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John Mcfall of Lanarkshire

 

JOHN McFALL

of Lanarkshire

by Tom Corrie Jnr

February took me on a visit to one of the most respected fanciers in Scotland, John McFall of High Blantyre, Lanarkshire. John has dedicated his life to pigeons and is everything you could ask in a pigeon fancier, and a true gentleman too. His dedication has taken him to the top and most respected posts in pigeons and also to the top of the prize list. Here John talks about his involvment in pigeons...

My start in pigeons

My father David started in pigeons in 1950 in partnership with a neighbour, racing as Thomson & McFall in the then High Blantyre Club and the Glasgow Fed. My early memories are of going to the allotment site and the strong smell of creosote, the summer days watching the birds plus the occasional trip to the race marking at Blantyre Railway Station. Thomson & McFall enjoyed lots of success at club and fed level until a house move in '57 brought an end to the partnership.

When settled at our new address a small loft was built in ‘59 and a pair of my dad’s old pigeons that he had loaned out to a friend used for stock. First day we had the pigeons I ran home from school at lunchtime and straight to the loft and as I opened the door the cheq w/f hen flew over my head and back to its old loft. I was sent the couple of miles to collect her, no cars or bus fare in those days, but as a 10 year old that was me totally involved from that day.

We enjoyed some good success including 1st Lanarkshire Fed Leyland (almost 10,000) with a son of the original pair; two daughters of this cock won the 1st West Section Lanarkshire Fed from Penrith and Worcester with their brother 3rd Fed Cheltenham. Incidentally from the latter race the winner was the Glasgow Rangers player Davie Wilson with 'Chalky', a white pigeon named after the late Tottenham and Scotland star John White who was tragically killed on the golf course by a lightening strike. Second section was a great name from the past, Willie Wilson from Larkhall.Geat memories indeed. There were many other wins, but by 1966 my dad was working long hours and losing interest so he decided to sell up leaving me with six pairs. I’ve managed the loft since then but my dad continued to take a keen interest that helped keep the daily routine and we bounced our thoughts and ideas off each other.

John McFall (left) with Dave Alison

 

Channel racing

Marcella and I got married in 1969 and with the birds still at my parents address we managed in ‘71 to get a house a few doors from them and two years later moved the lofts to my garden.

I was still flying the old original pigeons with a few introductions, primarily two pairs from John F Robertson of Jedburgh of Man Friday, Double Top fame (both winners of 1st open SNFC Nantes), these being the first pigeons I had ever purchased. In ’72 we won the Lanarkshire Fed Combined Average etc with principal wins being 4th Open Fed Avranches (very few birds on the night) with a g.daughter of the 1st Leyland cock. We also won a very hard Lymington coast race and 7th Fed with a hen from the JF Robertson pigeons.

At that time most fanciers in the Blantyre/Burnbank area were mainly club/federation orientated, but after the success from Avranches I began to think about channel racing and introduced distance birds from several sources over a 6-7 year period, with the principal birds coming from local fanciers Haley Bros from Low Waters Club, John Feenie from Hamilton and eggs from Eddie Newcombe.

The latter does not need any introduction as in my opinion he is probably the greatest exponent ever of channel racing into Scotland. On reflection I would rate Haley Bros as the best West Section loft in Scotland in the mid-seventies era. John Feenie is best remembered for the famous ‘Strathclyde Lass’, a SNFC Gold Award winner whose wins included 1st West Section 7th Open Rennes timed at 22-45, but John had a fantastic family of pigeons that bred a host of winners for himself and others.

Cheq stock cock

I won with these from the channel every year from ‘75 through to ’86 with some highlights being 4th Sect 12th Open SNFC Rennes Silver Jubilee race 1977 (7,476 birds competing) with a blue hen Robertson x Haley cross. Interestingly I timed her mother on the result next day and her grandmother was actually 13th Open for Haley Bros i.e. mother, daughter and granddaughter all scoring in the same race. A week later a red cock (Robertson bloodlines) was 17th Sect 69th Open Nantes from almost 1800 birds.

Some other winners included ‘Tracy’, a red pied hen timed four times on the day, twice on the result. Perhaps my biggest disappointment in pigeons was timing her at 21-59 on the day from Nantes and failing to make the result by one position, but after a few days’ reflection I concluded she was not good enough on that particular day. The ‘Show Hen’ scored three times and in ’82 was timed on the day from three 500 mile races. ‘The Pencil Cock’ (Feenie x Haley Bros) was clocked four times and took 27th and 32nd Section Rennes. Appreciate during this period the massive birdage and that prizes were on a 15 entries = 1 prize opposed to the current ratio of 10 entries =1 prize.

In ’86 I had some health issues (breathing problems) that resulted in three months off work and advice that the pigeons should go. To be honest it wasn’t a hard decision as I had got so involved in so many areas of the sport including Scottish Editor for the Racing Pigeon Gazette that the pressure was getting to me. I often wonder if the thick bed of straw in the loft and or the sheep dip we used to disinfect the loft caused my problem because as I’ve had no problems since?

The main racing loft in the back garden

 

Return to the sport

I returned to the sport a year later a wiser man, deciding there was more to life than pigeons and actually started going on holidays, out with the racing of course. I joined South Lanarkshire Federation as an individual member sending the birds as trainers, eventually joining a club later, but did not get a clock set in federation racing for ten years.

It took 5 years to get back on the channel results and from ’92 till ’96 I was again scoring every year with birds down from Denis Dall of Ladybank, Barclay & Jack of Carluke, Bobby Carruthers of Bonnyrigg and Robert Cormack x Kerr Stainthorpe bloodlines. Some highlights included timing three on the result from Sartilly including 4th West Sect with a yearling hen Cormack x Stainthorpe; she went back to Rennes the following year and won 9th Section 42nd Open. A red pied cock (Dall x Barclay & Jack) won 13th Section 56th open vel 596.

During this period we experienced some tough races and although making the results I, like others, was having a higher percentage of losses compared to the seventies/eighties era. Who or what was to blame is open to debate, and I will leave for others to decide, but I was becoming disillusioned and after a bad Rennes race in ’97 when only 23 birds were recorded in race time I decided to forget about channel racing giving many of my winners to friends and concentrating on federation racing to the coast, 360 miles.

This was a big decision made more difficult by the fact that I had set up a small loft in my dad’s garden specially to try widowhood from the channel and had actually timed a couple of widowers from the distance. The birds I had introduced for this were the Supercracks from Mr & Mrs Roy Seaton of Annan, recognised as having the very best of these bloodlines.

Extended section for distance birds

 

Introduction of the MacAloney pigeons

In the winter of 2003 I contacted Willie & George MacAloney to purchase a hen and was invited over to view their famous team sprint/middle distance pigeons that had set records and broken their own records with multi timings etc. Willie informed me he selected a number of birds for me to choose from and the first to hand was a small chequer pied with a very good pearl eye. She had flown the young bird programme scoring in the Fed Open from the longest race. Her sire had won 1st 2nd 6th Open Lanarkshire Fed from 9000+ entries and her dam ‘The 24’ still racing had seven fed prizes (eventually winning ten prizes including 2x1st fed), both parents being the best of the Camphius Janssens. I told Willie I didn’t need to see anything else and took ‘Little Pied’ home. She is now dam of 1st fed winners with 6 different cocks either with further introductions from the MacAloney loft or crossed with the Supercracks and others. She is now dam of 5 x generations of fed winners for myself and others.

In the first year breeding ‘Little Pied was paired to Henrik, a multi-winner and inbred to the original Supercracks. They bred ‘Hattrick’, 1st fed as was young bird and topped the fed from the opening two races as a yearling, then retired to stock where she has bred multi-winning pigeons through to 360 miles.

Since 2004 till the present they have won approximately 240 top ten fed prizes including 39 x 1st, 45 x 2nd and 42 x 3rd etc. Some of the top birds in the loft at present:

Blue pied cock ‘Rambo’ (inbred Supercrack x hen from Staddon Bros) - now retired to stock, winner of 9 x fed prizes and best velocity in the Caledonian Combine from Wetherby.

Cheq cock ‘Double Top’ (Son of Rambo x Supercrack) - 10 x Fed prizes inc. 2 x1st fed, also best velocity Caledonian Combine Peterborough. Twice a winner in the SNRPC inland National from Wanstead Flats inc. 10th Open.

Pied cock ‘The 30’ (sire direct MacAloney x dam ‘Hattrick) - he has 3 x 1st fed etc., also best velocity Caledonian Combine Leicester.

Blue Pied Cock ‘Dancer’ (sire bred by Arnie Tonks, Wednesbury direct from his outstanding hen ‘Dancing Queen’ multi-winner in the MCC through to Saintes). Dam of Dancer is inbred MacAloney being a g.dtr of both ‘Little Pied’ and ‘Hattrick’ and a double g.dtr of ‘Mr Mac’. ‘Dancer’ is a winner of 3 x 1st fed, 1x 2nd fed.

Pencil Blue Cock ‘AJ’ (sire purchased at Alex Jack clearance sale inbred Geoff Cooper x inbred Supercrack hen from Henrik when paired to his aunt). AJ won 1st Section 12th Open SNRPC Arras 2012 and his niece won 55th Open from the same race, this being only my second attempt at the channel in 14 years.

Old bird box section

 

Loft and Ventilation

The original loft built in ’87 is 18ft x 7.6ft wide with three sections 8ft with 20 nest boxes, 4ft with various types of perches tried for the hens and a 6ft end for young birds. A small 6x6 converted garden shed with small aviary used as a stock loft has in the past two years been replaced by a 9ft section being added to the original loft. This is being used as a natural loft with the hope of developing a small team for the channel.

I had a close friendship with the late Alex Jack from Law village near Carluke, having worked with him in Ravenscraig Steelworks. He had flown a good pigeon in his early years and then in partnership with Willie Barclay, they had fantastic results from the Channel, but Alex was keen to try the widowhood and decided to go it alone and achieved great success that included 3 x 1st West Section SNFC (all widowhood).

When the steelworks closed I ended up on a Government re-training course with Alex, and we talked pigeons non stop for six months. I eventually re -designed my loft based on Alex's theory and with ventilation and insulation the key.

Firstly, before designing a loft I believe the direction it is facing must be taken into consideration. Mine faces south-west, so I replaced the sloping front to back roof with a pitched, covering the timber with corrugated asbestos, the higher angle facing an easterly direction with a Perspex sheet in each of the three sections to ensure the loft gets any heat from the early morning sunshine.

The ridge is approx. nine and a half feet floor to ceiling with a three inch wire mesh gap at the highest point the full length of the loft to draw off the stale air out the top. The false ceiling is completely wire, and a 15 inch overhang at the front covered with wire mesh provides the air flow into the loft. During the racing season Perspex slides are fitted to reduce/restrict airflow, and all other vents from original loft design are blocked off completely.

Ventilation front apex. Perspex sheets removed when not racing.

 

Insulation

All exterior walls are lined with 2 inches of insulation wool this being covered with quarter inch ply. To minimise any dampness the floor also has two inches of wool covered with new floor boards. All sections have hardwood floor grills sitting on three inches battens. Plastic grills in the nestboxes and perches with trays below ensure the birds have a break between them and the droppings.

There is one x 40 watt heater under the grills in each of the three sections of the original loft. These are on 24 x7 and were only switched off on two exceptionally hot days last summer (switched back on overnight). The new extension is being used initially for natural racing from the channel and as yet there is no plan to put in heating.

Heating plate, one in each section except the distance section, on all year except in extreme hot weather.

 

Widowhood

Alex Jack eventually got me to try widowhood/total widowhood etc. and I was always on the phone or visiting him for advice. Routine is essential. It doesn’t matter if you work twelve hours a day, develop a system that suits you and stick to it. If the birds are due to go out at 7-00am then it must be 7-00 not five minutes early or later. Cocks and then hens are exercised Monday to Thursday morning and night, building up from 20 minutes before racing to 45 minutes by the third race and if not going well I flag them. They get their hens for 10 minutes before basketing and on return from the race are left together for approx 4 hours. I then hand bath every pigeon that was at the race and their mates. Appreciate this can be forty + pigeons dipped in salt water as warm as my hands are able to take. This encourages the birds to quickly settle down and rest. Rest is the key word; I don’t go into the loft other than at feed or exercise time, they are just left in peace and quiet.

Racing hens' section, closed in to prevent pairing.

 

Feeding

No breakdown. Versele Laga Super widowhood two ozs for six pigeons in the morning and four ozs for six pigeons at night with a build- up on a Thursday, all fed communally on the floor, hemp also used sparingly in their box with a build-up on Thursday. During the moult and winter, feed is all-rounder with 10% barley and 10% conditioner added. To help build a bond with the cocks, they are fed in their box; no feed is put in the gallipot till the bird is sitting in his box. Eventually they gain confidence and brush against my hand as I put the feed in their pot. Many of the birds hop onto my back and shoulder when I’m feeding or cleaning out. Grit, minerals, pick stones etc are given fresh every day during the breeding, but only on return from the race and are removed next morning and once per week during the winter.

The main feed

 

Medication

I’ve not treated for canker, worms or cocci in the past ten years preferring to use natural products e.g garlic, live yogurt, pigeon teas, brewer’s yeast, propolis (concentrated honey) and Gem products. A gas burner is also used on regular bases. Only the mandatory vaccination for Paramyxo is carried out annually with the youngsters vaccinated within a week of being weaned.

Paratyphoid: Four years ago (late July) I noted a pigeon in the small stock loft with its wing drooping. This was a pigeon on loan that had not been out of my loft in almost a year. Within a week another bird I had recently moved from the stock loft back to the racing loft had the same symptoms and then my best racer of that year went the same way. On seeking advice I treated all old birds with Baytrill (did not treat young bird loft) with the three showing the symptoms put down. I purchased the Paratyphoid vaccine at Blackpool that winter with the intention of jabbing them annually, but the vaccine is still in the fridge today unused and I’ve had no problems since.

Young bird section

Floor of the young bird section

Administration

When returning to the sport I was adamant I would not get involved in the pigeon administration, but I’m more involved than ever, being Secretary of the Larkhall South Club, President South Lanarkshire Federation, President of the Caledonian Combine and more recently 2012 became Secretary on the Scottish National Racing Pigeon Club. Thankfully the support I get from the good guys outweighs the negativity of others.

Dancer

 

Winning for others

My good friend Sammy Callaghan from Blantyre has had a number of winners from my birds including Blue hen 2x1st West Section Lanarkshire Fed etc. Alex Jack had a son of ‘Little Pied’ x Supercrack 2x1st Carluke Club and 1st East Sect Lanarkshire Fed. My Brother, Gerry has a direct son of ‘Mr Mac’ and ‘Little Pied’ with 8x prizes in Low Waters Club inc. 3x1st Waters Club plus 4x fed prizes. Arthur Morrison, Blantyre had an inbred Supercrack crossed with a hen from Alex McInnes win from Marlborough and Eastbourne SNFC as a yearling etc.

AJ

 

Advice

I’ve mentioned Alex Jack earlier, but another person who has been a great help is BHW scribe Mike Staddon. I read his articles in the BHW and was so impressed I phoned him introducing myself as John from Scotland seeking advice. Now when I have a bad race I'm on the phone hoping he can perhaps talk me through my problems. Every article Mike has written is cut out and is my bedtime reading.

Advice to novice: get a mentor and follow his advice, keep your mouth shut and your ears open. The key words are good pigeons, health, fitness, rest and routine.

The 30 Cock

2012 was a good year winning 38 x Fed prizes and Fed Averages also winning 1st 9th Section 12th 55th Open SNRPC Arras 9th Section SNRPC Billericay etc. but the most important season is the next season, no looking back.

I would like to thank John and his wife Marcella for a lovely lunch and for their time to speak to myself and give others the opportunity to read and enjoy this article of one of Scotland’s best racing lofts. I’ll conclude with John’s little pointers…

John’s little pointers

- He uses a radio in the loft

- Routine, Routine, Routine is essential

- Uses blinds in loft to quiet down cocks

- 2 sets of water dishes changed and cleaned daily

- He is passionate about down feathers. Impact product Wednesday and Thursday in water will provide same.

- Every race target to win federation tickets

- On weaning maples for the youngsters

Double Top

Enjoy your pigeons.

Tom Corrie, Lanarkshire press officer

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