Well Tony Cowen of Southampton who not only must be the most well known pigeon fancier and auctioneer, but also known for having the charisma to give speeches with generous helpings of humor, has also kindly agreed to participate in my project and he even handed me an article he penned with his views and ideas on racing which I have added below and which you will find extremely interesting.
If someone said to me10 years ago that I would be doing what I do now, I would have said they were drunk or on drugs! However, age is creeping up on
me faster than I thought possible, no energy, little enthusiasm, nearer 80 than 70, and my idea of racing is the total opposite to what it used to be
when I was younger and keener. Then it was clean out twice a day, regular training, visiting top lofts, and working on my auction business and
travelling thousands of miles! Now my driving is a nightmare, cyclists get in the way and then get rapidly out of my way, parking takes me an hour,
so much so, I am now banned! But I still love my pigeons with only one ambition left and that is to win from Barcelona!
The following is what I have concluded after a lifetime in pigeons and I must stress that these are my opinions, so no suggestions please that I should be sectioned and novices - don't try this at home. I have never claimed to be an expert, despite handling more pigeons, seen more lofts and visited more parts of the world than most fanciers living. I get very embarrassed when asked what is a good pigeon? I have to say that I do not have a clue!
Today's lofts are built for the fanciers' pleasure, with electric automatically cleaned nest boxes in which the inmates, look like a parade of soldiers, all in a line standing to attention, air control etc, but I beg the question - do the inmates enjoy the disciplined environment? Maybe for short and middle distance racing it's acceptable, but my objective is Barcelona, so I am trying to engender a love of home with a relaxed home environment, deep litter, where the pigeons decide where they would prefer to set up home, with nests in corners or behind anywhere that is quiet and secure. I have fifty nest boxes but only three pairs out of 20 pairs choose a nest box, despite having bigger than normal boxes with a darkened area with a cleaned and felted nest bowl. They chose this way and I am happy and I guess so are they, after all, we sometimes forget they are birds not objects and its they who have to do the hard yards in the long distance races! My loft is old, bone dry and I am sure will outlast me. On the subject of nice expensive lofts and I have seen many, more like mobile homes, reminds me of a sea fishing contest my young son entered. However, my wife was nervous of him being by himself all night so I volunteered to go with him. I duly paid the entry fee, my rod was bits and pieces held together with duck tape and my reel was like an old cotton reel. So nothing fancy in the way of equipment! When we arrived in the dark, the professionals were already set up, tents, heating and an ongoing barbecue, the rods costing hundreds of pounds, the bait more expensive than salmon. We commenced fishing at the whistle and fished throughout the night, freezing cold and with the occasional rat for company. Only one fish caught, a 2lb Bass, no prizes for guessing the winner, yes that's right and it was delicious!
My feeding is some feed beans, maples and maize. Some feed expensive scientific mixtures put together by professional nutritionists. I feed plenty of barley which is hopper fed all year round. Tipplers fly all day on it! Because it's cheap, the experts decide it's no good! The rest of the bird's feed is variety, or curry mixture, plenty of everything, not forgetting my secret "porridge oats", they love it and its 100% whole oats.
Training I have always thought it was a must, yes, most days was important, but now that my objective is to succeed at the distance, I am not quite so sure. Middle distance and with young birds then yes training is a must, but do they need so much stress and work, when they are happy having an open loft, all day! The question is are we teaching them the way home? The osprey, white throat, swallows, Arctic Terns and many other species seem to find their way back from thousands of miles every year, and I firmly believe the pigeon has the same brain. Our feathered friends of course must be fit and above all have a love for home. Fitness in my mind is achieved with plenty of exercise and just a few tosses and one nice race, plus the desire to get back to their stress free environment. At my location in Southampton the line of flight flying south entails a first race over 110 miles of water and with no yacht or motor boat they have the English Channel to contend with and there are no chimney pots in the Channel!
During my time in the sport I have won prizes from 38 miles to 900 miles, won two cars, 4 times classic winners, seven times 2nd in National races, including several 3rds etc. When the BICC was first formed, in the first full year of competition my birds won a prize in all the five races, the best being 2nd Barcelona at close on 700 miles and 2nd Alicante at 900 miles, with only two birds home in the UK and 36 in the whole of Europe! Many firsts have also been won in Open Races. The Solent Fed, with birdage of up to 6,000 until 1987 I won it twice the number of times than any other fancier.
As an ex Marketing man, I have always felt Blackpool was a golden opportunity missed. I liken it to our Government giving away each year over 12 billion pounds (borrowed of course) to countries worldwide! Most don't need it i.e. China, India etc for various crackpot schemes in the name of Aid! For example, last year Peru was given over 2 million pound to help farmers breed fatter guinea pigs, they eat them!
Advice to novices, when buying new stock, do your homework, and remember money can be replaced, but time can't.
I could write a book on medicines and the reasons you should not treat sick pigeons, having unfortunately experience of the downfall of using antibiotics, my present system is deep litter (horrible) open loft (free fresh air) plenty of barley (cheap) and whilst I do not enjoy seeing pigeons the way mine are kept, (although they seem happy with it) I honestly can't remember the last time I had a sick pigeon "Au Natural".