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Mark Gilbert Report By Brian Batchelor

MARK GILBERT

WINKFIELD, ENGLAND

It was on a wet autumn day that I had pleasure of visiting the legendary pigeon fancier Mark Gilbert. No one has succeeded in winning as many top races as Mark, namely 31 National wins and 3 International wins against the best Europe can offer. Most of us would be satisfied with winning one National but not Mark, each time he has had a win he sets the bar higher to achieve even greater performances with his pigeons. His ultimate aim would be to win the Barcelona International the greatest race in the world but a huge challenge for a British pigeon considering the topography and line of flight that would require the pigeon break out from the race point against 20,000 plus pigeons and immediately have to cross the formidable Pyrenees mountain range that lies between Spain and France then face the remaining part of the 800 mile journey flying alone and finally crossing the English channel to its home loft. But if anyone can get a pigeon to do this it will be Mark.

Marks racing loft is 156ft long x 8 ft wide in four sections, two for the old birds and two for the young birds with a corridor and aviary in the front. Ventilation is through a large opening in the front and also through the roof. Mark likes to have up 300 hundred old birds to start the old bird season. This number is necessary to be able to compete effectively in the 20 plus National races and 7 International on the programme. He also races in two local clubs and FEDs but this mainly for training for the National and International races. Mark considers the International races as the world cup of pigeon racing considering the number countries, fanciers and pigeons that enter these prestige’s races. He would like to see more British fanciers have a go at these races especially those flying in the 500-700-mile range would be in with a chance.  The best supported International has been the AGEN race which attracted around 1100 British pigeons. Old birds are raced on the total widowhood system; after rearing a youngster both cocks and hens are raced each week out to around the 250-mile point, then raced every second week with adjustments made according how hard the race was and hold overs etc. Yearlings have to fly one International usually AGEN and older birds two Internationals in the season so selection is very strict and only the best can survive this rigorous testing. The cocks and hens are not put together prior to basketing but are allowed to spend the day together after homing. Two pre- season tosses of 20 miles are given prior to the first race, after that they are only loft flown between races for the rest of the season however they have to fly one-hour morning and night and are flagged with balloon dancers if necessary.  In selecting birds coming into form he likes to see bright eyes, shining feather and a keenness around the loft such as flying off on their own.

 

With the young birds he aims to have a starting team of 250-280 pigeons, these are raced right through the programme including three Nationals across the channel. Young birds are raced on the darkness system which provides them a complete feather covering, a practice used by all serious fanciers who want to be competitive with young birds. Young birds are trained twice daily throughout the season from 35 miles in the morning and 25 miles in the evening.

Mark has 76 pairs of breeding pigeons, these are now kept at a different location and managed by Nigel Langstaff who comes from the former successful partnership of Crammond and Langstaff. Nigel became available to work with Mark when the partnership was dissolved following the sad passing of Ian Crammond.  This new arrangement allows Mark the freedom to concentrate on racing and his vacant Breeding loft now houses a new team of short/middle distance pigeons that will him the opportunity to be competitive from the first short distance race to the longest distance. Nigel also takes care of the steady demand from fanciers worldwide wanting to purchase Marks pigeons and arranges the sales on the International pigeon auction web site PIPA.

The existing distance team are small to medium sized comprising two main families, his old line that excel from 400 to 600 miles and a newer team that excel from 600-800 miles. The old family are based on a pigeon named “Southfield Supreme” winner of 1st International DAX and up till now responsible for 11 National winners. The 800 miler Barcelona family are direct from champion Barcelona International winners, here you pigeons such as Golden Barcelona, New Laureaat, Laureaat Barcelona, Silvie, Euro Diamond and New Witbuik. The Supreme line were marginally bigger and broader in the chest than the Barcelona pigeons which were slightly longer cast and with longer wings and I’m sure they have hearts the size of golf balls to power them over the marathon distances they have to travel. Mark likes a pigeon that is aero dynamic and well balanced with the last 3 flights longish and narrow. My overall impression of Marks pigeons was Class, class, class. They are all of a uniform type and the balance, the way they are perfectly proportioned from head to tail is superb. I couldn’t fault them at all and it’s no wonder they perform so well for him.  In selecting the original pigeons Mark purchased to develop his two families he has looked at the performance of the pigeon and its immediate ancestors, only those with top level performances in the toughest competition were selected.

FEEDING: - Breeders are fed a commercial Breeding mix from Verselle Laga that contains their success corn pellets. The Old bird and Young bird race teams are feed the Verselle-Laga SUPER STAR Plus with Energy corn pellets. They are feed twice a day and can eat as much as they want. Additionally, he uses Dr Brockamp’s supplements (see photo) that are added to the corn with flax oil as the adhesive element. For the longer races he uses extra Energy corn pellets and peanuts to load the pigeon’s fat cells from 2-4 days prior to shipping. In the off season after racing they get a commercial moulting mix with 25% barley and in the winter following moulting, they get 80% barley.

 

MEDICATION :- No medications are given in the off season. Prior to racing they are treated for Canker and Respiratory disease and vaccinated for Paramyxo virus and EColi, Mark said the EColi vaccination has been effective in preventing Young Bird sickness. During the racing season two sample test kits of droppings and throat swabs are sent the vet Dr Henk DeWeerdts clinic for testing and treatments given accordingly if recommended by the vet.

Regarding the current state of pigeon racing in UK, Mark, like my self believes it is too fragmented with too many organisations competing for the finite number of pigeons available each week. He would like to see a more united approach where the National clubs join forces with combined liberations for the longer races especially for the Internationals which would put UK pigeons in a much stronger position to win these major events. 

Brian Batchelor

Photos courtesy of Chris Sutton