Life in the North East of England (51)
The man who is known locally as “Doom and Gloom” had a question. How, he wanted to know, can you regulate the feeding of natural pigeons when they are sitting, short of locking up one sex in their boxes when you are feeding their mates and reversing this procedure later on? As usual, once you look into any question closely it isn’t as simple as it seems. It raises further questions like why exercise the cocks twice a day when the hens, which more often than not only get out once a day, can often beat the cocks on race days? Is it because most cocks are bigger and greedier than a sitting hen and therefore need more exercise to burn off the extra food or do they need the extra food because you are pushing them around the sky twice a day? Which came first the chicken or the egg? A hen deep sitting will leave her eggs only if she is pretty hungry and she will take in just as much corn as she needs to keep going before she hurries back to her nest. Less corn, less fat, equals less exercise needed for fitness. Self regulation of food intake, widowhood cock style?
It is a balance really between size, exercise/training and how many calories are fed at any given time. I was brought up in an era of large families, I very seldom saw my mother sit down to a big meal like my brothers and I and my father did. She was far to busy feeding us to eat properly herself. One of the biggest families I ever knew, and I mean biggest both in the size of them personally (every last one of them a “salad dodger”) as well as in their numbers, had a mother built like a nine penny rabbit! All this goes out of the window of course once the pigeons are rearing youngsters when you can’t give them enough food! There is no way an empty bag will stand up and badly fed youngsters are no good to anyone.
There are hard races and there are hard races but the one that I am currently reading about is the daddy of them all. I love books so when I saw one with the title “My Lead Dog Was A Lesbian” I just had to buy it didn’t I? The Iditarod is the world’s most gruelling race. “Mushing” single-handed 1000 miles across Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome along an old gold rush trail in temperatures which can drop to 100 degrees below zero, and with up to 20 sled dogs pulling you is no joke. Every finisher gets a prize, with the last one home being allowed to blow out and keep the red lantern which is lit at the start of the race. I’ve only ever met one pigeon fancier, a woman actually, who has kept and raced these dogs albeit in this country using wheeled sleds on forestry commission roads, but I was very impressed with the pack she had bred and maintained. They really are beautiful animals but I think I’ll stick to pigeon racing! In case you are wondering 12 days is about par for the course. But it can take a lot longer!
In the long ago days of the old Toulets and the rest of the wind-up clocks, there was only one man to see in my area when things went wrong and every club secretary in the area would send you to him. Geordie Aspin was king. His house was an Aladdin’s cave of clocks. They were on the stairs, stacked around the living room, the kitchen and even in the bedroom. He couldn’t possibly have eaten on the dining room table because that was where the work got done and it was covered in bits of clocks and boxes of salvaged spare parts. Pigeon clocks, dining room clocks, alarm clocks, pendulum clocks and watches by the score. How he and Mary, his wife, put up with the constant background noise of clocks ticking and striking the time used to puzzle me, but “Little Geordie” swore he never heard them. Visitors would ask “how much do I owe you” and invariably the answer was “just buy me a drink the next time you see me.” I have two photographs of him taken nearly fifty years apart and reproduced here. He was winning races then and he was winning them up until the day he died. Same man, same pose, different pigeons that’s all and they were still climbing all over him!
He was a founder member of the old Raglan Homing Society and I used to sit beside him and his late wife every Sunday evening in our local club. She brought the sandwiches you see, and the crab ones were out of this world! His wife heard I was going off bird watching in Sweden and asked me to bring her back some “proper” tinned crab. Which I duly did. I bought the two tins in Finland, for twice as much as they would have cost me at home, and carried them all over Scandinavia for two weeks. It was worth it to see the look on her face when I got back and gave them to her. We all shared them, in sandwich form, the very same night in the club. That is the way she was.
Her night of nights was the evening after the big leek show when all the produce was auctioned for charity. Mary would usually buy some beetroot and cook it with the Sunday roast and we all had beef and beetroot sandwiches that night. Monday morning dawned and sitting at my desk, I spotted a beetroot stain on my shirt pocket, which I soon sponged off in the washroom. Ten minutes later and it was back so I took it off again, this time with some liquid soap. When I next looked down it was back, so being the skilled technician that I was I looked inside my pocket and found a fair sized piece of Mary’s beetroot! The only clock repair job I ever saw “Little Geordie” refuse to tackle was a pigeon man’s watch. It was in a thousand tiny pieces, in a matchbox, after he had dropped it from the cab of his tower crane! Even then Geordie was polite about it, instead of telling him exactly where to put it as most of us would. The man was a credit to our sport and is much missed.
It bothers me when I see pigeons with their feathers soiled by the droppings of other pigeons, which is why I have just been out to my stock loft in the rain wearing my red headlamp. Dirty feathers usually mean one of two things. Bad/badly sited perches or a sick pigeon. One which is sitting where it shouldn’t be–on the floor. So, when I saw that my National Winner “Little Miss Bourges” was a bit soiled I needed to know why. Hence the night time visit. I have lights in the stock loft but after dark a torch disturbs them much less. A red one not at all. Pigeons see very poorly, if at all, in red light and don’t even move.
Apart from being fat and perhaps in egg her droppings were perfect. She was carrying as much corn in her crop as the rest of them and she was roosting where she normally does, on the front of her own nest box with her mate. The pigeons perched above her were well clear so I suspect that she is spending her day with her cock on the floor shuffling about in some corner and being fouled there. No more, no less.
My old favourites stay in an ancient loft and are usually slightly soiled as they can barely get off the floor, but I tolerate that as they are very old now, just living out their natural lifespan. However the other week I saw a loft of real class pigeons, most of which had some soiling, and minor feather damage. Entirely due to the incorrect installation of temporary winter V perches. These are removed when it is time for the nest boxes to go in and although the current damage/soiling is only superficial, and in no way will it detract from their racing abilities, why let it happen in the first place? The point I am making is that there is always a reason for “dirty” feathers. And it doesn’t have to be due to not giving your birds regular baths!
I recently had occasion to carry a pigeon down to the marking centre and sure enough, I hadn’t walked fifty yards before it started vomiting inside of the cardboard carrying box. O.K., so I’d forgotten that I’d fed it earlier on, but I’ve noticed many times before that, corn in the crop or not, they often retch when carried by hand (or by car in a basket) if there is any kind of movement different from those that they are used to in normal take-off and flight. Experienced fanciers know this and try to keep these kind of movements to a minimum and not to transport their birds with full crops. However vomiting can still occur. It seems to be a kind of motion sickness induced by slow side to side/ up and down swaying. Rather like we ourselves experience when we are affected by sea sickness, where the slow shifting of the fluid in the semi-circular canals in our ears induces nausea.
I once travelled out to Fair Isle in Scotland on the mail boat “The Good Shepherd” together with a small deck cargo of sheep and I can tell you when we hit the turbulent area where the North Sea and the Atlantic meet, similar to the Pentland Firth, it wasn’t just the people on the boat that were sick. You should have seen those sheep! On one occasion a notable local fancier demonstrated to me his patent method of avoiding sea sickness. This involved the kind of physical contortions that an Olympic gymnast would have had trouble with, and was based on his idea of acclimatising his semi-circular canals to unusual movements. I can’t say that it works, having never tried it myself, but he gave us all a good laugh that day. Middle-aged, fat little bald men, who wish to remain dignified, shouldn’t ever try out the kind of exercises usually associated with the likes of the great Olga Korbut. Not in public anyway!