Lamberton Racing Pigeons

Loft Management Series

"Tabula Rasa and Imprinting"

Some philosophers and social scientists characterize the mind as a "blank slate" or "tabula rasa" at birth.  Over time, life experiences are recorded on these mental slates that are reflected in personalities.  In other words, these scientists believe that personality is the sum total of life experiences recorded in our minds.  There are also genetic "predispositions" that sometimes influence how experiences are recorded on the slate.  You may have learned in school that ducks imprint an image of their mother at a very early age.  Although ducks are used as a classic example of imprinting, we believe that all brains imprint life experiences in the brain in a similar manner to ducks.  Experiences recorded during the earliest years of life have a greater meaning or influence over our attitudes and behavior because they are first experiences.  First experiences shape and point the human mind in certain directions based upon the content of the first-time experiences.  In humans, memory record places, events, smells, tastes, music, etc. at very early ages that tend to influence our behavior, decisions and preferences throughout our lifetime.  Although humans may not imprint first-time experiences with the same intensity as ducks, the human brain still records "first time" or very early life experiences with an intensity that is greater than experiences that occur later in life.  We believe that the same is true with all other animals including pigeons.  Experiences recorded during the weaning phase - the 5th week of life - the first time out of the protection of parents and the nest - are recorded with an intensity that influences pigeons to behave in certain ways for the rest of their lives. 

Memories are imprinted or recorded on synaptic webs within the brain.  We believe that "first-time" or very early experiences are recorded differently than later experiences simply because they were recorded first.  Consequently, early experiences influence subsequent behavior more powerfully than later experiences in life.  We believe that the 4th, 5th, and 6th weeks of life represent a critical mental crossroads that will determine a pigeon's behavior for the rest of its life.  The first week of February is the 5th week of life for January 1 hatches.  The experiences these youngsters are now recording will influence them for the rest of their lives.  Antoine Jacops' believes that fanciers should be very strict with recently-weaned youngsters.  He believes that fanciers should teach these youngsters during these early weeks exactly what is expected of them for the rest of their lives.  Lessons about trapping and lessons about coming when called are two critical lessons that must be taught properly and effectively to each youngster during the recently-weaned phase of development.  During this phase of training, gently withhold food until the youngsters learn to comply quickly with each task.

Concerning the task of coming when called, we scrape and sweep a portion of the loft floor twice a day in order to feed the youngsters on the floor.  While sitting on the floor with the young birds, we take a premeasured amount of food (a soup spoonful per young bird) in a two pound coffee can and slowly - very slowly - hand feed a few grains at a time to the young birds while we call them.  We sprinkle the grains on and around our legs and body and call to the youngsters by saying "come - come - come - come."  We also encourage the youngsters to eat from our hands.  We teach the youngsters to come to us in order to receive each grain.  The brave and smart youngsters will have little problem learning this new task very quickly.  The less intelligent or fearful youngsters will have a greater problem learning to comply with this task.  We record the ring numbers of those young birds that learn the fastest and are least fearful.  This recorded information will provide one of the first powerful glimpses into which youngsters will become the best racers.  We believe that the best racers are the smartest pigeons on the team and the youngsters that have the capacity to quickly replace their innate fear with a learned trust.  Learning to come when called is a task which will clearly reveal the learning capacity and compliance factor for each young bird.  We urge you to build a strong and lasting relationship of trust with each young bird.  Without a meaningful relationship of trust with each racer, racing at the top of the sheet may only represent wishful thinking.  The best racers are pigeons that learn quickly and build trusting relationships with their mentors.

Trapping quickly is also a learning activity.  After the young birds learn to come quickly when called, we place them on the landing board in a settling cage to enjoy their freedom.  After a short period of time, we call them into the loft to eat.  Only those youngsters who come through the trap and into the loft very quickly receive a full meal.  Those youngsters that take their time trapping may only get a few grains when they finally enter the loft.  Those youngsters that ignore the trapping task when called are not fed at all.  Those that were slow or did not respond are recorded in a three-ring binder.  Record the negative observations of youngsters that respond slowly.  If late youngsters change their behavior on subsequent days, they are added to the list of compliant pigeons and the negative observations about them are minimized but not forgotten.  Pigeons that continue to enter the loft slowly when called receive only a few grains or no feed at all until they comply with the task of trapping according to our satisfaction.  If they refuse to learn the task correctly, they will be removed from the race team.  Only select the youngsters that perform tasks quickly and without negative incident.  Youngsters that consistently do not perform correctly at any stage of the developmental process may never become top racers.  Appreciate and value youngsters that learn quickly.  Have no pity for those youngsters that learn slowly or refuse to comply with required tasks.  They are a scourge to the young bird team and should be removed.  When teaching young pigeons to trap, set a realistic time limit.  Depending upon the physical construction of the trap (number of entrance holes or slots) and the number of young birds on the team, set a time limit of 30 seconds, one minute, two minutes, etc. for all of the young birds to trap.  Do not feed any bird that does not trap within the time limit.  Without eating for 24 hours, slow trappers will usually be the first young birds through the trap during the next day.  Sometimes its difficult to get a young bird's attention.  A hungry pigeon (not a starved pigeon - there is a big difference between the two) is generally an attentive pigeon.  Overfeeding is the best way to completely lose control of the young bird team.  If you have a tendency to overfeed your pigeons, add about 20% barley or more to the race mix.  The barley content will keep your pigeons hungry and counteract the good will you wish to bestow upon the young birds by feeding them every morsel they can eat.  While we all want to be good to our racers, overfeeding is bad physically and mentally for pigeons and very hard on the pocket book.     

Young birds that learn to come when called will remember the "come" command for the rest of their lives.  If they become slow to respond to your commands, they may need a quick refresher course from time to time in order to comply more quickly.  But the "come when called" task is imprinted in their minds forever.  Remember, the memories of recently-weaned youngsters are very absorbent like a sponge.  They soak up knowledge and experience very quickly.  The learning phase of homing pigeons is never as fertile as when youngsters are recently-weaned.  Teach young birds early.  Don't wait until they are older, fearful and wild.  Do not try to force them to comply with your commands.  Recently-weaned youngsters are desperately seeking direction.  They are looking for guidance.  They seek guidance from parents, other older pigeons, and other youngsters.  Looking for direction is a very important component of the weaning process.  Become a mentor to recently-weaned youngsters.  Compete with other pigeons for their time and attention.  Become a teacher in pigeon school.  Satiate young birds with knowledge; not food.  If you are an attentive and caring fancier, give young birds proper direction and guidance.    Empower young birds with knowledge.  Calm their fears by teaching them trust in you and your management system.  Once they have learned to use fear as a first response or a directive in life, they will never comply with tasks with the same passion and obedience as they would have shown if they had learned compliance when they were very young.  All animals want to achieve homeostasis.  All animals want a good life and a calm positive environment.  A chaotic loft is one in which fanciers and young birds do not understand each other and are not on the same page.  Young birds cannot learn what fanciers don't teach them.  They are smart; but not mind readers.  Clearly, calmly, gently and consistently, teach tasks, expectations and boundaries to your young birds as soon as they leave the comforts of their nests.  We cannot begin to convey or stress the importance of the first weeks of February for youngsters hatched in early January.  Do not wait to educate and train recently-weaned young birds.  If you typically breed January 1 hatches, spend time with them in early February when they are weaned.  Teach them the basics: coming when called and trapping.  Make them comply quickly each time you feed them.  A little extra time with young birds in early February will pay huge dividends during the future young bird race series.