Jim Emerton talks to Paul Halpin.
Paul ,please tell us about your love of life, nature and pigeons.
Most of my life I`ve been an outdoors person , always out and about and fascinated by the natural world around me from collecting frog spawn as a child and ending up with a garden full of frogs to enjoying being out with dogs on a country walk or mooching about for a rat or rabbit to have some sport. I`ve always been around animals and livestock from a young age I`ve always kept and bred everything I could from Hamsters and Guinea pigs to keeping and showing horses, most of my working life has been around livestock either on farms mainly with dairy cows but including all types of farm stock or with racing greyhounds , I`ve handled some truly top class greyhounds with winners of Category 1 races amongst them. With all my life being devoted to animals one of my fascinations has always been birds , be they finches , budgies , birds of prey and especially racing pigeons, the pigeons help to focus
my competitive nature along with my love of all things avian !
How did you get started in pigeons?
Before I ever owned pigeons my dad kept them for a short time when I was perhaps 6 or 7 years old and I guess the spark was ignited , in my childhood years there were a great many local flyers and a couple that were very close to my infants school , I still remember now just standing in the playground whilst
the other kids were playing together watching the kits flying in circles around the school and being fascinated , and the sheer thrill of watching a kit of Birmingham Rollers tumbling from the sky for the first time is something I hope never to forget.
Eventually after a few years working on a local farm I got permission to build a small loft in a corner of a bit of waste ground , suffice to say the lofts got larger and then got moved to a corner of a field with a better drop ! My original pigeons came from many sources as most of the local club members offered to breed me youngsters and a very good friend and ex-fancier took me under his wing and we visited his brothers loft in Ashford, Middlesex and I came away with a basket of pigeons out of the stock pen , fortuitously one of these pigeons happened to be a red cock bred by Joe E Shore of Cheshire and this bird bred me a dynasty of good honest channel pigeons and I inbred to this pigeon in a way I wouldn`t advise anybody to try , I was mating him to his own daughters and then back to the female offspring of these unions then outcrossing these to other families , and for this pigeon I will be forever grateful to the
late Adrian Rosier and his brother Darryl of the Barber and Rosier Bros partnership for gifting me the cock.
However after 10 years of racing the farm where my lofts were situated changed hands so I lost my piece of land and so my ability to keep pigeons , after 10 or 11 years out of the sport I aim to make a re-start in the sport on a smallish scale after finding a new plot to put my lofts on and having my own life settle down to a more normal pace , I do suffer from PFL but have learned to manage it so as I can hopefully race without making myself ill.
Who are your heroes or people of influence?
I have many people that have influenced me, from my days working lurchers I was greatly influenced by the writings of the late D. Brian Plummer and regret I never met him , I had a very good relationship with David Hancock the lurcher breeder and he helped me with advice and always had time to help people no matter how busy his life was. In recent years Author , journalist and Exhibition Budgerigar breeder Fred Wright of Surrey has become a very good friend and has had a big influence on my bird keeping and also on me as a person.
In the pigeon world the previously mentioned Adrian (Cockney) Rosier was a great influence on my thinking and ideas on pigeon racing and also local flier Paul Hitches has been a great help and influence to not only me but many fanciers from near and far with his knowledge and his passion for pigeons, he is a great ambassador for the sport and a great worker behind the scenes especially for the Tamworth Federation and is the type of worker for the sport we should all be aiming to be. It is Paul that has brought me back to the sport in the last 12 months by encouraging me to help with his own birds and graciously allowing me to go each race day to watch his birds come back from races.
I`ve met many great people and each encounter good or bad influences us in the way we conduct ourselves , so hopefully one day I can repay the help and advice I`ve been given in all aspects of my professional and hobbyist life and pass on a nugget of wisdom that helps somebody achieve their goals with livestock.
Do you read pigeon books as items of interest and learning?
I am avid reader and collector of books ; I find that I absorb information much better from the written word than through watching videos and so tend to research through reading rather than other media. I read lots of old literature as well as more modern texts I find the old Squills Year books a source of great information and it shows that very little in pigeon racing is new.
I enjoy reading peoples views and methods on all aspects of pigeon keeping. Despite what the commercial side of pigeondom would have us believe pigeons have changed very little in the last 100 years and a lot of what we are doing is superfluous as fanciers of the past were getting birds at over 600 miles feeding Beans , peas, tares and maize , none of the commercial mixes we have today , none of the medicament's and potions and very little opportunity to train by car, by reading older literature we tend to find what is essential and also what is designed to part us from our hard earned money with very little scientific evidence to suggest they are any help at all to the birds.
Mr O. I. Woods was flying Barcelona to Ilkley, North Yorkshire in the 1930`s so my view is that a lot of today's essentials are not essential at all but we have bought into the marketing from the large companies that rely on our gullibility.
Who will you go to for birds and why?
I intend to try birds from 3 or 4 sources as despite the best bloodlines in the world if the birds do not fly to my system then I will not get the best from them by obtaining birds and flying them to my system and breeding from the birds that work well within that system I will hopefully develop a family that I can work with and which I can build on.
All that being said I have a number of young birds of your strain on order , the fact that your strain have the ability to fly great distances and generally one their own in later stages of a race is a big plus point for me as my aim is to build a team to fly the NFC Grand National race currently Tarbes , although Pau for me has always been the race point that held fascination so maybe one day the Pau International will be achievable if I manage to develop the correct type of bird once finances allow I`d like to source some of the Padfields family of birds with the same points as your own strain being in their favour, I will also try birds from local sources and flyers including some birds that will be more competitive in the federation channel races which currently only extend to approx 330 miles .
Do you like to write of your interests?
I will talk the ears of anybody that is genuinely interested in my ramblings, but writing is much more difficult as I find it very hard to put into script the disjointed thoughts and ideas that float around in my head.
What ambitions have you with birds and life?
Ambitions with the birds will be to build a family that is capable of racing at my chosen distances with the ability for repeat performances , in essence my dream would be to top the section in a national race at my chosen distance , in life my ambition is to keep walking my lone furrow and living the life I wish to lead and not that which is expected by convention.
What sort of distances do you aim to go at?
My aim is for a family of consistent 650 mile performers , I feel that building a team for club and Fed racing is a worthwhile ambition but I struggle to see where the club scene in my area will be in 20 years time so with that in mind I`m hoping a family able to compete at a national level will give me more of a chance to race in the future.
How do you relate to the modern pigeon media?
After so many years out of the sport I have found it a big change looking from the outside in , I currently don`t receive any of the weekly journals but I do keep up to date via the internet and social media , I do find the ability to be able to search for information instantly a great help. The down side of the internet is the ability for the clever marketing people to push pigeons and products via the use of a network of friends or acquaintances commenting and building a fantastic picture of the products on offer , the amount of times I see birds advertised being bred from birds that have won "X" amount of prizes bit then to fail to mention organisation , birdcage , members sent, duplicate results, etc, etc , all I can say is Caveat Emptor , all that glitters is most definitely not gold. I find the videos on YouTube of Keith Motts a great resource and often play them listening for that occasional pearl of wisdom.
Can you see the benefits of focus and dedication?
To get to the highest level you can attain in any sphere takes a single mindedness ,passion or obsession. I do believe though that unless you have a natural aptitude for whatever you wish to do be it football , writing or even pigeon flying then you will only ever reach a level that can be learned and not the same heady heights as somebody that has a natural flair for it. In fact one of my sayings is " If at first you don`t succeed , give up and find something you`re naturally good at !"
What makes a great pigeon man and bird?
A great pigeon man has a natural affinity with his birds he sets them at ease, and he knows each of his birds as individuals , he has that stock sense that cannot be taught and which he generally doesn`t know he has as it all comes so naturally to him. A great bird rarely becomes Great without being in the hands of an above average pigeon flyer , poor management will stop all but the very top 1% of birds reaching their full potential , A bad handler can make a great bird average and a great handler can make an average bird a champion through good management and an insight in to the individuals psyche, it`s not a matter of luck that the great fanciers have a stream of champions through their hands whilst average Joe may get one in his lifetime.
I`ve seen it many times with greyhounds when big money purchases have failed to live up to expectations with a number of trainers for it to eventually to come in to the hands of a good dog man and become the star it was meant to be and on the flip side great dogs moved to new trainers and never reach their former glories again as the new trainer never learns what makes the dog tick , I personally am probably a better dog man than pigeoneer, I do have a stock sense that will hopefully allow me to overcome some of my deficiencies as a pigeon flyer.
Are British birds as good as the famous foreign ones and why?
British birds are as good as any in the world but our tendency to not specialise makes it harder to rack up an impressive number of wins as the continentals do, if you fly the Fed programme then most of the birds might get their favoured race point / distance maybe twice a season whereas on the continent they are there week in week out and families are built to fly a precise distance each week , especially in the shorter races. Many of the famous foreign families have come to Britain and are improved upon and made to fly unfavourable distances and still win.
British fanciers fail themselves by flying against small birdcages in local clubs where they would become a more valuable commodity if they were flying against big birdages, a lot of federations are basically only sending birdages that would constitute a large club in some areas of the continent , in this time of less fanciers I feel it is time for clubs to combine , Feds to amalgamate and drive up birdages and drive down transport costs , more of a continental system of mass liberation's with various category results , yearling , hen , old bird , and later on young birds liberated with the convoy with their own result is the way forward for club racing in my opinion, this would also help elevate the status of the British birds and Fanciers winning against massive birdages.
Will the sport go into decline in time and why?
The sport has seen a large decline in my area in the ten or so years I`ve been away with a loss of a number of clubs and with very few new entrants coming in to the sport I can see no reversal of the decline in the short or long term as the ageing demographic of its participants can only lead to less flying members year on year , maybe in time some of the older fanciers children and grandchildren may become involved in the sport and help halt the decline but with covenants on a lot of modern housing excluding the keeping of livestock it begs the question where will new flyers race to?
Possibly a return to the smaller team fancier racing 6 pairs and 20 youngsters may be the future as it isn`t too much for somebody to care for at holiday times or in other circumstances. I honestly see a very bleak future for all pastimes and industries that revolve around making use of animals as our means of entertainment as the public perception has been swayed so much by the propaganda of the animal rights and anti-everything brigade.
Do you have a feeling and empathy for people and birds?
I have more empathy for animals than people, although do feel for both , I have an affinity with animals and have always been able to deal with animals in a non-anthropomorphic way whilst still having the feelings and thoughts of the animals in the forefront of my mind.
How will you practice feeding for distance,and what is distance?
Distance , Anything over 400 miles to me is distance and anything over 600 is extreme/ marathon with the upper end being the 800 miles and above flyers that are on a mission to push the boundaries of pigeon flying.
Feeding for the distance , I think maintenance can be achieved with many of the commercial mixtures to get the birds in to a fit state and then by building up to the race with extra high quality fats and carbs a bird should reach its pinnacle of form at the correct time , I will feed a mixture ( yet to decide which ) on trapping from exercise and have a hopper of peas in the loft for the birds to manage their appetite without having to gorge themselves or get stressed competing for food , shy birds tend to under eat and bold birds tend to over eat if fed on a twice a day regime especially if fed together on the floor as opposed to feeding in their box.
Building up to a race will include adding oils to the corn especially to naked oats which absorb the oils well as well as adding good levels of carbs themselves, as well as a bulking up with added peanuts , sunflower hearts and anything the individual has a preference for to get that added weight that the bird will lose through stress from transporting and for racing at a distance that dictates time out from its home.
I think that a lot of times when birds come home and when handled they feel like they`ve lost muscle mass especially on the breast that the bird has become catabolic and has started to break down its own muscle tissue to feed the body , this in turn leads to a long term recovery programme and needs careful management to get the bird back to its full potential. I will be doing lots more research in the coming months on the feeding value and digestible nutrient values of various grains to enable me to get the best out of the birds at my disposal.
Are you keen on my strain of birds ,or others?
From what I have seen and read of your strain they will be a good base to build a family that will hopefully work under my management, you`ve spent many years doing the leg work and building the strain in the most rigorous competition, I will also try other families/ strains to find which work best under my management regime , I feel it is better to fix a system and management regime and then find the birds that suit it rather than dogmatically sticking to a particular strain of birds and having to change your system to one which is difficult to work to due to other time pressures , much better for the birds to work for you than you working for the birds.
How does a pigeon navigate 700 miles?
One of the sports great fascinations for me is that we don`t really know , quite probably something to do with magnetic pull from various longitude / latitude lines and then nearer home landmarks and experience. One part of me hopes the answer is never truly discovered and keeps the mystery intact.
Are you a fan of 1 loft racing?
I think 1 loft racing has its place and enables people that cannot have their own lofts for whatever reason to compete in races either with birds bought from another fancier/stud or by activating one of the spare birds in the loft nearer the race date.
Do you agree with giving good birds away?
Giving , swapping , sharing good birds and blood lines is the only way many fanciers can afford to bring in the calibre of bird they need to move forward in the sport , in this way networks of fanciers are formed and bloodlines are available and if ever a disaster befalls one of the network a pool of related birds is available to re-start in a short time without fortunes being spent.
More comments please-Ans /Pics to Jim Emerton-thanks?
Random thoughts , Decide on a system and make sure to stick to it build a family around the system and not swapping and changing the system each year , have faith in your system and refine it to suit the racing you choose to compete in , if you are racing distance pigeons dont be disheartened if you are down the sheet in your weekly club races, bide your time until your chosen races and then hopefully you`ll see the fruition of your labours.
If a bird isn`t flying as you feel it should then rest it , many birds are sent to race when not quite right and lost , a couple weeks rest and maybe you`ll retain the bird and it will repay your patience at a later date.
If somebody offers advice take it on board but question , WHY ? , why am I doing it , What is it achieving , is it improving or hindering performance, is it being done because they saw it themselves or were told it by someone else and are just following blindly without question , birds often win despite what we are doing not because of what we are doing , be a questioning fancier , think each aspect of your regime out and reasons why you do it.
Don`t fill your stock loft with pedigree`s that`s what a filing cabinet is for , much better to fill your stock loft with genuine performance pigeons or children of proper grafting pigeons.