On the Banks of the Lee
Questions and Answers with
Michael John O' Sullivan.
Before we get down to the business end of things I would like to introduce to the fancy a gentleman that in reality needs very little introduction. This individual is Michael John O'Sullivan. Michael John O' Sullivan was born in 1978 on the Northside of Cork city in a place called Knocknaheeny.
Michael John is one of four children born to parents Margaret and Michael. Michael John's Interest in pigeons was to come about by way of family and to look at his own pedigree you would have to say that Michael John himself, is truly bred in the purple. From a young age Michael John's enthusiasm was very apparent and he was to be heavily influenced with both sides of the family being involved in pigeons. On one side of the family tree we have the very well known Wall family who are outstanding fanciers in their own right. The Wall family have managed to produce many great performances with their pigeons over the years both on the land and over the water and are still today as competitive as ever. On the other side we have the O'Sullivan's. Teddy O'Sullivan being an uncle was to have a huge influence on Michael John. Teddy and Michael John's father being brothers were very closely knit and were nearly always together whether it involved the bird’s, dogs or fishing, the countryside was very much apart of their everyday life. In 2006, Michael John and his wife Sharon would leave the urban lifestyle behind them and head for open country to a place called Kilbrittan just outside Kanturk in County Cork. This is where they happily reside today with their two daughters Holly and Lucy.
Lucy and Holly keeping their father company on race day from Perth.
Racing is carried out with the famous St. Marys club in Limerick but previous to that and for the first 11 years of life in Kanturk racing was done via the great Mallow club.
Questions and answers.
Q. How long are you involved in the sport Michael?
A. I have had a pigeon loft on my own since 1999 and I also kept small birds and natives since as far back as 1986.
Q. What kind of loft set up do you currently have, type, size, etc?
A. My lofts consist of a 12ft x 8ft stock loft with a small aviary attached and most of my stock birds fly out. I also house a 28ft x 8ft race loft with 3 sections for old and young. I keep on average around 10 pairs of stock and I adhere to a strict regime whereby 3 years is the limit for my stock and they must produce something promising in that time. Everything is raced naturally and around 45/50 young birds are bred and they are then trained up to 80 miles and given one race out of Monaghan and left there until the yearling stage. The old bird race team are also raced using the natural cycle and to prepare for the Perth channel race I like to develop their form for this so I like to count back 14 & half weeks from the Perth race and then mate the birds to suit. I believe that on the third nest my birds hit peak form. The old birds are given up to six 80 mile tosses and are then started in the programme from Monaghan.
The fabulous lofts of Michael John O' Sullivan
Q. What type of feeding do you use for your birds?
A. I use Beatties Champion supreme mixture. I am also a big believer in hemp and peanuts as I believe it helps bring them into form. I also like to use garlic, honey, cider vinegar along with vitamins, minerals and added oils.
Q. Do you use an electronic timing system clock (ets) or a manual clock?
A. I have used ets for the first time this year using a benzing timing system.
Q. How many young birds do you allow your stock birds to rear?
A. I allow them to rear 3 young birds, a pair first and then one single youngster.
Q. When do you normally pair up your birds?
A. I normally don't pair up until around the third week in February. I like to leave it later as it gives me more time to spend with my family.
Q. Do you clean out or use deep litter?
A. Lofts are scraped out everyday but in the winter I like to use the Comfi bed shavings.
Q. What way do you feed your birds as in light or heavy?
A. On average if I was feeding 20 birds I like to see 5 birds leave the hopper and once I see that the feeding is removed.
Q. Exercise routine - do you fly your birds on a certain time slot or allow open hole?
A. My young birds are flown out at 6am and are called in at 8.30am. I feed my youngsters at around 12 noon as I dislike feeding them too late in the day as I believe it can upset their digestive system. When my old birds are racing I allow them an open hole.
Q. Young birds - Darkness or natural ?
A. I went back to the natural cycle 3 years ago after being on the darkness for 20 years, reason being because I am no longer racing young birds regularly. In saying that if I wanted to compete with my young birds then I would go back to the darkness system.
Q. What is your personal preference/type of pigeon?
A. I like a small/medium round bodied pigeon, I like to see a single tail, a well balanced back and in general they must be bright.
Q. Do you have trouble with the dreaded birds of prey?
A. Massively because I am isolated out here and there are only two lofts within ten miles of me. I have seen on occasion up to 5 peregrines come visit me, 2 parents and 3 young, not a nice sight. Unfortunately it's now part of the sport and we have to adapt. I recall Jim Willis a great Mallow long distance fancier and one of the best in southern Ireland once saying to me when a falcon takes a bird 'go into the loft, rub your hands in a bit of dirt and go find your next champion'.
Q. What strain or family of pigeon do you keep?
A. Originally Denis Wall gave me my base birds and I have added a few over the years from the likes of Mike McCormack, Jim Purcell and Jim Willis. I always believe that gift birds are the best birds as they are given from the heart.
Q. Sprint or Distance?
A. Distance, all day long, that's where the thrill is for me. I fly a thirty mile overfly on my Limerick clubmates. Perth is my target every year and to clock out of Perth again this year brings all the enjoyment for me that I need.
Q. Eye sign - what's your thoughts on it?
A. I don't get caught up on it too much but I do like to see a rich dark eye especially in the breeding loft.
On the left Michael John O' Sullivan holding his dark chequer ck taking 1st prize in the Munster fed open eyesign class and to the right we have the great Joe Freyne holding his winner in the young hen class. Interestingly Joe's young hen winner which was a gifted bird originally from Michael John is a granddaughter off Michael John's eyesign winner. Blood is blood.
Q. Do you practice line breeding, cross breeding, inbreeding or best to best?
A. I generally like to mate best to best and sometimes grandchildren to grandparents are also mated.
Q. Do you breed off your race team during the season or maybe after the season?
A. Yes I rear 3 single young birds in 3 separate nests as I believe my birds peak on the third nest. I also like to see a big youngster in the nest and the hen sitting again when the birds are going to Scotland.
Q. If your birds lost form or went off the boil as we would say, how would you respond?
A. I would weigh it up as birds can go in and out of form. I would stop racing, assess the situation and look at what I am doing because sometimes it's easy to blame everything else.
Q. How far do you train your old and young birds and how?
A. I train up to 50 miles on my own with friend and fellow fancier Leonard Harris and I would like take the opportunity to thank him very much. The birds then go with the Limerick transporter up until 80 miles six times before the racing starts in Monaghan 160 miles and Banbridge 190 miles.
Youngsters get the same treatment but are mostly trained and only get the one race from Monaghan. I don't really race week to week so out of maybe 10 races I might go to 5 on average. I like to pick my races to suit with Perth always in mind.
Q. The dreaded young bird sickness seems to have become a very common event most seasons if not every season for a lot of fanciers, nowadays. I feel it is very important in this day and age to start talking and discussing this more openly. Do you suffer from it? If so what do you to stop it or what do you do to try prevent it? What are your thoughts on it in general?
A. I am unfortunately another fancier who suffers with the young bird sickness for example this year I treated all my young birds with 4n1, I vaccinated all for pmv and treated them with salgan for Salmonella. Once a month the birds are treated for canker and yet I still got a mild bout of the sickness. I observed that it came over them very suddenly as I can recall the young birds exercising the previous day for nearly 2 hours. At first I noticed one or two hunched up with dirty droppings but when I inspected there boxes that night I saw that several had vomited up there feed so what I do and what works for me is for the next 24 hours no feed is given to them. I add cider vinegar at a rate of 15ml to a litre of water. Once back feeding they are only fed half light seed and half mixture with natural yoghurt, this pretty much seems to stop the vomiting immediately therefore the birds begin to get the benefit of being fed once again. From that point on feeding will be increased gradually towards their normal rations and during this time young birds are kept in to rest for 7 - 10 days while they fight off the virus. I like many others have learned to deal with this issue and once the birds are looking well and are going back out for exercise I put them on Paradol p which I give until the birds have used it all up. I find this is greatly beneficial and helps the youngsters avoid any secondary infections. Thankfully I tend to have no further issues but I would love to avoid it and I have tried many things but I have learned to treat it effectively with the old but simple remedies. I also believe that in pigeon racing in general the effects of over medicating and overtreating the pigeons for years has taken its toll on the natural immunity. We will just have to try deal with things the best we can.
Q. Do you blind treat or have them tested?
A. I get my birds tested by Donal Barry and if any treatment is needed it is on the result of the test. 14 days before a particular channel race my birds will get a worm tablet.
Q. Do you bath your birds often?
A. In the winter baths are given once a week and in the racing season up to 2 to 3 times weekly.
The pigeons having a well deserved bath, nice bathtub by the way!
Q. Do you exercise your birds in the off season/winter?
A. From the end of September until the end of January my birds are fully locked up with the very odd exception of a good Sunday morning that they might get out.
Q. What racing route do you prefer North or south?
A. North, but I like both and I might try and have a go at both routes in the near future. On the north road I have clocked birds from Mauchline, Hamilton and Perth and have also timed from Girvan with my young birds in 2015 where I had the pleasure of watching my 13 year old daughter Holly at the time, clock in 5 youngsters from Girvan in Scotland. What a great memory! I have also in 2016 timed in from Penzance, Sennen Cove and also from the King's cup race St. Alloustre timing on the day flying 401 miles.
Q. Advice for a novice?
A. Start small, keep the costs down and learn and understand how to care for a small team of birds. Don't be afraid to ask questions and most of all enjoy the sport and hobby.
Q. Which part of the season do you enjoy most if any?
A. I enjoy all of it all year round. I like to see how they moult, how they look and develop, how they breed and what they breed and after that the racing is the icing on the cake. For me racing from Perth is like Christmas morning as it only happens once a year. I remember a few years ago there were only 4 birds on the day of liberation and I had to go to work on the second morning so I decided to give my daughter a day off school. Amazingly at 08.55 only five minutes after the school bus left our pigeon miraculously arrived. Winners all round on this occasion!
Q. What would be your fondest memory in the sport?
A. I would have to say some of my fondest memories as a child were spending time over at my grandparents house in Fairhill in the company of my uncles Denis Wall, Anthony Wall and the late Paul Wall along with my grandparents, cousins etc. There could be 20 or even more of us together during the school holidays out the back garden with the young birds in the baskets and so on. Il always remember the excitement of it as a child.
Q. Your thoughts on the future of pigeon racing?
A. It looks a little bleak at the moment if I'm to be honest as there are very few youngsters getting involved in the sport. I'm 42 years of age and I am one of the youngest involved. Nevertheless, for what's left we must try pull together.
Q. Would you like to see anything change in the sport be it locally or nationally?
A. I would like to see all the south of Ireland birds being transported together whether it's north or south. There's safety in numbers and it would be more cost efficient. I think in some instances radius's should be looked at again and opened up especially with the decline in fanciers in recent years.
Q. Would you like to thank anyone in particular?
A. Yes I would have to thank my mother & father (Margaret and Michael) who supported me so much. They were the ones who got me started, built a shed for me, bought feeding for the birds and always encouraged me to look after the birds properly and do things right. I must also give a special mention to my wife Sharon as she is such a huge help for me. Sharon is always willing to help me out with the pigeons and to be fair she is always there for me even on occasion cleaning out the odd section. Well done Sharon!
Upon closing, I would like to thank Michael John O' Sullivan for his willingness to participate in this interview. I admire his approach and openness and I am sure a lot of fanciers will appreciate and hopefully absorb something from this article that will help them going forward. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Michael John O' Sullivan and his family the very best of happiness and good health for the future.