[Or the loneliness of the long distance racer]

The story of John Rumney's ongoing quest for success on the National and International stage with the BICC.

The North East of England has always been a hotbed of competition at the highest level in this sport of ours. The mighty Up North Combine has long been the envy of many other organisations, what with its massive birdage, huge membership base and long history of producing fanciers of the highest class . However, the following is an account of how one man, a man who had enjoyed consistent success at the top level within the pigeon racing circles of the North East, decided that he wanted an even greater challenge - the ultimate challenge for man and pigeon - National and International racing with the BICC. Given John's loft location some 150 - 200 miles north of his nearest competitors within the BICC, ensuring that his entries would have to fly the last 150 mile leg of any race virtually single up, this was going to be one very difficult task. How did John go about overcoming this massive handicap -read on...... John is a 66 year old retired engineer and the following are his responses to the questions I set him.

When did you start in the sport and first major influence.

I've had pigeons from about the age of 7 as many lads did at my school in those days, within a few years we had a vibrant "strag" club transported via the local railway, at the age of 15 I joined the local village club, Shiney Row who's membership at the time was around 44 strong. They competed in Houghton Federation with around 250 lofts within the Up North Combine. Fanciers who influenced me at the time were my next door neighbour Albert Young who had a 1st UNC and my uncle, Albert Scully, both out and out channel fliers.

Brief details of your first loft, birds and management.

My first loft was built from scrap wood from the local coffin makers, stocked with birds of dubious origin, strays and pigeons given by local club fliers, the management was whatever we could copy from the best fliers, after joining the local club in 1964 it took 2 years to win my first race also being 2nd Fed. Bourges 565mls was twice won in the early seventees before I formed a partnership with Bill Nelson flying as Nelson and Rumney, this lasted from 1975 until 2004, most of these years the averages were won in the local club, some highlights were winning the Federation Averages against 248 lofts, 2nd UNC, winning the NECC more than once, all 5 channel races in one season and taking 1st place 9 years running from the 2nd longest race.

How Long have you raced from your present location.

In 2003 I was invited by the Barkel family (NFC Secretary) to go to the International presentation to see Brian Sheppard and Crowley and Green receive their awards for 1st and 2nd International Dax. It was a magnificent occasion and thoughts of whether it was possible to do it to my location filled my head. The next year Mark Gilbert again won the International with Brian Sheppard 2nd, Dave Posey was 1st International Hens, again we were there to witness the occasion. This time I had several long conversations with Brian Sheppard and by the time we left for home I knew that I was going to attempt to join them in the National/ International racing . So in 2005 a new start was made on my own flying to a modest set up in my back garden. Until I got early retirement in 2007 (to have the time to travel to marking etc) I was just trying to source the quality of bird required, my first National race in 2007 taught me a lot. It was a glorious day and I had sent pigeons that had been to the same distance with the Combine but never got a feather. This told me that line fliers are not suited to National racing. 2008 to 2011 flew with the North East Greater Distance club, had four great years with them. In 2008 my first attempt at Saintes 631 mls with the NFC sent 3 clocked 2 to be 39th and 40th Sect. 'K' flying around 100 mls further than most in the section. The first stand out result of the new era came in 2010 again from Saintes when my good cock "Rob Roy" was clocked on the day from 631mls (the longest flying day pigeon in the UK in 2010) to be 1st NEGDC, 2ND Section, 4th open Northern Classic flying 110 mls further than the winning pigeon. The following year 2011, a Blue Cock was on the day from Poitiers 578 mls timed at 22-19 pm.

Details of the loft set up.

The racing loft is of brick construction and was a garage, the main door is on the end not the side as most lofts and is Southerly facing. It comprises of an old bird end containing 28 up and over boxes with grilled bottoms, newspaper is placed under the grills, the loft floor is also fitted out with grills.
A young bird end with about 50 boxes is also fitted with grilled floors. A 50mm deep layer of hydrated lime is under all grills which ensures that any droppings are dried instantly and it also helps to reduce moisture within the loft.
There is also a stock bird end of wood construction with a small aviary at either end with 15 breeding boxes, this is about 10 metres long. Lighting is kept constant with fluorescent tubes on all of the daylight hours. Wire sliding doors are fitted to the front and ventilation is further enhanced by means of a couple of inline fans in a 5" metal pipe that runs all around the loft. This is controlled by a thermostat which also keeps the temperature relatively constant.

How many Birds do you keep.

About 28 pairs of racers are wintered and around 30 youngsters are bred, these are all bred from the stock birds which amount to 12/14 pairs. Ideally there is a 50/50 mix of old birds to yearlings in the race team but doesn't always happen. This season I started with 19 old birds.

What System do you use to race the birds.

The birds are raced natural although they do not bring up youngsters at the start of the season. When the long races come along birds that are set up for a race will be sent on a 6/9 day old youngster which will be the first youngster of the year for them. Only birds of 2 years old and over go to the channel/National races. The yearlings are trained with the aim of helping them become solo fliers.

When do you mate up.

The racers are paired up on or about the 20th March this allows them to be sitting about a week for the first training race and also allows them to hold their flights for the long races later in the season. The stock birds are paired up to have youngsters ready to be weaned early May.

Do you mate the birds intended for the longer races at a different time to other races.

No they all go together, because of the way I train/race them, the first training race is 150mls, within two weeks we are over 200 mls.

What is the preparation of the Racers prior to the first old bird race.

First of all I don't fly in a local club so a couple of days after pairing, training starts with private tosses 25mls, 34mls then 42mls is normally their first 3 then as many times as possible before the first race up to 54 mls. Roughly two and a half weeks after pairing they will go to a training race with an organization 90mls south of me, giving mine a 150 mls race, obviously the last 90 mls they are on their own and normally come single. The yearlings (unraced as go with this organization every week inland, through to Portsmouth. So by the end of the season they will have a dozen training races where they have flown at least 90 mls on their own to get home. This is how we get them to be comfortable flying solo, it becomes the norm rather than the exception when eventually they go racing in the Nationals.

Do you force fly your birds during exercise or are they left to do as they please.

The birds fly out every day if possible but fly freely so there is no need to flag.

How often do you exercise the race birds.

The cocks are let out morning and evening with all hens locked in their boxes, the hens go out early afternoon with all cocks locked in the boxes. Exercise period is around an hour on each occasion.

How often do you train the race birds before and during racing and how far.

Before racing probably about 10/12 up to 54 mls, after racing commences no more training is given before we go to the channel. Pigeons that have been rested between races would have a 54 ml toss 3 or 4 days prior to basketing. Of course inland races they go as trainers as we are not in any club.

Is there any specific preparation for the birds before National races.

For example, the birds that went to Falaise (416 mls) this year had a 150 mls and a 180 mls training race prior to going. The birds that went to Alencon (450 mls) had an additional 202 mls race. The birds that returned from Falaise next went to Tours (1 month later) they had a 54 mile toss with the birds being prepared for Alencon on the Tuesday prior to basketing for that race and then a 54 mile toss on the Monday prior to basketing for Tours. This was repeated for the Alencon birds that next went to Poitiers.

How much racing do your young birds receive and how many training tosses do they have in the year of their birth, Natural Dark, Light etc.

I don't race my young birds at all, but they are well trained, once training commences they go every day possible for around 2 months. The youngsters are just kept natural.

How do you feed the racers, stock birds, young birds.

The racers when not being prepared for a race are fed a light feed of 2/3 Gerry Plus 1/3 of Barley at around about 1 oz per bird per day or whatever ensures they go through the trap readily after excercise. If they won't go through the trap for the seed awaiting them, they are getting too much and it is reduced. The youngsters, once flying, are fed pretty similarly but with the addition of a little more protein. Stock birds have a hopper with breed and wean but are also hand fed different grains morning and evening.

What mixtures do you feed.

Versele Laga Gerry Plus, Superstar plus and Sneaky mix; Beyers Barley, Bamfords Breed and Wean, hemp, sunflower hearts and peanuts.

Do you Feed any differently in the build up to a National race.

The distance to be flown or weather conditions dictate when the build up starts, but generally the barley comes out of the mix the first two days, the quantity of Gerry plus increases until the last four days when a hopper is introduced with superstar plus coated with hemp oil. Two days before basketing each pigeon going to the race has a pot with peanuts, sunflower hearts and hemp in its box. I think the hopper works best for natural pigeons as some hens are reluctant to leave the nest to eat. This way they can eat whenever they like.

What are the main bloodlines that you house now and which lines have proved most successful for you.

Most of my birds are of the original Jan Theelen origin prior to the time of his big sale. The father of the loft is a pigeon called Parel Voske [see accompanying photo of this superb specimen] who was the g/sire of the 2007 Kings cup winner in Tiawan. He himself is a G/son of Vale Marathon, Red Lady, Blue Lady and Jonge Marathon (from Vale Marathon and the famous 10) some of Theelens best ever pigeons. I have 5 generations off him in the loft now and good pigeons are coming off all of them. I have recently introduced pigeons from a top long distance German fancier who has won the Barcelona International, but these are yet to be tested.

Do you line breed, in breed outcross when breeding. Which method has proved most successful.

I practice all three really but had some really good pigeons by inbreeding then out crossing.

Is there any fancier who has helped you more than others.

This is a really difficult question as over the years in different phases there have been many, however since adopting National racing, Brian Hicks and Ray Anderson, two like minded fanciers, have shared a lot of the miles we do weekly to continue this ambition of ours.

Can you give an outline of your many top class performances and those that have given you most pleasure.

Earlier on, 1st Sect. 2nd UNC 19,000 birds, 1st Sect. 1st NECC, 9TH UNC, 1ST Sect. 1st NECC, 10th UNC this Jimmy Atkinson pigeon also bred a 1st Sect. 2ND NECC Lillers and lots more.
Of late the performances of Rob Roy as mentioned above, being 4th ,15thand 16th Open Northern Classic Saintes 631mls 2010,2012 and 2013, and 25th and 31st NFC Sect. 'K' Saintes 2012 and 2013, despite the disadvantage of flying much further than most pigeons in all these races.
All of the BICC races so far starting with my first race last season from Alencon with 3rd Sect. 50th Open, this bird also was awarded the British Homing World trophy presented at Blackpool. It isn't always just about winning though. The race I most enjoyed recently was last season from Messac 486 mls with the Northern Classic. Unfortunately liberated late and with 3 visitors to watch them home, it was doubtful if they would make it on the day but 3 did before nightfall then 3 more arrived in the dark to make it a memorable night, instead of an embarrassing one. I think the first one was 75th open.

Can you give details of some of some of the top pigeons that you have raced.

Again after such a long time in the sport there's been quite a few some are:-, early days "Freddie the Crow" a brilliant Blue Cock with 9 firsts. "Bionic" a Blue hen with 28 positions. "Archie" a great inland pigeon also topped the Fed and NECC from Abbeville. "The Unlucky Cock" best channel pigeon I ever had for Combine racing. Recently the Check White cock bred by Hughie and Colin Jackson put up some tremendous performances in the NEGDC. "Rob Roy" mentioned earlier. After deciding during the winter to fly Nationals only in 2014, this years team of birds have stepped up to the plate with the BICC and made me very proud to see them doing so well at the highest level.

Do you have any views on how the sport can be improved and how we can attract new members into the sport.

It's a difficult problem to solve as society is changing but I don't think the abundance of very small clubs help to make the sport very attractive or worthwhile to join and retain fanciers, especially given the level of commitment needed. However, given the structure of the sport it's difficult to see how it could be changed.

Do you have a specific program of medication.

I try to keep medication to a minimum, the only product that goes into the water regularly is Povidone Iodine twice weekly, this controls Canker and yeast (Candida). Worm medication is kept but only used if necessary, a quick check with the microscope every now and then confirms if the basics are right. Anything more serious and samples would be sent for a proper diagnosis.

Do you use any supplements such as vitamins etc.

During the winter Brewers yeast is added to the feed once a week. In the race season this is replaced with a liquid vitamin B complex, also Entrodex probiotic occasionally.

Do you feed any supplememts in the build up to long distance/National Racing.

None other than those mentioned, I'm not really hung up with what goes into the water as I've seen no clear evidence that any of it makes any difference.

How does your ideal pigeon look/handle Small to Medium.

If you could use one product/supplement what would it be.

The only one I use regularly is as above.

Can I just add that the lads at the Northampton marking station are a great bunch and unlike the way people are often stereotyped these guys really appreciate and encourage our efforts to fly with them, thanks for that lads I really enjoy coming down despite the early starts [4.30 am].

There you have it then the methods and single minded application of a dedicated long distance National, and soon to be International flyer. A fancier who has been successfully inoculated against the dreaded "red card fever" commonly found when you concentrate on club racing, and who has set his stall out to succeed on the ultimate stage - National and International racing with the BICC. This despite the massive disadvantage of his loft location more than 150 miles off the main drag. So far this season John's pathfinders have won 8th sect 79th Open Alencon at 449 miles against a record field of 6,938 birds and 4th section 69th Open from Poitiers at 578 miles against more than 1,900 birds, and as mentioned earlier the Rumney pigeons had to "race" the last 150 - 200 miles on their own.
Congratulations on your progress so far John and here's wishing you many years of enjoyable racing in pursuit of your dream.
Gareth Watkins

John Rumney[R] and friend George Purves

John Rumney's lofts with racing loft on right and stock loft to the left

John Rumney's old bird section

John Rumney's stock section

John Rumney's young bird section

Ventilation system in Rumney loft

One of John Rumney's Jan Theelen stock hens

Another of the Rumney Pathfinders

One of John Rumney's pathfinders with the BICC

Parel Voske John Rumneys No1 Jan Theelen stock cock father of the loft