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The Continuing Success Story of The Southwoods of Balenclydach, Rhondda





The continuing success story of the Southwoods of Balenclydach, Rhondda.

by Gareth Watkins

Anthony Southwood and father Tony

I have known Tony Southwood, the subject of this report, for more than 40 years and in all that time he has consistently produced performances of the highest order whether they be on the north road through to Lerwick, on the south-east route through to Kassel, or the south road through to Pau and Tarbes. These performances have been gained when competing against some of the best fanciers in the Rhondda Valley. In recent years Tony's son Anthony has joined his father in partnership and the success story has continued seamlessly with many more top class performances achieved from all distances. What is even more remarkable is the fact that some 20 years ago Tony was struck down with a virulent form of meningitis and was thought to be literally at "death's door" in intensive care for many weeks. However, thankfully Tony pulled through to continue his life-long love of the sport.

As I say, in recent years Tony's son Anthony has joined his father in partnership and it is Anthony who trains the birds and assists in many of the day-to-day aspects of the sport, including taking care of the stock birds. Nevertheless, most of the daily management of the race team is left to Tony senior as he is a fanatical cleaner, cleaning the lofts at least three times a day in summer and twice daily during the winter - including Christmas day!!!

The interior of the racing loft is regularly painted out with creosote - that's walls, floors and ceilings and often with the pigeons still in residence. The birds certainly haven't suffered as the 2014 season saw the Southwood team carry almost all before them in the strong Tonypandy H.S. winning short and long races, in all conditions including a 1st section with the Welsh SRNFC to finish the year as premier prize winners in what is now the largest club in the Rhondda Valley. At club level they were runner up old bird average winners behind the ever present Norman and Jason Bright, and also won  the young bird and Combined Averages.


The racing loft


Tony's interest began in the mid 1950s when he was 8 years old. Pigeons were obtained from local fancier Bill Ivy and these were later supplemented by further introductions from other local sources. Tony's father Tom then began to take an interest and it wasn't long before old Tom was sending off to Ireland for pigeons. However, one of the most successful introductions came via a Lancashire butcher and these were the famous Edmondson Barkers. Further introductions were made and it wasn't long before the name of Southwood was featuring regularly at the top of the Cambrian H.S. and Rhondda Valley Fed race results. As mentioned earlier, this success has continued right up to the present time.


The present day loft is the same one that Tony raced to as an 8 year old in the 1950s. Needless to say there have been numerous loft renovations over the years to keep up with the modern trends in pigeon racing. The loft measures just 20ft x 8ft and has three sections and faces down the valley to the south east. One section has 24 widowhood style nest boxes. A second section is fitted out with V perches for the young bird team and the third section is used to house the widowhood hens. A corn and basket store completes the ground floor of the structure.

Ventilation in the loft is excellent with vents in all four walls and a large vent set into the roof allowing stale air to exit above the roosting pigeons’ heads. This ceiling vent also has a large perspex section set into it so that the sunlight can enter and heat up the floor of the loft aiding circulation of the air within the loft.

The stock birds are kept at a separate address and are Anthony's pride and joy as they are fed watered and cleaned twice daily before and after Anthony's daily  work. In addition to this Anthony, during the racing season trains the young birds on an almost daily basis from a spot near the Severn Bridge 35 miles from home.

Old hens


Until the 2000 season all birds were raced on the natural system but since the turn of the Millennium the birds have been raced almost exclusively on the widowhood system, the exception being a few hens on the odd occasion but this practice might soon end as most of the recent successes have come via cocks flown on the widowhood system.

All birds are mated at the same time - that's stock, sprint and distance pigeons and this is usually in the third week of January.

A team of around 60 - 70 youngsters are reared and in 2014 the old bird race team amounted to just 19 widowhood cocks, many of which were relatively inexperienced having had just one or two races as young birds the previous year.

Once the young birds are weaned the widowhood cocks undergo a treatment for cocci, canker and worms and around three weeks before the first old bird race they are allowed their first liberty since the end of racing the previous year. Once they are flying freely they have a few short training spins from around 15 miles and then it’s off to the races with very little, if any training thereafter.

The usual routine is for the cocks to have their liberty twice daily when they are allowed to do as they please with no forcing. After each exercise period the cocks are fed to appetite individually in their nest boxes.

Young birds are exercised once per day when they can be seen ranging the valley at will for 60 - 90 minutes.

Once racing starts the youngsters either have a 35 mile toss every evening or if the weather is unsuitable they have their home exercise for one hour once a day. They are then fed in and food is available for them to eat ad lib for one hour, before any leftovers are removed. All feed for both old bird and young bird racers is marketed by Versele Laga.

In 2013 the young birds only had two or three races but this year as yearlings those same pigeons  were entered in three, four and five channel races with minimal losses, finishing the season with 13 of the original 19 widowhood cocks still in the loft.

Widowhood cocks


Over the years pigeons have been introduced from many different sources and one of the most successful was a Westcott cock gifted to the partners by club mate Pip Davies of the Fitzgerald, Davies & Hayward partnership. This cock was responsible for many winners at all distances from 60 - 600 miles. At present the team is made up of various bloodlines including Janssens, Jan Aardens and others from local sources with the emphasis on pairing winner to winner whenever possible, irrespective of strain names.

One of the "old stars" of the loft was a dark w/f Westcott cock which won 1st club 1st Fed 3rd Combine from 300 miles as a yearling following this up with 8th section WGNFC Lerwick 600 miles as  a 2 year old. A son of this cock went on to win 3rd WGNFC 5th Open Combine from Thurso.

Another top racer was chequer cock winner of 1st club 1st Fed 1st Combine Elgin 420 miles as a yearling. The partners also raced a Delbar cock to win 3rd WSENFC Ramsgate 200 miles as a yearling and repeated the performance up the following year by taking 3rd Open National Ramsgate.

One hen that remains fondly in the memories of both partners is a chequer Busschaert hen bred by local fancier Donald Chaffe. This hen won 11th WGNFC Lerwick as a two year old, was raced on the south-east route as a three year old before being switched back north the next year to win 34th Open WGNFC Lerwick returning home badly injured. The following year she was raced south-east to Dover 200 miles and then sent to Pau 600 miles south to win 38th Open WSRNFC. She was then sent to Palamos with the BBC the following season returning just out of race time in a very hard race. Her final race was from Pau and she was then retired to stock - a well earned retirement if ever there was one!! The partners firmly believe in giving pigeons a second chance and the above hen was lost both as a young bird and a yearling but obviously learned a great deal from the experience.

So to the present day and one pigeon that deserves a mention is a young chequer cock which was lost from his first race as a young bird and reported flown out just 8 miles from home. He was then rested and entered in the last race of the season, a come-back race from 80 miles, only to go missing once again for two weeks. However, just like the Busschaert hen mentioned above, he must have learned a great deal from his time away as this year as a yearling he topped the section in the National from Carentan!

Another of the 2013 crop of inexperienced young birds is a dark chequer cock that in 2014 as a yearling has won 17th Fed Salisbury 80 miles, 6th section WSRNFC Carentan 190 miles and 7th section WSRNFC Saintes 427 miles.

YB section


The following is a brief list of some of the top performances achieved over the years. I can assure the reader that there are many more of a similar high standard.

3rd & 4th Combine Carlisle.

7th & 8th Open WGNFC Carlisle & Penicuik [young birds].

3rd Open Combine Roslin Park 300 miles.

1st Open Combine Elgin 427 miles.

6th Open WGNFC & Combine New Pitsligo 427 miles.

3rd Open WGNFC Perth 330 miles.

11th Open WGNFC Lerwick.

Winner of the Dan Watkins Trophy for best Average all Scottish races with the Welsh Combine in 1983.

1st 2nd 3rd, 4th Greater Distance Club of Wales Perth YBs 330 miles.

3rd Open WGNFC ,5th Open Combine Thurso.

2 x 3rd Open WSENFC Ramsgate 200 miles with the same pigeon.

5th Open WSENFC Huy.

6th Open WSENFC Lillers.

9th & 10th Open WSENFC 8th & 9th Open Liege 400 miles.

10th Open WSENFC Brussels 355 miles.

Add to the above list literally scores of 1st prizes at club and fed level and you have a pretty impressive record over a long period of time.

Over recent years the partners have received a great deal of sound advice from their good friend David Evans of Gelligaer and the partners would like to thank David for all his help and wish him well for the future.

Another shot of the racing loft


Apart from the pre season treatments for cocci, canker and worms the partners do not routinely treat for any other illness. If the droppings look right and the race results are acceptable the birds are left well alone. However, if things are not as they would wish, droppings samples are sent off and the birds treated accordingly.

Wherever possible natural supplements are favoured and these include honey, garlic and cider vinegar with brewer’s yeast added to the feed occasionally.

I'll let Tony and Anthony have the final word here:- "There's no posh loft set up here. Nor is there any fancy complicated system aided by multiple costly supplements. Things are kept as simple as possible with a clean loft, good birds in good health kept in a happy environment. The rest is up to them!!"

That just about says it all.


Elimar - December 2014