"Mate these two birds together, knucklehead"

A recent fairly unscientific, yet none the less revealing, study was conducted and the results were not what scientist had expected. These scientist arranged for a group of college student to be seated in a room. Also present was a group of math majors from the college. A jar of jelly beans was placed on a table and the students were asked to guess the number of beans in the jar. To the surprise of the scientist conducting the test, the math majors performed at or below the average for the group as a whole, while those students that just flat out guessed at the answer (all students reported how they arrived at the number) scored the highest as a group. This fairly unscientific test suggest that intuitive processes can exceeds analytical processes when there are substantial unknown factors involved. These results dovetail with observations I recently arrived at while on vacation in Southern California.

I have a friend in the sport, Garry Riems, of Fallbrook, CA., who has raised the same family of birds for over 30 years. I realize that many think it is not modern winning technique to keep the same family of birds without constant out crossing, and I am sure (sadly) that we will see less and less inbred families of racing pigeons in the coming years. I will comment on my reasoning in a later article.

The birds that Garry has raised for over 30 years are the Bekaerts being from two lines; the Torreken and Waterhouse families. You won't find the so called modern winning strains in his loft just the Bekaerts and a couple of gift birds without pedigrees.

Garry doesn't spend money on birds at least not for the past 20 some years. Sure, he has a GFL catalog and admires the National Aces and Champions imported, he even has a pairing or two in mind that he would like to try, but his passion is for his Bekaerts.

I learned something interesting about Garry and his birds the other day. He invited me to take a trip with him to visit with George Husk in Costa Mesa, CA. George, was experiencing severe medical problems and had to make the tough decision of leaving the sport since he is no longer able to care for the birds properly. I have to tell you that George was misty eyed as we went through the birds, which represent for him, a lifetime of enjoyment. George is eighty years old, and started with his birds in the 1930's. His brother keep and raced the birds for 25 of those years while George was in the military and afterwards living in Guam, but besides that period of time, George has keep his birds and raced successfully for over 45 years.

George's birds are his old Husk family (Gits, Barkers, Grooters, etc.) and his new family of Torreken & Waterhouse Bekaerts. When George returned to the USA from Guam, he got his old family of birds back from his brother who had been successfully racing them for the intervening 25 years. The first thing George did was to bring in new blood to the family. He contacted Paul Veegate (please forgive the spelling) and ordered 10 Torreken Bekaerts. George flew some of these birds and had immediate success. The flyers won races and the breeders bred winners. Building on this success, George ordered more Torreken Bekaerts several years later. Meanwhile, living in Southern California during the late 1960's and early 1970's George also had access to the Waterhouse Bekaerts which were setting Southern California on fire with an endless succession of wins. George added the Waterhouse Bekaerts to his Torreken Bekaerts and the original Husk birds. These three families are the foundation of George's loft today.

As Garry and I visited with George, he told us his story. As we handled his birds and put them in the crates, George watched his life time love affair with racing pigeons come to a close. At one point, as we handled an aged old cock bird, George could not bare to part with the bird and had us put him back in the loft. "He is to old to breed from and of no use to anyone except me", said George. Later, we placed an old hen in the loft to keep the old cock company. To Garry and I these two old birds were of little value, but to George, they were of the wellspring from which his current family had originated.

George contacted Garry about taking his birds because they both have the same families of birds. Garry's birds and George's birds go back to the same key Torreken and Waterhouse breeders. Because of this closeness in breeding, Garry, doesn't need to reference a stack of pedigrees to know which birds from George he should keep. That afternoon, Garry didn't leave George's house with a stack of pedigrees, just the birds and a piece of paper that had notations for each bird like this: "2112 99 GS - 709 blood" "4923 98 GS - 1117 blood". Both George and Garry know the families, they know the physical traits, they are able to make decisions about breeding the birds just by looking at them.

Later, at Garry's loft, we watched George's birds get adjusted to their new surroundings, Garry told me he could "see" the qualities of his own birds in George's birds. Just by observing the birds and knowing the common key ancestors, Garry already knew how he was going to breed George's birds into his own family of birds. This is the other side of our sport, the side we rarely hear about anymore - people who breed by sight or observation (type, cast, wing, eye, head, etc.) not by pedigree. (I am assuming that whether you breed by sight or pedigree, you are basing your decision also on performance criteria).

I believe that sight breeding is more conducive within an inbred family of birds. I think, to successfully sight breed, one has to really know their birds and be able to recognize the "signs", just by looking at the bird. I wonder if, as one gets to know their family of birds, it is not possible to observe what we usually refer to as the hidden traits (determination, guts, intelligence, homing ability, etc.).

Are there really two equally competing systems for success in our sport; those that breed by "performance and pedigree" and those that breed by "performance and observation"? Certainly this is true, with a lot of grey area between these two choices where a mix of both systems are at play.

Garry and I are very different. My breeding loft is full of imports and second generation breeders off of national ace pigeons. Garry's breeding loft is full of his family of birds that he has flown for the past 30 years. I depend largely on the pedigree and race performance of the offspring. Garry depends on the race performance, physical traits and these "signs".

As we looked at George's birds, Gary would point at a particular bird and say "Do you see that... do you see that". He would look at one of George's birds and already know if and how he was going to breed from it. Not knowing his birds like he does, I said nothing. I did not "see that", I did not know why he was getting all excited about having George's birds.

I guess, having the same family of birds for 30 years creates a sort of homogenization process. You have personal knowledge of every ancestor for seven or more generations. You know what to expect from the birds. A lot of the unknown factors are removed by reason of the experience gained working with the birds in the breeding loft and via the race schedule over 30+ years.

For me, this has been the third year I have bred my birds together. I am reaching the point where I am finally beginning to understand a little about the "qualities" of the birds and I am even contemplating new matings based on this understanding and observations. Little by little, I am gaining some of the knowledge about my birds that Garry already possesses about his birds. Little by little, I am beginning to trust the intuitive process within me.

Have you ever had two birds that on paper you would likely never pair together but something just screams out that they should be bred together anyway? Maybe it is possible to see inside the birds and to acknowledge the existence of some invisible traits waiting to be brought to the surface, some non-tangible factors waiting to be discovered. Maybe you are looking right through the jelly bean jar and the answer is staring you in the face.

What the jelly bean study suggest, is that it might not be just luck, when we "hit" upon that so called "lucky mating". Maybe, in some instances, we are bypassing our analytical processes and tapping into the intuitive part of our brains that is screaming "Mate these two birds together, knucklehead".