Syd & Lesley Gard 2014 CCF Champions

Syd and Lesley Gard

CCF Flyer of the Year 2014

By Paul Gibbs

Syd Gard is a fancier that I have known for the past 15 years or so, and during this time I have learnt to respect and admire Syd as a very knowledgeable and competitive fancier who has achieved top results with his birds, both as member of the old FRP Federation and now with the Central Cumberland Federation. Syd races in

Syd with one of his best hens
Syd with one of his best hens

partnership with his wife Lesley, under the name of S & L Gard and have performed exceptionally well over many years at the top level of competition, competing against some of Sydney’s best known and elite pigeon fanciers, and make no mistake Lesley is more than a silent partner, having clocked in numerous winners when Syd has been working.

Syd and Lesley reside in the Sydney suburb of Matraville not far from Port Botany and are members of the Maroubra Pigeon Club. The club itself has a very strong and competitive membership, with fanciers such as Jim Vescos and Ray Reid, not to mention nearby champion fanciers of the IIIawarra Club, fanciers of the calibre of Gary Donovan, Victor Borg and Dive Bros. To name but a few. So winning the CCF “Flyer of the Year” is no mean feat, with 400 other Cumberland fanciers who are always “snapping” at the heels of the leaders.

This is the third time in the past seven years that Syd and Lesley have topped the Cumberland Federation point score, the first time was in 2008 off the north route, the second time was again off the north in 2011, beating fellow club member Jim Vescos by 20 points. This year (2014) Syd and Lesley beat the second place winner, Pat Arcella of the Hills District Club by 104 points. On two other occasions over this seven-year period Syd and

One of Syd's best race hens
One of Syd’s best race hens

Lesley were to finish in the top thirteen of the federation, being third O/A in 2013 and thirteenth O/A in 2012.  A fairly consistent result in anyone’s language to say the least.

The following is a quick overview of Syd and Lesley 2014 results. Out of 21 races in the Cumberland program Syd and Lesley were to finish in the Top Ten on seven occasions, and in the first eight races they were to clock only widowhood cocks. In all, cocks were clocked on ten occasions and hens on eleven. During the year Syd and Lesley clocked eleven old birds and ten yearlings.

Syd and Lesley’s loft (refer to photos) is based on the European style, a pitched tiled roof without insulation, that

Syd's Race loft & stock loft off to the left
Syd’s Race loft & stock loft off to the left

allows for ventilation between the gaps in the tiles. The front part of the roof (refer to photos) also has skylight sheeting that allows not only natural light to enter the loft, but on cold and/or winter days allows heat from the sun to enter making the internal conditions more comfortable for the birds along with helping to maintain their form.

The front wall consists of ceder louvered windows that double as door openings that can be totally closed during bad weather and at night, with an open door trapping area with an internal walkway the length of the loft. At both ends of the walkway are louvered windows, which also help in controlling airflow. This combined with an open mesh ceiling assists in good ventilation at all times. At the left hand side of the walk way is a sink and tap for convenience of cleaning drinkers and mixing of vitamins and medicines when administered, along with the storage of an industrial vacuum cleaner to help keep the loft clear of dust and feathers.

The loft faces north and is constructed on a concrete slab with the walls being timber frames and lined on the outside with Weathertex fibro sheeting with the internal walls lined with plywood.

Widowhood Hens Section
Widowhood Hens Section

The loft is divided into sections, with the left hand section providing a rest area for the widow hens along with a section that contains widow-hood breeding boxes for the cocks, which is directly in line with the open door and electronic trapping system. The remaining sections on the right hand side of the loft being used to house the yearling racers.

The attached photos show Syd holding one of his champion race birds from the 2014 season, the widow hen’s section, the widowhood breeding sections where the older race birds are paired and allowed to rear a round of young during the off season and a photo of the current crop of youngsters. The other photos are of Syd and Lesley’s stock loft and some of their breeding pairs.

 The 1990’s saw the first legally imported pigeons become available to Australian fanciers, and Syd like many

Old race hens in nestbox section
Old race hens in nestbox section

other fanciers at that time was quick to change over. Staf van Reets and Muelemans were the main lines that found their way into Syd and Lesley’s loft, mostly via his good friend Chris Fernandos, who purchased some very good Muelemans from Ian Daniels of Rangeview Stud. Many fanciers for one reason or another didn’t rate the Muelemans, and as with many imported birds there can be a lot of average birds among them, but once you get hold of the good ones it becomes a different story, and Chris was extremely fortunate as he certainly obtained the best of them.

The other family of birds that has played a huge part in Syd and Lesley’s success was and is the Staf van Reets. Syd’s originals being purchased from Des Sippets of the Riverview Stud in WA and carry the same bloodlines of the famous “Producer Cock – 7210” once owned by Kevin Hayden.

Walkway section in the race loft displaying sink prep area and industrial vacuum cleaner
Walkway section in the race loft displaying sink prep area and industrial vacuum cleaner

It was these bloodlines that bred Syd and Lesley’s FRP National Winner from Murwillumbah to Sydney in 1995. This cock was bred from one of the original Staf van Reets, PRF-90-6674 – a direct son of the imported SVR’s of Des Sippetts (GB-90-48177 X 48139) and therefore a full brother to the sire of 7210. Two other SVR’s from the imports, the “Skinny Cock” BB Cock PRF-93-7846 from the pairing GB-90-48177 X 48120 (note 48120 is the Dam of 7210) and the “Old Pied Hen” BBP PRF-90-6706 (a full sister to 6674 that bred the FRP Murwillumbah National Winner). These were used to produce MBRA-99-105, a BBF cock who today is one of the main SVR foundation pigeons in Syd and Lesley’s loft. 105 when mated with a Mueleman/Janssen hen via Chris Fernandos bred a BB cock MBRA-04-86 a pigeon that today can be found in the pedigree of many of their current best birds.

The old National Cock is still alive today; he of course is no longer fertile, but there are many birds in the stock loft that carry his genes on both sides of their pedigree.

Being the top fancier that Syd is, he is always on the lookout for something new that he considers worthwhile to add to their current winning family. Van Loons and Gaby Vandenabeele birds have to date crossed in well keeping the loft along with Syd and Lesley at the top of their game. Several new lines have recently been added and time will tell if they are going to blend into their current winning family of racing pigeons.

One of Syd’s top widowhood pair
One of Syd’s top widowhood pair

Let’s now have a closer look at Syd’s history and system via his response to a list of questions that I put to him while undertaking this article.

As with all stories its nice to start at the beginning, so my first question to Syd was how and what made him decide to take up the sport to which he replied that as a child he quite often found himself in the company of a nearby neighbour who kept pigeons and that the time spent with the birds gave him such pleasure that his interest in the birds never waned saying that he knew that one day he would race pigeons himself.

Since this time Syd said that he has now been involved with pigeon racing for 36 years, 17 of these from his present address at Matraville.

I asked Syd which clubs and federations had he competed in over his 36 year involvement in the sport to which he responded; Maroubra and Mascot with the FRP and now with Maroubra with the CCF.

View into the ceiling area
View into the ceiling area

I then asked Syd to clarify what family/bloodlines do he and Lesley currently race to which he replied, “As outlined above, the majority being Staf van Reets crossed with Van Loons, Gaby Vandenabeele and Meulemans”

As Syd and Lesley’s lofts are not huge as such, I asked Syd how many stock pairs do they house and how many young birds would they breed each year, to which he replied that they keep 24 pair of stock and breeds an average of 100 young birds each year.

When asked to outline their training methods, Syd said that he prefers to train and house the cocks and hens separately and loft trains the birds between 1 and 1 1/2  hours each day, stating that their typical tossing program commences at 5klm gradually increasing to 100klm. Syd explained that when they commence tossing, he might take them out everyday anywhere up to 10klm, and even twice a day if deemed necessary. Once racing commences he likes to give those that haven’t raced that weekend a toss from at least 100klm.

Stock Bird Loft
Stock Bird Loft

Syd went on to say that he prefers to race hens as they are easier to manage and more placid that the cocks, but in saying that, said that they have achieved many good results with cock birds.

Feeding systems, methods and mixtures can be a topic that many fanciers prefer to keep secret, or they are quite open in admitting what and how they feed with many stating that they feed a commercial mix to which they either never vary, or that they add certain grains at different times of the week along with varying the amount fed. Some weigh it out, others feed to water, and others feed either twice a day or once a day. In many ways the “science” of feeding can (many say) mean the difference of winning or loosing and also affect the number of birds returning.

When I asked Syd about their feeding methods, he said that their feed specifications are supplied to Ian McKay

Young birds for 2015 in attached flight
Young birds for 2015 in attached flight

Produce in Melbourne who mixes the grain and delivers it to Sydney through Kensington Produce. Syd said that although they have a standard mix that they use, he also alters the mix through the week, saying that their birds are given a lighter mix early in the week either adding more wheat but more often than not more barely. Syd said that they are a big user of barley and can’t recommend its use strongly enough.  Syd also adding that protein (via peas) should make up a large part of their diet early in the week and carbohydrates (via corn) the larger part of their diet later in the week.

Syd added that an important part of their feeding program is what occurs on basket day, and that is to only feed their normal ration in the mornings and to give them just a handful of barely around 3pm, just enough to encourage them to have a drink prior to basketing. Syd said that over feeding just before basketing should be avoided as the birds will use up their stored water resources and energy trying to digest this feed, which may cause the birds to dehydrate either before the liberation, or while flying on route to home.

When it comes to providing their birds with supplements Syd advised me that they administers Versa-laga Pickstones, Mineral Powder and Grit that he obtains from Jason Stig of the Liverpool Club making them available to his birds each day other than basketing day when it is removed from the loft till their return on race day.

3 of Syd's stock hens
3 of Syd’s stock hens

The regular use of a Vet for periodic testing is not used, although Syd said that they treat their birds for seven days straight prior to the race season for respiratory and on a regular basis for Canker. Syd did say that although he is not a regular visitor to Vet’s, he does although use several of Dr. Rob Marshall’s health products, mainly Megamix, Iford and Dufoplus.

As 2yr old racing has become more popular over recent years, I asked Syd if he selected any of their young birds that showed promise early in the season to race as 2 yr olds. Syd said that he doesn’t and that the only ones put aside are those that for one reason or another need to be but aside, those that are injured or home late. The bulk of their young birds being raced through to what ever distance Syd believes they are bred for.

I asked Syd what criteria he uses to select birds for stock (other than those that he may introduce as an out cross), his reply was that they must be inbred back to their best breeding pairs as this is the only way of maintaining the basis of a family.

Our conversation eventually got around to discussing the merits of various fanciers and in doing so I asked Syd was there any one fancier in particular that he admired and/or had respect for, to this Syd said that he greatly admired Mick Debono and thanks him for starting him off in the sport.

Syd said the other fancier who needs a mention is his good friend Len Vanderlinde in Queensland, who he has been in contact with on a regular basis now for the past twenty years, saying that he respects Len’s knowledge and skill with regards pigeon racing and that they quite often spend hours on the phone taking about various new systems, training methods and newly introduced bloodlines.

Syd saying that they quite often visit one another in the “off season” and always arrange to meet up at various pigeon functions, always enjoying one another’s company along with a cold beer.

(They must certainly exchange a lot of knowledge, ideas and birds, as Len for those not aware of the fact was the “2014 QPF Flyer of the Year” as well. Two good mates, both Federation Flyers of the Year in their respective federations, I’d like to be a fly on the wall when they get together.)

A question that many CCF fanciers have an answer to, is what and how they see things that need to be implemented to improve pigeon racing and keep fanciers in the sport, and Syd of course is no exception.

When the question was put to Syd, this is what he had to say. “The biggest change that needs to happen to improve and keep interest in our sport, especially the in CCF, is to see the Federation agree on a five route system, alternating from the North Coast route to the South Coast route in a “windshield wiper” fashion that includes a Nth Western route, a Western route and a Sth West route, and then to leave it alone, never to be voted on again”. I said to Syd that what he is proposing is a very contentious issue, one that many fanciers have been debating for some time now, Syd went on to say “That this gives everyone a fair chance throughout the federation and allows fanciers to develop hard day pigeons from the north, whilst at the same time allowing fanciers to get their fair go from the other routes”.

Syd went on to say; “Our best stock pigeons are those down of pigeons that proved themselves on the North route over many years flying with the FRP and CCF”.

Syd adding that he thought the proposed raced programme for the 2015 season is a step in the right direction with regards to come back races, but would like the CCF to look at what the QPF is doing and having up to 3 or 4 races where we come back in distance, allowing fanciers to get their late breds, hens and other birds that for one reason or another weren’t ready to send earlier in the season without having to “jump” them too far on their first start.

I asked Syd to highlight what he thought were their major achievements in the sport to which he replied that those, which come to mind, were of course winning the federation averages in both the FRP and CCF on more than one occasion. Winning 3 Combines over two weekends, winning the FRP National from Tweed Heads (400 ml) along with winning 1st prize in the Federation from both the 500 and 600ml races. All on the north coast route.

Over the years Syd and Lesley have had many successes at both club and federation level, as such I asked Syd if he had a standout memory of a particular win or achievement, to which he replied that they have had a number of very pleasing wins and a lot of very good birds that have all added to the enjoyment that they have obtained from racing their birds, but went on to say that the race that stands out from all the others was when they won the National from Tweed Heads, winning with a very consistent cock bird. This pigeon was a Blue Bar rung MBRA-94-697. He raced very well in the lead up to the National and I was confident of getting him. To see him drop to the loft was enough, but to actually win the National against some of the best fanciers in Sydney will stay with me forever.

697 is still alive today and has left a dynasty of winners behind him, not only for me, but a number of other fanciers as well. I gifted an inbred daughter to my good friend Len Vanderlinde in Brisbane that went on to breed him a cock that topped the QPF two weeks in a row. It’s important to note that the old National Cock, 697 was bred from PRF-90-6674, one of the imported foundation Staf Van Reet pigeons mentioned earlier.

After such a successful pigeon-racing career I asked Syd was there anything else that he thought that he and Lesley would like to achieve as I thought there couldn’t be much else surely, well pardon me, how wrong could I be. Syd was quick to respond telling me that their next achievement was to win the “Central Cumberland All Age Derby” (Queens Cup National). Going on their results to-date, and the fact that Syd has now retired from the work force, this goal might not be that far away.

I asked Syd what he would like to see done in an effort to promote the sport of Pigeon Racing to which he replied that the sport needs to develop ways to provide more coverage of races to the general public who as a whole have no idea of what pigeon racing is all about, how it is conducted and how it happens. A National Body and a Promotion/Publicity Officer needs to be researched. Club open days, talks with community organizations, youth club and senior organizations along with advertising in local and ethnic newspapers would be a good starting point.

The continuation and expansion of club and federation events need to be supported and attended by all fanciers, events like Breeder’s Plate Auctions, Squeaker Sales, Trade Days and Seminars. The social side of our sport is very imported to the continuation of our sport. Many of these events provide an ideal opportunity for fanciers to bring along non-pigeon fanciers as guests, be it local youth, neighbours, workmates and/or the local newspaper reporter.

Syd went on to say that he and Lesley have both made many good friendships via these events, not only locally in the Sydney region, but also in country locations and inter-state. Syd also saying that the more enjoyable pigeon racing becomes, the better the chances are of keeping existing fanciers in the sport and attracting new ones.

In concluding, I asked Syd what advice he would give to a novice fancier, or to someone contemplating taking up the sport, to which he replied that such a person should get to know a good flyer in their area and use them as a mentor. Learn all you can from him/her, don’t be afraid to ask questions no matter how silly you think they may be, the answer may surprise you and lead to other information you have not thought about. By all means listen to, and take onboard advice you receive from others as many roads lead to Rome. Don’t make too many changes too quickly, it takes time to build a good team of race birds and to develop a system that best suits your lifestyle, work/family commitments and which gives your birds the best possible chance of winning. Never forget to just enjoy the experience of waiting and watching your birds return. You bred them, reared them and trained them, now enjoy the sight of a returning bird and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to win at all costs.

Remember, the best pigeon fanciers in the world all had to do their apprenticeship, there are none that were overnight long-term successes. Always keep in mind the old saying, “Rome was not built in a day” and don’t believe in the rumour spread by some fanciers about there being  “secrets” with regards to successful pigeon racing, as there are NO secrets, just hard work, a commitment in all you do, observation and common sense.

In closing, I would like to thank Syd for his in-depth and informative contribution to this, “their journey so far”, and wish him and Lesley all the best in their quest to round off their racing success by winning the CCF “All Age Derby” in 2015.

In reflecting on Syd and Lesley’s success in their chosen sport, I feel the following quote by David Rees is appropriate; “Good, Better, Best, never let it rest, till your good is better and your better best.

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