LES J. PARKINSON
Had a chat to Roger Sutton from over at Congleton who was telling me the club have lost two of their excellent fanciers through ill health, Arnold Tweats and Alan Winstanley, both no longer have pigeons. Arnold Tweats was sorting his pairings for this year but decided at the last moment that he couldn’t manage another year. So made the tough decision to sell them all which he did. Arnold and wife Joan worked together for many years and they are now both in their late 80’s so racing pigeons and being successful was something they felt they could no longer achieve. Arnold was one of the founder members of the Congleton West End and probably one of the last surviving original members. Arnold did win section L in the National FC, I think from Nantes but was more known for his success in the land races where he excelled.
The other fancier I know more about because I have written about a few times over the years and met up with many times. The fancier in question is Alan Winstanley who was 1st Section L 1st Open National FC Saintes in the early 90’s. Alan had many good wins from across the channel, but the National wins always stand out. This is a quote from Alan. “I often ask myself when I clock at 500 miles on the day why that pigeon has put in the effort and I think it is, in great part, down to the bond I have created with it in the loft, by talking to it and so on. I remember George Stubbs telling me that he was once asked why he thought I had won the Saintes National and he said it was because of my pigeon's love of home. You can go to some lofts and see that the fancier does not have this bond with his pigeons. I would not necessarily say that this means tameness, however. It boils down to knowing your family and those odd ones which do not want to be handled and fussed with. You have to get to know what they like. I get a great thrill when a pigeon drops out of the darkness and I have been fortunate to experience this many times. Sometimes you can tell that it has given its all, but I have also had situations where pigeons have dropped, and I couldn't tell that they had been to a race. This kind of thing astounds me. The ideal day for my family of pigeons would be a steady day or a hard one, even. I have never liked fast days. I think that this is more down to my family of pigeons than the condition in which I send them. The thrill I get when I clock on the day at 500 miles is greater than ever. People say to me: 'Alan, you must know you are going to get one', but I don't. When you have that special pigeon, you do, but most of the time I don't pick the right one. For example, I sent two hens to the Saintes National last year and I got them only the next morning (winning 6th and 11th Section L, 241st and 329th Open). In my heart of hearts, I knew they weren't ready for the day job as they weren't fit enough. The thing with clocking day birds at the distance is that you can't do it all the time, although I have been fortunate in the last 10 to 11 years (excluding the foot-and-mouth year) and I have nearly always timed on the day at 500 miles with the North Staffs Fed. At the same time, however, I haven't won a lot of the middle-distance races. Quite a few people have urged me to have a go at the Pau race but, with it being an extra 200 miles, it is a different kettle of fish. I sent two last year and I am still looking for them. I think I failed because of the way I prepare my pigeons, the way I instigate motivation. There is only so much petrol in the tank and that is it. Was winning the National my biggest thrill? Well, it was tremendous, but my biggest thrill had to be getting my 'Old Northern Hen' to score for the third time”
Still with my conversation with Roger Sutton, we talked about a legend from Sandbach, the late George “Stubby” Stubbs who was a quality fancier. Roger was saying that he was at George’s one day and as they stood in from of the loft 3 pigeons came from a race and straight between them. George told Roger all about the widowhood system, so he went home, changed his loft and has raced widowhood ever since. George was a fancier who could do all sorts of things to motivate pigeons and the pigeons would always respond to what he did.
Over the years.
I have had many questions come my way and I have done my best to answer them. If you have any questions (Pigeons related) send them along and I can see what I can do. Not saying that they will be to your satisfaction, but I can have a go. There is a lot of information on the Internet that fanciers can use.
“Hi Les. Just a thought, would it be possible for you to put your views, perhaps a series of your thoughts? targeted to a maybe a new starter, or in my case, a potential 'old' new starter? Covering various aspects of the current sport, joining a club, buying stock, loft design, training, racing methods, healthcare etc. from your own experiences combined with those methods that you have encountered on your many loft visits. The sport has changed so much for even older ex-fanciers I feel it's daunting and no wonder the great sport is, sadly, shrinking. For example, times have changed so much that I don't even know if I need council or neighbour permission these days to erect a loft and/or keep pigeons, and if so, how many. Regards Keith, Cheshire”
My next letter is from a fancier in Malta. “Hi Les. I have just read in one of your article’s but was disappointed that in Para 4 when you mentioned that the birds would not clear from a toss and the fancier concerned was given advice by a local fancier as to the reason why but you did not enlighten us as to what advice was given!! I enjoy your articles - keep up the good work. The last race we had was from Brindisi on the heel of Italy. Out of 2700 only 35 got back on the day. The weather was fine all the way with good visibility a light Northerly wind for the first half of the race turning light Southerly (10 knots or less) for the second half. All the birds were very experienced. Liberated at 0715, first bird back was at 1600 hours doing approx. 48 mph!! So where were all the others? I think the Northerly wind lulled them into a false sense of security and they set out moving fast but when the wind turned Southerly the majority would have been on autopilot and kept going. What I fail to understand is that on good days with a tail wind and good visibility good birds get lost even from short races. Now with Malta's position you would think that as soon as the birds saw a speck of land completely surrounded by sea for as far as the eye can see then they would gravitate towards it, but this does not seem to be the case. In fact, in these circumstances it seems that some of the best racers with numerous positions to their credit are the ones usually lost!! Regards. Robert R. Malta. In the case that I was writing about it was all down to the weather when the wind was coming off the lake from the east and when it does the pigeons do not head off in the right direction. He went on to say that a very light mist, which you can hardly see appears to hang over the lake in an East wind but in no other wind. You can liberate in any other wind and they are off straight away.
The following email is on a subject that many in the sport will be of a similar opinion but is that opinion correct. “Hi Les. I think the people at the top are blinkered. If open and direct questions such as mine are not being asked of these people, (in fact mine have been blatantly ignored so far), the very folks who are actually responsible for running things in the sport then, I fear, there is little hope. They have their heads in the sand. As I see it the sport is evolving, one loft racing will increase while private ownership and racing will become increasingly less viable due to costs of organising the racing. Add to that extreme weather, YB sickness and the BOP situation and the small back garden fanciers of old cannot hope to compete, a couple of bad races and your wiped out. There will always be the die-hard minority who will try and race pigeons, but the future long term looks bleak in the UK, sadly. If you tried to explain to many kids today that you should invest in a pigeon loft, etc. buy some stock birds, invest in feeding, training and then they see they could be wiped out by any of the above situations they would ask why they should bother. Sorry, it's a pessimist point of view but the overall fancier numbers that I requested from the RPRA would, I think, give a depressing picture and no wonder they are not letting me know or letting on. On another subject I personally would love to get involved in some one loft racing if/when I settle down in an area, but I think club racing in many areas will go eventually. I hope the governing bodies are preparing for the next phase of evolution of pigeon racing in the UK and start answering important questions! Regards. Keith in Cheshire”.
Firstly, I think Keith is referring to the RPRA, who I am sure take more notice than members may think but I realise it is hard when you send out emails and don’t get the answer that you are after. At times they get so busy they are not always as efficient as we would like them to be. However, I know through experience when running a business (and that’s what the RPRA is) everything does not go as planned or as we would like it to. This happens because people have their own view on how things should be run, but that is not always the best way to go forward. I would think one way, or another all correspondence is looked at and dealt with in the appropriate way.
The one thing I do know which Keith has touched upon is the organising of races, at times the hauliers are not helping themselves and in fact losing birds in some organisations and I don’t mean on the road. I have heard it on several occasions where hauliers have announced they are going to a shorter race point because the organisations are not sending enough birds to the races. That is no good to the pigeon fancier who is preparing birds for certain races therefore it needs to stop, in the best interest of all concerned. If there is an agreed race programme, that needs to be adhered to, they are the points they should go too, when they don’t members jump to another fed where they can get a few more miles. In the local Fed there are clubs/members who have not entered their young birds in the early part of the season because of shorter race points being selected in which case the hauliers are losing birds.
The third point is about getting young people interested in pigeon racing, it is hard work and they are too committed to their social media and computer games. What I have said on many occasions is we need to get the point over to parent’s, “If they have pigeons then they spend more time in the garden and less time on the PC or walking the streets at night, you know where they are” I have also pointed out that on my job I see fancier’s re-joining the sport after they have seen their family grow and are looking for something to do. Having had pigeons in the past they see it as a way back to filling their spare time with something they enjoy doing. It is also a fact that some fanciers are packing up at their own loft and then joining a partnership. I am waiting to see what results Richard Chambers gets after attending the summer agricultural shows of 2020 and his trips to the schools. When I have spoken to Richard, he has said that he is getting a good response. But as with everything it takes time before the results of such a venture are fully known.
On to your other subject of One Loft Racing, I am sure it is here to stay and there will always be a few around because they are a good money maker if they get them right. They are also good for members of the public or ex pigeon fanciers who don’t want to be tied down with pigeons in the garden but want to take some sort of active part in the sport. The OLR can also be a good social event and there are many fanciers who build their annual holidays around entering these races.
I like other scribes have seen a lot of change over the last 40yrs or so, I am now referring to the way we breed pigeons. I say scribes see change; I only say that because we visit more than the average number of fanciers. We are now going back to the days when I first started and even much earlier than that. So, we are going back to about pre 1975 when there were far more pigeon fanciers about than there are today. When I first started racing in the late 60’s we were all looking for good winners no matter what family they were descendants of. In those days’ pigeons needed to be an up to date winning line, otherwise they were no longer a member of the team. I feel that in those days’ fanciers were more choosey when it came to winning lines than they have been. I say that because in recent years the latest fashion is more important than winning pigeons, which is all down to publicity and in most cases, who has the most money to advertise. Anyway, back to the point in question and the way we breed today. For many years’ fanciers wanted the latest fashion but that has now changed and one fancier who was a leader in those changes is Peter Fox, there are a few others, but Peter is the most prominent. Why Peter, for one thing and the most important I know him well and have seen what pigeons he has had over the years. Peter along with his friend Mike Ganus have gone out and brought top class pigeons that have won more than the average, they have of course bought their own or swapped with each other. Many of those pigeons being Ace pigeons, the ones that are the most consistent when it comes to the races, or children of those winners. Peter & Mike have not bought everything together but working together has obviously been a help to them both. They have not gone out and bought a family of pigeons, they have bought some of the best on the market that are available at the time. They and others who have had their pigeons have been rewarded with this way of breeding for the race and stock lofts, top breeding to top breeding no matter what family they are from. Peter has built up a good team that are always in demand. Going back to when I started making these notes with “In my job I have seen a change” that change is in the way most of the top fanciers breed their pigeons. More are going back to breeding winners to winners or as close as possible without having the actual winners in your hands, not everyone can have them. Bruce McAllister is another fancier who buys the best on the market, but he mostly prefers to buy the UK winners and breeders and he has had many very good results through to 1st National level. I was there on a visit and Bruce was saying what they were off, and he lost me in a sea of winners and breeders. What I cannot understand is when Bruce put’s any on the market they do not get the prices for the high quality of pigeons they are, and they are high quality. However, fanciers will buy pigeons from the same lines that are a generation or two further down the line in comparison to what Bruce offers, you won’t get them much better than these, that’s pigeon fanciers for you, fashion over performances. Yes, the modern-day winning pigeon fanciers are changing as can be seen from the pedigree’s that arrive on the Elimar Auction site. I think if this trend continues fanciers will come up against tougher competition. They should have stronger pigeons in their lofts, this is not always a case of winners to winners. I say that because from experience the grandchildren of winners have come good more than the direct children. I say that because I once had over 20prs of direct children from National winners and the grandchildren, won and produced winners for many fanciers both here and abroad. We did race a few direct children of National winners but not one came good. “Elimar Joe 90” was a good pigeon but not one of his children ever won anything but his grandchildren did. For that reason, I preferred to put grandchildren of winners to stock. We had a very good Chequer pied hen who was 33rd and 93rd open National plus twice in the hundreds, again her grandchildren were the better pigeons, she ended up in China.
More on racing.
During my loft visits there have been questions that have related to how pigeons used to be when I first started racing, all-rounders. Does a pigeon have the capabilities of racing both short and long-distance races, a question that many passed on? Also, a question that is related to an all-rounder, what distance can a pigeon still “RACE” as opposed to homing from any race point? These are hard questions to answer because there are fanciers who race in sprint and middle-distance races but go no further. On the other hand, there are fanciers who are only interested in the longer races of say 600mls plus. We were in Holland a few years ago at Kuypers loft when they were the ones to beat at the distance. One of them was always at the lofts on race days while the other would rather go down to the pub until they came to the longer races and then he was at the lofts until the race was over. I have noticed the velocity that a pigeon races home have increased over the years and ther are more doing the distance. The preparation of pigeons to cover the 600 to 700ml races has changed and this is where conditioning a pigeon comes more into winning races. However, I must add that some pigeons are bred more for the distance and I feel that unless a pigeon has it in him to cover the distance, they will not do it.
Let’s break that down into three points.
Firstly, a racing pigeon needs to have the right breeding to cover such distances, not just any pigeon will do it. Therefore, the breeding and the constitution of the pigeons is the major factor in long distance racing. The problem is every now and again the breeding turns on you and one such case was a pigeon called “Winston”. This was a National Ace Pigeon that Ferdi Vandersanden from Bifs bought and bred quite a few from him on the AI system. I bought 4 sons of this cock with sprint in mind, but it didn’t turn out as I expected. All 4 bred pigeons to prize across the channel for myself and others, I never saw a pigeon from him even prize in the sprint races. When this happens, I must think the fancier had started winning with him in the sprint races and kept him there. One of those case where the fanciers was not brave enough to let the pigeon prove what real quality he was.
Secondly, a pigeon needs those energy sacs filling with oils to help them achieve top results from 600 plus mile races. According to information that I have received a pigeon can store oils in their body and call on them when they are needed. This is more prominent in long-distance races.
Thirdly, the fancier must know what they are doing in the first place. Many years ago, I put the success rate of pigeons 75/25% down to the pigeon and I had a fancier pull me up on that point. He was saying the further you go the more it is down to the fancier. I didn’t at the time and I still don’t agree with that because you don’t find baskets of pigeons that will race from such distances. There are only a limited number who will do the job. The adjustment that I have made is down to 60/40% in favour of the pigeon. I had a Dark W/F Cock who covered the distance from Pau & Tarbes nearly 700mls on several occasions. Now I wouldn’t put that down to mostly me because I never had a loft full that would do those distances which I was after. I had one pop up every now and again, in fact all the years I was racing I only had 4 pigeons that appeared well up on the National result from those two race points, when I say well up I am talking the first 100, there were plenty after that point. On the other hand, from other shorter channel races there were plenty. The further you go to this part of the world the harder it gets, I did send the hen that was 27th Open Tarbes (697mls) to Barcelona the year after but never saw her again so I take it she had reached her limit.
There are more pigeons covering the longer distances all the time because the actual racing that the pigeon does is governed by the owner and not by rules. The actual racing that a pigeon does has improved immensely since I first started racing pigeons because the fanciers themselves have more opportunity to prepare and keep them, the facilities have also improved. When I first started you were lucky to get one on the day from Nantes (412mls) into the Middlewich, but if you don’t get one now you want to know what has gone wrong. They used to be the long-distance races for the clubs but no longer. More and more pigeons are doing 400 to 450mls at around 40mph than there have been and remember there are less pigeons going to these races in the clubs so those going are a more selective bunch.
I know I have mentioned this and many more things before but I remember years ago talking to the late Denis Gleave and he said, “If you give them 10hrs in the club then you need to knock one hour off for the National racing”. At the time that was probably correct, but I now believe that the gap has closed, and they are now more or less the same. The pigeons will even race from Tarbes into the North West given the right conditions, but they don’t come along very often, and Pau is 697mls to Middlewich. For that reason, I think that everyone should be given the same chance in the NFC Blue Ribbon race through a mid-day liberation and then they have a chance of racing home. I think the Blue-Ribbon race was far better when they did go for a mid-day lib. The further down the road that they go the less chance there is of them racing home as compared to homing. I do know that some fanciers down south prefer an early morning lib, but I don’t think they are thinking about the pigeons arriving on the channel when the light is fading. Once they start that channel crossing there is no going back and when the light has gone, they are in no mands land, I don’t think some fanciers even consider that point.
Pigeons have more brains that they are at times given credit for and will pace themselves to get home from the 600/700ml races, which is why I believe that some pigeons come home near enough as fresh as when they went. I also feel that this is a contributing factor in a distance pigeon’s success. Birds successfully cover long distances year in year out with the better ones getting better as the years go by. Once they have been to the longer races it is not very often that you can bring them back to a sprint race and win, that is unless they come across a hard race where they must work for a living. I have seen some good sprint pigeons that have never been sent across the channel because their owners are winning so much with them on land. However, given the chance I wonder how many of these pigeons would cover a greater distance and win. I dare bet many of them can cover races up to 350mls with ease, but it is a case of their owners are happy with what they are doing.