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Grasshopper Hops Back To The Past Again


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Canning Town is a district of East London. It is situated in the London Borough of Newham, and lays north westerly of the River Thames. Once known as the child of the Victoria Docks, as many of its inhabitants worked on the once hugely commercial success of its day. In racing pigeon terms we often hear how important positioning can be, and also how wind plays another vital important role. However, one partnerships remarkable team of pigeons contradict the said theories, as they are positioned in a disadvantageous position, and the prevailing wind blows in a south westerly direction. Sprint or Distance racing is no issue, as they win them both to the highest standard, in Federation and The London North Road Combine. Their performances against the grain of the said theories, in my eyes make the partnership one of, if not the best London has ever seen, the fantastic partnership of Micky Connolly & son Michael.

When Micky was just 5 years old, his natural curious behaviour played a big part on how he started in the sport. His older brother Henry, at the time had a marvellous set up in the parental home, a double decker structure, where the families chickens were kept at ground level, and Henry's beloved pigeons on the first floor. Micky would regularly watch Henry’s athletes of the sky with desire in his eyes, with dreaming one day to own his own. Around this time, the family had an old empty canary cage. As many of the readers will know, toys was not a common thing roughly sixty years ago, and many things children would play with would have to be made or the child would have to use their imaginations. Micky at the time done both, with old used newspapers, he rolled up balls, and pretended they was his prized birds, and the old canary cage his loft. His older siblings would watch in amazement how he impersonated, Henry's actions of getting his birds to enter the loft.

Henry was very encouraging of Micky's interest in the birds, and would often take Micky into the lofts to help with certain tasks such as feeding and cleaning. However, Micky wanted some form of independence, and regularly on a Friday evening, Henry would hit the town with his friends, allowing Micky the perfect opportunity. As soon as the door would slam shut, Micky would be up the stairs to the lofts and exercise a fully fed team of birds. Obviously that lead to the problem of the birds spending a night on the tiles literally. Being worried of the consequences, Micky would hardly sleep on those nights, and rise at the crack of dawn to call the birds in, while a hungover Henry was still sleeping.

It was not until Micky was 15 years old that he obtained his own birds and applied, and joined the Canning Town and District club which at the time had roughly around 90 actual members with 60 of the members actively racing. At this time, Micky's birds were a mixture gifts from local fanciers, and strays he would catch every weekend while fruit picking near Wisbech in Cambridge. Success came fairly instantly, as within his first year he won a race with a chequer hen bred from two strays, and ended up taking 4th federation. When Micky was 22, he was still living and racing pigeons at his parents address, unfortunately the family had to move during the season. Not deterred, with his race team sitting and rearing young birds, Micky went ahead and moved his birds to the new address on the Tuesday morning. On the Wednesday, Micky attempted to brake the birds in, consequently all birds returned to the previous address. One by one all birds had returned back to the new lofts address by the Friday, just in time and ready for marking. That first race to the new address was a disappointment, but the following week the birds excelled topping the club with around 700 birds, and winning the federation with 4,000. Micky, moved to his present address roughly 30 years ago, while still being a member of his childhood club Canning Town. It was not until roughly 18 years ago that he joined his present club, The Custom House Working Man's Club, that had a huge reputation of having some of London’s finest competitors, especially at combine level. Consequently Micky, has broke many records over the years that the club has held and has even set his own. Young Michael's interest in pigeon, started much like the majority of the youth involved in the sport today, by following and helping his father, in and around the lofts from a very young age, and has had a love for the birds ever since. As can be seen Micky, has never been far away from the top of the sheet, and has never positioned lower then third highest prizewinner in any club he has raced in, it should also be mentioned that this partnership have amazingly won the London North Road Combine on two occasions.

In the early days, Micky received a lot of help and advice from two fanciers Lenny Croxon of Canning Town, and he was very good friends with Jack Marison of Plaistow. Mick stated their advice was brilliant at the time, but especially over the last twenty years the sport has transformed, and many of their beliefs are behind the times. Mick also believes that you must always be one step ahead of the competition, and you must constantly progress. Mick feels that Young Michael adds that influential ingredient, by always bringing fresh ideas to the table, which they put into practice with great success.

The base of the family originate from Staf Van Reet of Mol, Jan Hubrechts via Herman Beverdam, Benny Brothers of Plymouth, Henry Gonsalves of Bristol and more recently, Billy Lynch of Romney Marsh, and Paul Elliot of Canvey Island. Micky, is convinced that their results over the last 10 years have elevated due to their breeding system. A few years ago, their system of breeding consisted of having a winner, in every generation over 5 generations. More recently they have improved this system, by raising the winning genes, meaning both parents in each generation are winners or multiple winners. Micky and Michael are enthusiasts of the line breeding and inbreeding methods, however the occasional cross will be used to create hybrid vigour. They have found their most successful birds generally come from the mating of, Uncle to Niece, Aunt to Nephew, and Cousin to Cousin. The selection process when bringing in a cross, is the bird itself must be a multiple performance pigeon or from a multiple performance pigeon. They consider introducing new birds into their lofts is a big risk. Being a small team set up, every bird must instantly mingle with their own family of birds, they do not have the room or facilities to quarantine new arrivals, hence threatening their birds natural immunity. What is most interesting about this loft, no stock birds are kept, every bird kept must race and perform, as the key to their successful breeding method is breeding from good, healthy winners, and being extremely ruthless in their selection.

The success of the family of birds has been remarkable, over the last 5 years, they have achieved 32 x 1st club, 34 x 2nd club, 36 x 3rd club, 21 x 1st fed, 10 x 2nd fed, 15 x 3rd fed, as well as 200 plus federation cards. To add to this they have been Overall East London Federation Champions 4 times, Sprint Champions 2 times, and Old Bird of the year 5 times. In 2012 the partnership won 7 out of the 10 special trophy awards given out by the federation from sprint to long distance. In 2013 the partnership won 8 out of 10 of these awards also. They are also extremely successful in the London North Road Combine, where they have won over 54 combine cards, as well as the coveted Tommy Long Trophy in 2012, awarded for the Best Average over 3 Old bird London North Road Combine races, as well as winning 3 RPRA London Region Awards.

The best preparation in this partnership's eyes prior to pairing, is to never allow your breeding or racing pigeons to get out of condition. Their birds are exercised all year round, and are never allowed to put on any winter weight, with regular exercise and by feeding a constant diet of Versele Laga Gerry Plus IC throughout the year. The use of medication is a thing of the past at this loft, apart from the compulsory vaccination they have not used them for a number of years. Micky stated, that many years ago he experimented with regular canker treatments, and by doing so, he found that his birds suffered with canker problems. However, once he stopped treating for canker, the canker problems ceased. Consequently, they are big advocates of the use of cider vinegar and garlic, which they place confidence in at keeping canker issues away, and is something they use a lot of especially in the winter months. While pairing and racing the use of clean water, the partnership feel is crucial to their success, and gives them the edge over their rivals. They feel one of the major downfalls of their opponents, is believing that success comes from a supplement bottle. Many fanciers disregard the importance that water has on pigeons, by energizing the muscles, removing toxins, improves brain function and helps maintain natural bowel functions. They believe a pigeon should have no hesitation about drinking, and should hydrate as they please, which they feel is very important all year round, especially during racing and rearing. As stated the birds are fed Gerry Plus IC, and this will be used until the birds are roughly a week old, to which they will be moved onto Versele Laga Start Plus. They consider the Versele Laga Plus ranges to be the best grain on the market. They feel Versele Laga have put great deal of research into producing these mixtures, and the pellets they contain, provide the birds with all the minerals and trace elements that a pigeon need to be successful. On the other hand, when the youngsters are 10 days old, they give the youngsters Brewers Yeast tablets and Cod liver oil capsules to provide the babies with extra protein, B vitamins, Vitamin A and Vitamin D.

Once weaned the 15 pair of racers are put back onto Gerry Plus IC, and are separated and put on to the Widowhood system, and are exercised twice a day. The morning exercise, consists of the birds being exercised with the doors open, and the birds can come and go as they please. Their evening exercise, is known at the lofts as the business hour, where the birds must give all their effort. At the hour of business, Young Michael, has to hide in the lofts away from sight of the widowhood cocks, as once they catch glimpse of him, they will dive bomb the lofts and trap into the lofts without a second thought. The birds are never allowed out for exercise on a marking day, as they do not want to ruin the hard work they have put into the birds all week. As they race both sexes, they keep a dozen spare hens at home, to which the cocks race back to, however the partnership feel the Old hens race back to themselves, as many of the old hens pair to them.

Many years ago Georgie Fry of Custom House, provided the partnership the cornerstone of their success, a metal coffee spoon, which roughly holds half an ounce of grain. All birds housed at the loft are fed and watered exactly the same, whether that be Old Cocks, Old Hens or Young Birds. Their system starting from return from a race on Saturday, is 1 spoon measure of Versele Laga Energy Plus, with plain water in the drinker, unless the race has been testing, if so glucose will be used in the drinker. Saturday evening the birds are fed ad-lib Gerry Plus IC, fed a little bit at a time as they want their birds to eat every grain placed in front of them.

All day Sunday, a hopper of Tic Beans is placed in front of the birds, they are given a Brewers Yeast Tablet each and Cider Vinegar is used in the drinker, 4 bottle caps to 2 litres of water. The reasoning behind the feeding and Brewers Yeast tablets, is to increase the protein levels of the birds, the partnership feel it is very important that when muscles have been torn, which they do with every form of strenuous exercise, that the birds should receive the right nutrients to allow the muscle to repair. The Cider Vinegar is used to acidify the crop, and making it unpleasant for any bacteria or fungus that they may have picked up in the race basket. From Monday to Thursday the partnership then go onto feeding only once per day after the evening exercise.

On Monday morning, the hopper of beans from the previous day is removed. Then after the evening exercise the birds are fed 1 ounce of Gerry Plus IC, and again Cider Vinegar in the drinker. On a Tuesday and Wednesday the feeding is exactly the same as Monday, 1 ounce of Gerry Plus, however in the drinker only plain water is used right through to basketing. The feeding changes somewhat on a Thursday, as after their exercise the birds are fed, 1 and ½ ounces of Versele Laga Superstar Plus. Friday morning, the birds are fed to appetite of Superstar Plus, a little at a time always having to eat the portion put before them. However the partnership stated, that over the years they have found the birds that keep on eating are usually behind come race day. The partnership do tweak the system when the distance increases. A pinch of homoform will be used before the birds feed and the use of peanuts are fed 3 weeks prior, however no peanuts will be used the week of the race. The watering system caused interest, as the water is kept in a series of recycled Milk Bottles, once used they are refilled with the cap taken off, to allow the tap waters additives to evaporate.

Their system for basketing is very simple, nothing special is actually done, no showing of bowls or hens/cocks, the basket is just taken down to the lofts and the birds are basketed. The birds only see their partners on return. Micky and Young Michael are big believers that widowhood cocks do not race home to see their hens, they believe they race back home to their territory. However over the years and by reading so many books on widowhood, they go with the motions of what the authors say, hence the reason for keeping a few spare hens. The partnership believes, the cocks are motivated during the week by the use of Saddle perches positioned in-between the widowhood boxes. Micky says, that when transferring the young cocks to the widowhood loft, generally there is only lower boxes available, but the younger cocks take up a higher saddle perch, where they sit and wind up the older cocks in the higher boxes. In the past a motivational trick they used to bring out a big result was jealousy, where they would basket up all the cocks going to the race, then move over the hens and allow them to sit in their bowls in the cocks section. They would then put some rank cocks in with the hens. Once the cock was down low calling, and all cuddled up, they would release the racing cock back to his box, and all hell would brake lose. Micky said this method of motivation, was excellent but it would not work on every pigeon and it is something you could only do once a year, and he has moved on from this way, as he likes his birds to go to the races calm, and to rest in the basket.

The babies are raced on the darkness system, and are placed on the dark at the end of march, although they are not placed on the dark straight from weaning. Instead the young birds must show self sufficiency before being placed on the dark, they must be eating, drinking and perching before being placed on the system. Micky feels it is important that the birds must find the drinker themselves, they will never dip a young birds head into the drinker, if they cannot find the drinker themselves, they will never have a place in the team. During this stage the birds are fed Tic beans for roughly 7 days, to make sure the birds get used to eating large grain, from then on they are placed on the stable diet of Gerry Plus IC. Once put on the darkness the birds are only left on the system for a period of 6 weeks, the reason behind this, is to ensure the young birds have a perfect moult and are not holding any nest flights at the yearling stage. The lofts that the birds are kept in is never completely black, it is best described as a moon lit night, however the ventilation in the lofts is excellent, and all ventilation holes are never blocked in and the birds have roughly 8 hours of light a day. What should also be stated is the young birds are the only birds trained at the lofts, at and only at a distance of 30 meters, on a green at front of their property. Obviously from this distance, it is only to school the babies to trap, and they will be taken here a number of times a day until it is stuck in their heads, that they must come over the roof and in. The young birds are only trained at this distance as nobody in the partnership or family drives, but they proved roughly over the last 8 or so years training is not essential to be successful. At the end of young bird racing, and to kick start the moult, the partnership will not feed the babies for 2 days and will put garlic cloves in the drinker, as well as being put on lock down for a period of two weeks. To also assist with the moult the partnership will feed Gerry Plus IC, along with Energy Plus IC to provide oily and fat based seed which are beneficial for the moult, as well as the use of regular baths.

Micky and Young Michael both feel, that novices should always listen to pigeon fanciers, and they should always pick the bones out of what they say. They feel novices can benefit by sticking to a routine, and not changing their system just because they are behind or they liked what was printed in an article. Both members of the partnership admire the performances and results over the years of Henry Blaker of Canning Town, who at one time was one of the best fanciers in the London North Road Combine, and Billy Lynch of Romney Marsh, as he was a fantastic flyer who was hard to beat in every race he competed in. They also admire every single member of their club, as stated earlier in the article, as each and every member is highly competitive and top draw fanciers, proved by how many years the club has won the East London Federation shield. One club member, they are very grateful for his help is Tommy Devlin of Canning Town, as without his help to get to and from the club, they would struggle to be able to get to and from the club.

Micky and Michael aims for the future, would be to join the North Road Championship Club, and one day they hope to go south road, for their longer distance ambitions. What does this fantastic partnerships future hold, to be honest, Micky's favourite song describes it perfectly “The Only Way Is Upâ€











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