(photo: Chris Sutton)
Mark is from a pigeon background but actually started flying in his own right back when he was 14 years old. He flew in partnership with Nigel Grandison and remembers their first win when they took 1st, 2nd and 3rd from Niort, 350 miles, with a family that they knew as the flying fleas. Mistakes were made then, but they were learnt from. His father has had a big influence on Mark and still be found around the lofts helping out with feeding and cleaning. He will also let the birds out for their exercise periods when needed.
The present day team and its winning traditions probably start with Southfield Supreme. In 2004 Supreme was 1st International Dax against 17,400 birds. Moving forward to 2011 the Southfield lofts won 1st, 2nd, 4th, against over 4,000 pigeons and had 13 positions in the top 26. This was in the National Flying Club. Also in that year another international was won. From Agen Mark won 1st and 2nd against 11,400 yearlings and in the same race 1st, 2nd, 3rd, international hens against 3,200 birds. The following year the Saintes race with the National Flying Club was won again. There were, again, over 4,000 birds competing and 7th and 8th open positions were also taken.
2013 is now proving to be a champion season for Mark. Inland club and federation races have resulted in the following:
Blandford, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, Windsor RPC 650 birds Honiton, 1st, 5th, 7th, 8th, 20th, 26th, 28th, BBO Fed, 3,379 birds Exeter, 1st, 2nd, BBO Fed, 3,384 birds Honiton, 1st, 3rd, 28th, BBO Fed, 2,794 birds
With the LSECC:
Messac, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 20th, 650 birds
Alencon, BICC, 5th, 10th Open, 4,797 birds Cholet, National Flying Club, 4th, 5th, 24th Open, 6,500 birds Messac, National Flying Club, 10th, 11th Open, 6,500 birds Agen, BICC, 1st Open, 660 birds Tarbes, National Flying Club, 2nd, 7th Open Pau, BICC, 3rd Open. Barcelona, BICC, 4th, 5th Open Perpignan, BICC, 2nd Open
Pau International, 3rd, 34th Open, 8,500 birds
Mark has won the National Flying Club averages on each of the last three years. This includes winning the prestigious Langstone Gold Cup. 2012 saw Mark compete in all of the international long distance races with the BICC and won the averages by over 500 yards per minute from the next UK member. With a good performance in the 2013 young bird national in the NFC it looks as if Mark will again be the proud holder of the Langstone Gold Cup again. It is now the question that everyone will ask before assuming they have won a race, what time is Mark Gilbert in.
In order to perpetuate the winning traditions at his Southfield lofts Mark has put together a solid breeding plan. Using Southfield Supreme as his base pigeon, Mark has added further international winners and children of winners. From Peter and Dr Hans-Peter Brockamp he has added 8 children from Euro Diamond and 2 from Minstral. There are also 4 children from George, the father of Euro Diamond and Minstral. Three children off Perpignan 06 are also in his breeding loft. These birds have been successful from the outset already breeding 1st international Agen against 11,400 birds for him.
Mark has also added top pigeons from Etienne Meirlaen to his team. He won on the PIPA auction, Starlight who was 2nd international from Tarbes as well as 9th and 26th national. He was also successful with his bid for Kannibaal, the winner of 4th international Barcelona against 25,000 birds and 26th international Perpignan.
Southfield Supreme has proven himself to be a champion breeder. He is the father of 2 x 1st BBO Fed against up to 3,000 birds and birds who have come to win 4th, 9th, 12th Open in the National Flying Club. He is also the grandfather of a whole host of champion pigeons. 1st open national Saintes for Mark. 1st open national for Roger Lowe and 2 x 1st provincial for Geoff Cooper.
One of the best tips that Mark feels he could offer to fanciers is, if you want to win 1st international you need to try and buy children or grandchildren from birds that have won 1st international. If you only want to win 50th then buy from birds that have won 50th. It is an old saying that says the apple does not fall far from the tree. This means that to win races you need to buy as close to pigeons that have already won big races, if not the winners themselves.
Theo Rutz of Germany is a fancier that is attracting a lot of attention at the moment from top performers around Europe. Obviously Mark is one of the top fanciers that has beaten a track to his door and is looking forward to being able to report yet more winners with these bloodlines.
On a personal note, although Mark does try to buy from these top pigeons, he does like them to handle light for their size. Small to medium pigeons are the ones that seem to work best in Mark’s system. The eye and how the back reacts when handled are not of concern him.
Mark’s methods are very simple and there are no secrets. He believes that the loft environment has to be correct. Ventilation but no draughts.
The birds need to be the best that can be obtained. There are also horses for courses, long distance birds for the long end and middle distance families for those distances. We have looked at his longer end families but he also has birds from the best of the Koopmans and Drapa lines and families with a pedigree of similar ilk that can win at the middle distance.
Before the season starts Mark gives his old bird’s just two training tosses, a week apart. They return to their partner and after that it is just one hour a day flying at home and races. If they do not fly around the loft then they are flagged.
The feeding is the same for all of the birds, old and young. They are hopper fed Versele Laga Super Star. Mark hand feeds the seed into the hoppers and when the first birds start leaving the corn, feeding is stopped. The last five feeds before the pigeons are despatched to the middle distance races include peanuts, cheese pellets and high energy food. For the longer races it is the last seven feeds.
The hens and cocks are not shown to each other when being sent to the race but they are allowed together on their return.
Mark is very observant when it comes to the pigeons and is a firm believer in that you will only get out what you put in. If there is a performance that is not up to standard then look at what you have done, not at what the birds have done wrong.
Mark does put a lot of effort into his team but it also has to be said that there are others who help with the overall outcome. Although he races his own team, Mark’s father is a constant visitor to the loft. He helps perform some of the general day to day management tasks and is always on hand for Mark to bounce ideas off. There are a few labour saving ideas used in the lofts. There are wooden grills on the floors to take all of the droppings away from the pigeons. The nest boxes have conveyors underneath and the birds sit on grills. The droppings are then collected in boxes at the end of each row of boxes. It should be pointed out that these belts are not just turned on at cleaning time. Mark does look at the quality of the droppings to make sure that all is well within the birds and will make a judgement call on how the birds should be managed based upon what he observes.
In order to help with the overall cleanliness of the environment the birds are all fed, one section at a time, in the corridors.
Medication is not something that Mark Gilbert claims to know everything about. He treats for canker at the start of the season but will then only give treatment for ailments when recommended by the vet. Natural is considered to be best.
Good pigeons, good methods and total dedication.
GB11J10644 is the latest winner for Mark winning 1st Open British International Championship Club from Agen;
this the new addition to his long line of winners (photo: Chris Sutton)
Mark Gilbert has put himself in a position above most other flyers by purchasing the best he can, putting in the maximum effort and making sure he does not miss anything that happens in his loft. If this is where you want to be in the pigeon world then it is Mark Gilbert you have to emulate or improve on. Use his methods and have his quality of pigeons to use the methods on.
Mark and his dad
One last thing that you will notice at the Southfield loft is the constant stream of visitors and telephone calls from fanciers. Pigeons are a way of life in the Gilbert household.