MAC III   1 comment


You said to me while chatting over the phone last year that there is so much to be learned from the pigeon’s eye and how the pigeon looks at you and I expect that this is one reason why you study your pigeons for many hours without handling them. What do you look out for in the pigeon’s eye?

The eye should be sharp and clear. The pupil should be very tight and small in normal light.

The better racers have a very inquisitive eye, which follows my movements around the loft.

As an aside, the better racers especially the cocks also walk sharper i.e. they don’t dawdle.

What are the 3 most important things an existing or new flier must first concentrate on to do well at around the 800 mile event?

Number one: start with the right type of pigeons from a long distance flier(s).

Number two: selective breeding from the successful race birds, especially from those doing well from 5 to 800 miles.

Number three: learn how to condition the race birds through the combination of feeding and work, including the racing. Not over training or under training.

How many stock pairs do you use each year, how many youngsters do you breed and when do your first youngsters hatch?

18 pairs of breeders. Included in this are selected race birds about two months after they fly the Invercargill. I let all Invercargill racers breed as a rule, which encourages both the bond to the loft and rewards the pigeons for homing from the distance. Some of these pigeons are used as feeders also.

I generally breed 20 to 30 youngsters per season, starting from January to February, through until April. So from late January hatch.

Being mainly Summer bred, they grow real well!

Do you fly Young Birds?

It doesn’t suit my system to fly Young Birds. By not doing so, they learn less bad habits of overflying and so on. As a consequence, they are pretty well trained before they go up with other pigeons and are more likely to break from the right spot.

How do you train your babies?

When the eye changes colour from eight to ten weeks of age.

Two tosses from 10 miles.

Two tosses from 20 miles.

Then the pigeons are jumped to 50 miles (Huntly where the big Power Station chimneys are and can be seen for miles). Six times from there.

Then 3km west of Whatawhata three times, around 80 miles.

The tosses aren’t strictly on the line of flight but that doesn’t seem to matter.

From what age do you start singling up your pigeons?

From six to eight months and after they’ve raced a bit. I start with three ups, progressing to single ups.

I let three hens go, then three cocks once they’ve cleared, then three hens e.t.c.

Single ups, three cocks in a row, then three hens in a row e.t.c.

The sexes might be separated by that stage if the pigeons start being precocious.

How would you describe your loft and road training in the three months preceding the Invercargill race from September to early December? How does it change as the key race i.e. Invercargill approaches?

Firstly the pigeons are open lofted from dawn till late in the afternoon. Cocks one day and hens the next. So as the days get longer the pigeons get naturally fitter.

The pigeons go out in all sorts of weather and there are plenty of places to shelter if the weather deteriorates. This helps them harden up more, like wild birds. I must stress that the pigeons are locked up for several months to finish the flight moult and rest up after breeding finishes in April. This means that when the pigeons start training in late September/early October that they are very well rested and there are never problems with the early primary flights moulting in December, which is when my key race Invercargill is i.e. in the first month of our Summer.

Usually I don’t actually start racing until well into the season due to other commitments, say by October. But when I do, I start tossing the pigeons and from then keep going regularly, at least once or twice a week.

The pigeons have the hoppers in front of them every day so if they are hungry during the morning of the toss day they can eat some tic beans or peas (nz maple or blue peas).

In the month leading up to the Invercargill race the pigeons are trained two to three times each week from Huntly i.e. 50 miles.

Three cocks are singled up in a row, then three hens e.t.c. By this stage they simply head off without circling in a NNW direction. They normally still get out the next day if it is that sexes turn. The fresh air does them the world of good I think.

Do you try and rank the order your birds might come from Invercargill and how often are you right?

Last year i.e. 2012 I didn’t expect the first two pigeons.

In 2011, the hardest year of the last four years, I picked the winning BBC which returned near the end of the second day. He was often first or second to the loft in the longer build up races in both 2010 and 2011.

Also the cocks that won in 2008 and 2009 I thought they would be up there.

However it can be really difficult. That is why, so long as I can’t fault them in condition/form /health, that I send a fair sized team.

In the last five years from Invercargill, have you ever thought the pigeon you clocked first would be either first or with the first pigeons to your loft?

Yes, in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

If they were the favourite, what made them so? Have they won at shorter distances or are they simply bred for Invercargill i.e. 800 miles or so?

The 2011 cock was simply a very consistent pigeon both as a yearling and two year old. That year he won Invercargill by around an hour and a half.

Does every pigeon entered go through the same buildup or is each pigeon assessed to where it’s at and sent to the races that suit it in an attempt to get it right?

Yes, they all have the same build up unless there is a health problem or injury.

Do you ever get some surprises with birds excelling ahead of most of the others unexpectedly?

Yes, but you don’t know which pigeons got going earlier during the morning of the next day. For instance they may’ve been woken up very early by a scary noise, such as a dairy cowshed starting up in the dark or they were scared off a tree or building by a loud noise or predator.

You also don’t know if a favoured pigeon was predated by a raptor or cat e.t.c. or came to grief on a wire or met their end by a gun.

What is the latest in the morning that you would consider was a fair liberation time for the pigeons from Invercargill, considering that it might have just been a matter of waiting for the conditions to improve at liberation and their release when conditions up the road were fair for the majority of pigeons normally sent to Invercargill by most fliers?

7am, the earlier the better if conditions including visibility are reasonable. I always like to think that they might just make it home on the day and sometimes they do, even from 780 miles.

What do we need to do to promote the sport of long distance flying here in NZ? Should we combine our Invercargill race liberation with Federations to the south of the ARPF boundaries to make it more challenging?

Sponsorship!  One or two big companies. Fonterra might be a good one as they sell milk products to China and there are over a million racing pigeon fanciers there. You never know, it just might be good for Fonterra’s NZ’s image in China. Someone should look into it.

I am happy with Auckland fliers against Auckland fliers. Most of the fliers who send pigeons to Invercargill are within about a 30 mile range of each other.

What is the actual origin of your base birds? When were they imported and from whom? I notice reference to Janssen’s but of course Janssen pigeons are not noted for their extreme distance capabilities into the UK.

Blenhaven Janssen and Busschaert Imports from John Hansen’s Australian Blenhaven Stud. I went over there and picked them out myself on two separate occasions in 1993 and 1994. I also purchased them from the first NZ Blenhaven Stud Auction sale around the same time.


The Busschaerts are Blockbuster and Redrum lines. I am also trialling other pigeons, none of which have been tried at Invercargill so far. These are the late Norm Cokers pigeons and recently from Laurie Hills. I keep these pigeons separate to see how they go bred straight. If they respond to my method then I will try crossing them to my Janssen’s and Busschaerts.


However it is mainly with the straight Janssen’s of the vos lines which I have had the most success with viz 2008, 2010 and 2012 winners.


The 2009 and 2011 winners are off a hen 243 from Fergus Elley. 243 was a very good racer for Fergus and was 1/4 Vandie and the rest Janssen. 243 was about half Blenhaven Janssen bloodlines and the remainder 1/4 other Janssen bloodlines e.g. a granddaughter of the U.K. Janssen top race cock ‘Hardluck’.


It seems I have proved wrong the myth that “Janssen pigeons aren’t capable of winning these marathon races”.


Any weather conditions, head, tail, side winds, showers….


Has the type changed through exposure to racing in NZ?

No, not really, the size and the shape and the wing have remained very similar.


Tic bean feeding has gone out of fashion in the UK (for the most part – but some of the really good extreme distance men still adopt that method), and is not applied in Belgium and Holland. Why does Mac persist with this method, and what changes does he note in the handling qualities once the feed has been changed in the final build up to Invers?

It works!!


Around six weeks out from the Invercargill race the richer mix is started and in conjunction with racing/training the pigeons bodies gradually start to build up a lot more and they aren’t so heavy in general. The pigeons can still eat tic beans if they want, but they consume a lot less of them.


Does Mac think that his success is down to the ‘speed’ at which the birds return from Invers, or is it the ability of individual pigeons to keep to the shortest line between a and b? I ask this because I believe that there is a misconception regarding success from long distance nationals and internationals into the UK; it is not ‘speed’ as such which wins top prizes but the ability or will of individual birds to fly solo, avoiding drag etc, and this is the rarest of all qualities in pigeons nowadays.

I don’t know.

What other continental lines have been imported into NZ and which have met with most success? Has anyone over in the UK ever imported birds from NZ?

Houben, Dordin, Delbar, Jan Arden, de Klak, Verheye and perhaps others.


The Janssens have been the most successful at the 700 to 800 mile distance.


I don’t know if anyone in the UK has ever imported birds from NZ.


Do you have a breeding formula for the production of your 800 mile winners?

I keep breeding off the bloodlines which produce the performance birds i.e. I concentrate on these lines in the stock loft. I even practice some close breeding e.g. brother to sister, father to daughter, mother to son, uncle to niece, aunty to nephew and still clock some of them from Invercargill. I’m keen to preserve the best genes of the Janssen lines which are performing and at a later date I can always cross the performing inbreds.

I also breed off my performance pigeons from Invercargill in January which is the month following the race. These Summer bred and the odd early Autumn bred youngsters fly two to three South Island races in the year of their birth viz either or both Blenheim or Ward which are around 330 and 360 miles to my loft respectively. In addition unless they have really excelled, the bulk go on to fly from Christchurch, 480 miles to my loft. This programme gives them a solid education I think, but I don’t lose many as in general they handle it very well. The following year they are considered for Invercargill and go through my build up programme which may include two races from Christchurch. I find that to do well from Invercargill that the pigeons need a considerable amount of distance into them. You won’t win or get the returns I get otherwise, since I don’t lose many, even from 780 miles.

So the formula is to test the pigeons and then breed off them.

Has any of your 800 mile winning birds that you then may have bred from, gone on to become successful breeders in their own right?

Not the winners themselves yet, but it is early days for some of those. However my cock which was 3rd in 2007 from Invercargill bred last year’s Invercargill winner i.e. 2012. Also the RCC which was very consistent in three Invercargill races has bred good Invercargill pigeons e.g. 2nd in 2012.

You weren’t confident of your birds leading up to the 2012 Invercargill, were they not exactly how you like them or was it that you thought the opposition were more prepared?

It is never good to count your chickens before they hatch. The last couple of years I have told Fergus that I wasn’t confident leading up to the Invercargill race. This is the only race on our programme I really want to win. I don’t hold back for it. After four wins in a row and the fact that other fliers are trying hard to knock you off your perch, you really wonder when your luck is going to run out.


This last year in particular we had even more interest in the race and I was thinking of three or four chaps that might manage to do it.


At basketing last year I knew that I have done all that I could and then it’s up to the pigeons to do their job. I get really excited by the whole event but it never pays to be over confident, hopeful is a different kettle of fish. If someone else has prepared a pigeon better than me and it wins the race then I will be truly delighted for them!


Do you think psychology has any role in racing pigeons like other sports? i.e. for us as fanciers? I guess it probably would in terms of how they are handled, a confident fancier would stick to his methods that work for his birds and get them right, but an uncertain fancier is likely to be chopping and changing so can’t get the birds in form.

Yes, it is right that it pays to stick to ones methods of feeding, loft training and race preparation. Buildup races differ from year to year and I always send to the races I’ve marked for the pigeons unless one is not right e.g. had a bump or obviously off colour. I trust the liberators to do their job and hold the pigeons over where necessary. In the last year I can honestly say that you couldn’t fault them one iota.


As far as psychology goes in pigeon racing, firstly it is quite important that the pigeons develop a very solid bond with both loft and the flier. My pigeons are raced celibate, therefore it is just the love of the loft and its surroundings and our bond which draws them home.


You’ve got to try to get under the pigeons skin and know when they are ready to go to these marathon events.


I do not worry about the opposition too much; I give them the respect warranted and get on with my job. There may be the odd bit of flak here and there but I just ignore it.


How do you stop your race hens from laying? Do you let them sit with their girlfriend(s) or do you remove the eggs straight away? Whichever one you do, why and the option that you don’t do, why not?

Some hens in particular lay more readily than others. I just remove the eggs as soon as they’re laid, as I don’t want them sitting since it may interfere with loft training and even the amount of food a hen will eat. They may also use up more of their strength flying home to the races I’m not bothered about winning. The Invercargill race is the one and only for me!!

Do you make a point of not breeding off lesbian hens so your hen pigeons in the future will be more likely to fit into your separate sex regime and not want to mate up?

Not really, the main criteria are that they can navigate the distance well and hopefully win! But it is also a very natural thing for hens to lay as the weather gets warmer and with the heavy feeding; it does also makes it more of a challenge.

When do you pair your race birds up? If it is before the Old bird season or after the Old bird season, which one do you do? Why that way and why not the other way?

January at the latest February. It is a month or so after Old Birds finish. It is their reward for their efforts in the previous season.

After breeding they are separated from the opposite sex and locked up for several months from May sometimes till July. This helps them finish the wing moult and is a period of enforced rest and I believe this is a key factor towards attaining good results in these marathons.

They aren’t paired up again until early the next year as I race celibate.

You have stated that you do not flock medicate apart from to treat internal parasite i.e. worms. What natural products do you use throughout the year? Do you prefer to give them in the food or the water?

The only product I use other than deworming is an electrolyte product which my son David’s company in Australia produces.

I do give Polyboost oil two to three times a month during the moult.

That’s it really. I do watch water hygiene carefully and I let the tap water sit in a bucket overnight for the chlorine/fluoride to settle out down to the bottom. I change the drinker when 1/4 is drunk. I watch nest hygiene too during breeding.

If I thought things like cider vinegar, garlic, brewers yeast e.t.c. e.t.c. would improve the pigeons performances I would use them, but I haven’t found that to be the case.

Would you be interested in promoting a Stewart Island race which is about another 30 miles further than Invercargill and involves the crossing of the Foveaux Strait?

I am happy just with the Invercargill as the Stewart Island race would only be about another 30 miles further. Yes, it involves another short ocean crossing but I don’t think it is that much harder a challenge for the pigeons.

Of course if the Auckland Federation put it on the Old Bird Race Programme, naturally I’ll consider sending some well prepared pigeons for it.

Thanks to Mac for supplying the answers to these questions. Also thanks to Cameron Stansfield, Jim Emerton and Brian Batchelor, all from the U.K. for theirs and the kiwi fanciers for their questions. Keep them coming everyone. We ain’t finished yet!!

Questions for Mac Armstrong to

One response to “MAC III

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  1. q1: mac have you tried MYCOSAN T CCS/ CHEVITA AND BLITZFORM/ ROHNFRIED to enhance condition-works on the total being of the bird-jim emerton barcelona international specialist??


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