Russ Osmond and Harley Smithson III have a very unique hobby, raising and racing homing pigeons. They call their feathered friends “Thoroughbreds of the Sky,” like race horses.
Osmond is the president of Cross Roads Racing Pigeon Club. The club has about 30 members. He says his birds get better care than him because his wife tends to them the most. The birds will sell for as much as $50 to $100,000, although they give birds to beginners.
Each bird wears a computer chip on its leg at 10 days old. Info on the chip states the national organization, year of birth, club name and individual number. You can’t race them without a band with a chip.
Osmond keeps sexes separate and puts them together to motivate them when released. In other words, do the boys follow the girls home?
You can calculate how fast they fly in yards per minute. The birds will fly 100 to 600 miles in a race, and they can be home in one day after flying 600 miles.
There are hundreds of different varities of pigeons, such as a Chinese owl that has a certain turn-up of its feathers.
As a rule, the birds are very affectionate animals and want to return home. That’s one reason they are called homing pigeons.
The coop is set up with a shelf on the outside that they land on to walk over a computer chip sensor that reads and records all the birds’ info. It’s called a Benzing clocking system.
Osmond feeds the pigeons a special mix from Europe. It has different grains like corn, beans, sunflower seed and milo. Pigeons have to have grit to process their food, like granite, oyster shell, charcoal and minerals.
Osmond has 30 birds and it takes 19 days to hatch an egg and another 30 days to move them into an older group. After the birds have feathered out, he trains them to go into the loft to be fed. He whistles to signal them for supper. They start flying at two months old.
They are totally tame birds although sometimes they are leery to come into the coop after a long run, so he sends up a bird to bring them on down.
The Queen of England has homing pigeons. If you go online to Pacoma Films, you can see a lot of neat stuff. If you’re interested in pigeons, give Osmond a call at 307-649-3181.
Smithson is an official race starter, not like the Indy 500 with a flag. Harley transports the pigeons to the release site. This weekend he is going to Columbia, Missouri, for the birds to fly 250 miles back home.
A few of the good old boys at the check station today are Mike Frakes, Larry Sample, Osmond, Ralph Yagle, Steve DeGroote, Jerry Hollingsworth and Ron Deisher. They are from all walks of life.
DeGroote is a coach in the Indiana High School Baseball Hall of Fame. Deisher makes a living by selling and racing pigeons. He was in the insurance business and had a lot of stress, so he started a pigeon business to sell them all over the country as well as other countries. He shows me the Banks of the Wabash website that has pictures of birds that won past races. He says they earned bragging rights.
Frakes is a coon hunter from way back, and Sample is a good old country boy who loves to go on wagon train rides with his team of horses pulling a covered wagon. Sample has been a teacher and owned a country store.
Bigger races reward big money. Deisher said the toughest race in the world is in Johannesburg, South Africa, with first place paying $200,000. Total payout is over $1 million.
There will be 7,000-10,000 birds in the race. The birds are quarantined for six weeks in a loft, and then released into a fly pen that is covered to exercise for three to four weeks. In October, they train by releasing them a few miles away, and they start racing at 60 miles in the second week of November. The end of January is the toughest race from the weather being 100 degrees and 90% humidity with thunderstorms. A good year has 2,500 birds finish the race.
Deisher says Mike Gaines from Granger, Indiana, sold a bird for $100,000. An average top quality bird will be $25,000 to $30,000 from the African Race. A bird named Bolt was sold for $400,000 from Europe to someone in China. Males are more valuable than females.
Jeff Jones from New Castle has 18 breeding pairs with a total of 75 birds. He’s had them for over 45 years. He says it’s very enjoyable and gives you a peace of mind.
After all, birds of a feather flock together!
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