Spanish Thief Pouters I: "La Suelta"
by JUSTO SANCHEZ RUIZ,
Becoming a pigeon fancier is a rather spontaneous process. To a certain point, it may be said that one is born a pigeon fancier and that, although there are many people who would like to raise pigeons, some of them just do not want to do so badly enough. Age, and also environment, are important to a beginner, but only the passing of time will show if he followed through and became a real breeder.
Getting started was a great deal more difficult in olden times than it is today. In the 1930's, a budding fancier knew about other people's birds from seeing them fly rather than from observing them in the loft. Even between experienced breeders, friendship took place only sporadically. Precious secrets, such as the raising of babies, the characteristics of breeding pairs, the occasional outcrosses, were zealously kept. Of all that lore, the facts concerning the preparation of male birds for the suelta sport deserved the sternest form of concealment.
A suelta is a team of Spanish Thief Pouter cocks kept single in order to attract strange hens to one's own loft. The game can be considered the epitome of the pigeon fancy in
As we said before, each fancier carefully concealed from the others the reasons behind his success although eventually all knowledgeable breeders reached practically the same conclusions. Obviously, there are several factors that combine to make a suelta successful, the most important of them being the type of loft one has, the number of cocks one maintains in the suelta and, indeed, the birds themselves.
If the loft is in a low place, the birds should be of the smaller type and very aggressive whereas they can be bigger and heavier if the loft is placed on a high terrace, roof top or similar location. The number of birds depends on the space available since each one needs to be undisturbed, claiming a territory of its own. Each must have its own nest box, comfortable enough, dry and free from draughts, always maintained in the same place. There, water and feed can be individually allotted, which is an excellent practice.
A suelta may be perfect, as far as number is concerned, even when formed by as little as a two bird team, and it may have as many as seven. However, the more birds there are in the suelta, the more complicated it becomes. Perhaps three cocks alone make up the best possible team: one does not need to breed too many reserve birds; space and cleaning-time requirements are minimal; feed bills are reduced. Also, neighbours are not likely to complain too much about only three loose pigeons.
The best cocks for the suelta are those born in March or April (Northern Hemisphere). Spring birds are usually hale and strong; they enjoy a long period of preparation and besides, undergo their moult within the year they are born. Top feather condition, as one can easily imagine, is essential to the sport.
The colour of the birds may vary. It is advisable, nevertheless, that they be of the colour which best identifies their particular breed, and it is customary for all the birds in one suelta to have the same colour. In general, blue or dark coloured birds seem to keep their plumage in better condition than birds of other colours. We also like all of our birds to be of a similar type and size. That makes the suelta "look good", and probably all specimens will show similar qualities. Age is important too. An old bird tends to "break" the suelta, becoming a hindrance for the younger ones, especially in flight. For that reason, an adequate renovation of the team is always convenient.
An excellent training practice consists of flying the young pouter birds together with young racing homers so that they develop their wings at a maximum and acquire self-confidence in flight. Once the pouter males start selecting hens, however, the homer cocks should be withdrawn. Then the young pairs choose their nesting boxes and, upon laying their first eggs, are allowed to sit on them for about ten days. After that, the hens are cooped in where their mates cannot see or hear them. By September, the cocks are alone, separated from breeders, single hens, and youngsters, and will gradually reach their top condition. By December, they will delight the fancier with their beauty and performance.
It is not a good system to let a single hen fly with the suelta every now and then, as some fanciers do, in order to observe the males' work. On the other hand, it really pays off to be patient, letting the cocks reach the peak of their rut all by themselves. Thus, they will perform most attractively for a period of several months.
The suelta should be maintained from September to May. From May to August the suelta birds should be mated so as to "refresh" them. However, they must not be allowed to raise any babies. A new cycle will begin in September. The fancier will know by then if he has to retire any of last year's suelta cocks. Ideally, he would have to take out none of them, which would mean a certain degree of success. If a bird must be discarded because of old age, after performing well for several years, one does not necessarily have to worry. As a breeder, that very same bird is a sure bet for the future.
Translated by Jose Morales.
Spanish Thief Pouters II: "El Hembreo"
by José V.Joya Villegas, Dos Hermanas, Sevilla, Spain
Among southern Spain's pigeon fanciers, El Hembreo is the name given to a sport practiced utilizing hens of the different breeds of Thief Pouters. It is in part the antithesis-or maybe the compliment- of the suelta of male birds, which is sometimes referred to as El Celo, or "The Rut" (see accompanying article). Except for some towns in Cadiz province, the hen suelta is not so popular as the cock suelta, but perhaps its practise should increase since it helps to select the breeding hens after testing them severely, and also because it is positively entertaining. The following is a synthesis of two articles by Don José Joya describing the sport. Mr. Joya, a teacher by profession, is one of the most knowledgeable pigeon men that I know- a teacher at that, too- and a dear friend.
El Hembreo consists of flying a single hen that has been separated from her mate for about ten or fifteen days. She should be two or three years old and have shown a remarkable homing instinct, by being overprotective of her nest or by any other such signs of fondness for her home.
The day to let her fly may be either chosen at random or previously appointed by a group of neighboring fanciers. It is best to select a time when there is a good number of young males flying. She will fly among all of them trying to find a new mate for herself. Soon, she will choose a suitor to her liking and attempt to drive him to her loft while the chosen cock, in turn, tries to entice her to his own. Sometimes, there may be interference on the part of other birds, but at the end the suit is reduced to the original hen and a single cock. Then, it may take some weeks before one or the other "surrenders" and enters the strange loft.
Under identical circumstances, hens have less of a "conservation" instinct than cocks: they give up first and are trapped more easily. To make up for such a handicap, the fancier practicing the hembreo may play an ingenious trick: he prepares a relay team of three hens of the same colour. When the first one starts to show symptoms of weakness and seems about ready to turn herself in into her antagonist's home, her owner retires her and lets loose the second hen. Since she is of the same colour as the first one and flies in the same circuit, the male bird will not mind the change. But by now he is a little "burnt out" whereas the fresh hen works at the peak of her power. Naturally, if the process is repeated once again and the third hen comes into play, chances are that the potential seducer-unless he be a truly exceptional cock-will be finally deceived, seduced in turn, and trapped in the hens' loft.
By means of the hembreo game, fanciers trap other people's pigeons. These are sometimes returned in a friendly way, among jests and bragging and perhaps a little embarassment on the part of the owner of the captured bird. In earlier times, a symbolic, pre-established fee had to be paid as ransom for the captive. On some occasions, however, the trapped bird was instantly killed in the presence of its owner, who swore to seek revenge in the future.
Historical evolution of Spanish Pouters
by Luis Montiel Bueno
After reading some articles in the Magazine “Palomos Deportivos” (when it was still published), one realized the different trends that can be observed in the tastes of the fanciers of the Spanish Pouter Pigeons, and that they can happily coexist. On one side we have the supporters of the “picas” or “deportivos”, which are a world apart with their competitions and corresponding regulations. Then we have the fanciers who are enthusiastic about the different breeds of pure Pouters, their fixation to certain standards, and their exhibition in shows.
As with everything in life, the standardization of breeds and the commencement of shows have advantages and disadvantages. The advantages being the conservation of the different breeds and their distribution throughout the country. It gives me great satisfaction that the Jiennense Pouter for example, is known throughout the whole of
So due to the increase of zuritas we hardly see the hens in “suelta” anymore. There are few fanciers flying this way now and the main pastime that offers them sport is the hunt for the steamed zurita hen which is beautiful to watch. Here the most suitable type of pouter is the type of bird that Jose Castillo Rubio mentions in his article of September 91. A fiery, light and active bird.
In summary we have gone from the one main purpose for keeping the Spanish pouters at the beginning of the 20th century to the panorama that the hobby offers us now: