THE ART OF BREEDING, CONDITIONING & RACING PIGEONS FOR THE EXTREME DISTANCE – Part 3
by Gareth Watkins
In the third article in this series on fanciers who have set their stalls out to win consistently in long distance National racing, I intend to highlight the performances, methods and pigeons of three fanciers who have, over many years, achieved their goal in long distance Nationals.
WILF REED of Monmouth
The subject of this article has, to quote an often used axiom, become a legend in his own life time. With 7 x 1sts; 6 x 2nds; 3 x 3rds plus scores of other top twenty finishes in Welsh South Road Nationals to his credit this is certainly a well founded claim. Add to these Welsh National wins 2 x 3rd & 5th Open in NFC Pau Nationals amongst many other NFC positions plus 1st Open BBC Palamos at 735 miles and you have a top class Internationally successful fancier.
Wilf is also an Internationally renowned sheep dog trialist, having successfully represented Great Britain in International sheep dog trials on numerous occasions.
Wilf and wife Janet live at Upper Redbrook on the Welsh / English border. Duffields Farm is located slap on the border, as Offa’s Dyke runs through Wilf’s land. Any visitor to this part of the world cannot fail to be impressed by the beautiful scenery, and the location is probably the most impressive site I have ever visited in compiling a loft report. It is, quite simply, stunning, and a pigeon fancier’s paradise. This utopian setting is not without its drawbacks however, as Wilf is constantly pestered by peregrines, sparrowhawks and the SAS of aerial killers – the Goshawk. Nevertheless, if you were to ask 100 fanciers after visiting the site, where they would like to fly their pigeons I’d bet that 99 of them would pick Duffield’s Farm.
Wilf Reed's racing loft
Wilf and Janet live in the 17th century farmhouse adjacent to their 77 acres of arable land. On the far side of the farmyard from the house stands the main racing loft. This is a 50 ft x 12 ft structure facing south east. The loft has a tiled roof and has been built to last being set on a 6ft high stone wall and constructed of 8 ft x 4 ft one inch thick marine ply on 4 inch x 3 inch frames.
The loft has five internal sections plus a 4ft wide corridor which runs the length of the loft. Aviaries measuring 12 ft x 8 ft are situated at each end of the loft. These house the racing cocks and hens during the week. Cleaning is therefore kept to a minimum as these aviaries have grid floors so that the droppings fall through to the ground some ten feet below. The birds, are protected from the worst of the weather by Perspex sheets which make up the roof of each aviary. All sections are also fitted out, with heavy grid flooring set on 6inch x 4 inch beams and so the floor need only be cleaned once per year. This labour saving theme is carried through to the nestboxes, which also have grid floors, that not only saves time, but also helps break the disease cycle, should one arise. The stock birds are housed in a three hundred year old building adjacent to the farm house and have plenty of room. A deep litter of dry droppings is used on the stock loft floor and this was bone dry with no odour or dust visible. The stock birds also have access to an aviary and lead a relaxed life and are not troubled too much by Wilf, just fed and watered daily and left to get on with their domestic chores.
Endurance Pride of Wales - 1st BBC Palamos Spanish Queen
The 45 – 50 pairs of racers and 25 pairs of stock birds are mated in the third week of March. All racers rear a single youngster in the first nest and are separated before the hens lay their second round of eggs. The early season races are entered with the birds still rearing but by the time the shorter channel races arrive the team are on round about and remain on this system until Wilf begins to re mate specific birds for their main long distance race of the season. This is the usual practice – however in 2008 the birds were performing so well that Wilf decided to keep them on round about right up to Barcelona. The main body of the team, including a large proportion of yearlings, were then re mated in preparation for the NFC Saintes race in late July.
During the season the birds are in the air at day break each day. Cocks may go out first one day and hens the next day. Both sexes are expected to put in two one hour sessions per day throughout the season. If they don’t do it voluntarily then they are forced to do so and this is carried out 6 days a week – race day is regarded as a day of rest at the Reed loft! Very little training is undertaken now, as, with advancing years, Wilf, attempts to make things as easy as possible for himself. The early races are now used as trainers in an attempt to get the birds super fit in readiness for the real work which starts at the end of May early June and through to July. With this goal in mind the team are raced to the coast and are then entered in selected races from across the channel in the build up to the long distance races from southern France and Spain. Wilf likes the last of these preparatory races to be stiff enough to give the birds approximately 8/9 hours on the wing. They are then ready to be re mated to specific pigeons preferred nesting position for specific races. As I wrote earlier, this is usually the method carried out. However during the 2008 early channel races the team were in such good form that Wilf decided to leave well alone and sent the team of seven to Barcelona on the round about system.
Wilf has found over the years that birds of three and four years old are best at Barcelona. He likes to take his time and be patient with the birds allowing them to make mistakes as long as they have the sense to learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them too often. Youngsters are rarely raced now but they do undergo a vigorous and extensive education. This entails numerous tosses at 40 miles, mostly released in ones and twos, and very often at liberation points when other organisations are liberating. This teaches the youngsters to think for themselves and not rely on the mob to bring them home. As yearlings they are brought along steadily and are expected to cross the channel a number of times with many going to Saintes 420 miles with the Welsh SRNFC in June or the NFC in late July. They are then ready for all points south as two year olds.
“Feeding is an art that must be mastered if you are to become consistently successful” is an age old adage associated with pigeon racing. Well, Wilf Reed is certainly a master of this particular discipline. In the early part of the season, when the birds are just beginning to get out to exercise after their winter’s rest, a large proportion of barley is added to the feed mix. This ensures that the birds are light and buoyant so that they can avoid the attentions of the local raptor population. As the first young birds hatch the mix is strengthened with the addition of more protein in the form of farm beans and peas. When the birds are ready for the early season races the barley is brought back into play as an addition to a continental high carbohydrate mixture marketed by Versele Laga. As the channel races approach the feed mix is once again altered by allowing the birds access to a hopper of farm beans in addition to their race mixture which is fed in pots in each nest box whilst the cocks are still separated. A great deal of the grain fed to the birds is produced on local farms but only the very best quality grain is used be it beans, peas, wheat, barley or maize and being a farmer himself, Wilf knows exactly what he’s looking for. Once the moult is over the birds are fed a large proportion of barley with linseed added daily. During the winter period the birds are only fed on six days of the week, the other day they are left to fast for 24 hours. This ensures that they do not get too fat whilst at rest.
The origins of the Reed family of pigeons can be traced back to the 1950s and to two top long distance racing cocks raced by Wilf’s brother. These were both winners on the north road through to Elgin and Thurso. A red chequer Kirkpatrick cock was later introduced from Bert Barrow. This Kirkpatrick cock was to sire a hen called Crabby which was jumped from the 60 miles training stage to 430 miles to win 1st prize in the first race of her life. She was to go on to become one of the foundation stones of the early Reed family. Other early influences on the family were three birds introduced from the legendary Tom Clarke of Frampton on Severn. One of these was bred from a half brother and sister pairing. The cock of the pair had won 1st section NRCC Lerwick and the hen 1st section NFC Pau. When speaking to Wilf it was obvious that he had massive respect for Tom Clarke, not just as a top class fancier, but also as a true gentleman.
In 1970 Wilf bought the entire loft of pigeons owned by Eric Buffin and these were of Cattrysse origin via Smith & son of High Wycombe. The Smiths had built their loft on pigeons obtained from Mr Slabbink who had invested heavily by purchasing direct from Oscar and Gerrard Cattrysse. The next introduction took place in 1975 with the purchase of six latebreds from the Belgian ace Willy Clerebaut. Wilf travelled to Belgium to select these himself at the Ecaussines loft of the master. The best of these when crossed with the Crabby line and some Westcotts and the aforementioned Buffin Cattrysse, went on to produce Wilf’s winner of 1st section 3rd Open NFC Pau in 1982 in a disaster of a race won by A.H.Bennett of Church Stretton.
Cheq Hen - 1st GGDC Barcelona
In the late 1970s the partnership of Leonard & Son was setting the Up North Combine alight with their performances in cross channel races. Once again Wilf was off on his travels in search of top class pigeons to enhance his already impressive loft of birds. Six youngsters were selected on his visit to the Leonards and the cross hit it off right away with the established family. Over the years more introductions have been made and integrated into the Reed family, always with the proviso that they are bred directly from top class winners in National or Combine long distance races. The latest introduction that Wilf is trying out comes from the long distance family of the Desbuquois Brothers in Belgium and these have already produced birds to fly successfully from Barcelona at more than 750 miles. One hen in particular of this family has now successfully completed this marathon journey on three occasions.
During my visit I handled a number of the loft’s top long distance performers. First to hand was the magnificent “Endurance Pride of Wales”, winner of 1st Open British Barcelona Club from Palamos 735 miles. This small to medium sized chequer hen had a little depth to her keel and sported an excellent eye. She was raced to Pau as a two year old and was part of the team that won the 3 bird average with the NFC in this race. The next year she flew San Sebastian [586 miles] twice in a month, finishing at 20th Open in the Anglo - Welsh National. As a four year old she was entered for the ultimate test at 735 miles and was clocked at 7.20 pm on the second day to win 1st Open at Wilf’s first attempt at preparing a bird for Palamos.
Next to hand was the 2008 winner of 1st GGDC; 2nd section 13th Open BICC Barcelona now named “Barcelona Belle” by Janet. “Belle” proved to be a medium sized chequer hen with rich silky feathering and possessed a pin head sized pupil. She is steeped in the old family bloodlines going back to the original Clerebauts introduced in the 1970s.
The winner of 1st Welsh Combine Brussels, beating more than 8,000 birds was another chequer hen with a fair bit of depth to her keel. She is the result of the first cross between the Desbuquois Brothers lines and the old family.
The winner of 1st GGDC Tours plus 1st section BICC was a yearling chequer cock containing the bloodlines of 1st section NFC Pau with a good helping of the old Leonard and son blood. He was not raced as a young bird just trained by the Reed method to 40 miles. As a yearling he had a couple of inland races and was then sent every fortnight with the BICC in the early short channel races before going to Tours.
That then is a report on one of the most consistently successful long distance fanciers in the U.K. I cannot finish this article without pointing out that Janet is an integral part of the partnership, often clocking the winners of long distance races when Wilf is distracted with other things on the farm. Janet can be said to be the velvet glove within which the iron fist [Wilf] is supported.
Wilf & Janet Reed
DENNIS FORD of BLAENAVON
Next we come to a fancier who has been winning long distance races into Wales for more than forty years – the great Dennis Ford of Blaenavon, a former mining village situated at the head of the eastern Welsh Valleys. Dennis has now won 11 x 1sts and 9 x 2nds in National races including 1st Open BICC Tarbes International at 608 miles beating the 2nd open winner racing to Surrey, by 75 ypm and flying 40+ miles further. What made this performance even more remarkable was the fact that the BICC convoy of 405 birds was liberated with more than 12,000 birds entered from all over the continent and these had the advantage of a westerly wind throughout the course of the race. Dennis’s little hen was flying to the most westerly location of the whole convoy and some 120 miles west of the 2nd Open winner!!
Dennis Ford relaxing outside his loft
The winner of this epic race is a medium sized, extremely well muscled red chequer hen that oozes vitality. She was raced through to Lillers 250 miles as a youngster and as a yearling she was only raced as far as Picauville. Then as a two year old, she was given Falaise, Alencon and Saran with the BICC and Gwent Greater Distance Club in preparation for her Tarbes performance. As with all the Ford racing team she was raced on the round about system - more about this later in the article.
There is an interesting story surrounding the breeding of the Tarbes winner, now appropriately named “Annie’s Girl” after Dennis’s wife Anne. It goes like this – Anne was always complaining that Dennis only had blues and chequers with no “pretty ones” i.e. reds and mealies. As a result Dennis went to the Welsh Trust Show at Aberdare and bought the first pair of red squeakers that he came across. The squeakers were £60 the pair with pedigrees, but Dennis being Dennis, he managed to get them for £50 without pedigrees, and was told by the breeder, Mike James of Gloucester, that they were Van Hees. Anne was then gifted a red chequer squeaker by John Smale from Abergavenny and this turned out to be a cock and was subsequently mated to the red hen of the £50 pair to breed “Annie’s Girl”. There is another interesting fact regarding the “Smale Cock”, sire of “Annie’s Girl” – his sire a chequer cock, containing the bloodlines of Fishlock & Harding’s Thurso National winner “Westra Eddie”, along with “Gillian” John Smale’s Thurso National winner and Queen’s Cup Winner. The cock was sold to a fancier “up north” only to be rejected as not good enough!! He was returned to John Smale who put the cock on the road and subsequently won 10th National at 280 miles as a young bird. He is now grand sire to a 1st Open BICC Tarbes winner so he can be aptly named the “Reject Cock”. To get back to the “Smale cock” sire of the Tarbes hen “Annie’s Girl”, his dam is a mealy hen which was on loan to John Smale from John’s Irish friend Liam Fitzgerald. This mealy hen in turn was bred by Eddie Froggatt from his hen that won 3rd Open NFC Pau.
Dennis retired from his job with British Aerospace some time ago and is now a “professional pigeon fancier” spending most of each day with his pigeons in and around the well appointed cabin on the allotments. Quietly spoken and deep thinking he has been a successful fancier for more than forty years. I can remember highlighting the superb long distance performances of the then T.Ford & son partnership when I began writing for the Gazette in the early 1970’s. Performances such as 1st Open Lerwick 1971, 7th Open National when only 12 birds were recorded in race time. This was the race won by the legendary “Jeannette” raced by the Fear Brothers of Pontypridd. In 1973 the partners won 1st Open Elgin and 1st Open Lerwick, 3rd National to confirm their stature as top class long distance fanciers. Dennis’s father Tom passed away in the early 1990’s and for a number of years Denis kept his father’s name on the partnership in the hope that he could win a National race in his honour. However in 1997 Dennis’s mother convinced him to compete simply as Dennis Ford and guess what? - the very next year 1998, he gained the first of his eleven National wins to date, this from Messac. Since that initial National win Denis has gone on to win National races from Crieff on the north road in 2002; Chale with young birds in 2006 ; Picauville 2007 when the loft was 1st , 2nd ,4th & 6th Open and Lessay again in 2007 plus Messac, Saintes, Picauville Young birds and Tarbes BICC in 2008. Both the Tarbes and Bergerac Nationals were won in 2009 and a further two second Open National wins have been achieved in 2010. Dennis also bred the winner of 1st National Thurso for Mr & Mrs Webber & Davies of Six Bells, a pretty impressive record by anyone’s standards.
The Ford lofts are only a stone’s throw from the Big Pit site which is designated a World Heritage site. They are situated on an allotment high on the hillside facing down the valley to the south. I say allotments in the loosest sense as in reality the site is a well maintained scenic garden with all manner of flowers bordering an immaculately maintained lawn. In addition to the range of lofts Dennis has also set up a well stocked hidey hole complete with microwave oven, refrigerator [plus beer] ,television and telephone – a real home from home. When you consider that Dennis is at the loft at five o’clock each morning and spends most of each day there throughout the racing season, then these creature comforts can be regarded as essentials and not luxuries!! Many’s the time that Denis has shared his early morning toast with the resident robins.
Dennis Ford being presented by Jan Deacon with the Brian Long Memorial Trophy for 1st BICC Tarbes 2008, also highest placed British Pigeon on the International Results in 2008 races
There are two main racing lofts one a 32 ft x 9ft structure with 5 sections and the other 28 ft x 8 ft two sectioned affair, these house the 19 pairs flown on the roundabout system plus the young bird team of approximately 50 – 60 babies. The youngsters are raced on the darkness system and Dennis’s results would seem to indicate that this has had no adverse effects on their long term racing performances. The youngsters also have access to a large aviary and spend most of the day in this when not at exercise.
Ten pairs of stock birds are housed in a separate loft with aviary attached and these are mated along with the race birds in early February. The racers are allowed to rear a nest of youngsters before being put on the roundabout system and if fit every pigeon is raced weekly throughout the season. The old bird race team, both cocks and hens, are exercised twice daily for one hour on each occasion. With this home exercise there is no need to resort to the training basket once racing is underway. The cocks and hens are allowed together for a short time on basketting night and Dennis is not worried if some of the pairs tread. On their return from a race the pairs are allowed to remain together for an hour or so before being separated until the following week’s race.
The racers, have access at all times to a hopper filled with beans and peas. These are purchased in bulk from a farm in Herefordshire. The only addition to this high protein staple diet is a high carbohydrate and fat mixture that Dennis feeds by hand after each exercise period. NO TREATMENTS WHATSOEVER ARE GIVEN, the only thing the birds receive is some glucose added to the drinking water on the racers return. Good pigeons with strong constitutions and natural vitality keep themselves well and rarely go wrong. The main bloodlines housed are a combination of Janssens. Lambert & Davies Grizzles, Tuplin Barkers and Westcotts. The Ford policy is to mate winner to winner irrespective of bloodlines, to hopefully breed more winners. When all is said and done that’s all most of us want and so far he hasn’t gone far wrong. The resultant team of racers produced by these simple common sense methods, do the business from 60 to 600 miles, on all routes in all weathers at all velocities. What more could anyone want?
KEN HINE of HAYES aka “ Mr Palamos”
Ken Hine's range of lofts
Ken Hine has been winning races almost from the very start of his pigeon racing career which began in 1949. During the past 25 years Ken has attained great success racing on the south road through to Pau, Tarbes, Palamos and Barcelona. In fact the difficult Palamos race at close on 700 miles to Ken’s Hayes, Middlesex home has been won in both the 1993 and 2008 seasons. Add to these outright wins a number of other top ten finishes from this Catalonian race point and you can appreciate how appropriate the opening title appears.
The fanciers who had the greatest influence on Ken’s early days in the sport were some of London’s all time greats – fanciers of the calibre of the late Alf Baker, Tubby Tate and Peter Titmuss, all assisted with help and advice, but it was another top class London fancier, namely George Burgess Senior who took the young Ken under his wing and who acted as mentor to the aspiring long distance tyro. George Burgess senior gifted Ken his first basket and timing clock as well as a number of his winning family of pigeons and just as importantly, heaps of good advice on stock management. So as you can see, the newcomer to the sport had what can only be described as a “flying start” and it was no surprise to anyone when he started to set about the opposition in the longer races. Initially, the birds were raced, with great success, on the north road through to Lerwick and Thurso. However, in the mid 1980s, Ken revised his ambitions and decided to have a go at classic long distance racing on the south road in races organised by the BICC; NFC and BBC.
Part of Ken's set-up
It was at this time that Ken moved to his present home at Hayes and, what with developing a new business and building a new house, time was at a premium and without the assistance of his brother in law Frank Hemmings and friend Jeff Byles who both helped around the loft with cleaning, training and exercising the birds, life would have been very much more difficult during this transition period.
Nevertheless, the switch to south road racing was achieved almost seamlessly as the birds, at that time based largely on pigeons from Peter Titmuss, Eric Cannon, Fear Brothers and A.R Hill, continued in the same manner as they had on the north road – winning long distance races.
So to the present day, and the lofts at Hayes which are set in a large paddock at the rear of the family bungalow. These are extensive as there are three main lofts, one measuring 30 ft x 10ft with four sections, a second measuring 70 ft x 10ft with eight sections and a third measuring 16 ft x 10ft with two sections. All three lofts are absolutely bone dry with excellent ventilation and positively no overcrowding. Ken feels that, along with plenty of sunlight, these are the essential factors required if a successful home environment is to be achieved. To this ends a total of just 160 birds are housed and this figure includes old bird racers, stock birds and youngsters. All lofts are cleaned daily 365 days a year and this is where Ken is greatly helped by friend Jeff Byles who cycles to the lofts every day rain, snow or shine.
Charville Kayleigh - a winner from Palamos
Stock birds and the yearling racers are usually mated in mid February with the birds destined for the long distance classic races mated a little later in early March. The birds are treated for cocci, canker and worms before pairing and are vaccinated against paramyxo virus annually. All birds are allowed to rear a youngster and these are weaned into a race basket where they are taught to eat and drink. This early education sets them up for later in life as the stress factor is greatly reduced when they are basketted for subsequent races.
The old bird racers are raced on the widowhood, round about and natural systems and Ken has achieved great success in distance races when employing all three systems. Once the good weather arrives in late March the racers are allowed their liberty and are slowly brought up to racing condition by twice daily home exercise. Once the first round youngsters are away, the old birds get a few tosses out to 40 miles prior to being entered in the early season races. The usual procedure is for the long distance team to be entered in two or three of the shorter channel races in preparation for their target race. This, along with the daily exercise and regular 40/50 mile training tosses helps bring them into the right condition for the longer races. All birds are hopper fed on the appropriate Versele Laga mixes and the long distance candidates also receive a treat of Red Band Conditioner and some peanuts in the final days build up to their target race. The racers are never “broken down” by the use of a depurative mixture but receive the full racing mixture at all times.
Charville Gemma - 1st BBC Palamos 1993
As mentioned earlier, the bloodlines now housed are a mixture of birds from Peter Titmuss, Fear Brothers and some Deweerdts via Mark Gilbert. They were above medium sized and in fact some of the Palamos pigeons could be described as large but all were well balanced in the hand and in perfect condition as you would expect. I handled more than a dozen pigeons that had flown Palamos, Barcelona and Tarbes on three or more occasions winning many prizes along the way. The pick of the bunch for me was a 14 year old chequer cock bequeathed to Ken in Peter Titmuss’s will. This cracker had flown Barcelona at more than 700 miles on a number of occasions for Peter and was still 100% fertile, clearly indicating the excellent constitution and vitality that these birds possess.
Also handled during the visit was Ken’s 2008 winner of 1st Open BBC Palamos when only two birds were clocked on the winning day. Ken clocked this blue cock at 20.59 on the second evening, following an early morning liberation on the previous day. Once again he handled well above medium sized with excellent feather quality and a nice bold head. Ken also clocked a second bird some time later to win 5th section 13th Open and in the BICC Barcelona race clocked his single entry to win 5th section 29th Open. Unfortunately many of Ken’s birds were stolen in the winter of 2009 and yet he still managed to clock a couple of good ‘uns in the 2010 Barcelona race! You can’t keep a good man down.
Charville Dan - 1st BBC Palamos
There you have it – the racing, breeding methods and pigeons of three of the top exponents of long distance pigeon racing, plying their trade in the British Isles at the present time. Wilf Reed feeds beans as part of his pigeons’ diet in the build up to their long distance races. He prefers not to race his youngsters in the year of their birth and they are allowed to grow on naturally with no darkening but plenty of single up training. Both Dennis Ford, who also feeds beans, and Ken Hine prefer to race their youngsters – some to the bitter end, with Dennis in particular racing his youngsters through to 250 miles on the darkness system. Yet all three continue to excel in long distance National racing.
Charville Jane - a winner from Palamos
The next article in this series will feature Mark Gilbert, Brian Sheppard and the multi National winning Welsh partnership of Preece Brothers & Sons.