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North Wales Visit Featuring Tony Murray and Anthony Wright

 

Gareth Watkins' North Wales Visit - November 2010

In the depths of bleak mid-winter, along with three other intrepid Welshmen, I set off to visit some of the most successful lofts in the northern part of Wales. On the eve of our proposed trip, the snow lay deep and crisp and even. So much so that my son in law and two grandchildren were forced to spend the night at our home, as the roads were too treacherous to risk the short three mile journey to their own home!

Nevertheless, I was up early on the Saturday morning seeing to the birds before setting off by train to meet my fellow travelling companions, Ray Strawbridge, Wynn Llewellyn and Jimmy Bullock, all members of the Gwent Greater Distance Club. Once on the M4 motorway the snow melted away and we had an uneventful three-hour journey along the M4, M5, M6 and M58 to our first port of call, “The Poacher’s Pocket”, a lovely little country pub on the outskirts of Chirk, just south of Wrexham. Here we met our guide for the weekend, none other than Darren Roberts of the highly successful Davenport & Roberts partnership. After a lovely meal, washed down with a couple of pints of real ale, we were primed and ready for our first loft visit – to Tony Murray, who competes as A. Murray & sons and lives in the village of Brymbo.

TONY MURRAY of Brymbo

Tony is from Northern Ireland originally and hails from the town of Killyleagh, made famous by such outstanding pigeon fanciers as Billy Parkes and Arthur Walkingshaw. In fact the late Billy was a near neighbour of Tony’s and as Tony said, he was a true gentleman and a genius with pigeons. Before moving to North Wales, Tony lived for some time in the Llanelli area of west Wales and made many friends there. However, since moving to his present address, he has developed a truly outstanding family of multi-purpose racers that win from 60 to 560 miles in all winds and weathers and at velocities ranging between 500 and 1900 yards per minute. These are based on just three direct imports: one hen from the lofts of Heynen & Son of Gronsveld in the Netherlands with the addition of a further two pigeons from the loft of Marc Verschelde of Zulte in Belgium. John Wheatcroft of Pinxton in Nottinghamshire was a great help in sourcing these birds and I know that Tony greatly appreciates John’s help.

Tony Murray

The “mother of the loft” is a lovely petite chequer hen ringed in 1998 which has left a loft full of winners when mated to the Verschelde cocks. Every pigeon in the loft, with the exception of one recent import, is bred down from this hen through her sons and daughters. During our visit we handled bird after bird and all showed the same characteristics, being small to medium sized with superb feather quality and truly outstanding eyesign. This latter fact was not surprising as Tony admitted that he is an eyesign fanatic and from what we saw on our visit, he certainly knows what he’s looking for in the eyes of his pigeons. We handled winner after winner, not just in club racing but also at Federation and National level, including five pigeons that had been timed in channel races to be the only birds on the day. One chequer cock who looked and handled like a dream had 3 x 1sts Section in the Welsh SENFC to his credit and since being retired to stock has bred winner after winner, as have his children. Incidentally, this cock’s section wins were from Maidstone, Liege and Bonn, oh and he also won Bird of the Year in 2004 and 2005.

Yet another top class racer was the blue cock, a winner at club level of 6 x 1sts and 1st Michael Johnston Memorial 2 Bird as well as no less than FIFTEEN National prizes at section level plus 5th & 15th Open National. He was then put in the stock loft to breed winners including 5th and 6th Open National prize winners.

Tony Murray's loft

A three year old chequer cock was another multiple National prize winner with TEN section prizes at National level, including 1st section, only bird on the day, from Bonn.

A four year old late bred chequer cock came to hand next and this one also had TEN section turns with the Welsh South East National to his credit, returning from the 540 mile plus Saverne race  in 2010 badly hawked, and yet he still won 5th section National.

I could go on and on detailing the many winning pigeons housed in this loft but I think the aforementioned adequately describes the outstanding quality of this very close knit and inbred family of “gutsy” racers.

Readers will have noticed that all of the positions outlined above have been achieved with cocks. Many will therefore conclude that the birds are raced on the widowhood system – and they would be wrong. Tony races his birds on the Billy Parkes system. Hens are only raced as young birds, after which time they remain at home and the cocks undertake the race workload. The twenty race cocks plus seven pairs of stock birds are mated at the same time, 14th February, and are allowed to rear a team of no more than 20 – 30 youngsters. The race team are given a few short training spins before the first race and are then raced weekly throughout the programme both inland and overseas. At various stages during the season, some hens are removed and the cocks raced celibate/ widowhood before being re introduced to their mates later in the programme. This ensures that Tony always has some birds fresh and motivated for the races as they are in different nest conditions. The old birds are allowed an open loft to come and go as they please from dawn to dusk with no forced exercise. Forcing the birds to fly would, in any event, prove impossible as the loft is literally “shoe horned” into Tony’s small back yard and is within touching distance of the house. Versele Laga Gerry Plus is fed at each evening meal whilst the birds are racing inland and this is switched to a high fat mix in the run up to the longer channel races. The racers morning feed comprises a seed mix that Tony makes up to his own specifications. Young birds are raced only sparingly but Tony does like them to have plenty of training tosses to educate them in the year of their birth.

Cocks' section of Tony's loft

The loft is a double storey affair, squeezed into the yard at the rear of Tony’s home. The ground floor houses the seven pairs of stock birds plus corn store whilst upstairs there are three sections, one housing the racers, a second housing the young birds and a third for the hens during their temporary separation from their racing mates. Each section is cleaned every time that Tony enters the loft so as you can imagine the loft is spotless.

In recent years Tony Murray has won 9 x 1st sect,10 x 2nd section and 11 x 3rd section at National level plus 3rd, 2 x 4th, 2 x 5th, 2 x 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 3 x 10th, 11th, 12th, 3 x 14th, 15th, 17th & 19th Open National with many more pigeons recording National prizes. All the above prizes racing to a relatively small back-garden loft, but one where quality not quantity counts.

Tony does not sell pigeons but is a generous donor to many charity auctions and the birds that have left these lofts as gifts have proved exceptional for their new owners. It was a pleasure to visit Tony and handle his outstanding team of pigeons and I speak for all when I write this.

That was the only loft visit on the Saturday as the rest of the day was spent at Wrexham Rugby Club, where we watched the Welsh rugby team press the self destruct button yet again in a very good match with New Zealand. Never mind, the Guinness helped ease the pain to some extent!

After breakfast on the Sunday morning, we were off to visit the Birkenhead lofts of the ultra-successful partnership of Jones & Thomas. This was an outstanding set up with many multiple 1st prize winners handled. More on this loft in a later article when I have all the details promised.

The loft of Jones & Thomas

From the outskirts of Liverpool we made our way back across the border into “God’s Country” to visit another highly successful fancier, Anthony Wright of Rhosllanerchrugog. Try saying that after a few pints!

ANTHONY WRIGHT of Rhosllanerchrugog

It was a bitterly cold morning when we arrived at Anthony’s home and the man himself had not long finished the night shift as a local taxi driver. Nevertheless, we were soon amongst the pigeons, which were housed in two immaculate lofts at the rear of Anthony’s home.

Anthony holding one of his Fed topping widowers

The widowhood hens and stock birds share a brick built loft situated opposite the main racing loft. This loft is divided into two sections, one for the stock birds and the other for the hens with an aviary attached to both sections. During the season folding shutters cover the front of the hens’ aviary so that they cannot be seen by the widowers when they are out at exercise. At all other times the hens are exposed to the elements and perch on a sloping frame work made up from 2” x 2” timber with a grid floor so cleaning is kept to a minimum.

The stock loft houses just nine pairs and once again was absolutely immaculate. A translucent fibreglass roof made the interior light and airy with no smell of pigeons. At the time of our visit the stock cocks were being prepared for mating in the first week of January and were in excellent condition. Most were blues, or blue w/f’s and bred by or from birds obtained from Mark Caudwell of Doncaster out of hisoutstandingly successful family of Staf Van Reets. Anthony pointed out that every bird he had purchased from Mark had bred winners. This didn’t surprise me at all as they were, without exception, terrific specimens. I handled sons of all Mark Caudwell’s top pigeons including children of Apache, Mr President and Champion 44. They proved to be above medium sized and wedge shaped, broad across the shoulder tapering down to a one feather width tail.

Anthony Wright's racing loft

The race team were housed in a separate loft at the bottom of the garden. This was built by Anthony himself and consisted of three sections, one for the young bird team of 40 and the other two for the team of 28 widowhood cocks raced. A three-feet wide corridor ran the length of the sections, allowing access to each. The widowers’ boxes were much deeper than the norm and because of the close proximity of the front corridor were kept within arm's length and, as a result, were very tame. Ventilation was also excellent as an inner sliding mesh door had been fitted to the inside of the outer doors, allowing an abundant supply of fresh air to enter the loft during daylight hours. There was also a mesh covered vent at the top of the back wall as well as vents under the perches in the young bird section.

We handled a number of the loft’s top performers while we were there and, like the stock birds, these were of the highest quality. Blues and blue w/f’s, they handled similarly to the stock cocks having plenty of width up front, tapering back to a one feather width tail. Pigeons like The 403, a winner of 2 x1st, 2 x 2nd, plus a 5th, 10th, & 11th Fed with up to 2,845 birds competing came to hand easily with rich silky feathering. The Outsider was another top class widower with a 1st, 2 x 3rds, 6th & 9th Fed to his credit against as many as 2,653 birds. Yet another Fed winner handled was “The Tramp”.

I should also point out that in 2008 Anthony became very disillusioned with the sport and was on the point of packing it all in - luckily his wife persuaded him to carry on. As a result, the present team can trace their origins to that moment in 2008.

The 2010 season saw Anthony win 14 x 1sts; 6 x 2nds; 5x 3rds; 6 x 4ths and 5 x 5ths at club level plus 3 x 1sts, 2 x 2nds, 5 x 3rds, a 4th, 3 x 5ths and 2 x 6ths at Fed level, so the rebuilding process is well underway.

Anthony's stock/widowhood hens' loft

When racing, the widowers are fed individually in their boxes. Depurative is fed on race return and again on Sunday moving on to a 50 / 50 mix of depurative and sport mix from Monday until Wednesday where after they get 100% sport mix for the remainder of the week. The widowers are never without food as Anthony tries to gauge the amount fed so that there is only a little left from the previous feed at each meal time. Natural Concorde and depurative is fed exclusively and this is obtained from Cliff Davenport.

The cocks are exercised for one hour am and for 45 minutes at night and are always locked out of the loft but are not forced to fly. Hens are rarely shown to the widowers before the race. Anthony simply turns the nest pans over and allows the widowers to get into them and then it’s straight off to the club for race marking. On their return the hens are always waiting and are left with the cocks until tea time or even later if Anthony sees fit.

There you have it then, a top sprint fancier who races his excellent team of Van Reets to win out of turn in the inland programme, but who has also tasted a certain amount of success across the water.

Our thanks go to Tony Murray, Anthony Wright and Robbie Thomas, not forgetting the Globetrotter - Darren Roberts, for allowing us to visit and handle your excellent teams of pigeons.