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Jones and Thomas of Bebbington

 

JONES & THOMAS

of Bebbington, Wirral

Taking the North West Combine by Storm

by Gareth Watkins & John Waters

On a recent visit to North Wales, along with a group of Gwent Greater Distance Club members, I visited the Wirral lofts of one of the most successful partnerships in the North West of England – that of Carl Jones and Robbie Thomas of Bebbington. The partnership was formed in 1977 following Robbie Thomas’ three year apprenticeship helping Carl around the lofts, during which time Robbie learned the basics of good stock management. However, following a number of loft moves, the partnership finally settled at the present location in the garden at the rear of Robbie’s semi-detached home, in 1991.

Robbie & Carl

Since that time the partnership has won literally hundreds of first prizes at club, Federation, Amalgamation and Combine level. The partners have been crowned North Wirral Federation Champions in ten of the last eleven seasons and to attain this honour a fancier must accrue the most points in races between 90 and 500 miles throughout the season. In the more than 100 year history of the North West Combine no loft has ever topped the NW Combine three times in one season – with the exception of Carl and Robbie.

The partners also have the distinction of having two birds to win the Gold Medal in the NW Combine. The Gold medal is awarded to a pigeon that features three times in the first 10 Open prizes when racing with the ultra competitive NW Combine which has as many as 12,000 birds competing in some races. Indeed in the 2010 young bird season Robbie and Carl raced what must be one of, if not the best young bird to race in the whole of the UK during 2010. This pigeon, a medium sized blue cock named “All the Fours”, won 1st North West Combine; 3 x 1st North Wirral and West Lancs Amal; 3 x 1st North Wirral Fed and 4 x 1sts  Prenton H.S. plus 18th & 19th Fed in only eight young bird races. Some pigeon! “All the fours” was also selected to represent Great Britain at the Poznan Olympiad in January 2011 where he won a silver medal in the young bird class and was the highest placed British pigeon in the results.

The present day family of pigeons that has brought about this phenomenal success has been developed by the partners over nearly 30 years and has at its base pigeons of Van Loon, Lefebre Dhaenen and Delbar origin with the later addition of some Staf Van Reets. I think I would be right in stating that the mother of the loft was a blue Van Loon hen which was bought at a Federation fund raising sale in 1984 for the princely sum of £10 . The hen was a late bred donated by Jimmy Whitehead from the North East of England. The partners obviously saw something special in her as she was immediately placed in the stock loft where she literally churned out winners and breeders of winners in every nest. One grand daughter, known as the “97 Hen”, won 1sts at 92, 160, 320 and 502 miles, topping the North West Combine when only three birds were timed on the day. Another son of the Van Loon hen, the “888”, was a prolific racer winning 1sts at club, Fed and Combine level including 1st Combine Vains against a field of 6,000 pigeons. Yet another son, “The Policeman”, won no less than 14 positions in the first 100 with the North West Combine competing against up to 12,000 birds. He was also to prove a gold mine at stock. I could go on and on listing the many other outstanding pigeons bred and raced by Robbie and Carl but the aforementioned more than adequately represent the terrific class of pigeons housed at Tudorville Lofts.

The birds are mainly blues and blue pieds with the occasional chequer and white flight. Most handled medium sized with some of the cock birds a little larger. All were finely balanced with excellent feathering. Very few introductions have been made over the past 30 years and so the family has become fairly inbred with one of their favourite matings being mother to son and sire to daughter. This fairly incestuous breeding programme certainly hasn’t done them any harm.

The present loft is an impressive 26ft x 12ft structure, the internal design of which is well thought out and innovative. It reminded me a great deal of the old racing loft of the great John Price of Newport and I cannot give it more praise than that! There are two sections for the 32 racing cocks and two sections for the racing hens. The youngsters also have two sections plus two further small sections for later bred youngsters and the 6 pairs of stock birds, which are mainly retired racers. The loft faces north east and as a result receives very little direct sunlight, and to counteract this, Perspex skylights have been incorporated into the southerly facing back section of the pan-tiled roof, thus allowing early morning sunlight to enter the loft. The cocks are housed in roomy widowhood boxes that have grid floors, whilst the hens perch in large boxes which are also fitted with grids and also have removable fronts which allows Robbie the luxury of “boxing up” one, some or all the hens should the need arise during the racing season.

The loft floors are cleaned daily and floor white is used on each occasion so that the internal loft environment is bright and pleasant smelling with no pigeon odour, proving that the ventilation is first class.

The 32 pairs of racers are mated in late January with the 6 pairs of stock birds mated in early December if the weather conditions are suitable. A team of 60 young birds is bred from the best of these.

Young Bird section

Above and below, the old cocks' section

Once the young birds are away from them, the racers are separated and their daily exercise regime begins in earnest. I should point out that the birds are regularly allowed their liberty on good days throughout the winter months so they are already pretty near the mark when exercise begins in earnest after their winter’s break. When Robbie is satisfied that the birds are ready they are given between 4 and 6 training spins and are allowed to stay together until Robbie returns where upon they are again separated. The partners rarely train beyond 40 miles.

The food at this time is a 50/50 mixture of sport and depurative. The racers are also subjected to a treatment for respiratory disease as well as cocci and canker at this time. They are also treated regularly for canker throughout the remainder of the season.

Both cocks and hens are exercised for one hour twice daily and Robbie resorts to the flag if needs be – that or a brisk pipe opener from 30 miles. Once the channel races arrive the racers are allowed one hour's exercise with the doors closed followed by a further hour of freedom with the doors open.

The racers are fed on various mixtures including depurative, sport and high fat mixes depending on their workload. Cocks are fed individually in their boxes with one ounce of corn after morning exercise followed by a further two ounces of feed in the evening. Hens are fed the same mixes in a hopper and Robbie has found that the birds rarely eat all the food that is provided for them. If they do then he is a worried man! As the channel races approach more maize is fed.

Youngsters are reared on a breeding mixture and once weaned receive just maple peas until they are getting up to the perches, at which time they are switched to a 50/50 mixture of breeding mix and young bird high protein mix. Grit and minerals are fed to the birds by hand twice weekly and are not allowed to remain in the loft to attract dust. The only other supplements given are cod liver oil, honey, electrolytes and multivitamins.

There you have it then, a report on one of the most successful lofts in the North West of England. The excellent pigeon portraits that accompany this article, kindly supplied by John Waters, clearly demonstrate the superb quality of pigeon bred and raced by this highly successful partnership.