16 Nov 2014

King of the Perch

From Spectrum, 12:05 pm on 16 November 2014

“My pigeons…they’ve been a great help to me because I could come home, totally relax and forget about all the things that could possibly worry me…so I hope I can have this hobby until I meet them perhaps somewhere else.”

 - Mac Armstrong.

Mac watching one of his racing cocks

Mac watching one of his racing cocks take flight. RNZ/ Lisa Thompson.

Mac and his wife Mary“I have a friend that names all his birds and he’s named one particular champion of his Mary, after my wife (pictured right, with Mac). But he hasn’t named any Mac though!” says Mac Armstrong with a chuckle.

Perhaps it might be time.

For Mac is the current titleholder of the annual Invercargill to Auckland long-distance pigeon race.

At a distance of over 1,200 kilometres as the pigeon flies, the race is the premier event on the competition calendar and is the one Mac now trains his birds specifically for.

“I don’t like blowing my trumpet but I’ve won the race seven times…nationally and internationally it seems to be the limit for pigeons just about... so I’m really blessed.”

Mac with some of his boxed racing hens

Mac with some of his boxed racing hens. RNZ/ Lisa Thompson.

Spectrum’s Lisa Thompson joins Mac in the lead up to the 2014 Invercargill to Auckland race and learns what it takes to be king of the perch.

Huntly power station

Huntly power station, Mac’s not so secret training weapon. Mac believes his racing pigeons can spy the station’s two 150 metre tall cooling chimneys from as far away as New Plymouth when they’re flying home to Auckland from Invercargill. RNZ/ Lisa Thompson.

Having bred and raced pigeons in New Zealand for close on 60 years, Mac does know a thing or two about getting the best out of his birds.

“I’m very fond of them and I like to make sure they get the best treatment.  Their loft must be dry and spotlessly clean and everything is stainless steel for hygiene and they are not overcrowded.  And also the fact that I let them out to fly and give them their freedom, that helps keep them fit and healthy.”

Mac demonstrating the narrowness of the primary flight feathers

Mac demonstrating the narrowness of the primary flight feathers on one of his Invercargill racing hens. “Well covered with good feathering,” he says. “No gaps, most important!” RNZ/ Lisa Thompson.

Mac also tries not to handle his birds too often and imports feed grains from different parts of the world to provide the pigeons with different minerals and additives that aren’t present in New Zealand.

Mac with his hens

Mac with his hens, who are enjoying a well-deserved meal of light grains after their flight. RNZ/ Lisa Thompson.

When other fanciers approach him for advice, Mac is always happy to oblige.

“I’m very free with my thoughts to people…if someone is a good fancier and is rather keen I will lend them a hen or a cock and I only lend ones that are winners. So you know, it’s a hobby for me…and very important relaxation.”