This week I’m going to feature a premier West Country partnership who must rate as one of the biggest names in the sport of pigeon racing, Geoff and Catherine Cooper of Peasedown St. John. At the back end of September, Peter Taylor, and I made the 120 mile drive down to the Cooper’s Somerset home to get a first hand look at the latest champions and their wonderful new 85ft loft. Most fanciers are reluctant to change their loft, or indeed any thing in it when the birds are racing well, but Geoff and Catherine built their magnificent new loft at the end of 2007 and then came out in 2008 and won two National races, including 1st open in the most prestigious race in the U.K., the NFC Tarbes Grand National. The 2008 season was one of their best ever, winning a massive list of premier prizes, including 1st, 6th, 12th, 18th, 22nd, 33rd section, 1st, 8th, 15th, 27th, 36th, 63rd open BICC Falaise, 4th, 60th, 61st open CSCFC Messac, 27th, 28th open CSCFC Bergerac, 21st, 24th open CSCFC Lessay, 1st, 8th, 36th, 37th section, 1st, 20th open NFC Tarbes Grand National, 27th, 68th open NFC Saintes, 13th, 19th open BBC Poitiers, plus many other wins in club, Federation and Combine.
Although the Coopers have a big new loft, they only keep a very moderate size team of pigeons and when we handled them, we could tell they were a true family, being mostly blue and dark chequers, and all being the same stamp in the hand. I must say that although they were still in the moult they were in brilliant condition and a real credit to Geoff and Catherine. The highlight of the loft visit for me was handling Champion ‘George’, the 2008 Tarbes Grand National winner and he was above medium in the hand, with wonderful silky feather. I think the wonderful feather quality was one of the major factors with the Cooper’s pigeons, which was really exceptional! Champion ‘George’ is bred from the very best Cooper / Deweerdt bloodlines and has won a list of prizes including: 1st open NFC Tarbes (4035 birds), 42nd National Saran, 30th BBC National Carlisle, 1st HLFC, 2nd section, 102nd National Bordeaux, 17th section, 150th Classic Cholet, 18th section, 207th National Tarbes, plus two RPRA Awards. A fantastic champion! His sire is a brother to Champion ‘JW’, winner of 1st open BICC National Falaise, both being out of Geoff’s great old premier racer and breeder, ‘Titch’. On his dam’s side, Champion ‘George’ is bred down from the Emiel Deweerdt champion ‘Emiel’, winner of 1st open International Bordeaux / Dax (9493 birds).
On our visit I asked Catherine about their wonderful new loft and she told me, ‘during the summer of 2007 whilst doing a routine check of the condition of the lofts, looking for any repairs that would need to be done when racing finished, Geoff noticed that on a couple of lofts the timber had rotted and would need replacing. To replace certain parts would have meant near dismantling of the lofts so we decided to build a new block loft with PVC windows that would need little or no maintenance. The first plan was to take down the two young bird lofts and just replace those, but visually the mix of lofts wouldn’t have looked so good and in a few years time the other wooden loft would have needed some repairs, so we decided to take all the lofts down, including a block built shed and replace it with one 85ft x 8ft block loft. After the last young bird race the birds were all moved into the stock loft and aviaries at the bottom of the garden and work commenced dismantling the old lofts. We wanted all the birds, including the stock birds, to be housed in one loft to make life easy in the future. We then drew up a design for the loft with a corridor and sections for the stock, young and old birds. There are ten PVC windows along the front and four entry traps. A good friend of ours and pigeon fancier Terry Preddy built the walls from 5in insulation block and rendered inside and out with a waterproof render. It has an apex tiled roof; luckily we were able to use all the old tiles from the old lofts and were given some more old ones so the roof is wholly tiled in old tiles giving it a much better look than brand new tiles would have done. The ventilation is very simple yet effective; every section has a chimney made from a 4in drain grill attached to a 30in drain pipe going up to the ridge. The ridge is not sealed so the air filters through to the outside. As the chimneys finish in the roof they are not subject to the down draughts as a normal chimney exiting to the open air would be. The loft is well insulated, with Celetex on the concrete base, under the moisture proof chipboard flooring and the roof space has 8in of insulation throughout. This is not to keep it warm, but to ensure the temperature remains as stable as possible, with little variation between night and day. Last year we had winter temperatures down to below -10 degrees and yet the water inside did not freeze once. Inside the sections there are wooden floor grills. After building his “dream” loft Geoff did not think he would ever alter it again – wrong! He has been busy since the end of young bird racing making a section for racing old hens on the widowhood system. Some of our stock birds will have to be sold later in the year as he has had to reduce the size of his stock loft by half to accommodate the hens .They will be paired in this section at the start of the season and they return to their cocks waiting there after the race. We have also had to reduce the size of the young bird loft so the hens can have a section where they stay during the week. Many fanciers questioned whether Geoff was wise to alter his original wooden lofts from which we had won many top prizes but the first year racing to the new loft we won two Nationals including the NFC Grand National and in 2009, the second season racing from it we have won twice 1st NFC sections and twice 2nd NFC sections, plus raced well at club and Federation level, one week winning sixteen of the first twenty position in the Federation result. In conclusion the new loft can be said to be a great success, and more importantly will enable us to carry on racing pigeons successfully for many years’.
I think it is probably needless to state that Geoff and Catherine have won countless firsts in the local clubs and Federation at all distances through the years, but their main concentration these days is in the National and Classic races. The partner’s family of pigeons are fast and win from 50 miles through the race programme to 550 miles. They are great all rounders! The highlights of their 2009 racing season are: 2nd, 15th section, 67th, 94th open NFC St. Nazaire, 1st, 7th section, 59th, 123rd open NFC Messac, 17th, 22nd, 36th, 38th section, 67th, 98th, 211th, 218th open NFC Tarbes, 1st section NFC Fougeres, 2nd section NFC Fougeres (old hens), 4th, 5th, 16th section, 10th, 11th, 57th open BBC Poitiers, 23rd, 27th, 76th open BBC Lamballe, 6th, 11th, 15th,16th section BICC Falaise, 25th, 47th, 69th, 85th open CSCFC St. Nazaire.
The partners won 1st open BICC Falaise National in the 2005 season. When I spoke to Geoff at that time he told me, “After my many years in the sport, it has taken until 2005, to win my first old bird National and have finally achieved it with our game blue chequer widowhood cock, Champion “Wriggler”. He won the Falaise National which is just under 200 miles, yet he is bred for the long distance and will go on to race from 500 and 600 miles with ease”. This wonderful two year old late bred has won; 1st open B.I.C.C. Falaise National, 201st open CSCFC Cholet (2,659 birds), 1st High Littleton F.C. Cholet, 16th open West of England SR Combine Saintes (1,804 birds), 5th open NFC Dax and is a full brother to “Jumper”, winner of 7th open NFC Saintes. Geoff and Catherine’s family of pigeons are based on the Deweerdt of Kortemark in Belgium pigeons and have been highly successful for the West Country loft since the early 1980’s. The Cooper’s have won well over 80 top National Flying Club open and section positions, 50 premier open and section prizes in the Central Southern Classic Flying Club, over 20 in the British Barcelona Club and 10 premier positions in the British International Championship Club, plus they hold the U.K. record for having the most pigeons on a single International open result. Catherine said, “After so many years of racing at the very highest level, you can under stand why we thought that elusive first open National was never going to happen”.
Geoff was born in Peasedown St. John, the village where he lives today. His father was a keen sportsman, but with a shotgun, rather than pigeons. It was a big disappointment to his dad when he sold his own gun at the age of 13, to buy a pigeon clock, and has now been in the sport 50 years, having started up as an 11 year old, with birds obtained from the local farm. He says his uncle was a keen pigeon fancier and he really became involved through him. The first fancier who drew his attention were R. & M. Venner of Street and his first club was north road. He left it when he was in his late twenties, as the young Geoff wanted to race south road. A few seasons ago the Carlingcott club finally turned south, so Geoff was keen to re-apply but unfortunately he was turned down and the same thing happened the following year. A lesson he has learnt through his many years in the sport is not to believe unproven fads, weather they be eyesign, shape, or wing theories, and maintains he has seen many winners with all types of eyes, bodies and wings. His best advice to a novice is pair the best to the best. His first loft was an open fronted wooden shed. Geoff says, as the Honeysuckle grew over and around it, covering more and more of the front, so the condition of the inmates improved. His previous loft was wooden, with a closed in front with controllable ventilation, the main factor beings being that the loft is dry and not overcrowded.
The Somerset loft houses 12 pairs of stock birds, which are paired up in early December. When I asked Geoff about his pigeons he told me, “My family of pigeons are based on the Deweerdt family and I originally had these from Emile Deweerdt of Kortemark in Belgium in the early 1980’s. Over the years I have added to these with more visits to the Belgium champion’s loft in Kortemark. If you study the International results over the last 25 years, you will notice very few fanciers featuring in these results, year in and year out. The Deweerdt family have successfully maintained and improved upon their performances, and have stayed at the top of the International race scene”. One of the best Deweerdt based pigeons Geoff has ever owned is his champion racer, “Farm Boy”, and his grand parents include, “Emiel”; 1st International Bordeaux and “Kedir”; 78th International Dax, 34th International Dax and 143rd International Perpignan. Champion “Farm Boy” has won 190th open NFC Saintes, 49th open BBC Nantes National, 56th open NFC Saintes, 7th open NFC Dax, 475th open International Dax, 3rd open NFC Dax, 12th open International Dax and 7th Euro Diamond Ace pigeon, being the first British pigeon to win an International Ace pigeon award. A wonderful pigeon and classic example of like breeding like! The Cooper’s had a good cock out of Paul Kendall’s Pau National winner, Champion “Holloway Boy”, when mated to one of Geoff’s good hens and also had some good birds from Harding Brothers’ “Ashgrove King”, 1st open Pau National, which was bred from 100% Geoff Cooper stock. This family of pigeons will compete and win from Weymouth (47 miles) through to Perpignan (645 miles).
The Cooper partnership race 50 cocks on the widowhood system and these are paired up in December. Geoff told me he raced on the widowhood system because it is easier to condition the birds, it increases their motivation and the widowhood racers exercise well, needing no road training, and hold their condition better and longer than natural pigeons. Geoff’s racers rear a pair of youngsters and then are separated before the hens lay their second round of eggs. They are repaired in March and the cocks are put on the widowhood after sitting six days on eggs. After the birds are separated at the start of the season they are let out twice a day for one hours exercise. They have two training tosses prior to the first race and then they race every week inland to keep them fit, and then they are selected for different National and Classic overseas races. When racing old or young birds, Geoff told me, he tries to keep thing as simple as possible. He doesn’t favour any particular condition for racing the long distance, bar one, they must be supremely fit! His young birds race the Channel, the young hens as many times as possible, the yearlings race to 400 miles and the old birds through to the longest National race.
Geoff’s birds are fed a variety of mixtures, depending on what they are doing. He developed these mixes by observing the birds closely; after all, he firmly believes they know better than us. He feeds the birds a mixture with a lot of maize and increases the fat content for a few feeds before basketing. As a titbit, he always gives the birds a pinch of hemp and he uses Gem Products regularly, and makes his own herbal tea for his pigeons. He finds garlic is very good for maintaining the health of the birds and also uses live natural yoghurt as a probiotic. Geoff told me, he didn’t like to race his birds hungry, so if they got into trouble, they have a reserve in the fuel tank.
Many years ago Geoff spent seven years studying eyesign. He made detailed copies of the eyes of his birds and paired them on the advice of eyesign experts. After seven years he had boxes full of detailed diagrams and eyesign information. After comparing the winning bird’s eyes over the period with the expert’s opinions, he came to the conclusion that it was nothing more than a fad, and no use to him. On the downside, he had many good birds not bred from because they did not have the ‘right’ eye. He was glad he never culled any birds during this period due to them having a ‘poor’ eyesign. He had many winners with ‘poor’ eyesign which went on to be the foundation birds of his present loft.
Geoff has had many section winners in National and Classic racing through the years and he considers his best team performance was having three birds in the first 12 open of the Pau National, winning the first three section prizes, also timing five out of his six entries on the day of liberation, when only 5% of the convoy were home. One of his best individual performances was when “Nicholls” won 3rd open NFC Pau, when only 11 birds were timed on the day of liberation, and he was the only bird timed on the day west of Portsmouth . He won the section by three hours and was the first pigeon in the west of England by approximately three hours, only beaten for 1st open position by less than 5 minutes. A brilliant performance! Geoff says his greatest thrill, besides marrying his wife, Catherine, was seeing his single entry from the BBC Palamos race arrive to win 2nd open, having flown 701 miles. Catherine is very interested in the pigeons and would prefer to do the entire husbandry and let Geoff do all the housework. “Never”, says Geoff!
He has held many positions in the sport through the years and has been President of the local club and Vice President and committee member in the N.F.C. Geoff is a great worker for the sport and ran the Frome marking station for the N.F.C. and the local clock station for the National and Classic races. He says if he could get one rule passed to benefit the sport, he would prohibit a fancier being rejected from membership to a club, providing they are in the radius, unless it can be proved that he is guilty of misdemeanour affecting the sport. Geoff says to stop ‘fly aways’, he always tries to have his youngsters out as much as possible in their first few weeks. If they have been shut in for a time and let out full of fly they can easily go AWOL. He inbreeds and line breeds to the best in his loft, and regards latebreds very highly for racing and breeding, but you need plenty of patience with them, he says. When he looks for new stock birds they must be winning pigeons, bred from winning pigeons, or preferably breeding winning pigeons. There you have it. Geoff Cooper, a brilliant pigeon fancier!
I hope my readers have enjoyed this insight in to the pigeons of Geoff and Catherine Cooper, I think their loft is one of the best in the U.K. today! Thanks to Catherine who took the great pigeon photos. I can be contacted on Telephone: 01372 463480.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT.