning hours, then opened at
10:30. My birds have their light in the middle of the day, then I
close the curtain at 6:30. This gives my birds eight hours of sunlight
during the day and it allows me to have several hours each evening
to work with my birds.
The curtain I built allows me to keep the birds on a very consistent
system. I try very hard to be there every night at 6:30 to shut the
birds up. This is one reason many flyers don't like the system. It
keeps you tied to home. It is difficult to take off and go places.
If I need to be gone, I have to find someone to do it for me. It is
not good for the birds when you miss putting them to bed on time.
If the loft were built differently, it might be possible to have a
curtain come back down and close up the loft, but my birds get all
spread out throughout the loft and the aviaries. I have to be there
to get them all back inside and into one area to be able to close
up the loft.
When I wean the pigeons, I feed a 22% protein turkey grower pellet.
This feed really helps them get through the moult and grow all of
the feathers they need. I feed them once a day in the afternoon.
When I get home from school, I let the birds out on the landing board.
My landing boards have slide down fronts with screen. This lets the
birds look around the loft and begin to become accustomed to the area.
It also gives me a chance to work on trapping with the birds. I spend
a great deal of time teaching the birds througth repetition to trap
when I whistle.
While the birds are out on the landing board, I spend a few minutes
cleaning the loft. I like to keep it clean because when the birds
are moulting there is a lot of dust. I don't like the birds to breathe
anymore of the dust than is necessary. I scrape, scoop and sweep it
out almost every day.
After sitting outside for a while I whistle the birds into the loft
and use a push stick with a square of plywood on the end to help get
the birds inside. I whistle the same tune every day and I whistle
continually while the birds are eating in the loft. I like to be inside
the loft with the birds as they eat, so they get used to being near
After the birds eat, they go out into the front aviaries to get a
drink. I give them water with a tablespoon per gallon of apple cider
vinegar mixed in. This reduces the PH level in the gut of the birds
and helps prevent the birds from getting coccidiosis and e-coli. While
the birds drink, I like to sit on a bucket near their water tray and
watch the birds. It lets me see each bird individually, gets them
accustomed to me, and helps me to learn the birds' band numbers. It
is important for me to really know my birds, so I spend the time to
make it happen. Most flyers are not commited to spending enough time
in the loft and with the birds.
Before I start training in the middle of July, I switch the birds
to grain. I add a little grain with their feed to begin with and then
gradually build up the grain while decreasing the pellets. I mix a
pigeon feed with three different types of peas, Austrian Peas, Trapper
Peas and Maple Peas. It also has whole corn, wheat, milo, millet,
safflower, rice and barley. The feed has about one half barley. When
I start to train and race I reduce the barley to about one third.
In the water I give the birds, I also mix Red Cell, which is a vitamin
and iron supplement sold for horses. I buy it at a farm store in gallon
bottles. I use a teaspoon per gallon of water and give it to the birds
three or four times per week. I mix it together with the apple cider
vinegar. I use poultry vitamins and Windsmore vitamins that I order
from Jedds Pigeon Supply. I put a quarter of a teaspoon of each in
the water two or three times a week. I also use pureed garlic. I put
a teaspoon of it in the water two or three times a week. It doesn't
seem to matter to the birds what I put in the water, they drink it
just fine. Most days it is a mixture of several things.
I always give fresh water every day. I clean the glass gallon bottles
and glass Pyrex trays that I use several times each week with chlorine
bleach to kill any germs and bacteria. My water trays are built on
the outside of my lofts in an aviary. This keeps
the floors inside my coops dry at all times. If any water gets spilled,
it just drops to the ground through the screen in the bottom of the
The second week of July, I switch the schedule for the birds. I
change their day from the middle of the day to a natural morning.
In Utah, it is very hot in the middle of the summer when I need to
train, so I have to have morning training tosses. A week before I
begin training tosses, I begin opening the curtain up at night before
I go to bed. The sun is down, so I can open the curtain without disturbing
The birds awake to a normal sunrise. My kids are home during the summer
and they put the birds to bed for me at 2:00 p.m. During this time,
I don't get to spend as much time with the young birds because I don't
mess with them in the evenings, but all the early work with the birds
has prepared them for training.
Another benefit of this change is that now the curtain is open all
night long and there is more air movement in the loft. This is a healthier
condition for the birds to be in.
Training tosses begin after a week of the new schedule. I begin by
taking them to the street in front of the house several times, then
increase the distance very slowly. I toss them every day for the first
week or so and then about every other day after that. I do lots of
tosses within a mile or two of the loft and then gradually increase
to longer tosses.
For me, this is a little bit of a sacrifice. I have to get up at five
most days to get the training toss in before I go to work for the
day. During the summer, I work at the school, building things in the
woodshop like shelves and tables. The school district uses them in
Most flyers aren't willing to get up early and make the sacrifice
to make it happen. Without a good training schedule, the birds won't
develop the muscles they need and they won't develop their homing
instincts as keenly. Experience pays off when they get into the race
season. During the training tosses, the birds make mistakes. They
get off course and have to find their way back home. I believe they
are a lot like kids. They learn from their mistakes and they gain
experience that will help them later when they get into the same situation.
They will be able to find their way home much quicker.
Two weeks before the first race, I make another change and put the
birds on sixteen hours of light. The birds wake to a natural sunrise,
but I turn lights on in the coop with a timer and then shut them off
at 10:00 p.m. with the timer. This is the easiest part of the system,
since the timer can take care of the lights without any interference
Adding the extra lights, lengthens the day for the birds and tricks
them into believing that it is still summer time. Consequently, the
birds do not begin to prepare for winter as they do on the natural
system. They don't need to, since they have already gone through the
I leave the birds together for the first race and then seperate them
into hens and cocks on the evening after the first race. I continue
to train the birds several times a week, but I have to switch to afternoon
training tosses. Having the birds in two groups requires that someone
be at home who can close the front to the hen loft and open the front
to the cock loft so that the birds don't end up in the same pen.
By this time, school has started so I train as soon as I get home
from work and my kids help me out by switching the loft fronts for
me. It is difficult, but I can usually work two tosses in each week
and still manage to get to several soccer games and practices with
Once seperated, the hens and cocks get let out at seperate times
to fly around the loft. If I don't take them on a training toss, I
let them out to fly around the loft. Most days they will take off
and fly for up to an hour before returning to the loft to eat. I still
feed just once a day after they have flown or been trained. I don't
let the birds fly on Friday or do training tosses on that day.
I again get to spend a lot of time with the birds as they eat and
drink. I continue to clean the lofts almost every day. For me it is
easier to do it regularly and clean up just a little than to let it
all build up and have to really work to get it clean. It pays off
so much in the better health of the birds.
On Friday afternoon, I let the hens and cocks get together for
about an hour before I crate them to go to the club. I make sure
eat and drink before I crate them. I adjust the feed depending on
what the conditions for the race are supposed to be. If it is
to be a harder race, I feed more heavily. For an easier race, I feed
Making sure the birds get the right feed at the right time
during the race week is a skill you have to learn. Every race
is different. The weather, the temperature, the wind, all make
a difference on the condition of the birds when they return to
the loft. How I feed the birds, has a big effect on how the birds
recover from a race and how they prepare for the next one. Just
like an athlete has to be careful with his diet, I have to prepare
my flying athletes to be ready to do their best.
Usually I start with light food immediately after a race and then
increase the amount of protein on Monday through Wednesday.
Peas and corn have a lot of protein in them which helps to build
it won't help to feed it on Friday right before a race. By then,
it does not have time to digest properly. On Thursday and Friday,
I feed less protein and more carbohydrates. This provides the energy
the pigeons need for the race.
I try to handle the birds as little as possible on race day.
I don't want to stress them in any way. Since the birds at
this age don't
have a permanent mate, I don't worry so much about which birds
stay or go, like I do with the old birds. I try to send those
and feel the best. If the bird is stressed for any reason or
not in good condition, I will leave it home. I always have
plenty of birds.
When the birds arrive home from the race, I allow both sexes
to mix within the entire loft. They are like teenagers strutting
They haven't settled down with a permanent mate. They all seem
to play the field and flirt with many different birds. I allow
stay together for several hours, then seperate all of the birds
again. Those that arrive home early, get the most benefit from
If they come home late, they miss out.
Using the Darkening System, I get great results on the returns.
On many of the races over the past years, I have had
ten to twelve
birds on the first drop. I rarely get a single bird on the
At the end of the race season, I return the birds to a natural day
and night. I keep the birds seperated by sex, since I don't want them
to begin mating. This would cause additional stress on the birds and
put them at risk of getting sick.
The birds will begin the moult really fast as their day has suddenly
gone from a long summer day of sixteen hours to a shorter autumn
of about twelve hours or less. The birds will moult the body feathers
again and they will moult the wing flights. A few birds will have
already begun the wing moult, but most of mine have not started this
The birds seem to just fall apart at this time, but they get through
it rather quickly. Again, I try to keep the loft really clean during
this time to prevent the birds from getting sick. There is considerable
dust with the huge loss of feathers, so at the very least I sweep
the loft every day.
I return the birds to the 22 percent turkey grower pellets for this
time while they are moulting. It seems to help them get through
moult easier. They have the extra protein available that they need
to grow the new feathers, but in a form that is much easier to digest
than peas and corn. I always give the birds plenty of grit as
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