Johnny McWhirter Interviews Colin Leask about his 30 years experience with health of birds and his natural solutions to help any racing pigeon.
You can contact Colin direct on 01383 853208 or 07779422256
Johnny McWhirter Interviews Colin Leask about his 30 years experience with health of birds and his natural solutions to help any racing pigeon.
You can contact Colin direct on 01383 853208 or 07779422256
Interview with Gabriel Radu from Constanta , Romania about his International Bourges win last week. Great interview with a great guy. The best part about this win was that the pigeon was 100% Romanian!
Nowadays you hear quite a few comments around clubs about how hard it is to compete against the big team flyer, how the drag creates an unfair advantage for them. You can realise my excitement when I heard through the grapevine of a small team man who was taking on the big guys and beating them. It was this that led me to collect Phil Boden from his Frome house and then take the drive over to meet Andy Shields who fly’s in the Paulton club, members of the West of England Combine. As you probably know there are some great fanciers flying in the combine, I cannot mention them all, but the likes of Geoff and Catherine Cooper, David and John Staddon, Stuart Wilcox along with Rob Brooks and the list would go on and on.
So with my interest piqued I was really looking forward to this visit, in fact I was like a kid for a week waiting for it.
We arrived at Andy’s and went in for a cup of tea and just started to chat pigeons, and at such a pace that I had to ask Andy to wait and let me get my notebook and start writing, you could tell straight away how passionate he was about his birds, his methods and all the people who have helped him along the way and helped him reach the heights that he has in the short time he has been racing.
In 2016 Andy purchased 8 youngsters from Dave Atkin, Lincoln, and these were the birds that started him on the course that he is on to the present time. Dave has put together a formidable stud of pigeons that has a Janssen base but is from various successful racing lofts. He has acquired top bloodlines from Leo Heremans, the best of Syndicate Lofts, Wall Lunt and Curtis including pigeons directly out of the Box 9 pair, Crehan and O’Connor which has added the Harry blood from Jan Hooymans to the mix. Formidable lines that are now being blended together with Dave adding that any new pigeons introduced have to breed the goods otherwise they are out, no matter the cost. These initial youngsters were all put on the road and resulted in the winning of 8 first prizes in their first year. The ball was rolling.
The following years have seen the results keep coming, 2017 10 first prizes were won, 2018 it was10 again and this past season 11 first were taken. As I said at the beginning we are talking about a small team man here, for instance in 2019 he started the year with just 21 racers and finished the old bird season with 18 left. One thing that I noticed whilst looking through the result sheets was that one of the birds lost was a blue cock bird number 775, and this was after the birds had taken a 1st, a 2nd and a 3rd in the club flying against an average of just over 200 pigeons each week. Going forward to 2020 Andy is planning to have a team of 16 cock birds and 14 hens to race, this will be his largest team ever, and as is his normal he hopes to have a young bird team of 30, these will be flown on the darkness.
Andy is a strict disciplinarian and believes in routine all the way through the year. Once racing is finished the birds are fed on Versele Laga Moulting Supreme twice a day at the same time, a spoonful per pigeon per feed. Once the moult is completed the birds are then put onto Versele Laga All Round. When the colder weather hits the birds are given the benefit of an extra mid day feed, again a spoonful each. Around the Blackpool Show weekend the birds are paired and then the food is changed to Versele Laga Breed and Wean and they stay on this until two weeks before racing, which is also when training starts. The weaned off youngsters are also fed exactly the same. The final piece of the feed jigsaw is as soon as training starts all of the pigeons are fed on a 50/50 mix of Versele Laga Gerry Plus mixed with Super Star. It does not take a genius to notice that the feed is Versele Laga all year. Also the amount fed to each bird is the same all year, young and old.
The health regime is based on a natural ethic with any extras added on the feed and not put in the water. In January the serious year starts with droppings from each pigeon sent off for analysis, this is done every three or four weeks and are only treated as per the recommendations, if they do not need anything then that is what they get. This then is the health portion apart from the compulsory PMV vaccination. As mentioned any extras that are given to the birds goes on the corn, and these include Gem Thepax, Cider Vinegar, Garlic Oil, Multi Vits and Sedochol. Grit and minerals are also put before them. As Andy says you can have a better control of the amount you administer to each bird when you put it on the corn, whereas if added to the water some pigeons will not like the taste and therefore not drink and take enough on board.
The system that Andy has is what he calls natural progression, a form of sorting the wheat from the chaff and survival of the fittest. After the January pairing from which the years babies are kept the pairs are left together. The race birds are allowed to make love matches, it is only the stock pairs that are selected. All through the year any eggs laid by the pairs are taken away after seven days, and this continues all year without compromise. Two weeks before the first race training is started, all of the birds are taken, regardless of weather conditions, to the same spot which is 10 miles away from home. The birds are learning to return as quickly as possible once they have been released after being sat for a while to allow them to acclimatise. If at any time through the season the team fail to return at a speed that is deemed good enough they are taken on a shock training toss. This time, again regardless of the weather conditions, the birds are taken to a spot that is 25 miles away from home but this time they are not allowed to rest at the release point, they are let go immediately on arrival at the release point. It is found that after this shock treatment that the team gets back on track and home faster on the next regular toss. Training continues all the way through the season on a Monday and a Wednesday.
Through the racing period there is a strict control on the amount of feed that is given to the birds because it is feeding that gets you to the top of the tree. The only time that the water has anything added to it is when the birds are returning from the race. Then they are given Entrodex, a probiotic, and electrolytes as this is the time when you are putting the salts back into the birds ready for the next weeks race.
Andy’s Natural Progression method requires that you do not deviate from the game plan, you stay observant as the birds will always tell you what they need if you know what you are looking at. You cannot allow yourself to become complacent and you have to be tough and not keep birds just because they have a great pedigree, they have to perform. Observation is one of the most important things that a fancier can do. As mentioned at the start this is only a small team set up with just two 10 foot by 6 foot lofts and each containing 18 nest boxes. One loft is for the old bird team and one for the young bird team.
Andy Sheilds is adamant that he would not have achieved what he has without the help and support of a number of people and to this end he would like to personally thank Dave Atkin who has supplied him with every one of his winning pigeons, Victoria Beaton who is always on the end of the telephone should Andy ever need to talk to someone, wether it be about pigeons or any other subject. The relationship with Dave Atkin is such that when Andy retired his 9 times 1st winning hen he simply returned it to Dave from whence it came. It belongs there as he says.
All of the performances so far have come from club racing but Andy is now looking to demonstrate his teams ability on the bigger stage of National racing. The lines of pigeons that he has are families that should eat up the longer distances so all I will say is watch this space, Andy Sheilds is coming.
4 weeks ago I had a message on Facebook from Sheldon Leonard. Instantly I liked this guy. Over the course of a few weeks we spoke a great deal on the phone and then he invited me over to Ireland to visit him and see his setup and Ireland. Before I went I knew enough about what he and his racing partner Yannick Deridder had achieved. I knew I was going to enjoy this trip and once I booked my flights I was excited to get over there.
Within an hour of meeting Sheldon I knew he was a good guy and could tell within the first day he was extremely knowledgeable about racing pigeons.
I spent three days with Sheldon and my eyes were opened to the level these guys operate at during this time. Check out my videos and photos below.
Sheldon has a regimented routine when it comes to race day and how he treats his birds.
Basketing birds for race day.
During my stay I was lucky enough to handle some of the top birds in the stock loft. This was one.
Herbies White Kittel - 1st National Skibbereen.
What a bird. Eye opening to see what these guys have managed to put together.
One of the things I was struck by is how ballsy these birds were. Checkout the Inbred Goede Rode - What a character!
Here is a tour of the race loft. It's simply amazing. What a loft!
Sheldon & Yannick have a shop in Arklow which houses their best stock birds. See the video below.
So as you will see these guys have got an amazing setup, amazing birds and amazing results!
Check out FBI Pigeons website here.
After my trip and many late night discussions with Sheldon there are some amazing opportunities that have presented themselves. Sheldon and Yannick know everyone there is to know in the pigeon game. I have already been invited over to Belgium with them and I look forward to meeting Yannick and seeing his setup.
I'm very excited at what the future holds as a result of my new friendship with Sheldon.
Check out my visit to see Sean Hunt at the Wild Atlantic Way One Loft Race. In it's first year Sean has got 1180 birds entered into the race and training starts next week.
The location of this race is stunning, the setup is top notch and I know this race is going to go from strength to strength. Sean has a top class loft manager running the race and this race has a guaranteed €100,000 prize pot with a guaranteed €50,000 first prize!
Check out more details of the race here
1 How did your drive and enthusiasm towards pigeon racing evolve?
MARK >> It all started when I was 12 years old. As a lad I had always kept animals and loved all kinds. I kept everything, I had aviaries and many different animals. Then one day I happened to see pigeons flying around where I lived and eventually I tracked down the guy that was keeping them. Bob became my friend and after spending many hours with him and the birds I persuaded my parents to let me have a loft. Bob gave me 12 birds to start and that was it. I was hooked. I was just captivated by the fact that you could send these birds hundreds of miles away and they would come back to you. Over the course of a few years I joined a local club and my love of racing pigeons kept getting stronger. I have always been an entrepreneurial type and around the age of 14 years old I was on the hunt for a second loft. My Mum found a loft advertised in a local newspaper and after school that day we went to look at it. The loft was £300 but the guy had 60 birds in the loft and he said he wanted £350 for everything. I took my Mum aside and said that I could make some money out of this. I figured I I could sell some of the birds off and make some money back. Sure enough, a week later I was right. I even had two guys arguing about who was going to buy a dark cheque cock for £60! This was the start of my first proper business. I went on to broker and buy and sell birds. At the age of 17 years old I was a busy boy running around the country doing deals. I was fascinated by the whole thing, despite being mocked by my mates. I didn’t care, this was my passion.
2 Did famous people in the sport inspire you?
MARK >> Honestly, not really. I would like to meet Mike Tyson one day as I think he’s a fascinating guy, but apart from that I can’t say any famous people have inspired me. My inspiration did however come from what could be considered famous people within the sport. As a teenager and living only 8 miles away, I marvelled at what was at the time Louella Pigeon world. At the time during the late 80’s the place was the Mecca for the sport. Their massive building full of single breeding pens was where I spent hours. Nowadays I am inspired by some of the people who are at the top of their game. If I can become half of what some of these people are over time, I will be happy.
3 What ambitions give you hope for the global future of pigeon racing?
MARK >> As I have said previously, personally I think one loft races or variations of one loft races have a big potential to help the growth of the sport worldwide. At the moment the majority of entries into these races are by pigeon flyers, with a small number by non flyers. I think there are three phases to driving the growth of flyers and ultimately the sport long term. The first obviously is getting more people to race birds from their own homes. However if you look at the numbers needed to turn things around this is a long shot on its own as a strategy. Times have changed and we all know keeping and racing birds takes a lot of time. I just don’t think we can focus on this as the only solution for growth. The second phase is what I plan to do . I plan to keep and breed birds and enter them into one loft races. With my life and businesses I simply don’t have the time to race myself. I think there is more chance to perhaps get new people keeping birds to enter into these races. The third phase, which I think has the biggest chance of getting mass numbers of new people interested in the sport is allowing and promoting the chance for non flyers, members of the public to own and have birds in OLR’s. People have shares or ownership of race horses and never have to muck out a horse, why not the same for racing pigeons? Obviously the hope would be that these target markets and phases mean people will start on maybe phase two or three and a proportion of people will end up racing birds themselves. But if we can get members of the public involved and interested without having any commitments from them we could potentially get tens of thousands of people involved. At the moment one loft races are similar in how they are run. I think there are many ways things can be done to increase the appeal and barrier of entry to these races.
Other than that my ambitions personally are to develop what I am doing and see where the next 12 months take me. I see a lot of potential for me to help and get involved shaking things up and helping the revolution and being ambitious as I am I hope to be a part of the future of this great sport.
4 Do you have some creative, and radical ideas to influence the modern game?
MARK >> Well some of what I said above I would like to personally take on and try and implement. The modern game of pigeon racing is very different from that of 20 years ago. I remember when ETS was introduced, many people said it was not real pigeon racing, people said it was a travesty for the sport. The reality now is that it’s a main part of the sport and I think it’s a great thing, I always did. I think there are so many creative things that can be done. One example is that I think we should have racing leagues. I think the sport is ripe to having a betting system attached to it. Ultimately technology can help revolutionise this sport and as technology is a big part of my business and has been for the last 20 years. I think the more non direct technology we can have coming into the sport, the better. What I mean by this is background technology. Technology that becomes part of the main stream of the sport. I know there is an argument that some flyers are not up to date with technology and yes, this is an issue. But the reality is technology is here to stay and if we are not careful the sport as we know it is not. I think making technology easy for everyone to use is the key. I could write a whole series on creative and radical ideas to help the sport, I won’t here; but I think there are so many things that can be done to bring the sport into the modern times.
5 Are you keen on information and communication technology to enlighten and inform the fancy?
MARK >> Absolutely, as I said above I think information and more specifically data can really help the flyers out there. We live in a data driven world and data can help us all. Pretty much everyone has a mobile phone these days and integrating as many services into mobile phones and computers has to be a good thing for the sport and people within it. Why wouldn’t we embrace the technology that is out there cheaply available to us? I think there is a good argument to start a free online digital magazine that is truly worldwide in appeal. If it were free and created for readers in multiple countries I think you could see it becoming a major information source if done right. It’s something I am thinking about.
6 Do you see language translation as a potential challenge or barrier to your work being received in many countries?
MARK >> It’s true that language is a challenge and a barrier to the sport, but I don’t see why it should be an issue. The growth of the sport in certain countries like Poland, Romania and China is astounding. So much so we really need to figure out what is fueling this growth and tap into the strategy that is obviously working in these countries. I think the simple solution to things moving forward is the translation of everything online being done with all the main languages of countries that are heavily involved in the sport. I plan to translate my websites to all main languages. I think the adoption of translation is a must moving forward.
7 Please tell us about the concept and practice of one loft racing?
MARK >> As I have said before I think one loft races will continue to grow and develop. I think there should be smaller races and maybe multiple races. This happens in China already. The idea of community lofts and races is a good thing too. From my time being back involved in the sport I hear there are various issues with some races that happen at the moment and I think these issues and races need cleaning up. Obviously there are some really good established races but at the same time there are some that are not all that great either.
One of the things I think will happen over time is these races will hopefully develop to include members of the public more. I would like to see GPS tracking involved in them too. This would create a great deal of interest being able to see where the birds are. I was lucky enough to go to the South Africa one loft race in the first year of its existence. Also the classic race loft in San Diego. This was 18-20 years ago. Now I see these races have developed a great deal, but I think we are really still only at the beginning of how this side of the sport can go. Imagine small one loft races happening in each county of a country. Imagine different one loft races having a central league and competing against each other. These types of concepts can revolutionise things even more than they have been already.
8 Does it relate to money, gambling and skill of the fancier?
MARK >> Obviously it does relate to money. But it doesn’t have to be at the level it is now. Why can people race for £5-£10 a bird per week in these races? Winner takes all? I think gambling is a natural part of the one loft race arena. I see a future where people can independently bet on birds in specific races around the world just as people can do with horses now. Regarding the skill of the flyer, the person running the race has to be top drawer. I know from the two OLRs organisers I have been speaking to here int he UK they are super committed and passionate about the birds in their lofts. They have to be. Looking after 50-100 birds of your own is a very different ball game to looking after 500+ birds owned by someone else.
9 How do you rate The Barcelona International?
MARK >> For me it’s the epitome of racing. It’s the World Cup. I have set myself a goal of owning a Barcelona International winner one day.
10 In your minds eye, are negative human emotions like jealousy having an impact on the pigeon racing culture?
MARK >> A massive impact. I have previously written about this in some of my articles over the last few months. I don’t like dwelling on it but yes jealousy is a massive problem in the sport. I don’t get it. Like I have said if someone is beating me in any part of my life I will figure out a way of competing with them, not get jealous towards them. There is a big problem in this sport. Not just jealousy, trolling, haters and generally horrible people seem to be in this sport. Fortunately there are so many good and nice people in the game too. The trouble is the negative people spoil it for the rest of us.
11 Do you have connections for your website with China or India, with the teeming masses of humanity?
MARK >> No, not yet, but give me 12 months and I will have 🙂 I plan to develop contacts in those countries and others. I like to think I’m a good connector of people and already I have a few people offering to help me out meet the right people. I believe in helping as many people out as I can and I firmly believe if you help people they will help you if they can. I’m all about that. Anything I do in life and business I always seem to develop a good network of people and I hope this is the case moving forward in the pigeon sport.
12 Please wise us up on your use of film and interviews in the high profiling of the people, sport and yourself.
MARK >> I’ve never worried about going in front of a camera. In my other work online I’ve got many hundreds of videos out there and live streaming is something I enjoy. In my main business I have done quite a bit of public speaking worldwide and it’s something I really enjoy. I’ve been told by a few people in the sport they see this as one of my biggest assets. Video is everywhere now and live streaming is easy to do. I see a future where video can be much bigger in the sport than it is now. Everything from people live streaming their birds coming back to far more interviews with top flyers from around the world. People are visual and our sport is very visual. Combine these things with good quality, natural videos and I think it’s a good resource to use. Personally I would like to develop film and interviews for the sport. I see real no bullshit interviews as being a great thing to do. Not being afraid to ask people unconventional questions is something I think could be very revealing and informative. I would like to interview as many of the top people I can over time.
13 You are a dynamic and driven man, how do you see the sport in 10 years from now?
MARK >> Well thank you for saying that. I would like to think the sport in 10 years time is growing in the UK and those parts of the world it is declining. Quite how this happens is still unknown but I think implementing some of the things I have mentioned above can help. We have a big problem with the sport in general and its decline, but equally we have a world of opportunity at our feet to promote how great this sport and these racing pigeons are. If we can finally get out of the past, kill the negatives, dump the stigma and move into a future mindset we can bring this port into being able to compete with other sports and people’s attention. Obviously I would like to be involved in this revolution.
14 How can we enthuse the layman about the joys of pigeon racing.
MARK >> They have to see it, they have to experience birds flying back from hundreds of miles away. If they can see it some will be sold on just how great these animals are. Bring in other competitive elements to the game then it’s a winner. Get the ability for people to bet on their favourite bird, bring in a social element to it all and I think there is no reason why we can’t get members of the public enthused.
15 Are you about to feature your work and fresh ideas in the broadsheet papers or television?
MARK >> I have no plans yet, but would love to. I would love to get into the mainstream media and help promote the sport. I think with my ability to talk (a lot some would say) I can bring a passion out about the sport that will helpfully resonate with the mainstream public. If anyone reading this has contacts I can speak to, let me know.
16 What are the personality traits needed to be a champion pigeon flyer-woman or man?
MARK >> Consistency, education from other people, determination, having goals and never giving up. Not all perhaps personality traits but a focus on what you are doing is a must combined with the other things mentioned.
17 Are internal factors key to a quality bird?
MARK >> Yes for sure. I am no expert but logic says it has to. I have always been fascinated with eye sign and after being introduced to some top people who know their stuff I intend to learn as much about it as I can over the coming years.
18 What is the ideal pigeon food in your perception Mark?
MARK >> Honestly, I don’t feel knowledgable enough to answer this. I will be seeking out the answer to this myself shortly.
A few days ago I went to visit Gary Tomlinson, owner of the Who Dares Wins One Loft Race based in Derbyshire. Gary had contacted me after seeing a few of my videos and asked if I would help him out with his social media and promo for the race. I'm up for helping any good people who are progressive so I was only too happy to help him out. This is only a basic promo just to get something out there, We are going to be doing much more together in the future.
Gary is now in his 5th year of running this race and his passion for it and looking after the birds is second to none. You can tell his loves what he does and the care and welfare of the birds are paramount to him .
I will be up for the final race on the 25th August and covering the day. It promises to be a great weekend.