The Art of Breeding, Conditioning & Racing Pigeons at the Extreme Distance – Part 2
by Gareth Watkins
In the second section of this series on long distance fanciers I intend to outline the methods, lofts and birds of three outstandingly successful English long distance pathfinders. These are fanciers who have developed families of related pigeons that have been “put to the acid test” of extreme distance races over a period of decades and have achieved consistent success in possibly the hardest races available to the British fancy.
JOHN WILLS of FRIMLEY
Most modern day fanciers are quite content to breed, feed and race pigeons on a short term basis, with no thought to putting down roots and building a family of winning pigeons that can stand the test of time. However, there are still a number of top class fanciers who, when selecting their initial stock, were conscious that the job in hand would be a long term project and set out with the objective to build for the future. John Wills, the subject of this article, can be classed alongside some of the great long distance fanciers of past years, as he has developed a truly outstanding FAMILY of long distance racers which has been winning top prizes in hard long distance Classic and National races for more than three decades. This long term success can in turn be traced back to pigeons that were winning long distance races at the turn of the 20th Century, and which formed the basis of the present day Wills family of pigeons.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, the origins of the present day family of pigeons can be traced back more than 100 years to birds of the A.E. Sheppard strain which were winning long distance races from Lerwick and Thurso with the mighty London North Road Combine in the early part of the 20th Century. However, I think it would be true to say that one of the foundation stones of the present day Wills team was a red chequer cock bred in 1978. This pigeon, later named “Rollercoaster”, was to prove to be not only a terrific long distance racer, but also a prepotent breeder, as nearly all of John’s subsequent long distance winners after 1978, exhibit his genes in their make up.
Now this is where John Wills was to prove to be inspired in the selection of his foundation stock, as he subsequently mated Rollercoaster to introductions from Ian Benstead, thus strengthening the Sheppard influence in his “embryonic family”.
Ian Benstead was a top class long distance racer who was also a race horse trainer. Amongst his horse racing clients was A.E.Sheppard whose family of racing pigeons had won 1st LNRC from Lerwick or Thurso on six occasions between 1930 and 1937. Ian was amongst the major purchasers at Sheppard’s entire clearance sale and these Sheppard pigeons were to prove invaluable in the continuing long distance successes of the Benstead and subsequently, the Wills lofts.
Brittania - 1st BICC Perpignan
John mated Rollercoaster with Benstead hens and also with hens bred down from his old “West London” family of pigeons which contained the bloodlines of “Butlers Hill Queen” who won 1st NFC San Sebastian; “Priory Pride” 1st LNRC Thurso 1947 and birds from Tubby Tate, George Lovell and Arthur White with some Slabbinck Cattrysse thrown into the melting pot for good measure
The Benstead pigeons were however to prove to be the dominant influence in the further development of the Wills family as more introductions were made from Ian Benstead right up to the time that Ian retired from the sport.
That then is a brief outline of the origins of the present day family of pigeons raced by John Wills. I say family as they truly are a well defined family of birds that look and handle as one. The cocks are just above medium sized with noble looking bold heads and extensive wattle development, superb feather quality and outstanding eyesign. The hens were just below medium sized with excellent eyesign and feather quality and both cocks and hens exhibited excellent skeletal structure – fine boned and as strong as spring steel with not a weak back in sight. Incidentally, some of the hens could quite easily be mistaken for cocks, as they too possessed bold heads and large wattles like the cocks. Another characteristic of the family was the wing structure - when opening the wing it appeared as if the wing would extend forever with the last three flights long and narrow with large gaps between
John has produced this family by inbreeding to the best performance pigeons. He is particularly keen on mating his best hens to one of their best sons in order to fix the genes, the emphasis being on the word BEST as he does not believe in inbreeding for the sake of inbreeding, it must be for the purpose of strengthening and consolidating the family gene pool, based on racing or breeding capabilities. When introducing a cross into the family John immediately mates it to his best pigeons. He then keeps the offspring that most resembles his own family and pairs it to one of the best of the old family. The resultant offspring from this pairing, which is in reality ¾ old family and ¼ cross, is then tested on the road.
Once he has produced the raw materials to work on the road, John is not in too much of a hurry to get them to the far off distance race points. The Wills pigeons are rarely raced as young birds but they are extensively trained. This begins with an initial 20 mile toss – single up! This is repeated a number of times before moving on to 40 and 50 miles where the process of singling or doubling up is repeated. John never releases his pigeons in large groups. Nor is he worried if the young birds make a mess of these early training tosses. All they have to do is get home and hopefully learn to become independent and rely on their own homing ability in the process. As yearlings they are usually expected to go out to 300 – 350 miles and in fact John has won the Saintes race at more than 350 miles with pigeons that were having the first race of their lives. Two year olds, if fit and well go to the NFC Pau / Tarbes race and as three year olds some may be ready to face the “acid test” of International racing out to Barcelona 700 miles. This schedule is not set in stone as John may adjust things as he sees fit, watching the birds and assessing their condition and form allied to their past experience.
An example of this softly, softly approach to racing his birds is John’s good hen “Gail’s Supreme” which won 1st BICC Pau, 565 miles, when having only the FIFTH race of her life. Ian Benstead regularly entered pigeons in International 600 mile races for their first ever encounter with the race basket and he rarely failed to clock them. The homing ability is so strongly bred into the family that they do not need to have seen every lamp post on the way home in the build up to their long distance tests.
Dark chequer hen Gail Supreme - 1st BICC Pau, pictured among three red cocks. Bottom right is The Old Campigner - 1st Open BICC Tarbes
John’s policy has been to retire his best racers to the stock loft once they have put up an outstanding performance such as winning the BICC in a long distance race. This has ensured that the family can be maintained as he is constantly breeding from top class performers in long distance races along with their parents and selected sons or daughters. This policy has brought unbroken success at the distance for the past thirty years.
The main racing loft, to which all the main performers raced, is a three-sectioned structure which faces north. This north facing aspect ensures that the internal environment is on the cool side at the beginning of the season, which is ideal for John’s pigeons as he doesn’t want the form to develop until late June when it will hopefully continue into through to early August when the main long distance classics are being flown. However skylights have been inserted on the southerly facing roof surface so that some sunlight can enter and warm up the floor area in front of the nest boxes. The other lofts are new additions that face south and house yearlings and some youngsters which will be brought on quietly in readiness for future International racing. The photographs that accompany this article will give the reader a good idea of the overall loft set up.
The main racing loft of John Wills
When ready for the test, the team will be hopper fed on yearling tic beans. This high protein feed is supplemented with peanuts in the final days build up to basketting. John, rarely, if ever feeds maize or seed and is reluctant to treat for any of the main ailments. He only does so if a problem arises or if he thinks the birds are not quite firing on all cylinders. Although the birds do not see a great deal of the inside of a race basket they are extensively trained from points on the south coast of England in preparation for their long distance tests. They also enjoy an open loft as often as John can allow. This keeps them fresh and raring to go.
Because of his concentration on long distance racing, John does not mate the birds early in the year, the time may vary and very often he is only weaning his first round of youngsters in late May. Everything is geared to attaining top form in late June, July and early August when he hopes to be entering his team in each individual pigeons’ favoured nest position, whether it be sitting eggs or feeding youngsters. John is not afraid to send his birds feeding squabs on soft food as he does not believe that this does them any harm whatsoever – quite the contrary in fact.
That then is brief outline of the birds and methods of a master of long distance pigeon racing. With these simple, yet practical methods applied to his carefully developed family of long distance racers, John is one of only a handful of present day British fanciers to win consistently at the extreme distance. Between 1992 and 2000 only nineteen fanciers in the whole of the UK appeared on the results of the NFC Pau race each year – one of those nineteen was John Wills of Frimley. This success in the NFC Pau / Tarbes race has continued almost unabated right up to the present time. Added to these impressive NFC performances should be further top prizes with the London & South East Classic, including 1st in the Yearling Open and 2nd Open overall from Tours in 2009. As if this were not enough, the reader should be aware of the fact that John has six outright wins plus many more top ten finishes in BICC long distance races.
A & T DEACON of WATERLOOVILLE
The next fanciers that I would like to highlight in this series are the Hampshire aces A & T Deacon of Waterlooville. The partnership consists of Albie and his lovely wife Jeanette although the initial “T” belongs to son Tony who no longer takes an active part in the racing of the birds. The Deacons have an enviable record in long distance races competing with the NFC, BICC and CSCFC. They have always enjoyed success at club and Fed level with their birds, but when the Southwells were introduced more than two decades ago, their performances at National level “took off”. Since that time they have been placed in the top 500 Open from Pau with the NFC every year and have only once been out of the top 200 Open.
Jan and Albie Deacon
During the same period Albi and Jan have twice won 1st Section plus 2nd Open from Pau with the NFC. The Langstone Gold Cup awarded in the NFC to the fancier[s] with the Best Ave all NFC races has also found its way into the Deacon’s trophy cabinet. Add to this impressive list an additional 4 x 1st Open plus many 2nds, 3rds, 4ths etc when competing with the BICC in long distance International races, including twice having the only bird on the day from Dax International, and you can appreciate the class, both of the fanciers, and their team of long distance pathfinders.
The 2008 season, proved to be an exceptional one, even by the Deacon’s high standards. Listed here are just the BICC positions won with old birds alone:- 3rd sect 9th Open Barcelona; 2nd &3rd sect 9th & 12th Open Marseille; 2nd, 4th & 6th sect 4th, 8th & 16th Open Perpignan; 19th, 39th & 47th Open Pau International. Add to these, a terrific team performance from Tarbes with five birds on the result at 21st, 29th, 35th, 40th & 49th Open and you have a remarkable series of performances in long distance International races. Not surprisingly the Deacons’ was the only loft in the BICC to clock on the winning day in all the International races in the 2008 old bird season.
The Deacon's loft set up
Albie states that the excitement and pleasure you get from timing a good bird from an International race is truly marvellous but on the other hand you must be prepared for some knock backs and the loss of good pigeons. An example of this was the 2008 Perpignan race when the Deacon’s clocked three good birds on the result from their seven bird entry and yet two of their best birds and main fancies for the race failed to return.
The original Southwells were obtained from Jimmy Shepherd, Roger Goble and Ernie Deacon, Albie’s cousin. These conformed to the typical Southwell type being small to medium sized, mostly dark chequers and black velvets. The feather quality was superb and the birds tended to be “a bit flighty”. These characteristics are still evident in the Deacon team today.
Approximately 100 birds are wintered and these are housed in three separate lofts. The main racing loft measures 28 ft x 10 ft has a pan tiled roof and a 4 ft wide internal corridor running along the front. This corridor reduces the depth of the internal sections and helps maintain control over the birds. A second loft of 20 ft x 8 ft, also with a tiled roof, houses the 60 – 70 strong young bird team. The stock birds enjoy life in an 8 ft x 9 ft stock loft with associated aviary. When Albie was working before retirement, a deep litter of straw was employed in all lofts and this was removed and replaced with a new litter annually. However the birds are now cleaned daily as Albie has more time on his hands since retiring.
All birds, including stock birds, are mated around the middle of March. The racers have an open loft from 6.30 am until dark and are raced exclusively on the natural system throughout the season. Very little road work is necessary as the birds are of the type that rarely put on fat and keep themselves fit with their constant coming and going during daylight hours. However, in final preparation, just before the target race set for them, the team does get a few 30 – 50 mile tosses. These are usually late evening tosses with the aim of recreating similar conditions to those that the returning racers might experience when homing late at night from a long distance race. Albie also likes to see the team with a good 8 – 10 hour fly under their belts in the last race before the target race to which they are generally sent sitting 8 – 10 day old eggs. The Deacons have never had any success with birds sent feeding small babies. However, in 2008, the team, out of necessity due to the congestion of the long distance race programme, had to be sent to Perpignan sitting small young birds. This forced change in the routine seemed to suit the cocks better than the hens as the latter had to be separated from their partners for a week and were housed during this week long separation in the young bird section. Generally though, the aim is to produce a contented, stress free home environment, to which the racers will do their utmost to race home. This seems to be sufficient preparation for the type of pigeon housed i.e. good honest racers, and it has certainly produced excellent results over the past two decades.
Young bird racing is not taken seriously but the education of the youngsters in their first year is approached with professionalism. The babies are trained extensively in the year of their birth and half of those that come through the training programme are sent to the young bird National from Guernsey or France. This sets them up for later in life as they quickly develop confidence in their own ability to find their way home.
A basic mixture to which farm beans are added in various proportions depending on the season, is hopper fed to all birds throughout the year. More barley is added in the winter once the annual moult is over and more maize included in the build up to the longer races.
The birds are not subjected to antibiotics and in recent years the only treatment they have received is for canker once annually and even this treatment was stopped in 2002. The Southwells are real tough little characters with an iron hard constitution and as a result rarely “go wrong” – just like the man who created the family.
Like breeds like, as can be seen when looking at the breeding details of the top performers. Let’s start with “Tipo” a typical Southwell dark chequer. In 2008 “Tipo” won 3rd sect 9th Open Barcelona. He had previously raced from Barcelona in 2007 and had won 50th Open BICC Bergerac in 2006. “Tipo’s” dam is a winner of 2nd sect 16th Open NFC Pau and 5th Open BICC Gellainville, whilst his grand sire had won 6th Open NFC Pau on the day.
Next we have “Garador” another black chequer cock which won 2nd sect 9th Open Marseille in 2008. This four year old had competed from Barcelona in 2007 and his sire was a winner of 2nd sect 9th Open Barcelona and grand sire was also 6th Open NFC Pau on the day.
One of the lofts real battlers is “Garincha” which won 2nd sect 4th Open Perpignan after competing in the Pau International race earlier in the season where he won 19th Open BICC. Garincha had previously won 73rd Open Dax BICC and 240th Open NFC Pau in the 2005 and 2004 seasons respectively. Yet again we see in the breeding of Garincha, an unbroken line of top performers in long distance races, as his sire was a winner of 4th Open Dax BICC whilst his grand sire was 1st Open Brive BICC.
We now move on to another dark chequer cock named “Sparta” which won 3rd sect 12th Open Marseille in 2008 as a four year old. Once again we have performance pigeons at the heart of his pedigree as his sire won 2nd sect 7th Open Barcelona and his dam was a winner of 1st sect 1st Open Perpignan with the BICC.
The list of pedigree performance pigeons goes on and on as next we have “Ribot” another dark chequer cock, which in 2008 as a five year old, recorded two excellent performances in long distance races with 47th Open BICC Pau International and just over a month later 4th sect 8th Open Perpignan International with the BICC. “Ribot” had previously been placed 30th Open Dax International with the BICC in 2006. His grand sire was 1st Open NFC Pau for Albie’s cousin Ernie Deacon, and “Ribot’s” grand dam was a previous winner of 1st Open Perpignan International with the BICC.
Finally, we come to one of the loft’s most consistent and honest performers in long distance classic races – “Heidi” a five year old light chequer hen with previous performances to make your mouth water. In 2008 she was 39th Open BICC Pau International and was then set up for Perpignan a month or so later to be the loft’s third in the clock winning 6th sect 16th Open despite her disrupted preparation as outlined earlier. During the 2007 season “Heidi” won 2nd sect 3rd Open BICC in the Pau International. The 2006 season saw her win 84th Open BICC Bergerac and in 2005 she was 11th sect 111th Open NFC Tarbes on the day. Sire had won 16th & 80th Open Pau Classic, whilst her dam was a winner of 1st sect 1st Open Dax International with the BICC and also 7th Open Hens for Albie and Jan’s good friend Mick Bunney, another top class long distance fancier. The Deacons are respected throughout the UK as fanciers of the highest order. Their birds rarely fail them when the race is long and the going hard.
DAVE GODDARD of TILEHURST
Anyone who has studied the results of the BBC,; BICC and NFC over the past thirty or so years, cannot have failed to notice the name of R. J. Goddard of Tilehurst, which has appeared with monotonous regularity near the top of the results of any long distance race organised by these prestigious National clubs. The name of R. J. is slightly misleading as the active fancier is Dave Goddard. However, the name has been maintained in honour of Dave’s late father Raymond Jack. Both Dave’s brothers, Alan and Tony, are pigeon fanciers and have enjoyed a fair amount of success in long distance races over the years. With this family background it is no surprise that Dave Goddard has been a keen student of long distance pigeon racing since his early teens. As a result of this interest in long distance racing, he has travelled extensively throughout the British Isles in his quest to see, handle and obtain some of the best long distance bloodlines from the best long distance lofts in these islands. Many birds have been brought in over the years but very few have met the Goddard “gold standard” which, to say the least, is exacting.
Dave holding Sophie in the loft
Dave’s consistent success in long distance races has not been achieved without a great deal of hard work and sometimes heart breaking disappointment, as anyone who has entered pigeons in this type of race will be aware. Nevertheless, by relentless, near obsessive attention to detail and the single minded application of a specific breeding and management plan Dave Goddard has achieved the near impossible – consistent performances of the highest calibre from possibly the most difficult race point in the long distance calendar – PALAMOS, and all this achieved with a small number of pigeons.
The team wintered at the Goddard lofts rarely amounts to more than 40 pigeons in total – that is old birds, young birds and stock birds. The old bird race team usually consists of twelve pairs and these are supported by a small team of eight or so stock birds. These stock birds are mainly retired racers that have raced and usually won, from Palamos or Barcelona on a number of occasions and have therefore earned their right to retirement to the stock loft. Thirty or so young birds are reared annually and Dave does like to take some late breds from the top performers after racing has finished in order to consolidate the gene pool for the future. Very often these late breds are reared from father / daughter, mother / son matings, but always from proven pigeons that have been successful at the distance.
Dave Goddard's racing loft
The present loft of pigeons can trace their origins back to birds obtained in the 1960s, 70s and 80s with further introductions over the years from the likes of the late, great Geoff Hunt of Westmarsh in Kent. One of the greatest influences on the foundation of the Goddard team was the base pigeons obtained from Mort Mann of Gloucestershire in the 1960s. Mort Mann proved to be very reluctant to part with any of his family but after numerous visits he gifted Dave a youngster and subsequently sold him a kit of six babies all of which were to make their mark at Tilehurst. The Mann pigeons were later supplemented with pigeons from the late Tom Clarke of Frampton on Severn. The Tom Clarke family of long distance racers had proved to be phenomenally successful in long distance races over many years for both Mort Mann and Tom Clarke and many other fanciers who were fortunate to obtain the same bloodlines. I never had the pleasure of meeting the great Tom Clarke but those fanciers to whom I have spoken who knew the legend, have had nothing but praise for the ability and integrity of a true giant of the pigeon racing scene.
In later years, pigeons were introduced from Scottish fancier Alex Geddes and these also had an immediate impact on the development of the Goddard family of long distance racers, as did one particular pigeon introduced from Ken Morey of the Isle of Wight. This pigeon, ringed 02252, was to prove outstanding at stock and has had a massive influence on the development of the Goddard family of pigeons. She was bred from 30577 which had won 40th Open Palamos. His sire had also been successful at the distance having won 2nd,16th, 21st & 40th Open Palamos. The grand sire of 30577 on his sire’s side was the winner of 23rd Open NFC Pau and 11th and 50th Open Palamos. The dam of 02252 was also an excellent long distance racer having herself won 38th Open Palamos and 17th Open NFC Pau. So you could say that with such a well bred pigeon steeped in long distance winning performance pigeons both 02252 and Dave Goddard were guaranteed to succeed!
Blue Hen "Rebecca" - 2nd sect 3rd Open Palamos
Dave’s first attempt at Palamos was to take place in 1972 when he entered two of his fledgling team of long distance racers in what was to prove to be one of the hardest Palamos races on record, won by Cyril Medway’s Palamos Pathfinder. Dave never saw either of his two entries again but remained undaunted – on the contrary he was even more determined than ever to succeed at this “Everest” of long distance races. In 1975 he entered a pigeon that he had purchased from a Dr Meyrick who was retiring from the sport. This hen was selected in the dark by Dave, purely on her handling qualities. When he asked the doctor for her details he was told that she had won 60th Open Palamos. Dave took her home, settled her and sent her to Palamos in 1975 to win 15th Open. The hen went on to fly from Palamos again in 1976 but left nothing of note to further the development of Dave’s family.
Three pigeons were later introduced from local fancier Mike Smith who, once again, was retiring from the sport. One of these introductions was to prove to be an excellent long distance racer as she was to win 65th Open Palamos in 1980 followed by 46th Open and 34th Open from the same race point in consecutive years. These performances earned the hen Dave’s first of three Spanish Diplomas awarded to the Goddard loft. Although he was beginning to record regular performances at the distance Dave realised that he was no further forward in developing a team of RELATED pigeons that could be relied on to consistently turn in performances at the distance.
All this was to change when he was taken under the wing of the late Geoff Hunt. Geoff advised Dave to slow down and get a team of pigeons around him and only then move forward. These proved to be words of wisdom, spoken by an ace long distance fancier and with hindsight it would be fair to say that this proved to be a seminal moment in the development of the Goddard family of long distance racers. Not only did Geoff Hunt offer words of wisdom he also supplied Dave with numerous pigeons from his tried and tested family of long distance racers, based in the main on the “old English” strains. In later years Geoff gifted Dave some of his newly acquired Roger Vereeke and Julian Matthys birds and these were to make a significant impact on Dave’s performances at the extreme distance. The main stock cock at the present time, aptly named “Geoff” after his good friend was gifted to him by Geoff Hunt. “R.J.” the mealy cock whose photo accompanies this article is a “Spanish Diploma” winner and he contains the Geoff Hunt Vereeke bloodlines. The red cock “Toe Nails”, the dark chequer hen “Sophie” and the blue hen “Rebecca” as well as “R.J” are all closely related as they are all bred down from the Geoff Hunt introductions.
Red Cock "Toe Nails" - 1st sect 3rd Open Palamos
As a result of working with the aforementioned bloodlines and applying a carefully thought out breeding programme to successive generations of pigeons that had been tested at the distance Dave Goddard has now most certainly developed a FAMILY of pigeons that rarely fail when put to the test. Below I give you some examples of these successes achieved with an entry of 2, 3, 5 and at most 11 pigeons. In the past ten years alone, starting in 2000: 1st sect 3rd Open Palamos with a single entry plus 14th Open Bordeaux. All of the performances listed below, unless otherwise stated, have been achieved from Palamos at close on 700 miles.
2001: 8th sect 31st Open 9th sect 34th Open with an entry of just 2 birds. 2002: 14th sect 65th Open sent 4 birds.
2003: 2nd sect 11th Open; 6th sect 26th Open;21st sect 146th Open with an entry of 4 birds.
2004: 7th sect 20th Open; 11th sect36th Open; 28th sect 159th Open sent four.
2005: 2nd sect 3rd Open; 4th sect 8th Open; 12th sect 121st Open sent five.
2006: 12th Open Bordeaux.
2007: 11th, 17th, 25th & 28th sect; 45th, 57th, 97th & 120th Open with a further two birds verified from an entry of 11 birds.
2008: 7th sect 24th Open sent 3.
2009: 3rd & 19th sect 12th & 40th Open sent 2.
2010: 3rd sect 8th & 25th Open sent 3.
If you add to this remarkable string of recent results a further 2nd, 5th, 8th, 15th, 34th, 46th and 63rd Open prizes in previous years, plus the performances outlined in the earlier paragraphs, and the winning of THREE Spanish Diplomas and “ The Patron’s Trophy” for clocking the first nominated bird first on three occasions, [no other fancier has won this trophy more than once], then you have one of the most remarkable records of long distance success of the present day.
In order to achieve such remarkable consistency of performance in one of the most testing long distance races, there must be a top class management system in place that helps to bring the team into condition at just the right time. To this ends, the birds are mated in mid March and are allowed to rear a round of young birds. The Palamos candidates receive very little work, indeed they do not even go out of the loft until the end of March. Once the days begin to lengthen the racers are then locked out of the loft for a short time both morning and night but rarely fly for more than a few minutes. At the beginning of May they begin their preparation in earnest with a few short 15 mile training spins followed by a few 45 and 60 mile trainers from the south coast of England. Pigeons that have flown from Palamos on previous occasions DO NOT GET ANY FURTHER basket work before being entered in the Palamos race. They do not have any preparatory races prior to being sent to Palamos! The idea is to build them up not wear them out. Birds going to Palamos for the first time may get one, or at the most two, short channel races plus the same preparatory training tosses as “the old hands” before making their first attempt at “Everest”. Yearlings have one or two short channel races and that is the end of their racing for the season. Young birds are rarely, if ever, raced in the year of their birth. The young birds and yearlings regularly make a mess of their limited training education and this does not worry Dave Goddard one iota. In fact he likes them to struggle as he believes they learn a lot more by being AWOL. On occasions during the winter months Dave may basket up the young birds and late breds and take them 60- 70 miles down the motorway to the west for a mid winter tester. Very often they make a complete mess of it and the survivors virtually “walk home”. However Dave has found that the best are better for the experience and learn more from this one toss than they would learn from a hundred simple A to B tosses. Some of the present day champions have been away from the loft for up to a year before finding their bearings and returning home. They have then gone on to achieve great things in their later racing careers. As two year olds the surviving yearlings from the previous season are set up for the Pau National at 550 miles and those that return are then pencilled in for the Palamos team. Three year olds are sometimes sent to Palamos but the general rule at the Goddard loft is that the Palamos candidates are usually four year olds before being set up for their ultimate test.
The loft is so designed that certain pairs can be separated and raced celibate at various times during the season. This is so that Dave can get the Palamos candidates into his favoured nest condition, feeding a four day old young bird, at the time of basketting.
Mealy Cock "R.J." - 26th, 31st & 65th Open Palamos; 14th Open Bordeaux and 210th Open NFC Pau
Feeding is a subject that Dave has no strong feelings about. In the early years he used to be an enthusiastic bean feeder, but in recent years has changed to Gerry Plus with the addition of peanuts and brown rice in the final build up to basketting day. The Gerry plus is fed at the rate of one ounce per bird per day and always fed in pots in the nest boxes. Occasionally, Red Band Conditioner is fed to the racers along with a small amount of Hormoform, this being an additional source of fats to energise the racers. After racing and when the moult is complete, the birds are fed 100% Beyers barley until shortly before mating. In January the birds are subjected to their annual jab for Paramyxo and this is followed by a short treatment of Sulphatrim to eradicate any nasties that might be lurking in the gut.
Finally, we come to the loft that is home to these long distance gladiators. This was self built and consists of three sections. One has 16 widowhood style nest boxes. Adjacent to this is a section containing V perches which houses the racing hens at various times of the year and next to this is a section for young birds. The loft is built on a brick base and stands some five feet clear of the ground. The two old bird sections have grid floors and the droppings fall through into the five feet deep pit beneath. This is cleaned regularly and doused with creosote and Jeyes Fluid giving the internal loft space a clean and fresh smell. Perspex sheets have been incorporated into the roof so that the interior of the loft is light and airy. The birds enter and leave the loft via traps set high in the loft front. A small stock loft with aviary attached houses the small team of retired racers that make up the bulk of the stock birds.
Before closing this report I think I should describe the type of pigeon developed by Dave Goddard after thirty years of trials and testing his family at 700 miles. At the time of my visit in early September, the old birds were in a heavy moult. However, the quality of the individuals handled stood out. The cocks handled just on medium sized with the hens just a slight bit smaller. Bone structure was excellent and there was not a deep keeled pigeon in sight. The pigeons gave the impression of buoyancy in the hand – just like balsa wood with a core of steel running through the middle. All birds had excellent strong, rich eyes and there wasn’t a “fish eye” to be seen. A variety of colours were present including reds, mealies, chequers, blues and dark velvet chequers. The consistent thread linking all was the fact that they had either done the distance or were bred from birds that had done the distance successfully.
"Sophie" - twice Palamos and twice Barcelona, a top prizewinner in each race: 120th Open Palamos; 24th Open Palamos; 12th Open Barcelona; 8th Open Barcelona
There you have it then, the breeding programmes and racing methods of three modern day greats in the field of long distance racing. One common point shared by all three is the fact that their young birds are subjected to a very limited race programme in the year of their birth and in the case of John Wills and Dave Goddard no young bird racing at all. The youngsters are however trained extensively and every effort is made to encourage the babies to think for themselves rather than follow the flock. No notice is taken of the fact that the babies might make a complete “horlicks” of their training so long as they subsequently show that they have the intelligence to learn from the mistake. All three fanciers expose their long distance candidates to a very limited race programme in the build up to their target long distance race, the thought behind this being the desire to conserve the birds’ energy until their main race of the season. As a result, when these fanciers find a top class long distance performer it tends to maintain its form over a period of years.
Part 3 to follow……….