Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shamas for sale

The response to my invitation to shama hobbyists to register their interest to acquire a taimong from me has exceeded expectations.  I have received many emails in which the writer says how happy he is that I am finally making some of my birds available.  I hope to publish a few of these emails soon with the names withheld.

I think it is fair that potential purchasers be provided with some information of what I have been trying to achieve with my breeding program and whether or not there is any value in getting a captive-bred from me. I therefore intend to set out in this and subsequent posts my rationale for line breeding and what can be expected from my birds.

The first thing I want to say is that if you are buying an adult male shama and you only want it for competition or as a pet at home, then its bloodline does not matter at all.  If you like the bird that you see and the price is what you are prepared to pay by all means get the bird.  Basically, the adult shama is there for you to assess and a good bird is a good bird no matter what its parentage.

The situation is different if you are getting a captive-bred taimong.  Here the bird’s character and features are not yet set and you will need to rely on the honesty, experience and knowledge of the breeder to advise on how the taimong is likely to turn out.   The breeder may tell you that the parents have "long genes", meaning that their tails are long.  This means nothing.  Unless the parents have been closely inbred, their chicks may have no resemblance to them.  

Also, long tails are not everything.  There are other aspects such as character, song, display and structure that are just as important. I would therefore suggest that when buying a taimong, you may wish to obtain more information of how long the breeder has been breeding, his line breeding methods and examples of the results.

Be careful about the seller who offers you a taimong and tells you that he expects it to turn out a certain way after the molt and that if it does not he will exchange it.  Ask yourself, if you are not happy with how the taimong turns out, is this seller likely to give you a better bird in exchange.  He has already taken your money and there is no financial benefit to him in changing the bird for a better one.

If you intend to breed shamas only for the experience of doing so, there is no need to get the top quality.  Its different if your objective is to breed shamas with specific traits of character, structure, display, song, long tails, soft feathers etc.  In such case, you will probably want to get highly inbred birds that already exhibit the traits that you want. When these birds are bred there is a much higher chance that they will be able to pass on their genes to their progeny.

In formulating my breeding program for my shamas, I researched what had been done with horses, dogs, birds and others.  In every instance, I found that that the characteristics that have been consistently produced were the result of line breeding over a considerable period.  I would like to say something today about the influence that the breeding of racing pigeons had on my thinking.

Pigeon racing is a sport in many parts of the world with cash prizes being awarded to the winners.  As many as 25,000 pigeons may take part in a single race. In the most famous race, The South African Million Dollar Race, the total prize money is US$1,000,000.00 with the winner receiving US$150,000 and the runner-up US$100,000.00.  The entry fee for a 3 bird team (1 entry and 2 backups) is US1,100.00.  Seven thousand pigeons from 36 countries took part in the 2012 race and the race was over 553 kilometres.

It will be seen that for a racing pigeon to do well, it will not only need to have the stamina for the long flight but it must also have the strength of character to endure the suffering that such grueling effort requires. To meet the needs of pigeon racing, the pigeons have been bred over countless generations.  All racing pigeons are inbred in order to preserve and improve on the desired qualities.

People with little or no knowledge of line breeding are often against it as they claim that doing so will produce “nuts and fools”.  This is obviously not true if line breeding methods are correctly understood and applied. If true, the pigeons would be flying all over the place instead of making a beeline for home hundreds of kilometres away from the place of release.  It is only with careful and selective in breeding by people who understand the subject that have resulted in the wonderful pigeons we have today.

In his book, Long-Distance Pigeon Racing, John Clements interviewed 9 top breeders in the UK and Europe on their breeding methods and other aspects of pigeon racing.  Below, are some excerpts from the book with their views on line breeding.

Jelle Outhuyse
Must they (the pigeons) be from an inbred family of performance birds?
            I prefer it if that is so, but today there are not so many successful inbred colonies of pigeons based on a related family.  So I often encourage inbreeding in my own loft, pairing father to daughter or mother to son in the hope that I can preserve the genes of the good ones.

Mevr Deweerdt and Sons
Is it essential that the birds you consider importing into your own family descend from an inbred family of birds?
Yes, I would say if possible we go for inbred pigeons or pigeons from a related family of birds.  We have tried importing pigeons, sons and daughters of champions who were themselves superb pigeons but not inbred or related to a family.  I have to say they were not a success.  Nowadays we don’t consider a cross unless it comes from a family of pigeons.  There are fanciers who have a super pigeon from time to time, but apart from that nothing.  Importing pigeons from this type of pigeon has always been a failure.

Geoff and Catherine Cooper
So when you get the imports or other pigeons in your loft, all you have bought is good genes in an endeavor to make your loft as strong as possible?
Yes, totally. That’s all I want.

Alan Darragh
So in the early days of your loft you brought all these good pigeons together and bred from them to form a family. Did you pick them in any particular way?
I always maintain that blood will sooner or later come out.  It may miss a generation but, sooner or later, if you have the good blood it will come out.  Possession of good blood (i.e genes) is more than just important.  It is essential.

Mark Gilbert
I have been told over and over again in the course of my research for this book that the ideal situation is to have a basic family of related pigeons of high quality and then to cross into them individual top pigeons from a similar but unrelated family.  Do you agree with this?
Yes, I think I do.  I have probably gone over the top with my crosses but I am still learning.  I recognize that this is the time when it is getting harder to make decisions about breeding.  If it were not difficult then it would not be worthwhile.  It is this kind of decision-making that makes the sport so fascinating.  I hope I eventually manage it.

John Clements (author of Long-distance Pigeon Racing)
Line Breeding
… all the fanciers interviewed agree that it is necessary to have very good blood if one is to have even a small chance.  Good blood, as defined by good fanciers, is blood that consistently produces good pigeons time and time again in racing, in breeding or in both.
The importance of having good blood lies at the heart of this book……
….The chance of actually breeding an extraordinary champion pigeon, .. is remote.
Successful line breeders always have a fall back position though, that of being able to produce a good quantity of very good pigeons without producing the totally exceptional.  If the exceptional occurs it is special, regardless of which breeding method is used, line breeders expect to produce good pigeons from within their own family without the expense of having to buy introductions on a regular basis.

In my line breeding program, I have strived to breed only the birds that I would want for myself.  Some of my birds have become well known through the photos and videos on my blog and elsewhere.  I have inbred the birds for many generations, always being careful to eradicate any faults that I might perceive in my birds

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