FROM TEARS OF DESPAIR TO TEARS OF JOY
by Gareth Watkins
Readers may be wondering about the title of this loft report but I'm sure things will become clearer when I explain its origins. In the very first race of the 2013 BICC race programme from Falaise, Alex McKenzie clocked what he thought was the winning pigeon and was naturally elated. However, it transpired that Alex's pigeon had been beaten by another pigeon racing to the loft of Mahoney Brothers of Basildon. So Alex's initial elation turned, in a very short time, to one of almost abject disappointment.
Picture the scene then when, in the final middle distance BICC National race from Le Mans, Alex thought that he had been literally "pipped at the post" yet again. This time by his very good friend David Coward Talbott's pigeon, which for some time appeared to be a very short beak ahead of Alex's timer. However, the tables were turned on this occasion as when the clocks/ETS times were checked and variations taken into account the McKenzie pigeon had come out on top by a decimal point on the calculated velocity!!
Alex McKenzie - 1st Open BICC Le Mans 2013. Photo by Chris Sutton.
The following is an interview I carried out with Alex following his BICC win.
How long have you been involved in the sport?
I first started in the sport when my father came home from the war. He was a fancier as was my grandfather. This was about 1946. I would have been about 11/12 years of age.
Who was your first major influence?
My first influence in the sport of pigeon racing was my father.
Can you describe your first loft?
Our first loft was self built about 20ft long & 6ft wide with 3 sections, a small section for open door trapping, the other 2 sections for the young & old birds. Some of our first birds came from local fanciers and also some N.P.S. National Pigeon Service birds. These came from a fancier from Colchester by the name of Joe Martin, a good fancier in his own right. In those days our pigeons were flown natural also fed on farm food, wheat, beans etc. Some mixtures were bought from B.O.Y. Brinkler, Osbourne & Young. That was the best corn in those days. Some of the best birds we had at the time were Dr Buckleys obtained from local fancier Jack Blair. These won well for us.
How long have you been racing to your present loft?
I moved to my present address in the seventies, so must be 40 years plus. My loft set up at the moment is widowhood cocks:. 20 ft long, 2 sections, 16 boxes in each side for 32 cocks, open door trapping, 9 ft wide with corridor. Polycarbonate front, facing south. Pitch tiled roof for ventilation. Young bird loft: 32ft long 6ft wide with 5 sections, 2 sections for trapping open door, 2 x 8ft sections, 1 x 6ft section polycarbonate front, tiled pitched roof for ventilation. A third loft is 30ft long with a pitched roof, glass front, open doors and is used for hen racing. 1st section has nest boxes, 16 for racing widowhood hens. 2 more sections for housing cocks for racing hens. Last section houses the 32 hens for the widowhood cocks. I also have a stock loft and aviary for 15 pairs of stock birds. We do not use deep litter, but we have grills under the perches to keep the floor dry, and clean out as regularly as possible most days.
How many pigeons do you usually house?
The amount of birds that we keep at this moment is 32 widowhood cocks, plus their hens, racing hens 16 plus their cocks. 15 pairs of stock. Plus our race team of youngsters, about 40 to 50.
What system do you employ - natural/widowhood/roundabout?
Racing system for old birds, hens & cocks is widowhood, nothing else. Young birds are on the sliding door system. Pairing up time most years is when we return from Blackpool. That means the end of January beginning of February. All birds are mated at the same time so we can switch eggs etc if we want to. We don't fly the extreme distance races, as this seems to suit our system.
As all our birds are on widowhood racing they all rear one round of youngsters. When they lay the second round they sit for about 10 days. Eggs are then removed and the birds are parted. A week or so after that we would start training, weather permitting. We have found that once the birds are parted, after a few days they begin to fly without any forcing.
The birds are exercised morning and evening, 6.30am for 1 hour and the same about 5pm each day. Plus a few tosses before the start of racing out to no further than 50 miles. The birds are trained before racing starts, 20, 30, 50 miles about a dozen times. Once racing has started they are only trained once in a while if we think it is needed.
Is there any special preparation of your National race candidates?
The birds that are going to the National races, we like to have several normal races, and have a rest the week before. Having had a few races you get to see what type of form they are in.
How do you prepare your young birds for racing?
Young birds train if the weather permits. They start at about 10 miles out to about 50 miles. In total about 20 to 25 tosses, providing they are flying freely around the home loft. All the youngsters go on the darkness system where possible. This has been like this for many years now.
How do you feed your birds - hopper or by hand?
Stock birds when feeding babies are fed by hand 3 to 4 times a day. Racers are fed morning & evening, approx. one and a half ounces per bird per day. Young birds also fed morning & evening the same. We use Versele Laga Gerry Plus and Super Widowhood.
What is the base bloodline of your present team of birds?
Albert Babington Kellens x Janssen Van den Bosche are what we refer to as our old family that we have had since 1982. To these we have added some Stuart Elvin Van Loons and Busschaerts in 2008 plus some B. Denham Van Loons in 2009. We line breed the old family and have crossed these with the Elvin and Denham pigeons with success.
Can you give some examples of top pigeons that you have raced?
"Wags Boy" a blue chequer cock. He won 1st Open NFC Herstal 233 miles 6,223 birds vel 1224 ypm in 2001. He won the race by 40 ypm in front of second bird.
"The White Flight". 14 times in the first twenty of Essex Central North Road Fed including 1st Fed Wetherby.
"The Tours Cock". 2004 1st section, 49th open BICC Falaise Nat 197 miles 1,870 birds. 2004 1st section 1st open BICC Tours 300 miles 2,330 birds.
"The BICC Cock". 3rd BICC Bruges 122 miles 1,548 birds 2001. 9th BICC Beersel 178 miles 2,247 birds 2001.
All of the above birds contain the bloodlines of Albert Babington’s Kellens x Van Den Bosche.
Blue cock called "Cav", after cyclist Mark Cavendish. He won as a yearling and a 2 year old. Injured himself as a 3 year old, not raced across the channel. This season, 2013, 4 races across the channel and scored in all of them. 85th section 434th Open Messac N.F.C. 5,796 birds. 8th section, 8th open Tours BICC 2,538 birds. 29th section 183rd open N.F.C. Messac 5,764 birds. 2nd section 5th open BICC Le Mans 2,253 birds.
Blue Cheq Pied Cock GB10N41702 [old ring, bred 2011]. 34th section, 61st open BICC Le Mans. 2nd section, 2nd open Falaise 4,198 birds. 90th section, 237th BBC Le Mans Messac 1,305 birds. 6th section, 6th open BICC Le Mans 2,182 birds.
Blue Cock GB12N59934. 2 races across the channel this year. 13th section, 24th open BBC Le Mans Messac 1,305 birds. 1st section, 1st open BICC Le Mans 2,182 birds.
How do you see the future of the sport?
It would be nice if all the small feds got together and raced as one. In our area we only race to the coast, which would make cheaper racing as most of us fly in the big organisations on the south road.
Do you have a specific programme of medication?
Yes, through our friend Dave Coward-Talbott, who we have known for 50 years. He is involved with Belgica De Weerd at Colchester. We have taken our pigeons for the last 2 years to be tested, and if they need medication, we use their products. This year we took them to be tested after Blackpool and had the droppings tested half way through the season. We also use Orego Stim and Matrix as our preferred supplements.
Elimar - November 2013