1992 as young fanicers in the Racing Pigeon.
“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
Dowden Brothers of Portsmouth.
The late Russ Dowden was a long distance enthusiast of the highest order and won 1st open BBC Palamos (650 miles) in 1978, and he said at the time that that wonderful performance was his biggest thrill in his many years in the sport! His winning pigeon was his wonderful 1975 bred blue chequer hen, ‘Per-Mare Per-Terram’, which is the Latin motto, which translates as ‘By Sea-By Land’. Russ lived in the Portsmouth area with his wife, Doris, and on his death in 1990 his two grandsons, Alan and John, took over his birds and on doing so they have taken up his long distance pigeon racing mantel, and now Dowden Bros. are very successful members of the British Barcelona Club. The two lads have their loft in their grandfather’s back garden and the older brother, John, only lives a few houses up the same street. Russ’ father, George, raced in the Isleworth club, with his Gits / Thorogood pigeons in the 1920’s and won many premier prizes including, 1st West Middlesex Federation La Teste in 1933. Pigeon racing has spanned over several generations in the Dowden family and now Alan tells me his young son, Isaac, is taking a keen interest in the birds.
The Dowden brothers started racing in 1991, when John was aged 19 and Alan was 16 years old, and now race under the loft name of Dowden Bros. Alan told me, ‘we both knew our grandfather raced pigeons but neither of us where really interested in it until one day a racing pigeon landed on what was, at that time our family home roof. After a few days of trying to encourage the bird down with seed and water I eventually succeeded and caught the bird using a washing basket. I then rushed down to my grandfather who in turn showed me how to complete a postcard to report the bird to the RPRA. My grandfather suggested that he breed us some birds which he did to start us off, so then our parents brought us a small shed and also brought us a microscope from Brunel microscopes which included a complete bird disease kit, with prepared slides of pigeon diseases. Sadly within three months of getting up and started our grandfather passed away. After his death his birds were due to be auctioned off, but my father suggested that I and John take over the loft. It was a simple decision to make, to take over our grandfather’s legacy. Something our grandfather did was leave behind a two hour recording on an old cassette tape giving advice on racing methods and pigeon diseases we later transferred this to DVD and it’s kept in a cabinet with all his trophies’.
The first club they raced in was the Paulsgrove South Road FC, which was 20 members strong and the lads said it was a very enjoyable time and they made some good friends. The brother’s first winner was a pencil blue cock bred from Russ Dowden’s ‘True Grit’ when paired to a Malcolm Squibb / Lefebre Dhaenens pigeon and this game pigeon won racing in the Solent Federation: 1st club, 8th Federation Exeter (6,110 birds), 1st club, 9th Federation Exeter (4,974 birds), 1st club, 21st Federation Sartilly (5,076 birds), 1st club, 26th Federation Exeter (5,016 birds). A great pigeon and a wonderful start for Alan and John!John was an amateur boxer and both the brothers used to run half marathons, with John recently completing in the Liverpool Marathon. John told me, ‘we would not expect our birds to do anything that we would not be prepared to do ourselves’.The Dowden brothers soon became interested in long distance racing and fanciers who drew their attention to ‘Marathon’ pigeon racing were Frank Thorn, Ernie Deacon, A. & T. Deacon, Eric and Pat Cannon and M. White & son.
The bothers biggest mistake was to take over a man’s loft and birds who had been clocking in from Barcelona with great success for over four decades. John told me, ‘thinking we could do the same, just select some birds and send them was a big mistake. We sent three times to Palamos, but never saw a bird and one of them was a direct daughter of the 1st open BBC
Palamos hen, ‘Per-Mare Per-Terram’ and this bird shouldn’t have been raced! We soon realised it takes a very courageous bird prepared by a very dedicated fancier to time in from Spain! We stopped sending to Palamos for a few years and then in 1996 we sent to Barcelona, in which we verified a dark cock, GB91P55056 and he recorded 33rd section A, 97th open (702 birds). We still have this wonderful old cock in the loft! He is a direct son of our grandfather’s great racer, ‘The Lerwick Pied Cock’, winner of 1st, 6th, 8th Federation Lerwick (643 miles) and in turn, GB91P55056, is the sire of our good Palamos cock, ‘Commando’. Their first strain of pigeons was their late grandfather’s. Russ Dowden’s long distance strain and the brothers also acquired birds from the late Fred Griffin, Bill Stephenson, Frank Thorn and Malcolm Squibb. All these birds were purchased from their bereavement sales. When they heard that Frank Thorns great hen ‘Blue Violet’ was up for grabs they went to the sale on the sole purpose of buying this hen, which had won 1st open BBC Barcelona National and she was also a winner of the Spanish Diploma. She was an aging hen at the time of the sale therefore not many people took interest. Alan and John were successful in purchasing this hen and managed to breed from her, and we put her descendants to stock. They sent one pigeon to the 2014 Barcelona International and the hen was verified 12th section A, 41st open, and she was a great granddaughter of ‘Blue Violet’.
Some of the top pigeons at the Portsmouth loft are: ‘Rosa Mota’:5th sect, 44th open BBC Barcelona (415 birds), 24th sect, 116th open BBC Barcelona (474 birds), 41st sect, 159th open BBC Palamos (690 birds): ‘Senorita’: 8th sect, 28th open BBC Palamos (636 birds), 17th sect, 64th open BBC Palamos (915 birds): ‘Duran’: 12th sect, 37th open BBC Palamos (636 birds), 25th sect, 107th open BBC Palamos (915 birds): ‘The White’: 5th sect, 36th open BBC Palamos (421 birds): ‘Relentless Endurance’: BBC ‘Spanish Diploma’ winner, 13th sect, 54th open BBC Palamos (678 birds), 16th sect, 70th open BBC Palamos (840 birds), 27th sect, 104th open BBC Palamos (832 birds): ‘The Chequer Cock’: 11th sect, 34th open BBC Palamos (636 birds), 15th sect, 62nd open BBC Palamos (840 birds), 43rd sect, 162nd open BBC Palamos: ‘Commando’: 19th sect, 81st open BBC Palamos (678 birds), 36th sect, 114th open BBC Palamos (650 birds), 38th sect, 157th open BBC Palamos (840 birds), 46th sect, 173rd open BBC Palamos (832 birds). This is a small selection of the other diplomas won by the Dowden brothers from Palamos (650 miles) and Barcelona (674miles): 12th sect, 37th open Palamos (636 birds), 16th sect, 62nd open Palamos (717 birds), 30th sect, 120th open Palamos (915 birds), 31st sect, 127th open Palamos (717 birds), 10th sect, 33rd open Palamos (636 birds), 33rd sect, 97th open Barcelona (702 birds), 15th sect, 62nd open Palamos (840 birds), 18th sect, 100th open Palamos (690 birds), 37th sect, 153rd open Palamos (690 birds), 30th sect, 123rd open Palamos (690 birds), 43rd sect, 162nd open Palamos (832 birds), 38th sect, 157th open Palamos (840 birds), 28th sect, 89th open Palamos (771 birds), 53rd sect, 193rd open Palamos (832 birds), 47th sect, 176th open Palamos (840 birds), 50th sect, 171st open Palamos (771 birds), 45th sect, 156th open Palamos (636 birds), 44th sect, 155th open Palamos (636 birds), 46th sect, 173rd open Palamos (832 birds), 45th sect, 177th open Palamos (717 birds), 48th sect, 177th open Palamos (832 birds), 48th sect, 151st open Palamos (650 birds), 36th sect, 145th open Palamos (840 birds), 41st sect, 159th open Palamos (690 birds), 36th sect, 114th open Palamos (650 birds), 28th sect, 113th Open Palamos (690 birds), 7th sect, 39th open Palamos (832 birds). The partners told me they have had some good performances from 250 to400 miles, taking 3rd sect, 23rd open BBC Nantes ( 2,691 birds), 7th sect, 10th open BBC Nantes (2,158 birds),10th sect, 26th open BBC Bordeaux (1,654 birds), 8th sect, 50th open BBC Bordeaux (1,148 birds). A fantastic loft performance!
When I asked Alan and John about their system of racing the old birds on the long distance they told me, ‘we only race our old birds on the natural system and the birds are fed in the mornings and evenings. The feeders are placed on wooden trays to help prevent corn spillage falling under the floor grilles and the drinkers are replaced with fresh water twice a day, but more often in the summer, and the birds are exercised in the evenings for an hour. We then trap them with a small amount of linseed and hemp in a 50/50 ratio. Before pairing the birds up we give them ‘4 in 1’ in the water just as a precaution, we also regularly ‘dot’ the young birds and old birds with ‘Ivermectin’ and we also treat them for worms with ‘Moxidectin’ even if the birds are not showing signs of these parasites. We pair our distance birds up in March and we dispose of the first round of eggs, but let them hatch one youngster from the second round. The race birds start training from five miles and then increase to ten, then on to twenty miles. When we are preparing birds for the distance we increase their training west to Bournemouth (40 miles), then switch them east to Littlehampton (22 miles) and then move them on to Brighton (40 miles). When they reach the 40 mile stage we then single the birds up but in separate locations and we have in the past drove 108 miles to Exeter just to train our Palamos birds, and we also like training them in the midday heat. The birds are given brewer’s yeast mixed with olive oil on the corn once a week and we add Gem ‘Ultra Vits’ twice a week to the water. A few weeks before the birds go to the distance we increase protein in their feed and we also treat them for respiratory! We also give each bird one cod liver oil capsule each day for 10 days prior to basketing and give them an egg cup full of conditioning seed in their nest boxes. We like our birds sitting between 12-14 day old eggs and we also like to send them with their second or third primary flight just coming up. We are great believers in jumping pigeons from 200 miles straight in to 650 miles plus, which we have done in the past with success! The hen we sent to the Barcelona International in the 2014 season was jumped from 200 miles straight into Barcelona’.
Alan and John’s racing loft is relatively small, 18ft x 6ft, with an 8ft x 6ft young bird loft they have also have a separate 7ft x 6ft stock loft with aviary. They use anti bolt traps which arepositioned above the landing boards and the lofts have wooden floor grilles, and the nest boxes have plastic grilles, with slide out trays. The lofts are fitted with box perches which have sloping backs, which can be lifted off for easy cleaning and having grilles in the loft helps keep the birds feet immaculately clean, which they say is a must! The partners don’t use boxed perches in their young bird loft, as the birds are only allowed to roost on poles, which stops the birds pairing up. The perches are scraped daily and the floors are scraped once a week and they don’t use deep litter, but do add wood shaving under the floor grilles in winter. They spray all the lofts every four months with ‘Total Mite Kill’ and with ‘Virkon S’.Alan and John both work as Ventilation engineers and their lofts are fitted out with extract fans. The brothers maintain the moult is the most important time of the year and they feed them Gem ‘Moulting Mix’ and say they have known Brian Wall since they first started up and buy all our corn from him. They also give them Harkers ‘Hormoform’ and give the birds plenty of rest.
The partners keep 15 stock pigeons which have all been to the distance or are descendants from pigeons that have been there, which are all housed in a separate loft with an aviary. The stock birds paired up in January and they continue breeding off them right up to July. They normally breed 30 to 40 young birds and leave them with their parents until they weanthemselves. The birds are only moved to the young bird loft when they are fully eating and drinking on their own and this process isn’t rushed because they don’t want to stress them. When Alan and John are happy that they are feeding and drinking, they move them to the young bird loft, where they have full access to an outside cage and they can view the surroundings. When the colour of the eye starts to change, that’s when the birds are let out for the first time. They trap them using the linseed and hemp mixture and feed young bird no maze. They don’t race our young birds because they believe they are so easily lost and only train their young birds very lightly, and always put old hens in with them to keep them steadfast. The partners also don’t give them any medication because they want them to build up their own immune system. The brothers most thrilling experience in the sport was watching their good pigeon ‘Relentless Endurance’ dropping on the landing board to win the BBC ‘Spanish Diploma’ and clocking four birds from Palamos within one hour forty minutes of one another. Whenever they have sent to Palamos or Barcelona they are filled with anticipation, not knowing if or when a pigeon will arrive but when it does it gives them such a buzz, whether it’s in race time or just verified. In conclusion the two brothers told me, ‘distance racing is in our blood and our ambition is to win the Palamos national which we believe we can achieve.