News and Updates
AUGUST 6TH - EARLY TRAINING UPDATE
Training is now just underway over the last five days and will continue for the next 2 months in preparation for the races that start in mid October. This past Wednesday and Thursday were the first official tosses, Jon took the birds across the canyon a little under a mile where the birds can see the loft after they are let out. The next three days he took them to Golden Sierra High School (1.7 Miles) which is on the other side of this small mountain. On the first day it took about 25 minutes before the big flock appeared out of the north so that was good in that they were probably a little lost and then figured it out. They learn more from that then just coming straight home over the hill. The next two trips to the high school they were home in about 10 minutes. When the birds get home on these short tosses a lot of them will want to continue to keep flying and we also flag them to keep the lazy ones from coming down too early.
Before the actual training tosses, Jon had been loading the birds in the trailer for a couple weeks and taking them down the street and releasing them. This gets them used to being loaded in the chute and also gets them used to being in the hauler and released from it. It also helped to get some of the lazier birds flying better. It's better to release them down the street and then flag them, than having to chase them off the loft. Just as with every other year there seems to be three tiers of birds when it comes to loft flying. There is a group that really likes to fly and stays up a long time every morning and often separates from the main flock and leaves. There is a bigger group that flies a normal amount of time (30 to 60 mins), they get their exercise in for a typical amount of time. There is also a group of about 40-50 that are lazy and would be content to just sit on the loft or fly 5-10 minutes. We've spent the last few weeks getting those ones to fly better and flagging them to keep them up longer.
On these short tosses when the birds arrive most of them will continue flying on their own but we're also flagging them to keep them up for at least 30 minutes. The clocking times don't mean anything on these short tosses and loft flights as they don't trap in the order that they fly. Some of the dominant cocks that are first to land will often spend over an hour chasing hens around on the loft and they're up and down before they finally go in. Some of them care more about chasing hens than food....
The moult has progressed nicely and over half the birds in the loft are already done with the body moult. Some of the younger ones are either in a heavy body moult now or just going into one. Every year the youngest birds and slow moulters seem to finish their body moult in late September to early October right before the races start. That's another benefit of starting the races in October in that not only do we get out of the heat but it gets all the birds through the body moult. Just about all of the birds have had their 10th flight pulled and on most of them it has already grown back in completely. Jon has been pulling the 10th on some of the younger birds over the past few weeks and those will finish up in the next couple weeks. There are maybe 10 birds that were just too young and not advanced enough on the wing moult to have their 10th pulled.
Currently overall health of the birds is excellent with nice white wattles and balled up droppings with down feathers. Overall health from start to finish was very good this year with only about 9 or 10 birds ever getting sick. Most of those were in quarantine and never even made it into the main loft. I attribute this to the quarantine process, immune boosting supplements, and also good luck. It appears that nobody sent any hidden carrier birds with nasty strains of circo or adenovirus. We use about 5 or 6 different supplements to boost the birds immune system and quarantining them for 7-14 days also prevents some sick birds from ever getting into the loft. The other benefit of quarantining them is it also gets them a little stronger (eating/drinking better) and a more developed immune system before they reach the main loft.
A few weeks ago we did have a small handful of birds with one eyed colds and also dirty wattles so we ran the birds through a 8 day treatment with Tylan-Doxycycline and that did the trick to where they looked perfect by the end of it. We also ran them through a 5 day canker treatment as well. Most likely we will run them through another canker treatment a couple weeks before the races start and then again once or twice during the races. Canker (Trichomoniasis) is the only thing we ever have to sometimes treat for from August onwards through the races. The other health and immune system supplements we use do a great job of keeping the birds healthy. I'm not a fan of using antibiotics unless I know absolutely that the birds have a problem and what I am treating for.
Health has been excellent this year but we did lose more birds than usual around the loft from flyaways and/or hawks. We had a couple flyaways of multiple birds that just disappeared and never came back. I suspect they may have been hit by a falcon when they were out routing. We found a few piles of feathers on the back corner of the property and the neighbors also found a few piles of feathers, so we know a cooper hawk was also picking off birds here and there. The cooper I think was mostly picking off lazy birds that were going to trees on the neighbors property. I think we lost more birds on loft flights to flyways than hawks though. Who knows where they go, maybe a few of them were the lazy birds and just didn't like being forced to fly. We did have a bird a few days ago come back that was gone from loft flying for 10-12 days and then it just showed up again one evening looking good. Have not lost any over the past 10 days, so I think the hawk is having a hard time getting them now.
There are a couple of huge wildfires burning to the NW and WNW of the loft that have been putting us in and out of light haze to quite a bit of smoke depending on how the winds shift over the past 2 weeks. The Carr fire near Redding is now up to nearly 150,000 acres and when the winds blow from the N or NW we tend to get a lot of smoke from it. A few days ago the mornings were pretty nice and then it became very smoky late in the afternoon. Yesterday started out very smoky and then cleared out late in the day. Today started out nice and then became pretty smoky late in the day, so the smoke seems to be moving in and out depending on winds. If it's too smoky on certain mornings we will have to hold the birds back from training. Both of the big fires have slow progress being made against them so I would imagine the smoke situation will improve in about a week or so. Hopefully we don't have any other large fires sprout up near by in the coming weeks.
The birds will go to Georgetown (6 Miles) 4 or 5 times before proceeding to a helicopter pad at 10 Miles and then will proceed from there. Once we get past Georgetown the elevation starts climbing rapidly and the terrain and canyons turns really nasty for the birds. By 10-12 miles the birds are already over 4000' elevation and by 20 Miles their close to 6000' elevation. Our 60 Mile toss is released at 8500' elevation from Mount Rose. At some point there will most likely be a bad toss or two. It happens just about every year and is very hard to avoid on this course. The elevation rises so quickly and there are so many different mountain ranges and canyons for the birds to navigate (plus peregrine falcons). You combine that with young birds with little experience and it's very easy for them to make a big mistake and go the wrong way down a canyon or around a big range. Usually the bad tosses here happen somewhere in the 10-60 Mile range where the terrain is the worst. Only way for the birds to learn is the hard way and fortunately by the time we get out to 75 Miles the birds always seem to have the mountains figured out.
Will update again as training progresses. - Matt