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An Alternative Approach to the Selection of the Next Generation of Breeders, Part 1

From: 02.10.2009

 - An Alternative Approach to the Selection of the Next Generation of Breeders, Part 1

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By Rich Dworek
Sixty year flyer.

Recent correspondence with Mr. Gene Yoes, Editor of the Digest indicated that, "I'd love to have you write-your articles (are) very analytical...Please, put pen to paper."

The truth is-I hate to write. It is hard work for me. I do not need the publicity for selling birds which I also do not enjoy. However, I was greatly impressed by the hard work and efforts (a five part series and forty Digest pages) by Mr. Yoes and in particular the contributions of Messrs. Bieche, Mardis, Melucci, Richardson, Rivera and Smith. These gentlemen collaborated on information for the article- "Selecting the Next Generation of Breeders."

Also about two years ago, I had a heart attack which changed my perspective into being more like Mr. Melucci and the above contributors in giving back to the sport for which I have enjoyed for sixty years. I believe it would have been a great waste to do something well for sixty years and not share what you have learned or believe to be true with the beginners in sport who will carry on the sport into the years ahead.

Specifically, I would like to dedicate these articles to relatively new flyers like Mr. Ed Januario of New York who won the 2006 Cliff Lemoine Memorial and Pledge Race, the 2008 Mid-state Sportsman Band Race and Mr. Matt Colopy of Pa.-who also has won many first Interstate Combines. I have known these young menthe last several years and I am greatly impressed with their passion for breeding and flying racing pigeons. I believe some of the information that I have passed onto to them, as well as birds, has been helpful to them.

If I can be helpful to other beginners-that is my goal. If any new flyer has a question about these articles I can be reached by e-mail at In addition, I will be available to answer any questions from beginners particularly in January and February of the year-when I have a lot of spare time in the cold winters of Pa.

Also I apologize if articles are analytical, but that is how I base and evaluate conclusions. But perhaps by referring to a number of national racing pigeon celebrities, I can make the articles more interesting.

Last and most important, I want to thank and acknowledge that my brother, Stan Jr. first brought racing pigeons to our home, that my father, Stan Sr. was a great supporter of our pursuit of racing and a "great father." Also my racing partner Stan Borowski and my racing pigeon breeding partner, Bud Dezomba, have been very helpful, but mostly great friends. Last, I greatly appreciate the efforts of Barry Venn, Wyoming who took and raced my family of birds in many major young bird futurities for last eighteen years and who recently sent back a number of his foundation #609 (#3016) line to reintroduce into my current #3016 family of birds.

Perspective and Premise
First, it is my belief that pigeon races are won for the combination of all of the following:

  1. Quality of birds-the subject of selecting the next generation of breeders.
  2. Health
  3. Training
  4. Numbers
  5. Set-up/motivation
  6. Location for races 200 miles and under in club and particularly combines with a large front.

Hence, the selection of breeders is only one of a number of factors that a beginner should be concerned about. It is my belief that you could have Piet DeWeerd grade your birds and if birds are not in great health or properly trained they will not be a factor on race day.

Most important, and contrary to several of the views in the recent selection series of article, I do not believe it is necessary to grade birds by physical characteristics for stock bird breeding in order to be successful. In fact, I would recommend to a beginner-not to spend the time on checking out physical characteristics but to base stock bird election on the basket performance of the stock birds and their close relatives. We have been flying and racing successfully for at least the last 30-40 years at the national level and none of our stock birds were placed in breeding loft because of physical characteristics.

I know this recommendation may be controversial so I will attempt to provide documentation why selection by physical characteristics is not necessary-if the goal is a long term record of being evaluated as an Ace national performance loft.

Dr. Whitney's Scientific Approach
One of the best books that I have read on the breeding of racing pigeons is called just the "The Basis of Breeding Racing Pigeons" by Leon F. Whitney, D.V.M. Whitney goes out of his way to stress upfront that his book is based on the scientific method.

Whitney has a number of interesting things to say and I quote: "If there is any one thing which has characterized pigeon fanciers as a class, it is their snap judgments in place of facts, readiness to believe whatever appears in print, and dependence upon outgrown theories."

"The average man is looking for alibis instead of truth. It is our duty to forget our opinions in our studies and seek the truth."

"But the scientist? He's a doubter as we have seen. How does he go about determining the accuracy of a statement? He begins with the statement, or theory. In other words he has an idea of his own or of another person. Does he set out to prove it? Never! He sets out to test it. And in the testing process he must leave a record of his tests in order that other scientists may verify his work."

Eyesign was a subject that was discussed in the Digest's Part 3-Selecting The Next Generation of Breeders. To me there was a difference of opinion from the contributors. Let's see what Dr. Whitney's scientific approach says about eyesign.

"Take the familiar eye sign ideas. Read what has been written about this theory or these theories. Where is one single scientific report among all the mishmash of opinions? And where is a clear-cut statement of what eye sign really is?

"I have had an unusual opportunity to study eye sign. One of my good friends is probably the champion racer of London, who has won the London Bowl several years. He was employed during World War II by the British government to select pigeons which were sent abroad to deliver important messages home. He mates his birds strictly according to eye sign, and he selected the birds to fly for the British army by the same method. He is completely convinced that eye sign is the best indication of ability in a racing pigeon. Among my collection of books, there are three on eye sign. Not one of the three treats the subject not as a theory but as a demonstrated fact. And yet, all three books are opinion only and not scientific. The writers show how to spot eye sign, but they leave no record of the study on which their proposition is based. One tells us that he went into loft after loft and examined thousands of pigeons and all of the best ones demonstrated eye sign. This is obvious opinion and nothing more than that, and such statements remain nothing but opinion until someone makes a careful study and leaves records in the form of descriptions and photographs, so that anyone following up on the study and attempting to verify it will find records with which to compare his new results."

"The strange thing about eye sign is that many of the theories are different. What the great London expert considers the best eye sign is not the necessarily the one put forward as best by a French author."

"In opposition to these opinions, there are many more which are most interesting. One fancier, who at one time relied upon the eye sign theory to select pigeons, was confronted with a large number of birds taken from the pigeon store and was shown heads of the pigeons only. He picked out many that had extraordinarily fine eye sign and when he was shown the actual pigeons, was quite amazed to find that they were not even of the racing homer breed. Another eye sign expert was shown the heads of a large number of common pigeons; he, too, picked out some with extraordinarily excellent eye sign, according to his standard, and then was surprised to find that they were all common pigeons he had been observing."

"Perhaps the eye sign method of selecting racing pigeons is the best that we have yet, but until someone demonstrates that it is and leaves records of his study, it will remain merely an opinion and of little help to those seriously interested in racing pigeons."

Perhaps Dr. Whitney's scientific approach should be considered when we evaluate the information in the five part series on the "Selecting the next Generation of Breeders."

To me it is somewhat of a confusing matter to clearly define what a scientific fact is and what opinion is. In fact, as I write this, scientific fact versus opinion is being debated on Oprah with respect to prescriptions for hormone treatment. One doctor is arguing, "How can you say that without supporting data? Transparency is needed!"

(Note: I only watch Oprah to find out when she is going to give me a new car!)

With respect to eyesign at the Dworek loft, both my father, San and my brother Stan Jr. attempted to use eyesign but found it not to be useful. I never had confidence in eyesign. No breeders were ever added to our breeding loft on basis of eyesign, or for that matter, the grading of physical qualities of birds. Perhaps eyesign can be valuable, perhaps grading can be helpful-but the premise of this article will be to present detailed performance records (facts-?) to the beginner to show that grading is not necessary to select breeders and have very good national performance flying records.

Joe Tavormina-Cadillac Lofts, Elizabeth, New Jersey-First Big All-American.
Younger flyers may not have heard of Mr. Joe Tavormina of the famous Cadillac Lofts of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Joe was my mentor and helped me with flying, breeding and many great birds that have won every big race that you can think of in the USA and every honor/award that is available for last 25 years. But does their viewpoint on grading extend to the West Coast and specifically to the San Fernando Valley in California, a hot bed of racing pigeon fanciers-particularly when the big Snow Bird race was being flown.

In 1988, I first participated in the Snowbird in FVC California. At that time, the Snowbird was the most prestigious race in USA. I watched my first Snowbird at the loft of Ed Lorenz (First-Middle and Second Big All-American) and was fortunate to have the first bird at his loft my one and only entry and placed-10th overall Snowbird. The bird also placed in Snow Futurity and I won thousands of dollars with a one bird entry. Thereafter, I was hooked on Snowbird and flew it for many years.

Because I was so involved, I studied in detail the performance of all the expert handlers in the FVC. Ed Lorenz was by far the best handler of Snowbirds in late 1980's- 1990's when I participated. On one race there were about 24 day birds and Ed had about 16, or two thirds of them. I consider Ed Lorenz to have been one of the greatest handlers of 300-400 mile young bird flying. Ed also was a First All-American flyer by the Bulletin. Hence, anything about his flying methods, and breeding strategies I read.

With respect to grading of birds, there was an article in the "Racing Pigeon Facts International." Ed was quoted as follows: "Guys in the pigeon game are crazy! No one! Absolutely no one can look at a bird, handle it, and say this one is going to breed good ones and this other one isn't-that's crazy. The worst looking bird in the loft could be the most terrific and proponent one of the bunch. I've seen this many times."

And also-"A fancier doesn't need a grader in his loft to tell him what is his best pigeon-let the race sheet do that. It's the best system. When it comes to picking favorites, the only favorites I develop are the ones that win. Most favorites we have before the race season prove to be disappointments later on. In the very best lofts, only one in ten amounts to be a good pigeon."

To be fair, the above quotes by Ed Lorenz were made a number of years ago. I do not know if this is his current viewpoint.

Tony Melucci-Contributor-The Next Generation of Breeders

There are two interesting sections of the Melucci interview that I found to be valuable. The first was from page 20, of the October 15, 2008 Digest. Mr. Melucci is quoted as follows: I'll admit that I was given a bird by Morris Gordon, 334, which I didn't like because he was a bony, big winged pigeon; I used him as a pumper for many years even though he was off of Gordon's best pigeon-which was not the "85" as published. Gordon said "294" was his best pigeon but was a little larger so he didn't breed from her for six years. When he did, she turned out to be a great breeder. (Writer's note: So even the greats like Morris Gordon can make a mistake when "grading" racing pigeons.)

Melucci continues-"I finally bred a youngster from 334 and it was my best pigeon and the next year I bred two. He bred 1265 and 1260 and 1265 was the best pigeon I ever owned-she was known all over New England years ago. 1260 was also an outstanding pigeon. I wasted five years because I didn't like his body. That happens a lot-birds that a breeder doesn't like are used to raise other birds' youngsters and then when you don't have a set to transfer under them, you let them raise their own youngsters and you find out they are the good breeders.

(Writer's notes- The Melucci pigeons were also well known in Pennsylvania and I am sure most parts of the USA. Mr. Melucci is unique-he not only takes time to contribute and give back to sport in the series of articles, but he admits a mistake in public-so rare for the racing pigeon sport. LOL!)

The other interesting section of the article can be found on page 26 of the October 15, 2008 Digest, Mr. Melucci states as follows: "I always say that if someone believes he can tell the value of a bird by his physical traits, then he should just go to the market in Lier (Ed note: a sort of garage sale of pigeons in a particular square in Belgium) instead of going to best lofts to pick out his new acquisitions. Instead, they all go to the performance lofts to select their new stock and don't rely on the physically perfect birds they can find in the Lier market."

Melucci concludes: "I would never select a bird on body without knowing his background. You can't judge stamina and a great heart by looking at the body. Go to a show and you will find many physically perfect birds that have never won anything but a show."

The aforementioned comments are "negative" on use of grading to select the next generation of birds but there is one very "positive" and interesting comment that supports the value of "grading." This pertained to the results of grading by Piet De Weerd at Ed Lorenz's loft.

It was reported in the "Racing Pigeon Facts International" that in 1968 DeWeerd graded Ed Lorenz's birds. He came up with four pigeons that DeWeerd thought were superior. The four consisted of a hen and her son, plus another cock and his granddaughter. "Ed said he was skeptical about Piet's decision, keeping the information in the back of his mind, he took it no further.

However, Ed began to see that every time he won a good prize the pigeon was always down from these four pigeons. Ed wisely decided to build his loft around these four birds. He eliminated the rest of the birds and bred the mother with her son and the cock with his granddaughter, and crossed the two lines." Later in that article it was mentioned that: "Ed started with all kinds of birds, from a variety of sources, and had little success. That's when Piet De Weerd entered the picture and the four picked birds put Ed onto winning." And last, it is subsequently mentioned that "the Horeman birds (from his brother Pete) have worked out well for Ed, adding speed to his existing old line."

Another reason to believe that grading can be helpful is in Dr. Whitney's book. He mentions in the introduction that; "I am willing to concede that much, and in return I shall expect that the reader will offer no objection when I make such statements as these: The Racing Homer is more adapt at homing rapidly from long distances than is the Fantail; the Jacobin is more pugnacious than the Tippler; the Tippler will remain flying in a flock longer and fly higher than will be Pouter. These are demonstrable facts."

Now even this writer can differentiate the difference in the physical characteristics of a fantail and a tippler. And if there different breeds of pigeons have different ability in flying-would not a person like DeWeerd who has handled many thousands of racing birds be able to judge the better birds?

So from reading the 40 page Digest series of articles on-"Selecting the Next Generation of Breeders," it is apparent that there are differences of opinion on grading, and on the various levels of grading. It can also be concluded that Whitney does not believe in grading because scientific facts, charts, pictures, studies have been not presented that could have scientific peer review.

Tavormina, First Big All-American, a qualified judge of pigeons did not believe in grading because the grader could not evaluate the mental/emotional approach of a racer.

All-American and great Snowbird young bird flyer-Ed Lorenz also was quoted in a magazine that he did not believe in grading to pick the champion breeders-although information pointed out in the same article was that Piet DeWeerd could pick out good breeders.

And contributor-Tony Melucci also has some reservations about grading.

So grading is a controversial subject and based on the above information perhaps could best be summed up by Darwin's quote in the Whitney Book. Darwin-by the way-was a pigeon fancier and from seeing the Jenner films-it appears that he started his studies by observing the different physical characteristics of birds as he worked on ships sailing to various islands.

Darwin's quote is as follows: "Not one man in a thousand has the accuracy of eye and judgment sufficient to become an eminent breeder. If gifted with these qualities, and he studies his subject for years, and devotes his lifetime to it with indomitable perseverance, he will succeed, and make many great improvements: if he wants (lacks) any of these qualities, he will assuredly fail. Few would readily believe in the natural capacity and years of practice requisite to become a skillful pigeon fancier."

In the "Selecting the Next Generation of Breeders" article, Yoes points out that all six of the contributors named Piet DeWeerd as the most accomplished selector of racing pigeons in the history of the sport. Looks like DeWeerd maybe the person that fits Darwin's description of the "one in a thousand (flyers/graders) who spent lifetime judging many thousands of birds. To me it looks like a large task for the potential benefits that a beginner should invest in-that is my opinion.

One other piece of the puzzle, there was another grader (other than Piet DeWeerd) that was mentioned in the Digest series in response to the question who is the greatest selector of all time. A number of years ago the winning racers at our large Federation races at 500-600 mile races were asked to bring their 1st place winners to a location for picture taking. At same time you could have your birds graded by that other well known grader not DeWeerd.

I found the grader to be a very nice man. He graded six of our birds and I still have the sheet that he filled out. When he started the grading the first thing he did was ask me my name. I said "Richard" because I wanted to try and have and unbiased grading. Unfortunately, someone else responded that this is Dworek of the Borowski-Dworek partnership-so much for being incognito.

In any event, five of the six birds were graded as "world class" by this other grader. Can a flyer/breeder have 83.3%" world Class birds? (All of the birds graded were very good flyers for us-which would be obvious for birds going to a photo session.) But I was more interested in the birds as breeders.

The one bird that was downgraded as compared to the other five was the first champion bird in club as a flyer and turned out to be a very good breeder. In fact, she bred Sorrentino's First National Ace Bird by Digest and her photo appeared in Digest as a national Ace winner. She bred a Snow Bird capital prize winner, she bred=1st combine winner, she bred bird that bred a national ace bird by Digest, all in a very short breeding career as a tragedy with a stray cat occurred. For her time involved as a breeder she probably bred the best of the six birds graded but was the lowest ranked bird. Hence, based on the one and only time that I had our birds graded, I was not sold on grading!

Best Comment (For Me) In Series of Articles-By Rick Mardis
Rick Mardis made a short but I think a very valuable comment on page 22 of the October 15, 2008 Digest. "We all developed preconceived ideas of what a perfect pigeon is, but now I just want a pigeon with race results because the results prove that everything he has physically works."

So a good record racing physically built to be a high grader. Does this work? I am sure that there are many exceptions but an interesting article appeared in the 2008 Digest. On page 45, Bill Desmarais pigeon is also reports on a show in the super hotbed area of racing pigeons-the Gulfcoast, Florida area. "The best overall bird in show was AU 24 RAY 06 owned by Ray Sulkowski and entered by Butch Gentile. Desmarais reports: "I later learned that this bird is a multiple diploma winner and its father is 0166 WMF 99, a Digest Ace Pigeon Winner. The mother is a blue bar foundation breeder; CU 04 14289. Butch tells me that this pair is Sulkowski's number one breeding pair. Well I guess good blood does flow through the genes and sometimes looks and performance does go hand in hand."

Ray Sulkowski had told us (Borowski-Dworek partnership) that #166 WMF 99 was responsible for not only breeding the Gulfcoast show winner but bred the 2006 Gulfcoast Classic First place winner. There were 4235 entries in the 2006 Gulfcoast Classic race (most ever by 2006), a 300m young bird race with an advertised $40,000 payout for First.

We bred #166 WMF 99-the foundation cock responsible for breeding the Gulfcoast Classic race winner and show winner. (A picture of #166 is shown in this article. The bird was strictly a performance mating and grading was a never a factor, as was the many Hall of Fame winners in #166's pedigree. Is it possible, like the Mardis statement, that race results "prove that everything he has physically works?" More on #166's performance pedigree and heredity will be discussed later.)

What should a beginner do with respect to grading/selecting by evaluating the physical characteristics of birds? I would recommend that because of the time, work, and talent required to become a Piet De Weerd quality grader that instead of grading; he use that time and energy on health, training and motivating the birds and let the basket do the selecting. Perhaps, he should use the time to look at the "inner beauty" of the birds and not external beauty by "thinking out of the box" and do posting /autopsies to get a step up on health issues. (By the way I do not have the qualities to do what Ed Lorenz does on posting/autopsies-but my dad and brother could do this type of analysis. If you can "stomach," excuse the pun, this type of work, you could be well ahead of your competitors on health issues.)

Facts/Records To Support Why Grading is not Necessary Using the Approach of Whitney
In his book, Whitey describes three "of the world's most highly successful racing pigeon lofts." Morris Gordon was one. He describes that Gordon has won the All-American on five occasions and several times has been awarded the second place. No one else in America has ever won it more than once. (Note: The other two were Huyskens-Van Riel and Pepermans of European origin that Whitney was greatly familiar with.)

So apparently, Whitney, the scientist, uses All-American Awards as a basis for making informed judgments. So should a record of All-American and equivalent awards be used to help a beginner decide whether he should go full time into the grading process and then spend the thousands of hours necessary to be the one in 1000 fanciers to approach the level of expertise of a DeWeerd.

Okay, like Whitney, the records I know to be true and a fact and I know the most about are the records of the Dworek Loft. The All-American loft Awards can be found in Table 1 for the period 1962 to 2008. Unfortunately the Bulletin did not continue the records after 2001-but other similar awards were started by the Thoroughbred in 1988 and by the Digest in 1997. In addition, the American Racing Pigeon Union has a great award for five years of racing old and young birds and goes back in time to records in 1960's so good long-term comparisons can be made.

The Dworek loft national award records are presented in Table 1. National awards were won beginning in 1962 as per evaluations by the Bulletin and continue to present time-2008 awards to be made in 2009 by the Digest. National awards were won in 31 different years and in 23 of the last 24 years. (Note: The only year that they did not win was 2003. This was due not to the "breeding" of birds but dumb handler (me) that missed birds on very fast race. Our Combine flies only one regular 300m race and you have to find some type of special race to qualify. The birds did have enough points to place about 6th Digest even without the last special 300m race. Unfortunately there is no flexibility and the strict rules of Digest could not be met for two-300 mile young bird races that year.)

The Digest has done a nice write-up and compilation of the All-American Award winners as published in the January 15, 2009 Digest. Mr. Randall Berky was listed first with twenty-seven years of winning. Congratulations and great job by Mr. Berky. Morris Gordon, who was used as the example of racing excellence in Dr. Whitney's book was listed fourth (12 years) and Dworek loft (eleven years) was listed 5th followed by forty one other top lofts that had at least five years of All-American status.

If you read Table 1 closely there is a discrepancy between the Digest listing of 12 years for the Dworek Loft and the twenty three years list in Table i. What is the difference? Eight All-American awards were won in the period of 1962-1980. These were not counted by Digest-perhaps because the loft name was listed under Stanley Dworek. In reality, this was a partnership loft and from the breeding/selection of breeders that was my responsibility since the mid-1950's when my brother Stanley went to the service. Why make this such a big deal?

The reason is that since the 1950's when I was charged with responsibility of "mating" birds and bringing in the new birds; they came into loft based on performance families and never based on physical grading of birds. (I do not believe that my father ever purchased a pigeon). And if you believe that listing the number of All-American years is of value as listed by the Digest, than the revised number is 22 years of All-American and not 12 years which is 2nd on list and ahead of the great Morris Gordon listed in Whitney's book.

New flyers may say, "Who cares about All-American Awards from 50 years ago- we want to know if "no grading" can compete with the well known breeders of today. Table 1 also lists the awards by the Thoroughbred that shared publishing on a national basis with the Bulletin and Digest.

The Thoroughbred published results in 1988 to 2000 but I do not believe in year 1999. Like the Digest I have compiled a list of those that won Thoroughbred awards for five or more years. They are as follows:

Dworek-twelve years
Milligan-eleven years
Ritter-nine years
Ganus-seven years
Berky, Greenwood, Jenkins, and McInnes-six years
Koch and Rothgeisser-five years

Also the Digest published National Ace Loft awards for 1997 to 2007 and it is anticipated that awards will continue in future so based on cursory review will just list the very top two finishers:

DeVries-twelve years (Canadian Loft)
Dworek-eleven years (USA Loft)

The Editor of the Digest started out this series of articles by referring to college football recruiting. Dr. Whitney in his book mentioned that winning All-American Awards is good indicator of a successful breeder. The Editor of Digest also has published a recent article that listed All-Americans by the number of years that they won. The problem with the All-American listing is that it is not up to date. Also there have been other more recent publications that the younger generation of flyers can relate to. Getting back to football- the Bulletin's listing could be considered as the "coach's-ESPN pool, the Thoroughbred as the AP pool, and the Digest as the computer pools and The BCS championship pool is the consensus of all three. On the basis of the BCS approach-the data shows that the top winning loft over the life of the three pools would be (2, 1, 2 = 1.67 consensus rating.) Does the top consensus loft with three different ways of rating use grading as basis for selecting breeders-the answer is an emphatic "no."

(Note: If you have not figured out who is the top consensus loft by this methodology-go back and re-read the last several paragraphs. When you fly birds for sixty years you can then write what you want-particularly when you have actual data for everyone to review and reach their own conclusions. Last going back to the Digest's College football analogy in 2008 there was some controversy over the national Champion. Florida was voted number one by all coaches except the Utah coach. His position was that we were the only undefeated team in the nation and we should be number one. He even violated an unwritten rule that all of the coaches should vote for the winner of the BCS bowl. He voted for his team-Utah.

The only SEC team (Alabama)-that Utah faced, they beat. Florida could not say they beat all of the SEC teams and Florida was not undefeated.

Personally, I think that Florida had the better athletes-a lot of four and five star players. Utah had mostly 2 star recruits.

"grading" is not popular and will be refuted by most. But when I review the overall data/records and what my family of birds have done for others and what they have done in many of the big races and what my mentor-Joe Tavormina believes and what Ed Lorenz-the best handler of Snowbirds-said in an article and what Dr. Whitney, a scientist says about grading and the use of scientific principles-then I stick with my position that "grading" is not necessary-unless you are perhaps Piet DeWeerd.

That's my story and I am sticking to it!