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Joe, Margaret & Kevin Murphy Talking to Les J Parkinson.

Joe, Margaret & Kevin Murphy

Talking to Les J Parkinson.

As you know we have been working on a Paper Panel that has gone down well with good feedback in these trying times. We have a couple of questionnaires returned after I had sent the 2nd of the two articles off to the BHW. This happened because I have several articles on the go at the same time and I sent it off before checking to see that I had included them all. Never mind one way or another I will still use all material that I receive, there is always something for fanciers to read and pick up ideas from. Joe has been around for as long as I can remember having won most things in the sport and since becoming a top scribe in the BHW. Joe is probably one of the comparatively short list of scribes who have topped 1,000 articles of 2/3,000 words or more. Many scribes come and go but those who stay and contribute extensive articles over 40yrs or so are not great in numbers. Following in Joe’s footsteps with the racing side is son Kevin who like dad is doing a good job. There may of course be a few more such articles that appear over the coming weeks based on the latest count I did send out over 160 questionnaires.

Joe Margaret Kevin with their winners

Joe. Margaret & Kevin Murphy


Q. When you bring in that new family do you think that they need time to acclimatise, if so, how long.

I am a bit impatient, so hope to try and get almost instant results.  In saying that, I think that stock birds need to produce winners by year 3. This allows me to see what the young birds are like, test them out as yearling then as 2-year-old compete in the nationals. I also like to cross in the new family with some proven breeders in the stock loft, so again I would either keep them pure or cross them but the same 3-year rule stands.

 Q. Which of the two sexes do you consider is the most important when it comes to breeding?

I think it totally depends on the winning line.  If the cock is the champion pigeon, I would opt for a daughter for breeding purposes and likewise, if the hen was the champion pigeon, I would opt for a son of her for breeding. There are also some families that have a dominant sex, so family A can have a dominant female line where all the females are exceptional breeders and vice versa. So, for me it is getting to know the family of pigeons prior to them going into the stock loft, study the winners and breeders and look to see where the winning genes are coming from.

My Little Rachel

My Little Rachel


Q. When it comes to breeding do you line-breed or use a first cross or just pair winners to winners. What method do you use to select your breeders? Did you find your best breeding pigeon by luck or judgment? When do you pair your pigeons and why then?

 A mixture to be honest, Firstly, new stock birds would be crossed with some proven stock and their offspring would be in the racing loft. Hopefully, a winner comes from them and then we would look to bring this back into the stock line and line breed. I like to line breed once we have a winning line so the winner (say the female) would be paired back to her brother, father, and uncle. This would allow the offspring to contain the best of these winning genes, and the children would then be mated in the future to another different winning line and therefore be a cross and the cycle would be repeated. The offspring would then be raced to raced out to the young bird National. My dad and I are keen eyesign enthusiasts so we mainly pair our breeders up on eyesign, (although we do use the throat and wing theories also to try and get a balanced bird), but the premium would always favour the eyesign theory. We have developed a catalogue of eyesign of all our breeders and racers and at the end of the racing season we look to see what is left and if we have improved the quality eyesign of the parents. The stock birds are normally paired up in mid-February along with the racers. The first round of eggs from the stock birds are floated under the racers, the racers then rear one young bird until it leaves the nest at around 35 days.  This allows the racers to be split up to go straight on the roundabout for the racing season.

Joe Murphy holding his Palamos pigeon on return from Race 1026 milesjpg

Joe Holding his Palomos pigeon

Q. 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.

 Like most fanciers we have too many stock birds, my dad is like a kid in a sweetie shop when it comes to the stock birds. I would aim for us to have around 15-20 pair of stock birds with a mixture of short/middle- and long-distance lines. I do not breed off the racers unless it was something special and that has won from the distance.  Once the bird has won it would be paired into the stock line as described above to keep the specific bloodline fresh. For example, ‘My Little Rachel’ sire is a son of ‘Robbie’s Boy’ winner of 1st open SNFC Falaise when he was paired to a granddaughter of ‘Robbie’s Boy’. ‘My Little Rachel’ 77th section C 271st open SNFC Maidstone, she then flew Clermont before winning 2nd section C 4th open SNFC Alencon flying 573 miles. She was not bred from until after her 4th open win. She was then put to stock and crossed with another winning line to breed 26th open SNFC Falaise. She was then paired to her father and these young birds were kept for stock to be used as a future cross in the years to come. As with any new introductions I think you need to breed 4 or 6 birds in the first year, they would be crossed in with other winning (proven lines), and if after the 3 year period there are no winners from this pair they would be removed from the stock loft.

Q. Please explain the method used from pairing up until the first race. What is the farthest distance that you would train your old birds or young birds? 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.

My birds are paired in February and rear 1 young bird; once the babies are moved the old birds are split up and go on the roundabout in time for the first race in April. I have tried a range of methods in training and still do not think I have found the perfect solution. Young birds are trained 3 miles to start with, they are trained from the same location 3 times, they then go to Dundee (16 miles as the crow flies). The birds are then sent to the same location for approx. 15-20 times to allow them to get ‘their line of flight’. By that time, the young birds will then go to my dad’s (which is 35 miles as the crow flies) and are liberated in small batches of 4 to 6. They are then raced. YB losses have been horrendous over the past few seasons so normally my young birds will only get 3 to 4 races. The old birds are similar where they will be given a few tosses from Dundee then send to my dad’s prior on the racing starting. Once the races start, they do not get training until the preparation for the national races. They will then get between 4 or 6 tosses from 35 miles in 2’s before heading to the 300/400/500-mile race. I do not breed from the racers unless I have a great win and would take a pair of late breds. Traditionally, I have not had much success with late breds but I think that is more to do with me rather than the birds. However, last year I bred some late breds and along with some gift late breds from Billy Bilsland. I trained them every day from Dundee right up until the 12th of December.  My plan was to keep them out and trained right through the winter, but I was getting bothered with a hawk and lost one of them in an attack at the loft so kept them in. I am quite interested to see how they develop this year.

Mystical Rose 1st open SNFC Sartilly

Mystical Rose 1st SNFC

 Q. How do you race your pigeons and how many. Do you compete in the National events, if not why not? Or are you happy to race in the club. Do you race your pigeons every week or do you prefer to condition them for a specific race? In your view do you think that a loft needs different pigeons for different distances? Is there any specific condition that your pigeons perform best at, or any particular time of the year?

I have 35 pair of racers, I race roundabout all season until prior to the channel races I have then paired the birds up, however I have noticed that this takes the edge of some of the birds and from now on I will be racing roundabout right through the entire season. I do race the SNFC nationals and all of my race team are specifically set up for these distance races. I expect them to fly at least 1 channel race (between 450 miles to 690 miles). The birds are raced every week until Leicester 288 miles then they go every second week in preparation of the main race I plan for them.

I do think that you need different pigeons for different races and distances. I like to try and motivate the birds during roundabout as in the past when the birds were on natural you really needed to monitor every single bird and look to watch for its best nest condition, be this 5 day eggs, 12-15 day eggs, young bird just hatched etc. Mystical Rose our 1st open Sartilly winner won on 12-15 days eggs so you need to study your birds and see what makes them tick

Q. 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.  Do you measure the amount that you give to each pigeon, or are they fed according to the individual pigeon? Do you attach any importance to grits and minerals or can the pigeons get what they want they are out of the loft?

I use Versa Laga mixture all the year for the racers. I mix 3 different widowhood mixtures together and feed this to the birds. They are hopper fed so I monitor what I feed them, and increase/ decrease depends on the conditions and how the birds are looking. My birds get fresh grit daily 365 days of the year. Just a few handfuls but every morning they look for the grit mix. I also add in a fat mix to the feed prior to the longer distance races or when they are getting trained more.

Q. 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?

 I treat my birds for canker, cocci, worms and respiratory throughout the season.  I work on a 3-4-week cycle. When the birds return from the race, they are provided with electrolytes in the water to aid recover from the exertion of the race. On Monday/Tuesday they will be treated as part of the 3/4-week cycle. My birds are not let out of the loft the day after a race, they are given a bath in the aviaries and allowed to rest. 

 Joe Murphy with Mystical Rose

Joe with Mystical Rose

Q. How many weeks do you think a pigeon can maintain its form on the widowhood system for both cocks and hens? 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.

I think the best I ever had was a roundabout hen that won 3 x 1st club prizes back to back and was in peak form for these 3-4 weeks. I do go for fortnightly preparation intervals for the longer racers as I feel the birds need to rest to recover from their racing exertions and cannot be flogged every week on week at the races. For some longer distance birds, they need that extra time on the wing so in preparation of a 500/600-mile race they will be prepare by flying a 350-mile race 4 weeks prior to the ‘main’ event.

 Q. 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 that have lost their mate. If your race team went off form during the season what action would you take to restore their condition?

If I lose birds, then the following week the others will all go. It might be the increase motivation that one has developed over the week and I would try and use this to my advantage. If I had a particular good race bird that had lost it mate and I was low on numbers of the opposite sex, I would use one of my stock birds to go to them.

If the birds went off during the season, I would put them on a light mix, get the droppings tested and see what the issue was, treat them accordingly and build them back up. Once they were flying back to normal, I would give them a training toss then jump them back in.  

Q. Do you treat pigeons differently with their preparation if they are to go to the bigger races whether National, Classic, Specialist club or open. 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?

As mentioned, I plan for the SNFC national races so the birds are treated for these big races accordingly. Droppings are tested and any treatment would be given 3 weeks in advance. I think you need different birds for short and long races, that is not to say they do not exist as there are some great birds that can race and win from 60-600 miles.  However, in my team that is not the case, if some of my distance birds are the first bird home from a short race I worry and would expect to be well off the pace. I do believe a bird’s can race from the channel, for me up to 574 miles. I think even that extra 30 miles there is a change and a lot tougher for the bird to truly race home, days in the basket, weather conditions, heat, etc. all play a greater role in the birds ability to ‘race home’.



Q. If you could pass on one piece of advice or tip, at this point to fanciers old and young, what would it be?

There are a million different ways to keep and race pigeons but the easiest way is to keep it simple, don’t over stock your loft, get  some well-bred proven birds (for me closer to the actual winning line, not g. g. grandchildren,  and have fun with them.  Do what the easiest system that suits you, if you work and do not have a lot of time then keep it simple. If you are older and not as fit as you once were then equally, keep it simple but most of all have fun with them, and ENJOY your pigeons.

 Q. What problems do you think are most detrimental to race condition in modern day racing, both Old Bird and Young Bird? What races do you send your long distance candidates to before their chosen race? Can you tell the readers your routine for preparing pigeons for the longer races? Do you look forward to the channel racing?

I think the biggest detriment is lack of information and data. In an age where pigeons are sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds there is extraordinarily little spent on real research of pigeon racing. We should be using technology and data to determine if solar flares, 4G, and other factors that result in horrendous losses are fully researched and advice provided.  I tried a few years back to introduce GPS rings on to the birds, to determine their flight patterns home and to have the ability to monitor “lost birds” and where they go to. What has affected their homing ability etc.  Unfortunately, I did not get the funding required but this is something I feel should be addressed. The young bird losses EVERY year are horrendous, and it is not just birds of prey that are causing this issue. Let us get some real research and funding in place to look at the data and help us understand how to better the barriers regarding modern day racing. I love National and long-distance racing. From the beginning of the season I look forward to the SNFC races and I really do get butterflies in my stomach on race days. From the 200 miles race I look at the pigeon’s performance over the season and start to plan the races for each bird, normally their racing now goes to every 2 weeks with private training as and when required.  I would normally try and get some training in prior to the main race and leave the birds to fly round the loft for 5 days prior to basketing day. Firstly, for me the bird needs to be bred for the job, then it needs to be physically fit and in good condition, then it MUST be motivated to race home. I mentioned earlier that dad and I are keen eyesign enthusiasts but the advice he did give me was the best pair of eyes in the loft are your own eyes. You need to watch the birds and see their own individual characteristics and how each one of them behaves.  If a bird flies well seeing its mate (or not) then I will either let them see each other for a short time or put a few hens in to ‘wind’ the cocks up or try some jealously methods. I want them to feel happy but also need to try and get that little bit extra of motivation into them to ‘race’ home.


Q. 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.

I have tried not racing young birds and only training them and I did not find it made a lot of difference. I do believe they need to be schooled as a young bird and must have the opportunity to ‘learn and develop’ their homing ability. For me, I would prefer it if they have a minimum of 3 races. I am not a great believer in sending the young birds every week to the bitter end. My dad told me that many years ago the federation would take the youngsters overnight in the transporter and liberated them the next morning from 10 to 20 miles away. This happened 2 or 3 times and then they took them over the Firth of Forth and did this same scenario; all prior to the young bird racing and they did not experience the losses we have today. 

Q. 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. If you could only give your pigeon’s one natural treatment, what would it be. 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?

I do try and put it right if the bird is ill, but over the years having kept copious records I do not think I have ever had a winner that was ill previously. As mentioned previously, I give the birds the treatment for the 3-4-week cycle.

Q. 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 so complicated or is that the way we make it.               

There is an art to feeding and I cannot wait to master it I give my young birds a light mix in the morning, trapping seed mixed with barley, they are fed on the floor and really just enough to take the hunger off them.  At night they are out for their fly and get as much to eat as they want. The mix is a young bird mix, normally high protein (no maize for the first 2/3 months) to help build their development. Once racing starts, I do give them a light feed on the day of the race (when they return) and the next day Protein mixture is then used for 4 feeds (am and pm) then carbohydrate mix for the rest of the week. May I wish all readers a happy racing season in 2020; we deserve it after the problems of coronavirus throughout the World. To sit in your back garden watching a bird return from a race is all we are looking for, it does not matter if we win or not. Just to see that bird close its wings and head towards your loft, is why we keep these special birds.

Thanks to Joe, Margaret & Kevin for taking pa