1996


Horst Hackemer: American Champion
Part One: Old Bird Racing


by Gene Yoes

Horst Hackemer is one of the best known pigeon flyers and breeders in the US. He came to America in 1952 from Germany, when only 12 years old. His father and grandfather had been pigeon flyers. His father flew both in Germany and in the Chicago area. Horst also started flying in the Chicago area.

Horst graduated from Carthage College, then earned a masters degree from Northwestern University. He taught social studies and German in the Chicago area schools for five years. He then moved into the central office, serving as an assistant to the superintendent for 17 years. A terrible car accident ended his career, and he still suffers from severe migraine headaches.

In 1977, Horst started selling pigeons. "The reason I started selling birds was to create jobs for my kids," he says. "I wanted my kids to have a job. There were no jobs in the area at the time, and I wanted the kids to grow up with a certain work ethic, like I grew up with. The kids did all the cleaning and feeding of the birds." Horst goes to Europe annually to purchase birds to supplement his breeding stock, even though three of the four kids are no longer at home.

He flies with the twelve member Lake County Club, which in turn flies with the North Valley Combine, creating races of 1000-1200 birds, or more.

Hackemer's record is one of consistency. Year in and year out, he is one of the flyers who is going to be on top. This year he won eight combine races in young and old birds.

He has won All American three times, with some additional honorable mentions in the Middle Distance category both in young and old birds. He has bred 11 AU Champions.

In the middle of this year's young bird season, he flew down to Oklahoma City to give a seminar on old bird flying at the Continental Breeding Station Seminar and Futurity Race.

The following is an edited version of his seminar:

Let me just back up to show you where I'm coming from a little bit. I came over to this country as a 12 year old immigrant to Chicago and started flying. I was the only kid flying in Chicago, at that time. We used to ship 500 lofts a week. Our club had 75 members in those days. I was the only "little" guy.
Chicago handlers flew for major money. What I mean is that back in the 1950s, when I was making 60 cents an hour, it would cost me a dollar a bird, to walk it to the door. So I always kept my bills below twenty dollars. In Chicago in those days you were serious, or you didn't fly. It was as simple as that. I mean, you could not afford to fly just for sport.

The majority of the people of Chicago flew the natural system, or to the nest. On the other hand, we had some very keen Belgian flyers. The Belgians, in those days, seemed to all be janitors in those big apartment complexes. The lofts were on top of the apartment buildings.

Belgians, of course, flew widowhood. Most of the Americans or next generation immigrants of Chicago, were flying to the nest.

Why didn't everyone fly the widowhood system or why they didn't fly to the nest, was something that always puzzled me. As good as the Belgians were, usually at the middle distance - the two 200s or the three 300s - they were usually not there in the early races, and they were usually not there in the late races.

And with 500 flyers, of which 350 shipped weekly, there was losts of action. People like Casey Didier paid a house off in two years. That was nothing unusual, because he flew for that kind of money. Even in the '60s, when the season started, some lofts would finance the beginning of the season by taking out a loan.

I was telling some people at breakfast that in Chicago, if you win a race and the bird is not pooled, that is a horrible disgrace. You'd rather not win a race than to win it with a non-pooled pigeon. But that's my background. That's where I grew up.

In those days, I had a super mentor, George Spannenberg, who was by the far, the best old bird flyer in Chicago, bar none. I remember when George won the 500, for the third year in a row. For him, winning average speed was a normal thing. He flew Ghesquieres, later known as Hackspans, the Belgium pigeons which came via Detroit, from Paul Veegate. But George was the premier old bird flyer.

Now, as a kid I would spend every night at George's loft. Six o'clock at night, and I would be with George for an hour, feeding, watering, taking care of birds. When he would go on vacation, I took care of his birds. When he'd come back after two weeks, he'd hand me a little tiny youngster, "Have you got a place to put this one kid?" Or one egg, seldom two, one baby. He's still like an uncle to me. You know, he's a great man!

Now, George flew to the nest, against the Belgians, who were flying widowhood, and all this puzzled me. Why? Well, there are several things in the Chicago area that go against flying widowhood in the spring of the year. We're cold, we get nasty northeast head winds, with rain a lot of times, at that time of year.

And George was always saying, "Well, this is a good day for us. It just knocked the widowhood flyers on their rear-ends." Quite often they'd knock themselves out of contention for a while, quite often. They'd put their widowhood cocks in races on cold, nasty days. It'd really help the natural flyers.

The widowhood flyers would get hit over the head with a good smash, and be pretty much demolished for the rest of the year. In those days, most teams were probably 12 to 15 widowhood cocks. They were not big teams of birds. This was the environment I grew up in.

In the '60s, I went back to do my graduate work at Northwestern University and I had the pleasure of working with Bob Bach, an ex-pigeoneer. My Dad and he worked together. So I spent a year, probably a lot of lunch hours, with Bob Bach. Bob was a premier flyer in those days, with a very small team of birds, flown natural.

Now, why the small teams? His birds were seven stories up, on the music building at Northwestern University, with no elevator. So consequently, if you went up to get the birds, you walked with two baskets of pigeons, and you didn't make a second trip back up those stairs! So, his team was always limited to two training baskets.

Bob Bach taught me a very important thing that year. "Horst, You need to ship your best pigeons, when the day is right. In other words, the day that favors you, for whatever reason, you need to be able to put your best birds in the basket."

Now, that could be a real problem with natural flyers. Your birds cycle on a three week cycle, at best. In the old days, we used to fly to youngsters, yet. Well, so back in the '60s, Bob Bach taught me, "Don't fly a natural pigeon on youngsters, ever. Ever!"

That's a big statement, the reason being that your good pigeons are available for a race, more often. Your hen will cycle on the three week cycle. You can go through the fourth week. The cock can go the second week, on fresh eggs, and then on 10 day old eggs, if necessary. In other words, you can have your best natural pigeons ready more often, if you don't go all the way through the hatching cycle.

So why do I stress this "Have your best pigeons ready," so much? The champion pigeons are truly rare. We have a lot of B minus type pigeons. Once in a while we'll get an A type pigeon, and it'll move up to the major leagues. The "Michael Jordans" are truly rare. These are the truly super pigeons. And even the good ones are very hard to come by.

In most lofts, if you let me walk in, and take your best six birds off your old bird team, you're pretty much raped - you're in trouble. You have pigeons, but the good ones? How many do you have?

We want those six ready. So how do we get our good pigeons in scoring position, most of the time? The answer, of course, is widowhood.
On the widowhood system, theoretically, if you do your job right, most of the time your pigeon is ready every week. Now the easiest way to fly widowhood is to fly a bird every week. If you could avoid the smashed races, the bad weather races, you could be flying two or three of your best, in all of your races, and then you'd be pretty deadly. The bird, if he's a champ, can go back the next week, and the next week.

I'm sure most of you remember Roy Dyck, who used to write for the magazines. Roy quit flying last year; he's a real gentleman. One year, Roy Dyck won the average speed in Chicago, with 12 widowhood cocks. You know, he suffered the next 30 years, trying to repeat that. He wanted to do it with 12 pigeons, again. But we all want to do it with 12 pigeons. But it is extremely rare that we can have 12 good pigeons, or nine good pigeons, and still go every week, with weather conditions in the Midwest? We really can't. I mean it could happen, but the chances are you're going to bomb somewhere. You're going to stress your birds too hard, and you can't do this.

So, I went to something a little different. In order to overcome a cold in the spring, and then overcome that hard race. I put my birds and my hens in a reserve type mode. It might be something to consider for those who fly natural, right?

If you fly natural you don't want to give up your good hens. It bothers you to know you have two or three hens that you really like. To kick those off the team is something that you just don't want to do.

But if you continue widowhood cocks and make them, let's say 90% of your strength, or 80% of your strength, and you have your widowhood hens in reserve as a backup, I think a lot of you may look at things a little bit differently.

Widowhood is going to be the style of flying that we're all going to be doing, whether you like it or not. Like Earl Becker was telling us, we're going to push the young birds through the moult or we're going to retard the moult, but we are going to have to go to the new systems of flying to be competitive; and in old birds, we are going to find that widowhood, definitely, is a plus.

In widowhood, the bird is motivated, every week. You spend a heck of a lot less time beating your brains out, down the road. You can sit on your deck and have a cup of coffee in the morning, instead of driving. I always tell people when you switch from flying in the nest, where the hen gets off the nest and goes "kaplunck," to flying widowhood, it is like a guy who goes to work with a shirt and tie, versus coveralls. And the Europeans, the people who really fly seriously? Widowhood flying is the dominant way to fly.

The standard widowhood, classic widowhood way of flying, that you have all heard about, is that you mate your pigeons usually 60 days before your first race, let them raise one or two youngsters. On the second set of eggs, you widow them, when their eggs are eight to ten days old. That's what most people do.

That's even too cumbersome for me, because I like to go to Florida in the wintertime - back and forth. So the birds have to fit around me a little bit more. A nicer way, as far as I'm concerned, if you don't need the youngsters, is what I call dry widowhood. And that is you mate your pigeons, put them on eggs six days to ten egg days, whatever works out. Separate your birds, then mate them, again. Let them go a second time, to 10 day old eggs. Now, the second time is like clockwork. They are all going to go down on eggs, again, within a day of each other, and then widow them.

The Europeans have a better way yet that they call winter breeding. They mate their birds at around the time of Thanksgiving, breed a set of youngsters, separate the birds before they go down for a second set of eggs. They remate the birds in March and widow them on 10 day old eggs.

Now, you need to stop them from laying a second time on those youngsters. You have two options. One is where you take the hen and one youngster away and place them in the young bird loft, usually on straw. The youngster is about 12 days old; this is before the pair starts driving again. The hen raises one youngster, and the cock will raise the other one

If you really want to make a cock fly or make a hen fly, then consider this. Decide if you want to concentrate on the cock or the hend as a flyer. Leave that bird in the nest box to raise the youngster of the opposite sex. What I'm finding is that if I leave a cock bird with his young daughter, there is more attachment than a cock with a young cock. It's the same thing, if I leave a hen with her young son.

Now in my situation, this what I do. Before you start flying widowhood, I train my birds out like I always have, just as with the natural flyers. I go through the regular two or three weeks of the training schedule. Once I'm on widowhood, the training slows down, considerably.

Now what I change a little bit, is that the first and second weeks of the old bird season, my birds are sitting on eggs. I time my birds so they will be on 10 day eggs the first week. In addition to that I usually stagger my loft. I mate half one week, and I mate half of them a week later. Even if you're using the same loft, you can stagger them.

This is the reason I stagger, when you go to widowhood there seems to be one week when you change over that the cock is not as sharp. When you first move to widowhood, there's usually a week that you're not really on, yet. So I stagger my birds.

But anyway, the first week of the racing season I have my hens and cocks sitting on ten day old eggs. Now, when we have bad weather, it's cold, it's miserable, it's nasty. Guess who I send to a race? A hen, sitting on eggs, is hard to beat at that stage. They both have been trained, when it's cold out, but the hen is as deadly as she's going to be, for that first race. If the weather is nice, then, I might ship the cocks, too, but that all depends on other things.

If everything goes well, let's say we get another nasty Noreaster the next week. I'm back with my hens, again. And everybody thinks, "Gees, Hackemer's flying on a nest this year?" The hens will fly very well. I'm putting my good widowhood cocks, the ones on my race team, in mothballs. Everybody else is out there beating them down the road already, when it's not nice yet. I've got mine sandbagged.

I'll let you beat yours up for a week or two, when the weather is not right. Then, by about the third week, I have my cocks switched over to widowhood.

Now, it's May, the weather is nice, and I can fly my cock birds. The hens are kept as normal widowhood hens. I exercise the hens around the loft, as well as the cocks. They do not have to go into their widowhood loft when they are separated. That's one little thing I've learned from Roy Dyck.

Roy Dyck, when he was flying double widowhood, had, a little outhouse, a little tiny loft. And he had his hens flying into that loft. I said, "Roy, how do you do this? The widowhood loft was over here, but they're going into a little loft over there." (Thirty feet away.)

"Oh," he says, "they'll go into that loft if you teach them." He had landing boards that flipped up on the main loft, so the hens wouldn't go to the widowhood loft. He would exercise those hens in the little loft all week, but on the weekends they flew into the big loft. If you have a separate trap, you can set it up where you can exercise your hens. And they'll go into that loft, right next door without a big problem.

I keep my hens going all week. I also like to get a toss on a weekend, for the hens. I fly my widowhood cocks on a normal widowhood system, with the hens in reserve.

Now, let's say, halfway through the season, we get a smash, and most of my birds are 'down and out.' Well, here comes Hackemer with all hens next week. And maybe the following week. My widowhood cocks are recuperating. The widowhood flyer is trying to get off his knees because those cocks are hurt. And it works very nice, that way.

Now, what do I do? The first birds I want to exercise are the birds I'm going to ship that week. If we're flying cock birds, my cock birds are getting the first exercise session in the morning. The hens won't go out until that afternoon or evening, maybe. But whatever I'm flying that week, or intend to fly, flies that morning, gets the major time.

And I also play a little trick. When I'm getting the hens really ready, at the end of the week, I let them trap into the aisle. where they can see the cocks and nestboxes. Then I shag them over, pretty much like the dual widowhood system.

The other way I stimulate them a little bit, is by my nest box design. My nest boxes are two 2' deep. My widowhood cocks, as well as the hens, do not get to go into the back of the nestbox all week long. They have a ledge in the front about five inches wide, like a board that they can walk on, and the box is locked.

When I want to stimulate them a little more, at the end of the week, I move the nest front back further. These are notches so I can move it back a little more than half way. Now, they have more nestbox at the end of the week. And if you want to stimulate, I just open the nestbox. The cock can now get into the little box section. On a long race, that's how I ship them.

I use the nestbox in a similar way as Rick Mardis keeps them out of the nestbox section altogether, until shipping day, when both the cocks and hens go to their nests before shipping. I keep them out of the nestbox, and it has a similar effect. If I want to, I can ship the hens and cocks the same ways. It's not a problem, either. But it works much nicer if I use one or the other.

There is another thing that I do a little differently than most people. If I'm going to fly the hens, I'll go into the loft about noon to open up the nest boxes. this is about five or six hours before I go to shipping. Of course, the cocks will get into that nestbox real quick. I don't have to catch anybody. I pull the nestboxes up, lock the cocks into the nestboxes, and let the hens just spin around in the nestboxes.

You have to have a balance between exciting them in that nestbox, without overexciting them. I go inside and have a cup of coffee, cause it gets to be too much turmoil. I leave them alone. Fifteen or 20 minutes later, I go outside. I now let the hens inside the nest boxes with the cocks, give them a bowl and let them do their thing, for maybe half an hour, or 15 minutes, depending on how it goes. Then I separate the birds out, and take those hens back to that hen loft. Everything quiets down. An hour later, I feed them, and in a couple more hours I go back to ship them. They fly just as well as if I show them just before, but it's a lot easier for me to handle them, then. It's a slick system, to have them show about five hours ahead of time.

The other thing I do is let them together maybe five hours, both hens and cocks, and then I ship the hens. You have to stimulate the hen a lot. You can't louse up a widowhood hen. The hen needs to have all the excitement possible, but a cock you want to keep quiet, you keep him calm.

What I'm trying to tell you is that most widowhood flyers, who start out - after about the fifth or sixth race - they go stale, and all of a sudden the birds won't fly, because they're doing the identical routine every week, and the birds get bored with it.

What does the guy do? He shows the hen more than he should, to try to make up for it, and it doesn't work. You need to change the pace a little bit, in between. We do something differentle almost every weekend with the birds. They get their juices running, and then they get that stimulation.

Are there any questions at this stage?

Question: How far do you train the cocks and hens on weekends when they are not entered in a race?

Horst: Usually 40, 50 miles. I'd like to get a seventy mile toss with somebody else, but I won't drive that far. Ideally, if you can get every pigeon out to a hundred mile toss on the weekend, then that would be the only toss you need. You don't need anything else.

Question: In the longer races, are you flying hens or cocks?

Horst: It makes absolutely no difference. I know, according to tradition, that a hen is the good pigeon on a long race. But give it a little thought. Remember when I said earlier that it takes a hen three weeks to cycle. When you set up a natural hen she has three weeks of rest, three weeks, that she's been home. You took her eggs away, it took her 10 days to lay again, and then you want her 10 days later to race. So you're shipping a very rested hen - one that has reserve, and hasn't been hurt.

The widowhood cock, on the other hand, if the season's going good, is going virtually every week. Once somebody gets a week off, you are cutting into the reserves of that pigeon. And I think that's the edge, for the natural hen.

It's not that it's a hen or a cock. I think it's the way we do it. We say one sex is better than the other one. In fact, in the last couple of years, my hens on the long races have really dominated because, again, they're rested.

Question: Horst - Do you find that your birds rest enough? I find that widowhood cocks are best with the more rest that you give them. If you lock them out of their nest they seem to rest more.

Horst: In the nest is where they get excited. I show it to them five hours ahead of time. Then I yank the cocks out of the loft and put them in the side loft that I've got, to get them to calm down a little bit.

Question: Do you darken your loft during the week?

Horst: No, sir. I do very little messing around. Every time somebody comes to my house, they are all thinking that I have some liquid potion, some super feed. But I always tell them there's only one thing we do around here - no mistakes!

Another problem is that we can't keep our paws off of things. We feel guilty if we don't put something into that water. We feel we didn't do our job. Forget all these cotton-picking additives.

And we are so conditioned, that if we don't drive so many miles down that road, we think that we didn't do something. Or we didn't put something pink or purple or other in that water today. Then we feel like we didn't do our job right. If all these vitamins and all this hullabaloo is so good, then why don't we sit at breakfast and swallow all this stuff? If it's so good, you ought to drink one glass every morning - just what you give the birds!

But we are so paranoid, and so afraid that if we don't give them something, that somehow we are missing out. And we're all guilty of that. I'm guilty of that. I had a problem with my birds last year. I found myself trying to get a quick fix for my problem. What would have been smart, if I was going to try a medication, was I should've tried one section right? I was paranoid, like most of us. I couldn't do that because, wow, if I give it half of them, and it worked,why didn't I give to the other half?

How many people have I had come by, and pick a handful of feed when they leave? Total, total nonsense. We get on the feeds. Every time I open the Digest, the Bulletin, or whatever, you read this guy uses this or that.

I hate to tell you, but all those feed companies in Pennsylvania are within 10 miles of each other, and they all use the same brokers to get their feed. I just happened to find out when I visited for a couple days. I said to those guys, "Where do you grow all this fancy feed that I'm hearing about?" They said, "Well, we grow our own corn here." I said, "Well, how about this other stuff."

"The wheat comes from the broker from Canada; the peas from Canada I think milo was from Colorado; and they all use the same brokers because the grain comes in the same trucks. And they don't buy it by the truck load, they buy it by so many bags. And they all use the same cotton pickin' grain. One puts a little more oil on it and makes it look a little slicker than the next one. It's the same feed, but oh, "I use number so and so."

While we're on feed, anybody want to touch on that, interested in that? When I feed my birds, I feed them what we call "the curve" -light to heavy. Now, what do I mean by this? At the beginning of the week, the birds home from a race, get strictly carbohydrates grains, no peas, no protein for a day,or a day and a half.

How long do I stay at this? Now, everybody asks for the formula, what do you feed Monday morning? Ask yourself, "What do you feed Monday afternoon? What kind of race did I just get through flying? Is it cold out, is it hot out? Was it an easy race?" No, what they want is, "What do you do on Monday morning." I'll say, "Are you that stupid? Conditions are varied."

So, yes, I feed a light feed. I feed no protein grains. How long do you stay on a no protein diet? Well, you do need protein to get your muscle back in the middle of the week, if at all possible. Watch the color of the pigeons. When your birds get back to a natural color, to a pink color, that's when you give them the protein, not before.

And people ask me, "Why do your birds look so pink?" Well, I don't jam protein down their throats. If that pigeon is still toxic, the system isn't cleaned out yet. If you force protein down the bird, he's going to stay rough, he's not going to clean up for you.

Keep them on light feed. In other words, no protein seeds, such as peas, early in the week. And adjust that. Use your common sense. Then in the middle of the week, yes, we need to give them protein, that builds the muscle tissue up. And then, at the end of the week, we feed them something they can work on.

When our forefather's were in the fields, what did they eat? They'd eat fat, carbohydrates. Fat is such a bad word. My daughter is a runner, distance runner, and a pretty good one. I constantly tell Kathy about her needing fat and carbohydrates at the end of the week. She's like, "That's so un-American. Oh, my, you want to trim it off." Well, where are you going to get your energy from? You need energy, the birds need energy. So at the end of the week, if it's a hard week, ahead, fat is what they need. It's that simple - you don't need fancy formulas. I don't know what a mixed bag of feed is. I buy it all separate and give them what they need, based on what happened last weekend, and, what's going to happen next weekend.

Question: When you have trouble, what do you do?

Horst: Set them up for the hardest day possible. Always be safe. I'd rather be a few minutes late and get my birds home in good shape, than win a race. I want those good pigeons home in shape to compete next week. Let the other guy send them real lean, and he thinks he is outfoxing you. Let him think he is outfoxing you a couple times. But don't hurt your birds. I set up my birds for maximum conditions.

Question: Horst, You say don't make any basic mistakes. Other than the water, what are a few of the mistakes that you feel that most of us probably do make?

Horst - It's like before a big race, if I go up to a futurity race, what does a guy usually do? If he normally trains thirty miles, he's going to be going 60 and 70. And just because a bird has a futurity band, do not ship him if he is not ready. A pigeon has to feel supple and soft and moist. If it doesn't have suppleness, moistness to it, it doesn't belong in the race.

When you ship a race ask yourself one basic question, "Can this bird win tomorrow?" If the bird can not win tomorrow, leave it at home. You're not going to teach it anything by having it struggle to get home. He's going to come home more hurt, more set back.

I think we over-vitamin. What we do many times is overkill, on a lot of things. For example, a lot of birds have watery droppings. Why do they have watery droppings? Chances are they're pumping too many vitamins into them. Now, if you have watery droppings in the daytime,that you don't have at night, 9 times out of 10 you gave the birds vitamins that morning, but that night you gave them clean water, for a change. Because as with vitamins with electrolytes, when they tell you to use a teaspoon, we think it has got to be a rounded one, or two of them. That animal has to kick that out somehow. Although vitamins are supposed to pass through you, (I'm not a medical person), I don't think it can be all that good to overdose constantly.

Question: Do you let your birds out once or twice a day for exercise?

Horst: I used to always exercise twice a day, but more and more, I exercise just once a day. Whoever are my candidates that week, gets the first shift in the morning. The cocks will be out in the morning. You'll always get that extra 10 to 15 minutes of fly out of the earliest birds out in the morning. If possible, I like to let them both out.

Question: How did you solve this problem you said you had with your young birds last year?

Horst: I had an interesting phenomenon last year. After forty years of flying pigeons, I felt that I had better shut my young birds down before the last two races, and I was leading for average speed in the combine. My young bird team went bad on me. You talk about driving me batty.

All of a sudden my phone rings. A young,energetic local veterinarian, Dr. Kevin Zollars, calls and says, "I hear you have a problem with your birds." Well, when I have a problem, I blab, I don't keep it quiet. Everybody else hides it as if they had a social disease.

I went to Kevin with my birds. That was the most educational time that I've ever had. He posted two birds for me. It was like a show and tell, he spent three hours with me going through step by step. He was sure it was going to be a simple problem. We went through the blood samples, the whole nine yards. We sent tissue samples away. We went through everything. The birds were clean. The only thing that anyone ever found was that their livers and kidneys were toxic, partially. The birds had excessive thirst. Their skin had a leather feeling. They were not pink, they were not purple, they were kind of a maroonish in color.

What was it? I went nuts. It had to be toxic. I asked, "What feed am I feeding to the young birds, but not the other birds?" My breeders and old birds didn't have the problem. We sent feed samples to have them analyzed. Somebody told me they heard there was bad grit someplace, grit with mercury in it, so we sent grit away to have it analyzed. The upshot of all of this was that we couldn't find the answer to what was causing the problem in my young bird team. I went bonkers, I didn't sleep at night.

I flew old birds, I have a very good old bird season. Things were going very sweet. Youngsters were looking good. Then all of a sudden, the youngsters were no good again.

I've got sick pigeons again, for the second year in a row. I've got wet droppings. That night I didn't sleep. All of a sudden, in the middle of the night, it hits me. The next morning the young fellow that works with me comes to work and we have a cup of coffee. I said, "Jeff, you've been poisoning the birds."

"What are you talking about?" he says.

I said "I'll tell you in an hour. I think you been poisoning the birds."

Jeff goes out to water the birds. I watch him. I watch him go over and he picks up the water hose and fills the bucket of water.

For 20 years, I used a set of heavy duty rubber hoses. After 20 years they gave out, like a lot of things give out. So last year, I bought a new hose. And it hit me during the night that when I first sprayed that hose there was a chemical smell coming out of that hose. I called a supply house and asked the guy who answered the phone, "Are there different kinds of hoses?"

Finally I got somebody who knew and he answered, "Yes, we have a hose that's drinking water safe."

I found out that there are eight different kinds of hoses. One hose is white in color, marked nontoxic, drinking water safe. They use it for RV's and boats. Well, ladies and gentlemen, that hose that had replaced my old hoses all but put me out of business.

I thought to myself, "It can't be my well. My old birds flew good, my young birds are the only sick ones. I'm raising gorgeous youngsters, why only the young bird team?"

Why only the young bird team? My breeders get their water upstairs. It comes from the copper tubing in the house. The rest of the birds are down below. Well, all winter in Wisconsin, we carry the water from the house outside for the birds. Come old bird season, it's still cold out, I still carry my own water outside to the birds. If I were ever to use a hose I'd let the thing run until the water is cold. That's common sense. No mistakes, you remember?

But Jeff just took the hose and put it right in the bucket, without letting it run. Now who does he water first when he walks outside? The closest loft - which is my young bird loft! The water was laying in it all day and night, then put right in the bucket for the birds. The first bucket is the water my young bird team got. I am totally convinced this was the problem. Now, we are letting the hose run, so that the birds don't get water that has been sitting in this "toxic" hose. My birds are starting to come around slowly.

So, if you use a waterhose, maybe your birds are being poisoned. Four or five years later you're shutting down, this pigeon flying is not for you. You can't handle it any more. You want to win. It could be as simple as a water hose. I don't have any proof of this, but believe me, it was the water hose.

Just a word to the wise - watch your waterhoses.