Pigeon racing is a very unique hobby in the United States. There are approximately 20,000 racing pigeon enthusiast in the U.S. In other countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands, it is much more popular with 1 of every 5 households having racing pigeons.
There are various levels of involvement and you can enjoy it at any level you choose. From keeping just a handful of Pigeons for the family to enjoy to large racing teams with birds being entered in races all over the world. Races range in distance from 100 miles to 1200 miles, with 300 miles being among the most popular distances. The 1000 plus mile races are rare these days. The long distance birds are truly spectacular creatures (my own opinion). There are typically two race series per year. Old bird racing begins in the spring until early summer and consists of races from 100 to 500 miles with maybe a 600 mile race. Old birds are considered old birds if born in any year previous to the current year. Young bird racing begins in the fall and consists of races from 100 to 300 miles. A bird is considered a young bird if it was born in the current year. There are local clubs, combines and national organizations. The American Racing Pigeon Union, which our club is affiliated with, has approximately 9,000 members in over 800 clubs around the U.S. These local clubs compete in races at the club level, also clubs that are in the same geographical areas will form larger clubs called combines. These combines allow you to compete with more people. There are also races around the country as well as the world that you can send birds to too compete. Some of these races are as prestigious to Pigeon Racers as the Kentucky Derby is to Horse breeders. The birds themselves are as pampered and care for as a Kentucky Derby Horse. Some of these top birds can even cost as much as a Kentucky Derby Horse, bringing tens of thousands of dollars at auction.
The level of involvement will dictate how expensive it will be. Typical costs involved in starting up would include the following. Different clubs charge different fees so you need to speak with people in your area to get more specific fees and costs involved.
Normally an 8 X 12 building would be a good starter size, there are plans out there for smaller lofts which work great, my suggestion is if you think it is something you would enjoy plan for expansion. The loft should be weather proof, vermin proof, dry and airy with plenty of natural light. There are probably a few pigeon racers in your area who would most likely be more than happy to show you ideas.
Provide enough perches so that all birds have a place to roost, large enough to allow a bird to rest comfortably. Feed, water and grit containers that allow the birds easy access and also are easy to keep clean. If you plan on breeding you will need nest boxes.
Cost of birds can range anywhere from a few dollars to over a hundred thousand. The local flyers around you will sometimes donate a few birds to help get a new person started. A lot of Pigeon Racers will tell you the best bird they ever had was given to them by someone who was trying to help them start up.
A clock is needed to time your birds when they arrive home from a race. Electronic timing systems are used these days. Our group uses the Benzing clocking systems They can be a little pricey ranging from around $500 up to around $1500 for a complete system.
Medications, feed, misc. loft supplies, bands,
Club dues, combine dues, and National organization. For our particular
Circumstance Club $60.00 Combine $20.00 AU (national organization) $30.00
Flying fees are fees the organization charges to cover the cost of shipping the birds to the different race stations. These cost include, transportation, gas, feed, driver fees and so on. These costs are typically divided up between people participating in that race series. Currently our shipping fees are set at $300 per year. This covers shipping to all races in the Old and Young bird seasons.
There is a one time surcharge of $140 to help cover the expense of the trailer and crates.
Sound like something you would enjoy? Give someone a call, visit some flyers in your area and see what you have been missing. Its a life changing experience.