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Gavin & Peter O Dowd Ballybrack RPC, Dublin



Bren McGrane interviews



Gavin & Peter

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got started in the sport and when you started.

We race as G & P O Dowd, myself Peter and my son Gavin. I was introduced to pigeons at an early age by my late uncle Paddy. He built my first pigeon loft and I have been keeping pigeons ever since, about 40 years. Gavin has always been interested in them from a very young age.

What club do you race in and how many members do you have?

We race in the Ballybrack RPC in the East Coast Federation. There are 20 members in our club sending between 400 to 500 old birds and 500 to 750 young birds.

How do you race your pigeons and how many do you keep?

We normally race 16 pairs on the roundabout, plus we have 12 to 16 pairs of naturals, and about 70 young birds.

What are your lofts made from and what size are they?

We have a 16x8 loft for the roundabout birds that has a tiled roof, and a 24x5 foot loft with two sections - one for the naturals and the other for young birds. This loft has got a flat felt roof. There is also a 5x2 foot window box the full length of the loft with an aviary at the end of the loft, and we have a small brick built loft for 8 pairs of stock birds and it also has a small aviary.

Hens and roundabout loft

When do you pair up your birds?

We pair up the stock and roundabout birds at the same time at the end of January and the naturals are paired in the middle of March.

Young Bird Sickness: is it a problem for you and if so what do you use to treat and have you any advice?

Young Bird Sickness used to be a problem, but in the last few years we have only had a few hold food. At the first sign of the sickness we give no food for 36 hours, and for five days v18 Vanodine in the water. No medication is used. After the 36 hour period we feed diet mix for one week. If we have 70 young birds and after doing this two are still sick then we take them out of the team. If you are training or racing the young birds this must stop for at least two weeks. The main problem with the Young Bird Sickness is fanciers let it go too far before they act.

Gavin's son Jamie with one of his favourites

How do you feed?

The roundabout birds are fed in pots in their nest boxes. These are topped up all the time and are never left empty. The pots are taken away at 12 o’clock on a Friday. The hens are fed twice a day after exercise, in the pots in the cocks’ boxes. They are fed diet mix from Saturday evening until Tuesday night, and then a high protein mix until Friday morning. The natural pigeons are fed the same for the sprint races (when on eggs). The roundabout birds are re-paired for the channel races and all old birds are hopper fed for the rest of the season. When the young birds start to train they are fed once a day all they want (I never measure food).

Do you attach any importance to feeding grit and minerals?

Our pigeons have grit and pink and black minerals in front of them all year round. The minerals are taken into the house every evening and put out every morning to stop them from getting damp.

Do you use any preventative medication?

During the off season we give no medication at all as the birds are left to build up their own natural immune system. If a pigeon we really liked or a good stock bird got sick it would get a quarter of a Flagyl tablet for three days.

The roundabout section

Do you race your birds every week?

Old birds are raced hard. The yearlings must fly two or three channel races - some flew four channel races in four weeks last year. All our old birds must fly the channel races every year except the French races, with no exceptions. Young birds are not raced too hard and we never race the full programme.

Are there any special treatments you give your birds?

We use lots of honey and three different oils that I buy in the supermarket and a product called honeygar (honey+garlic) that we buy in the health shop. We also treat for canker every three weeks during the racing season - old birds and young birds. That is it.

How often do you exercise your pigeons?

One hour morning and one hour in the evening for the old birds. For the young birds it is one hour in the afternoon. When the young birds start to train they get no exercise around the loft just road training. All birds are locked up all winter from the end of September to the middle of December.

Do you use deep litter, floor grills or clean out daily?

We use cat litter from the supermarket in all our lofts and it keeps the floor bone dry. We clean the perches and nest boxes every other day. We used to clean them out every day but since we stooped this the birds look much healthier.

One of the lofts

How far do you usually train?

Our old birds and our young birds go straight to Wicklow or Arklow which is between 30 to 40 miles. That is when the old birds are fit and the young birds are ranging well.

What are the main bloodlines that you race?

About 90% of my old birds are down from the blue pied hen Staf Van Reet hen with Busschaerts from my friend Dermot Roe. I had to dispose of my good hen this year so I bought in some new stock birds. They are Van Loon x Koopman from Galaxy Lofts when they had an auction in Dublin. My son Gavin also got some Walter Docx and Vandenabeeles x Vandenbosche in from England.

Is there any fancier that has helped you?

You pick up bits and pieces from alot of good fanciers. I try some things and see if they work for me.

Above and below - two of the natural team

If you could use only two products what would they be?

They would be Flagyl for canker and Vanodine 18.

What were the last two products that you put in the water or on the food?

Honey and garlic and Vanodine 18.

Where do you keep your racing hens?

They are kept on v perches next to the cocks section at night and during the day they are locked out in the aviary.

Do you treat your pigeons differently for the national races?

No, we just re-pair the roundabout pigeons for the channel and the national races.

What do you find more difficult to establish, a team of sprinters or distance birds.

Distance birds by a mile (French races).

2014 young birds

Some fanciers go out and purchase top quality birds but they never win with them. Why do you think that is?

The top fanciers and top studs breed poor quality pigeons like everybody else. If you are lucky to get your hands on good pigeons you have got to be able to race them yourself as the fancier is not going to race them for you. Also some people think pigeon racing is just a summer sport but it is all year round come hail, rain or snow. You have also to learn how to keep them healthy. Only healthy pigeons win races.

What can we do to bring young and new fanciers into our sport?

I do not know. I just think pigeon racing has gone very expensive for young people.

Do you hold any official position in your club?

At the moment I am the club secretary.

Who do you consider to be the best fancier in your area or federation?

My club Ballybrack RPC in my opinion is one of the hardest to win in the East Coast Federation. We have 20 members who all race hard and all try to win. We have a national winner, a Miller Gold Cup winner and multiple federation and open winners. Our club won three open federation races last year. It would not be fair to pick anybody out. I will say we would not have a club without the hard work of Billy Matthews who also runs the Southside clocking station for the East Coast Federation opens.

The overall set up


Tell us about your best pigeons and performances.

The best pigeon we have ever owned is a blue pied Staf Van Reet hen bred in 2005. I bought her sire and dam for £25 each in 1998 at an auction for Dean Pallatt in Dublin. This pair bred winners on the land and on the channel plus 2x2nd open Penzance. She was raced as a young bird then put to stock. She was in the stock loft for eight years and bred winners with 8 different cocks including multiple fed and open prize winners from Talbenny to Penzance including 2x1st opens plus lots of winners on the land. I think the best performance was not 1st federation or 1st open, but a cheq pied cock called Home Alone. He was sent to Penzance in 2004 with the Irish South Road Federation. The race was a disaster with nine birds on the day and 27 in total. He was 7th open flying 11 and a half hours. He raced in 8 more opens and was never out of the result. I put him in the stock loft for one season and paired him to the blue pied hen and bred 4 youngsters. Then I put him back in the race team and sent him to a short land race and never saw him again (the biggest mistake I ever made). One of the youngsters went on to win 1st open Talbenny for us. Our top results are 2x1st opens Talbenny. We were 2nd open from Penzance three times and have toped the federation four times as well as being 1st fed from Skibbereen by over an hour, plus many wins and positions in the club.

Is there anything you have not won in sport that you would like to win?

We have never won from France. One day we hope to. I think you need a different type of pigeon to fly from France to Ireland.

Best of luck to all in 2014.

Bren McGrane.


Elimar - April 2014