Archive for March 2012

Oh God, it’s Young Bird Season Again!!   Leave a comment

Blue Chequer Young Bird Cock ex Janssen Cock to Houben Janssen hybrid Hen. He looks very much like his cousin 'No toe' from Old Birds 2011. In fact they are cousins, their mothers are sisters and both off the good hen 219. Photo courtesy of Kim Anisi 6th March 2012.

A somewhat negative title some might think. Well it’s the truth for me, at least in part. The wrong time of year to race pigeons in the opinion of some and I can understand their argument completely. Their main reason being the moult, both the body moult and the moulting of primary and secondary wing flights and the tail feathers.

Unless one uses the darkening system to delay the moult then there can be some flight position problems at key times later in the season. To me, the darkening system is unnatural and I think young birds do much better healthwise with normal day length and plenty of sunshine. I did use this system once but not intentionally in 2008 as I had an overcrowded loft and it was the middle of old birds and it was the time to wean the first round of squeakers so I put them in an old builders shed which I had used for birds in the past. This shed had only 2 small windows and was shaded by big trees so the young birds did moult their primary wing flights slower than usual as it was dim inside most of the day.

Later on when racing finished they were shifted into the main loft which has polycarbonate sheets every second roofing sheet so in general it has a warm atmosphere with good sunlight on good days. They also decided while rehoming themselves the short distance that they’d camp out in a huge pine tree 100 metres away on a hill and they continued this habit throughout young birds. Seeing that I live in the country, the young birds could be out all day until feeding time in mid afternoon and thus they received plenty of sunlight and fresh air. They would charge off at great speed every so often from the great height of this old pine tree and I would hear them from my bed where I would be most of the time due to poor health. I named this lot “the tree sitters”, but the results were tremendous that young bird season in 2009 and I wish other mobs of young birds would do the same instead of hiding under the loft and mainly only taking off when I let the old dog ‘Sally’ out to bark at them!

Same Young Bird Cock as above during same photo shoot.

During the moult the birds are under alot of stress and it is unwise to have the birds on a ration. Mine are fed 3 times a day and I use a high protein mix with plenty of peas and some fat in there also via plenty of mixed canary seed. It is important to give the birds plenty of baths during the moult too. I don’t give the birds any expensive additives, tonics or pickstones. They simply get fine crushed oyster shell grit which is cheap, sometimes good clay which is free and things like pebbles, clay, plant seeds and vegetation when they are out wandering around in the paddock.

Leading up to the 2 day baskets which are races around 300km and upwards to my loft, some multivitamin may be used such as Clements tonic the day prior to basketing only. I feel the genetics of the pigeons and a nutritious balanced grain diet and plenty of exercise are of much greater value than expensive things used to prop them up. I don’t even use cider vinegar, garlic, yoghurt or probiotics and the water is untreated roof water. I simply haven’t experienced better results using these extra things. So my selection process is without such ‘add ons’ although feel free to use whatever takes your fancy within your Federations racing regulations. Perhaps if I wasn’t a poor man I might use such things again, but then perhaps not!! I reiterate, superior genetics are the key, not potions!!

Nestmate of previous Young Bird Cock at same photo shoot.

Getting back to the moult, some fliers pull either the 9th or the 10th or both prior to racing. Is it only me or could it appear a bit desperate to win if we have to resort to such means?? Better to just not send the bird if the 9th or 10th flight are in an unsuitable position and there is pain and reluctance to fly freely or if the 9th is quite short and the 10th is dangling (particularly in a big, heavy pigeon). There’s always a later race or another season for that bird and so what if it has a $10 ring on, surely you know when it can’t be the champion in that particular race, so why not back yourself and look after the bird! Therefore don’t send the bird if not in ‘tip top condition’ and remember “if in doubt, keep it out!”

Birds with only 3 or 4 tail feathers out of the 12 are best not sent racing either and this just reinforces the argument of some that we would be better off racing all ages of pigeons from spring onwards and forgo racing in the first half of the year. Perhaps we could promote the sport a bit more during that long break, visiting schools and so forth, food for thought indeed, after all the sports seriously retracting worldwide.

The alternative would be to shorten the race season here in NZ for young birds by starting after the body moult is done and dusted. Maybe late March/early April, depending on that years weather.

Another good-looking Young Bird Cock ex a Houben/Janssen Cock hybrid to a Janssen Hen. Photo taken at same photo shoot by Kim Anisi 6th March 2012.

Well, we have to work with what we’ve got, so here’s where I’m up to with my youngsters. Most fliers in our neck of the woods have late July or early August hatches seeing that the life rings come out on the 1st of August. My oldest are mid October hatch and the better ones are ready for racing now having had 11 tosses of which my wife has done the last 5 due to my poor health. I’ve lost one from 26 and culled one for health reasons, plus one which probably broke its radius and ulna i.e. forearm equivalent, which will probably not be a great bird, nevertheless ‘soft fergie’ kept it. Also I am still not dosing apart from for internal parasites.

The birds are a picture of health. I am aware from tossing and observation that there are perhaps one or two with inferior constitution i.e. their constitution doesn’t appear rock solid. I will assume that either this small number will either “fly to freedom” or if not up to scratch for the rigours of racing, that after plenty of chances I may have to cull them out if they are still present in the team.

I am being honest here and the old adage of “throwing a handful of seeds into the ground” is that you come up with a “mixed crop”. Everyone breeds some inferior specimens and it is the fanciers duty to whittle the birds down fairly from the start in the nest. As a consequence there will be less strays dispersed around the countryside assuming good pigeons are only bred off and the management including training methods are reasonable, without being risky or inhumane i.e. a good fancier needs to be careful with the weather.

This fellas a henny looking Cock who's ex Janssen BCC 186 the Sire of BBH 1167 which was 1st Open Old Bird National Christchurch to Auckland 2005 in 11 hour 15 minutes and in the early 1100 m/min. She won by a 7 minute equivalent. A full brother of 1167 won a very hard Laurie Lane Old Bird Classic Christchurch for Ron Nee Nee in 2007. His bird was around 9am the second day and 5 hours ahead of the only other bird in race time! Dam of this BCC above is a Vandie base hen. Photo taken at same shoot.

On that subject this year’s breeding I have weaned at 70% whereas formerly it was around 90%. The difference being due to 2 things. Firstly, I am eliminating more of the weaker ones in the nest and secondly I haven’t flock treated my breeders at any stage during and before breeding. In fact my breeders have had no flock treatments apart from for internal parasites for around 18 months now and the birds are better for it. I have culled a low percentage of breeders, some of these quite old. The odd bird I give an individual canker treatment to during breeding which includes some youngsters though not that many as I’d rather that they show an immune response and beat it themselves. However some need help but are culled if they relapse with dry canker.

This policy has meant that because the solid immunity has been given the chance of developing in each individual bird that in the first few weeks after weaning I have only culled about 1 in 20 youngsters for health reasons. Most have stayed healthy and I put this down to no blind treatments and although some pairs couldn’t rear as many squeakers as others without dosing I believe I am on the right track for improving my lines of pigeons. We need to move away from the blind treatment philosophy of the past. Things need to be more scientific and better genetics searched for from the disease resistance angle and solid immunity built up from the nest.

So to reiterate, I am against the philosophy of treating the young bird team if 5 or 10% of the birds seem to have a problem. It is better to only treat individually and change management and genetics. If one does flock treat then correct laboratory diagnosis needs to be under taken and we shouldn’t hesitate to cull the odd bird. Every bird I cull I have a good look at the thoracic and abdominal cavity organs. The 3 sets of air sacs are also checked. When you know what is normal then alot can be ascertained quite quickly by post-mortem examination and fanciers should learn to do it.

If Paramyxovirus did come over here then naturally I would vaccinate all the birds. Other than that, only the odd bird is individually treated, but I don’t use antibiotics. I’m just talking about some canker treatment here. Eventually I hope to do away with all treatments apart from for internal parasites whilst keeping the welfare aspects at a high level. However, don’t think I am against proper diagnosis of pigeon ailments by sending samples away or consulting a Veterinarian for comprehensive laboratory tests and the resulting definitive diagnosis.

My feeling is that the pigeons are going to do better for me without the treatments in the mid to long-term. This was proved for me in old birds last year and my findings are the scope of another future article as the subject is quite vast. I will add though that you the fancier need to do what you are comfortable with in your local situation in your own country. Further, if you are a new flier I’d encourage you to read widely and discuss your options with experienced fanciers and seek Veterinary advice or assistance if necessary.

In my local situation we have 2 main races to aim for in Young Bird racing in the East Section, Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation. The first is the Young Bird Futurity and is currently a $10 ($NZ) ring race and the second is the Young Bird National which in Auckland is flown every second year and alternative years it is Christchurch’s race. This year the National is $50 per team of 3 with unlimited entries and deadline of 17th March 2012.

A lovely looking BBC ex a Janssen Cock and a Janssen/Houben hybrid hen. He's a cousin of the good BCH 'No toe' from Old Birds 2011. In fact their mothers are sisters and both off the good hen 219. Not a big cock bird and very similar to his sire who breeds excellent racers. Photo taken 6th March 2012 courtesy of Kim Anisi.

Posted March 16, 2012 by ferguselley in Ferg's birds

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Mac Armstrong’s pigeon team are Invercargill Kings Again!   Leave a comment


The Annual Auckland Federation Invercargill race is from the bottom of the South Island to Auckland near the top of the North Island and to Mac Armstrong’s loft is a distance of around 780 miles through a lower North Island Foxton breaking point. To fly the Invercargill to Auckland race on the day the birds have to take a fairly direct line of flight across the Southern Alps which are snow peaked all year round rising to 3754 meters and secondly they need to make the Cook Straight sea crossing between the Island’s.

Mac’s pigeons have won this race the last 4 years viz 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2008 it was a very hard one with Mac’s bird the only bird in race time. In 2009 his winning birds made it on the day. In 2010 the winning birds arrived late in the morning of the second day. Finally in 2011 the winning bird arrived in the evening of the second day.

In fact in 2009 Mac Armstrong won and had three on the day and showed that this was no fluke by winning in the 2010 event 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th. In 2011 Mac Armstrong’s pigeons were 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th.

Mac is a great advocate for long distance racing and has encouraged many others to have a go at the Invercargill race. Mac’s family of pigeons originated from some imports from John Hansen’s Blenhaven stud (Australia) in the mid 1990’s and were Janssens and Buschaerts, however these have been worked hard and through strict selection been moulded into Mac’s own world-class family of distance pigeons that would take some beating anywhere.

Mac certainly lives for the long distance and he finds like many fanciers the world around that being with the pigeons is very therapeutic. Watching them take a bath or a couple of cocks fighting, observing the social interactions, just fills him with a sense of calm and well-being. He says he comes out of the loft reenergised.

Why I think Mac is so successful in winning the Annual ARPF Invercargill.

To win this race 4 seasons in a row is ‘no mean feat’ and certainly not luck or chance.

Mac does aim for this race above all the other races on the race programme. Everything is set up to achieve that first place and nothing is left to chance. I believe the saying ‘nothing good comes easy’ applies here and despite the fact that Mac is an Octagenerian he and his team of pigeons  have been able to leave the opposition behind in their dust.

Mac does send a decent sized team but I believe that it certainly isn’t numbers sent, rather it is many, many other reasons. However, others are entitled to their opinions.

Mac is a very humble and delightful man and I’m sure would give all the credit to his team of pigeons. Mac went into last years Invercargill race not confident and although we can call Mac and his team of winners and place getters Kings, he might not say that he also is.

The number of top prizes including the 1st and 2nd prizes the last 3 years is just something truly exceptional in my book and leaves a challenge to all of us for many a year.

Race Preparation.

Mac gives his birds a lot of open lofts and loves to see his birds free flying particularly when they’re darting around the sky full of energy. Cocks out one day the hens the next.

Mac spends up to five hours in the pigeon loft a day mainly looking at the birds. He doesn’t handle them as a rule. He observes them very keenly. He keeps meticulous records of all their races and other details.

Mac normally starts the season with about 80 birds to race and keeps the cocks and hens separate and flies to the perch. He would rather send to the perch than pair because then there’s no risk of trouble with too many flights dropping or little babies and the birds are much calmer in the basket.

Mac never sends yearlings or latebreds to Invercargill. Instead he chooses to send 2 years and older pigeons (in their 3rd year) and he particularly likes 4 to 5 year old hens. Mac has an aviary for hens. The cocks when out can see the hens through the slats and Mac wonders if he should block the view of the cocks to hens.

Indeed as the longer races draw nearer and the weather becomes warmer some of the cocks seem to get very frisky as if they were widowhood cocks, even though they aren’t on widowhood. I expect that this is a good health indicator and a very mild form of incentive.

Build up races to Invercargill.

Mac likes to get them to Ward and at least one Christchurch prior to the main event.

In 2011 the birds had the slow and steady Ward race (around 360 miles) and 2 weeks later the 1st Christchurch on the race programme. It was a relatively easy one. Christchurch is around 480 miles to Mac’s loft. After a 10 day or so rest and loft flying until they were darting around again the birds had 5 or 6 fifty milers over the next 3 weeks including one on the Monday prior to the Wednesday night basketing. Seeing that the birds were held over to the following Tuesday it would have been a very good pipe opener and retained the muscle condition and physical fitness in the basket.

These 50 milers were normally around 4pm to 5pm from Huntly. Mac releases the birds in ones and two’s to simulate what hopefully may occur whilst returning home alone from Invercargill on the day in the last few hours of the day. Although the line he hopes the birds would take home when racing is about 20 km further west, Mac believes the birds see these sorts of landmarks i.e. Huntly’s twin Power Station chimneys from a very long way away. Mac says that from 1000 feet pigeons can see a pea i.e. a wild pigeon. Mac is quite prepared to take his time letting the birds up to head off alone. This is part of his ‘not leaving a stone unturned’ philosophy in his quest for excellence.

Mac’s Invercargill pigeons are not let out for the 2 days prior to the Invercargill basketing night to allow rest and the building up of reserves for the race and time away from home in the basket. Mac could send more pigeons to the Invercargill race but only believes in sending them if they are 100% right. Hence the old adage, ‘If in doubt, leave them out!’

2011 Invercargill winner.

This was a rising 3 year Blue Barr cock which was often Macs 1st or 2nd bird to the loft when racing. This cock was clocked at 6.04pm on the second day, one hour and 36 minutes ahead of his next two birds which scored 2nd and 3rd. The parents of this winner were from myself and he is 7/8th’s Janssen and 1/8 Vandie. His Greatgrandfather a Vandie Cock 423 won the National Open from Christchurch to Auckland in 1994 for me. The Janssens are a mixture of all my best lines. The parents of the 2011 Invercargill winner were very good, exceptional racers for me i.e. winners themselves. He is linebred 31% if the pedigree is examined to the sixth generation taking him as the first generation. 19% of this is to the Janssen BBH 71, a Fountainhead Janssen cock x a Jimmy Eaton Janssen hen. This was a different line to the early 90’s imports. The other 12% is the ‘Blenhaven Cock’ 2893, a National Ace/Vos Cock and prepotent breeder of racers and many excellent stock birds. The 2011 Invercargill winner is just over 50% Blenhaven Stud Janssens in bloodlines.

Feeding Methods.

Mac doesn’t need to feed peanuts instead he uses the Colin Walker oil often on the food when the birds are being prepared for their long distance events.

Feeding throughout the year for every race week in old birds is the following. In general Mac feeds small grains after the race for several days to rest the system. He sources his grain from many areas and countries as possible to allow for different mineral contents of soils. It is the quality of the grain that is important and not the price. Nice and clean too.

Day 1 Sunday – a mix of sunflower, safflower, canary, wheat, sorghum, hulled oats, linseed and millet is fed 3 to 4 times a day.

Day 2 Monday – a mix of barley, safflower, wheat and sorghum is fed 3 to 4 times a day.

Day 3 Tuesday – starts with Mondays mix and from lunchtime peas and beans are added.

Day 4 Wednesday – small maize 25% (with a good germ), green peas, maple peas -(peas  25% total) – wheat, barley, sorghum, sunflower and safflower 10% each (remaining 50%).

Mac also hopper feeds dark brown not black tic beans (small to medium 1cm long) which are purchased direct from the South Island with Andrew Fry’s help.

In the off-season Mac feeds mainly peas and beans especially to his youngsters. The bulk of these are bred from January until early April including those off his best distance birds.

Final thoughts until the next article on Mac.

Always be thorough and show attention to detail. Don’t take short cuts.

Know what you are aiming for and be determined to reach the goal, don’t give up.

Breed off your best race birds at the end of the season and know when to place a bird permanently in the stock loft.

Be very careful and don’t enter a bird to the long distance event unless it’s perfectly right.

Use minimal medicine, preferably just treatment for internal parasites 4 times a year unless there is an individual bird health problem, then treat that bird for what it has. Solid immunity is a must for the rigours of racing and although in some countries vaccinations may be required for the likes of PMV don’t prop the birds up with medicines or you may come unstuck. 800 milers need to be very tough.

Be patient each year in educating the team for future years so that very experienced and well-trained birds are entered for these around 800 mile events or don’t bother entering.

You don’t have to feed peanuts to win the long distance events but some fat is required and plenty of protein and hopper feeding of tic beans is very good.

Perch pigeons seem to do better at these extreme distances and especially for the 5 day or more holdovers.