Archive for the ‘Annual Invercargill Race to Auckland Racing Pigeon Club Lofts’ Category

Invercargill, Timaru and Christchurch Old Bird National results.   2 comments





ARPF Old Bird National West.



Invercargill Race 2014.   7 comments

Mac and dimitri.

Mac and dimitri.

Last night we boxed pigeons at the Manukau Racing Pigeon Club in Auckland. We are looking forward to this prestigious race with much anticipation and there was a good muster of pigeons and fanciers from the Auckland Federation alike.

Everything went smoothly and my wife Helen and I were there just for an hour or so. Of course those of you which follow this blog will have read the articles on Mac Armstrong who has won this race six times, all in a row, an outstanding accomplishment! So he is going for seven in a row.

I have listed the names on the trophy below which have won this race since a trophy was put on it when the late Jack Longville was the Federation President and had won it. You will notice that some years there was no winner or no birds, same thing I think unless there was a year where the birds could not be liberated. Please comment if you know.

Speaking of liberation’s, it was a good decision this year to delay the Invercargill basketing a couple of days as normally we basket them on a Wednesday night and its great to see proactive decisions being made which benefit the pigeons by reducing the time in the basket.

Recently radionz presenter Lisa Thompson documented Mac Armstrong and his pigeons and you can view an article which is a synopsis basically of the show that was aired on the radio and Sky tv. Here is the link

The South Island of New Zealand's Southern Alps.

The South Island of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.


1995 J.Longville

1996 F. van Lier

1997 J.Edwards

1998 K.Frazer

1999 No winner

2000 J.Edwards

2001 No winner

2002 C.Wilkinson

2003 No winner

2004 Valleyview

2005 No Birds

2006 No Birds

2007 L.Nel

2008 to 2013 M.Armstrong

We are blessed that Bill Beattie has been the liberator down in Invercargill for the last half dozen or so years. He does a tremendous job looking after the Auckland pigeons until the right time when the good to go is given for the liberation.

Joe Edwards who won it twice passed away in the last year and Louie Nel not that long ago.

I had my daughter photograph my 13 entries and will post their photos after liberation, see if you can pick the one or hopefully ones which come home in race time. This racepoint is certainly a great leveler of both pigeon and fancier alike. Like no doubt everybody I’ve tried hard to get my pigeons right for this one and now it is up to the pigeons, the weather gods and lady luck.

I guess the question in everyone’s mind is ‘can Mac make it seven in a row?’ Or can some lucky person and bird get past his pigeons, time will tell.

Look forwards to your comments, best wishes etc.

Mt Cook, known in Maori as 'Aoraki'.

Mt Cook, known in Maori as ‘Aoraki’.



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

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.

Mac scores six in a row with the first seven places!   Leave a comment

The South Island of New Zealand's Southern Alps.

The South Island of New Zealand’s snow capped Southern Alps. Stewart Island at the bottom and Invercargill just above.

The recent TV series ‘New Zealand from above’ describes the Southern Alps as a barrier to the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand. On the 9th, 10th and 11th of December this year 21 out of 22 Auckland pigeon fanciers found this out to be very much so!

The winner, Mac Armstrong has other articles written on him on this blog under the category ‘Annual Invercargill Race to Auckland Racing Pigeon Club Lofts’. Mac again sponsored this race to the tune of $3000.

Mac has now won this prestigious pigeon race from Invercargill (at the bottom of the South Island) to ARPF lofts 6 years on the trot. This year he was the least confident ever, perhaps that’s why he booked in 60 pigeons and ended up sending 50 to this race. However, to take the first seven places is no mean feat. Please see below. Five on the second day, two on the third with Dave Bunkers pigeon reaching home on the fourth. What more can be said. Is it numbers? I don’t think so! Why aren’t most of the other fanciers getting pigeons home in the four days race time?

ARPF Open Race from Invercargill 9 Dec 2013 Lib: 6:10 am (Mainly fine, variable wind) – 22 Lofts – 164 Pigeons – Airline measurement.













Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







MKU-09-0203 BC H



Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







MKU-11-1215 BBWF H



Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







MKU-11-1209 BB H



Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







MKU-11-1231 BC H



Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







MKU-11-1226 BLK H



Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







MKU-11-1236 BC C



Mac Armstrong Nth Harbour







AKO-01-0173 BC H



Point View Lofts Pak/Howick







PHAK-09-3891 BC C


WINGS Software by Polytimer Ltd – Licensed to Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation

Mac and Mary Armstrong, extreme distance champs again.

Mac and Mary Armstrong, extreme distance champs again.

The pigeons had been scheduled to be released as early as possible Friday the 6th of December, but were held over until the following Monday. There was fog at the racepoint Friday. The Waikato Federation pigeons were with the same liberator, Bill Beattie (as part of the PRNZ liberation). The PRNZ pigeons including 33 Waikato Federation pigeons sent from ten Waikato fanciers were liberated at 10.30am that Friday once the fog had cleared. The Waikato fanciers had five pigeons return in race time with Ron Simonsen (a very good long distance fancier) having three return in race time from five sent. Reid Lofts won with a 4 year old hen at 6.53am on the 3rd day i.e. Sunday doing 699 m/min, distance being 1156km through a Foxton Trig breaking point. Reid’s hen beat Anderson Lofts three year old hen by 47 minutes on time needed. Conditions for the PRNZ liberation pigeons were a steady challenge of headwinds particularly over the Cook Strait, so these five pigeons which homed into Waikato lofts have done extremely well.

The main reason the Auckland pigeons were held over Friday were the weather conditions in the Southern Alps. It is thought that the Auckland pigeons need to cross the Alps, perhaps around the middle of the South Island just north of Mt Cook, but until we can track them from such long distances we are only speculating. The Southern Alps are snow peaked all year round and rise to 3754 metres, running virtually the whole length of the South Island.

Mt Cook, known in Maori as 'Aoraki'.

Mt Cook, known in Maori as ‘Aoraki’.

So do the Waikato pigeons have to cross the Southern Alps somewhere? Certainly on this particular weekend I’d think that some might, perhaps a bit further north than the Auckland pigeons and the winds were variations of north (at times nor-east) mainly in the South Island on the Friday and the Saturday, so it’s likely some did cross the Alps. Very well done again those five pigeons!

Some Auckland fanciers maybe wishing the Auckland pigeons had gone up mid morning Friday too, however we’ve had races in the past where in nor-east winds one or no pigeons return from Invercargill in race time.

So it was very much the right thing to wait until at least Monday and I’d expect everyone hoped for a good number of pigeons returning by the end of the second day, but we must always remember, this is Invercargill!

Why were the returns in race time so measly? Well the winds were light at liberation but a glorious day. Heat was not likely a factor in the South Island on the day of liberation Monday. It was forecast for moderate south winds in the Alps around the Southern Lakes area; however the pigeons may not have been anywhere near there. Still conditions can be difficult to get over mountainous terrain in and yet the Bar-headed goose flies over the foot hills and passes in the Himalaya’s (and perhaps sometimes higher) in its annual migration which is much, much higher even than Mt Cook’s 3754 metres. It’s likely the pigeons spent a lot more time coursing through the valleys, hills, foot hills and Alps of the South Island. It’s not likely that many made it into the North Island on the day, but who really knows!

Bar-headed Goose in flight, light years ahead of our extreme distance racing pigeons.

Bar-headed Goose in flight, light years ahead of our extreme distance racing pigeons.

Mac won with a four year old hen which was second the year before in this race. Last year’s winner didn’t turn up in race time for Mac, I’ll have to find out if she has returned yet. Mac mainly clocked two year olds, first time down as far as Invercargill and six of the seven were hens.

I think we seriously need to consider the genetics we send to these races. Perhaps the price needs to be increased from $15 to say $25 a pigeon to narrow the field to mainly the elite. Also Auckland cut out the Dunedin some years ago so we don’t have an intermediatory point between Timaru and the Invercargill race points. Waikato do race both Oamaru and Dunedin and to their credit from this year’s Invercargill received five out of 33 pigeons home in race time with no doubt more home by now. Note, the three fanciers who clocked pigeons (Reid, 1, Anderson, 1 and Simonsen, 3) just sent 16 pigeons between them. As said before Ron Simonsen clocked three from five sent and likely has the other two home by now. Certainly no mean feat given the challenge!

However, some pretty experienced long distance fanciers sent teams of well prepared pigeons to this year’s Invercargill to Auckland race and you’d think that they would have the genetics and they’ve won Invercargill before. Considering the laws of average, if Mac sent 50 and got seven in race time, shouldn’t those of us that sent eight or more get one? I was happy to have one of my eight entries almost make it home on the afternoon of the 3rd day. It made it within 6km. I had no choice but to pick it up and was pleased to get her home, even if she did have a day and a bit of the race time left. I will breed off her in the New Year and she’s doing really well, obviously was about ready to throw the towel in, good pigeon all the same.

For those in Auckland, what did you think of our Invercargill race this year? If you were to choose an intermediatory race point (could be a new one) what place would you choose?

Would having a Westport make the big difference in getting more pigeons home in race time? Or would it be better to have a new race point e.g. well west of Timaru on the east side of the Alps so they might learn to traverse them from a shorter distance say five weeks before the Invercargill?

I wonder where this is? Any ideas?

I wonder where this is? Any ideas?

Do you think these more difficult Invercargills e.g. 2010, 2011 of recent years could be avoided by delaying basketing until the Alps may be clearer and there might even be the chance of an initial southerly, tail wind start, or do you think that the hold over makes little difference to the races outcome?

Apart from Mac, who would you go to for better extreme long distance pigeons here in New Zealand?

If you would rather remain confidential you may wish to consider emailing me your thoughts/questions to and they can be used confidentially in a future blog.

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

MAC DOES IT YET AGAIN!!   Leave a comment

Mac and Dimitri.

Mac and Dimitri.

Hi there all readers from sunny and warm Auckland, New Zealand, we wish you all the best for 2013!

We had a great race from Invercargill to Auckland Federation lofts late last year. I speak to my friend Mac Armstrong often and I can tell you that before the race he was even less confident than the year before. He was certain someone would finally manage to beat his birds from our longest race. There were a few gunning for him!

The Invercargill result was posted on the Elimar site in December last year and we congratulate Mac Armstrong and his loft of birds for the fantastic effort of winning this race 5 years straight!

Mac loves promoting our longest distance event and is always enthusiastic when people talk about sending birds to our annual Invercargill race. He has been sponsoring this race for a number of years and at the trophy presentation he promised to up the 2013 sponsorship to a minimum of $3000 nz dollars which we thank him for.

The 2012 race had 23 fanciers competing with a total of 130 birds entered which is a pretty good muster and bodes well for the 2013 Invercargill race which we all look forwards to with anticipation. There were 9 cash prizes from $600 for first down to $70 for 9th. All these birds were clocked during the morning of the second day. Not surprisingly Mac secured 4 of these 9 cash prizes and had 11 home from 21 birds sent by the second days end and one more the next day. This is pretty amazing when you consider that of the 130 birds released; just 26 were on the result sheet worked out the evening of the 4th day. Mac was only a couple out a few weeks after the race and as usual many other fliers had more birds return home outside race time.

Tic bean hopper. The Tic beans are withdrawn 3 to 4 weeks before the main event i.e. Invers. The pigeons go on a richer mix at this time, with oils on the grain, particularly in the week of basketing.

Tic bean hopper. The Tic beans are withdrawn 3 to 4 weeks before the main event i.e. Invers. The pigeons go on a richer mix at this time, with oils on the grain, particularly in the week of basketing.

This year his 2 year old Janssen BCH won with a velocity of 1329.61 m/min. Her flying time was 15.50.12 (7.10am lib). She was 1.21.50 ahead of the 2nd prize winning bird on ‘time needed’ which was also Macs, a 3 year old BCH, also a Janssen. The next bird was David Moors 2 year old BCPH (one from one sent) which was 1.44.22 behind Macs winner. 4th prize was Joe Edwards (another octogenarian like Mac) whose name is on the main trophy for this race twice. Mac was also 5th and 7th. Elley Family 6th (one from one sent), Theo van Lier 8th and Ron Reed 9th prize with Grant Annette and Pointview lofts clocking the last morning birds.

We use the airlines to transport our birds to this racepoint. Invercargill is at the bottom of the South Island and towards the middle of its base, a little inland. Stewart Island which we may start flying from as well in the future is below this and only about 30 miles further in flying distance. When racing from Stewart Island our nz pigeons need to cross the Foveaux Strait, the stretch of water where the famous New Zealand Bluff Oysters are found.

The lofts faces east to get the morning sun but behind the lofts are huge trees which shade the loft and are an added bonus since the loft doesn't overheat and is a November/December 'in form' loft viz at season's end when Mac wants the form.

The lofts faces east to get the morning sun but behind the lofts are huge trees which shade the loft and are an added bonus since the loft doesn’t overheat and is a November/December ‘in form’ loft viz at season’s end when Mac wants the form.

There was plenty of buzz and excitement at the Onehunga bowling club where the birds were basketed on Wednesday night December 5th, 2012. Liberation was anticipated very early Friday morning weather permitting. Indeed the earlier the better to give the leading birds a chance of getting home on the day. I will note that our Federation Secretary Fred van Lier (brother of Theo above), who works tirelessly for pigeon racing here in Auckland, informs us that although Mac Armstrong’s flying distance is around 783 miles i.e. 1263km (through a Foxton trig lower North Island breaking point) that if it was measured directly i.e. race point to loft, that it would be around 48 miles i.e. 77km less. Notwithstanding, it is a widely held view that racing pigeons fly in arcs. In addition, there is also the climbing to altitude and generally up and down hedge hopping action that the birds often undertake during their journey home from these marathon racepoints. So the birds will always fly more than an airline measurement in any race.

What actually happens in reality like many things in pigeon racing is subject to speculation, however, it is thought that the winning birds usually traverse the Southern Alps, yes, you’ve all seen The Lord of the Rings movies, those ones, similar to the thought that Barcelona to England birds need to have a go at traversing the Pyrenees rather than going with the huge European drag of racing pigeons through Europe’s Rhine Valley.

In this particular race I’m very glad for the birds’ sake that they were not liberated until the Saturday and this was delayed until the light conditions improved at 7.10am allowing the birds to be liberated in a strong SSW tail wind, perfect!! Bill and Jennifer Beattie of Invercargill reported that all birds went high and cleared very, very well.

Pigeons on the house roof. This shot illustrates how the big trees shade the backyard in the heat of the day.

Pigeons on the house roof. This shot illustrates how the big trees shade the backyard in the heat of the day.

There had been some wretched, wet and extremely windy weather over the whole country on the Thursday and Friday with tornados on the north side of Auckland resulting in the deaths of 3 construction workers. In this modern age we can’t be too careful with our pigeon liberations both for the birds’ sake and secondary to this,  the public image of the sport. Therefore we congratulate the Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation and Bill Beattie our liberator in Invercargill for looking after the birds and waiting for good conditions that gave all the 130 candidates the best chance of negotiating the distance.

I had studied the weather very carefully and anticipated that some of the birds released might pick up the 50kmph south-west winds forecast for that morning at 2000m in the Southern Alps. We don’t know where they cross them or how long they stay around the mountain areas at altitude but it is reasonable to say that some birds traversed them and received assistance at altitude for some time before heading more towards the west coast of the South Island. Off the mountains the winds were much lighter, variations of west in origin on the west coast and variations of east in origin on the east coast. At the top of the South Island the winds were mainly variations of north in origin and building as the birds crossed the Cook Strait and onwards i.e. moderate headwinds. I would think that all of the birds clocked during the morning of the second day had made it to the North Island during the Saturday evening on the liberation day. Some birds despite the NW or W wind, may have taken a more direct line towards Taranaki in the west while crossing and managed to hold their line better and hit on further north towards home than others. One never really knows, however, it is enjoyable speculating!

I rang Mac the next morning at 6.45am (I’d been up since 5am). When I informed Mac that I had checked the loft at 10.30pm and then gone to bed, he said, “you don’t want to know what time I went to bed”, and he laughed, so perhaps it was around 1am, or later! I have found out since it was around 3am, such is the faith of the man and his dedication to his pigeons!!

Those big trees really do shade the loft in the heat of the Summer, even the aviary had some shade!!

Those big trees really do shade the loft in the heat of the Summer, even the aviary had some shade!!

Mac rang me back at 7.45 am to tell me that he had clocked at 7.22am. Since I give him about 30 miles overfly I knew he had ‘got me’ and I waited another hour, then wandered down the farm for a while and my bird (which had flown Timaru, 560 miles 2 weeks before) clocked herself in, none too worse for wear, appearing only slightly tired and having dropped only half her body. It was a nice surprise to see her; I had her pretty big and heavy. I had been told that she’d struggle keeping up with a tailwind start, however I think she proved otherwise. It is also interesting that Mac had not favoured his winning hen at all. He said to me while chatting by phone that she was quite small and very heavy. This just shows you how much ‘gas’ and body reserve they really need to do these distances in good racing times if they are fit enough. It also shows you that it can be very difficult to know which one you will get first.

I will save further details about Macs birds for the next article as I believe that there is still plenty more to learn from the man. I for one do enjoy very much ‘picking his brain’ to glean those little bits of ‘tasty morsels’ of advice. Please keep the questions coming for Mac and email them to me at and if they arrive by early March 2013 they should appear in Mac III later this year.

MAC II   2 comments

Mac and Mary Armstrong, extreme distance champs

Mac and Mary Armstrong, extreme distance champs.

The champ at his loft.

The champ at his loft.

Macs loft from the swimming pool showing those big trees which cool the lofts down.

Macs loft from the swimming pool showing those big trees which cool the lofts down.

An aviary doesn't go amiss!

An aviary doesn’t go amiss!

Smash Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2008.

Smash Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2008.

Smash Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2008

Smash Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2008.

2nd 2011, 7th 2010 and 10th 2009 Invercargill, a full brother of the Mealy Cock, the smash Invercargill winner for Mac in 2008.

2nd 2011, 7th 2010 and 10th 2009 Invercargill, a full brother of the Mealy Cock, the smash Invercargill winner for Mac in 2008.

The Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2009.

The Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2009.
Cheq hen - the Invercargill winner for Mac in 2010

Cheq hen – the Invercargill winner for Mac in 2010.

Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2011.

Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2011.

Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2011.

Invercargill winner for Mac Armstrong 2011.

In this second article Mac Armstrong answers questions from New Zealand fliers about how he prepares his birds to fly Invercargill to Auckland. He also answers questions on the breeding of his birds which have won from Invercargill to Auckland, a distance through a lower North Island Foxton breaking point of 780 miles i.e.


But first a quick recap about the races challenges. Invercargill is at the bottom of the South Island with Stewart Island below it. 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 Strait Sea crossing between the two Islands.

Mac normally starts the season with about 80 birds to race and keeps the cocks and hens separate. He flies to the perch which results in the birds being much calmer in the basket.

Mac never sends yearlings or latebreds to Invercargill. Although he adds that if the programme suited and there was sufficient gap between the latebreds’ 480 mile Christchurch race and the Invercargill race, then if a yearling was particularly right then he may send it after weighing up the weather forecasts. He usually chooses to send 2 year olds (in their 3rd year) and older pigeons, particularly liking 4 to 5 year old hens.

His lofts have about half grill floor and he employs someone to clean all his lofts out everyday.

Mac breeds off his successful Invercargill birds in January and will breed until April. Most of these late breds have to fly the ChristChurch 480 mile race in their year of birth i.e. as young as seven months of age.


What is the breeding of your 4 winners of 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. i.e. the MC, the BCC, the BCH and the BBC?

The Mealy cock which won Invercargill in 2008, being the only bird in race time is off the original vos Blenhaven Jansen import pair. The BCC which won Invercargill on the day in 2009 is of Blenhaven Jansen bloodlines as well. The BCH which won late morning on the second day from Invercargill in 2010 is also of Blenhaven Jansen bloodlines. The BBC which won Invercargill in 2011, arriving around 6pm the second day is 7/8 Jansen and 1/8 Vandie bloodlines.

What is the breeding of the RCC which was 2nd 2011 and 7th 2010 and 10th 2009?

He is a full brother of the Mealy cock which won the smash race from Invercargill in 2008.

Would you like some of your birds to have a go at Stewart Island to Auckland?

Too right I would!

If you don’t put a bird to stock that has achieved Invercargill greatness, does it usually do the Invercargill race each year?

Yes, it will be prepared, but only sent if all the indicators of form and health are there, it must be right!

What signs in a bird do you look for in not sending a bird to Invercargill even though you might have prepared it?

 While discussing this question with Mac, I realised it is easier to consider what Mac likes to see in his prospective Invercargill candidates at basketing. Mac says that he looks for very silky feathers, a full wing and abundant body feather cover as New Zealand is often wet. The eye tells a lot to Mac and he calls it ‘the window of the soul’. It should be super clear with lots of rich hues in it and must shine, indicating the bird’s super health and form. He likes a quick responsive pupil to different light intensities and the bird must have a ‘quick blink’ only of the eyelids. The muscles need to be just right with plenty of spring and not hard deeper in, corky like soft rubber, deep reddish pink with clear skin from the birds’ regular baths. He doesn’t think that there is anything in the ‘blood spot’ along the keel, he doesn’t look for it. Mac also emphasizes that the vent bones must be tight, even in the cocks. The vent bones are preferably short and thick.

 Mac picks up a lot about ‘where a bird is at’ by how it carries itself and behaves in the loft; he doesn’t handle the birds a lot. The hens could be eager to try and get into the cocks’ section when they are out. The cocks often enjoying parading around, walking, stamping, turning, flying off and clapping around. The weight of the bird is very important too. Earlier in the season Mac likes the old birds to be quite heavy, since they know the ropes and it gives him something to work with in the roughly 2 month preparation race schedule the candidates have. Sometimes his birds are very heavy at basketing for these ‘over the water’ 350 and 480 mile races. However, at basketing for the Invercargill most of this weight has been worked off and the birds are ‘corky’ with just a little weight. Other features Mac looks for are clear throats and noses although he doesn’t flock medicate apart from for worms 4 times a year.

Finally, do you think we race our Young Bird Season at the wrong time of the year, and would he agree to the same method that Australia race?

I am happy with the way we race both Old and Young Birds here in Auckland, New Zealand as separate seasons. I usually nowadays don’t race any of the young bird season. I usually start up in Old Birds about 6 weeks into the season. I have a lot of commitments that keep me busy throughout the year and tire me out at times! I do very much enjoy seeing others do well and enjoying the sport in all its different forms and seasons.

Well, that’s the wrap from Mac for this time. On behalf of all the Auckland fliers we wish him all the best for this year’s Invercargill in December 2012. Thanks to all those that have emailed me questions from New Zealand however we can’t cover them all this time. Many thanks also to Kim Anisi my photographer for visiting Mac and Mary last May.

If any readers have any questions for Mac please feel free to email me at


Blog and Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation (ARPF) update.   1 comment

Its been a while since I blogged. There are a couple of blogs which I’ve put on the site a while ago, this is a site I write for when I am able to and is an excellent site. I will place them on this site in the next few days depending on how my health goes. These include another article on Mac Armstrong and a race report on the 2012 annual Invercargill to Auckland pigeon race. Upcoming Elimar articles by myself are one on a top Auckland flier Theo van Lier and another has questions for Mac Armstrong from nz and U.k. fanciers. If the forementioned blogs don’t appear soon then just check out the Elimar site and search Fergus Elley or Mac Armstrong if you like the extreme distance racing!!

If you happen to have any questions for either flier just mentioned don’t hesitate to ask one in the comments section below or email them to me at

Fliers in Auckland are gearing up to fly the 2013 young bird season. I didn’t have anything hatch until December, but have some lovely youngsters. I might have my wife train up a couple of dozen of them with untrained yearlings of about the same number. I will wait until the birds are through the body moult which has just started.

I have only treated these youngsters with hi mineral matrix to eliminate internal parasites, none were seen. This doesn’t mean there were no hairworm. I have culled a few youngsters which weren’t up to it constitutionally. It certainly is the time of year to breed i.e. December hatched and onwards through our warm dry Summer and I expect some ‘crackers’ amongst the birds I’ve bred. But I will be patient with them.

I’m really only interested in the long distance now, particularly 560 miles (Timaru) and 750 miles (Invercargill). I had a pretty good old bird season, winning 3 of the 7 Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation trophy races. Considering that I didn’t give a canker treatment until a fortnight before our last 3 races I feel that I achieved something. Mac doesn’t dose apart from for worms. Long distance pigeons need to be really tough and he hasn’t antibiotic or canker treated for well over a decade now apart to some bought in birds which got canker.

I feel that it is an achievement that I didn’t use antibiotics last year in old birds. I’m quite pleased with that. It does give an idea which lines of birds are the toughest immune system wise from a genetic perspective. Doesn’t seem to matter if the birds are closely linebred or crossed, some birds just never show signs of breaking down and remember I’m a Veterinarian by training and I see things that many don’t, even without using a microscope, although I do have one.

I have also not treated my breeders with canker drugs or antibiotics the last 2 breeding seasons. I did treat the breeders against internal parasites recently and gave them some old baycox. There were some loose droppings and some birds were looking for salt which I’ve since been giving, just iodised table salt added to the fine oyster shell grit that I give them. I also have used Clements tonic at times during breeding in the water. I used this during racing in old birds too and even gave the odd bird some individually at times via a crop cannula and syringe. It can be effective in drying up runny noses. I use the green one with selenium, ginseng and ginkgo. This one probably supports immune system health better than the red one which contains iron.

I hope eventually to just have pigeons that need water, good feed, worm treatments occasionally and no other flock treatments. If you want to shift to the no dosing regime then if your loft has been treated for many years I suggest that the first year at least that you perhaps treat some birds individually with medicine as required. I haven’t done this with my racers last old birds but last year in young birds I decided to treat them leading up to our young bird National, the last race. I had prepaid as you have to, otherwise I would have stopped racing and let the birds clear themselves of any respiratory illness or wet canker. From April my loft environment changes from one giving superform very easily, to one which is a struggle to achieve form with unless there is dosing. It gets cold and windy here in the Onewhero hills and the roofing iron needs some internal insulation to eliminate condensation under the roofing. The lofts are also shaded by trees, which is good in the Summer. The roofing is alternating sheets of zincalume and polycarbonate. In Spring I get super form with the current situation. From October when the temperature and humidity increases the current loft situation isn’t perfect. Over this last Summer I have placed extra sheets of roofing iron on top of the polycarbonate to shade and cool the loft down and the loft doors are opened from mid afternoon to keep the temperature cool i.e. warm but not hot. Thus the humidity percentage is lower and this helps keep respiratory disease at bay by and large.

One thing that I will mention is that the birds had no training the whole season until the week of the Invercargill race in early December. This was just a 15km Glen Murray single up of the 6 birds that I was considering. Given that 750 miles to me shouldn’t be taken lightly, I in the end just sent the one bird, as did David Moors, his finishing 3rd and mine bird 6th. This 2 year old BCH of mine had flown Timaru-560 miles 2 weeks before. I have a youngster off her and 2 fresh eggs which I plan to feed out and let her moult out. I put her to a pretty good long distance cock. I am tossing up whether I will permanently stock her. I also bred off 6 other yearling race hens, mainly mated to stock cocks. Just a round each.

In reflection on the season last old birds I’d have to be happy with the results given the next to no dosing. It probably will take another 5 years (if I am spared) to hone onto the genetics within my own loft which lean towards stronger immune systems and gears the loft up to a high percentage of individuals which don’t need the standard treatments which most people give, some in abundance I might add! I already have alot of individuals that don’t show signs of breaking down the whole season and I’m aware of a couple of Janssen lines which are weaker in this department and can’t be raced as hard on just a deworming treatment regime. In 2013 old birds I plan to have some tossing for the long distance races. I was thrilled with the 2nd and 3rd from Timaru and 6th from Invercargill, but I would conclude that to perform well at the distance and I mean super well, as Mac does and Theo did from Timaru, that you just have to do it even if it is only 10 to 30 milers. If the weekends races or training flights on the Federation truck while away racing are on the nose enough at times, then you might get away with just plenty of loft flying and perhaps very short tosses. It is hard racing pigeons with this severe chronic illness. I don’t drive much so rely on my wife to train up young birds e.t.c. I’ve also, since January 1st this year, given up the anti inflammatory pain killers which I’ve been on for over a couple of decades and coffee too. I am choosing to grunt it out in painful times and its giving my liver a rest and there’s less rebound migraines.

In pigeons also we must always remember that nearly all medicines put pressure on the pigeons liver i.e. the organ of metabolism. The folk that dose alot need to take a step back and consider this and amongst other things, the future of their loft genetics. You won’t find the weaker lines of birds (immune systems wise) during breeding or racing, unless you allow a greater selection pressure of only deworming the birds. Remember, you can always find a compromising system by marrying the system that I am using with the use of a personal microscope or sending samples to a lab for analysis. This is to be favoured over ‘blind treatments,’ which I did for many years. Notwithstanding the terrific results my loft achieved at times in 4 different Auckland locations as an adult.

I will say though, that individual dosing would be my choice if I ever went down the dosing path again. This also allows you to select over a period of years for those individuals that don’t need the dosing (every loft has some of them). This way, you can still retain the lofts speed and endurance, as you have the choice to not breed off individuals that are less hardy immune system wise. Or if you choose to breed off such birds because they are superior for other reasons, then select from the offspring, those with a hardy immune system and tested by basket performance. This also enables the balancing of immune system defects when planning a mating by using a mate which has a hardy immune system. Of course there are environmental factors which help an immune system strengthen and gain antigenic/pathogenic experience. However my belief is that inherent starting material at the pigeons conception are highly heritable, even if it is a hard graft in the breeding loft achieving a high level of immune system hardiness throughout the whole loft.

I believe that it is a fallacy that all birds won’t achieve their potential without dosing. If you are serious about your lofts future, then perhaps you should look into it and consider my words and those of chaps like Ad.S on the matter seriously!

If you’d like to comment on any of the above it would be appreciated, just use the comments feature below or email me at

Auckland Old Bird 2012 Update.   1 comment

Mac Armstrong of Auckland’s most consistent Invercargill to Auckland pigeon last 3 years i.e. 2009, 2010 and 2011. On results sheet in all these races including 2nd to his BBC 2011 winner pictured at the end of this article. This 4 year old RCC was clocked 7.40pm on the 2nd day arriving with a 3 year old hen and was 1 hour 36 minutes behind his BBC winner. Liberation was 7am velocity 741m/min.

Hi everyone. Please enjoy the following article further down below which I wrote recently and is on the Elimar site i.e.

I started writing the account of our Fed Plimmerton race after the birds had been trucked down the Island. Naturally I hoped to do well in that race. Theo van Lier won both legs of the West Section in that race, well done. Don and Tira Campbell won the Western Union race from Raumati 2 weeks prior.

2 weeks ago we flew the Ward race from the top of the South Island. Colin Webster of Rata Lofts had the first 3 in the Fed Flock race and best 3 to Auckland. My hen won the Futurity Yearling race having come back from the north. So I was very lucky.

Additionally, Jim Cater won the West Futurity Yearling and Don and Tira Campbell the West Flock. Once again bad weather had been forecast, however it did not eventuate and the velocity was alot quicker than that expected at basketing i.e. 1319 m/min for Webster. I might add that Dave Driver, about 80 miles north of me had a super fly, 3 together too, good on you Dave. Results can be viewed I believe on our Fed site

This weekend there are 2 races from the South Island, Blenheim at the top and Christchurch which is the 500 miler. A cold front has spoilt things for a Saturday lib as expected but it will be fine tomorrow. I sent 60 odd to Bulls rather than race, so that got a 4.5 hour or more fly into them from 200 miles on the Thursday, since basketing was Wednesday night.

Next Federation races are Timaru which is basically a 600 miler in 3 weeks followed the next week by the Old Bird National from Christchurch, our 500 miler Classic. In 5 weeks we have our 800 miler, Invercargill. The Henderson Classic is being flown this weekend from Christchurch and it should be a ‘good to go’ tomorrow. This race has a real history and has always been very keenly, perhaps even fiercely fought over by flier and bird alike.

Here is the Elimar article by me. If you haven’t seen this site, believe me, it is 2nd to none in my view.

Mac and supportive wife Mary, can they do 5 in a row from our 800 miler Invercargill in 5 weeks?

Hi there from Auckland New Zealand. Old Bird racing is well under way over here and we have had 2 of our feature Federation races in the build-up to our 500, 600 and 800 mile long distance races.

We again ask the question, ‘Will Mac Armstrong and his birds remain Invercargill to Auckland Kings for a 5th consecutive year?’ This around 800 mile race is the last race on our programme and flown early December. This year Mac has kindly donated $2000 NZD towards the prize money.

Racing can be difficult here with changeable weather and often hilly and mountainous topography, a challenge for our pigeons. Often we are racing between cold fronts which may be 2 or 3 days apart. Obviously it can be very windy between these fronts. So it’s a challenge to our Liberation Coordinator Mr Jim Cater of Henderson and he’s doing a sterling job and really looking after the needs of our pigeons very well.

Naturally our pigeons need a certain amount of steady hit outs in their racing sorties to develop ‘match fitness’ to race 500 miles plus.

Leading up to our first feature Federation Old Bird race this season from Plimmerton near Wellington, the weather looked like it could be bad for the intended Saturday liberation, so during the week I was a little concerned about which birds to send. I have still not used any respiratory or canker medications and we are now up to our 11th race and that week was our 9th race. I have also not had any training tosses, so these things add to my careful attitude to what I send.

What I look for are bright clear eyes, beautiful silky feathers, well bodied, corky or just a little weight, chalky cere with clear nostrils and throat. Also a nice deep pink pectoral muscles indicating that everything is ticking over nicely in the metabolism and vascular systems. If the bird’s pectoral muscles are too tight, lack spring, and are too hard inside, then they don’t go to the longer 2 day baskets. Over the years one develops both the feel of what a winner feels like but also the feel of an unlikely candidate which is better left till the following week’s list of race candidates.

The Plimmerton race on 6th October 2012 was approximately 260 miles to me. It was a very windy race with mainly very strong westerly side winds but some north in it at times for the first few hours of the race, which is a headwind for us.

We basket Thursday for these races. On Wednesday and Thursday, I spent quite some time examining the birds to determine which were in good order, whilst continually looking online at forecasts. Subsequently, I decided not to send any ‘blow home’ birds. In the end, the very bad weather didn’t eventuate and we had a good steady race and fortune favoured my loft (Elley Family) with 1st, 2nd and 4th Federation Flock and 1st and 2nd Yearling Champs, so I was very happy, especially as conditions didn’t really suit my loft location, being a front marker and more to the west side. The velocity was 1170 m/min. 2 hens together, one a yearling and the next bird a yearling 4 minutes later.

This weekend we’ve had our first South Island ‘sortie’ for the birds and we strike off Sunday night. Once again I was very careful with what I sent. I am feeding roughly 20% NZ maple peas, 40% small maize, 30% mixed canary seed and some chicken layers pellets at times. I find this mix keeps a good body on the bird and that although I feed around 4 times a day, the birds don’t over eat and it’s similar to hopper feeding, only the sparrows don’t get any! While I’m feeding, I sit and watch the birds for 15 minutes, then remove the leftovers. I rarely handle the hens, so keen observation is a must.

My commitment to not dosing for canker or respiratory also adds to the challenge. Occasionally a bird will develop something. I just leave it in with the others and find the more that they get out flying the better. Solid immunity is what I am looking for in my pigeons both genetically and via continual low level exposure to pathogens. Fortunately we don’t have paramyxovirus here.

I also believe that as in Old Birds we are racing with increasing day length, we should harness nature’s rhythms and perhaps by only relying on the bird’s solid immunity that different birds will show up throughout the course of the four month long season. As a consequence, I believe that rest, good diet and some open lofts are the better protocol than medicines. Most birds will clear most common pigeon ailments themselves given time. My experience is that antibiotics tend to peak a loft, as in general, the birds can be worked or raced more following treatment. To me, it’s not the future of my pigeon racing. However, I do believe in treating the pigeons for internal parasites every 4 weeks or so during racing.

Once the racing starts I only let the hens out on the Tuesday for 4 to 6 hours and will make them fly a few times every hour or 2. This way they can fly up to 200 miles whilst out and since they are old birds I surmise there is no need for the tossing. My cocks tend to get heavy easily on this rich mix so they need to go out more often. Leading up to a big race some cocks will be caught to go out for a fly and the lighter ones kept in after their Tuesday afternoon fly.

The last month the weather has been gradually warming up and I’m lucky that I have someone cleaning my loft. On my visits to the loft I will alter the ventilation to what’s necessary for that period of the day to get fresh air flowing and get rid of any stuffy smell which will irritate the birds sinuses and nasal cavities.

As I have a difficult health situation I make use of the time when resting up by looking at my pigeon lists and planning my strategy for the next ‘big’ race and the long distance programme. I will add, that in between the longer 2 and 3 day baskets, we generally have a short race of 150 miles to me, but around 230 miles for the Federation back markers. Unless the bird has just had a pretty hard race they all go to that for a ‘hit out’.

The 150 miler is usually around 3 hours, sometimes 3.5 but it would be a different ‘kettle of fish’ for the fliers up north like Adrian Chappell and Dave Driver (both around 80 miles north of us Federation front markers). Adjustments would have to be made and their location is a big challenge for them in the Federation perhaps 90% of the time. They tend to need a faster finish type of race or simply get them well ahead of the rest of us. Not easy until the birds race from the South Island and maybe get split up by the amount of ocean they traverse amongst other things.

The Manaia Long Distance Club has real challenges when they join us for our Annual Invercargill race. This race is about 750 miles to me but 870 miles to Manaia lofts (about 120 miles further to the north). This race entails the birds traversing the Southern Alps at some place. It is the more direct route. When Manaia lofts fly Timaru it is around 700 miles and can be a pretty difficult race. So you can imagine the ‘step up’ to the challenge of 870 miles and it’s a similar ‘crucible’ to the Barcelona for the English lofts and an ultimate challenge for fancier and pigeons alike, requiring that special pigeon with special preparation!

My photographer friend Kim who also cleans my lofts has taken photos of Mac Armstrong’s winning pigeons from the last 4 years. He and his pigeons are our Auckland Federation Invercargill Kings. His birds have won this race of around 800 miles the last 4 years. My next article will feature these photos and is still ‘in the pipeline’.

Here is a photo of last year’s winner. It was clocked near the end of the second day. Mac told me the other day at our first South Island race basketing (Ward) that this bird is just ‘so clever’ and that he has decided to stock him. This rising 3 year old BBC was Macs first or second bird often in racing and is mainly of Jansen extract.

The winning bird 2011 Invercargill to Auckland for Mac Armstrong a rising 3 year old BBC, velocity 786 m/min.