Ian Stafford - Skinningrove (UK) : ‘Pigeons in the Blood’

After talking to Ian and hearing his fantastic results, especially since the introduction of the wonderful Jos Thone bloodlines back in 1998, I can truly say that Ian Stafford and his pigeons are worthy of every single word written within this article.

 Ian Stafford is 49 years old and started keeping pigeons when he was eleven.  His parents bought him an allotment garden for the costly sum of £10 in 1973.  At the time the only pigeons available were mostly stray racers caught on the local rundown buildings and the odd gift bird from local fanciers.
After a while his parents realised that his infatuation with the pigeons was causing problems with his school work as often Ian chose not to go to school and would regularly play truant sitting on the allotments with all the local pigeon fanciers and return home at the end of the school day.  His mother’s exact words were that the pigeons would be the ruination of him as though he had a brain he would only use it for his pigeons.   
To fund the keeping of the birds Ian took a variety of jobs such as paper and milk rounds since his parents were unable to afford to help, his father being a miner and his mother a shop worker, with little or no spare money.
Ian left school at the age of 16 and started work as an apprentice motor mechanic in a local garage.  When he was 29 Ian decided to start working for himself with the intentions of making a better life for his family but also to give him a more flexible working environment to enable him to fly the birds as he wanted.

There were many years without any significant success but this was all to change in 1984.  Ian had gone into partnership with a local fancier in 1983 and halfway through the season they fell out.  From that day  Ian’s attitude to pigeons totally changed since he became so motivated to beat his ex-partner at club level and that motivation is what still drives him on right up to the present day.  The following season Ian won his first championship being the Young Bird Average in South Moor Wednesday Club.  
 Ian was top prizewinner in the club in 1985 runner up 1986 top again 1987 till he moved in 1992, he was top prizewinner in the federation in 1993, runner up in 1994 and then the top prizewinner every season till he moved yet again in 2003, ian was still runner up in the federation 2003 racing a mere 9 broken out old birds and a team of 2nd round youngsters from then on till his last move Ian was top prizewinner every year setting a record number of points in the federations history In 2007 ..
In October 2002 Ian was on holiday with a group of friends in the Indonesian island of Bali where he was caught up in the bombing that killed over 200 people including 2 of Ian’s friends.  Ian himself was badly injured, needing over 100 stitches to his wounds and spent a week in hospital.  This had an inevitable psychological effect on Ian and he suffered for some time with post traumatic stress syndrome in fact it got so bad that in one nightmare he dived out of bed and broke his collar bone,  but the pigeons eventually put Ian back on the road to recovery as they gave him a focus and purpose during a very difficult period of his life.  
In 2008 after the breakdown of his marriage Ian moved to Carlin How where his current loft is now situated.It is a wonderful location with rolling hills and fields, a pigeon fanciers paradise.  All the lofts were built by himself with the occasional help of his friend Trevor Garland to whom he is extremely grateful.Like everything that Ian does pigeon wise they really are superbly constructed and incorporate many of the innovations that Jos has on his own lofts  He started racing young birds from the new location in 2009 and in the YB National he was just beaten into 2nd place by a mere 3 seconds out of an entry of over 19,000 birds.  

   I hope that this gives readers an insight of where Ian has come from to where he finds himself today.  He told me that one of the things that he did find was to constantly keep on the lookout for even better pigeons in order to stay at the top.  In 1987 he obtained his first Staf Van Reet birds and these kept him at the top at club and federation level.  However in 1998 Ian decided to switch more to middle to long distance racing.  He was introduced to the Comed Company in Belgium and subsequently Jos Thone.  This proved to be the best move he had ever made in pigeons as he found that Jos not only had far superior birds but was one of the most honest and genuine men that he has had the good fortune to meet within the pigeon world.  Jos not only helped him with the supply of top birds but also with top management tips and advice. Ian Stafford has simply gobbled up this advice.

  As an indication of the class of the Thone pigeons readers will no doubt be interested to read that out of the first six birds that were obtained from Jos five are still in his breeding loft and are still breeding winners at 12 years of age, three examples being, Fortuetous, Romulus, Jeronimo.  Such is the constitution of these birds that they each reared five rounds of youngsters this year.  What Ian found was that his sprint orientated Staf Van Reet pigeons very rarely bred past their 8th year.  Many more birds were obtained from JOS over  the years nearly always on JOS THONE’S personal recommendations.  If  Jos said ‘’buy it -  it will produce the goods’’  very rarely was he wrong. For a bird to stay in Ian’s loft it needs more than a good  pedigree it must produce winners  within 2 seasons or it is disposed of because Ian Stafford doesn’t keep pigeons just to look at.

 Over the years ian has made many mistakes in his life but believes that as long as you learn from them its ok. One such mistake was when he sold the father of the 1st international winner out of Dax to Brian Shepherd in England. Let me explain,  Ian brought a batch of birds from Jos and selected what he thought were the best six and sold the rest on as was Jos’ directives, Ian  in fact kept the nestmate (the hen) and sold her nestmate to Brian. This became known as the EMPEROR a direct son of Jos’ sensational breeder SUMO when he was paired to EVA, WHAT A COCK  HE TURNED OUT TO BE. AS HE WENT ON TO BECOME  SIRE OF 1ST INTERNATIONAL DAX THEN THE VERY NEXT YEAR FATHERED ANOTHER BIRD TO WIN 2ND INTERNATIONAL ONCE AGAIN FROM DAX ! . 
The super breeder SUMO in fact runs through the vast majority of Ian’s top birds,  especially when he combine’s with the SARS line. This SARS line in Ians eyes moved the Jos Thone pigeons on to a different level, Ian said that THE ARTIFICIAL YUTTA is without doubt the finest pigeon he has ever handled .

 Just to highlight a few of Ians ‘Champions’. His 1st ever national  winner in 1998 was a chequer cock called ‘JR’.  This cock was a grand son of SYLVERE TOYE’S ‘PETER PAU’ on one side and  an old established long distance family from the North East of England on the other. This cock won from Bourges  a distance of 560miles (875 kms) on the day then one and half weeks later he won 1st club 21st national from 410miles (615 kms) in a head wind this pigeon was fed and conditioned  exactly to the letter from the advice given by Jos Thone.  This pigeon was Ians only entry in the race, even Jos asked ‘’ How many birdswas Ian sending?’’ when he said just the one Jos commented that he thought it would be a tough task to even get him back home let alone win the race but Ian knew when he basketed him that he felt ‘different’ to what he had ever done before .The next national winner was in 2006 with a hen  named NATALIE LOUISE and is the best pigeon that Ian has ever raced which is a big statement in view of the superb pigeons that he has flown over the years. He explains that  she always gave 100pcent and she had many wins and was the ‘Ace’ channel bird in the federation as a 2 year old this was the season she won the National out of 367miles (575 kms)she was the only bird in the race to exceed a velocity of 1300ypm , the following season there was no channel racing but she was still the 1st Ace bird in the federation racing only inland  racepoints. She was then put to stock as a 4 year old where she is  proving to be a real goldmine producer. The 1st youngster bred from her 1st daughter was a cock called ‘LITTLE LOUIS’ and he went on to win three races as a young bird.  Then he was sold along with the rest of Ians record breaking race team at Blackpool. Now every youngster off ‘Natalie Louise’ goes straight into  the stock loft with the exception of the 1st nest, her sire is a cwc  FAV who in turn was the best channel bird in the federation  he also won 8th national and 18th national both from 400miles (600 kms) but he hit the wires as a 2 yearold so was put into the stock loft where he has been phenomenal so much so that nearly every direct Jos Thone pigeon in the future will be paired to a son or daughter of either him or ‘Natalie Louise’ .FAV, was bred from BROER ARNOLDUS a full brother to the Jos Thone’s Versele Laga world championship winner ARNOLDUS ,the dam of FAV was a gift bird from Ian’s good friend ALAN HINDHAUGH of WASHINGTON on TYNESIDE. This hen was of Van Loon x Busschaert origin,the dam of ‘NATALIE LOUISE’ WAS NONE OTHER THAN THE 1ST DTR OF’SUMO’ when he was paired to’ MISS OTTEY’  that Ian got from JOS namely ‘KELLY HOLMES’,who  along with her nest mate ‘SUMOSAN’ have produced a dynasty of winners all over the uk .

Ians next national winner was in 2007 and if ever there  was a champion in the making it was this cock ‘SUMOSIDE’, HE WON 1ST NATIONAL FROM 7800 BIRDS FROM 240MILES (360kms) WHEN IAN WON 1ST AND  2ND he also won at least 7 frederation positions out of approx 10 races flown before he hit the wires and died on the loft front from a 30mile training toss. Ian learned a massive lesson that day and this was to never train your birds by basket when you are treating for canker, as he is sure that  it affects there vision as this was not the first time that this has happened. ’SUMOSIDE’ was bred from ‘SARTORIAL’ a direct son of ‘SARS’ when he was paired to ‘BELLA’ .’SARTORIAL’ was paired to ‘SASCHA’ the ACE DTR OF’ SUMO’ yet again.
Ians next national winner was in May this year was with’ BEFF’ out of Lillers 311miles (470 kms)  when she beat over 18,300 birds,BEFF INCREDIBLY TOPPED THE FEDERATION BY 16MINUTES AND THIs WAS IN AN EASTERLY WIND  as Ian is one of the most Easterly situated lofts in the organisation every body said that the bird should never of won the National that day but she did, her sire is ‘SIMPLY THE BEST’ another son of ‘SARS’ but this time ‘SARS’ was paired to ‘AMELIA’ the mother of ‘ SEDNA 1’ ,’ SIMPLY THE BEST’  is proving to be one of the most pre potent stock cocks that Ian has ever had on his lofts. He is sire and gsire to many big winners with yet another dtr ‘JORDAN’ won 2 x1st fed as a youngster along with 3 positions in the 1st 10 of the whole liberations of between 5 -10,000 birds, he is also the grand sire to the Teurlings ‘Gold ring’ race winner this year for a Mr Tudor of the West Midlands of England.  This is the biggest ring scheme in the UK at the present moment the bird won approx £6000. Yet another gson / gdtr won 4th open in the same race last year, the dam of  ‘BEFF’ was a hen called the ‘GOLDEN ONE’ she was bought at the JOS THONE sale in Blackpool but not before some young thug stole her out of the pen but was apprehended as he ran up the road. Perhaps he knew how good she was going to be as she is bred from one of jos provincial winners ‘DELLAS’ when paired to BELO3/5071528 a daughter of first national Bourges x 1st  national La Souterraine.
Out of the cleremont QUEENS CUP race Ian topped the fed again in an east wind and was 11th open approx 15000 birds with 2633 a super blue cock grand son of’Napoleon’

In September this year Ian was 3rd and 6th national against over17,000 birds. The 3rd national winner is called ‘OWIE’ and is from a son of Jos’ famous  ‘SARSO’ when paired to a daughter of’ BRO ARNOLDUS’. The 6th  National winner ‘CASSIUS’ just 12 days later went on to win 1st open Up North combine from Lillers 311 miles.(470 kms). This race was open to 4 combines and there was a ten bird limit on this race. Ian only sent 6 but this was his first Nomination. He came like a rocket and hopefully has the making of something special. A first and a 6th national in 12 days !! absolutely amazing flying. ‘CASSIUS’ was bred from a son of ‘ROMULUS’ the brother to one of Jos Thone’s World championship winners, when paired to a daughter of ‘FORTUETOUS’ when he was paired to’ MISS PERFECT’ the ace daughter of ‘BONK’ and  ‘ARTIFICIAL YUTTA’.
  Ian told me that when he moved to Carlin How which is situated just inland of theNorth East coastal town of Skinningrove he set himself two targets. One of these ambitions was to win a 1st Prize in the mighty Up North Combine and the second was to become the top prize winner of the Combine within five years. This is obviously a big ask as the UNC has 1886 members, made up from 23 Federations.Of which Ian’s Federation the East Cleveland is the largest and regularly sends 3,500 plus pigeons. When you consider that the Federation is approximately  3miles wide and the same from the top to the bottom and boasts 141 members you beginning to realise how deeply condensed the area is with pigeon fanciers in fact I would ask is there another place on the planet so highly populated with so many enthusiasts?.The points are awarded to the first 150 birds in a race the 1st placed bird getting 150 points down to the 150th claiming 1 point. Well in 2010 Ian Stafford’s birds amassed over 1,000 points . This mean’t that he had not only achieved  both of Ian’s ambitions in his first season but his birds won more points in every Old bird race than any other loft in the Combine in the six races that he competed in!!. When you consider that Ian Stafford has done this with a team comprising of only Yearlings, the mind boggles , Especially when you realise that every one of these races were flown with an East wind blowing. Has the UNC ever witnessed such a fantastic feat?. Personally I very much doubt it!. Ian also told me that he had had his birds tested for drugs, both Old and Young birds, This was never a problem as Ian Stafford believes that testing for illegal substances should be carried out as he is very much against drug abuse and also that it proved to a small minority that the Stafford pigeons were 100% clean. It was explained to me that the simple reason for the phenominal successes is all down to superior pigeons and plain old hard work. Ian’s alarm goes off at 5.00am and it is true to say that the man ‘eats,sleeps and drinks pigeons’. So who can begrudge him his fantastic results  ?. Remember you only get back what you put in! And Ian Stafford puts plenty in and thats a fact.
Ian is always on the lookout for birds to enhance his colony  and he had found them when he purchased 6 pairs from GERARD KOOPMANS best pigeons, these birds crossed into his family of Thones  have produced some good pigeons but Ian was forced to sell them when he split up with his ex- partner but hopefully the remaining youngsters from the original Koopman’s will produce the goods as well,
 Ian Stafford races the birds  the same way as Jos ,the cocks live in the front of the loft in their boxes whilst  the hens live in aviaries to the rear the only time Ian allows the cocks to see the hens is on the return from the race. However the hens get to see the cocks before every national race ,they stay together anything from 1 hour to overnight depending on how hard the race is. All cocks and hens go to every race but if he has a good bird trying, he would make sure its mate was home the week before a big race and may even stop it for good if its mate proves to be a top bird

Ian has learned many things from Jos but the best advice given was to get away from the idea of treating the birds ‘willy nilly’ with antibiotics and try and promote natural good health. Ian though treats every 3 weeks during racing against canker useing Ronidazole as the drug of choice but in the winter, two months before pairing Ian gives every bird in the loft a 5 day course on  diemetrazole (emtryl) this is the only treatment the stock pigeons ever receive . Ian used to vaccinate the stock birds as well as the racers for paratyphus but now  only does the racers .
Ian gets his birds tested by Retford poultry labs in England once before pairing and just before racing begins both for Old birds and Young birds,and would only otherwise treat if  anything untowards was found. Ian does use a few products from a company in Belgium called Belga vet and thinks that these natural products definetly help keep the birds in optimum condition.
Ian  said that he would like to say a special thank you to JOS THONE for all the help and friendship offered and gratefully received over the years as Ian is sure that without this sound advice that a lot of his finest performances would never of happened. I found it such a refreshing change to see  a successful fancier like Ian Stafford placing, much of the credit to the man who supplied him with so many SUPER QUALITY racing pigeons. Perhaps this is a mark of the calibre of Ian Stafford a man ‘with pigeons in his blood’