The story of Mick and Rob McGrevy's Barcelona Hen.
In the 2011 Barcelona race the longest flying pigeon in the BICC result was a chequer hen bred and raced by the Yorkshire partnership of Mick and Rob McGrevy. The hen's sterling effort was rewarded by winning the newly presented Jim Emerton Trophy. I will detail this great long distance racer's breeding and preparation a little later in this report but first let's start with a brief profile of the man who bred, conditioned and raced this great long distance racer.
Mick McGrevy began his pigeon racing career at the age of 13, back in 1961. He continued to enjoy the sport for nine years before the two legged bird began to take up more of his interest! However, Mick has now been a dedicated pigeon fancier for the past thirty years having restarted in the sport in 1983, and is now aided by his son Rob who is as keen as mustard and keeps the "old man" on his toes.
During Mick's initial introduction to the sport he was taken under the wing of a local fancier by the name of "Fubby" Brice who showed the young Mick the correct way to manage his pigeons. Fubby was a bit of a character but he certainly knew his stuff and the young Mick learned a great deal in those early years.
The evolution of the loft.
The first loft was a converted pig sty, followed by a mark 2 version which took the form of a converted chicken shed. These two prototypes were then superseded by a 27 foot long purpose built loft incorporating two 8 ft sections and a 3ft trapping section plus an 8ft look out cabin. The whole structure was raised 6ft off the ground on railway sleepers, and was built by Mick when he was just 15 years of age.
Mick has been at his present location since 1983 and the present loft which faces due south, is timber built and raised 3ft off the ground. Measuring 52ft in length it is fitted out with an 8ft look out cabin next to which is an 8ft section for widowhood hens. Next to the hens section is a 3ft trapping section which separates the hens from 16 ft section that houses the widowhood cocks. A second 3ft trapping section then separates the widowers' section from the 14ft young bird section. These three foot trapping sections ensure that the widowers are not disturbed during the day by the sound of the widowhood hens on one side and the young birds on the other side. The whole structure is fronted by a 4ft wide corridor that runs the length of the loft.
The floors in the racing loft are covered with plywood sheets, and during the winter months, the droppings are allowed to accumulate and a deep litter of dried droppings develops. However, if any droppings begin to accumulate under the perches then these are removed periodically. When racing starts the floors are cleaned morning and afternoon. The stock birds in the stock loft are also kept on deep litter and Mick hasn't touched this "working" litter for years. A third loft that houses the team of natural racers measure 12ft x 8ft and the deep litter system is also employed here in an effort to build up the racers' natural immunity.
At present the lofts house 70 old bird race birds plus 48 stock birds and these will breed a team of about 70 young birds to race. The main team of old birds are raced on the round about system and this team amount to a maximum of 24 pairs. The natural loft can house a maximum of 16 pairs and for the 2012 season Mick and Rob have a team of 11 pairs on this system.
All the birds are paired at the same time, stock as well as racers and some eggs are floated from the stock for the race birds to rear. The time of pairing can vary from December through to January. The only variation to this is the pigeons in the natural loft which are usually mated at a later date in an attempt to get them in the best condition for the longer races in June and July
Depending on the weather, if all is well the old birds will have a couple of short tosses before the first club race. However if the weather is dodgy Mick has in the past, sent the old birds to the first race with no basket training whatsoever - but they must be flying well around the loft first. Mick doesn't have much interest in weekly club racing but his interest intensifies as the National races approach, which is usually 6 weeks after the club race programme has started.
Before the National programme begins the racers will have several tosses at 50 plus miles released in pairs. By this time the birds will already have attained a good level of fitness and these tosses are aimed at getting the birds used to flying on their own. Pigeons prefer to fly in large batches but in National racing up into Yorkshire batches are few and far between so the birds are taught to be independent and think for themselves.
Mick tends to race the cocks one week and the hens the next, so whichever sex doesn't race on the Saturday will get a long toss on the Sunday or Monday, released in two's at distances of up to 100 miles.
He does not force the racers to fly at home. The birds are simply let out and allowed to fly free for as long as they want with the doors closed for the duration of the exercise period which is usually 45 minutes twice daily if the weather is good.
The preparation of the Barcelona Hen.
Mated at the same time as the other pigeons in the natural loft she had three preparatory inland races followed by two short channel races before being set up for the Barcelona race sitting 12 day old eggs.
She has had a wealth of experience over the years having previously flown from Barcelona twice, Palamos once as well as Tarbes with the NFC at more than 700 miles. She is bred from one of the loft's top distance hens of Maurice Mattheeuws x Delbar breeding. Her sire was bred down from the best of the McGrevy's old tried and tested family that Mick has developed over the past thirty years.
The first round of young birds is kept on the darkness system with subsequent rounds raced naturally.
The young bird team have a lot of training before the first race, Mick believes that they should be trained when they are 12 weeks old, but they must be flying well at home and leaving the loft for some time not just flying in a circle. Once racing starts training is cut drastically, sometimes no training whatsoever. All the young birds will be sent to the coast 190 miles, providing they are fit and well as he does not believe in stopping them. If there is a good team of young birds left in the loft at the time of the young bird Nationals then Mick and Rob will send a good percentage of those remaining. In 2011 the partners sent a team of 20 to the young bird National and had 16 home by lunchtime on the second day. A team of six was also entered in the Tours race at 434 miles and the partners got three home on the second morning.
It's fair to say then that any young birds remaining in the loft at the end of the season have more than earned their perch for the winter.
Stock birds are fed a high protein mix which Mick makes up to his own specifications. The stock birds are given an amount in the morning to make sure they eat it all, and are fed more in the afternoon.
The racers are hand fed ½ ounce per bird in the morning with yet another home made mix and this is supplemented with a little Hormoform. In the afternoon they have ¾ ounce per bird of the same home made mix. These home made mixtures contain a high percentage of grains obtained from local farms with a little Safflower, Dari, Hemp etc bought from the corn merchant. The only supplement that the birds have as a treat is the aforementioned Hormoform.
When Mick re- started in the sport in 1983 the secretary of his local club wrote in the RP and as he didn't drive Mick would very often act as chauffeur on his loft visits. One particular loft visit was to Horace Lidster of Sheffield. While at the Lidster loft, Mick asked his advice, saying that he was interested in distance racing and asked where he would go for stock if he were starting from scratch. Horace's advice was to go and buy a pair from Fred Keeton in Sheffield and another pair from Ernest Kinsey in Castleford and cross them. Fred Keeton was a top class distance fancier and Ernest Kinsey had amassed a loft full of the top British long distance stock of the day. Mick heeded the advice given and went along and made his purchases at the two lofts. The cock from the Fred Keeton pair was lost off the loft as was the hen of the Kinsey pair. This left Mick, luckily as it transpired, with a matched pair and they hit it off right away. Sons and daughters scored from over the channel and he then crossed them into birds which he had already from John Crowder in Mansfield which were Busschearts and some Herbots which Mick had from his good friend Bill Morrell. These crosses also scored well at the distance. A Herbot cross won 2nd open Midland National Nantes 434 miles and a Busscheart cross won 2nd section 17th open Pau NFC 704 mile with many other good performances also.
Mick likes to line breed to top performance racers or breeders but is not keen on inbreeding and has found that the first cross can very often produce some good birds for racing.
He does not like big pigeons, having said that if one started to win, he would probably love it!! His ideal pigeon is small to medium, long cast and not deep keeled.
In many respects Mick has been guided by the likes of top class fanciers such as Fred Keeton and Bill Simons and has learned a great deal over the years by "picking the brains" of these fanciers during his many visits to their lofts.
Over the near thirty years that Mick has been back in the sport he has been fortunate [and skilful enough] to win many top prizes up to and including National level. I'll let Mick relate to you in his own words, some of his most memorable performances.
"I will just mention a couple, because I am sure most people are like me and don't like to read a long list of performances. The first one was a pigeon which we named the Rennes hen. I joined the NFC just to race this pigeon, GB 86 K 61650. I think it was in 1989/90 we joined the NFC and sent her to Nantes the only entry and there wasn't a square across the sheet without a cross in it. Well on the day of lib I had arranged to go with my wife to a friend's daughter's 21st birthday celebrations about 15 miles away and I was to pick another couple up on the way. However, I had made it perfectly clear that I would not be leaving until I had timed the hen in. At that time my mate was in touch with someone in Salisbury who was racing in the National, this was a man by the name of Rodger White ( the source of the Herbots ). He spoke to him on the telephone and he told him that he had timed in at 3pm and at 3 30pm it had started to chuck it down with rain at Salisbury. Well it rained all the rest of the way up country and I was being pestered to set off which I refused to do. Well at last she came 9pm and wet through winning only bird on the day in the North East 700 mile club and 2nd sect - that's one day I will never forget.
The next performance that springs to mind was by a brother bred the same year GB 86 K 61663 in the Midland National flying club Angouleme race at 547miles. It had been a lovely day, hardly a cloud in the sky, hot with a steady NNE wind blowing. Well as is always the case there were a few visitors here to see the birds come, and at 9 25 pm my son said, "there's one here dad", I said" where" and he said," there, up high with the swallows" at which point my mate said, "there it is" and I still hadn't seen him - then I did after about 20/30 seconds and it was still miles high, diving in like a bloody rocket. Well we had a couple of young birds missing from the morning and I said it would probably be one of them. How wrong could I be? It got to about 40 yards up and opened his wings and shot round the loft, I shouted "it's the bloody blue cock"! He trapped and we clocked him ( I couldn't stop shaking ) we won the Sheffield nomination club and I think 27th open Mid Nat, flying 20 mile further than any other day bird.
Other exceptional birds which have won many good positions include a blue Busscheart cross which as a yearling won 7th open Mid Nat Nantes and won four good positions in four channel races in that same year as a yearling. Another which we called the National hen won 2nd open Mid Nat Nantes and many other prizes.
The hen which won the section in the BICC Barcelona race in 2011 winning the Jim Emerton Trophy, flew Palamos with the BBC as a two tear old, BICC Barcelona as a three year old winning the section and only bird in race time. BICC Barcelona again at four years old and was just out of race time. Tarbes International as a five year old, and BICC Barcelona yet again as a six year old winning first north section 852 miles and longest flying pigeon in the result.
We have been fortunate to race a lot of good pigeons over the years.
The Future of the sport.
"I think the main thing which we need to do is to publicise our selves more. Reading Stewart Wardrop's report, Stewart being the new general manager of the RPRA, I think his ideas are the most forward looking which we have had in many a year. My fear is that there are too many on the council who are not up to assisting him in his forward thinking, although I do know some of the council members personally and hold them in high regard. It is obvious to me with recent events that they are in a minority".
The usual course of treatments are carried out at the beginning of the season i.e. canker, cocci, worms. The birds are also treated periodically for canker throughout the year.
That then is the story of the McGrevy's fantastic Barcelona hen - twice a section winner with the BICC at more than 850 miles and on the latest occasion the winner of the Jim Emerton Trophy for the longest flying pigeon in the BICC Barcelona result. Congratulations Mick and Rob on breeding, conditioning and racing what must be one of the best long distance pigeons in the British Isles.