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

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.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Preparation.

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

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

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

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

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

Build up races to Invercargill.

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

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

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

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

2011 Invercargill winner.

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

Feeding Methods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final thoughts until the next article on Mac.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auckland Racing Pigeon Federation Invercargill Races 2005 to 2010 part I   Leave a comment

The last time that I attempted to fly the above race was 2005. I sent 7 good birds. One was an overall Christchurch National winner at a velocity in the early 1100’s m/min. I never saw a feather, ever. There were no birds in race time for any flier. A real disappointment!

A very experienced flier said when I gave him the weather for the South Island that morning ‘that he didn’t like the sound of it’. In general they seem to need an easier start. I’m sure it was fine at liberation, it possibly deteriorated up in the Southern Alps. I’m sure the liberator released the birds with good intentions. This is pigeon racing. The best year for returns since then was 2009 when there were south westerlies most of the way, 33 out of the 73 birds entered were on the result sheet by the strike off time late on the 3rd day and there were 4 day birds.

My opinion is that we should always wait for a southerly push to start them off because for Auckland fliers the distance is around 750 to 830 miles. I feel that at this present time that it is just not ethically right not to give the birds the best start possible. This opinion is shared by one of the best fliers in New Zealand and my club mate Kerry Frazer. Manaia birds are going up this year with our Invercargill birds and Bruce Cosson’s distance is about 1400km or around 870 miles whereas mine is around 750 miles, only!! Yeh, right, tell that to the birds).

I have won 2 Federation Dunedins, both hard ones. One of which I got the only bird in race time i.e. sundown at the end of the second day living at Waterview, the other 1st and 2nd together on the 3rd day around 8am at Waterview. Now after the recent very hard Timaru where the birds had a hell of a hard time I have won 3 Open Timarus all by good margins. The year I enjoyed most was clocking before Alex Castle when Alex lived at Mercer and I at Waterview).

However the Invercargill has always eluded me and from memory this is my 6th attempt. I had one gutsy red cock that flew it 3 years in a row to Three Kings and I lost him on his 4th attempt but I was foolish that year as he had already had 2 Christchurchs that year, one a hard 2 day event. I also had a BBWFC around that time that had flown Invercargill twice to Three Kings too. He had the same preparation as the red cock and I dorked him in that smash too. I was unwise and perhaps even cruel but I have changed my ways since then and although I like to get the best bird and win the race I am flying mainly nowadays just to find the best bird in my loft and to educate them from the shorter South Island points to build up a distance team for Timaru onwards.

Preparation is everything in these marathon distance events. Have I prepared the 4 cocks and hens right for the soon to be raced Invercargill. I don’t know. They are very well like last weeks Christchurch birds. 3 hens have a small youngster and 2 of those had been doing the ‘family chores’ since their mate was lost in last weeks race. So I have one hen and 3 cocks to the perch although one of those cocks was lining up one of the single hens I’ve sent. The other cock has small youngsters. Don’t worry non pigeon people, I’ve shifted any youngster that are currently ‘temporarily’ and hopefully not ‘permanently’ orphaned.

Getting back to the races, 2005 was a smash i.e. a disaster race.

2006 was the same and a refund of $1.77 per bird was offered each flier. 10 fliers flew and 30 birds were sent.

The next year 2007 was a bit better. 12 fliers sent 50 birds. Louie Nel sent a team of 6 and clocked the first 2, they were both yearlings i.e. around a year old, the oldest they could be is 17 months, so pretty damn good effort. Frowned upon by some fliers nevertheless you certainly can’t take it away from the bird(s) and Louie.

That race was on the 23rd December. Winds were variable. Nel got 2 birds so was 1st and 2nd. Mac Armstrong’s 3 year old cock was 3rd and he entered only 8 birds.

Nel’s BCH was clocked at 9.14 at night on the day of liberation and its velocity was 1420.337 m/min. We should note that a flier’s distance is calculated through foxton trig breaking point rather than direct race point to loft. So it speeds the race up from direct race point to loft measurement. But non pigeon people the pigeons don’t fly in a straight line they fly in curves and arcs and the wind dictates things a lot of the time.

The flying time was a whisker under 15 hours, quite incredible, one bird way out on its own like that. His next bird was also a yearling hen and was a second day bird at 4.58pm and a flying time of 26 hours 30 minutes and 39 seconds (we take the night hours off non pigeon people, it is more complicated than that but that is the gist of it). The velocity was 803.115 and it was 11 hour 31 minutes behind Nel’s first bird.

Mac’s 3rd place bird was clocked 6.56am the 3rd day. A flying time of 32 hours 11 minutes and 33 seconds. Velocity 654.08 m/min.

So there were just 3 birds in race time of 50, however no doubt a few stragglers limped in over the following weeks and the odd one was reported as is the usual chain of events. In a smash they often take 3 to 4 weeks to return.

However the following year was even tougher. 68 birds were entered for the 12th December 2008 race. We don’t have the number of fliers. Fliers by the way to non pigeon people are the people who enter their birds from their loft i.e. pigeon house, some of which are very flash! The winds were nor-east, ah!! those dreaded nor-east winds!! Is it a coincidence or are we onto something here as it was a smash but guess who won it?? Come to think of it I vaguely remember the 2005 Invercargill which I flew was a nor-east start but I can’t be sure.

Anyway, the one bird clocked was by non other than a Mr Mac Armstrong and that was the start of his roll of 3 in a row wins from Invercargill. From the flying time of 54 hours 32 minutes and 19 seconds it looks like Mac clocked his bird at 2.50pm on the 4th day would you believe it! I’ll have to ask Mac if that 4 year old Mealy cock was tired, maybe he’ll say ‘just a bit’. Phew!! What an effort from that bird! He sent 27.

Next time we’ll talk about the last 2 years which as mentioned above were super in 2009 and o.k in 2010 considering all the other bleak years. Bill Beattie was the liberator the last 2 years of 2009/10 and the liberations were held over until the Tuesday following a Wednesday basketing.

To me this was the key and Beattie obviously looked after the birds super well and along with Peter Longville of Auckland assessed the weather perfectly, waiting for that window of opportunity to ‘strike to the summit’ i.e. it’s like mountaineering, you have to respect ‘mother nature’ and the ‘pigeon gods’ and the ‘One’ I respect would be a good idea too!! Don’t some of you think?

Will Mac Armstrong and his birds remain Invercargill Kings this month?   3 comments

Well that’s the 63 million dollar question. 63 is my beloved wives Helen’s number of exaggeration.

And how good it was to have her take me over to the Pakuranga Clubs rooms for basketing last night. Pakuranga club rooms are small but it is very homely and for some reason my 2 kids liked the toilet for some strange reason which I must checkout next time). Maybe at srtike off which I have to go to whether I get birds or not to do the Tauris Clocks.

Looked at the weather an hour a go online at 5am and it’s still looking promising for a Saturday liberation which would only be a one day holdover. Pity Chris Wilkinson’s not racing again this week cos gee, didn’t she fly well last week, 51 minutes ahead on the slow by, her pigeon certainly blasted the field!

Re weather forecasts being what they say let’s just wait and see! Moderate southerlies or southwesters are forecast which I like. I have never won this race, usually get my arse kicked but Mac has won it 3 times, in fact the last 3 years in a row, so can someone knock him off his perch?? Getting birds home is the first milestone.

Next report I will have all the specific race entry details from the man on the ground working hard for pigeon racing Mr Don Campbell. If the birds are held over then us Invercargill fliers with the internet might need a bit of ‘something’ to read to pass the time of day. Last race of the long season by the way, yippee!!

I’ve known Mac Armstrong for most of the time that I’ve been back into pigeon racing i.e. 22 years. I also know his son David from Massey University days where I trained to be Veterinarian from 1979.

Mac is a hell of a nice guy, humble gentle and very kind man. In fact we have $1000 prize money donated by him for this race. Mac is in his early 80’s, a retired very successful businessman and lives in Auckland Central on a lovely property with his wife Mary. He has two sons. Mac and Mary have traveled the world a lot and of recent years that means that Mac has started the Old Bird Season late.

He normally starts the season with about 80 birds to race and keeps the cocks and hens separate and flies to the perch. His lofts have about half grill floor and he employs someone to clean all his lofts out everyday. Wouldn’t you mind that!! He doesn’t flock treat his birds apart from a treatment for worms 4 times a year. Twice 2 weeks apart with moxidectin 4 to 6 weeks prior to the main event then 6 months later the same, boom, boom to clean them right out. Trisul may be used for individual bird dosing so Mac’s keen on allowing birds to develop a strong solid immunity. I will add for foreign viewers that we do not have as many ‘nasties’ here. We are to a certain extent an isolated country with very good border control partly due to our agricultural and horticultural industries. We don’t have to treat by vaccination against paramyxo virus as it’s never been diagnosed here nor for Salmonella i.e. paratyphyoid although Salmonella is endemic in New Zealand in it’s many serotypes. Fliers I know also don’t vaccinate for pigeon pox.

Mac also uses 2 teaspoons of glucose powder/litre water on return from the race. He also uses an electrolyte which his son David’s company in Australia produces.

Mac gives his birds a lot of open lofts and loves to see his birds free flying particularly when they’re darting around the sky full of energy. Mac spends up to five hours in the pigeon loft a day mainly looking at the birds. He doesn’t handle them as a rule. He observes them very keenly. He keeps meticulous records of all their races and other details and looks through past years when he is planning his programme to ‘nail’ the Invercargill race again.

Mac has gone into this race not confident and I have had 4 or 5 discussions with him by phone in the last month or so in preparation to write a series of articles on his birds and their management. Regardless of whether Mac wins this time I will be doing at least one loft visit next year so we’ll have some photos and an in depth analysis of birds and loft management details next year.

My friend and ex Auckland flier Brian Batchelor has emailed me an old article written for a British pigeon magazine. Brian is a very good pigeon man and humble in fact ‘God fearing man’ like Mac. So below I use several lines of his article with his permission.

The Auckland Federation Invercargill race is from the bottom of the South Island to Auckland near the top of the North Island. To fly the Invercargill to Auckland race on the day the birds would have to take a fairly direct line of flight and this would take them across the Southern Alps which are snow peaked all year round rising to 3754 meters and run virtually the length of the South Island. Secondly they would need to make the Cook Straight sea crossing between the South and North Island’s.

In recent years the Invercargill race has been flown on the day on three occasions although this is the exception and the 2010 race was a very different affair to the previous year when there were day birds. Long distance Ace Mac Armstrong who had three on the day in 2009 showed that this was no fluke by winning in the 2010 event 1st, 2nd, 4th,5th,6th and 7th.  The pigeons were liberated at 06.15 on the 14th of December 2010 into a light tail wind however as they moved up the south island there was a shift in the wind direction into a head wind. Needless to say there were no day birds on this occasion and the first two pigeons were timed by Mac at 11.35 and 11.38am on the second day with a flying time of 21 hours and 21 hours 3 minutes respectively. These were two blue Chequer hens one being a 4 year old  and a 2 year old. I will say here that Macs favourite birds for the Invercargill event are 4 and 5 year old hens to the perch. For security reasons I have not published the specific ring identities of these birds. Mac has very good security, but a long time ago had birds stolen by some scumbag. However in general I will not publish ring details in any of my articles.

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

The imports have adapted to their new environment and by careful selection the range of the supposedly sprint/middle distance families has been extended to fly longer distances without compromising their speed and orientation abilities. Janssens for example are winning at up to 550 miles.

So how does Mac do it considering he’s an Octagenarian?? He only races certain parts of the year and does incredibly well to get the birds going so very well from the long distance. Talking to Mac I begin to realize what previously I had assumed in that he’s extremely meticulous. He often looks at his lists of what his birds have done the previous years to help work out the plan for that bird. He is much keener to win the Invercargill than the ChristChurch i.e. Old Bird National.

The last few years he’s finding that the birds are really reproducing a lot of good ones and the sort he likes. The better birds are often recognizable in the loft of being so by showing character and intelligence. Mac may bred off his breeders from late Spring but he also breeds off his successful Invercargill birds in January and will breed up to April. Even these April hatch ones have to show their metal and there is no ‘molly coddling’ and each has to earn it’s perch and at least show it’s potential. 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. So this is very harsh selection but will progressively reap benefits as he ‘crafts’ the early maturing ability and stamina into his lines of birds. There are some exceptions though, as I know his April born late bred this year which flew ‘damn well’ as Mac would say was spared from flying further so it was let off with only having to do around 360 miles from Ward with a flying time of 9 hour 38 and only 8 minutes behind on the slow by. I’ll have to ask Mac if he’s going to breed off that hen this season. I’d expect he may say ‘too damn right’!! or ‘hell yes’!!

Mac does race his birds hard but he does give them chances. Sometimes he finds that getting lost and reported gives the bird a bit of a shock and he had a bird like that some years ago that turned out a brilliant racer after such an escapade.

When Mac did move to Auckland after being a very successful flier in Hamilton he thought that he would ‘show those Aucklander’s how to race pigeons,’ but he admits that it was not as easy as he expected!

Mac doesn’t live in a position that is favourable for the prevailing westerly winds we have in Auckland but I see his name on the Young Bird Open Futurity Cup and the Old Bird National ChristChurch trophy.

Mac certainly lives for the long distance and he finds like many fanciers the world around that being with the pigeons is very therapeutic. Watching them bath, watching a couple of cocks fight for a while, observing the social interactions just fulls him with a sense of calm and well being and I’d expect that you the reader if a pigeon person can relate to that. He says he comes out of the loft reenergised, so pigeons are Mac’s ‘natural high.’

Well part 2 seems beckoning as I’ve written long. So much more to write about this delightful man whom I wish there were more of his type and quality around in the sport not to forget the keen competition that Mac gives. In part 2 we’ll look at a summary of previous Invercargill results and Mac’s race preparation details and feeding throughout the year. If you the reader want to submit a question for Mac simply do it through the comments section. Thanks for reading).