This loft report is about Russell Bros, our near neighbours and friends since school days, Nigel and George. In fact their father, Rex, was my headmaster at high school.
Nigel and George actually were the instigation of us starting pigeons and reared us the dam of our loft, a blue pied hen in 1976. Back in those days the idols for Nigel and George and us were fanciers like Jim Moreland, John McMullan, Larry Burns, Ossie Smith and Alfie Gregg, all top long distance racers.
This year’s race was one of the hardest for many years with only ten birds home in three days. No birds made home on the day of liberation and the Russell’s time at 6.25am on the second morning, now called Lucky Lady, also won an RPRA award for the best performance 250-450 miles.
This hen had put up a good performance the year before when she was timed on the day after thirteen hours to be 34th Open Quimper with the INFC.
Over the last 11 years the partnership have sent 43 birds to the old bird National and timed 20 in the Open positions. I’ll let Nigel tell you the history of the loft.
After a season to remember in 2017 when we finally achieved our dream to win the Old Bird National with the NIPA, along with winning the most average trophies in 2017 with the NIPA.
The partnership of Nigel and George Russell started racing as Russell Bros in 1970. We raced in the Dromore West End Club which raced in the Northern Ireland Provincial Amalgamation (NIPA).
At the start we had some early arrivals but these used to light on the neighbour’s roof and stay there. The first race won in the Club was the NIPA Derby from Dinard, this bird was 4th section. At that time Jim Moreland was our mentor.
He gave us of his best birds which were based on Delbars. In fact, he gave us the nest mate of his famous Blue Pied cock Reliance. Over time these birds were crossed with various birds from other local fanciers such as R Chambers; O Smith and McCandless and McMurray.
We raced a team of under 20 old birds and a similar number of young birds and gained some success in the Derbys and Nationals. We raced the natural system and our racing method was simple - we sent them every week and as such the rate of attrition was high. Our success depended on a few very good individual birds.
At that time our main successes were mainly from 250 miles plus. Gaining 5th Open INFC Yearling Penzance, 4th Open NIPA Bude, 17th Open NIPA Dinard and a number of other national and derby prizes.
In 1984 a stoat got into the loft and killed all the birds. This was a major setback and while many friends rallied around and gave us birds and we got a few of our old stock back it was some years before we built up a reasonable team of pigeons again. In 1990 we were 13th in the Kings Cup and in 1993 we were 25th and our success rate was improving. A few weddings and house moves shook things up in the late 1980s and 90s. Jim passed away in 2001 and we obtained some more of his birds further strengthening the distance genes in our loft.
By 2005 we had joined Dromara HPS and Nigel’s sons were becoming involved with the pigeons. While Dromara HPS is a small club it has top fanciers at all distances. Cromie and Magee, McKinstry Bros and Mr & Mrs Stevenson are top inland fliers while N. Black and Son, L. Fryers and T. Marshall & Son are top distance fliers.
Before joining Dromara we were competent channel fliers and since joining Dromara HPS Bobby Stevenson has given us guidance on inland racing and our rivalry with N. Black and Son keeps the channel racing very competitive. Also the young generation are keen to try new ideas and introduce new methods. Since 2005 our performances have become more consistent and we have been top prize winner in the club.
We try a few new birds into the stock loft most years. Some of the top crosses have been Van Loons from W Doonan, Ceuster’s from Gregory McEvoy, a nice hen from R Adamson, birds from Cromie and Magee and Mr & Mrs Stevenson. We keep our old lines by inbreeding around proven racers.
All our birds are paired at the beginning of February. We rear around 35 first round youngsters and put 24 of these on the darkness system. Further to this we rear 12 or so latebreds from birds which have performed well for us that year. Even though these latebreds are July/August birds a few always excel on the channel as yearlings.
Currently we race approximately 45 old birds and 35 young birds. The racing team splits into three categories, the old Delbar type for the channel and French races, crosses of the old pigeons and inland pigeons for the inland races. The sprint and crosses which prove they have speed are aimed at the inland nationals. The rest are raced across the channel. This suits us as we like to try to be competitive through the race program.
Our birds old and young are trained a few times a week from 20 to 30 miles. The old birds are raced on the roundabout system. They fly well around the loft on this system and can be motivated by jealousy or pairing’s up for specific races.
We feed standard mixes while feeding lighter mixes for a few days after each race.
It is important that the birds are healthy and fit. Unhealthy or unfit birds won’t win or fly for 10hrs+ at racing speed. To this end we have ours birds tested by a vet a few times each year and treat them as recommended by these tests.
To ensure that our birds are fit to fly France we like them to have at least a six hour fly two or three weeks before the race, Bude at 260 miles usually provides this fly.
The main aims for our season are the NIPA national from France and the Fermoy OB 5 bird. Over the last 11 years we have sent 43 pigeons to the NIPA national from France winning 20 positions. We have won two silver diploma (individual bird three times in the prizes) and three bronze diplomas (individual bird two times in the prizes) for this race.
The top performances being 1st Sect 1st Open; 1st Sect, 5th Open; 3rd Sect, 18 Open; 3rd Sect, 21st Open, 4th Sect 25th Open and 5th Sect, 27th Open.
The main performance prior to winning this race was from our Blue 72 hen. She won 1st Section, 5th Open and 3rd Sect, 21st Open. A son of Blue 72 has won a silver award in this race also.
We have also enjoyed other success in channel racing from Bude, 1st Sect, 7 Open, 1st section 6th Open and have won the section D single bird RPRA meritorious award for single bird best average (Penzance and Talbenny) twice over the last few years. While racing mainly middle distance pigeons we like to compete in all races and have a few birds which can compete in inland races. These mainly being from a cock of W. Doonan are crossed into our own birds and a few of Cromie & Magee’s. We have been in the top 10 in the open in the Fermoy 5 bird three times over recent years.
In 2017 we won the Scania Trophy, Harper Cup, Erwin Trophy, H. McVeigh Cup, Halliday Cup, News of the World Cup, McComb Cup and the Pigeon Portal.com Cup.
The Erwin trophy for the combined average in all National and Classic races with the NIPA is one we are extremely proud of.