Taking the Ghent Study with a grain of Salt

Some time back, I had a producer of "so called" performance pigeon products call me. I don't think he liked the idea that his clients were interested in my products. He kept telling me that I did not understand the physiology of the pigeon but he did. He went on to say my products would not work, because he was a trained scientist who understood the needs of the pigeon and I was not. Throughout this phone conversation he continually referred to the Ghent Study, as though quoting someone else's research would give him credibility. Also, I believe he was inferring that since my research was not of the "standard" of the Ghent Study, my research was of little value. In all fairness to him, I read the seven page summary of the Ghent study and I found holes the size of pick up trucks in its assumptions.

If I was big headed, I would just discard the Ghent Study and its finding, but that would be a big mistake. Just because I find irregularities with some of their stated assumptions and techniques, there is still much to be learned from the study. But unlike others I would NOT taut this study as proof that my product works for racing pigeons. The questionable methodology of the study shadows the underlaying premise upon which the study makes its conclusions. Below are some of my observations about this study. Mind you no one in the scientific community has pointed any of this out, yet I (a layman), reading it for the first time found much to question about the premise of the study.


Anybody, with or without a degree can pick apart a study if they want to split hairs, take the Ghent study on racing pigeons that is so popularly quoted by some. There is much to be learned from this study, but there is also many questions raised about the usefulness of the data and its interpretation.

First of all, the birds were not tested in real flight, but by electro-stimulation at 5 pulses a second. Unfortunately, when the breast muscles of our birds are electro-stimulated all muscle fiber is electro-stimulated. This means that both the white muscle fibers and red muscle fibers were stimulated at 5 pulses a second. However, many of the so called pigeon experts suggest, red muscle fibers are the only fibers used in sustained flight. If these experts are correct, then the Ghent study results would not really be mimicking pigeon flight nor that flight's resultant respiration, heat generation and body chemistry data.

Though I strongly disagree with the experts, they suggest that red muscle fibers are the only fibers used in sustained flight and that the white muscle fibers are only used during take off, braking, landing and when escaping predators.

In their model, the white muscle fiber is only called upon in short duration burst of several seconds to a minute at a time and most likely for no more than a total of 10 - 15 minutes over a seven hour flight. However, the Ghent study electro-stimulates these white muscle fibers continuously (5 pulses a second) over the complete seven hour period of the test.

Since these experts also agree that white muscle fiber predominately uses glucose for its energy source and red muscle fiber uses fat conversion for energy, the dynamics of the body chemistry, heat generation and respiratory stress, would be significantly different under the Ghent study then under free flight during a race.

Also, observations reported Dr. Wim Peters put in strong doubt the Ghent study's premise that pigeons fly at the 5 pulse a second rate (which produces 5 wing flaps a second).

Dr. Wim Peters states in his article "Wings for Racing", referencing observations gleaned from watching slow motion video:

"The most important observation however, was that though all birds in the group were flying at the same speed, they were not all flapping at the same rate. This is not a new discovery but I ask myself, 'has enough attention been given to this phenomenon?' There was considerable variance. Some were flapping at ten times/sec and the slowest was measured at 7 times/sec. If one considers that the film was not made expressly to count the strokes/sec., it is reasonable to assume that there could be birds flapping even faster and also some flapping even more slowly. Let us work on the measured rates only though."

Dr Peters would disagree that 5 wing flaps a second are even "flapping speed" or Comfortable Flight Velocity, which he relates to as "walking" effort in pigeons. The Ghent study goes even further and states, "L-Carnitine supplementation in pigeons improves fatty acid combustion efficiency during heavy exercise.", but Dr. Peters article suggest that the birds in the Ghent study were never exposed to heavy exercise.

Gordon Chalmers states in his article, A Review of Flight, Fuel and Blood Chemistry in Racing Pigeons: " Regardless of the fuel being used -- fat or glucose -- the main purpose is to produce ATP to supply the energy for the different phases of flight, including the launch, rapid sustained cruising flight, dodging bursts of speed at any time, braking to land, etc.."

He further states that white muscle fiber contracts nearly 70% faster than red muscle fiber. This would point to white muscle contractions in natural flight at two - three times the wing beat of the Ghent study, and Dr. Peters observations show the Ghent study wing beat to be off as much as 75%.

So, when one applies the observations of Dr. Peters, one could easily conclude that the Ghent study did not come close to replicating real pigeon flight, as it is well below the threshold for even the most causal effort our birds give in flight, and both white and red muscle fibers were equally stimulated which is contradictory to what many in the sport espouse as the mechanics of sustained flight.

I spend considerable time on my research into advanced pigeon products, I take no joy in pointing out the irregularities in others research, however, I do enjoy the fact that a "so called" scientist - seller of pigeon products, would call me and intimate that I am not trained in this field and therefore my research and conclusions should not be taken seriously, when he the "trained" scientist cannot even see the gapping holes in the Ghent Study. If I (a mere layman) have seen the gapping holes in the underlaying premises of the Ghent study, why haven't scientists who sell products based on the Ghent Study also seen these gapping holes?

Don't get me wrong, there is much to be learned from the Ghent study. Regardless of whether the birds were actually exposed to heavy exercise or not, the observations concerning thermal regulation and the benefits of L-Carnitine are still worth considering, though they are not so conclusively proven as the study might suggest.

In the end, we should look to studies to give us valuable clues about what may or may not work on our birds to improve their health or racing abilities. However, don't let a study contradict what your eyes and the race results tell you in your own loft management techniques.

The above mentioned antagonist tried to convince me that only his products were scientific and mine were useless. My clients tell me every time they re-order that they are experiencing vastly improved results using my products. When they re-order they not only order the original product they got from me, but they are also trying one or two other products based on their initial good results.

I don't care whether you agree with me or not, but please don't call me to tell me I don't know what I am doing. My customers strongly disagree with you and so do their results!