WINNING A CLASSIC RACE TO THE FAR WEST
The following article came about as a result of Bryan and Anthony Williams' winning of the 2011 Falaise 1 race organised by the British International Championship Club. It has been a long time in gestation as I initially asked Anthony to write down his thoughts and methods some eight months ago. He eventually relented when cornered at the recent BICC presentation evening! Anthony's father Bryan Williams Senior, started racing pigeons while in secondary school in 1962. Anthony came along 10 years later and has been brought up with the pigeons ever since. The partners raced the north route for many years before finally turning south with constant falcon attacks being the main reason for this change of route.
In his early years in the sport Bryan used to help the late Tommy Davies who lived next door to him in the small village of Ynyswen situated high in the Swansea valley. There were 8 fanciers flying in the village in the late 50's and early 60's and the first loft was a 10ft self built structure which contained 2 x 5ft sections .Another two lofts were soon added to make it 3 lofts, 2 for racing and 1 for stock. The stock loft had an aviary and the racing lofts had box traps on the front to get extra air into them. They were very basic with perches and a few boxes inside.
Bryan and Anthony have raced to their present location since 2000 and before that in a small village of Ynyswen 5 miles further up the valley. The present loft set up has been extended considerably and the partners now have 4 racing lofts and 3 small stock lofts. There is a 24 ft young bird loft, 12ft widowhood loft and 2 x 10ft natural lofts, the racing lofts face different direction due to the garden layout. The widowhood loft faces east, the natural lofts face north and east and the young bird loft faces north.
The young bird loft is the only loft that has been purchased as all the others were hand made by Bryan and Anthony and are set on block pillars to ensure a good flow of air below the loft. The natural and young bird lofts have box traps to the front so the birds have an option to get out in to the open air whenever they want to. The widowhood loft has a double sliding door front, one door can be opened on warm days as an interior wire door allows air to enter. All the lofts have a sloping roof from front to back.
The widowhood and young birds have the floors cleaned daily but the naturals have a deep litter put down every 2 years. The deep litter varies from granules to "easybed" a form of coarse sawdust. The type of litter used depends on what is available at the time. The deep litter is used to promote natural immunity and is not touched once down for the 2 years it is in use. It is essential that the litter is always kept dry and it would not be used if there was a problem with dampness. The birds in the natural lofts can nest in the nest boxes provided or as some do, on the loft floor in the deep litter. The young birds bred in the natural loft are always very strong and healthy. These are only trained as young birds, as the partners feel the distance lines need time to mature. They are then raced inland as yearlings and go over the channel for the first time as 2 year olds.
At the height of the season the lofts house around 25 pairs of stock birds and 50 to 70 racers - made up of 21 widowhood cocks, 12 widowhood hens and the rest are natural distance birds. Around 100 young birds are reared each year and of these, generally speaking, 30 or 40 remain for the partners own use after the season as some are sold or given to good causes or friends.
The widowers are geared for inland racing and races up to 400 miles. The naturals are used for 400 miles and further. The natural lofts were established just 3 years ago with a plan to get birds ready for Tarbes in 2012.
Bryan and Anthony compete with approximately 21 widowhood cocks and 12 widowhood hens, with both sexes returning to non racing stock birds. They also have 45 natural distance birds, these fly natural and every effort is made to have them at different stages of the nesting cycle i.e. sitting eggs, young, driving cocks, Most of the major wins have been up to 350 miles achieved with widowhood cocks. However it is hoped that the natural birds will come good in 2012 from the longer races.
The intention is that in 2012 the Widowhood cocks will race inland with some selected for BICC or NFC races up to 350 miles. The widowhood hens will be targeted for the short channel races with the BICC, NFC and WSRNFC. They will be nursed inland for around 4 races then jumped into the channel races. They will then race every other week in classic races. The naturals will get 3 or 4 inland races to get them fit and they will then get two short channel races before being held back for specific long distance races. Bryan and Anthony hope to have 3 at Tarbes and 10 at Bergerac in 2012.
Stock birds are mated mid January and racers between mid January and early February.
The widowhood birds are paired for the first race and they try to keep them going inland and in 2 or 3 early channel races. The Naturals are not paired at any set date as they are always left together and are not separated during the winter months. It has been found that they start to pair when the weather gets warmer and this year they started to go together in late January but some do not pair until later - it's all down to the pigeons' personal preference. The hope is that the pairs that go together later will be fine for the longer races in June and July.
Pre season preparation of the race birds usually follows the following routine.
The first old bird race is mid April and all the widowhood cocks will be ready for this. They will be exercised around the loft and then trained to 10 miles only before the first race. They will normally only get around 5 x 10 mile training tosses beforehand race and they are not trained after the first race, just exercised twice a day around the loft.
The naturals will be trained to 30 miles and raced inland to get them ready for the channel. West Wales has a preponderance of birds of prey so training is kept to a minimum but they usually have one training toss at 30 miles between races.
The widowhood cocks have to be forced to fly as they have a strong bond to their nest box and always want to come back to the loft. To encourage them to fly at home a long pole with a Welsh flag at the top is used. This forced exercise takes place twice a day. The naturals on the other hand, are left to do as they please once their lofts are opened up.
Training is only done for the natural birds, they will generally get just one training toss per week once they have their first race. However, before the first race they will get as many training tosses as can be fitted in as long as they are left alone by the falcon. If they get hit often then training is stopped.
The race birds are fed a good quality widowhood mixture and this is made up from 3 different mixes which are then mixed to the partners' own requirements. Other grains with fats are added to this mixture for the longer distance races. The 2012 season will see a new feeding method put into operation for the distance birds.
The food is never measured in these lofts as the widowers have access to food for a certain length of time, so they are self regulating. The partners have found that the harder the birds work the more they will eat and the less work done the less they eat in the specific time allowed. The naturals have food in front of them all the time. This feed will differ depending on the races being flown and the time of year.
Different mixtures are purchased from different firms and in the past Beyers and Marimans feeds have been used. These base mixes are then mixed together and the resultant mix is then the base of the feeding for most of the birds. The naturals will be fed Gem mixtures throughout the year and they will have specific grains added to their base mix in the days just prior to basketting.
The partners keep many different strains but the cornerstone of the loft are the Van Reets. Over the past twelve years they have brought in many Van Reets and by applying a severe selection policy have now developed a very strong Van Reet stock loft. These birds do very well from 60 to 350 miles and are always prepared to give of their best. The three main sources of this family originated from, Mr & Mrs Stanway from Manchester (2000); Ritchie Ryder (2003); Langstaff (2006) These three lines have been mixed and blended together to form the "Williams family" of Van Reets. A number of other strains are also housed e.g. Maris ( Mick Lennon); Janssen ( A Maull, F Dixon); Hereman Ceusters (Premier Lofts); Herman ( J Brocklehurst). The partners have also brought in Distance lines:- Jan Aarden , Van Bruaene, Van Geel, Jos Thone and Distance Blacks. These have been blended to produce the newly formed Distance family.
Bryan and Anthony have practiced line breeding in the past but find for racing a cross is always best. There are birds at stock bred from closely related pairings but they have not had much success racing these inbred birds.
There have been many successes in the 40 years since racing began. However, here are a couple that have produced lasting memories:- 1st Federation Thurso 1999 winning the very last Scottish race flown on the north route. 1st ,2nd ,3rd ,4th &5th Federation young birds from Epsom with over 1,500 birds competing. 1st,2nd,3rd,4th ,5th ,6th ,7th ,8th ,9th ,10th ,11th ,12th , 13th Fed young birds 2011 with 820 birds sent in the Federation.
The above performances not withstanding , the best so far must be the winning of 1st BICC Falaise 2011 beating 1,800 birds entered from all over England and Wales, with some of these birds racing to lofts over 100 miles shorter than the Williams entry flying to the far West of Wales. The winner, a lovely silver mealy cock named "Young Whiskey" will be remembered for a long time.
Bryan and Anthony have been fortunate to race many top class pigeons over the years and the following is a small cross section of these:-Young Whiskey 1st BICC; Red cock "74" - 9 x 1sts; "The Big Boy" 8 x 1sts, "The Denduiver" 6 x 1sts; "The Wildy Hen" 6 x 1sts. As mentioned earlier, the main winning bloodlines now are Van Reets as the partners have tended to specialise at short to middle racing.
In the past five seasons the loft has recorded the following:-
2007: 17x 1sts; 2008: 13 x 1sts; 2009: 19 x 1sts; 2010:19 x 1sts; 2011: 24 x 1sts including 1st , 4th &7th Open BICC plus 14 x 1st section in the Federation.
The stock birds are treated before pairing every year and then cankered when on eggs, but no other treatments are used.
The racers are also treated before pairing and then cankered when on eggs. The birds are closely observed every week and tests are carried out if they go off form or are not looking quite as they should do. Appropriate treatment is then given if the tests prove positive for any specific ailment.
Cider vinegar is used in the drinking water at regular intervals with garlic used every Sunday - the day after race return. Vitamins are also added the birds always have access to a range of grits and minerals.
Both Bryan and Anthony firmly believe that winners come in all shapes and sizes, with the bigger birds being more successful in the shorter races. However, they will send any bird to any race if fit and bred for the job. Nevertheless their personal preference is for a medium build bird with a very bright clear eye. Eye colour is not important. They like calm birds and yet their family of Van Reets is renowned for being a little wild when pure bred.
I will let Anthony Williams describe in his own words the partners innovative test loft.
"I would like to mention our young bird "test loft". Each year we introduce around 50 young birds, from breeders from all over the UK and Ireland. We then race these birds and if any win we give the breeders the credit. Many of the breeders do not have the opportunity to fly in classic races so by sending their birds to us they can be part of something special. Every "test loft" bird is sent to every race if fit as a young bird and then raced on as yearlings and older birds. Updates are given every week to the breeders. We get great pleasure from fanciers who live in an awful position whose bird wins a very high Federation position at our test loft. The banter and feed back is first class.
Our natural distance plan started in 2009, every year we breed distance lines and these are not raced in their year of birth, they are only trained to 30 miles, training takes place in the winter months. They then get up to 10 inland races as yearlings from 96 to 150 miles. We then test them as 2 year olds. We will have 25 2 year olds ready for the channel in 2012."
There you have it then, the thoughts of a young fancier of the highest calibre who has learned his trade from his father Bryan and from meeting and listening to some of the top fanciers in the UK. This resulted in the partners' great win in the first race of the BICC's old bird programme in 2011 from Falaise, a distance of more than 250 miles to the Williams loft, situated at the top end of the Swansea Valley in West Wales.