Still going strong - distance no problem
WILF REED of Monmouth
1st Tours GGDC, 1st section 296th Open BICC
1st Barcelona GGDC [only bird in race time], 2nd section 13th Open BICC
1st Perpignan GGDC [only bird in race time]
by Gareth Watkins
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. But wait, there’s more – Wilf is also an Internationally renowned sheep dog trialist, having successfully represented Great Britain in International sheep dog trials on numerous occasions.
Prior to compiling this article I had never met Wilf in person but had heard a great deal about him and read of his many wins in long distance races. So it was, that on one of the few glorious July days of the summer, along with Clive Hughes of Tonypandy Photographics, I set out on the 40 mile drive to visit Wilf at his hill top retreat 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. English history books will tell you that Offa built the dyke to keep the Welsh from marauding across the border into England – the simple truth is that some farsighted Welsh prince built it in order to keep the English out of beautiful Wales! 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 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. During our visit scores of young swallows could be seen coming and going from the eaves under the loft and the skies around the farm yard were teeming with house martins.
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.
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.
Wilf's Barcelona hen
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.
In the late 1970s the partnership of Leonard & Son were 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.
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 affair bit of depth to her keel. She is the result of the first cross between the newly introduced 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. This year 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.
Many thanks Wilf and Janet for your lovely hospitality and allowing me to visit and handle so many top class long distance racers. Good luck for the future. Thanks also to Clive Hughes for the transport and some of the pigeon photographs that accompany this article.