& THE AMAZING STORY OF THE "DURHAM DAZZLER"
5th Open BICC FALAISE 3,229 birds & 1st Section 1st Open BICC ALENCON 6,590 birds
by Gareth Watkins
Mark and The Durham Dazzler
The following is a loft report on Mark Shepherd of Plympton near Plymouth in Devon and his amazing yearling racer the "Durham Dazzler". What is truly amazing about the fancier and the bird is their relative inexperience at the sport of pigeon racing. The BICC Falaise race was only the third race of his life for the "Durham Dazzler" as he was unraced as a young bird in 2013. It was also the first time that Mark Shepherd had entered birds in a National race as he had only started in the sport a mere four years earlier. Two weeks after his success in the Falaise race the "Durham Dazzler" was entered in the BICC Alencon race as an "all pooler" and finished at 1st section 1st Open against a record field of entries for the BICC. The following is the amazing story of Mark Shepherd's background in the sport and the history behind the breeding of one of the modern day superstars of pigeon racing.
Mark's father was a very good pigeon fancier during his 30 or so years in the sport until his retirement in 2004. He was also a very good greyhound trainer, a profession that Mark decided to take up before his interest in pigeon racing fully developed. Mark did however spend a lot of time as a child in and around his father's loft so the bug was always there but lying dormant "on the back burner" while his interest in his then "first love" - greyhounds - was effectively on the "front burner" so to speak.
As a result Mark qualified as a professional greyhound trainer and was based at Reading Stadium. However, when the stadium closed in 2008, Mark decided to try his hand at his "second love" - pigeon racing - and acquired four birds purely as a hobby or so he thought at the time!
The first loft was a modest 6ft x 4ft garden shed form B & Q, but in the intervening four years the loft set up has developed, but only slightly.
The massive tree that overhangs the loft front making entry to the lofts difficult and often hazardous.
Mark's father was to prove to be his earliest influence in the sport followed by his father’s friend, Jimmy Doran from Egremont in Cumbria, who would prove to be the fancier who influenced him more than anyone. As Mark said, "I guess with Jimmy I listened more (because dads and lads always have an argument or two). Even to this day, I speak to Jimmy on a daily basis and we discuss everything and anything regarding the pigeons".
Over the last 18 months Mark has also built up an excellent relationship with John Rekers from Amersfoort in Holland. Mark spent 9 months out in Amersfoort due to his work profession and this Continental experience has proven instrumental in improving his abilities as a fancier. Mark acknowledges the fact that without John's help and advice he wouldn't have gained the success he has in such a short time. Put simply, John Rekers has played a massive part in Mark's National success.
Below is a photo of John Rekers, holding Kleine Dirk, with Gerard Koopman to the right.
The 2014 season is only Mark's second season racing to his present location. Although he has kept pigeons and been an RPRA member for 4 years, he has only been an active pigeon fancier racing pigeons for 2 years. In his first race he topped the Fed. In his first season he topped the Fed 3 times. In his first National attempt BICC Falaise, he finished 5th Open from 3,229 birds. In his second National attempt he hit the “Jackpot” with 1st Open from 6,590 birds and an all pooler into the bargain. Not a bad record I'm sure you'll agree.
I'll let Mark relate the following story which should be interesting for fanciers who are racing to a small back garden set up on limited resources:-
"The lofts are not National winning lofts!!! 2 years ago I bought an £8000 "all singing, all dancing" loft for the garden. It was to be erected across the bottom of the garden, but I have major problems with 2 trees. Every time I got quotes from Tree Fellers to cut them down, I was convinced they were trying to extract the urine, so to speak - so the trees are still there!! They’re a nightmare for youngsters to negotiate when entering the lofts but old birds get used to them.
I guess a moral to the story is if you have the right tools and strategy, then it’s not the loft which races. Hopefully my story can inspire all small team fanciers to believe that National wins are possible, even from a shed!! That said a move for 2015 is imminent!!"
At present there are 2 lofts both facing west. A 16ft x 8ft loft split into 2 sections which houses 12 widowhood cocks and 12 widowhood hens. The second loft is a 20ft x 8ft loft, again split into 2 sections for young birds which houses 40 youngsters and a stock section which houses 12 pairs of stock birds. Mark also has another stock loft at a friend's home which houses 20 pairs.
The young birds are weaned on deep litter as Mark believes this is vital to help promote a strong immune system in the babies as soon as possible.
They remain on deep litter until 2 weeks before the first race, when the litter is removed and they are then cleaned twice daily. The stock birds and racers are cleaned daily. At the present time Mark has a total of around 130 pigeons, made up of 32 pairs of stock pigeons [soon to be reduced], 12 pairs of racers and 40/50 youngsters.
During the close season Mark decided he was going to fly the birds on roundabout in 2014. He had discussed this in depth with John Rekers, who advised him that if you he could get the cocks right, he needn’t bother to race the hens!! John advised Mark to keep the hens for later National races, with the young birds. The result was that the hens couldn’t touch the cocks, and Mark soon decided to stop the hens and carry on racing with the cocks only. It is Mark's intention that the youngsters will also be raced on a separated system, splitting the cocks and hens all week and letting them run together on Fridays.
This season, all pigeons were paired in November and the race birds allowed to rear one round only. At the moment, although distance pigeons have been introduced into the loft, they are not at a sufficient age or experience to go to any long races as such. Mark describes these long distance pigeons as “a work in progress”. Therefore all birds are paired together at the same time. Mark believes in working the birds hard - youngsters even more than old birds. The old birds had 12 16 tosses before the first race and at least 4 of them were from the first race point. The birds are not flagged when out at exercise but are left to train as they wish. If Mark isn't happy with their exercise around the loft, as soon as they land, they will be basketed and taken for a 16 mile training toss. Additives are also given to promote fitness within the pigeons when they are not exercising as Mark would like, but this only on very rare occasions as the birds usually exercise with gusto. He is happy if the birds have a 45 minute enthusiastic work out twice daily. Alternatively they may get a 16 mile livener. Unless as stated earlier, if he's not satisfied with their work rate around the loft they may get both!!
As mentioned earlier, old birds are trained 12 16 tosses before the first race and at least 4 of them would be from the first race point. Once racing starts they may get 2 or 3 tosses in the evenings. These training tosses are normally from around 16 20 miles for the old bird team.
Widowhood cocks are fed in their boxes. They get as much as they want i.e. 1 ounce mornings and evenings. They don't usually eat it all and after 10 minutes any remaining food is removed and the boxes are cleaned.
Fit pigeons will only eat what they need, they will never stuff themselves with feed. The feed mixtures used at the loft are as follows:-
Race birds: Wal Zoontjes, Gaby Vandenabeele, Enzymix Power & Goldcorn
Young birds: Wal Zoontjes, Jan Keen & Goldcorn
Stock birds: Breeding or Moulting
The feed changes dramatically in the build up to the National races, the aim being to "flatten" the pigeons on returning from a National race, then build them up massively over a 10 day period prior to going to the next National race.
This is how Mark describes the build up of the "Durham Dazzler" following his success at BICC Falaise.
"After Falaise, my initial thoughts for “Durham Dazzler” were BICC Tours National. However, he was very quickly showing he was back to form so I started to rebuild him for the Alencon National. Looking at the forecast I thought he had every chance and I decided to send him."
Mark with Colin Priestman discussing the merits of the dam of Durham Dazzler
In 2013 Mark had 2 teams of young birds. The first team raced the programme but the second team were just trained to the first race point. He has a very strict regime that with the young bird team. Once they are flocking, the only time they ever see the outside of the loft again is when they are in the basket - so it’s in the air or in the loft. The babies are trained twice daily, even training on a Friday morning before basketing for the race. It becomes regimental to the pigeon: Basket, Sprint, Home, In, Feed. They know no other way. This obviously works for Mark although he accepts it is very time consuming and expensive on diesel. However, it certainly seems to bring success. In summary, the number of training tosses the babies undergo before the first race is around - 80!!!! Including at least 8 times from the location of the first race. I should point out that none of this intensive work with the pigeons would be possible without the daily help and support of Mark's partner Sam. So take a bow Sam your help is greatly appreciated by Mark.
In 2013 the youngsters were raced on the darkness system and Mark was not at all pleased and vowed it would be his last year on the system despite the fact that the youngsters raced well. However, he wasn't happy with the fast moult and holding nest flights until well into the autumn with the result that some don't get through the moult. This season the youngsters are on the Mark Shepherd lightness system which Mark has developed himself. At the moment, in mid May, the youngsters have 3 flights to go and will be very close to being fully through the moult prior to racing in July. Time will tell if he's got it right.
Stock birds are just fed in a hopper, with pots topped up with peas when feeding youngsters.
Young birds are fed in a hopper, until 6 youngsters go to the drinker. Then what’s left over is taken away. Again they learn and understand who is boss and don’t mess about when eating.
Sam and Mark
MEDICATION & SUPPLEMENTS
Prior to breeding, all pigeons are treated for Paratyphoid, Canker & Cocci. Once the treatments are complete Mark has droppings samples and swabs tested to confirm they are all clear.
Pigeons would then be vaccinated against Paramyxovirus prior to racing. During the race season, precautionary medications are given as and when Mark thinks they are required.
He believes the best products on the market are Schroeder Tollisan, products which he buys to last him through the race season and these include:-
Maxi 1 & Maxi 2.
Adeno Coli Mix.
All the above are produced by Schroeder Tollisan and have helped Mark achieve some truly outstanding performances.
Again not too dissimilar to the medication side of things, Schroeder Tollisan are the only supplements used, these being:-
The main bloodlines housed at the present time are a combination of stock from various sources including Wall, Lunt & Green [Janssens], Koopmans (Direct), Van Dyck (Direct), Vandenabeeles (M & D Evans), Vink (Syndicate Lofts) and plus one or two Peter Van De Merwe (Direct).
Mark has also introduced some long distance pigeons of Jan Ernest strain. These came via his good friend Frank Howard (Belgium).
In the last 12 months Mark has introduced pigeons from John Rekers, predominantly from his National winner “De Teletubbie”, but also cross breeds to Pieter Veenstra, Cor Leytens & Henri Van Venrooij.
The current team of youngsters for 2014 contains some exceptional looking pigeons and a lot of credit for this must go to Mark's friend Mark, who bred most of these youngsters.
I have included here a photo of the impressive looking "De Teletubbie", winner of 1st National Etampes in 2003 from 18,000 pigeons.
There are currently 16 grandchildren/double grandchildren of this marvellous cock at stock in Plympton. The Wall, Lunt & Green Janssens are exceptional looking pigeons. Mark likes a pigeon to feel right in the hand, balance, nice length, compact. But, as he says, he has handled many strains of pigeon which handle well and like everything in life, you’ll get good and bad within the same strain.
Eyesign is something he would like to understand better. Looking at the eye of “Durham Dazzler”, Mark is of the opinion that he has a racing eye but also that of a sprint racer and it’ll be because of that, he will not be pushed past 250 miles.
Mark likes to line breed to successful pigeons but will also outcross if he thinks the influence of other strains will be beneficial to the success of the team. Not only do these birds win for Mark Shepherd but also for his good friends Jimmy, Maureen & Mark Doran of Egremont. Mark Doran has taken over the reins of this successful partnership. A young hen bred by Mark Shepherd in his Plymouth loft and not raced as a youngster, has won for the Dorans in 2014 in only her second race:- 12th Amalgamation Appleton, 88 miles, 3475 birds. And in her third race she was 1st Amalgamation Stafford, 128 miles, 2798 birds. This yearling hen is a granddaughter of Wall, Lunt & Green’s RPRA Award winning hen “Miss Magic”. She is pictured below at 28 days old.
When asked who had helped him most in his time in the sport, Mark gave the following answer:-
"Yes, to name 4: Jimmy Doran (Cumbria), John Rekers (Holland), Colin Priestman (Durham) & Danny Rodgers (Cumbria). Both Jimmy & John have been mentioned in earlier statements, Colin is the breeder of the National winning cock “Durham Dazzler” gifted to Mark in 2013. Colin and Mark met through Elimar after consistently bidding against each other for the same pigeons. Through this they formed an excellent friendship and speak on the phone almost daily. Mark says that he will be forever grateful to Colin for breeding this wonderful pigeon. He hopes that some day he can repay the favour. Thank you Colin.
Danny is a long standing friend of Mark's, having worked together in years gone by and shared mutual interests. When Danny heard he was moving from having 2 pairs of pigeons for fun, to building a new loft and giving racing a go, he rallied round the Cumbrian fanciers and within 3 weeks a shipment of 40 youngsters landed at Mark's door (carriage paid).
THE MAKING OF A CHAMPION
Mark outlines below how The Durham Dazzler and his nest mate brother developed into two top class racers.
"I think the performances of The Durham Dazzler have surpassed my wildest dreams. Having not raced as young birds Dazzler & his nestmate went to Lyndhurst, the 2nd race of their lives and came over the top of the trees together! The nestmate trapped a lot better and finished 4th Fed, with Dazzler doing a couple of laps of honour and finishing 10th Fed. Amongst a loft of quality pigeons, these 2 cocks were beginning to stand out and they really got my attention. The following week was my first ever National race, Falaise with the BICC. I checked the forecast and when we had East winds forecast, my thoughts were ‘we’re on’. I wrote the sheet on a Monday evening and pooled the Dazzler right through and the nestmate through to £10 in the section & £10 in the open. I sat back and thought ‘Hang on, the Dazzler has a tendency to mess about, the nestmate wants the box, change them pools the other way round’. Oh dear. The decision cost me around £300!!! What an idiot. However for the Alencon National, the Dazzler was looking outstanding. His skin was as pink as could be, and he would fight me off his box. You’re going, I thought and this time you’re getting the full pools. The rest is history. I’m not yet sure what he scooped in pool money, but you’ve got to fancy it’ll be tasty!"
“Durham Dazzler” raced 4 times in his life achieving;
19/04/14 10th Fed Lyndhurst, 112 miles.
03/05/14 5th National Falaise, 201 miles, 3278 birds.
17/05/14 1st National Alencon, 230 miles, 6590 birds
In closing this report I asked Mark for his thoughts on the future of the sport and these are his comments:-"The hawk problem must be tackled and quickly!!! Devon & Cornwall Combine is almost non-existent and that is a real shame because we have some outstanding fanciers in the area. However fanciers are being punished daily with Peregrine Falcons & Sparrowhawks.
Another area which I think could be better for the sport is a “Liberations App” with all Federations, Combines etc having access to the App to aid reducing the number of clashes.
Fanciers could help with the funding of this App buy downloading it onto their personal mobile.
It could work similar to Air Traffic Control, showing number of pigeons released, direction of flight and approximate speed of birds. So they could be seen slowly moving on a map, therefore anyone within a vicinity could look to see if any birds were moving nearby?”
That then is the story of one of the modern day superstars of the pigeon racing sport. A relatively young man with a very young top class winning pigeon. Who knows what the future holds for both Mark and his Champion Durham Dazzler.
My thanks to Chris Sutton for some of the photographs that accompany this article.