I.F. Champion Loft 15-49.99
RICHARD CLARK

1. Tell us a little about yourself.

I started keeping pigeons when I was 14 years old. Some of my neighborhood friends had racers and got me interested. I built a crude loft out of scrap wood and chicken wire and started with birds from these friends. A couple of years later, I purchased two pairs from the area's top flyer, Mr. Will Baldwin, for $20 per pair. That was a lot of money in 1966! I never raced, but when we went anywhere I would take some birds and release them. After graduation, I had to leave the hobby. In 1997, my wife became interested in pigeons, so she built her loft. I built mine in 1998 one hundred feet away. She raced in 1997 and 1998. I started racing in 1998. She no longer competes.

2. Do you think your position is a good one as far as combine races are concerned?

I'm located more or less in the middle, so location isn't an advantage. There are 60 lofts in the Greater North Carolina Concourse, spread over the eastern half of the state. The local club, Atlantic Coast Club, has about 20 flyers in Wilmington and the surrounding area.

3. Do you have an original family of birds?

No. Most of my birds are crosses, with a few that I purchased from nationally known reputable flyers.

4. What type of bird do you fly?

Most are medium sized, some are smaller. My birds are from proven performance stock, which matters far more than strain name.

5. Can you give us a little history on your Champion Bird?

She is a 1999 yearling born in February, so her history is limited. She was entered in all eleven races flown this year, winning in order of races: 3rd at 171 miles, 4th at 318 miles, 1st at 452 miles, 4th at 510 miles, 5th at 452 miles, 8th at 318 miles, and 1st at 510 miles.

6. Can you give us a little history on your Champion Loft?

I purchased a 30 year old 40 x 12 foot mobile home. I cut out the floors and walls and replaced them with expanded metal and welded wire. I have folding doors throughout the loft for changing configuration. I added vents on the roof. It's not much to look at but it works. The climate here is ideal for raising and racing pigeons.

7. How big is your old bird race team?

I had a total of 28 birds on my 2000 Old Bird Team. Most were 1999 yearlings with a few 1998 birds. The yearlings carried the weight. I have 20 left.

8. How big is your young bird team?

I raised 51 youngsters this year. All were weaned in January and February. I won't be flying the Young Bird Series. I think you have to have birds to race birds. Last year I lost over three fourths of my young birds trying to race them. This year I'm saving them to complement the 20 old birds. They've all been trained to 50 miles and get to loft fly several times a week. I will recondition them before Old Bird Season.

9. Do you use a system?

Not at this time. I used the light system for young birds last year. They youngsters weaned in the first two months in this climate don't seem to need a system. My youngsters are completely molted out by the end of August.

10. Do you cut flights?

No, I don't think its needed with early youngsters. I did it my first year, now I don't unless I raise later youngsters.

11. Do you fly to the perch, widowhood or natural?

I fly natural. I don't separate the sexes. I don't try any of the "motivation" schemes. I think that if the birds are healthy and happy in the loft they'll do all they can to get back to it. Some people want to believe that pigeons are capable of human thought, memory and emotion. I don't agree. Birds think like birds. If I throw a new cock in the loft 30 minutes before basketing, I don't think the birds will remember it after everything else that happens that night. They get basketed, driven to the club, countermarked, loaded on the trailer with several hundred others in close quarters, driven several hundred miles, released in a wild frenzy and have to fly several hundred miles home. Why would he remember the new cock? Pigeons just know home is safe shelter with food and family.

12. Describe how you feed.

I feed a 50/50 mix of Nutrena pellets (20%) and commercial grain mix (14%). I leave food available all the time, all year long. My birds are never fat from overeating because they can get what they want when they want it and never gorge. They also have red grit with oyster shell, and pickstone. Anything left at the end of the day is dumped to the resident chickens and the pigeons get fresh food. An added benefit of chickens living under the loft, besides no leftover seed accumulating, is daily fresh eggs.

13. How do you train your birds?

I start training about three months before the first race. I basket the birds for 20 minutes, then release them in the yard. I think this is important in the beginning to accustom them to not fearing the basket. Many young bird losses at the beginning of training could be due to basket fear, added to new surroundings. Do one thing at a time and do it right. I did this every day for a week this year and didn't lose any youngsters in training. After this, I gradually move them from 1 mile, 3, 5, 8, 10, 15 and 20 miles - giving several tosses at each place. After 20 miles, I go to 45 and train every day the weather allows (not in rain or fog). All tosses are in the line of flight for the races, and I don't train past this point. Both old and young birds are trained this way. Old birds may not need it, but it makes me feel better. I never single toss the birds. On days I can't train, the birds get open loft all day - in any weather.

14. Is there a health program you follow regularly?

Yes, during racing season I rotate three medications on a weekly basis; MultiMix, Ridzol and Aureomycin. All youngsters are vaccinated for PMV and Paratyphoid at weaning, with all birds boosted yearly. After that, it's use your brain and use what you need. I think too many people overuse medications, doing more harm than good. If you wouldn't do it to your kids, don't do it to your birds.

15. How often do you race your champion bird?

How about the rest of the team? I haven't crossed this bridge yet, since this is my second year. I think that some birds are better suited to short distances and some to long distances. Part of the fun of this hobby is using the best tool for the job - analyzing which birds do best in which conditions and distances, and using them to win.

16. Do you agree with bird entry limits and clocking limits?

I have seen several situations that tend to help flock flyers and hurt newcomers and small team racers. This isn't an easy hobby, and it isn't cheap. For the sport to survive, limits to control cost and ensure fair competition are necessary. Having reasonable shipping limits of 10 to 15 birds per loft helps keep smaller, less affluent members from being completely overrun by members sending 200 birds to each race. Time is also a consideration-shipping duties and tabulating results for birds can be kept to a reasonable length with a limited number of entries. I don't like clocking limits because they don't truly reflect the best birds. If a flyer has more birds on a drop than the limit allows, the overage is discounted. Birds with slower speeds are counted higher than they earned. This brings the average speed of the race down also, since faster birds are ignored. Another point to consider is the number of flyers per loft (or property). Some flyers hire "franchisers" to fly their birds from their lofts using different names. That effectively allows them to fly as many teams as they desire. I think we should have one flyer to a loft and one loft to a property, giving every piece of property the same number of birds flying to it. More than one flyer could be allowed for team flying, but the total number of birds shipped should be the same as if they were one flyer.

17. If you had the opportunity to change something in the pigeon game, what would it be?

Rules. Make them, ratify them, use them! Don't change them for certain people, or make them up as you go along. Ideally, the IF would issue universal rules to eliminate conflicting "interpretation" of home rule, or the complete lack of rules. I'm a straight-forward man. I like to play by the rules and win.