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A Tribute to Terry Johnson of Whitstable

A tribute to the late Terry Johnson of Whitstable, Kent.

Terry Johnson with one of his many long distance pathfinders

 

It was with a mixture of surprise and great sadness that I learned of the recent death, on 19th April, of Terry Johnson of Whitstable in Kent. Terry’s sudden death followed a short illness and will obviously affect those closest to Terry the most, but nevertheless will also be a body blow to all those who knew this extremely likeable and generous man.

I first met Terry a couple of years ago when I visited his lofts while on one of my annual pilgrimages to the long distance aces of Kent. I immediately “took” to the man as he had an extremely pleasant personality and a dry, intelligent wit. When looking at his set up it was obvious that here was a deep thinker of the sport with a wealth of hands on experience of pigeons and how to get them to cover long distances against thousands of continental entries.

 

The following is a report that I wrote at the time of my visit. I hope it does Terry justice and that the reader will be able to appreciate just how good a pigeon man Terry was.

 

“Terry Johnson of Whitstable in Kent, the subject of this report, is one of the diehards of long distance pigeon racing within the BICC, as his name invariably appears on the BICC race results if the race is long and hard and has an International influence. Included in these results are positions such as 1st & 7th Barcelona with “Spartan”, 2nd & 6th Barcelona with “Pippin” [only beaten by his loft mate Spartan for 1st Open], 3rd Barcelona with “Invincible Ted’s Girl” and in 2012 the incredible consistency of the “Vinca” dynasty. These three pigeons of the Vinca lines, two sisters and a brother - won in the 2012 International race campaign 9th Open Pau International, 13th Open Barcelona International and 8th Open St Vincent International. All three were bred from a daughter of Terry’s Barcelona winner Spartan when paired to a direct son of Frank Perry’s “Llanover Lady” winner of 1st & 6th Open Palamos.  In addition another sister to these three was gifted to Terry’s good friend John Lane for whom she bred some excellent International long distance racers.

On a recent visit to Kent I called in to see Terry and this report is a result of that visit.

3rd Open Barcelona for Terry Johnson

John Lane & Terry Johnson both winners of BICC Barcelona

 

THE BEGINNING

 

Terry’s start in the sport came about when Terry was a mere six years of age when his Dad brought home a kit of pigeons purchased at the local market. After sorting through the ones he liked the remainder were sold at the local market on a number of occasions as they kept returning to Terry’s loft constructed from an old packing case which proved to be a “nice little earner” for the young Tel! The next loft was constructed in the eaves of an old barn which was used by Terry’s father as a plucking shed for his poultry business. Feeding was pretty basic the birds simply entered the poultry house through a broken window pane and helped themselves to what was on offer in the poultry hoppers.

By age 13 Terry and his good mate, the late Melvin Cowell, joined his first pigeon club the Ramsgate R.P.C. At that time an old fancier by the name of George Hewitt lived opposite Terry’s Nan’s home and he proved to be a great influence on the two young lads as George was a continental race enthusiast and Terry believes to this day that this early influence has had a long lasting effect on his love of long distance pigeon racing.

THE LOFTS

The Johnson lofts today are a far cry from the original packing case loft. The main racing loft measures 100 ft x 10 ft and has a 4 ft wide internal corridor running the full length allowing access to all sections. This loft faces south and opposite this is another loft facing north to which the Barcelona winners Spartan and Pippin were raced. All sections are now fitted with hard wood grill floors, so the droppings fall into a 12” deep pit under the grids. The nest boxes are also fitted with grids so the whole loft only needs a good clean through once per year thus minimising the work load, because as Terry admits, he has far too many birds! This new hygienic approach to loft management is far removed from Terry’s early methods which entailed the dried droppings method of deep litter. The dropping used to accumulate under the perches into large mounds akin to termite hills and the birds used to nest amongst the mounds of droppings leading Terry to call his method of racing the “pyramid method”. This didn’t seem to bother the birds as they still performed well at the distance.

Terry Johnson's Loft

   

 

    

MANAGEMENT

Terry keeps around 60 old cocks for racing plus a number of hens. This old bird team is supplemented by a team of 70 or so yearling cocks and hens. These yearlings never see a race basket as young birds but do however undergo an extensive training programme of 50-60 tosses on good days throughout the autumn and winter months in the year of their birth. All birds are raced on the celibacy system and are therefore never mated prior to the commencement of racing. Nor does Terry allow the sexes to see each other before basketing for a long distance race. The cocks simply race to their nest box and the hens to their individual perches, which is a similar method employed by Mike Mitchell the quadruple National winner from Dover. Once racing is over, the old birds are then allowed to go to nest a couple of times but are not allowed to rear any young birds. They are then separated for the winter in late October/early November.

During the racing season the cocks have their liberty for a couple of hours once a day and the hens enjoy their liberty for the same length of time on alternate days and are never forced to fly. The old birds usually have a number of training spins out to 50 miles before racing starts and a couple of 25/50 milers mid week throughout the old bird programme. Inland races are used as conditioning for the long distance International races and on most occasions, Terry doesn’t even bother to have a clock set.

 

FEEDING

For many years Terry used to feed farm beans in a hopper so the birds always had access to food and enjoyed an open loft from dawn to dusk. As Terry said, “the pigeons didn’t overeat on beans, the mice didn’t like them, and the local sparrows couldn’t swallow them”, which suited Terry ideally.

Nowadays the birds are fed by hand on a mixture of wheat, barley and chicken layers pellets in equal proportions and feeding stops when the birds start to leave the barley. The only addition to this Spartan mix is a little rape seed plus sunflower hearts and extra maize in the build up to the longer races.

BLOODLINES

 

The main bloodlines housed today are basically Louella Jan Aardens with a little of the old Kent bloodlines of Geoff Hunt & Son thrown into the mix for good measure. At the time of my visit Terry had around 60 direct children of Spartan at stock plus some new introductions from Frank Sheader of the Kipp & Son bloodlines. Add to these the already successful Frank Perry cross plus some Deweerdts via Geoff and Catherine Cooper and he should be good for a few years yet before he needs to consider any more introductions. Stock birds are allowed to select their own mates and if the resultant young are not to Terry’s liking then the parent stock are separated and allowed to choose alternative mates. Terry aims to produce from his pairings a medium sized apple bodied pigeon with soft silky feathering that is easy to condition.

MEDICATION

 

Terry does not employ a routine schedule of treatment for the common complaints that can affect pigeons but does rate Ronidazole highly for the control and eradication of canker, which is essential when the birds have been away in the International race baskets for up to a week at a time. Having said this he always has some Henk DeWeerdt products to hand in case of emergencies. Other than that he believes that the birds get all the supplementary vitamins and minerals they need from the chicken layer pellets that are part of their daily feed.

 

THE FUTURE

 

Terry has some pretty radical ideas regarding the future of long distance racing and I’ll let him explain them in his own words. “Nowadays, pigeons are flying 500 miles with ease and perhaps it’s time to, as the late Geoff Hunt said, “move the goalposts further away” with the introduction of 1,000 mile races from the east, Poland for example, where the temperatures are a bit less severe than in Spain where it can reach 100F.”

 

Congratulations on your many past performances Terry and good luck for the future. I hope you continue to enjoy this wonderful sport of ours in your own laid back fashion.”

Unfortunately, that last wish of a long and happy future in the sport has sadly not been fulfilled. Once his diagnosis had been confirmed, Terry, set about putting his affairs in order and has left instructions that the Chestfield marking station for the BICC will continue to function for the 2017 season at least. He has also made provision for his pigeons to be raced this season and then all remaining pigeons will be disposed of in accordance with Terry’s wishes.

Rest in peace old friend it was a pleasure knowing you if only for a short time.

 

Gareth Watkins