Archive for February 2014

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.   8 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!