Catching the wave……….   Leave a comment

Catching a wave!

Catching a wave!

Most of us will have enjoyed riding the surf at the beach somewhere in the world whether it be on a surfboard, bodyboard or simply straight out body surfing. Over here in the ‘Land of the long white cloud’ i.e. Aotearoa aka New Zealand we have such awesome beaches for surfing. I can remember one of the best body surfing days I’ve experienced and it was at a West Auckland beach just south of the famous Piha beach with its Lion Rock, namely Karekare Beach.

Karekare beach, West Auckland.

Karekare beach, West Auckland.

I was in my late twenties and more in shape to handle the pounding of the rough breakers than nowadays and gee could they dump you! I’m sure some people get knocked out when their head is thumped into the sand below and their ears are ringing, but when you are young, there’s certainly nothing like the adrenaline rushes and thrills that nature provides for free!

Like surfing where a really good ideal wave will come along if one waits patiently enough, so too in the sport of pigeon racing is the art of timing the peak of the ‘wave of form’ with the key race(s) we desire to win with our pigeons. Those that are familiar with this blog or who simply know the Auckland pigeon racing scene won’t have too much trouble guessing which fancier I would rate highly at being a master of timing the lofts wave of form to strike when they basket for our annual Invercargill to Auckland race. Yes, that’s right; Mr Mac Armstrong is that man!

Mac and Dimitri.

Mac and Dimitri.

How then does he manage annually for seven straight years to accomplish this extraordinary feat? Remember, that’s if you follow my blog, that Mac uses no forms of flock medication treatments for his pigeons apart from internal parasite treatment. There is no canker treatments, no antibiotics to treat or prevent respiratory pathogens such as Chlamydia, Mycoplasmosis or enteric gut syndromes caused by pathogenic species of Salmonella or  Escherichia coli. No coccidiosis medicines, not even a drop of the very popular cider vinegar, nor garlic or iodine or other antiseptics in the drinking water. No vitamins are used either as the grain has ample says Mac.

Mac uses very little supplements, just grit, some pick stones and an electrolyte solution which aids recovery in particular. So how does Mac do it? We have covered previously that Mac’s sole aim above all else is to race the annual Invercargill and win it. This is what thrills him and that is all he aims for!

I’ve heard Auckland fanciers inquire if Mac races widowhood i.e. either cocks or hens? No, it’s not that, he races separated sexes to the perch i.e. celibacy. Lesbian hens are removed to a different section to deter this. The only incentive the pigeons have is their love for the loft and its environment, that’s it!

I have mentioned in a recent article that last year Mac was the least confident of all the past seven years in which he has won this race. Nothing like a man with humility and Mac was even saying things like I hope you win it to me and how great that would be! He really felt that with the information now on this blog that someone was bound to be really difficult to beat other than his loft.

Mac also seemed to be behind the eight ball as far as getting his pigeons going last year, it can’t be easy when you are 83! There were delays in getting everything sorted with his electronic clocking system which meant he had to use rubbers on the pigeons in the build up races. This was a big hassle and doubled the stress.

I remember talking by phone with Mac last year and at the time I would have thought that he would have started training his pigeons including the latebreds, but he hadn’t. It was almost a third of the way into the season! The first Fed race was the following week. The weather had been fickle as it often is over here and so Mac hadn’t started training. However, when Mac told me that the pigeons when out were picking up nesting material and darting to and fro I knew that he was definitely still on track for a win! Hens out one day, cocks the next, the pigeons fly themselves fit and can be jumped almost to the first race as its only 180 miles or so. When hens also are picking up bits of twigs and so on when it is their day out then I think this is a very good sign indeed.

I guess it could be also said that perhaps Mac also times it so he peaks himself and hasn’t worn himself out both physically and mentally too far before the main event. As I always say, it ain’t easy as an octogenarian and a lot of the time I feel the same myself, if not worse and I’m only early 50′s!

It surely is an art preparing a team of pigeons for these long distance events, with Mac, ‘no stone goes unturned’, everything is calculated with extreme diligence to win from 730 miles or so, it has to be! However, I think the boys up here will be keener than ever to try to ‘knock Mac and his team of very good pigeons off their perch’ later on at year’s end. However, like any form of wave surfing, watch out for the ‘wipeouts’!

Any questions for Mac either in the comments section below or email me at

Breeding good ones.   3 comments

Order of Importance of factors affecting racing outcomes of pairing two racing pigeons for the first time (middle and long distance).

1)  Two pigeons from good family backgrounds, close to the tree.

2)  The pigeon was reared right and loft conditions for racing were reasonable.

3)  The pigeon had inherited a good constitution.

4)  Luck-the genetics came together for that bird.

5)  Luck-the pigeon didn’t get predated by raptors from squeaker to season’s end.

6)  Luck-the pigeon got in the right group which cleared quickly in the big race.

7)  You went on a hunch with the pairing and it paid off.

8)  How much you paid.

9)  The pigeon handles perfectly.

10)  The system the pigeon was raced on viz celibacy, semi-widowhood, cocks or hens widowhood, natural eggs or babies.

11)  Other-what do you think? What order would you put these factors in?

My journey in pigeons.   4 comments



Dad in holiday mode!

Dad in holiday mode!

Everyone has a journey in pigeons and this is the start of mine and I welcome you to read it. I had my first five years in Tawa, Wellington, New Zealand. As a little boy I loved chickens, we raised and cared for them, even using an old concrete water tank to do so at one stage. Dad, a Presbyterian Church Minister and a country boy from Hunua, Auckland, worked at the Porirua Mental Hospital down there, that’s what they called them in those days. He also did work for the Arohata Women’s Borstal down there around that time.

Like most little boys it was always a thrill when Dad arrived home from work and he’d attend to his chickens and garden and we’d help him. Dad’s pancreas had a bad viral infection not that long after I was born and he became an insulin dependent diabetic making his life a challenge for him and especially for our Mum! But he still ‘flew his kyte high’, naturally with a good woman behind him!

Not long after I’d started school at Tawa Primary, Dad got the invitation to be the Presbyterian Minister at the Khandallah Presbyterian Church up in the hills below Mt Kaukau overlooking Wellington harbour. It was one of the posher areas of Wellington. Dad had pastored in a previous parish in Wanganui before I was born and had done very well there.

Khandallah Presbyterian Church, I'd like sneaking up and ringing the bells for a laugh!

Khandallah Presbyterian Church, I’d like sneaking up and ringing the bells for a laugh!

My mother Val was trained as a ‘deaconess,’ the female equivalent of a woman minister back in those days. They had met while training at Knox College down in Dunedin i.e. a ministers training place. Mum was from a prim and proper churchie home background (lawyers) and Dad from a more dysfunctional background, his father Jim having lost his health sometime during or after the First World War whilst serving as a naval officer. It’s possible he had an over active immune system like me and burnt himself out (I have debilitating Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Either way, the old codger lived to 94 and he had settled onto 20 acres in Hunua, Auckland which the government had given him after the War with his wife Georgina, the mainstay of the family and they raised four children, Dad being the eldest.

Dad's parents grave. I led the old codger, grandpa Jim Elley to the Lord three months before he died at 94. I look forwards to seeing him in heaven further down the track!

Dad’s parents grave. I led the old codger, grandpa Jim Elley to the Lord three months before he died at 94. I look forwards to seeing him in heaven further down the track!

At Khandallah I had my own bantams in their own shed and Dad had layers in battery cages which would get out for a scratch around in the garden on his day off, Mondays. It took quite a while to convince my parents that I could have pigeons.

Back in those days there were no laws to stop kids travelling around by themselves and we wouldn’t even know what a child molester was and from a very young age I’d travel into Wellington by myself or with a friend by train. Most of the time we’d sneak on for free.

I remember trying to catch pigeons as a little boy down at Wellington railway station with a cardboard box and a bit of string and grain, but naturally they were too quick for me. I also remember family visits to Pigeon Park in Wellington from a very young age. Obviously something fascinated me about them. Another time I found out some old ladies near Khandallah shops had a problem with pigeons sitting and crapping on their roof. I tried several times to catch them on the roof at night having climbed up a big ladder. Again to no avail, I just scared them off.

Pigeon Park Wellington 1930, a bit before my time. One of my childhood loves.

Pigeon Park Wellington 1930, a bit before my time. One of my childhood loves.

After that I think my Mother convinced Dad to build me a little pigeon loft. It was on stilts on the concrete play area that the manse had (Presbyterian minister’s free accommodation). It was only about a metre wide and the rest of it even smaller. We got some pigeons off a guy in Miramar near the Airport, a bit of a drive from where we lived. He was an Asian guy. He said “don’t let them out”. Probably the first big storm that came along the little loft got blown over and wrecked and of course we didn’t see those pigeons again!

The next loft I had was a small shed; Dad probably had chickens in it beforehand. One of the places I got pigeons from was up behind Onslow College somewhere. Some boys were going out of pigeons, racers and of course this was very exciting for me. I remember bringing them back by train with my mate Timothy Prescott including a big squab in an open cardboard box much to the awe of a few of the passengers. Those were pigeons I really liked the look of and the bug had really bitten!

I had plenty of success breeding babies off these pigeons and sold a whole lot when we moved up to Auckland where Dad had changed jobs to be a Bible College lecturer in Auckland at Henderson. Naturally having a father as a minister was embarrassing at times and Dad had already embarrassed me in Wellington by turning up with another church man from another brand at Raroa Intermediate School Assembly wearing the full ‘preacher gear’ including the white ‘dog collar’. My teacher, a lovely Mr Langridge at the time said to me from the side aisle, ‘Fergus aren’t you going to stand up for your father?’ Which of course made it worse for me!

Dad obviously enjoyed being in the ministers suit with the dog collar on his wedding day!

Dad obviously enjoyed being in the ministers suit with the dog collar on his wedding day!

I only took two pairs to Auckland, a pair of racers and a pair of whites. I was 12 by that stage. I attended Henderson Intermediate and when the teacher Ollie Green found out that I had pigeons he suggested we build a cage and keep them in the class high up near the ceiling. We thought it was quite cool as we could let them out in the class. There’d be the odd crap during that time and we also bred them there, that was 1974.

We bought our first house later that year in Te Atatu North and I started out at Rutherford High School in 75. I was a pretty bright boy and the school ran an advanced class which meant that you skipped the fifth form. I joined the Henderson pigeon club and Graham Abercrombie often used to take me there. The following year I got my driver’s licence. Les Gale a friend of Dad’s from the Church circles provided birds and I also got a good hen off my Uncle Jim, Vaughan Jones bloodlines and I had success pairing it to a Mealy Cock from Les.

So there’s the start of my humble pigeon life. I hope to add more episodes of my racing pigeon experiences in the near future.

Dad passed away about 18 months ago at the ripe old age of 87. Many people have commented either to my face or behind my back that I was the way I am because I am a ministers son. What a load of garbage. I was a rebel in my teenage years and kicked over the traces big time. I even vowed to never become a born again Christian and yet that is what I have been for almost three and a half decades and loved every minute of it despite poor health for the bulk of that time.

Dad didn’t deserve the abuse he got, as he met hardly anyone in pigeon racing here in Auckland and I just put it down to people’s ignorance, narrow mindedness and rejection of God’s free gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. I’m a fool for Jesus, who’s fool are you??

Here’s some shots of Dad the funny man. The sweetest man I’ve ever known with a great sense of humour and a very funny speaker (people told me so).

Always up for a laugh!

Always up for a laugh!

Good one Dad!

Good one Dad!

A distant relative?!

A distant relative?!

Rest in peace Dad, till the last trumpet sounds and the graves are opened!

The flight of the bumble bee.   Leave a comment

'Take off'

‘Take off’

When I was a young fella at the age of about ten my parents went overseas for three months and I stayed with a friend’s family down the road from where I lived in Khandallah, Wellington. While there, my friend’s mother took me to hear the New Zealand symphony orchestra at the Wellington Town Hall. I was learning the piano at the time and I had a very acute ear for music. It was a lot of fun peering over the side of the balcony looking at each section of the orchestra attentively, studying each section of brass, percussion, woodwind and stringed instruments, right down to the timing of specific individual instruments.

My favourite piece of symphony music then was the ‘flight of the bumble bee’. It was all so exciting, fresh and vibrant to a young fellow. Studying the conductor was also a great past time and how he expertly led the orchestra with great panache and grandeur. Of course the gradual build up of the piece with the introduction of many different twists and turns, culminating in the final climax was the ‘piece de resistance’. I found it both scintillating and fantastically fascinating at the same time. Heaven on earth for a young lad with a very vivid imagination and acute concentration that’s for sure!

Looking back, some comparisons with pigeon racing can be drawn. Firstly, with the individual fancier if we think of a musical piece it has a beginning and an end, just like a pigeon season. A symphony piece is very well constructed and so too must the layout of a pigeon fancier’s plans be for the race season ahead. If we think of individual instruments, then each instrument has its own specific time to play, just as a specific pigeon is earmarked for specific races, even before a season starts. Further, it is not just one pigeon that is relied upon to achieve greatness for the fancier, rather the fancier has a whole team of pigeons to conduct the season with and pigeons that ‘paint the skies with glory’ regularly are few and far between, just as solo performances in orchestral pieces are less frequent.

If we look for analogies to racing pigeon clubs, Feds and the like, then each club member has their own part to play and skilled club administrators are renowned for bringing out the best in their members, not dissimilar to good conductors and concert masters. As in an orchestra, some parts are more stand out than others and just like an orchestra, pigeon fanciers are there because they want to be and they have the time, health and commitment to do so. Perhaps the different sections of an orchestra can also be very much likened to the specialist clubs popular in some parts of the world today.

Clubs and Feds also have set rules, codes and even standing orders for their meetings and so on. The more precise and discernible these guidelines are then the less likely there will be friction and disharmony in a pigeon body. Orchestras too have these set pieces and although they can be modified to keep up with the times, they give a clear and concise score, which can only be interpreted with total accuracy in one set way.

The end result of an orchestras attempt to portray a musical piece in an accurate and gripping way is a sound that indeed delivers an incredible synergy and display of a conglomeration and cacophony of many individual musicians. The dizzying heights an orchestra can reach will depend on the sum total of each musician’s efforts and fastidiousness including the conductor leading from the front to enable all the musicians to perform to an optimum.

So what can us pigeon fanciers learn from this analogy? Well, firstly a club or Fed President is a key person. They are elected into office by the members to serve the members in an unbiased way. Some sporting or other interest group bodies do not even allow their Presidents to have a personal vote and naturally they thus can only vote when the vote is tied, which is where the term ‘casting vote’ originates from.

Should the President be perfect, absolutely not! Are we? On the other hand, neither should they be seen to have a political ‘barrow’ to push i.e. they are not elected to dictate, rather, to facilitate and bring out the very best in all the members of their committee and spread that unity and cohesion throughout the framework of their racing pigeon Federation.

Should they expect their admin team to be all ‘yes’ men, absolutely not? However, one or two independent advisors ought to be searched out by the President of a large pigeon body. These will then help them avoid being unduly influenced by those who may give the appearance that they have a political and or personal axe to grind. The end result can be a pigeon body functioning at its optimal synergy and the members all wanting to keep their encumberant President for term after term!

So what should a President do when on the odd occasion they make an error of judgement, whether it be in decision making or a misjudged conversation or otherwise? Well, the same rule applies as in any ordinary life situation i.e. one undertakes a proactive action and apologises, as there must be a certain standard of decorum. Differences of opinion are not as easy and in fact can be healthy, for as they say, ‘iron sharpens iron’! However the more water tight and clear the rules are in pigeon clubs and Feds the better.

What then are the best modes of communication within a pigeon body? Probably face to face or video conference and more and more sporting bodies are using these latter cyberspace technologies.

What modes of communication are not good? Emails where the sender is being very abruptly honest and there are scores and scores of carbon copy recipients. These are not good for the harmony of the sport and in general fan the flames of dissent and disharmony. Some people like disharmony in the sport, however they are not usually successful in the racing side of the fancy and this love of disharmony and ‘one man up ship’ is an unusual quality or trait to say the least! A good President should be wary of such behaviour and certainly shouldn’t use it for their own political expediency. Neither is a President a ‘one man band’.

Finally, it is when committee members fail to communicate between the periodic admin meetings that factions and rifts can develop in the team and although the President may not be the cause of these difficulties it is their elected duty to try to iron out any problems within their team for the good of all fanciers. It’s no wonder that these jobs in general in pigeon racing are the least sought after!


2013 Christmas is one that everyone around the south of England will remember for the rest of their lives. On December the 23rd a severe storm rolled in from the Atlantic bringing gale force winds and torrential rain resulting in wide spread flooding, trees down, roofs blown off and power cuts to over 90,000 homes. One of the worst hit areas was our county of Surrey, our local market town of Godalming was flooded with many having to vacate their homes and two of the access roads into our village of Elstead were also flooded and the roads closed for a few days. At home we got off lightly with only a couple of fence panels blown out, but we did suffer the power cut for 61 hours and lost all our refrigerated stock in our shop and domestic freezer. Luckily we had recently decided to book a three day Christmas stay in a country hotel at the Goodwood estate near Chichester in West Sussex and fortunately, although they had no power either, they had hired a massive generator, so everything was running as normal. It was a bit tricky travelling down to Goodwood on Christmas eve since the main road had been closed due to flooding and we had to make a deviation in the dark which added an hour or so to the journey, so we were relieved when we eventually arrived safely at our destination.

How did my pigeons fare through all this, very well actually, the lofts were undamaged and as I have automatic drinkers it was only a matter of filling the feed troughs with enough corn for the three days we were away and leave them to it until we returned.


When I raced pigeons back in New Zealand I often bred a few late youngsters i.e. hatched after the summer solstice and generally found they could be raced very well in that years old bird season at eight to ten months of age. In fact they were no different to their earlier bred siblings that had raced as young birds, some were top pigeons and others not so good, as you would expect from the general population. The only problem I had, was in my earlier years pushing them too far too soon and I well remember losing a couple of very good ones that had won previously. However, that was my mistake and no fault of the pigeons. Here in the U.K. it is a totally different story and very few fanciers bother with them except to breed some to keep a blood line for breeding purposes and not racing them. My good friend Tony Dann calls them heartbreakers! As an example last year he kept one late bred and when it came time to train his new year’s young bird team he took his 30 something young birds and the one late bred for their first training toss of eight miles. The young birds all arrived home more or less together in a short time minus the late bred. The late bred was reported having strayed into a loft about 50 miles away in the opposite direction from home. It did not have a clue how to find its way home even from this very short distance, this is typical late bred behaviour and I have experienced the same phenomena myself many times.

Last year I only reared two late breds, nest mates, they weren’t trained identically, but both had a night out from their first eight mile toss, one is still with me having completed training and had one inland FED race. The other went west at its first club transporter toss from 25 miles.

For some reason their homing faculty does not develop as normal, I have an idea why this may be so which I will relate further on. Nevertheless, most years I have persevered and reared a small team of late ones and although the attrition rate is certainly high with many failing on the first training toss or first time on the FED transporter, the few that come though to their third season are as good as any other pigeons in the loft. Looking over my current old bird team around 15% started life as a late bred. Some flyers say they must be trained in the year of their birth to have any chance of surviving, however, I have tried this and it did not make one bit of difference. Getting back to the reasons for the high failure rate with late breds, while I don’t have any scientific answer, I considered that the main factor may be something to do with daylight and in particular sunlight. The young birds bred in the spring develop when the days are long and the sunlight strong, whereas the late bred birds develop when the days are short and the sunshine weak, with many days the sky being dull with heavy overcast conditions. Admittedly, many fanciers darken their early bred youngsters to stimulate their body moult while retarding the moulting of the wing flights without too many problems, but in the hours these birds are exposed to the daylight it is midsummer when the sun is at its strongest. It might be something as simple as a lack of vitamin D which is also a problem for the human population in British Isles and supplements are recommended especially for children during the winter or it might be an hormonal issue. As I said, I do not profess to have any substantive evidence to support this theory other than my own observations. This year I have again got a small team of late ones and I have been getting them out as much as possible, particularly on sunny days and I have also fed them a richer corn mix with a vitamin/mineral supplement being added once a week. I have noticed a few have continued to moult their flight feathers which is unusual, so I am hoping this lot will turn out O.k. with a higher percentage surviving, time will tell. One interesting point I have noticed is that two were hatched 16 days later than the others on the 7th of August (equivalent to about the 1st week of the southern hemisphere’s month of February). One of this nest pair disappeared the second time out, probably taken by a hawk. The other one is still here but its development has been retarded, so it is well behind the others hatched 16 days earlier. I nearly culled this one but it is now catching up and being a cock bird, in the last week or so he has started to show an interest in the hens and has been moved into the cocks section. Anyway, it seems there may be a certain cut off point when it is probably not productive to continue breeding latebreds, say late July in the northern hemisphere. It may be the end of February to early March in the southern hemisphere, depending on the latitude.


As some readers will know, my base family contain mainly Eric Cannon and Jim Biss bloodlines and recently I was reading an article on the late great Jim Biss penned by Cameron Stansfield wherein he made an interesting comment following his loft visit to Biss in the late 1990’s. To quote Cameron; “He (Jim) went to Scotland where he bought some Palamos pigeons all flying circa 1000 miles, one or two of these left a lasting impression. Now these Palamos pigeons took a good while to get home so I asked him what was it that made him value them and he said something I have never forgotten, that is they had the most elusive quality of all SURVIVABILITY.” These were Henry Mair’s “Lion Heart” family and I notice a daughter of Lion Heart appears back in my Biss pedigrees.

Now this got me thinking about my own pigeons and sure enough all the four pairs of stock in the base family, which are retired racers, have, with the exception of one bird, all displayed this characteristic by surviving a difficult or smash race in their career on the road, some of them more than once. An example being the BICC Saran smash a couple of years ago when from a convoy of around 3800 pigeons only about 300 were clocked in race time and very few returned in the days and weeks that followed. I sent six to this race and had five home within a couple of weeks and four are still with me today having gone on to succeed in that and later seasons. These survivors have on occasions returned home in a bedraggled and dirty condition and some carrying injuries that had partially healed and sporting frets on their flights and tail feathers. But they all had that elusive survivability factor that Jim talks about in that they never quit! In contrast when I started out in 2004 I also introduced a couple of Van Breemen hens from my friend Tony Dann which were crossed with the Biss and Cannon pigeons and these crosses flew very well for me gaining some of my best results but they were found out at the long distance on a hard day. They seemed to be a type of pigeon that give their all on the day of release and if they are not home by early the 2nd morning you never see them again, ideal middle distance pigeons and Tony has won some top National positions with them up to around 300 miles, but they do not have that survivability factor suitable for the long distance that I am after and now I only have a couple of these crosses left so they have phased themselves out and this line will eventually die out in my loft.

The Biss line that survived are from a cock line bred to Biss’s TURBAN 2nd Pau Grand National 645 miles and 5th National Perpignan 689 miles, TURBAN is also G.Sire of J.Halsteads “ASHLEY” 2nd Open Barcelona 696 miles. The dominant pigeons in the Cannon line were obtained from my good friend Keith Mott and are the CULMER SAM and CULMER BESS (Merit winner) lines.


A.Austin 1st Old Bird Hens.

A.Austin 1st Old Bird Hens.

One thing that I believe is lacking in the calendar in New Zealand, I don’t know if it is the same in Australia is the absence of activity in the off season after racing has ceased. In the U.K. we are blessed with the show season where there are numerous shows open during the winter and culminating in the BHW show of the year at Blackpool in January. This gives the fancy an opportunity to get together and keep everyone’s interest going through what otherwise would be a barren period. Our local club holds three shows each winter, this time there was an all age through the wires, followed by the old bird show and finally the young bird show. All three events were well attended although I missed the first through the wire show I did manage to enter the later two shows. The winners of these were as follows:-


1st OB cocks B.Batchelor.

1st OB hens  A.Austin (I was 2nd in this with the hen that won last year).

Brian Batchelor with 1st Old Bird Cocks.

Brian Batchelor with 1st Old Bird Cocks.


1st YB cocks D.Robinson.

2nd YB hens M.Tuck.

Brian's winning mealy cock again, this time in the loft.

Brian’s winning mealy cock again, this time in the loft.

BHW Show of the year at Blackpool, Tony Dann and myself are again heading up the motorway for the five hour journey up to Blackpool on Friday the 18th of January. We enjoy catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. As a scribe for the BHW we have an invitation to the BHW staff rooms where a welcome cup of tea is always waiting and the chance to sit down and have a chat with the other scribes and BHW staff. During the day we troll around the dozens of trade stands picking various items for the loft and birds and having a look at the pigeons in the show and those offered for sale by the well known stud lofts. There are also a few auctions staged in various hotels around the city and one in particular featuring pigeons from the top long distance lofts in the U.K. will attract my interest, but I suspect these will sell well above my price range, still it’s nice to be a looker! The evenings will be spent around the bars enjoying the banter and talking pigeons until late in the evening.

Good racing to all.

Brian Batchelor Elstead UK

Latebreds, are they worth breeding? part lll.   Leave a comment

Ask a group of pigeon fanciers the same question and you might get a different answer from each one of them. For example, on this blog there are many articles and photos featuring a well known Auckland fancier and also our ARPF patron, Mac Armstrong. Mac is our extreme distance master from Invercargill here in Auckland the last 6 years undoubtedly (around 730 miles airline to Mac). Perhaps he is also our best extreme distance fancier in New Zealand! Would any of you dispute this or agree with this?

So in Mac’s case, since I’ve analysed his methods in depth the last few years, if I asked him ‘are summer breds worth breeding?’, then straight away I know that he would say, ‘too damn right’ or ‘of course’ or something to that effect!

If you’ve read the articles on Mac’s methods (see the categories section on the lhs of this page below the archives and please select Annual Invercargill Race to Auckland Racing Pigeon Club Lofts) then you’ll remember that Mac in general doesn’t pair up until after the New Year sometime. The pigeons that he breeds off then are both stock birds, many of which have excelled from Invercargill in the past and also pigeons which have had a bit of r and r after flying Invercargill credibly the previous month i.e. December.

These latebreds nearly always get at least one Christchurch (around 450 miles airline) long distance race at nine or ten months of age and some of the later bred ones i.e. March/April are also sent too! So Mac selects his pigeons hard in the race basket. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he loses a lot in the first year, loses are more likely if a distance race is a harder one. In Auckland nowadays we don’t seem to have hard Christchurch races very often due to the sound liberation protocol and this favours Mac’s system as it could be that many of his latebred youngsters have two Christchurches in their first year. Hence they gain a lot of experience in that first formative year and these latebreds have been given a good chance to shine and earn their spot in Mac’s loft in anticipation of going to Invercargill as rising two year olds.

It is important to note that genetics plays a big part here; it is more than half the equation. In fact Mac enjoys the breeding side of the pigeon racing nowadays more than the actual racing side and I can relate to that also because that is my passion too. How about you?

The hard racing in their first year is a massive foundation for racing as two year olds. Five of the seven pigeons Mac clocked from Invercargill last year were two year olds. As part of their build up they’d had a Christchurch (around 450 miles airline) five weeks before, gone back to Raetihi the following week (180 miles) then on to Raumati the next week which was brought back to Bulls (230 miles) and liberated on the holdover day i.e. Sunday due to inclement weather. After this they had a short rest and then the Huntly 50 milers several times and then banged into a Taumarunui Federation toss (around 140 miles and six days prior to the Invercargill basketing) and then a Huntly three up the Sunday leading up to the basketing week with a Wednesday basketing for Invercargill.

So in a nutshell, Mac is honing his extreme distance racing pigeon genetics into lines of fast maturing, tough pigeons with excellent orientation abilities from all distances. This is one of the keys amongst others which propel him well ahead of the rest of us. Further keys are that Mac aims solely for the Invercargill every year and starts much later than most of us, his loft is also shaded, which suits hitting form the first week or two of December, i.e. the first month of our southern hemisphere summer when the Invercargill race is on.

Perhaps the difficulty for many fliers aiming to master the Invercargill race and I might add that there are at least three fanciers who compete for the Invercargill crown most years currently who have won it at least once before, is that unless the pigeons are prepared right then the losses can be high.

Mac has the luxury that after he breeds off both his Invercargill winners and place winners that these pigeons don’t necessarily go permanently into stock. It has to be a pretty special Invercargill winner for Mac not to send it back the next year if the bird is perfectly right which is another reason why his lofts fire power is much greater than his competitors from this race both in quality and quantity.

I don’t know how many of the Auckland fanciers aim primarily for the Invercargill race. I don’t, I aim for Timaru first, even if it is about 200 miles less in distance. In fact in 2012 the one entry I had for Invercargill flew Timaru 13 days before the Invercargill liberation and it was 6th in the final Invercargill result. I was endeavouring to prepare that hen (celibate like Mac’s pigeons) this year but she got rank for a long time and I decided not to send her. The day before the scheduled basketing I introduced her to a good cock and she laid two days later, I floated those out, both fertile but the first baby was dead in shell, but I have three squeakers off her so far which is great and hope to get three or four more by feeding out another round. Will one be a good one? Who knows! Perhaps if I am just a bit lucky!

2 year old BCH 18th Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation Timaru 2012. 13 on the day birds from 77 liberated. This hen came the next morning from the north at 6.53am. 2 weeks later she was 6th ARPF Federation Invercargill 750 miles. I just entered the one bird.

This BCH is a 3 year old now and as a 2 year old she was 18th Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation Timaru 2012. 13 on the day birds from 77 liberated. This hen came the next morning from the north at 6.53am. 2 weeks later she was 6th ARPF Federation Invercargill 2012 750 miles (though Foxton breaking point), 8.57am the next morning, no day pigeons. I just entered the one bird. She was a summer bred and she only went as far as Ward in her first year i.e. around 300 miles, was late! Mac clocking to win Invercargill in 2012 at 7.22am the second day after a 7.10am lib.

I may send this hen again this year to Invercargill, we’ll see. She’s a real crossbred viz a mixture of Houben, Janssen and the old Dutch and Vandie pigeons. She was off a ‘love mating’ of race birds and I don’t have the parents. I had bred three youngsters off her early 2013 after she flew the Invercargill in 2012, summer breds, and I raced one last year but not from the distance. Overall, I seem to do things a bit slower than Mac. Obviously his method is the better method going on his results from Invercargill!

However, we have to work with what hand is dealt to us i.e. although Mac is a ‘young’ 83, he is much healthier than me, even if he told me last month that he doesn’t know if he can do another year of racing! I said to him the other day that he needed to keep racing, to keep showing people like me the way so that we can learn the craft!

As mentioned in articles on Mac previously, when I had a break from the sport for two years in 2007 and 2008 he had a handful of pigeons off me. One hen, number 243 bred him two Invercargill winners to different cocks from me. Unfortunately that hen had an accident in Mac’s loft and as a consequence died.

The 3 year old hen which got reported 6km from my loft last year from Invercargill on the third day is being paired up at the moment. She is also off a ‘love mating’, but her dam (Vandie to Janssen) has been in the stock loft the last three seasons. That hen flew Timaru two years in a row on the day when I only entered the one pigeon. It was after this that I got enthused with our longer races again i.e. Timaru and Invercargill.

2 year old BCH 8th Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation Timaru 2012. 13 on the day birds from 77 liberated.

This BCH is now a 3 year old and as a 2 year old she was 8th Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation Timaru 2012. 13 on the day birds from 77 liberated. Sent to Invercargill 2013 she wasn’t far off making it home here on the third day. She too was a summer bred! She didn’t go to the long distance in her first year and this seems to work for me, although I’m a long way off mastering Invercargill!

She (my hen reported during last years Invercargill from just 6km away) had flown Timaru on the day as a two year old placing eighth in 2012. She just had the easy club Christchurch five weeks before last year’s Invercargill as a set up race and was on eggs with another hen. I probably won’t race her again. I’m pairing her to a summer bred cock which was 7th from Timaru (525 miles airline) last year, a stiff race. They are only remotely related (the progeny will be a little bit linebred to the ‘Ace Futurity Cock’ BBC WUAK 95′ 744, a Janssen which my friend Brian Batchelor bred for me as an OOA and 744 was off the Hardluck hen 7875 that we shared in the mid 90′s. In fact 744 was undoubtedly the very best straight Janssen performance pigeon that I’ve ever had and way back in 1996!

Remote line breeding (or crossing) is what I personally prefer for pairings to hopefully breed some extreme distance performance pigeons. That summer bred cock I’m mating to her I’d also clocked from Ward near the top of the South Island (around 300 miles airline) when I dropped six together last year in a pretty quick one when the loft wasn’t set up although the clock was on fortunately.

The other two hens I got back from Invercargill I’ll breed off too. One I’ve recently paired up, she’s off an inbred Vandie base hen to a Janssen cock and she flew Timaru as a yearling, Christchurch and Timaru as a two year old scoring 2nd Federation in the Timaru to Steve and Magda Archer having over flown a long way, just the nine day birds from 111 total birdage sent and 43 timed in by second days end. See below table.

Open Federation Race from Timaru on 23 Nov 2013 Lib: 6:50 (Fine&Hot LtVarBreeze)

Race Results – 21 Lofts – 111 Pigeons (Confirmed)














S and M Archer Pak/Howick







ARPF-11-1353 BBWF H




Elley Family Pukekohe







PUK-11-1120 BC H




John Muir Nth Harbour







HENAK-12-0361 LBC H




T and M van Lier Henderson







WUAK-11-0506 BBP H




B and F van Lier Henderson







HENA-12-0108 BC C




K Frazer Pukekohe







PUKE-12-0556 GRZ H




Elley Family Pukekohe







PUKE-12-0321 BC C



“Hours of Darkness” Pigeons, placings determined by ARPF Race Rule 2.20


Alois Verstraeten Nth Harbour






ARPF-12-2445 BB H


T and M van Lier Henderson






WUAK-10-0455 BB C

I felt a bit guilty sending her to Invercargill when nothing had shown up by lunch time on the second day. But she made it home, 22 days and in good nick too, I was pleasantly surprised. For me the Vandie base bloodline seems to result in hardier pigeons than the straight Janssen or Houben/Janssen hybrids, however Mac often clocks straight or almost straight Janssen’s. This hen is being paired to her uncle, an inbred Vandie base pigeon in an attempt to preserve the bloodlines, as the four Vandie base siblings I have are getting old and one of the cocks fired mainly blanks this breeding season gone. It is possible that the Vandie base bloodlines mixed into my Houben, Janssen or their hybrids means that there’s a better chance of my racers handling either jumps in race distance or still performing on mainly just loft flying and racing, whereas Mac and many others here in Auckland get a lot of training into their pigeons.

The third pigeon I got back from Invercargill of my eight entries sent was a Houben/Janssen import hybrid. She had flown Christchurch and Timaru as a two year old last year and was 19th from the Timaru around 8am the next morning. It is hard to know if these hens that had both the Christchurch and the Timaru last year were simply over done for the Invercargill or simply just not the right combination of genetics or maybe just unlucky. Nevertheless, they managed to find home and I’ll breed off that third hen too soon. She had dropped it more than the other one but picked up well in a couple of days.

I guess if you pair pigeons up wisely and breed enough off them then the chances are still there to produce extreme distance pigeons, after all, 243 which bred two Invercargill winners for Mac, including the hardest Invercargill in the last five years i.e. in 2011 (end of second day), never went past Christchurch and the cocks she was paired up to to produce two Invercargill winners, one I bought for stock and the other was a son of that cock and he never went out of the North Island! Food for thought!

Do any of you have questions for Mac Armstrong, please email me at and I’ll include them in an article on him.

Latebreds, are they worth breeding? part ll.   1 comment

A few weeks ago I wrote an article ‘Latebreds, are they worth breeding?’ Some of you may have read it. Peter Wilkinson, a senior flier from the Henderson club here in Auckland wrote a good comment on it, its worth having a read of. I also wrote an article, ‘Oh God, it’s Young Bird Season Again’ back in 2012, you can find it under the ‘Ferg’s birds’ category or at March 2012 in the archive index.

In many ways at the moment I am totally not motivated to fly young birds starting this March 2014. Many have trained plenty already, they’ve pulled flights, something I haven’t done for many, many years as I believe it’s just a tad cruel and you can still win without participating in this practice (not many darken over here). The weather is reasonably hot now, also it’s almost midsummer, not really the ideal time to train developing young pigeons and it’s humid too. In another month or two the youngsters will start the body moult, another stressful time. I am still of the mind that we should abandon young bird racing here in New Zealand and use that time to promote the sport. There simply are very, very few young people coming into the sport and there are many things we can do. Perhaps the subject of another blog!

Our young bird racing could easily be slotted into the old bird season programme like some countries do. There could still be ring races and other money races, even though the real skill in pigeon racing is from the long distance races and here in Auckland there is little financial return from the long distance races unless someone like Mac Armstrong, our extreme distance champ and amongst the best in the world at it I might add, sponsors the race, like he does with our Annual Invercargill to Auckland race.

If you are new to the site, please check the ‘Annual Invercargill Race to Auckland Racing Pigeon Lofts’ category. The articles you will find there mainly feature Mac Armstrong and many of them are on the Elimar site.

Previously, I talked about my racing of summer bred latebreds last year in 2013 having not bred until December 2012. They certainly went a treat and were up there in all our key races bar the Invercargill (I don’t send yearlings that far anyway). By the way, I have three back from eight sent to last year’s Invercargill race where there were only eight birds from a total birdage of 164 in the four days race time. I will breed off them shortly and fly the offspring perhaps as far as Timaru, 525 miles (airline) this year in November.

You may have been thinking, what medications did I use with these summer breds. Well, I’d like to say none, but it was minimal. In 2012 old birds I used one canker treatment but last year the winter was relatively mild so after the eighth race i.e. Raumati (250 miles) I gave a canker treatment (to help the pigeons cope with any respiratory challenge which the canker organisms make the pigeons more vulnerable to). Two weeks later after the Ward (our first South Island race) I gave them a second canker treatment, that was it. The only other treatment was for intestinal parasites twice prior to the Fed Raumati race to give them a good clean out. I also used most of a bottle of Clements tonic (500 mls), but didn’t give any until the week of the first Federation race i.e. the eighth race, Raumati.

So absolutely no antibiotics used for two old bird seasons now. It shows that the results can be good without their use and I wish more people around the world would adopt the right attitude to their proper use including pigeon vets i.e. they’re designed for using to treat really sick pigeons and not for trying to induce form. Form will come, be patient, look after them well, feed them very well, don’t over stress them racing and training, don’t over crowd them, have excellent loft ventilation and plenty of time out flying or simply relaxing in the sun/bathing as a tonic.

If some pigeons do break down i.e. they have some significant nasal catarrh, spell them for a few weeks, longer if required. If markedly affected then put them in aviaries or get them out even more. In most cases once a pigeon is eight months of age or older its immune system, if the genetics are sound, will figure out what organisms are attacking it and produce antibodies i.e. ‘natures antibiotics’, much better than relying on something in a bottle to induce form, just be patient and keep selecting for tougher more disease resilient pigeons for the stock loft. That’s the right path, do you agree!

I would note that here in Auckland this is easier in our old bird season as the days are getting warmer and longer so our racing, particularly in the last month or so in Novemeber/December, kind of mimics what is happening in migratory or semi-migratory birds. In our young bird season, March to the end of May, we are racing in autumn, the days are shortening, and by April sometime, depending on each local loft environment and how insulated your loft is, then you might hit some problems. It is one thing having a small number of youngsters develop respiratory disease to the extent that they can’t be raced i.e. to race them again that season they’d likely need an antibiotic treatment and it’s another thing if many are infected/showing clinical signs of respiratory disease. Herein lies the dilemma for me, which I had two years ago (last time that I raced young birds) near the end of our young bird season in May, to treat or not to treat with antibiotics or to stop racing. In fact last year I decided not to race young birds so I bred late 2012 and that was one determining reason not to race.

The ceiling of my lofts are unlined, so overnight from late autumn till spring sometime there is often condensation appearing on the ceiling, not good for the pigeons. Really, the answer is of course to have the ceiling of the loft lined and also insulation material placed between the roof and the ceiling.

About four years ago in 2009 I had a tremendous young bird season. I had two blue barrs which were up there in three feature races e.g. first and second Open Young Bird Futurity Levin 230 miles, first and second Eastern Union Otaki and these two also came with three others in the Jack Longville Memorial race where I was 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th.

What I did that year was to individually dose the pigeons i.e. with antibiotics. But I only treated the pigeons that had significant signs of respiratory infection. What was interesting, and someone who flock doses with antibiotics should also observe this, half the pigeons didn’t need the antibiotics i.e. there were no visible signs of respiratory infection. So that was food for thought. Later in the season I still individually dosed those untreated pigeons, but I think the better way is just to dose the young birds that need it.

It will be very interesting to see what happens when I do line the ceiling of the loft, how will that lengthen loft form at the end of the young bird season when the days are fairly short, it’s windy up here in the hills of Onewhero and getting cold. Ultimately, while the young bird season racing remains where it is over here I aim to not use antibiotics. One of the problems here like many parts of the world is that we pre-pay for the young bird classic races, so in part unless one forfeits the entry money I might be obliged to resort to flock or individual birds antibiotic dosing near the young bird season’s end.

However, we must remember, amongst our team are some pigeons that won’t need dosing, they can handle a lot of racing and perhaps four of a middle distance length in young birds. It is a challenge to breed more of these pigeons, then it’s more likely that the loft will hold form with no antibiotic treatment, as there will be more pigeons capable of ‘sticking their hand up’ at the right time and perhaps fewer pigeons acting as carriers and reservoirs for the nasties!

Will I give some canker treatments this young birds? It is very likely that I will, just as my summer breds had two such flock treatments. The longer I can delay it the better as form is likely to lift as a whole after such dosing i.e. between the Bulls race and the young bird Futurity from Levin might be the right time and then once again, three to four weeks later after the Eastern Union Otaki race leading up to the prestigious biennial Young Bird National.

I wonder how many Auckland fliers were disappointed this 2013 Old Birds just gone because they continually pumped medicines into their young birds last year in young birds? Perhaps they had a few young birds shine for them, but how many went on to be good yearlings from either the middle or long distance? Pigeons last longer with less medicines, especially antibiotics.

One of my aims is to not have to use any medications other than for internal parasites i.e. worms and I am half way there. My breeders are in their third year of not having any medications, just treatment for worms. It has meant that some of them have had to toughen up in that time; it can expose a few weaknesses. None of my breeders had any health issues in the breeding season just gone, but you might be surprised what weaknesses show up when you first embark on the no dosing regimen.

For me it manifested in that certain bloodlines were more prone to dry canker in their squeakers and wet canker in adult breeders and some weaned squeakers. However, it’s been a bit like putting the blow torch on my racing pigeon genetics and it’s certainly the way to refine your pigeons. I cull one in ten youngsters in the nest, always canker, some I treat, although this eventually may turn out to be the wrong policy, we’ll see. Winners can still come in the form of squeakers that had significant throat canker in the nest and were treated for it. I don’t mind if a few get just a little canker in the nest as it shows they also have an overt immune response to it. I never touch it till ringing or later. Sometimes it can be gently massaged out, perhaps over a two day period. Sometimes I will treat it, sometimes I will pick it out after treatment i.e. the next day, sometimes it requires a second treatment and more picking out the next day.

I think the consensus in the pigeon community around the world is that there’s less chance of a Fed winner from a pigeon that had canker in the nest, but we’ve probably all had them. I’ve even heard of squeakers with naval canker being top racers, but I think here the chances are a lot less; the key here with naval canker is drainage and a treatment.

As I said above, it could be that further down the track I decide to cull every squeaker in the nest that can’t ‘cure itself’ from dry canker. Hopefully as time goes by I will see less and less of it due to the selection pressure on my genetics i.e. not breeding off pigeons that perform well that were treated for either canker in the nest or dry or wet canker after weaning.

After weaning I cull one in ten squeakers, generally for wet canker, viruses may also be involved in some of these sick squeakers e.g. circo virus and E.coli too. If I do treat any, then it is just a canker treatment, sometimes two. It could be in the future I don’t treat any youngsters with such maladies. My current policy is that if the squeaker has the will to fight it then I will give it a chance. If they reach the ‘point of no return’ they are culled before they suffer unduly and unfairly.

Some fanciers will say they never get canker, dry or wet and they never dose. Perhaps their eyesight is poor! Everyone gets canker while breeding if they don’t medicate, it’s just that some might not be aware of it unless they get a real obvious case as they aren’t looking down the throats of squabs in the nest regularly.

Do you breed some summer bred late breds?

What tips do you have for their management?

How far do you send the better ones in their first year?

You have often had success from 500 miles plus. Have you had better success with late bred pigeons that were not pushed too far in their year of birth e.g. only to 200 to 300 miles max and then they went on as two and three year olds to produce outstanding performances?

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