1. Mike sourced his initial stock pigeons extremely well and
2. He obviously has "stock sense" in abundance.
Let's start with a little background history of a fancier who has become such a force in long distance International races in the past few seasons.
Mike Mitchell is certainly no raw novice when it comes to the care of pigeons as for 45 years he had maintained a loft of fancy and sporting pigeons. Mike's interest in pigeons began when he was 9 years old although his father had kept and raced "milers" in the Manchester area prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. On moving south Mike's Dad raced pigeons but certainly did not encourage Mike to take up the sport in his own right. Despite his father's obvious annoyance Mike stubbornly refused to dispose of his fancy birds which were by now supplemented by various strays caught in the surrounding streets. It was to take a further 45 years and a chance encounter with an established racing fancier before Mike became actively involved with the racing side of the sport. This chance encounter occurred when one of Mike's fancy birds entered the loft of the late Alan Hunnisett of Dover. Alan was a keen enthusiast of the Janssen strain who was about to enter hospital to undergo major surgery and so Mike offered to help out with the birds during Alan's hospitalisation and subsequent convalescence. The thrill of clocking in on race days set alight Mike's latent desire to race pigeons and so in 2000 he joined the Dover Premier Club.
The father and son partnership of Kevin and Lee Buddle were also members of the Dover club and they were rapidly making a name for themselves in long distance National and International races. Kevin and Lee immediately became Mike's mentors giving him good advice and top class stock bred from the best of their developing long distance family which was based on the best of the late Brian Williams' stock as well as the long distance family of John Wills of Frimley plus birds from Brian Denney of York and the late Stan Biss. Bill Woodall also assisted Mike with advice on the International long distance race scene and so Mike was off to a "flying start" in his long distance racing career.
The initial loft set up used by Mike consisted of a series of sheds and aviaries that had, over the years, become linked together. In 2000 at the start of his quest for long distance success, Mike disposed of the old lofts and constructed his present loft which is 22 metres long and faces west south west. Initially, some of this loft space was dedicated to housing the fancy pigeons that Mike had been breeding, however at the present time most of the loft is designated to the race team with just a small team of 10 fancy pigeons retained for personal enjoyment. The loft is divided into ten sections, two of which have aviaries attached. Three sections are scraped clean each day whilst the remaining seven sections have grills on floors, nest boxes and perches which greatly reduces the day to day management of the birds. A powerful extractor system has been fitted above the false ceiling and this draws out any stale air from the loft interior at regular intervals in each hour twenty four hours a day. As a result there is no smell of pigeons and hardly any dust within the loft.
Despite the extensive loft layout, a modest team of just 14 cocks and 14 hens are raced on a modified "widowhood" system. Readers will be surprised to learn that both cocks and hens are raced celibate. Once their initial breeding duties have been completed they are separated and do not see their mates again during the whole of the season. They are simply basketted and sent to the races and the hens literally fly to the perch in their section whilst the cocks race back to the nest boxes in which they raised their first round of youngsters.
The stock team amounts to just ten pairs, some of which fly out whilst others are kept prisoner and from the best of these and the most successful racers Mike rears approximately forty young birds each year. Most years the birds are mated on or around Valentine's Day but in 2011 this was delayed slightly to 23rd February. Once the racers domestic duties have been completed the home exercise regime begins. The birds exercise voluntarily with great enthusiasm and Mike likes to get 1- 2hours of home exercise per day out of the team. They are never forced to exercise but are allowed an open loft and can do as they please during their time of freedom from the confines of the loft. When ready they receive as many early season training spins as possible out to 40 miles. Once racing starts they usually have at least one 40 miler each week from Maidstone to the north west of Mike's loft, and are raced as and when Mike sees fit with the East of England Continental Club in preparation for the International race programme.
The race birds are fed a high carbohydrate diet with very little protein and Mike makes this mix up to his own specifications by combining Bucktons Irish and breeding mixes with farm barley during the winter months after the moult has been completed. When racing the birds are fed a high proportion of Versele Laga Gerry Plus I.C. and Superstar Plus I.C. Mike is a great believer in the Versele Laga I.C. mixtures as they contain everything a pigeon could need. The racers are fed this home made mixture twice daily and are allowed to eat their fill on each occasion with no rationing.
Young birds are trained extensively in the year of their birth in order to give them a good initial education. They may then receive a couple of races and are put aside for the next year. As yearlings they get as much experience as possible of Channel crossing and to this ends they are entered in numerous races from France out to Bergerac at around 400 miles, two year olds and over get the full treatment out to 650- 700 miles if fit and well.
The family that Mike has developed is now based to a great extent on the birds of the late Dick Baldwin of Rufford who won no less than six firsts North West Combine plus 60 x 1sts in the Ormskirk Amalgamation in channel races flying up into Lancashire. The Baldwin pigeons were based on Hansenne, Barker, Gits and Delmotte with a little bit of Mog Edmunds' "Welsh Wonder" blood thrown into the mix for good measure. Incidentally "Welsh Wonder" won 1st, 5th & 12th Open NFC San Sebastian racing to Mog Edmunds' South Wales loft. This was in 1926/7/8.
Selected pigeons of Fear Brothers of Clandown origin were also purchased at this time from two sources:- Bob Still of Wimbledon and D.Wilsdon Blean of Canterbury. These birds, of basically Logan bloodlines were renowned performers out to Barcelona with the BBC,BICC and NFC for Sam and Roly Fear and just about every other fancier who introduced them.
These initial bloodlines have been augmented by the addition of further select introductions from top winning fanciers - fanciers who have excelled in long distance National and International races both in the UK and on the Continent. Peet de Zeeuw of Gravenzonde in the Netherlands provided Mike with three gift birds - one of which turned out to be the super long distance racer known simply as "The Dutch Hen". See below for this great hen's performances. Pigeons have also been introduced from Herman Van Helmond of Vorslaar. These have yet to be thoroughly tested at the distance but initial results appear promising.
The resultant pigeons developed by Mike are medium to small and shallow keeled in the hand with broad primaries - there are certainly no deep keeled pigeons housed at the Mitchell lofts. Each and every pigeon that I handled on our visit conformed to the above physical criteria and all had similar red/brown eyes even though they had different origins.
The loft's star hens could quite easily have been cloned so similar were they in appearance and handling.
The medical treatment at the Mitchell lofts is kept to a minimum but Mike does vaccinate annually for both Paramyxo and Paratyphoid during the winter months with a treatment for trichomonas whilst the birds are sitting their first round eggs. Vitamin supplements are used both on the corn and in the drinking water and that is just about it. Good pigeons bred from generations of sound long distance stock need not be mollycoddled.
I have listed below some of Mike Mitchell's recent top performances along with the individual performances of some of the loft's present day long distance aces. They impress me and I'm sure they will impress all readers who appreciate just how difficult it is to achieve this level of success in the incredibly testing National and International races.
Throughout this article I have referred to Mike Mitchell and have made no reference to Mike's lovely wife Cynthia who also plays a small yet significant part in the loft's success. It is Cynthia's kind and soothing words, as well as her liberal application of peanuts and sunflower hearts that go a long way to enhancing the birds' love of home. Congratulations Mike and Cynthia on some truly outstanding long distance performances.
2009 2 Bird Average Perpignan with the BICC.
2010 2 Bird Average Pau with the BICC.
2010 2 Bird Average Perpignan with the BICC.
2010 Highest Combined Points All International Races with the BICC.
"The Dutch Hen" bred in 2005 her wins are:-
2008: 13th Open BICC Tarbes and 13th Open BICC Perpignan International.
2009:11th Open BICC Pau; 45th Open BICC Tarbes; 45th Open BICC Perpignan.
2010: 1st Open BICC Saran; 13th Open BICC Pau; 8th Open BICC Tarbes & 2nd Open BICC Perpignan. That's three times in the prizes in races of 550 miles plus in ONE SEASON! Plus a 1st Open in a very difficult "preparatory" race.
"Eve" bred in 2007 her wins are as follows:-
2009: 27th Open BICC Pau;36th Open BICC Tarbes; 1st OPEN BICC PERPIGNAN.
2010: 19th Open BICC Pau;6th Open BICC Tarbes followed by 3rd Open BICC Perpignan.
"Bonne" again bred in 2007 her wins are:-
2009: 16th Open BICC Perpignan.
2010: 1st Open BICC Narbonne.
" Minnee" 1st section 1st Open BICC Tarbes/Argen only bird on day.
2011 Results in International Racing with the BICC.
BICC PAU International:-22nd & 33rd Open
'' Bordeaux / Agen International:- 27th open 1st E section.
'' Barcelona International:- 25th Open
'' Tarbes/ Agen International:- 1st & 5th Open
'' Perpignan International:- 3rd & 14th Open