Every summer since 1904, members of the Calgary Racing Pigeon Club have gathered on the outskirts of the city to race their best flyers. Doug Schmaltz, a Calgary pigeon fancier, got involved in pigeon racing when he was a teenager. He won a race in his first year participating in the sport, and ever since then, he’s been hooked.
As Schmaltz has been raising and racing homing pigeons since 1962, he knows what it takes to raise a champion.
Buying or breeding birds
Some pigeon fanciers import birds from the U.S. or Belgium, but Schmaltz says most breed their own. This is partly due to cost – an imported pigeon runs upward of $1,000, while breeding costs around $50. Breeding is also faster than you might expect. “It normally takes about 10 days from the time you mate the birds up to when they lay their first egg,” says Schmaltz. “It’s another 19 to 21 days until hatching time.”
Training like a champion
Like any athlete, a racing pigeon requires a meticulous training regime. Schmaltz begins training his birds when they’re two to three months old, taking them down the road from his house so they can fly back home. Over the month-long training process, he gradually increases the distance up to 60 kilometres.
And it is possible to “rebreak” trained birds if the owner relocates. “I’ve moved three times since I’ve had pigeons,” Schmaltz says. “You start over like they’re a baby again and slowly build up the distance.”
Eating like a pro
Successful athletes require a high-quality diet – even those with feathers. Schmaltz feeds his flyers high-end grains and premium mixes. “It’s probably better than what we eat most of the time,”he says. Between feeding, cleaning and training,he estimates he spends at least two hours a day with his birds.
The great race
Alberta homing pigeons race anywhere from 160 to 800 km during the summer season, travelling at an average speed of 72 km per hour in a race. Despite hazards like predators and electrical wires, Schmaltz estimates more than 90 per cent make it home from each race. Most homing pigeons will race five seasons and, on average, live 10 to 12 years.