There are several breeds and types of pigeons, but if there were ever a supermodel pigeon, the English Pouter would be stomping down the runway during fashion week. Homing pigeons, of course, would be the nerds — calculating and compassing their way home with precession. Pouters have endlessly long legs, voluptuous crops (or globes), stand tall, and do not merely strut about in the loft, but saunter. They put the bass in their walk, as they project an attitude of utmost confidence as they take long strides, placing one foot in front of the other.
These birds are so attractive that a breed known as the Horseman Thief Pouter steals and retrieves wild pigeons and other fancier’s pigeons back to their loft with its good looks and wooing. Possibly as far back as the 17th century, the Horseman Thief Pouter was developed to have a high sex drive, to be nimble in flight, possess a strong homing instinct, and the ability and intent to seduce other pigeons. Generally speaking, Pouter breeds are very promiscuous and the Horseman Pouter is even more so. This type of selective breeding makes for entertaining birds in the loft, show pen, and flying around the yard.
Frank Barrachina, who now lives in Pinon Hills, California has been breeding pigeons for most of his life. At age 66, he calculates that he has been breeding his favorites, Pouters and Croppers, for the past 54 years. He says that Pouters and Croppers are basically the same group of pigeons and the words are interchangeable.
“Both names describe a pigeon with the unique ability to fill its crop with air,” says Barrachina. But it is more than that, really. It also describes a pigeon that is naturally tame. The ability to distend the crop was originally used by the male pigeon to win over a mate.
Throughout the centuries of selective breeding, this feature of wooing mates with an inflated globe lent itself to being a very tame pet bird. Although there are all kinds of Pouters and Croppers with different distinct physical shapes and markings, they all share the common trait of being able to inflate their crop.
Barrachina breeds two distinctive radically different looking Pouter breeds. The English Pouter is the tallest breed of fancy pigeons with some of the biggest ones being 16 inches in height. The most unusual aspect about this breed is that they should stand upright with the eye over the ball of the foot. They have long legs that are clad in smooth feathers.
“The body is also far removed from that of the bird your mind associates with pigeons. It is slim with a “V” shaped keel,” says Barrachina.
His other unique breed is the Old German Cropper. “This is the longest breed of fancy pigeon with some measuring 24 inches in length. ͞This extreme length comes from the long wing flights and tail,” said Barrachina. ͞The wings when opened and spread measure three or more feet across. The Old German Cropper stands close and parallel to the ground. While they appear substantial and full bodied, they are not thick and heavy but create the illusion of sheer size with their feathering. While they are not the best flyers, they breed well and are very fertile.
Barrachina serves as the secretary of the National Pouter and Cropper Club and is a well-known judge of the Pouter breeds. Barrachina and his wife, Tally have traveled the world judging pigeons, focusing on Pouters, and enjoy meeting other fanciers who share the same passion. “We’ve met a lot of wonderful folks over the years and they all share a common love for these unique pigeons,” says Barrachina.
Tally breeds Pigmy Pouters and Saxon Pouters along with many other fancy varieties for top show competitions. The couple has achieved Master Breeder status from the National Pigeon Association and National Pouter & Cropper Club for their achievements with these breeds.
While judging shows, Barrachina encourages the pigeons to inflate their crops, or as fanciers call them globes, and show off their strutting and posing skills.
“The tamer the bird, the better it is likely to win if its physical attributes as set forth by the standard are met,” says Barrachina. It all works together, but if the bird were sulky or kind of wild, it won’t show to its full potential. So a Pouter judge, if he or she is good, coos to the birds, plays with them and gets them to look their best. Posture and temperament are a big aspect when it comes to the show hall. A bird that is strutting and dancing will generally do well compared to one just standing, doing nothing.
Jeff Clemens, of Altoona, Iowa has been raising English Pouters since he was 12 years old growing up in Fort Dodge, Iowa. For the last 25 years, he has been raising English Pouters and a variety of other Pouters.
For those interested in breeding Pouters, having surrogate pigeons on standby might be a good idea for many of the varieties. With those long supermodel-like legs, Pouters in the nest can become a bit clumsy and will possibly break the eggs. Clemens who raises 25 to 30 Pouter squabs a year uses German Beauty Homers and Racing Homers as the surrogate parents. “In some cases, I will also hand feed the Pouter babies once they reach seven days old to allow them to trust me and become more friendly, which pays off in the show hall.”
For show-quality birds, the National Pigeon Association (NPA) standard for each breed depicts the colors, markings, stance/posture, head shape, eye color, as well as the faults that disqualify a bird. The positioning and length of the legs is a key with the English Pouters as they are with most of the 30 plus Pouter breeds.
Knowing how to properly house and feed pigeons is the key to raising pigeons successfully. “It all begins with a good loft, clean feed, quality grit, and always clean water,” says Clemens. “Some of our Pouters can breed and raise their young by themselves, others require a more common kind of feeder, such as a homer, to raise their young. It’s a simple process that requires changing eggs that are laid at the same time.”
Clemens says that the pigeon hobby is a wonderful way for kids as well as adults to do something fun together. “There isn’t anything like the spring when pairs are mated up and the eggs are hatching as we wait to see if the next Champion was just born,” says Clemens. “For kids, this hobby teaches responsibility and time management — much more exciting than sitting at a computer all day — this goes for any of the poultry or fowl birds. One thing that’s nice about pigeons is that they are much smaller and you can keep a few more to enjoy. Some folks like to fly their birds and others like to participate in shows, so there’s a big variety of why people enjoy the hobby.”
The National English Pouter Club is an organization that Rick Wood and Jeff Clemens re-established in 2012. “The club has been in existence off and on since the early 1900s and the interest was there to re-establish it in 2012, ” explains Clemens. “Today we have 25 members and it’s growing monthly as the interest continues to build in the breed.” The club’s members consist of doctors, accountants, military members, teachers, masonry workers, and many blue-collar careers. “It’s such a diverse group of people that sometimes I find it inconceivable that all walks of life can have an interest in this intriguing breed,” says Clemens.
Do you raise English Pouter pigeons? Let us know how you’re doing and lend advice to those just thinking of getting started.