"Magic Juice" and Secrets

A fairly new flyer recently posed the question to me, “Over an extended period of years why do certain flyers fall into the top group or middle group or lower group of performance?” This fellow had thoroughly researched the race results of my club. Now he wanted to know how he could be in that top group where he was flying. He was asking the standard questions. What is the perfect loft? What secrets are there in ventilation? What secret medications or additives will make me fly well?

I gave him answers. Yes, you need a healthy dry loft. Yes, your birds must be healthy. Yes, you must have true honest breeders that produce racing pigeons instead of homing pigeons. But most importantly, you need to have a love and sensitivity for animals along with plain old common sense and a good dose of observation. Of course these answers seemed vague to him. He was frustrated that I did not give him the specific secrets to success that he was after.

Now let’s think about what he was looking for from me. He really wanted to know about a shortcut or a secret (magic juice) that was going to make him a champion. Let me explain about “magic juice”. One day when I was filling the waterers for my birds at the outside sink, Vernon Young came walking across my yard. And he calls out to me, “So what magic juice are you putting in the water today?” I answered, “What are you talking about, Vernon?” He said, “You know, magic juice. Everyone uses some kind of magic juice.” I said, “Would you mind explaining this to me?” And he answered, “You know everyone puts something in the water that is his individual secret and that he uses religiously to get an edge.” My reply was “Really?” But it set me to thinking.

Yes, Vernon is right. I would say the majority of fanciers are using some sort of “magic juice” in their loft that they think gives them an advantage. This might be a concoction they heard about from an old-timer sitting on a bag of feed at the feed store, or pet shop, as it is called where I now live. Or it is something they once read, possibly at a health food store. But most people do have a “secret” that is part of their routine because they think it gives them that elusive edge with the birds. So I have to ask how many people fly consistently at the middle or bottom of the sheet, relying on one or more “secrets”.

Back in the Midwest, for instance, a new flyer joined our club who was knowledgeable about other birds prior to getting into the pigeons. When he came to us, he was very well read and often quoted a very good out-of-state loft that was his tutor. When you listened to him, his knowledge seemed to far exceed most of the other members. He had learned about different diseases and medications and supplements that were much more sophisticated than those being used by the other club members. He had developed his own set of secrets early on, but with no success.

After several years, one evening at clock opening he was venting his frustrations about consistently being at the bottom of the race sheet. He was spouting forth all the things he had worked so much harder at than most people. At the end of this conversation, as we were walking out the door, he made one little comment that stopped me in my tracks. He had just told us how thoroughly he cleaned his loft and how his birds never had any parasites on them. He then dropped the magic sentence. He said, “Every time I clean my loft, I even sprinkle seven dust around my nest bowls and on my box perches.” Whoops! Here’s where observation and common sense should come into play. I said, “John, what do you think happens when birds fly up to those box perches or into the nest boxes. Don’t you think some of the pesticides will get airborne and be inhaled by your birds?” Yes, I think this was one of his simple problems. Of course he was trying to do the right thing. If anything, he was overdoing it.

This same overdoing holds true for what we add to the water. Think about the old cliché that if one teaspoon is good, then a rounded one is better, and 2 teaspoons would be even better. Or if the recommendation for a good product is using it once a week, then we can certainly do better by using it twice a week. My rule of thumb with additives to water, no matter how beneficial they are supposed to be, is to always cut the dosage in half. I am cautious about forcing the birds to drink something when the birds have no choice but must consume what is put in front of them.

A lot of these supposed secrets that were handed down by someone sitting on a bag of feed at the bird store are totally unscientific. And yet they are still used by flyers as a “magic juice”, and thus constantly keep them at the bottom of the racing sheet. How many people use one of these “magic juice” ideas and then have to give the birds a number of products to try to correct the imbalance they have created?

Another example. As a young boy flying in a very competitive environment in Chicago, one of the early “magic juices” I was introduced to was that of cleaning out the birds. Many fanciers gave epsom salts to their birds the day following the race. I never could get myself to try that with my birds. My common sense asked how would I handle diarrhea after every football game. Would I purposely want to be sick in order to be cleaned out so I would supposedly have a better ball game the following week? But the mentality of giving the birds a physic every week after the race was a prevalent one at the time. It still is some people’s “magic juice” weapon.

In my younger days, it was quite common for fanciers to use lime as a loft dressing. After cleaning the floor the barnyard lime would be sprinkled on any damp areas. Perhaps this was not a secret, but it was one of those routines that seemed to be good. Some people trying to keep very clean lofts still do this, but we have now learned from the scientific community that using lime is really setting up the optimum conditions for paratyphoid to thrive in the loft.

When I first came to Florida, I lived right across the fence from Merl Emerson. Merl was a fairly new person to the racing pigeon sport and doing very well. He came as an expert in rollers and is a man with a lot of common sense and good animal sense. So one morning I posed the question to Merl. “What do you think makes you, a newcomer, do as well as you do?” Merl’s answer was quite simple and straight to the point, and it was one of those that will always stick in my mind. He said, “Horst, I read a lot, but most important, I came into the racing pigeon game with no bad habits and no pre-conceptions. I have no baggage of how things should be done like so many old-timers have.” There could not be a truer statement than that simple one.