Andy Cooke Ballycarry & Dist –
Andy Cooke of Ballycarry & District
During the 2012 season I kept seeing the name Andy Cooke of Ballycarry at the top of his club results week after week and I promised to call and see his set up. I found time was not on my side as I was racing my own pigeons, playing a bit of golf twice a week, plus running my grandson to the swimming pool.
Ballycarry is a small village on the outskirts of Carrickfergus in County Antrim. The change finally came when I had to go to Larne as my grandson Paddy was swimming in the 11-12 age group.
I had never been in Ballycarry but had no trouble finding Andys home. I could see the very impressive 30ft loft from the roadside and a pigeon painted on the gate pillar. I was thinking to myself he must have a super team of widowhood cocks after glancing at some of the results his fellow club member Joe Reid had sent me.
Tullamore (1) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th Club; 44th, 45th, 46th Sect C and 173rd, 174th, 175th Open NIPA 16,200 birds. Tullamore (2) 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th Club; 3rd and 6th Sect C; 153rd Open NIPA 24,133 birds. Roscrea 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th Club; 3rd, 25th, 26th, 27th Sect C and 4th Open NIPA 27,017 birds. Clonmel 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 9th and 10th Club; 7th, 8th Sect C and 28th Open NIPA 26,688 birds. Fermoy 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th Club; 9th Sect C and 20th Open NIPA 28,178 birds. Rosscarbery OB Inl Nat 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th Club; 50th Sect C and 227th Open NIPA 6,175 birds. Clonmel -1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th and 10th Club; 49th Sect C. The Cooke loft competed in all seven of the inland club races in Ireland and won 7 x straight 1sts!
The first two cross channel races from Talbenny (Wales) saw Andy win 2nd Club Talbenny (1) followed by 1st Club Talbenny (2) finishing 20th Sect C and 66th Open NIPA 7,039 birds. I think my readers will agree this is outstanding racing by a team of pigeons at the top of their form.
Now What about the pigeons that have achieved so much in 2012. After a welcome cup of coffee Andy took me out to the loft. The first shock I had was the number of pigeons in the OB Sections, about 20. Eight pairs of stock birds very top quality and five late breds. The second shock nearly keeled me over the pigeons in 2012 were raced on the Natural System and outshone all the Widowhood cocks in the area. Take heart you natural flyers, it can be done but you need good pigeons and hard work.
Andys loft looks out over open fields towards the Black Mountain West of Belfast.
The loft is a credit to Andys skills, it is self built and well thought out to minimise the work load. Andy races on his own, has a full time job and is up at dawn to get his birds flown, fed and sent for training every day weather permitting. Then its off to work at a very early hour. Andy sadly lost his lovely partner Stephanie a short time ago and has three super daughters, the youngest having gone to University.
Andy has always been interested in pigeons from a very early age but it was not until 1999 that he raced seriously in the Carrickfergus Social winning the first two races.
He has been at his present address in Ballycarry for seven years and joined the local club of some 15 members. Being a very serious fancier with the motto only the best will do, he researched the internet for some time studying the results and finally decided on the Van Doe Heuvals pigeons and these were then obtained from Bert Bratt of Wolverhampton. I first met Andy at the Complete Clearance Sale of Morrison of Ballynahinch held in Newtownbreda. Several class birds have come from Gerald Delaney and the latest is a daughter of Aviator from Mike Ganus.
So much for the birds, how does he manage to achieve such outstanding results? His loft is bone dry, well ventilated with plenty of light. The birds are trained in the morning about 30 miles and flown out in the evening. His YBs range freely and would fly one to two hours until called in with the whistle. They have food in the hoppers all the time (OBs) which is a mixture of four different corns. Andy mixes the food depending on the distance and weather conditions. Andy concentrates on Inland Racing, and varies the food depending on each weeks race. All the feeding comes from good friends Robert and June Kirkwood, Gem & Versele-Laga.
Those of us who race pigeons know that a set back can happen at any time and this is what Andy had to contend with just before the start of the YB Season.
After a disasterous start to the YB season having had a very bad training toss from Hillsborough only having five birds home from 34 liberated at lunch-time on the day. One or two others made their way home over the following week and he had one report from Dundalk this week. Andy was left with 10 or 12 healthy enough to race after a long recovery period they managed to get a few of the later races and didnt let themselves down.
Roscrea (151 miles) 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Club. Clonmel (184 miles) 2nd & 3rd Club. Fermoy (205 miles) 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Club. Rosscarbery Inland YB Nat (259 miles) 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Club. In the last 16 races entered 14 x 1sts, and 2 x 2nd prizes with other places. At Club level the Cooke loft won the OB Inland Average, OB Knock-Out, and Young Bird of the Year.
Fanciers from other clubs have raced successfully with pigeons obtained from Andy. When asked how he brought his birds into form Andy feels id done on the Natural System they hold their form longer and perform to a higher standard. Andy will use a few medicines and treatment for canker is a must. The wire grills and a dry loft means there is little need for cocci or worm treatment. He likes to build a natural immunity.
How would you judge a good racing pigeon? By the time its feet hits the landing board on a Saturday. Andy believes in progeny testing and if they are not up to standard they are out not passed on to others. No Roundabout, Widowhood birds raced Natural, while young birds are on the Darkness System and allowed to pair naturally.
Andy is a good worker at the club doing weekly results and organising the annual dinner and prize presentation. Early in his career showing budgies was his main hobby, and he went on to win prizes at World Championship level. He wishes to acknowledge the advice given to him by Gerald Delaney and the impact of Emerald Lass a hen of George Robinsons Van de Rhee strain that he bought through the Emerald Classic.
It was an eye opener to me and what an enjoyable loft visit that I will remember for some time.