NEW ZEALAND UPDATE
FROM FERGUS ELLEY
Featuring the Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation Old Birds 2012
Mac & Mary Armstrong - top extreme distance fanciers
Hi there from Auckland, New Zealand. Old Bird racing is well under way over here and we have had 2 of our feature Federation races in the build-up to our 500, 600 and 800 mile long distance races.
We again ask the question, 'Will Mac Armstrong and his birds remain Invercargill to Auckland Kings for a 5th consecutive year?' This around 800 mile race is the last race on our programme and flown early December. This year Mac has kindly donated $2000 NZD towards the prize money.
Racing can be difficult here with changeable weather and often hilly and mountainous topography, a challenge for our pigeons. Often we are racing between cold fronts which may be 2 or 3 days apart. Obviously it can be very windy between these fronts. So it's a challenge to our Liberation Coordinator Mr Jim Cater of Henderson and he's doing a sterling job and really looking after the needs of our pigeons very well.
Naturally our pigeons need a certain amount of steady hit outs in their racing sorties to develop 'match fitness' to race 500 miles plus.
Leading up to our first feature Federation Old Bird race this season from Plimmerton near Wellington, the weather looked like it could be bad for the intended Saturday liberation, so during the week I was a little concerned about which birds to send. I have still not used any respiratory or canker medications and we are now up to our 11th race and that week was our 9th race. I have also not had any training tosses, so these things add to my careful attitude to what I send.
What I look for are bright clear eyes, beautiful silky feathers, well bodied, corky or just a little weight, chalky cere with clear nostrils and throat. Also a nice deep pink pectoral muscles indicating that everything is ticking over nicely in the metabolism and vascular systems. If the bird's pectoral muscles are too tight, lack spring, and are too hard inside, then they don't go to the longer 2 day baskets. Over the years one develops both the feel of what a winner feels like but also the feel of an unlikely candidate which is better left till the following week's list of race candidates.
The Plimmerton race on 6th October 2012 was approximately 260 miles to me. It was a very windy race with mainly very strong westerly side winds but some north in it at times for the first few hours of the race, which is a headwind for us.
We basket Thursday for these races. On Wednesday and Thursday, I spent quite some time examining the birds to determine which were in good order, whilst continually looking online at forecasts. Subsequently, I decided not to send any 'blow home' birds. In the end, the very bad weather didn't eventuate and we had a good steady race and fortune favoured my loft (Elley Family) with 1st, 2nd and 4th Federation Flock and 1st and 2nd Yearling Champs, so I was very happy, especially as conditions didn't really suit my loft location, being a front marker and more to the west side. The velocity was 1170 m/min. 2 hens together, one a yearling and the next bird a yearling 4 minutes later.
This weekend we've had our first South Island 'sortie' for the birds and we strike off Sunday night. Once again I was very careful with what I sent. I am feeding roughly 20% NZ maple peas, 40% small maize, 30% mixed canary seed and some chicken layers pellets at times. I find this mix keeps a good body on the bird and that although I feed around 4 times a day, the birds don't over eat and it's similar to hopper feeding, only the sparrows don't get any! While I'm feeding, I sit and watch the birds for 15 minutes, then remove the leftovers. I rarely handle the hens, so keen observation is a must.
My commitment to not dosing for canker or respiratory also adds to the challenge. Occasionally a bird will develop something. I just leave it in with the others and find the more that they get out flying the better. Solid immunity is what I am looking for in my pigeons both genetically and via continual low level exposure to pathogens. Fortunately we don't have paramyxovirus here.
I also believe that as in Old Birds we are racing with increasing day length, we should harness nature's rhythms and perhaps by only relying on the bird's solid immunity that different birds will show up throughout the course of the four month long season. As a consequence, I believe that rest, good diet and some open lofts are the better protocol than medicines. Most birds will clear most common pigeon ailments themselves given time. My experience is that antibiotics tend to peak a loft, as in general, the birds can be worked or raced more following treatment. To me, it's not the future of my pigeon racing. However, I do believe in treating the pigeons for internal parasites every 4 weeks or so during racing.
Once the racing starts I only let the hens out on the tuesday for 4 to 6 hours and will make them fly a few times every hour or 2. This way they can fly up to 200 miles whilst out and since they are old birds I surmise there is no need for the tossing. My cocks tend to get heavy easily on this rich mix so they need to go out more often. Leading up to a big race some cocks will be caught to go out for a fly and the lighter ones kept in after their Tuesday afternoon fly.
The last month the weather has been gradually warming up and I'm lucky that I have someone cleaning my loft. On my visits to the loft I will alter the ventilation to what's necessary for that period of the day to get fresh air flowing and get rid of any stuffy smell which will irritate the birds sinuses and nasal cavities.
As I have a difficult health situation I make use of the time when resting up by looking at my pigeon lists and planning my strategy for the next 'big' race and the long distance programme. I will add, that in between the longer 2 and 3 day baskets, we generally have a short race of 150 miles to me, but around 230 miles for the Federation back markers. Unless the bird has just had a pretty hard race they all go to that for a 'hit out'.
The 150 miler is usually around 3 hours, sometimes 3.5 but it would be a different 'kettle of fish' for the fliers up north like Adrian Chappell and Dave Driver (both around 80 miles north of us Federation front markers). Adjustments would have to be made and their location is a big challenge for them in the Federation perhaps 90% of the time. They tend to need a faster finish type of race or simply get them well ahead of the rest of us. Not easy until the birds race from the South Island and maybe get split up by the amount of ocean they traverse amongst other things.
The Manaia Long Distance Club has real challenges when they join us for our Annual Invercargill race. This race is about 750 miles to me but 870 miles to Manaia lofts (about 120 miles further to the north). This race entails the birds traversing the Southern Alps at some place. It is the more direct route. When Manaia lofts fly Timaru it is around 700 miles and can be a pretty difficult race. So you can imagine the 'step up' to the challenge of 870 miles and it's a similar 'crucible' to the Barcelona for the English lofts and an ultimate challenge for fancier and pigeons alike, requiring that special pigeon with special preparation!
My photographer friend Kim who also cleans my lofts has taken photos of Mac Armstrong's winning pigeons from the last 4 years. He and his pigeons are our Auckland Federation Invercargill Kings. His birds have won this race of around 800 miles the last 4 years. My next article will feature these photos and is still 'in the pipeline'.
Here is a photo of last year's winner. It was clocked near the end of the second day. Mac told me the other day at our first South Island race basketing (Ward) that this bird is just 'so clever' and that he has decided to stock him. This rising 3 year old BBC was Mac's first or second bird often in racing and is mainly of Janssen extract.
Last year's Invercargill to Auckland winner