Perhaps the significant and key words that come to my mind in describing the 2016 Grain Belt Classic Race are … Hospitality, Graciousness, and Class.
The Guys and Gals from the Omaha Racing Pigeon Association invite you into their lives and homes like you are family. From the moment you arrive until the time you leave you are made to feel very special.
The 350 mile race was tough with the most outstanding pigeons arriving a little over eight hours after the release. Out of 224 entries there were 47 pigeons that navigated home on the day. Jimmy’s loft (Jim Swierczek) took first with a good pigeon bred and entered by Don Riedel of Wisconsin. Congratulations to the handler and breeder on winning this tough race! Carter Mayotte took 2nd and 3rd with Joe Zarachowicz and Turk Brand Syndicate. Dwayne Kugler placed fourth with another Turk Brand Syndicate pigeon. Well done boys !
The race, the fanciers, and all the great fellowship was outstanding. Throughout the course of the entire event you could sense a growing anticipation of this incredible auction that was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. The talk of Ronnie Williamson, this phenomenal fancier from Northern Ireland, seemed to be at the heart of many conversations among the fanciers. On Saturday Ronnie gave an awesome seminar that captured the complete attention of all that were in attendance. His distinct Irish accent coupled with his inexplicable personality and wit held everyone spellbound.
Northern Ireland boasts some 3000 fanciers. I was soon convinced that this was indeed a mecca of keen competition, perhaps unlike any other place in the entire world. The concentration of fanciers coupled with the tough terrain and challenging courses had the makings of developing only superior and very tough pigeons. The shorter and middle races are released in Ireland. The longer races are flown from Western France, where the pigeons have to cross the channel. Ronnie explained that at times the pigeons would have to fly over a large body of water without ever seeing land for hours at a time. These Pigeons must indeed possess an innate and strong homing and navigation ability. The records and championships that Ronnie has achieved in this competition unequivocally show a true pigeon man that has mastered his craft. The liberations are often in excess of 20,000 pigeons, and reaching 33,000 on peak races. He has 59 Championships, including 68 open Victories in the NIPA (Northern Ireland Pigeon Association) a dozen“Fancier of the year Awards” … the list just goes on and on and on….I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of racing pigeons!
As he spoke you could sense the passion and love for his sport and his pigeons. He brought us along the journey of his life with pigeons, and how he arrived at this most prestigious pinnacle. For a moment Ronnie had to compose himself and fight back the tears as he spoke about his son Dale who had recently survived a tough accident. The room fell silent, and the heart of this Fancier from Ireland spoke volumes. He shared many concepts and and conclusions that he had garnered through his many years of racing experience. In his breeding lofts his basic concept is breeding champions to champions. If at all possible he will endeavor to bring like physical types together. Ronnie preferred to breed a pearl eye to a yellow eye. He cautioned against allowing the pearl eyes to become too “washed out’. He spoke of line breeding with Father/Daughter, Mother/Son, and Half Brother/Half Sister pairings as well. I asked if he would race the offspring (for example from a Father/Daughter mating) his answer was indeed he would, and he has had Champions as a result.
He scrapes the lofts twice daily … He likes the sunlight to shine completely through his lofts for warmth, dryness and a sense of well being. He places a very strong and serious emphasis on the moult, paying close attention to that (sometimes forgotten) time of the season. Fresh air and cleanliness are top priority at all times. He does feed some barley, and will use his own homemade version of cracked corn for the long races. He often uses rice in preparation for the long races as well.
Ronnie races 60 YB’s on darkening … and he also trains 60 natural YB’s (on course only) for preparation as yearlings [he does not race the natural YB’s…only trains them] he flies the round-about widowhood system for his OB’s. He trains from 15 miles to 60 miles depending upon the needs of the pigeons.
His family of pigeons are his own. The Busschaerts were among his original bloodlines, however he now has what one might term “Williamsons.” I asked Ronnie about The European and English fanciers and their many different strains and families. He honestly said he does not pay too much attention to other fanciers, but that he would rather concentrate on his own pigeons breeding his champions back to his own champions. His breeding and racing lofts are what I would like to term as “hardcore” performance based pigeons.
Editor’s note: As some of you may know I am a huge fan of the Janssen Brothers of Arendonk. I have read, studied, and researched everything I could my hands on for many years now. My deepest interest was to explore and discover their secrets and breeding methods. I know about their pigeons, but more importantly I wanted to know about them (The Brothers)..what made them tick? I have spoken with many different fanciers through the years, about many different methods and pigeon topics. But NEVER ..and I mean NEVER have I spoken with anyone who was so closely aligned with the Brothers passion and sheer genius as Mr. Ronnie Williamson. I could pay no higher compliment to a fellow fancier as I just did here!
Ronnie’s pure love for his pigeons and his passion to win was in a different stratosphere than anyone I have ever met. Interestingly he also is a very simple and kind hearted human being.
THE AUCTION .. There were 50 pigeons imported to Omaha Nebraska from Newry Ireland in January of 2016. 50 that’s all. I have been to more auctions than I can count or even care to remember. I have imported many pigeons from some of the very best in Europe. But NEVER, have I ever witnessed such a fine selection of pigeons as I did in Nebraska on Sunday afternoon the 30th of October 2016.
IRONICALLY .. I did not have the slightest intention of purchasing a pigeon at this Auction. In fact I didn’t even plan on attending this event until a week before it actually took place. It was then when I talked to Drew from the ‘Loft Report’ that we decided to do an exclusive write up on the entire affair.
The Auction was to begin at 2:00 Sunday afternoon. Ronnie was doing a question and answer session with the fanciers in attendance just prior to the Auction. The birds were roped off and absolutely no one was able to view or handle them. It was about 1:30 when I asked the Commander and Chief Carter Mayotte, If I might jump the ropes for some close up pics before the pigeons were handled by the many fanciers in attendance. Carter gave me the nod, and off I went with my camera for a ‘sneak’ preview and began the photo shoot of these amazing pigeons. It wasn’t until then that I fully realized that this was a very exceptional auction … perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had spoken with, interviewed, studied, and made friends with the man (Ronnie williamson)..so that part was completed. But when I laid eyes on these incredible pigeons … I knew my savings account would be a ‘wee bit’ lighter ..as the Irish might say….
I have been an AU Certified Judge for many years now…It is not a secret that I can spot and appreciate an exceptional pigeon. After a lifetime around pigeons you do learn a few things about the difference between a great pigeon and a good pigeon. There was NOT a dud in the bunch. Some still needed a little more time to finish the moult, but only about 4 or 5. (and these were still very nice). Sometimes you see these perfect pictures of pigeons in and around the fancy. However most pigeons cannot live up to the photo. The opposite was true with Ronnie’s pigeons. Indeed the photo’s were quite nice….however they did not due justice to the beauty and perfection of these pigeons. Honesty to say I was impressed with this selection raised from the champion of Northern Ireland would be an understatement. Pedigree after pedigree just LOADED with super performance, Many of the parents were National champions, against several thousand pigeons..there was ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘White Nose’, ‘Millennium Superstar’, ‘Pied Boy’, ‘Special One’ … and on and on and on… I handled every pigeon taking much time with each detail … I knew this auction would be one for the ages.
I had a great time at this event, and vowed to return next year after lining up handlers for the 2017 Classic. I want to thank Carter and the boys from Oklahoma for putting on such a quality race and auction. Also a big thank you to Ronnie Williamson for the many enlightening conversations, and for his extreme generosity in bringing his very best with him to the USA…