Rainhard the Fox!
A conversation with Tim Atkin
I first got into pigeons in 1987. Being brought up on a farm I’ve been around animals all my life and really had a love of all animals. I’m very competitive in everything I do, any sport. In 1987 I had someone come to work for me who kept racing pigeons, I was fascinated by them and when I went up to see his lofts I was hooked. He built me a small loft in his garden, and I purchased a few pigeons off him. I won the first race I ever entered but it took me a long, long time to win another one. I stayed in pigeons then until 1997, then I had a break and got back into the sport in 2015.
There isn’t a great deal to add about myself, I’m a very straight forward guy, as I say I’m very competitive. I like all sports and I’m a big Leicester City supporter, home and away if I can. I spend a lot of time with my business travelling Internationally and though I don’t feel it is significant, the success of my business has allowed me to follow my hobby and passion which is racing pigeons.
My first influence on pigeons is a local fancier, Dennis Whaites, who taught me an awful lot about the general basics of caring for and racing pigeons. Obviously like everyone else, you meet a lot of people in the pigeon sport, the list is very, very long, and one who sticks in my mind in the early years is Dean Pallatt, who to this day, at the peak of his Van Reet fame, had the best team of widowhood cocks I ever saw. He was a great help and influence on me.
When I first joined the club in Rugby, it was a very friendly, competitive club and we had three clubs in this area that would send roughly a thousand birds a week in 2 different feds. Contrast that with today where we have 5 or 6 fanciers in the whole town. In those days, they were all supportive and helped you tremendously when you were a new starter. I don’t recall there being any animosity, antagonism, or jealousy. I just remember everybody helping and advising the newer, less experienced faces amongst our ranks when birds became sick, or with advice on conditioning, or feeding.
Whether they were any good or not is another matter, but I do remember the club members being very supportive, the camaraderie amongst us was great and the people were very friendly. I have fond memories of that time.
In terms of mentors in pigeon racing, I think I have spoken to so many people over the years, here in the UK, but also Ireland, Belgium, Holland, and the USA. If you listen and ask questions you can learn something from everyone you speak to. I’ve been mentored by a lot of people. My American friends, Tony Melucci and Frank McLaughlin were a big influence on me in the early days and when I came back into the sport, Jeff Greenaway was a great help also. There have been many, and I still call a lot of people for advice all the time.
I think what stays with me is when you see stockmanship. I think attention to detail, hard work and dedication is what these top fanciers all possess and put into practice. They all have good pigeons, they buy the very best they can, the management systems are straight forward and the focus is on the pigeon. One thing all the champions have is a formidable work ethic. They focus on what they do, and don’t worry about other people.
When I returned to the sport and thoughts turned to the construction of my lofts, I spoke to a lot of people, in particular Ulrich Lemmens and Bart & Nance van Oeckel from Belgium, who I obtained my original pigeons from in 2015. They helped me with the design, and I then went to Ecco Lofts in Derbyshire to build them. Like everything when you build your loft, in time, you want to change it as your experience of living with the structure grows and if I was to start again, there would be things I would want to change but that’s life, that’s pigeon racing, you learn, you adapt and move forward.
I have had to install a sophisticated security system which sadly is necessary.
Of the pigeon men who have impressed me most, I have spoken to and visited so many, if I were focussing on the UK I would say that Mark Gilbert has impressed me purely from his level of dedication, borne out by the results he has achieved. I would add to that list Malik & Khan, Steve Price, Gary Inkley, Stuart Wilcox, Stuart Fawcett, all very knowledgeable pigeon men and a great help and support to me over the years.
There is a long list when it comes to people who left an impression on me. But as I said earlier, it all boils down to the same qualities these champions possess and they all stem from dedication. You may not pick up everything from them, but you will always pick up something of value if you listen.
What I find essential when buying pigeons? I will keep it very simple; they must be from winning pigeons. As close to the champion as you can get and either side of the pedigree you pack it with winners. I have no interest at all in strains, I don’t buy pigeons because they’re fashionable, it’s because they win. It’s a very simple strategy, you buy the best you can afford, you pair them together, race them and see what happens.
What I find essential for success in pigeons is first, you have got to want to win. You must focus on yourself and not on other people. There are way too many people in the sport intent on trying to stop other people winning when they should be putting the same energy into trying to beat them. You must have a natural competitiveness; you must be wholehearted and committed to it. I was always taught you never win a race on a Saturday, you must put the hours and the effort in.
You should obtain pigeons from winning racing lofts or studs that invest heavily in pigeons from winning lofts, whose pigeons are proving successful for their customers. Get a health regime that you can manage. You must get the birds tested and treated as necessary without resorting to blind treatments all the time. You need to dedicate your time around the loft to watching your pigeons, they will tell you everything you need to know if you take the time to observe them. For me, that is one of the simplest and best parts of the sport.
To summarise, you must be hungry for success, you must obtain the best pigeons you can afford, talk to successful fliers, use your eyes and ears when you are around them and retain that which you learn, find a system that suits you and you will get better.
With regards to maintaining pigeon health, I test a lot. I think it’s the only way you can really know what’s wrong or right with your pigeons. I don’t like to blind treat and I think the challenge of maintaining young bird health is becoming almost insurmountable. I don’t know what we can do, it feels like the keeping and racing of young birds just gets harder every year.
Old birds I think tell you when they’re not on form, so you need to take a closer look at what you are doing, get them tested and make changes as recommended by your vet, or one of the number of specialist pigeon laboratories there are. You must keep on top their health and look for vitality. When the vitality is not there you have got to react.
Feeding is the one area I feel that separates the good from the great. I think good fanciers can be great if they can master this aspect of the sport. I have learned so much in the last 2 years, that feeding lighter can improve their speed come race day, the correct feeding of fats for the channel or distance racing, getting the right feed, striking that balance between meeting all the pigeons’ energy requirements and not over feeding.
There is so much that can be learned about feeding correctly and this is an area where I feel I can learn more and so when I talk to fanciers, I’m often grilling them on what they do with their feeding programme. Again, spending time watching your pigeons feeding and how they react at exercise, how they look, how they feel, how they perform. Think back to what you fed them, and you can change things and adapt. I made a change in 2022 with a lighter feed and noticed a big difference with the inland cocks. Beforehand the hens were always beating them, but this year the lighter I fed the cocks, the better they performed.
In terms of training, old birds I train 5 times before the first race up to 20 miles. The reasons for this are firstly I’m not sure they need it and secondly is hawks. I have a theory with young birds that if you can train just as the sun rises, you minimise the number of hawk attacks you might suffer. Hawks hunt on thermals and if you can get them away in the morning, say the sun comes up at 6 and you can have them away at 5 past 6, touch wood I have had very little trouble with hawks when training my young birds. Locally to me fliers training from 10am onwards are getting hit all the time.
I’m not saying I don’t have the odd bad chuck, but I don’t have the decimated hawk attacks that everybody else has. I like my young birds to have a lot of training, starting at 5 miles. I think we mollycoddle our pigeons at times, but I do get them coming from 10-15 miles regularly and I never go beyond 30 miles. Once I start though, they go weather permitting for 5-6 days at a time then I give them a day off, I like to de-stress them then.
One thing I believe that is shared by a few but not by many, is that I’m not a great believer in motivation. What I mean by that is the love of home is the motivation. I don’t know of another sport where you race with the promise of a sexual reward at the end, you don’t motivate a horse with a mare or a stallion waiting on the finish-line, and they still race fast. You can’t race fast pigeons if they’re not healthy or good and I think the motivation part is overrated at best.
I think you have their territory and love of home which far outrides putting mirrors in, bowls upside down, 2-3 eggs. I often think there can’t be anything more motivating than a 7-day old baby, they should win every race, a mother or father sitting on a 7-day old baby, but they don’t. I’ve raced pigeons coming to a perch or a box and they’ve beaten everything in sight, and it happens more and more. I think people get caught up in thinking you can win a race by motivation alone, but I don’t think you can. I was told this story about motivation, two heavyweight boxers get in the ring at Madison Square Garden New York, both in their physical prime and ready for action. A man in the crowd notices he is sat next to the local priest and then sees one of the boxers make the sign of the cross. He turns to the priest and asks will that help him? And the priest replies: yeah, if he can box.
If I was giving advice to someone that was starting up, I would say are you sure you want to do this? it is going to cost a lot of money, it’s a very emotional sport and it’s like watching a very average football team, you get your ups and your downs, but you get more downs than ups so make sure you enjoy the ups. And sadly, it’s a sport riddled with jealousy and lack of respect, so ask yourself do you want to do it and if you want to do it, you have got to be committed. You then must put a good loft up, there are so many good loft manufacturers out there, they can make you a loft that is dry, well ventilated and gets the right temperature. Then you must spend the most you can afford, don’t spend what you haven’t got, but you go and buy the best pigeons your pocket can withstand. You then do as I advised earlier, breed from your new pigeons, get a health plan, learn about feeding, listen, and learn at every opportunity and observe. If you follow all the above, over time you will get better and better. You may not be good from day one, but improvements will come.
If I was talking to a loft that wasn’t doing very well, first thing I would do is get them tested, ask about how and what they feed and then look at the quality of the bird. And if after modifying a few things, they can’t get success with what they have, you just start again, you change the pigeon.
I support my club in any way I can, both practically and financially if they need it. I like to be there to basket the pigeons, load the transporter, clean out the crates, I commit to doing what everyone else does, I think you should. Far too many members don’t get involved. The social scene is a very important part of the pigeon sport which seems to be dying, I like the camaraderie and fun you can have on marking night. I have good club members that will always support and help each other. I do all I can to support the local pigeon racing scene. I’ve suggested and sponsored races with a joint liberation of three thousand pigeons and had we had built on that, I believe we could have got to four or five thousand pigeons, but there was very little support.
There is too much friction, too much negativity and too many people not interested in progressing. I will continue doing what I can, I have a small transporter and I’ve organised midweek races at cost. I’m open to any ideas on how to progress the sport because if we don’t take steps now to preserve and improve, there won’t be a sport left before very long. And to all these people who won’t fly against certain people, clubs, feds that won’t combine, the end is nigh. But if we knock heads now, park our egos and small fish mindset and come together, we can build a sport that is inclusive, competitive, and worthwhile.
I admire people in the sport who give 100% commitment and focus in on what they do without worrying about other people. As I said previously, you can’t stop other people winning, you must try and beat them. You can’t worry about locations, you can’t worry about winds, you can’t worry about how rich or poor they are or what birds they send, or the birds they clock. You’ve just got to focus on yourself.
There was a guy who lived locally to me who has packed in now, his name is Ian Wheatley and he raced an excellent pigeon. Ian would send 20-30 pigeons weekly and he would often beat me, sending 80 or 90. No matter what I sent he would often get his nose in front, he was just a good pigeon man and never complained about what I sent.
One of the biggest competitors I had when racing south was Mick O’Rourke. He never ever complained about the number of birds that he or I sent, he was just a great competitor. These are the people I respect, the ones that focus on themselves and get on with racing and trying to win.
Have we lost our sense of sportsmanship in pigeon racing? I don’t think it’s lost, but it is quite rare. I find it sad, the lack of respect, the obsession with stopping people winning, being concerned about the number of pigeons others send and clock, I would hope common sense will prevail at some point. As I have said many times, we should all just focus on our own pigeons. I cannot fathom how people want to restrict birds on the result sheet, claim 5th and think they achieved it when there are probably dozens in front of it. That said, there is a sensible compromise to be had, but the fastest pigeons must be recognized or what’s the point?
Since 2017 I’ve had about 35 federation wins, but here are some memorable performances of the past few seasons.
1st, 4th, 8th, 11th section Fougeres
2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 11th section Nort–sur-Erdre
1st, 6th, 16th, 17th, & 18th Sect Guernsey (21st May)
2nd, 8th, 19th Sect Guernsey (6thJune),
1st, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th Sect St Philbert (2nd July).
3rd section Carentan
3rd 9th section – 9th Open Fougeres
11th section Carentan
Kingsdown 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th Sect, 31st, 32nd, 33rd, 39th Open 3,040b.
West Midlands Amal
2nd Fed -13th Open Carentan 3,904b
2nd Fed -11th Open Fourges 3,351b
2nd, 4th, 5th, Fed – 13th Open Messac 3,155b
On July 11th, 2020, I sent my inland team to Newton Abbott and took the first 9 in the Federation 1,446b.
On July 15th the same team were sent to Truro in West Midlands Amal open race. It was a tough race, and I was 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 12th,13th,14th,15th Open 1,062b.
The following Saturday, I sent same team to Yeovil in the Federation and came 13th-to-20th Fed 1,388b.
On June 5th 2021 in an open race (Warwick Fed, South Birmingham Fed and Nuneaton Progressive club) Yelverton 171 miles, I was 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 2,754b.
July 17th 2021, open race – Yelverton, 1st, 2nd , 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 10th, 11th,12th,13th,14th 15th, 16th,17th,18th, 1,557b.
You need a big team of pigeons if you’re going to compete in multiple races from France. If you have a federation that you are supporting every Saturday, then add the National Flying Club, the Midland National Flying Club and West Midlands Amal, not to mention the BICC and the BBC. If you went to those, you need a big team of pigeons, so it’s not about races with big numbers, it’s about having a big enough team to enjoy those races and be competitive.
I don’t like to pair the race team. I have in recent times but feel it is unnecessary and takes a lot out of them. I have let them rear youngsters and other times just sit eggs, the latter I feel is better for the cocks and I believe it doesn’t matter so much for the hens. I have no evidence for this, it is just my thoughts. I am thinking of pairing them a few times for 3-4 days but not letting them sit or rear. I don’t show hens before basketing, I just take them straight from the perch. For the cocks I open the box and allow them into the nest-bowl, but I don’t think it matters. The whole loft is open on return from the race and they can go wherever, and do whatever pleases them. This can be for around 2 hours but there are no strict rules. Some call it the chaos method, but I just let them do what they like.
Preparation for the inland races every week is more of a system I think, you get the birds into a routine. I got some good advice from John Crehan where you feed the birds all they can eat of a Saturday evening after the race. John calls it Sunday dinner and you kind of hold that during the week with a very light feed. You get into a routine with the feed and flying each morning and night. Early in the season I like to get them out twice a day for 45 minutes at a time, but if we have heatwaves like this season, or you are later in the season, they only need one good fly each morning and that’s the secret and you sort of get into a routine.
When you’re racing from France it’s a little different in that you get into a two-week cycle. I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to that, so I won’t profess to be an expert, but I think it’s about striking a balance between maintaining fitness, preparation for the next race and keeping that sharpness to be ready to compete in a 7–10-hour flight which is a completely different ball game.
My ambitions? I would love to win a National and will do everything I can to try and achieve that.
I want to enjoy and love the sport, see it progress and develop, not destroy itself. I love receiving the weekly calls I get from people winning with my pigeons, that brings great satisfaction.
Those amongst us not fortunate enough to have visited the big lofts in Europe, have no doubt gawped in awe at the pigeon palaces in the great books of Ernst Nebel and Victor Vansalen. And while we dreamed of even small-scale equivalents of our own, alas for many, it remains part of the lottery dream.
Tim Atkin with his setup at Frankton, has gone some way to being able to look these greats of the European pigeon fancy in the eye with the scale of his ever-growing ambition, no more evident than in the superb range of lofts, their idyllic location and the staggering array of elite quality racing pigeons housed within.
The results of this season alone indicate all things being equal, Tim is well on his way to creating a legacy for himself at National level and a man who those leading lights of Europe will acknowledge with respect not only for his ability to wrest away some of the best pigeons in Europe from under their very noses, but to put those same pigeons to work so successfully. None of what Tim has achieved appears to have gone to his head. Throughout our time at Tim’s home and our previous conversations, he is always quick to lay praise at the doors of others whilst downplaying his own prowess. Tim believes he is nothing special as pigeon folk go and is a man who has gotten lucky. A wise man once said; The harder I worked, the luckier I became. I feel in Tim Atkin’s case, it is hard to disagree. Thank you, Tim, for making Tom and I so welcome and we will watch with keen interest as the next few seasons unfold and with a bit of that aforementioned luck, your ambition will be achieved.
Thanks for reading