August 25, 2010
Local residents raise, race pigeons
By Tim Mandell
Register News Writer
Photography Nancy Taggert
RICHMOND — A pair of Richmond residents have formed a unique partnership.
Former co-workers John Hayes and Robbie Robbins spend their free time raising and racing pigeons.
Hayes retired three years ago from his job as custodial foreman at Eastern Kentucky University. Robbins works at EKU as an operator at the heat plant.
While working together, they discovered they shared a love of pigeons, each having been raised around the birds.
Since retiring, Hayes has constructed five pigeon lofts on his property and Hayes and Robbins own roughly 300 racing pigeons.
One of those pigeons, Lucky Seven, flew earlier this month from Orlando, Fla., to Kentucky, covering more than 700 miles in two days.
That feat is a Kentucky long-distance flying record, Robbins said.
Most of their pigeons were bred around Thanksgiving and were born at the beginning of this year.
Once the pigeons were comfortable with their surroundings, Hayes and Robbins began teaching them to race.
“We let them fly around here for a while, just to let them get used to the place,” Hayes said. “You just have to be patient with them.”
When the pigeons were ready to race, the first toss was done a quarter-mile from the lofts.
After that, they released the birds five miles away, then 10 miles, then 20 miles, and finally, 100 miles away.
Pigeons fly about 45 miles per hour and have been known to reach 110 miles per hour with the right tail wind, Robbins said.
“They’re the only other animal in the world that recognizes themselves,” Robbins said. “They have about all the same traits that humans have.”
Robbins, who often writes pigeon fiction for the magazine “Racing Pigeon Digest,” is like an encyclopedia of the history of pigeons.
He rattles off stories of pigeon heroics from World War I and World War II and knows the names of well-known pigeons and their breeders and racers.
Hayes spends most of his time in his backyard with the pigeons, where he has formed a strong bond with the birds.
“I’m out here all the time,” Hayes said. “I do some yard mowing on the side, but when I get done, I come out here and watch them fly around.”
They have loaned their pigeons to be used at athletic events, weddings and even funerals.
At funerals, four pigeons are released, representing the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost and the soul, said Robbins.
They search for perfect matches for breeding and isolate those pigeons in cages.
Typically, the female lays two eggs, which take 18 days to hatch. Once the babies are a few weeks old, Hayes and Robbins place a bond on their leg signifying the year of their birth, the national and local groups they belong to and a serial number that identifies Hayes and Robbins as the owners.
Inside the lofts, there are cubby holes. Each bird usually claims one cubby hole as their own, Hayes said.
When the birds are let out to fly, they often form a routing pattern and may spend hours flying around before returning to the lofts, Hayes said.
What Hayes and Robbins seem to most enjoy is racing the pigeons.
Pigeon races are conducted quite frequently and the cash prizes sometimes reach five figures, Robbins said.
Hayes and Robbins are currently training their pigeons for upcoming races.
Typically, these races may pit teams against each other, with the fastest pigeon to return to its roost declared the winner, Robbins said.