THE BARCELONA DREAM IS GETTING CLOSER - WE HOPE !
Hello all, I've decided to write an update on our distance racing mission. Ever since I heard the song "KING OF ROME", (about a famous pigeon that flew from Rome to the UK! ) my outlook to pigeon racing changed!
I have only been racing pigeons for 7 years but have kept pigeons on and off as pets since a young lad, fantails, rollers, racer strays etc. I have also always had a terrier or lurcher, ferrets, chickens, ponies and various other odd pets, such as a pet crow, lizards, tropical fish, budgies, rabbits etc. Meanwhile we were being brought up on a small holding in Wales. My grandad and uncle kept racing pigeons when we lived in the city, but I was too young to understand, but was always interested and wondered why they spent most their time down the garden in the lofts, like I do now!
So I consider myself quite stock wise now, and a massive countryside lover. Always out when younger, bird watching, on my pony, or poaching rabbits and fishing . The point I'm getting too is I think it all helps to understand the complex racing pigeon, as it is in-between a pet and livestock really, as it's kept to serve a purpose usually, and that's to race back to its owner and home/loft, or to breed similar quality offspring.
Anyhow, I started off inland sprint racing with my local club as most of us do, it is great fun, but I always felt I wanted to test them to their maximum potential, for personal curiosity as much as anything else. I entered the overseas races up to 450 miles, and got returns, but I wanted further!
This is when I came across the name of Jim Emerton amongst many other greats, concerning distance and marathon racing. I brought a few birds from fancy advertisements and pigeon stud farms . They were better but eventually lost 90% of them racing up to 600 miles. I wanted consistent birds, so I looked for a long time distance fancier. Back to Jim Emerton! I wrote him a letter and haven't looked back since. A sincerely helpful and genuinely knowledgeable gent. I discovered that most pigeon folk are extremely helpful and also advise you etc, but this chap seemed different! So I read one or two of his books and loved his methods and his ideology of racing. Simple but fool proof really. Race reality is the only concrete way of knowing for sure, send them and see. As a lot of pigeons look the part and have great pedigrees can also be useless, not all, but a surprising amount. I know now as I've lost plenty over the 7 years, not a great claim I know, but if tested to the maximum, there's not many birds that can keep it up year in, year out.
Jim’s line of pigeons have been tested this way for over 47 years now, so I duly set about acquiring some of this bloodline. After several conversations over a year, I was lucky enough to acquire a dozen YB’s for stock purposes, through Jim off Nick Harvey, his race partner down southern England. Well they are all crackers, direct off proven parents, not some distant relation! I was over the moon to say the least.
Fast forward two years and I am now lucky enough to have Jim as my mentor and race partner, always there for any advice and tips, plus much more, which is priceless. But what has really shocked me is the quality of stock birds Jim and I have now obtained , here at my lofts. Not only have we now got 15 pairs from his best at stock, but also added some more top quality stock birds to try them out against, this includes some G&C Cooper based birds, also a selected dozen pedigree Jelle Jellemas from P.J's stud lofts best bred birds. Added to these are a few pedigree Stichelbaut that have been breeding winners for the last owner, also have one of Padfield Invincible’s daughter from mating back to his own daughter- double Padfield blood there, also a few quality Jim Donaldson bred birds, half a dozen pedigree Louella Jan Aarden strain, and finally an amazing stock pair related to recent Barcelona winners from the top Guernsey stud 'Channel Lofts' of Roger Philips. Bred from "Timmy" x. "Ruby". Grandfather to 1st national Barcelona 2019! Their parents are crammed with top distance results! So all in all a few top strains of pigeons that have been bred for distance/ marathon racing for many years before us obtaining the best from them we could.
So as you can see we have set our stall out for the marathon races in mind, the races early in the year overseas will hopefully build their time on the wing up for the target races of Pau and the great Barcelona later on .
I have entered Barcelona the last two seasons, due to Jim’s encouragement and positive outlook, the first year I sent 8 from my original mixed bred sprint race team to test if they could do it, and to my amazement 3 returned, they were out of race time , but the thrill of seeing them coming into land on their loft from 830 miles away will stick with me forever. So this year I sent the 3 back to Barcelona , and had two return, again out of race time by several days, but I was overjoyed. I now know I can get returns, so I are now trying with the best distance bred birds, that are actually from parents that have done it in race time, some of Jim’s strain have completed Barcelona 4-5 times. Just amazing !
All this is really aimed at trying to make my dream come alive, of getting a good return, or even better, several good returns from these races in the next few years. The thought of actually winning one fuels me with hope, it can be done and it definitely won't if you don't try, as I was told it was almost impossible for a beginner to get returns up here on the Welsh border, but I have had Barcelona returns two years running, so we're now updated, got ideal stock selection, plus keener and going to keep on at it until we achieve the best possible.
Got a nice team of 70 tested young birds ready for next season. It'll be great fun trying too. I'm so glad I gave it a go, as I've now found my aim in life really. Some want a fancy car and a big house, I just want to have the joy and excitement of breeding and getting a result from these marathon races we send them on . We only live once, do it I say, you'll never regret it.
As for the system we use, it's open loft 24/7. I thought this would be the end of the pigeons to all the hawks here, but Jim was right again, they'll adapt! They have too, I still loose the odd pigeon to hawks but no more than when I used to let them out for an hour each twice a day, probably less lost now actually. Plus I've had the pleasure of seeing my birds out smart or even out manoeuvre a hawk in hot pursuit! Another amazing sight. One pigeon was as fast as the peregrine which was chasing it in a straight line, across a big field towards the loft, (after a close failed swoop attempt), the pigeon dived into a conifer tree next to my loft, and the hawk had to make quick evasive action. That pigeon is now 4 years old and done Barcelona twice. Aiming for a loft full of similar birds is our aim. The birds are out flying at first light, another nice sight to wake up to out the bedroom window, especially against a rising sun. This is when they enjoy it, quiet, clean and fresh. Not your fixed schedule, as we have to do at work. They're free exercising beasts, let them fly I say. Even in winds and rain they love it, learning to use the winds to their advantage, flying at very fast speeds at times. All essential experience if they're going to fly for days back from southern France or Spain ! Why not bring back the Rome race ? It's been done before, it can be done again. The birds love it if fit and healthy I'm sure, just like a terrier or collie dog will work all day, every day, non stop happily, it's bred into them, that's if they're the good ones obviously. It's the only way to keep genes of these qualities alive.
My birds have returned looking as good as when they went racing, and that's after days, sometimes weeks . They're born survivors and masters of the sky. I do think all the modern day pollution and satellites beaming all over don't help today's pigeons orientation, but they can adapt I'm sure. They're so incredible we don't even fully understand how they do what they do in this scientific age. Just look at the incredible feats achieved during the war by our feathered warriors!
As for feeding, I've tried all the various coloured and priced sacks of pigeon mixtures, most with good results, but it's all too complicated and expensive in my opinion, to what it could be and was years ago. I know things have modernised and moved on these days, but don't over complicate your feeding, and especially your medication treatment routine. Only treat when needed and they then generally build a good immune system up on their own. So much cheaper and easier. Too much medication and their immune systems will be affected for the worse. Without that they'll never get fit.
Good rich feed during racing, building up the fats for the longer races obviously. Plenty of vitamins and minerals too. A good all round grit mineral mixture should suffice. I feed chicken layers pellets as part of their mix, as this has many useful vitamins etc, that are lacking in some of today's modern commercial corn. Water additives are a good way when necessary .
I'm a coeliac sufferer myself and apart from living on gluten free food for life now, I have also discovered that wheat is killed prior to harvest by being sprayed with glyphosphates just before to increase the flour content as the plants survival technique, as it's been poisoned. Surely these pesticides and chemical sprayed feeds aren't doing us or our birds diets any favours. Straight from a small local farm is best if possible, as it's mostly the big commercial harvests that use the most chemicals. Natural is always best. I still grow my own garlic, pick elderberries and give them organic greens from the vegetable patch when I can.
I admire the small loft flyers that do well, and it's not always from the big nice new lofts, some lofts I've seen are simply converted old garden sheds. Look nothing special, but are dry, homely and draught free, but with plenty of airflow, keeps them content. The wind driven chimney extractors on the roof are good I find. The pigeons have got to be happy and content to want to return home as soon as possible. No overcrowding, I've done that too, and it usually finds its balance naturally until things are running smoothly. This is what to aim for, make it work for you as well as the birds, as we are then a team together. Both have to be happy with the system and results. Easy to make it too complicated. Once you find a winning formula, stick to it. Simple is genius!
As for training, again there are many roads to Rome! Some race their youngsters every week, some just a couple for education, even no racing whatsoever in their first year. It all works, different methods and styles. I think they all need training in the first year personally. Toss them a few times, building up to 150 miles, released all together will sort out the ones with good homing abilities. Each to their own, if the pigeon hasn't got the capabilities in their heads then they are unlikely to manage 600 miles over the channel.
We plan to only breed best to best, eventually finding out the breeding that's working, and hopefully fill the loft with these. Long term plan, so it has to be thorough, even ruthless at times. It's the ultimate test at Barcelona from the UK so they have to be tested, healthy and ready, otherwise they will probably fail.
We practice deep litter in the race lofts to keep the workload down a bit, as I have a damaged spine, which results in agony if I over-do physical work, so this avoids the scraping every day, which kills my arthritic wrists. I'm only 50, but had a nasty motorbike jump go wrong when younger, paying the price now! So a good deep layer of pro-bed which is shredded eucalyptus, so has a nice fresh smell too. The stock birds are on grids to keep them nice and clean.
I don't think there's any need to go and spend £1000's or even hundreds on birds these days, it's easily done, even without speaking to the seller, using online sales etc. I've done that too, as I got carried away with my credit card and the glossy photos! Never again. As long as you can trust or be recommended by a friend, you can obtain pigeons capable of these amazing distances from reputable fanciers without costing the earth. It's not easy, but better in the long run. If the pigeon is from a fully tested family of proven distance pigeons, your halfway there in my eyes, then you have to hope that particular bird has the right mental build up, and natural fitness as an individual, as they're all unique. They fly as a flock, but they all have their own characteristics and traits, it's up to us to spot the correct ones and try and build that into the team. They have to be strong, determined, healthy and motivated. All this can be in the genes, we've just got to build the bird up right, and get it ready at the peak of its fitness at the right time for the big race! It's up to the bird once it's released, and a lot haven't got right ingredients. It's finding the correct ones that keeps us so busy.
One last point I'd like to say is how great the sport of pigeon racing has been for me since I had to give up my tree surgery business, after my bike accident. It has given me a good reason to get up and go outside every day, even when ill . It's a perfect sport for disabled, retired or people out of work, it gives so much enjoyment, once you've caught the pigeon bug. Distance racing more so than sprint races as it's not every week for 6 months, you can just aim at certain races throughput the year.
Roll on the next Barcelona !
Thanks to: Jim Emerton, Nick Harvey, Dave Brierly, John Hewitt, Tom Varley, Cameron Stansfield, my family's encouragement , and all the other helpful folk.