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A.s Thomson & Son, Port Seton


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Lewis McCalley reports on one of Scotland’s finest partnerships

 

A.S Thomson & Son, Port Seton

 

 

I’ve written quite a few reports up to now, these on pigeon racers I and many consider to be amongst the best in the country. I’m fairly fortunate I guess at having been allowed to spend time at the lofts of these fanciers and having the chance to see and handle their exceptional pigeons. Despite these loft reports being well received for the most part and with a few friends and fanciers asking me when I’d be doing more, I had lost much of the inclination. This changed however towards the end of last year. On attending a moot in Whitburn hosted by the Central Scotland 3-Bird Club and spending the evening listening to Sinclair Thomson of the A. S Thomson & Son partnership of Port Seton and John Bird of Prestonpans, I was ever so impressed and approached Sinclair almost immediately afterwards.

 

Naturally I was aware of the Thomsons, these are fanciers that have won 1st Open twice in the Scottish National Flying Club in the past four seasons. Their birds won five positions in the top 10 Open with the SNFC last season alone. On delving a little deeper and seeing the almost innate ability these flyers have to win at every distance on an ongoing basis the Thomson partnership are something far out the ordinary.

 

The scene of the crime, Port Seton, is one in a string of old East Lothian fishing villages that dot the coastal stretch along the Firth of Forth-also known for its power stations, with both these industries playing a relevant part in the working life of the senior Sinclair of the partnership.

 

The latter part of the journey to Port Seton by car could be considered a pleasant one, the open countryside and beautiful views over and along the river lead me to paint an incorrect picture whilst trying to imagine the outlook from the Thomson loft. For on arrival at the home of Sinclair Snr., where the pigeons are housed, I quickly realised the loft was surrounded by housing on each side, direct sunlight is limited and the tidy, well-built homemade loft is very modest in size. I had greatly misinterpreted the 81 Scottish National Flying Club diplomas and close to thirty 1st prizes in the strong Traprain club over the past two season’s racing as those of fanciers with a large set up sending big teams of pigeons. This in actual fact is a partnership that annually ring roughly only forty-fifty youngsters for their own use and all racers young and old are housed under the same roof of the three compartment, self-built wooden structure.

 

Upon entering the lofts with Sinclair Snr. and Sinclair Jnr. I was immediately struck by the obvious class, health and vitality of the pigeons. The six Pentland midweek Open winners, the 10s and 12s on the Scottish National Flying Club results and the near weekly victories instantly made sense. The bond between fancier and bird was very clear and the first bird to be passed my way, a chequer hen playing up to the sound of Sinclair’s voice was none other than the 2016 Dewar Trophy winner. It takes a special pigeon to win this, the most prestigious award for a single pigeon presented by the Scottish Homing Union, the strange thing is they have one with arguably better performances last season in their own loft.

 

The Thomson’s ever growing and continuous fascination with pigeons started during Sinclair Snr’s childhood, growing up in Port Seton, there were only three active fanciers in the village at that time. Namely; Dod McNeill, Jimmy Johnston and Peter Dixon. Every Saturday night was spent by young Sinclair doing the rounds of these lofts in the hope they had a stray in from that day’s racing. If his luck was in he’d have something to take home and keep him amused as long as the lost birds chose to hang around. Sinclair’s mother and father had an acquaintance in Wishaw that by chance was a pigeon fancier and when noticing their son’s obvious keenness five youngsters found their way to the Thomson back garden.

 

Sinclair recalls being told these birds were of Logan origin, the youngsters displaying the prominent colours of many of the racers in the country at that time, with four of them having blood red plumage, the odd one out being a white grizzle. These birds were where it began and although never formally raced at that time, the bug had bitten. This first stint was enjoyable, yet fairly short lived as four of these pigeons were unfortunately shot by an unpleasant individual that stayed locally. The sole survivor of this act was a red hen that served as a pet to Sinclair’s mother for many years, being fed with and spending much of its time amongst the family’s chickens once Sinclair had left school and started working at sea.

 

The time constraints that come with being a sea fisherman made pigeon keeping an impossibility for Sinclair, who when fifteen years old had the start of his working week marked by the singles chart on Radio Luxemburg at 11 o’clock each Sunday night. The older fishermen would arrive around midnight, they’d set off, and that would be them out on the North Sea until the end of the following week.

 

To fast forward to 1967, Sinclair found employment in the nearby power station in Cockenzie, now that he wasn’t working off shore for several days at a time and after settling in Tranent, he chose to revisit his childhood hobby and go about getting some pigeons. Next door neighbours at that time were the Whitson family-the same Whitsons that are still heavily involved with the pigeons and flying well today. The first pigeons to enter the new Thomson loft came from over the fence, with other local fanciers providing birds to get a racing team up and running. Youngsters also came from Jimmy Williams of Gilmerton, Jimmy himself a Scottish National Flying Club winner having taken 1st Open Tours in 1968 had an enviable record. Sinclair said looking back a lot could be learnt from this man as he was doing things that didn’t become ‘fashionable’ or common knowledge within the fancy until many years later. Other foundation birds came from the lofts of the Loanhead fanciers the Thomson Brothers and Alex Penicuik, to this day Sinclair still hasn’t seen young birds leave the nest better than those he would see at Alex Penicuik’s. A fancier that had a real knack for rearing youngsters. The Thomson Brothers had a lot of connections in the Solway area and many of their pigeons at the time as well as those of Jimmy Williams and Alex Penicuik were based on the old Kirkpatrick bloodlines.

 

It was in the late 60s that another important introduction came about as far as A.S Thomson & Son’s success story is concerned, that being the birth of young Sinclair. who was more or less born a pigeon fancier, having a lifelong interest and unable to remember at time without pigeons. With Sinclair Snr. working shift patterns, young Sinclair was always at hand and had, as he continues to do so, an integral part in the pigeon’s daily management. As a youngster Sinclair Jnr done much of the clocking in on race days and still remembers timing in from the likes of Avranches and Rennes.

 

It didn’t take the Thomson’s long to start winning races. It was in their second young bird season when they first topped the East of Scotland Federation from the Stafford Open race. A pair of nest mates had taken a shine to one another in the corner of the loft and were settled nicely in a cardboard box. The cock of the pair could not be beaten in Sinclair’s eyes who had him pooled up for the occasion. Pigeon racing being as it is I’m sure you’ve already guessed which one of the pair topped the fed that day. In case you haven’t…it wasn’t the full pooled cock.

 

Success has come regularly and readily ever since, with the partnership always trying and keen to compete at all distances. Some of their earliest national positions won included 11th Open SNFC Avranches and it wasn’t long before the foundation bloodlines started throwing out consistent performers. One such bird that both partners cite as one of their most memorable pigeons was ‘The Barren Hen’ who went on to win a Scottish National Flying Club Gold Award. Such was this pigeon’s eagerness, she would sit on Sinclair’s hand each time he went to slip her a pair of eggs. As a matter of interest this hen was actually a granddaughter of Jimmy William’s 1968 Tours National winner and the type of bird the partners said you weren’t looking for but waiting on come the longer races.

 

The achievements of the loft racing with the Scottish National Flying club doesn’t stop with this Gold Award, numerous section wins, section runner ups, top 5,10,20,30 Open finishes from national races of all distances make the A.S Thomson & Son partnership one of the best all-round racing lofts in Scotland today. Not only have they achieved feats such as winning the East Region from the classic Gold Cup race point Rennes with the only pigeon clocked into the section on the day, but these are fanciers that win from 60 miles right through the card and it’s not uncommon for all prize positions in the strong Traprain club to be taken by their birds exclusively for many weeks on end.

 

Despite the fantastic consistency these men have flown with for the best part of 50 years now, by their own admission the last couple of seasons have been extra special, with team performances hard to comprehend. Take for instance the SNFC Ypres race last year, this was one of the tougher events from this race point since its inception in 2008.In strong winds, with scattered showers en route the Thomson’s were 6th,7th,9th,27th,45th,51st,59th,67th,78th and 80th Open, this from a distance of just under 430 miles. The week prior to the race the loft’s youngsters were assigned to their electronic clock, come marking for Ypres the race entries would not scan-the outcome being they had to use a manual clock. In a race where many top fanciers failed to time the Thomsons ran out of thimbles.

 

The Roye race last year was no less impressive- from 494 miles with the late liberation leading to only 24 pigeons being clocked on the day the Thomson’s were 2nd, 6th, 38th and 49th Open. Narrowly beaten to their third Scottish National Flying Club Open win in four years by Jocky Scott, who himself had a fantastic 2016 season. The bird taking 1st Section B, 2nd Open for the Thomson’s that day was a two year old chequer hen that had a truly fantastic year’s racing with her performance from the race in addition to; 286th Open SNFC Buckingham, 45th Open Littlehampton and 45th Open Ypres earning her the prestigious SHU Dewar Whisky Trophy, which as stated earlier on is one of the greatest honours to be bestowed on a bird racing into Scotland. The dark two year old cock that was 49th Open Roye is somewhat of a specimen and if not quite handsome, then very near it. He too scored from the same four races as the Dewar Trophy hen taking; 164th Buckingham, 43rd Open Littlehampton and 7th Open Ypres. Having finished runner up for the Dewar trophy previously I’m sure it will give the Thomsons a lot of pleasure to finally win the award all the while having a bird in the loft that beat the winner home in three of the four races that went towards it. It’s understandable why the hen was the one put to be forward, to win the section and finish second open after timing in at 2122 must be quite a thrill.

 

In 2015, due to difficulties encountered by the SNFC in crossing the channel on the weekend the Ypres race was scheduled for, the event was held from the coastal town of Eastbourne. The race point may not have been the one that has served the Thomsons so well the last few years but the result was equally as breath taking. From 385miles A.S Thomson & Son were to win 1st, 11th, 18th, 32nd, 44th, 61st, 70th, 88th, 104th, 136th, 176th and 206th. This was a bit of a London bus race for the partnership, following up from winning the elusive 1st Open SNFC in 2013 from Clermont.

 

The 2013 Clermont race was certainly a tricky one with only twelve birds making it on the day of liberation. This could be considered in no small part down to the strong northeasterly winds and the much higher temperatures than those we are used to beating the entire line of fight. Sinclair Snr. is the first to admit he didn’t expect pigeons to do the 510miles on the night, even more so after an early evening phone call to a friend in Dumfriesshire who knew of no birds into the shortest fliers around the Solway area. Sinclair Snr as well as the pigeons enjoys his bowling, so the decision was made to go round to the club for a throw. Young Sinclair oblivious to all this was a little more optimistic and made his way round to the loft around half past seven to find Sinclair and Irene both out and the house locked. He’d barely settled when a blue cock landed and timed at 1941. Young Sinclair didn’t think at the time it was anything too out of the ordinary for he thought birds would be in and the loft had taken a dip in form after repairing the pigeons some weeks previously. It was almost as if the birds went into holiday mode he recalls, and incidentally this pairing up again at the back end of the season isn’t something they have done lately. As time went on and unable to phone the arrivals line from his mobile he phoned Barry Kinnear who told him he didn’t know of any pigeons at all in the area and the only one he knew of in Scotland was timed by the shorter flying loft of Jock Alston at 1950. By this time naturally Sinclair thought they might be onto something here. Sinclair Snr returned home sometime after 8 o’clock and duly enquired on if there was anything in. Something along the lines of “There are two I know about.†is what he was told. “Jock Alston at Ravenstruther is in at 1950.†Followed by a pause… “What about the other one?†Sinclair Snr asked. The response “Go down and have a look at him.†After the initial excitement Sinclair Snr was more concerned with the fact young Sinclair who had no access to the landline on account of the house being locked hadn’t phoned the lib line, leaving Jock Alston thinking he was winning the race. The bird was recorded hastily on entering the house and news had started to filter through of a small handful of other birds clocked, none of which seemed to be beating the Thomsons, who after years of near misses had finally won a Scottish National race. Such was the feeling it gave the partners, who tend to race their pigeons on, the blue cock was put into immediate retirement. A nice feeling walking into the loft and seeing a national winner I’m sure.

 

One thing I have noticed on my visits to and phone calls with the Thomsons, that could be considered an endearing quality in this day and age of pigeon sport, is that it is not in their make up to force results onto visitors, they have very few pictures of past winners and little interest in catchy names and over indulgent pedigrees. When it comes to showing fanciers their birds they would much rather be able to tell fanciers what the bird has done than famous birds in its ancestry or a strain name. The present team of pigeons are based on constant testing and working around the birds that stand up, only 3 pairs of stock pigeons are kept and made up of retired winners.

 

The partners are very grateful to the Taylor Brothers of Newbigging-By-The- Sea. The original Van Loon based pigeons obtained over 20 years ago still form the back bone of the loft, with the Taylor Marcel Aelbrechts making a big an immediate impact, extending the Van Loons a little further. The Heremans- Ceusters sent up from the Taylors have done very well too and in the relatively short period of time they’ve been in Port Seton they have already shown their worth out to 428 miles. A real of favourite of Sinclair Jnr’s is the Heremans-Ceusters hen known in the loft as dot head on account of her markings, she is rarely out the first drop to the loft week in week out. Some recent introductions through Taylor’s Donaldson Van Dorp’s are showing great promise also and if they race as well as they look and handle I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about them in the coming seasons.

 

The odd introduction out with the Taylor pigeons has been tried, but few stand up to the original Van Loons and their recent crosses. One pigeon that has left its mark is a cock bird bought at the NEHU show at John Soderland’s stand. Sinclair liked the look of the pigeon as soon as he saw it, oddly no one else at the show seemed to, as when Sinclair went back to the stand later on he was to find it was the only bird that hadn’t been sold. After discussing it with John Soderland they came to the conclusion it was because the bird was a Busschaert/Soontjen cross, where the others had all been ‘pure’. Sinclair managed to go home with the bird for half of the original £150 asking price. A good piece of business when one considers three of the cock’s direct offspring have won 1st Open from Pentland Midweek races, with £1000 prize money on each occasion. These Pentland Midweek Open races as well as their Christmas race are looked in on by fanciers from all over the country, with there being a young bird and a yearling event each season. The pools and prize money are fantastic and A.S Thomson & Son have now won 1st Open a very impressive six times, they have been 1st and 2nd Open on two occasions with one notable highlight being 1st, 2nd and 5th to the tune of £3400 having only sent three birds. Tremendous flying by any standard.

 

Seeing as I hadn’t complied one of these in a while and afraid of a little ring rust, I asked my good friend, the young Lanarkshire upstart, George “The Cambuslang Conjurer†Baird-as someone who reads this sort of thing on a daily basis, what he looks for when reading a loft report. His answer was simple and concise; system, lofts, tricks and feed.

 

With George’s criteria in mind it won’t require one of my better endeavours to meet them, for the Thomson methods and management are amongst the most thought provoking and interesting I’ve come across in my time with pigeons.

 

I’ll start with the potato that seems to get hotter and more complicated within the fancy with every passing season-feeding. I asked the Thomson partnership what they fed the birds during the moult, I asked the Thomson partnership what they fed over the winter months, I asked the Thomson partnership what they fed; during the breeding season, during the race season, in the morning, in the evening, at the beginning of the week, at the end of the week, for short races, for long races etc. etc. Many questions that share the same answer without exception-Versele Laga Start Plus. As with most fanciers certain aspects of management are gradually tweaked with time. The Thomsons are no different. This is the simplest they have had their feeding regime and it coincides with possibly the most consistently successful spell they’ve had in the sport.

 

“Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy.†is a line Issac Newton penned in the late seventeenth century that’s quite apt when discussing the pairing methods in the Thomson loft of late, as for this past couple of seasons the partners have been happy to open up the full loft and allow the birds to pick their own mates and nest sites. This usually takes place shortly after the Blackpool show weekend and prepares them to start on the method that could be described as a conventional roundabout. How the birds start off is never set in stone, some seasons they have been allowed to go back down on eggs after rearing a round of youngsters, but latterly the preferred way to do it is to separate them from their mates when the youngsters are approximately fourteen days old and start working them roundabout then. This leaves the cocks with the youngsters, but the hens still seeing and feeding them a twice a day. Both partners are more than satisfied with the results and feel it give the youngsters a great start.

 

It was at the Blackpool show many years ago where the idea of racing the roundabout method struck a chord with the Thomsons. Sinclair met an Isle of Wight fancier named Frank Atrill, a florist to trade, who over a few drinks explained the ins and outs of how he raced his old birds on this method as well discussing the darkening of young birds. Their conversation made such an impression on Sinclair that later that day he went round the shops to buy a notepad to write all the details down whilst still fresh on his mind. In the early 90s Sinclair was building a garage to the side of his home and enough materials were ordered so that a new pigeon loft could be built too, which was designed and built by young Sinclair with a view to carrying out what was written in Sinclair’s notes.

 

The change of method was an instant hit, but at that time the partners were still in the habit of going regular training tosses in the car. With many of the fanciers around them still of this mind set too it took a little while before changes were made. It has changed so vastly now, that little to no training takes place at all these days. Pre-season they may take the pigeons two or three short tosses, mainly for the benefit of any late bred pigeons from the previous year that have no basket experience, but once racing has commenced the birds are seldom, if ever, given a training toss again over the course of the season. They have more than proven to themselves it is unnecessary and the birds exercise far better around home as a result. When on song, it’s actually very difficult to get them stop. They range freely twice a day and the morning exercise usually lasts half an hour to forty minutes. It is the evening exercise that they really let loose, forcing Sinclair to remark that in order to get the same flying through tossing he’d need to be down somewhere between Berwick and Newcastle most nights. All flying around the loft is totally unforced and even takes place the day after the race as well as on the day of basketting. The birds although not let out with the same frequency during the closed season are still given their liberty at least every second day and keep themselves in trim all the year round.

 

The loft itself is 26ft x 9ft and split into three compartments.,two kitted out with perches and one nest box section. Due to few losses this past three or four years the partners feel there are perhaps slightly too many birds in the loft, they have even had to half the size of the nest boxes. This being said, from the point of view of an outsider the loft feels fresh inside and the smaller nest boxes have certainly done the performances no harm. It could be said the lofts most interesting characteristic is that nothing can see in or out of it, which goes a long way to achieving the home exercise mentioned. The ventilation is excellent and through low level louvres at the front with boards on the inside to stop any draughts, the rest is all at roof level.

 

The middle section is where the hens are kept during the racing season, with the youngsters in the section to the left and cocks on the right. When the routine is in full flow the hens go out first in the morning, with the cocks then going in to the middle section. The hens are trapped into the right hand section where they are fed, before the cocks go out and the hens go back through to the middle section. The cocks then of course trap back into the right hand section. The same process is then repeated in the evening. This leaves the best part of the day free for the youngsters, one thing Sinclair feels is important with darkness youngsters is not to feed them too closely to the time you darken- allowing them plenty of time to drink and perch up. The youngsters may be given a few short tosses before the racing begins but the best young bird season the partners ever had was when the young were never trained further than the front garden, this was purely so they knew how to come out of a basket. It’s common practice for the Thomsons to pair the old birds after the race season to free up the middle section so they can then part sexes with the youngsters, this is something Sinclair feels saves the need to train greatly as the young ones continue to range freely through the full young bird season. The year the young birds were never trained further than the front garden was exceptional and it was a normal occurrence for them to arrive from the races in groups of 6, 8 and 10. One thing Sinclair has noticed though is how many of those young birds have gone on to be great old birds, so it was perhaps just an exceptional breeding year. Either way it still has proven to the partnership once again that training is not necessary to be successful, observing that in the by gone days when they tossed the birds frequently, if they encountered a stiff one they’d do little but sit on the roof the next couple of times they were let out. As far as young bird feeding is concerned you won’t be surprised to read they are fed the same mixture all the time-Versele Laga Start Plus. When taking the youngsters off the darkness towards the end of June a little difficulty was encountered in getting them through a full moult later in the year, with a few holding flights into the following year. The preferred date to stop darkening is now the 1st of June and they’ve found the youngsters perform just as well and it has alleviated the problem of holding flights and incomplete moulting.

 

For races in which the birds are only going to be in the basket one night they are always shown their mates. How long for is determined by which birds the Thomson’s fancy that week, if the cocks are looking up for it then the mates are only shown for a short period of time, if it’s the hens that are on the ball they may be shown for anything up to an hour or more. Practically every pigeon races weekly for the first five weeks, but once further out they play it by ear and often opt for a race every fortnight. These further races when the birds are to be in the baskets for two nights or more the birds are never shown mates at all and go to the race marking straight from their own sections.

 

In this a time where medicating pigeons regularly is still pretty popular the Thomsons have no routine treatment plan in place. One thing Sinclair has stuck to is something he was told by the late Jimmy Williams, if the birds have encountered a race during particularly hot weather he will administer a canker treatment. If conditions surrounding the race have been particularly damp the birds will be dosed with something for coccidiosis. No great loyalty is shown to any particular brands and there are no hard and fast rules, but they feel the Rohnfried range is pretty good besides being easily obtained from a local feed stockist.

 

Again with supplements and additives, there isn’t an exact routine to it in the Port Seton lofts. The Aviform pack is bought once a year with the products used ad lib and Mycoform-T usually given on a Thursday during the race season. A few natural products are used throughout the year with hemp oil being a favourite mixed onto the feed regularly during the moult and as extra fuel come the longer races. Sinclair Jr. jokingly pointed out they put it in the drinker as well, a mistake he won’t let his father live down. Brewer’s yeast is also occasionally used in conjunction with the hemp oil. The way garlic is used in this loft is something I found very interesting with one of the preferred times of use being the actual day of basketting for a race. This is something importance is attached to and the findings are that when members are up the club after a race on a hot day talking of how their birds went straight to the drinkers on arrival-desperate for a drink, the Thomsons haven’t witnessed this. This is prepared by adding a clove to water in a bottle and leaving it overnight before adding some of the water to the drinkers. Perhaps the supplement the Thomsons place the greatest emphasis on is natural yoghurt, which is used very often in the drinkers and is possibly one of the reasons the loft doesn’t suffer with young bird sickness.

 

All in all the methods are pretty uncomplicated and perhaps the biggest ‘secret’ behind their success is the regularity with which they carried out. Something both men feel is very important to be successful and one of the answers given to me when asking why a lot of fanciers fall short is that they just don’t realise how much work and dedication is needed to be successful with pigeons.

 

When asked if any fanciers had influenced them over the years, no one name was given. However, it was stated that joining Traprain in 2003 really forced themselves, John Hastie, Jock Brown and Brian Cunningham to up their game and has brought the best out in them competing against the Newcombes and Bosworths of this world. Jock Robertson also flew two gardens along and really did keep them on their toes. There are many fanciers that they admire for different reasons but when I asked the question the name that stands out to the Thomsons is that of John Bosworth for the relentless consistency and apparent knack he has for peaking the pigeons at the right time for the Scottish National races and it was remarked that if you beat him from the Gold Cup you’ll very near win the race.

 

To conclude I’d like to thank the Thomson family including Irene for their hospitality shown. I hope this is of interest to some and that I’ve done justice to fanciers whose results and performances to 26 x 9 back garden loft are nothing short of astonishing. Good luck to the Thomson and all readers for the coming 2017-the best is yet to come.

 

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Edited by Rooster J. Cogburn
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Lewis, what a great write up, its like a breath of fresh air, when someone like yourself puts pen to paper and gives us the opportunity to learn how a few great fanciers earn their success, by dedication to good management, hard work, and selection of proven families.

This is what pigeon racing is about, not the mundane pigeon political stuff that we read daily.

I salute young man.

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great write up on one of scotland top lofts, a other top fancier who does not train pigeons, interesting to see that, plenty guys knock it on here before,

well done A.S Thomson & Son and Lewis McCalley

Yip and racing using just start plus right thru the season :emoticon-0126-nerd: :emoticon-0126-nerd: :emoticon-0126-nerd:

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