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Life in The North East of England 46 06-03-17


Life in the North East of England (46)

Rod Adams

What came up when we were looking for answers, analysing his feeding and  training methods etc., was whether, with youngsters, there is a “window of learning,” a short time frame if you like, which once missed never occurs again. A “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” type of thing. Had he missed this learning period or worse still, had he fixed in his youngsters a homing trait instead of a racing one? The man painted me the general picture. When first able to fly, his youngsters would be put in the basket and released a few yards in front of the loft where a trough full of corn was waiting for them. They pretty soon caught on to the connection between basket, loft and food and once batching and flying freely normally trapped without any bother. We both think the later training may have been the problem. For convenience, early in the morning the youngsters would be taken straight out of the loft and driven to a friends loft about ten miles away, south of where they lived, from where they would go father down the road and be liberated simultaneously with his friends’s pigeons. His friends youngsters were coming straight home. His own were coming back when they felt like it.

The difference? His friends birds had been out exercising beforehand and had a decent fly before being sent, hungry and tired, to wherever they were going. Of course they would come straight home, whilst the other team probably put in their exercise away from home before becoming tired and hungry and eventually returning. It seems to me quite possible that if this was happening during the critical learning period, assuming there is one, that behaviour pattern would become fixed and you might then have young homers instead of young racers! I could be totally wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time) and his youngsters might just not have been as good as previous teams, but it is, in theory, possible. You can of course teach old dog new tricks. It just takes longer than training a puppy! Next season will tell.

I met Mac at the pay-out and it wasn’t long before pedigrees came into the conversation. Not pigeon pedigrees you understand, but those of Mac’s sons and daughters. He has twenty two of them! Fourteen of his family were there, completely filling one corner of the room. The “hens” were really beautiful and the “cocks” the kind of blokes you would definitely want on your side in a fight! You see, Mac had married his second wife’s daughter from her first marriage, making at least half brothers and sisters of the family he had then, but after that things had got a bit complicated and my colleague, Derek, was trying to tell me that Mac’s son Leslie, who was older than his half sister, was his present wife’s uncle!

Between them Derek and Mac had worked some things out on paper, but given up not very far down the line as some of Mac’s family had grown up and married themselves thus making uncles and aunties, younger than their nephews and nieces all over the place. And the most unlikely grandparents! I lost track at the point where, after another fancier had told me Mac had five kids by his mothers sister, Derek started trying to tell me, I think, that Mac had a son who was his current wife’s grandfather! Now that takes some doing. One thing was for sure, with a pigeon like Mac in your stock loft you’d undoubtedly have some bonny hens, but you’d have to watch the cocks! In his spare time Mac flies a pretty decent pigeon too!

John is an excellent distance flier winning out of turn with his Kirkpatricks (especially on hard days ) from places like Bourges, 557 miles, Rennes,465 miles, Tours,517 miles and wherever else he chooses to send them. Being a member of the Durham Combine as well the North East Greater Distance Club and eligible to fly a couple of races with the North of England Homing Union he is not short of races to compete in. And compete he does. His birds you see, are used to being sent to strange places, regardless of the weather, as they work for a living having two jobs to do instead of the usual one. Racing, as racing pigeons do, and “moonlighting” in their spare time at weddings and special occasions etc. They are in, what is known in America as, “The Release Business.”

Imagine, “four and twenty Blackbirds baked in a pie and when the pie was opened the birds began to sing” and you get the general idea. Except John uses white pigeons instead of Blackbirds and a wedding cake instead of a pie, And when the cake is opened they don’t sing. They fly out! He does the weddings and other special occasions using only his racers and not a special team of pigeons! They go anywhere in the North East of England. He sets up a flower decorated Gazebo with a lifelike imitation wedding cake on a table inside of it. The bride and groom stand behind the cake and when they both press on a handle, disguised as a cake knife, the sides of the cake open and the birds fly out. Home can be in any direction and as the event is always pre-booked, the weather is not a consideration!

Bad training flights and nights out are part and parcel of the job. These are proper working pigeons! Not many get lost. Three weeks before winning, and being second, from Bourges on a hard day, 14/15 hours, he had 36 of his birds at a wedding 90 miles west of their loft and 12 were out all night, but he only lost one! They are not Kirkpatricks by chance. A lot of those particular breed are whites or white grizzles and to a layman a white pigeon is a white dove. White doves wouldn’t have a hope in hell of getting back from 90 miles on a dirty day, five miles with the wind behind them and on a sunny day, would really test them but it is meat and drink to the old Kirkpatrick strain.

Now, in this area of the United Kingdom  most fanciers would tell you that the Kirkpatricks are past their best as a strain and are too slow but John loves proving people wrong and reckons they are as good as, if not better than, the modern imported strains. Especially when the going gets tough. Besides, with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek, he tells me and everyone else who thinks that the breed is outdated that he has very few problems with hawks because the modern hawk has adjusted itself to catching the fast foreign pigeons so it misjudges and misses his because they are so slow!

You can go to quiz panel after quiz panel, usually listen to the same questions being asked and the same answers being given, but every now and then you hear something different and you think yes, just maybe. Or why didn’t I think of that. Or looking at it that way he’s right. I’ll give it a try. It’s called education, and I was educated on two things that night. The inadvisability of giving pigeons time to hang about and think before timing them in, and how one person’s 600 mile race can be the equivalent of another’s 450 mile race because of differing geographical conditions.

The member of the panel was explaining how, in Ireland, once a bird has been brought into the kind of  condition needed to fly for long hours across two sets of water in cold conditions over a distance well in excess of 400 miles it has had enough racing for that year. To his way of thinking, and mine, it is almost impossible to bring that kind of condition back, which puts our racing into perspective compared to theirs, because we can and do race our birds at the distance again. And win with them. But we don’t fly into Northern Ireland do we?

Let us finally consider the “Law of Diminishing Returns,” as applied to pigeons produced by non-racing lofts. I feel that breeding off untested birds or from a once good family not raced for many years, is a big mistake. We all breed our share of failures  which would normally fall by the wayside one way or another and never perpetuate their like in a racing loft, but in a loft kept purely for breeding unless the progeny are raced and selection done on the basis of racing results the percentages rapidly go the wrong way. And more failures are produced than would otherwise be the case. And then these are allowed to breed. Rubbish in. Rubbish out!

Once a fine distance man, because of personal circumstances this particular fancier stopped racing, breeding yearly off his stock and selling them to fund the lifestyle he was living at that time. At first some good birds were produced, but as the years rolled on less and less of his birds did anything in other peoples hands. The odd one did come through occasionally and when it did it was good. One particular hen comes to mind, which, but for atrocious luck would have won the Up North Combine racing from France. But birds like her were few and far between. The “Law of Diminishing Returns” had kicked in.

Breeds have to be tested. Whether you test just some of the breed or every individual produced and how hard you test them is up to you, but test them you must. One way or another. Another man that I know well very rarely races his birds. He collects and breeds class pigeons, selling some, but giving more away. Mostly those fanciers that get them are disappointed with what they get. Until they catch on that what he is doing is breeding breeders, not racers. Once they breed off the originals, crossed or “pure” and race the progeny it is a different story altogether. It is indeed a funny old game!