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2013 Christmas is one that everyone around the south of England will remember for the rest of their lives. On December the 23rd a severe storm rolled in from the Atlantic bringing gale force winds and torrential rain resulting in wide spread flooding, trees down, roofs blown off and power cuts to over 90,000 homes. One of the worst hit areas was our county of Surrey, our local market town of Godalming was flooded with many having to vacate their homes and two of the access roads into our village of Elstead were also flooded and the roads closed for a few days. At home we got off lightly with only a couple of fence panels blown out, but we did suffer the power cut for 61 hours and lost all our refrigerated stock in our shop and domestic freezer. Luckily we had recently decided to book a three day Christmas stay in a country hotel at the Goodwood estate near Chichester in West Sussex and fortunately, although they had no power either, they had hired a massive generator, so everything was running as normal. It was a bit tricky travelling down to Goodwood on Christmas eve since the main road had been closed due to flooding and we had to make a deviation in the dark which added an hour or so to the journey, so we were relieved when we eventually arrived safely at our destination.

How did my pigeons fare through all this, very well actually, the lofts were undamaged and as I have automatic drinkers it was only a matter of filling the feed troughs with enough corn for the three days we were away and leave them to it until we returned.


When I raced pigeons back in New Zealand I often bred a few late youngsters i.e. hatched after the summer solstice and generally found they could be raced very well in that years old bird season at eight to ten months of age. In fact they were no different to their earlier bred siblings that had raced as young birds, some were top pigeons and others not so good, as you would expect from the general population. The only problem I had, was in my earlier years pushing them too far too soon and I well remember losing a couple of very good ones that had won previously. However, that was my mistake and no fault of the pigeons. Here in the U.K. it is a totally different story and very few fanciers bother with them except to breed some to keep a blood line for breeding purposes and not racing them. My good friend Tony Dann calls them heartbreakers! As an example last year he kept one late bred and when it came time to train his new year’s young bird team he took his 30 something young birds and the one late bred for their first training toss of eight miles. The young birds all arrived home more or less together in a short time minus the late bred. The late bred was reported having strayed into a loft about 50 miles away in the opposite direction from home. It did not have a clue how to find its way home even from this very short distance, this is typical late bred behaviour and I have experienced the same phenomena myself many times.

Last year I only reared two late breds, nest mates, they weren’t trained identically, but both had a night out from their first eight mile toss, one is still with me having completed training and had one inland FED race. The other went west at its first club transporter toss from 25 miles.

For some reason their homing faculty does not develop as normal, I have an idea why this may be so which I will relate further on. Nevertheless, most years I have persevered and reared a small team of late ones and although the attrition rate is certainly high with many failing on the first training toss or first time on the FED transporter, the few that come though to their third season are as good as any other pigeons in the loft. Looking over my current old bird team around 15% started life as a late bred. Some flyers say they must be trained in the year of their birth to have any chance of surviving, however, I have tried this and it did not make one bit of difference. Getting back to the reasons for the high failure rate with late breds, while I don’t have any scientific answer, I considered that the main factor may be something to do with daylight and in particular sunlight. The young birds bred in the spring develop when the days are long and the sunlight strong, whereas the late bred birds develop when the days are short and the sunshine weak, with many days the sky being dull with heavy overcast conditions. Admittedly, many fanciers darken their early bred youngsters to stimulate their body moult while retarding the moulting of the wing flights without too many problems, but in the hours these birds are exposed to the daylight it is midsummer when the sun is at its strongest. It might be something as simple as a lack of vitamin D which is also a problem for the human population in British Isles and supplements are recommended especially for children during the winter or it might be an hormonal issue. As I said, I do not profess to have any substantive evidence to support this theory other than my own observations. This year I have again got a small team of late ones and I have been getting them out as much as possible, particularly on sunny days and I have also fed them a richer corn mix with a vitamin/mineral supplement being added once a week. I have noticed a few have continued to moult their flight feathers which is unusual, so I am hoping this lot will turn out O.k. with a higher percentage surviving, time will tell. One interesting point I have noticed is that two were hatched 16 days later than the others on the 7th of August (equivalent to about the 1st week of the southern hemisphere’s month of February). One of this nest pair disappeared the second time out, probably taken by a hawk. The other one is still here but its development has been retarded, so it is well behind the others hatched 16 days earlier. I nearly culled this one but it is now catching up and being a cock bird, in the last week or so he has started to show an interest in the hens and has been moved into the cocks section. Anyway, it seems there may be a certain cut off point when it is probably not productive to continue breeding latebreds, say late July in the northern hemisphere. It may be the end of February to early March in the southern hemisphere, depending on the latitude.


As some readers will know, my base family contain mainly Eric Cannon and Jim Biss bloodlines and recently I was reading an article on the late great Jim Biss penned by Cameron Stansfield wherein he made an interesting comment following his loft visit to Biss in the late 1990’s. To quote Cameron; “He (Jim) went to Scotland where he bought some Palamos pigeons all flying circa 1000 miles, one or two of these left a lasting impression. Now these Palamos pigeons took a good while to get home so I asked him what was it that made him value them and he said something I have never forgotten, that is they had the most elusive quality of all SURVIVABILITY.” These were Henry Mair’s “Lion Heart” family and I notice a daughter of Lion Heart appears back in my Biss pedigrees.

Now this got me thinking about my own pigeons and sure enough all the four pairs of stock in the base family, which are retired racers, have, with the exception of one bird, all displayed this characteristic by surviving a difficult or smash race in their career on the road, some of them more than once. An example being the BICC Saran smash a couple of years ago when from a convoy of around 3800 pigeons only about 300 were clocked in race time and very few returned in the days and weeks that followed. I sent six to this race and had five home within a couple of weeks and four are still with me today having gone on to succeed in that and later seasons. These survivors have on occasions returned home in a bedraggled and dirty condition and some carrying injuries that had partially healed and sporting frets on their flights and tail feathers. But they all had that elusive survivability factor that Jim talks about in that they never quit! In contrast when I started out in 2004 I also introduced a couple of Van Breemen hens from my friend Tony Dann which were crossed with the Biss and Cannon pigeons and these crosses flew very well for me gaining some of my best results but they were found out at the long distance on a hard day. They seemed to be a type of pigeon that give their all on the day of release and if they are not home by early the 2nd morning you never see them again, ideal middle distance pigeons and Tony has won some top National positions with them up to around 300 miles, but they do not have that survivability factor suitable for the long distance that I am after and now I only have a couple of these crosses left so they have phased themselves out and this line will eventually die out in my loft.

The Biss line that survived are from a cock line bred to Biss’s TURBAN 2nd Pau Grand National 645 miles and 5th National Perpignan 689 miles, TURBAN is also G.Sire of J.Halsteads “ASHLEY” 2nd Open Barcelona 696 miles. The dominant pigeons in the Cannon line were obtained from my good friend Keith Mott and are the CULMER SAM and CULMER BESS (Merit winner) lines.


A.Austin 1st Old Bird Hens.

A.Austin 1st Old Bird Hens.

One thing that I believe is lacking in the calendar in New Zealand, I don’t know if it is the same in Australia is the absence of activity in the off season after racing has ceased. In the U.K. we are blessed with the show season where there are numerous shows open during the winter and culminating in the BHW show of the year at Blackpool in January. This gives the fancy an opportunity to get together and keep everyone’s interest going through what otherwise would be a barren period. Our local club holds three shows each winter, this time there was an all age through the wires, followed by the old bird show and finally the young bird show. All three events were well attended although I missed the first through the wire show I did manage to enter the later two shows. The winners of these were as follows:-


1st OB cocks B.Batchelor.

1st OB hens  A.Austin (I was 2nd in this with the hen that won last year).

Brian Batchelor with 1st Old Bird Cocks.

Brian Batchelor with 1st Old Bird Cocks.


1st YB cocks D.Robinson.

2nd YB hens M.Tuck.

Brian's winning mealy cock again, this time in the loft.

Brian’s winning mealy cock again, this time in the loft.

BHW Show of the year at Blackpool, Tony Dann and myself are again heading up the motorway for the five hour journey up to Blackpool on Friday the 18th of January. We enjoy catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. As a scribe for the BHW we have an invitation to the BHW staff rooms where a welcome cup of tea is always waiting and the chance to sit down and have a chat with the other scribes and BHW staff. During the day we troll around the dozens of trade stands picking various items for the loft and birds and having a look at the pigeons in the show and those offered for sale by the well known stud lofts. There are also a few auctions staged in various hotels around the city and one in particular featuring pigeons from the top long distance lofts in the U.K. will attract my interest, but I suspect these will sell well above my price range, still it’s nice to be a looker! The evenings will be spent around the bars enjoying the banter and talking pigeons until late in the evening.

Good racing to all.

Brian Batchelor Elstead UK

Neville wins again!!   Leave a comment

Newsflash! Neville Rhodes’ BBH has won the Jack Longville memorial Young Bird race last weekend from Raumati, a distance of around 406km or 250 miles to his loft. Velocity of 1042.05 m/min and flying time of 6.29.31. The BBH won by a big margin, over 50 minutes!

I mentioned last week in my Jack Longville article that the biennial event was taking place last weekend and the Henderson Club had a good muster with 22 lofts in the East Section and 14 in the West Section. In the East there were 192 pigeons sent and the West sent 198 pigeons. There were also other Auckland pigeons in the liberation which were only entered in their local club races. One of these was a pigeon of Kerry Frazer’s, a clubmate, but it needed about 36 minutes to beat Neville’s in the independent Combine result.

This time of year, being the last week of Autumn, is a difficult time of year for racing and a challenge to those making the wise decisions with pigeon liberations. There was a big cold front out to sea in the Tasman and on the day of basketing, that being Thursday, this was forecast to affect the race with rain but not until 6pm Saturday, so all looked about right. The following day the forecast was very similar with the same time predicted as the previous day for the rain to arrive.

The pigeons were liberated at 7.55am and the front (going on Metservice rain radar observations) was seen to be starting to reach land to the north in the Kaitaia area. I calculated that given a not much more than light northerly wind start, with the winds in the middle of the North Island probably much lighter and forecast to remain so, that the pigeons at the very best might average speeds of up to 43 mph (about 70 kmph) up until they encountered the rain/shower bands coming down from the north (which was hard to predict, but likely hit Auckland around 1pm). So, for example, Neville Rhodes, who is close to the front of the Federation in Pukekohe, might calculate that if he had a front bunch pigeon it could possibly return any time realistically from 1.45pm onwards i.e. 5 hours 50 minutes to cover the roughly 250 miles to his loft. Although we both agreed that that would be a super time, and that they were more likely to start coming from between 2.15pm and half past 2. In fact Neville’s BBH timed in at 2.24.31 with a flying time of 6 hours 29 minutes and 31 seconds.

Neville actually rang me soon after getting the pigeon. Naturally he was pretty happy and we spoke again about an hour later and he still had only one pigeon home from the twenty entered in the club race, eight of which were in Jack’s race. By that stage Neville was already remembering other big races that had been won by big margins and being the good friend I am, I wisely, in my view, suggested that he shouldn’t get his hopes up, but that I thought it was a pretty good pigeon! I’ve found it’s better to get a nice surprise later at the clock off than get too over confident, but I will add that Neville is quite good at getting some of the inside info and that’s probably why Neville was dreaming already of a win by a big margin!!

I live about 7 km south and 4 km east of Neville and haven’t flown pigeons this season. At 1.20pm I was outside and that was when the first very light rain came gently spitting down, just the odd drop really. But the sky, although overcast, was averagely bright. In fact the rain was light until 4pm when it became moderate. I am telling you this because, although we don’t know exactly what the weather was along the line of flight, we can speculate as to the possible reasons why Neville’s BBH was so incredibly far out in front of all the other pigeons in both the Jack Longville race and the independent Combine. For instance, Wyn Arnold, whom Neville allows about 15kms, needed almost 54 minutes to beat Neville’s BBH and Wyn’s Mealy cock was 2nd in the East Section of the race!

Even looking at Theo van Lier’s BBH which won the West by almost 22 minutes and was 2nd overall in the race. This pigeon’s velocity was 932.84 m/min and Neville’s pigeon’s 1042.05 m/min. Theo’s hen would have needed to time in close to 50 minutes earlier to beat Neville’s hen. Even though Theo’s first pigeon had to finish in likely more moderate, rather than light rain for the extra distance of 47 km airline, even if we allow an extra 10 to 15 minutes for Theo’s pigeon to do this, Neville’s pigeon was still 30 to 40 minutes better!

Another flier Kerry Frazer, who lives near Neville Rhodes, had a club only pigeon arrive about 8 past 3, but Neville only gives Kerry about 8km, so although Kerry’s pigeon takes 2nd in the independent Combine which Peter Longville senior collates and supplies to the Auckland Club members participating, Neville’s pigeon is still well over half an hour better than Kerry’s.

So how might Neville’s pigeon have managed to gain so much on all the field and what conditions might have been encountered or reasons why within around an hour on the slowby (time needed) there were only 5 other pigeons of the 192 entered in the Jack Longville race from the East and 8 including Theo’s from the West?

Firstly as mentioned earlier, racing this time of the year is difficult. The days are getting shorter, the weather overall deteriorates gradually every year by May and it is difficult for those controlling the liberation to know how the pigeons as a flock are going to cope with the effects of a big cold front out in the Tasman Sea about to hit the tip of the North Island.

I would speculate that the pigeons would have got off to a good start after they were observed heading to the north and a bit inland.  I repeat, speculate, sometimes pigeons head towards the nearest city’s lights (Paraparaumu perhaps or Otaki, a good 20kms or so away) which may’ve been still on at 7.55am. The flock doesn’t always orientate in a direct line route, even if they seem to have cleared the racepoint well. Every now and then a flock of race or training pigeons will be seen again, five or ten minutes drive up the road. With Young Birds first time at a new race point, it probably happens more than we think!

Winds at liberation were north, not strong and it was likely the pigeons only had 50 to 60 miles of these to fly in and then even lighter winds, which can take as much effort. Years ago I did a reasonable amount of driving of my pigeons down as far as the road west of Taumarunui and sometimes west of Raetihi. There are an incredible amount of really big hills and valleys down there and particularly this time of year onwards it is quite cold on the volcanic plateau. It can be really cloudy, even low cloud, showery and the valleys can contain a lot of mist. The pigeons including the winning ones cover much more distance than that which is measured by airline. Not just the zig zagging sideways movement, but also the up and down movements as they feel their way through the hills and valleys. But some areas may’ve been quite clear. Perhaps Neville’s pigeon got well ahead in the first half of the race, perhaps it was leading by the time it reached west of Taumarunui, we’ll never know.

I do know one thing also, I am of the opinion that approaching fronts, especially the big cold ones, affect the atmospheric conditions, changing the electrostatic conditions in the air, perhaps making the true magnetic fields much more difficult to hone in on for the pigeons, creating more of a challenge for the pigeons, as they navigate towards home.

I did study carefully the wind or lack of it and the rain radar for the North Island during the day and had quite a few conversations with Neville during the day. The last one prior to his BBH’s return being at about 1.30pm. You’d hardly call it rain at my place then, but the blanket of partly patchy yellow colour on the Metservice rain radar was down as far as near the northern tip of Lake Taupo at 1pm. This doesn’t mean it was raining down there, it just is the first indication that the front is starting to show its effects and that there’s a possibility of light rain. I will add also, that seeing that we had a very dry Summer and virtually no rain until about mid April that the pigeons hadn’t had a lot of experience of rain during their racing careers. This does make a difference, and even more so if any training the pigeons have been given is mainly only on fine days, i.e. the pigeons need to be taught to orientate through showers, light rain and murk e.t.c.

Many of us who have raced pigeons for a while in Auckland will know what the situation is with Mount Pirongia when a front is approaching, it gets all clouded in. I would imagine that it was so on Saturday and I’ve seen the showers and light, moderate or stronger rain banked up to the south of it many times in the past when I could handle driving down that way. It can be banked up right down to Pio Pio and the start of the King Country. I don’t know if it was last Saturday around the times the pigeons may’ve been working their way up the island, but it is a possibility. There are a lot of big hills and valleys south and west of Pirongia, down past Waitomo, onwards to Pio Pio.

Various pigeons that orientated that side may’ve been tiring once they were that far up and it is likely that some may’ve gone down for a drink wherever they could find it. If it had been raining significantly, I don’t think it would be too hard!

Before I tell you about Neville’s pigeon and a few tips from him, I will just reiterate the point that now having negotiated this race, these pigeons will have learnt a great deal. In last year’s Futurity which I have written about a number of times on this blog I sent 9 that I thought were up for it and only 3 returned on the day. I lost one, but the other 5 turned up the next day, mainly in the morning. Many other fliers were in the same position, i.e. about a third or so of their pigeons returning on the day and the bulk of their other pigeons the next morning.

Just for the local new fliers’ encouragement, one of my second day Futurity pigeons turned out to be my best yearling and was first by itself or with others every race bar one. It won 1st Futurity Yearling from Ward and was 17th East, in the Old Bird National Christchurch last year. So be optimistic about any 2nd day pigeons from last weekend. As I’ve said, they learn a great deal from these races.

The 2012 Futurity was indeed a very similar situation as last weekend’s in that it was the first hard longer distance race. So in the same way as last weekend, I think that many pigeons in both races were thrown by the conditions that they encountered. But the value of these races when they do occur is that the pigeons get the experience of flying under conditions other than blue skies and marshmallow clouds!

I do wonder though, in the short races, especially in Old Birds, where the pigeons have negotiated say the Raetihi liberation point quite a few times in their careers, that unless there is widespread rain or thick fog at liberation, that we should give the pigeons more experience of showery and murky weather on the return leg home. I’m not saying to let them up in rain or fog, but between the showers or a break in the fog, as Jack used to do from the toss point Naike.

I believe we will have better long distance racing if we do this more often, as it hardens the pigeons up for the programme that lies ahead and from these short races, especially in Old Birds, it is the right thing, I think. I used to train mine and other fliers’ pigeons up to distances of 200 miles and once went to Foxton to test a group of my pigeons after the Old Bird season about 10 years ago to release about 120 of my own pigeons. It was a fine day and they all returned well before I did! Of course any of those long trips would put me in bed with migraines for 3 days. But if people wonder how I got the results I did in the West up until end of 2002 they should consider the training and the very good pigeons. My motto used to be: nothing good comes easy! So now that I’m not driving much and can’t really train my own pigeons, one should think how much my health has deteriorated.

Well, now to what Neville has told me about his BBH and his methods. Neville says that this Young Bird season he has gone back to a method he used with success about five years ago. Firstly the feeding. Neville feeds twice a day, an ounce to an ounce and a quarter per pigeon is hopper fed. He feeds a depurative mix which he makes himself containing 40% barley and the rest about equal parts of wheat, safflower, sunflower and sorghum. For the overnight basket races which generally basket Friday night, Neville feeds the depurative mix from race return until Wednesday night when a richer race mix is fed until basketing morning. For the two day basketing events, Neville starts the race mix on the Tuesday night. He also adds two products to the food which he purchases from Fisken’s in Pukekohe. One is a cider vinegar product and the other contains molasses, garlic and kelp. Both are liquids. He adds brewer’s yeast and stirs it all up prior to feeding and believes it does the pigeons a world of good with nice clear throats.

Neville did do some dosing earlier in the season and after the Futurity race and then just the natural additions in the food. Neville also won the Eastern Union Young Bird race which was a team’s race; however his first pigeon also won the independent Combine which Peter Longville senior collates and distributes to participants.

Neville’s pigeons don’t tend to fly that much around home during the race season and once daylight saving finished it made it difficult for Neville to exercise his pigeons. However he sends pigeons every week on the Federation training toss, usually from Whatawhata. It is generally a 50 to 60 minute fly. Neville swears by this for his pigeons. As for the Jack Longville Memorial race winner the BBH’s last race was Otaki, so she had a two week racing break with a Wednesday Federation toss the following week followed by a private Pirongia toss on the Friday and then an additional Wednesday Whatawhata toss the day before basketing. The Pirongia toss was a single up. Neville’s pigeons have single ups whenever he can get the time off work.

Neville keeps the Young Bird pigeons separate sexes but let’s them out together for flying around home. On return from training midweek they can go into either section and Neville separates them when he comes home from work. Sometimes a cock and hen will be all cosy somewhere in a section.

I think Neville really deserves a good season with a couple of excellent wins as he works hard for the Pukekohe Pigeon Club as President, Treasurer and Race Secretary. So good on you, Neville!

I guess I ought not to forget the breeding of the winner. She is off a Houben cock from Peter Longville junior and a hen I gave Neville off a mainly Vandie base cock to a Janssen bloodlines hen (the top stuff!).

Other results this Young Bird Season are that the Auckland Young Bird Futurity was won Overall by Wyn Arnold with his BCH winning in a moderate Westerly wind doing 1250 m/min. The West Section of the Futurity was won by Theo van Lier. Wyn obviously won the Futurity East Section and Paul Millar, who has health challenges like myself was 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th Futurity East and Overall and also won the Futurity Auction Bird race.  In addition, Paul won the Eastern Union Auction Bird race from Otaki. Well done Paul!

Finally, one result not mentioned on this site from last year’s Old Birds was the Open Old Bird National Christchurch which was won by Kerry Frazer’s Yearling hen, winning by 8 minutes and doing a velocity of 1332 m/min. Good fly Kerry after a difficult year waiting for a knee op! Shamrock lofts won the West Section and was 2nd Open too. Good to see a fairly new flier do well!

Posted May 28, 2013 by ferguselley in Uncategorized

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