Mr & Mrs Ken Lycett talking to Les J Parkinson
Many years ago, I used to see the Lycett family on a yearly basis at the Blackpool Show when they were secretaries of the MNFC. As is always the case we lose contact with many people in the sport, but now contact has been made to compile this article. I have done this on a Q&A basis because I feel we can get more out of the people we are writing about, and get the information in their own words, so here goes.
Mr & Mrs Ken Lycett
1.Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got started in the sport.
I’m Mike Lycett and I’m answering this on behalf of my parents (Cath and Ken Lycett of Rugeley). My father has been racing since the 1950’s and it’s as a consequence of his love for the Sport that has seen Mum, myself, and my two brothers Ken and Dave all racing at various points in their lives.
2. With your pigeon work do you have a silent partner i.e. wife, partner or friend, if so, what part do they play.
At this point in our lives the family races as Mr & Mrs K. Lycett although over the years there have been several different forms of that racing name. At the moment the overwhelming majority of the work is performed by Dave and Ken and they would be at the lofts most days. Generally speaking, Dave does the mornings and Ken does the afternoon. I would flirt in and out depending on my work, but I’d estimate my involvement to be maybe 3-4 days a month really.
3. Do you consider there to be any advantage having a racing partnership.
Pigeons thrive on attention and there are obvious advantages to having a partner as opposed to flying solo. The more attention birds can be given the better. It’s far from easy for a working man to be able to compete on a level playing field with partnerships where often several people are at the lofts. For instance, a partnership can watch the weather and take opportunity of a break in the weather if birds need a training toss. That option isn’t available to the single fancier who is out at work during the day.
The advantage of being solo of course is that there’s no mix up in communication. The left hand knows exactly what the right hand is doing. The racing partnership can still achieve this, but their communication must be very clear with each other.
4. Are there any points that you disagree on and if so, how do you compromise a situation where there is a different viewpoint?
There are always differences of opinion as to what’s happening on the garden or what decision needs to be made. There’s 3 sons and Mum and Dad who all potentially will have an opinion on things. Generally speaking, I keep my nose out and let the others decide what they want to do. I feel that’s best as I don’t contribute an awful lot to the day to day work that goes on at the lofts. Generally, we find a compromise between us all. That’s the advantage of a partnership that is family based. Friends can fall out much easier than family.
5. Do each of you have an area within the partnership where responsibilities take control regarding a decision?
Yes, there are areas where people take control of what’s happening. Dave does all the training so the YB will start training when he wants to take them, and they’ll go as often and as far as he wants to take them. We don’t lose many YB and Dave’s policy is very simple really. He tries to lose them on purpose! If someone else from a different area is training at the same point as us, he’ll ask if ours can go up with them to get them mixed up. This is because we fly in the Burton & Derby Federation. We’re one of the most Westerly lofts and our YB have to pull out of 2,500 birds on a West wind and against the drag from race-points that are very short (starting at less than 60 miles) so we need to encourage them to be thinking for themselves.
I tend to lead the way with any new introductions that come onto the garden. I’m fortunate to be very good friends with some of the best fliers in the UK and they help us no end. Medication and Supplements are also left for me to manage as a rule.
6. Give the readers the most memorable results that you have achieved flying as a partnership and flying on your own.
Over the years we’ve had lots of success that we’re very proud of. When Dad used to race with his brothers as C. Lycett & Sons they were mustard in the channel races. They topped the Walsall Fed, Worcester Fed and Wolverhampton Fed from Saintes (488 miles). I still think that they are the only loft to ever have achieved that. They also featured in the top 10 Open of the MNFC I don’t know how many times and they only ever used to send one or two. Back in those days they used to race the Van Hees and they were an utterly fantastic pigeon at the distance. Dad bought them in 1974 which I think was the first year that Louella had them. They were marvellous pigeons at the distance.
When Ken and I used to fly with Mum we had lots of success with our George Litherland pigeons. We competed as Mrs C. Lycett & Sons in those days. Ken did lots of homework on birds before we brought them onto the garden, and we went and got the best that George had. This was in the late 1980’s with his Kellens Van Den Bosche. That started the beginning of a wonderful friendship and we feel George’s loss to this day. He could make a pigeon sing and dance and he remains the best pigeon man I’ve ever met bar none. We used to fly in the Worcester Fed in those days and topped the Federation up to anything against 9,592 birds. This was against birds that were flying 40 miles short of us. One exceptional cock was a Pencil Cock 91Z24512. His mother was “Frilly” a direct daughter of “Wain Lee Monarch”. He finished in the top 10 of the Worcester Federation on 10 occasions with up to 9,531 birds. All 10 performances that he finished in the top 10 of the Fed had at least 6,000 birds competing. He was probably the 3rd or 4th best sprinter that we ever had.
In the late 1990’s we were racing as Mrs C. Lycett and Son and at this point that was Mike racing along with parents Cath & Ken. We embarked upon a fantastic run of success with the M & D Evans Gaby’s before having an Entire Clearance Sale in 2007. These birds achieved everything that we asked of them at Federation level. I attribute a lot of that down to the fact that we were doing something at that time that hardly anybody else was doing. I was going to M & D, taking direct children from “Shadow”, “Jester”, “Carrie”, “Benetton”, “Saffron”, “Band of Gold”, “Westkapelle” etc and throwing them onto the garden to race!
We’ve had 2 different pigeons both win the West Midlands Region Sprint Champion title which is a huge accomplishment. It’s the biggest Region in the UK and the West Midlands is a renowned hotbed of sprinting. Most lofts won’t win this once let alone twice. The first time was with “Houdini” the second time with “Champion Eddy”
For all the good pigeons that we’ve had, the best pigeon we’ve ever had was “Pale Rider”. She was a 1999 hen that we bought as a squeaker from M & D Evans. I lost track a long time ago of how many winners came through her right up to and including National level too. One G. Daughter of “Rider” was responsible for over 100 x 1st herself and I stopped counting those wins several seasons ago. They still win to this day. A few weeks ago, Don Green won 1st UBI Combine Guernsey with “Pale Rider” bloodlines.
7. Is there anything that you have not won in the sport that you would like to achieve?
Not really no. There’s no value in saying an International race or the NFC Tarbes race etc because we’ve never shown the slightest bit of interest in that kind of racing. Sprinting is our primary aim, and this has always attracted our attention. We’ve had 2 different pigeons both be award the title of “West Midlands Region Sprint Champion”. That’s a huge honour because the Midlands is home to some fantastic sprint fliers, so we’re proud of that accomplishment.
8. What organisations do you race with?
We compete with Hill Ridware which flies in the Burton & Derby Federation at a weekend. It’s a strong Fed that regularly sends around 2,500 birds. We’re also members of Burntwood Midweek too but rarely send. We like it as an option in case there’s something we need to send at some point. We’re also members of the North Midlands Continental Club and have won 2 x 1st Opens with the NMCC. Firstly with “Bobby Dazzler” in 2006 by a clear 9 mins and 59 seconds; then again in 2018 with “Pitbull Queen” by a clear 4 minutes and 43 seconds. I think we’re probably members of the MCC too but rarely send because as stated earlier we’ve no real appetite or ambition for water racing.
9. Do you hold any official position and if so, do you take an active part, if no what are your reasons.
Over the years there’s precious little that my parents haven’t done really. Mum was Secretary of Brereton & District HS for a huge length of time some decades ago. When this was at its peak in the 70’s we’d have seen 70-80 members sending 800 or so birds a week; and Dad was Chairman for a long time too.
My parents are probably best known for their time in charge of the MNFC. Mum was Secretary for around a decade I’d guess and under their stewardship the MNFC saw the largest and in my opinion best growth that any National or “Specialist” Club has ever seen or is likely to see too. When they took it over there were around 1,800 members in the MNFC. When they left it the MNFC was just about to break through the 4,000-member barrier.
During this time there were lots of approaches to take on alternative roles in the sport, but they were rejected. I used to be Press Officer for the MNFC and after that the MCC too after my parents took that job on. I found being a Press Officer for these organisations quite easy really and it’s even easier today. When I was doing the MNFC role there was no internet and no sat nav’s. I used to hop in the car, and I could end up anywhere collating information and verifying etc. These days with email etc it’s so easy to collate information on winners.
10. What are your lofts made of and how big are they.
The race loft is made of wood with a tiled roof and is 22 feet in length and 8 feet wide (2 feet corridor on the front). It’s got 3 sections. 2 x 8 feet and one at 6 feet. The cocks and YB both have 8 feet and the hens have 6 feet. This race loft has stood since the 1980’s and it won’t get replaced either. There’s a Stock loft and aviary. The Stock loft houses 5 pairs and is 6 feet x 8 feet. There’s a 6-foot section next to the stock loft that is broadly empty most of the time.
11. Do you attach any importance to having a tiled roof on a loft, if so, are there any benefits.
No, not really. I know ours have a tiled roof but in reality, I’ve probably verified over 100 National or Classic winners over the years and I’ve been in most of these lofts within 24 hours of them winning the race. The lofts I’ve been in have come in all shapes and sizes and in many ways are all unique but certain elements remain true. Dry, well ventilated, not over-crowded, not draughty. Most of all its “home” and you can’t place a value on that.
12. Do you use any form of heating system in any of your lofts. Do you think it would be advantages for the birds?
There are no heaters used at our lofts. Without spilling secrets I’m good friends with some incredible fliers who do swear by them but I’m not at liberty to disclose their private information If we were at a different stage in our racing career then yes, they’d be in operation.
13. How do you control the ventilation in your loft.
There are vents in the doors and vents in the ceiling and we’d manipulate those based on the conditions. If it’s cold, wet or damp then get closed off. If it’s warm, then they are opened up.
14. Do you have any grills fitted in the floor or in the boxes, are there any advantages to using them.
Both. Pigeons not coming into contact with their own droppings is an obvious advantage and it allows us to closely monitor the quality of the droppings too. If there is anything amiss, we’re likely to capture it faster this way. There’s obviously a time-saving element from our perspective too as we only have a limited amount of time, we can give the birds these days.
15. What families of pigeons do you keep?
There’s still a strong presence of our old Gaby’s at the lofts. These go back to our old lines of “Pale Rider”, “The Assassin”, “Gareth Gates”, “Bobby Dazzler” etc. All of these names feature in the breeding of “Champion Eddy” the 2013 West Midlands Region Sprint Champion. We also have bloodlines from Tony & Lee Painter of Willenhall and Gordon Bros and Sons of Northern Ireland. We have the very best from these 2 lofts and to be honest if there’s something that we want from either loft then I just have to pick up the phone and ask them and it’ll be delivered, and no money will be exchanged. They epitomise everything that’s good about the Sport.
16. Easterly or Westerly do you set any stall by the position and if so why.
When you’re sprinting, races are often won by the finest of margins. If you’re a good loft, in form and have a good location on the day then you’ve every reason to expect to be in the shake-up. Obviously, you’d rather be sat in the East if there was a West wind and vice-versa. You “can” beat the odds we’ve done it ourselves; you just have a pigeon that’s operating at a level that nothing else can match. Easier said than done!
BREEDING AND RACE PREPARATION/PLANNING
17. How do you go about bringing in a new family and what do you look for.
It’s all about performance simple as that. If you use performance as your yard stick, then you’ll make life easier in the long run; and I think the same applies if you’re sprinting or if you’re a channel man. If you try and populate the pedigree of the birds that you’re racing with as many top-class performers and performances in the distance that you’re interested in then something good has to come out somewhere.
18. When you bring in that new family do you think that they need time to acclimatise, if so, how long.
Personally, I’d say that was rubbish. It’s just making excuses. I’ll put it another way. All of our very best breeders have always come in and hit the ground running breeding exceptional pigeons right from the word go. Good birds need no excuses. There’s none of this “maybe it’s not with the right mate”. At the moment we’ve a 2016 hen called “The Lucky Hen” that was given to us by our friends Gordon Bros & Sons. In her first year at Stock she went with 2 cocks from different families. Bred 1st prize-winners with both straight away. I used to joke that we could pair “Pale Rider” to a magpie and she’d breed winners. This “Lucky Hen” is the same. Exceptional pigeons need no excuses.
19. When looking for new pigeons do you look for a particular family, one for specialist races or club races or just by name.
This feels like the same question as number 17. It’s all about performance. On a Saturday that’s all you’re judged on. Simple as that irrespective of the name or how fashionable the family may or may not be that you’re racing.
20. Which of the two sexes do you consider is the most important when it comes to breeding?
It takes two to tango obviously but answering the question properly it’s hens. You can “do” more with a good cock because you can run him with several mates at one time and get more offspring from him. However; the mark of any good racing loft is a mirror image of the strength of the breeding hens. If you’re breeding hens aren’t special, why would the race team by special?
21. Some fanciers like big hens for breeding does the size of the hen make any difference to the quality of youngsters that she breeds in your past experience.
We’ve never had an exceptional breeding hen that was big in size. In fact, we’d actively steer clear of big hens. If we were looking at bringing in a hen and the two were of equal quality, we’d avoid one if it were “big”. Smaller/medium sized birds are easier to manage and bring into form and fitness than big pigeons. We’ve had big hens in the past and they’ve invariably produced bigger offspring than what we’d like to work with. They’ve never done any good.
22. When it comes to breeding do you line-breed or use a first cross or just pair winners to winners.
If you were pairing winners to winners, then as a general rule you wouldn’t go far wrong. We’d like to get as many first crosses into the race team as possible though especially if the parents were quite inbred. Obviously, they have to be of the right quality. Without performance you’re wasting your time.
23. Do you think that fanciers change for the sake of changing or do you think a loft can breed a winning team out and lose track of the winners.
It’s very easy to think that the grass is greener and to be taken in by a new, fashionable name. Stockman ship is a rare art these days but there are fanciers out there who have had a family of birds for a long time and still do very well with them. I admire the likes of Shaun McDonough and Clive Yates who are still operating and winning with the FVW and their heritage can be traced back 30 years and more. That doesn’t mean that these lofts don’t have other blood to enhance their lofts, but knowing what to introduce and when to introduce it is an art. Last week our partnership was 2nd, 3rd and 6th Federation against 2,300 birds and the second timer was a g-daughter of the 1999 hen “Pale Rider”. If you’ve got good blood you’ve got good blood. You just need to exploit it.
24. What method do you use to select your breeders
Again, it’s all about performance. We’ve never had an exceptional racer that didn’t go on to breed a hatful of winners. Good birds are good birds. They need no excuses. If a pigeon pleased us in the hand but the performances weren’t there either in itself or the immediate ancestry, then it wouldn’t get into the breeding loft irrespective of how much we liked it. If a pigeon was directly out of superstars, then that’s a pigeon that would be of interest. Good blood is good blood.
25. Did you find your best breeding pigeon by luck or judgment?
Judgement. Our best breeding hen was “Pale Rider” and it’s not a shock that her mother and father “Benetton” and “Saffron” were breeders of hundreds of winners up and down the country for scores of fanciers. Naturally not every brother and sister are as good as each other, so I guess we were fortunate that we got what was in my opinion one of the very best daughters that Benetton x Saffron ever produced. Everybody who ever handled her though knew right from the off that she was special. She spoke to you all you had to do was listen.
26. What materials do you use for nesting
Nest-felt in the bowl and tobacco stalks. We’d then use a small amount of straw too - but you must be confident of your source.
27. When do you pair your pigeons and why then.
As a rule, around Blackpool at the earliest. We’re not really interested in breeding off the Stock birds before then. It’s just longer that you have to keep and clean and feed a YB team and I’m not so sure there’s any benefit of having them any older. Of course, people have success with early-bred YB, but these lofts would probably enjoy similar success with younger YB too. YB’s are effectively only YB for 8-9 weeks in terms of racing. They’re OB forever.
28. How many stock birds do you keep, and do you breed off your race team also how many pigeons do you think that you need to breed off any individual stock pair each year to see if they are quality producers.
We have 5 pairs of Stock. We’d breed from the elite of the racers. Normally their heritage can be traced back to the breeders too unless it was something like “Pitbull Queen” that was bred for us by Tony & Lee Painter. Even then she has a strong performance heritage to back her up. That’s why she came onto the garden in the first place.
By breeding from the elite racers this is their first opportunity to show their mettle as breeders. The racers would get 1 round taken from them to prove themselves. The breeders would get a max of 2 rounds to prove themselves. Once they are proven then we breed around the exceptional ones. We need as many pigeons we can get from the elite birds on the garden.
29. Please explain the method used from pairing up until the first race.
Our birds are exercised regularly throughout the winter. By doing this we minimise our chances of getting wing-lock come the Spring. By the time the racers are paired mid-late January they are fit. Not “race fit” but fit. Whilst the birds are sitting, they’ll get a 5 day treatment for canker commencing when they’re on 10 day eggs. By doing this we can guarantee that the parents are whistle-clean when they start to feed the newly born babies giving them the best start in life.
Whilst the YB are getting fed the parents aren’t actually let out all that often. Once a week or so on a decent day for a bath is fine. The priority for this 3-week period is breeding the best YB that we possibly can. Once the YB’s are away we’ll start to look at exercising them twice a day to re-build any fitness that might have been lost whilst feeding. It’s not that much if truth be told. The main thing is we need them “fit” before they can train. Pigeons don’t know they’re training. Every piece of work they do they race home to the loft, so we want to ensure they are fit around home prior to any roadwork taking place. The birds would get say 8-10 tosses or so before the first race and then the season commences.
30. Do you move the hens with the young birds?
Over the years we’ve done all sorts. Our preferred method is when the cocks start driving the hen down again for the 2nd round then we whip the hen away and let the cock finish the YB’s on his own. Why? Well we’re not interested in the 2nd round of eggs anyway. If they sit that 2nd round too long, then that’ll only stimulate the moult and we don’t want that. Also, the cock is solely responsible for finishing the YB on his own, so it enhances his love of his box and when you’re racing that’s all important. Add to that the cock is just wasting energy by driving his hen to nest for a 2nd round of eggs it makes no sense and if you can’t justify why you’re doing something then why are you doing it in the first place?
31. What is the farthest distance that you would train your old birds or young birds?
It’s rare the birds go 30 miles. Generally speaking, they’re kept 12-18 miles. Pigeons aren’t stupid. They know where home is. What’s important is the line.
32. Do you breed off the top widowhood cocks after the racing has finished, do you breed late bred youngsters and what do you think of those later bred youngsters.
When racing has finished, we always breed off the racers for several reasons. 1. There’s always a demand from previous customers to buy their babies. 2. It gives the OB something to do whilst we’re focussing on training and racing YB. 3. It’s a perfect opportunity to test the bloodlines from the racers and in 18 months or so we expect feedback from fanciers who’ve purchased summer bred YB from the race team. 4. This helps us establish if there are any future breeders that we need to be aware of. 5. We treat it as a reward for the OB after a seasons racing.
What do we think of them? Well they’re bred in the summer and they have the best of everything that’s going including warmth and long summer days, so they come out of the nest like Kings and Queens most of the time. If there’s any pairings that we want to experiment with then this would be when we’d try it.
33. For every 50 pigeons that you breed realistically how many of them would win at 500mls, based on your past records.
Hopefully none! That’s not the racing that we’re interested in these days. We have had our successes in the past on the channel. I recall 89Z21721 topping the Worcester Fed from Nantes in 1991 at 380 miles on a baking hot day in a NE wind. That was a great performance flying 40 miles further than first droppers.
We’ve also only ever sent to the MNFC Bergerac twice. On both occasions we sent 1 pigeon (not the same pigeon twice). Both times we got that pigeon on the day from 557 miles. The last time was 14hrs 5 mins on the wing and he won over £1,000 that day.
Did that performance please us? Yea sure. Did it please me more than topping the Fed from a sprint race? No not really. Horses for courses and each to his own. I’d rather watch grass grow than wait for 500 milers to return home. The day that cock won £1,000 in the MNFC Bergerac from 557 miles I wasn’t there waiting for him and it’s never kept me awake at night
34. How do you race your pigeons and how many.
These days we race Roundabout. That’s primarily because Dave does a lot of the work at the lofts these days and he prefers hens to cocks. Me, I’d rather just race straight widowhood cocks. One thing we have learnt in recent seasons though is just how easy it is to race hens, and if anything, they are more “durable” and more genuine than a widowhood cock. By that I mean some days you can get a cock bang on the button but if it’s a cold day, low cloud and precious little sun the cocks are more easily knocked off their game than a hen. At present there’s 16 cocks and about 22 hens in the team which is more than we ever used to carry. The beauty of racing hens is that they basically just need a perch whereas a cock needs a box. If your space is limited, then hens are far more practical
35. Do you compete in the National events, if not why not? Or are you happy to race in the club.
As expressed earlier we are happier sprinting. That’s where we’re best so that’s what we concentrate on. If we wanted to fly the distance properly, I’d make friends with someone that I admired in that discipline and basically live with him until I’d learnt all there was to know. If I had my time again, I’d try and shadow Les Green and learn how to get a team of sprinters giving their all. He’s a smart pigeon man and one we admire greatly.
36. Do you ever think of competing for averages, if not why not?
No. Why would we? An average is a trophy and it sits with you for a year. So what? We just try and be the best we can be each time we compete. If that means the averages fall our way, then fine. We’d certainly never chase an average though. An average means that you’re the best “all round”. It doesn’t mean you’re the best. If one bloke wins every week but doesn’t send one week he often misses out on the “average”. That still makes him the best in my book. Averages mean nothing to us. Being the best, we can be means everything.
37. Do you race your pigeons every week or do you prefer to condition them for a specific race.
Because we’re a sprint orientated loft the birds tend to go every week, week in week out as a rule. If we were racing in different disciplines, then yes, a bird would be prepared for the job in hand. Take that MNFC Bergerac cock I was talking about earlier. I still remember that like yesterday. He went to the NFC Nantes as his “warm up” race and then he was kept under wraps for the best part of 3 weeks before his 557 miles into a NE wind.
38. In your view do you think that a loft needs different pigeons for different distances?
In a one-word answer yes. It’s a hell of a pigeon that can win in different disciplines these days. Back in the 70’s it was the same pigeons that broadly went from first to last. In more modern times there’s certainly been an introduction of families that excel in different conditions and different disciplines. On a week in week out basis I wouldn’t want to be relying on say a Jan Aarden based pigeon to hold my end up against say a good Van Den Bulck man at 65 miles. And by the same token a Van Den Bulck man will invariably be found wanting on a 600 miles race. There might be odd exceptions to the rule of course but generally speaking surround yourself with birds that are cut out for the job that you want to excel at and use performance as your yardstick.
39. Is there any specific condition that your pigeons perform best at, or any particular time of the year?
Most of our birds carry either the old Gaby blood, Tony & Lee Painter blood and the Wijnants blood from Niall and Gary Gordon. The one thing they all have in common is they all love the wind blowing up their nostrils.
40. When do you allow your racers to take a bath?
Whenever they want really. It’s put out for them a couple of times a week normally in the afternoon as opposed to the morning. It’s warmer then and we’re more likely to have a bit more time on our hands.
41. Do you use any floor dressing, or do you clean the pigeons out daily.
All the floors are cleaned daily with the exception of the Hens section. They are on a floor which gets done on a Saturday morning whilst waiting for news of liberation. The hens are on a floor that we were advised to put down by Gordon Bros. I can’t tell you any more than that other than the main thing with racing hens is preventing them from pairing up so use your imagination (and no it’s not balls or some form of elastic either)
42. Do you like to have plenty of room for the pigeons?
We’ve always thrived on racing a small team. That’s not to say I don’t admire the big team man because I do. There’s a huge difference between a man who carries a large team and looks after them well compared to a “mob flier”. I class a “mob flier” as someone who carries more pigeons than he can look after properly. We need to get the best out of every pigeon on the garden if we can. That means attention to detail. That means we carry small numbers. In reality we’re carrying more pigeons now than we ever used to and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
43. How do you feed the cocks and what do you feed them on, a branded mix or do you buy separate corns and mix your own.
When we were flying just straight widowhood cocks before our Entire Clearance in 2007 cocks were fed in boxes individually. These days’ time is of the essence and they are fed in troughs on the floor. I still think the former is better. Then again, our cocks are raced Roundabout and I don’t think I know of a single loft whose hens don’t out-perform the cocks on roundabout. It’s a system that suits hens very well put it that way.
The racers have to be fed differently every week it’s as simple as that. Niall Gordon sleeps with about 40 weather apps on his wrist I swear! He can tell me the wind, weather, temperature and anything else I care to ask him for any given day 7-10 days in advance. Why would you prepare a pigeon to compete in a 2000ypm day the same way as a 1300ypm day? You don’t see Lewis Hamilton finishing a F1 race with a full tank of petrol, do you? Same rules apply.
44. Do you measure the amount that you give to each pigeon, or are they fed according to the individual pigeon.
It was easier to feed pigeons individually when they were fed in pots in their boxes. We have to adapt these days as we don’t really have the same time to put into pigeons. The volume is still measured to a certain degree, but no longer on an individual basis. Pigeons are like humans. We all have different appetites.
45. Do you attach any importance to grits and minerals, or can the pigeons get what they want they are out of the loft.
100% swear by Matrix of Gem Supplements. Our pigeons destroy it daily. It’s wonderful stuff. Going back in time I used to talk to Brian Wall of Gem quite a lot. He’s a good man. 100% recommend Matrix to anybody.
46. Is there a way that your pigeons let you know when they are in form?
Of course! The trick is getting to know each pigeon because they’re all individuals. Basically, what we’re looking for is a change of personality. It’s easier to spot a quiet cock who starts becoming very boisterous and clapping around and going off on his own etc. They aren’t always the ones to watch though. When “Champion Eddy” stayed in his box and fought you on a Thursday night then we knew it was “Game On”. That was out of character for him. When he fought us in his box on a Thursday night not once did, he ever let us down.
47. Do you have any secrets about what you do with your pigeons and how you get them right?
Pigeon racing is all about detail. Attention to detail. You need form basically. You won’t get form without fitness. You won’t get fitness without health. If health is compromised, you’re going to struggle. Once you have health, fitness and form then little things like motivation and yes even loft location can be the deciding factor between winning and losing. One thing I’ve learned from Gary Gordon is the difference between 1st and 2nd. 1st is victory. 2nd means try harder. Simple
48. Do the pigeons need any special treatment on their return from the race to help them relax? Is any such treatment needed for the short or long-distance races or the hard races compared to the easy races?
This is a question that’s been penned by a distance minded fancier! There is no such thing as an “easy race”. Let’s say you are referring to an 1800ypm day at 100 miles as an “easy race”. I take issue with that. It’s takes a monumental amount of effort both physically and mentally to go eyeballs out for 100 miles. I’m not talking about competing here. I’m talking about winning. Winners give their ALL regardless of speed and distance involved.
In terms of “recovery” our birds are broadly treated the same every Saturday and Sunday regardless of the race (remember hardly any of our races are beyond 151 miles these days). They get an electrolyte-based drink on return with Gemthepax and Immunol added to their feed on Saturday and all-day Sunday. The preparation for next week’s race starts when the birds are in the basket on a Friday night. You need to get them turned around ready to rock and roll again, so to do that the recovery must be absolute and speedy too.
49. How many weeks do you think a pigeon can maintain its form on the widowhood system for both cocks and hens?
The truly exceptional pigeons will hold their form virtually all season long. But they are the exceptional ones. In 2005 “Houdini” was the West Midlands Region Champion and 2nd UK RPRA Sprint Champion only beaten by “Scarecrow” of Donnelly Bros in Northern Ireland. “Houdini” came every week for about 7 weeks regardless of wind. He was a freak.
50. Does this include channel races or are the specified number of weeks for sprint races and do you think that a pigeon can be prepared at fortnightly intervals for the channel races.
A good sprinter (and I mean a GOOD sprinter) can hold their form most of the season. I wouldn’t really like to comment about channel racing as it’s not a discipline that we mess around in really. If I wanted to fly channel, I’d attempt to learn a lot and quickly about that discipline from somebody I admired in that arena. Mark Gilbert’s record is exceptional, and he’s often not given enough credit for his performances because he sometimes sends a large team. So what? It’s not a relay. His other birds don’t get any assistance from anyone else. A winning pigeon is a winning pigeon. Simples. Hats off to it and the owner.
51. If your race team went off form during the season what action would you take to restore their condition?
One of the previous answers covered this really. It’s all about health. Without health you’re going to struggle. I’d get the birds tested by 3 different vets and analyse the findings. In the meantime, I’d be on the phone to Gordon Bros picking their brains.
52. What happens when you are racing either widowhood or the roundabout when you have a bad race and lose a few from one sex, how do you continue with those pigeons who have lost their mate.
We race roundabout and we specifically start with more hens than cocks. The birds don’t have a particular mate. If 2 cocks and 2 hens come first, then they see each other. It’s as simple as that. Why complicate things? One cock can see more than one hen it’s not a problem. Whatever comes home early gets the reward of seeing whatever else is home.
53. Is a favourable loft location the single biggest factor in sprint racing.
A favourable loft location in sprint racing is important of course it is. It’s not the be all and end all. I could point to a host of performances that have been achieved “against the wind”. We’re the second or third most westerly loft in the Burton & Derby Federation and basically the entire Federation lie East of us. On 25th May 2019 we were 2nd, 3rd and 6th Fed against 2,253 birds on a WNW wind. You’d say we needed East. I’d say we need East too. That was a performance against the odds. Get your birds right don’t worry about the things you can’t control
54. Do you treat pigeons differently with their preparation if they are to go to the bigger races whether National, Classic, Specialist club or open.
Our preparation is basically the same most weeks as we’re sprinting up to 151 miles virtually every week of the season
55. Do you think a pigeon has the capabilities of racing both short and long-distance races? Also, what distance can a pigeon actually still “RACE” as opposed to homing from any race point?
Like I said earlier the modern-day pigeon has brought about pigeons that excel in certain disciplines. They are exceptional that’ll win across multi-distances. For me “on the day” racing whether 500 miles or beyond is “raced” as opposed to homed. Once you go into the realms of a 2nd day and beyond that then other factors are coming to the fore more.
56. What proportion of you pigeons get better on subsequent trips to the long-distance races and what do you call distance.
Fortunately, this is not a question that applies to us as we don’t compete in “long distance” races. I certainly think 550 miles is a “race” as it’s generally achieved on the day. I have admiration for anything that can stick 14 hours and more on the day at the distance to get home. Just because we don’t play in that arena doesn’t mean we don’t admire certain performances achieved at the distance.
57. Which is the more difficult, establishing a team of sprinter’s or distance pigeons and why.
Anybody can establish a team of sprinters. Anybody can establish a team of distance pigeons. Getting a REAL GOOD TEAM of either isn’t so easy. Put it this way, if you’re of a distance man and you’re of a mind where you’re sending the bulk of your team across the water more often than the chances of getting hit with bad returns are greater. You’d have to have a real bad race to get wiped out as a sprint man from a sprint race
58. Sprinter or distance, there is no difference; it is all in the feeding.
Yea right. You believe that?
59. If you could pass on one piece of advice or tip, at this point to fanciers old and young, what would it be?
Concentrate on being the best fancier you can be. We grew up in a town that had 80 members sending 800 a week and we got our backsides kicked for a decade and more. We never ran away and formed other Clubs. Sort the issue out. Learn from your mistakes. If there’s an “ace” flier in your club, make sure you put his birds through on a Friday night. Pay attention to how they feel and the weight they’re carrying. Are yours like that? You’ve got to ask yourself the question all the time.
60. What problems do you think are most detrimental to race condition in modern day racing, both Old Bird and Young Bird?
Bird of Prey is obviously the biggest single factor that we have to contend with in getting good racing. Unfortunately, we can’t control them. You get hit by BOP at the liberation and you’re in for a dodgy race simple as that.
61. How far do you race your yearling’s.
153 miles J
62. What races do you send your long-distance candidates to before their chosen race.
This question no longer applies to us but in the past, we’d be looking to get 10 hours or so into a 500 miles candidate 3 weeks before that race.
63. Where do you house your widow hens.
The only hens we have now are raced on roundabout. They are in the Section next door to the cocks.
64. Can you tell the readers your routine for preparing pigeons for the longer races? Do you look forward to the channel racing?
Not applicable these days.
65. Young bird sickness is a problem; have you had this in your loft and if so, what have you treated them with.
Virtually every season our pigeons come under threat of sickness, but we rarely get it properly. Watch your birds and if your instincts tell you they aren’t right then don’t wait. React immediately. We do this every year. Every year we see them starting to come under pressure and we nip it in the bud. Why wait? We’d turn to Kombi-Mix and Matrix both from Tollisan. We like their products on the whole.
66. Do you race your young birds, if so, how many races, if not why, do you think they are better off in the longer events if they are only raced lightly.
As we’re sprinting the YB basically fly the programme. We want to know, what are the best birds on the garden, and you only find that out on a Saturday. They aren’t there to be looked at. Those Bergerac cocks I referred to earlier in the article were raced on Darkness as YB and flew the whole programme. Why would you want to deprive them of education?
67. What do you think the sport should do to change things for the better, in relation to your points made a couple of questions ago.
Did I make points a couple of questions ago? One thing that we’d like to see is more mass liberations. Let’s find out who the best fliers are and the best pigeons and celebrate them! There are probably 12,000 birds or so at least go out of the West Midlands to sprint races every week made up of countless liberations, normally all in a close proximity to each other. Madness. The fewer liberations the less BOP strikes we’d get too.
68. Do you use any preventative medication? If a pigeon goes ill do you try to put it right or does the bird have to go.
Our best birds have never been ill. Simple as that. Every bird that we’ve nursed back to health has never gone onto become a truly good pigeon for us. Preventative medication is a must. You jeopardise the health of your pigeon and your form will go down the toilet. Guaranteed. Saturday’s are a long day if you’re behind.
69. Earlier in the article we discussed the wind direction, do you consider that good pigeons will win in any position.
This is a simple one to answer. Leading pigeons don’t get pulled or swayed by others. Simple as that. If your bird isn’t clear why does it deserve to win? I’m battering Gary Gordon every week about this. He’ll say, “If he has one with us today, he’ll beat us”. I’ll reply “Well if he has one with you why do you deserve to beat him? You’ve gotta be clear of him that gives him nowhere to go then”.
70. Some fanciers go out and purchase good quality winning pigeons but never appear to make the grade, why do you consider that this happens.
A good fancier is one that learns from his mistakes. Sure, good pigeons respond to good management, but good birds in a bad man’s hand is a bad pigeon. By the same token a good pigeon that’s out of form is just an also-ran.
71. Do you give any special treatments when the pigeons return from the race as a precaution against anything that they may have picked up in the basket?
It’s a long time from Mid-July until the following April. You’re basically keeping OB for 40 weeks of the year looking back at you and you need 12 weeks of form from them. In that sense we’re on our pigeons every week regardless of how they perform. I don’t need to see a result sheet on a Saturday night to gauge if we’re happy with the birds or not.
72. Do you use the darkness system for the young birds, if so for how long and do you think it affects them later in life.
Yes, our YB are raced darkness and no it has no impact on their racing career in later life. Our 2 West Midlands Region Sprint Champions were raced darkness. Our 0-800 West Midlands Region Award winner “Maxi” was raced darkness. Other Region Award winners like “Gareth Gates” and “Donovan” were raced darkness. Our 2 Bergerac cocks were raced darkness. Sometimes people will look for any excuse as to why their birds aren’t performing to their maximum level
The birds are taken off the darkness on the weekend surrounding the longest day of the year.
73. Are there any feeding methods for the young birds i.e. do you break them down, do you keep them hungry for control purposes, do you give them a trapping seed mix. Why is feeding the pigeon’s sop complicated or is that the way we make it.
As discussed earlier when you’re racing you need to fuel the pigeon for the job in hand. After the health of the pigeon it’s the most important aspect of pigeon racing. YB are never broken down and never hungry. Control is about habit. Discipline. Not hunger. They get a “tit bit” in relation to trapping yes.
74. Do you attach any real importance to the pigeon’s wing i.e. back wing, end four flights and do you look at the wing to see if they have cast before a race. Any other comments on the wing.
We’ve never really studied the wing in great detail. It has no bearing on what we’re trying to achieve. The old wives’ tale was you’ll never get form until the birds start casting. I can point to numerous Federation winners that we’ve had and National winners that I’ve verified that haven’t cast a flight. Why complicate things?
75. If random drugs tests were carried out on your pigeons, would it reveal any substance, illegal or otherwise?
Of course, it would not reveal any illegal substances. Ridiculous question.
76. What criteria do you set down for the pigeons you winter with your thoughts on the following seasons racing and breeding?
We’re very quick to make our judgements on what we’re carrying forward. We do this as soon as the YB season has ended. When the birds have finished their moult, they all look a million dollars. Sentiment doesn’t come into it. Performance does.
77. Are there any special treatments that you give your birds once the season has finished what do you recommend the readers to do with the birds
The birds go out regularly throughout the winter. If it’s dry, they are out. We’re not fussed how cold it is. They aren’t flagged or anything, but they have their freedom and they’re kept happy. They bath regularly and the birds get a barrel load of Tollyamin Forte. We use this all year round. It’s a proper product.
78. What were the last four things that you put in your drinking water, when and why and did you notice any benefits.
Typing this on a Sunday so the last 4 things were Recoup-forte of Tollisan in the water on Saturday. Clear water today (Sunday). Clear water on Friday and Tollisan’s “Fungi” on Thursday as they’d just come off a treatment earlier in the week. Any benefits? The birds seem well.
79. If you could only give your pigeons one supplement what would it be.
80. Irrespective of how your pigeons have flown, what are your views on the past season whether good or bad or the management of the sport in general.
It’s always bad. I’m never satisfied regardless of the season. It’s the only way to get better is to keep pushing forwards. As for the Management of the sport I don’t really have any observations.
81. Taking into account distance, which is more difficult racing to your area, is it; a case of a 600ml race is a 600ml race regardless of competition or route.
In our area 600 miles is 600 miles but the question can have wildly differing answers. The Irish fly the Kings Cup into France and most fly less than 500 miles (I would imagine). The returns are mental. The Irish pigeons that fly from France into Ireland are a hell of a pigeon. It’s a tougher route than our birds fly from France. No doubt about it.
82. Which fancier has influenced you most, in the way in which you fly your pigeons?
The fancier that’s influenced us most is the late George Litherland. Hell, of a fancier. He could make a bird sing and dance. Hell, of a man too.
83. Which Champion pigeons over the years have left an impression on you and perhaps influenced your direction in the sport.
Just because we don’t race distance doesn’t mean we don’t respect pigeons that have achieved lots at the distance. One of the best individual performances that I admired many moons ago was that of “Lol’s Pride”. He was a breath-taking pigeon especially on his 3rd Open NFC Pau at 698 miles. See, I have a memory!
As a kid born in 1970, we grew up competing in the Walsall Fed. That was racing against Ron Green and “Breakaway”. Dear me what a pigeon. His performances would make anyone’s eyes water.
84. Whenever I have visited a loft fancier always look at the pigeon’s eye. Do you consider that the eye has any importance in (a) the breeding, (b) distance races (c) sprint races? (d) The pigeon’s health. Or do you steer clear of the subject and if so why.
Generally speaking, we steer clear of it. I’ve verified 100 National winners and seen every type of eye you could possibly imagine. I’d gamble an “expert” would’ve cast most of those National winners aside based on eye-sign. They say never pair two eyes the same. That’d eliminate many of the best pairings that we’ve ever put together. Concentrate on the gene pool
85. Who do you consider being the best fanciers in the Country and for what reasons.
Pigeon racing isn’t like Golf or Tennis where you have rankings It’s nigh on impossible to compare fanciers from different areas to each other. I’ve a lot of time for the Irish and the racing that they have on their plate. If you put Ron Williamson’s record down in black and white, I’d gamble there’s no fancier in the world that could match his record. I admire Gordon Bros for their accomplishments and the performances they put up to the location that they race to. These are working lads with young families who aren’t at the loft all day every day either.
I met Willie Macaloney in Rugeley some years ago and was very impressed with Willie. I was taken with his drive and sheer will to win and their accomplishments are not a surprise to me. Les Green and Shaun McDonough are two fanciers that I’ve a lot of time for. Beat them on a Saturday and you’re doing something right.
86. What do you think can be done to take the sport forward?
The creation of a Development Officer with the RPRA was a good move and more mass liberations should be encouraged.
87. What percentage do you consider it takes to win with racing pigeons for Management and pigeons and why.
It’s more Management than pigeons. You know those Gents that I pointed to in Question 85? I bet those guys could win with more or less anything.
88. What past mistakes have you learned from?
Listening to advice from more than one source. Go to someone you admire. Do your homework and learn what you can from that person. When you get beat look in the mirror. That’s where the answer is.
89. Who or what motivates you to remain successful?
Trying to do the best we can for Mum and Dad. That’s all there is to it really. Administratively in my opinion they were the best partnership I’ve ever seen in any organisation. We just try to fly a decent pigeon too.
90. What qualities do you think must be present for a fancier to be classed as a top fancier and at what level must he/she have achieved results to be rightfully so-called a “Champion”.
It’s about consistency. By that I mean being at the top of their game year in year out. Those guys I mentioned in Answer 85 aren’t overnight sensations. They’ve all been winning races for a long long time. These guys continually lead the way. That commands respect. To me, they are worthy of the title “Champion”.
91. Do you think winning fanciers should move on from club racing once they have reached a certain level of consistency? Are club performances paramount for personal satisfaction or sales purposes?
Tough one. Pigeon racing is the fairest and yet most unfair sport going. Where else can you find a raw novice competing in his first ever race against hugely talented fliers and yet they compete on an absolute totally equal footing. It wouldn’t happen in football, horse racing or most other sports you can think of.
Is there really that much to gain financially with club performances? I think not. Don’t get me wrong, some people are doing well with pigeon sales but most of these are operating at a level above what I would call a “club flier”.
92. To term a phrase are you a professional pigeon fancier and do your circumstances make a big difference.
Professional? Hell no. We can give our birds a total of about 2 hours attention a day and that’s if we’re lucky. Time is of the essence and most days not everything will go out. We get out what we can when we can. We’re “professional” in the sense that we try to do everything that we can to the very best of our ability given the time that we can give to pigeon racing.
93. You are a successful fancier, there are far too many leaving the sport, to encourage fanciers to either join or stay in the sport what do you think about limiting prizes to two per race per loft. If not, Why. If yes, Why.
In a lot of Clubs there are many fanciers who turn up week after week and rarely make the top 6. We were one of them too for a long time. We got fed up of that and started to sort the problem out. I’m not in favour of punishing a good fancier with good pigeons though. I saw a result sheet last week where Les Green took the first 4 in the Central Lancashire combine against over 4,000 birds. He was only allowed to take 4 positions at combine level. In reality his velocities meant he’d have had 22 of the top 23 positions. It’s a crying shame that those pigeons and Les weren’t awarded the recognition of their true efforts in black and white on the official result. That’s like Barcelona winning 5-0 but being told that only 2 goals can count.
94. Is pigeon racing as a hobby going beyond the average working man? Is it becoming too technical and complicated or can you keep everything simple and still win with the pigeons?
Pigeon racing is best when things are kept simple. Attention to detail is absolutely paramount though. We aren’t professional. We don’t try to compete in sprint, Middle- and Long-distance races. We cut our cloth and try to do the best we can in the area of racing that suits us and pleases us the most. For us that’s sprinting.
95. What is your view on pigeon "moots" or "panels", are they over played and outdated and what do you think may bring as much or more interest to the quiet season when racing is not taking place?
I used to do a few “moots” many years ago and always quite enjoyed them to be honest. I wouldn’t do them now though.
96. What do you think about the vaccination programme for the pigeons and do you think it affects the pigeon’s long term.
We’re happy to take whatever precautions are necessary to protect our pigeons. I wouldn’t want to wake up and find a major problem on the garden that could have been avoided.
97. What do you think of veterinarians in the UK and have you had any dealings with them.
We haven’t used any directly ourselves but I’ve friends who’ve used them who’ve consulted me afterwards. Put it this way, when we get ours tested, I send them to Belgium and Holland. They’re the best in the business so that’s why we go there. Like I said earlier for the time that we can offer our birds we try to be the best that we can be.
98. How do you consider that the British sport is going compared to the continentals and do they have any ideas that you think would benefit the sport in the UK?
They are obviously far better at Marketing than we are. I’ve been to Herbots and Gyselbrechts and both families are absolutely professional in every way and we’ve nothing but admiration for their drive and passion. That’s why they’re successful. In the UK we’re still met with sniggers. The public perception of the sport is very different on the continent.
99. What is your view on pigeon shows and showing?
I think there’s 2 sides to showing. There’s the serious show man. I can’t tell you anything about that as I hardly know any “show men” and it’s not a conversation I ever have. Then there’s the “racer” who shows in the winter period. That has a social aspect to it and I’ve no problem with that. I’ve judged many shows before including at The Old Comrades etc. Our birds are never shown. There’s nothing for us to gain by showing them. We know what best birds are on the garden at about 2pm on a Saturday.
100. Do you read many magazines/Articles, if so which type of article do you find interesting and why.
I haven’t seen a BHW or an RP in at least a decade. Probably even longer than that and I used to write in both. My parents still take the BHW, but I never look at it. I do read an awful lot online though. Some of it is UK based but an awful lot of it is from all around the world. Gary Gordon will ring me and asked me if I’ve seen “this or that” online and the answer ALWAYS has to be yes so I’m prepared and ready for the call.
101. What aspect of the sport interests you the most?
Racing! Saturday matters. Simple as that.
102. Is there anything that you do not like about the sport, something that you feel needs changing for the good of the sport?
You won’t stop people being jealous. It’s human nature. Pigeon Racing brings out the very best and very worst in people.
103. If you went into another fanciers loft and were given the opportunity to leave with a pair of pigeons, how confident would you be that you had selected the best pair, or in other words do you consider that you are a good judge of a pigeon.
I’d fancy many chances yes. Every time. I went to M & D Evans in 1998 and stepped into his large breeding loft and pointed to a hen on the floor about 15 feet away and said, “What’s that their Mark”. He looked at me and said, “That’s Carrie”.
104. Is your loft of pigeons as strong as it was 5yrs ago?
5 years ago? We’re stronger now than in 2014 but we’re nowhere near as strong as we were in 2005-2007. When that team of pigeons got broke up it wasn’t by choice it was necessity. We’re not back to that level yet but we’re on the way. These are different birds being looked after a different way, but I can see the path ahead.
105. Do you have any further comments about anything that we may have missed in any area of the sport?
Not really no. There’s plenty I could say but Mum would have kittens, so I’d better not go there!
Summary; Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions, no someone will pick up on something that has been said and make use of it.