Racing home to Spalding

Roger Rout couldn’t feel more proud of his brood if they were his own children winning medals.

He understands that bringing up a champion is about giving them the right food, creating the right atmosphere and a safe environment.

Roger Rout in his lofts. Photo: SG250216-122TW

Roger Rout in his lofts. Photo: SG250216-122TW

There is also the matter of sex, a useful motivator when it comes to pigeon racing.

Roger and his wife Eileen keep dozens of pigeons in lofts in their garden at Windsor Drive in Spalding, and have enjoyed successes over the years.

However, Roger is concerned that fewer people are now coming into what was once a very popular pastime.

He puts this down to the trend towards smaller gardens, the cost of equipment as well as the time-consuming nature of the hobby.

Roger Rout with one of his birds. Photo: SG250216-121TW

Roger Rout with one of his birds. Photo: SG250216-121TW

Roger and Eileen’s day begins at 5.30am in the summer when the pigeons known as Widowhoods are released to fly for around an hour before coming back to the loft to feed.

Widowhoods are, simply put, birds separated from their partners to encourage them to fly home to them.

The cocks are “shown the ladies” and, just as they are starting to coo and cuddle, the lovers are parted and the males are placed in a basket and sent off in lorries for the race. Their motivation to fly home to the loft is that their mate is waiting there for them.

Then there are the distance birds who are paired up and allowed to rear babies – their motivation is to fly home to the babies.

Roger and Eileen Rout: a woman's touch is important in pigeon breeding, says Roger. Photo: SG250216-133TW

Roger and Eileen Rout: a woman's touch is important in pigeon breeding, says Roger. Photo: SG250216-133TW

They might be flying more than 500 miles at a time, from the Shetland Isles back to Spalding,or 700 miles if they have been transported to say Germany.

Roger says: “They are like a racing car. You have to put the right amount of fuel in for the journey, you have to study the weather and get your facts right. It’s a love of home that brings them back, that’s the only thing it can be.”

Looking after the birds means creating that love of home with healthy food, a good partner, making sure there are no disturbances, such as cats, and generally creating a safe environment.

In fact, Roger says the birds “live a life of luxury”, with temperature controlled transportation to liberation sites, as well as food and water for the journey there.

The conditions of their flight path home have to be carefully checked to make sure they have 99 per cent perfect weather for the journey, as heavy rain can force them down until they are dry enough to continue their flight.

Roger says: “We are getting more birds of prey and when pigeons get home shot there is only one thing you can do, destroy them. After the guts and determination they have shown to get home it is heartbreaking.”