THE LEGEND OF BRIAN SHEPPARD OF TROWBRIDGE HISTORY MAKER by Gareth Watkins 

To win a National race is every fancier’s ultimate aim. Many outstanding fanciers have achieved this aim whilst other top-class fanciers have come close on numerous occasions but never achieved their ambition. On the other hand, others of less ability sometimes get lucky by having a good pigeon “good” on the day and carry off the top award, rarely to be heard of again.

 Brian Sheppard, the subject of this article falls firmly into the second category, as he has a record at Classic and National level equal to the very best in the U.K. and after so many top ten finishes must have thought that fate had dealt him a “duff hand” in so far as he might never attain his goal of 1st Open in a National race. However, on that wonderful, fateful day in early July 2003, Brian Sheppard’s two year old widower put the record straight by not only winning 1st National but also by becoming the first pigeon from these shores to win 1St Open in an International race. 

Liberated along with a convoy of 19,400 other pigeons from all over Europe, at 6.0 a.m. on July 12th in the town of Dax in the far south west of France, the “Legend” as he has now become known, set off on his 507 mile journey to his Wiltshire home. Temperatures that day were in the 90s Fahrenheit and the wind was blowing steadily from the north-east so it was obvious from the “off” that it was going to be a hard slog. It can be safely assumed from his winning margin of 44ypm, that “Legend” soon broke away from the bulk of the convoy and raced the greater part of the journey alone. 

In view of the strength and direction of the head wind, it also seems safe to assume that Legend would have raced up the west coast of France passing over Avcachon to the south west of Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Nantes and Rennes before hitting the northern coast of France at St Malo at around 2.0 pm – 8 hours after liberation. 

Without a moment’s hesitation, this courageous bird must have forged on alone to face the treacherous English Channel at its widest point - 220 miles of sea with nowhere to hide from the unrelenting heat and no possibility of rest, before making landfall to the west of Bournemouth on the English coast. Once over the coastline, he would have turned slightly to the east before driving on northwards towards Wiltshire on the final leg of his epic, history-making journey. 

At 7.0 pm, after 13 hours of non stop effort in sweltering heat, Legend was welcomed home by a startled group of fanciers that included Brian, Brian’s grandson Lee, family friend Kevin and Brian’s wife Jean. All those present on his arrival that evening sensed that he was a good ‘un but none could have possibly imagined at that time just how good this little English-bred hero was – he had just beaten a field of 19,400 of Europe’s top pigeons entered by Europe’s top fanciers and he had done it with ease.

 I handled Legend four days after his triumph and can state that he was in absolutely superb condition – this therefore begs the question - How good was he when he was basketed for the race? Earlier in the season – 13 days earlier in fact, Legend had demonstrated that he was “on the boil” with a 6th Open finish in the NFC race from Saintes against a field of 4,526 birds. Add to this a 47th Open Saintes NFC against 3,887 birds and 34th Open CSCFC from Cholet with 3,800+ birds competing, both as a yearling, and you can see that the Legend had already put down significant markers as regards his racing ability. 

That then is a brief introduction to a record breaking pigeon bred, prepared and raced by a top class fancier and before going any further perhaps this would be an opportune time to give some background information on Brian, his methods and his lofts and pigeons. 

Brian Sheppard is 68 years old and now retired having worked for 24 years in the local Avon tyre manufacturing plant before moving on to become underground safety officer at a local stone quarry for a further 15 years prior to retirement. He has lived at his present address for the last 26 years and has been involved with pigeons for most of the past 60 years.

 Brian is not only a top-class fancier but also puts a lot back into the sport by serving on committees for the various classic organisations. I first visited the Sheppard set up in Trowbridge in the spring of 1997 having studied his consistently excellent National and Classic race results for some time previous. I was immediately impressed with his down to earth amiability and as time drew on and we “talked pigeons” it became increasingly obvious that here was a man who was a pigeon fancier through to his very bone marrow. 

The pigeons in 1997 were equally as impressive as the man himself and on my recent visit to celebrate Legend’s success nothing had changed to alter my initial impression of Brian or his pigeons. This is not a huge set up and does not include a range of expensive lofts, but it is a very professional outfit as the birds are housed in a series of lofts designed to maintain super health. 

The widowhood hens are kept in a small converted garden shed with attached aviary. The hens spend most of the daylight hours in the aviary only being confined to the loft whilst the cocks are at exercise. At night they are ushered into a small section measuring 6ft x2ft x 3ft raised three feet off the floor which has a false grid floor that allows the droppings to fall through. Because of this enforced night time confinement in a small space the hens rarely become amorous towards one another, in fact the opposite occurs as they constantly bicker with one another over space. 

The sire of the dam of Legend A small team of just six pairs of stock birds is maintained and once again these are housed in a converted garden shed with attached aviary. A deep litter of dried droppings and rough sawdust is used on the floor and this is cork dry with no smell of pigeons or notable build up of droppings in any specific area, demonstrating that it is a working litter and as such offers no threat to the birds health. The 2003 race team of 25 mature widowers plus two late-breds share accommodation in a block built 20ftx 6ft x 6ft loft. This has a pan tiled apex roof with clear Perspex tiles set in a row along the front section. The birds enter via two double-glazed glass sliding doors measuring 6ft x 5ft so the interior of the loft is very light as the loft front faces south. 

The floor is constructed from heavy metal grids, which are set on rafters above a 3ft deep pit. The droppings fall through into the pit and are cleaned away once annually thus saving valuable time cleaning. Finally we come to the young bird loft, which is situated in the roof space above Brian’s garage. This is divided into two sections so that the youngsters can be separated if so desired. The birds are a mixture of the tried and tested “Old English” strains obtained many years ago from top West Country long distance fanciers Reg and Myrtle Venner of Street and R. Trueman–Dicken. To this sound and reliable long distance base birds have been added from Peter Titmuss and Geoff Hunt and Son, plus some Welsh imports from John Price of Newport. In 1998 Brian introduced some birds from Bracey and son of Bristol, which contained the very best of the old West Country blood of Vic Preddy of High Littleton. 

These bloodlines have all been tried and tested in long distance races on both north and south roads and the blend makes up the majority of the present day team. On my last visit to Trowbridge in January 2000 Brian told me that he had just introduced some birds from Jos Thone, one of the top fanciers on the continent, and in his down to earth West Country manner he said, “I hope they’m do some winning ‘cos they cost me a bloody fortune”! Well they certainly have done some winning as one of the original Jos Thone imports is the sire of Legend. 

Brian certainly knows how to pick them. I should also point out that these Thone pigeons have produced a number of other good racers including a late-bred brother to Legend which was lightly trained as a baby and then won 1st from 700+ birds in its first ever race as a yearling – from Picauville in France. The type of bird developed by Brian over many years of testing over the channel is generally speaking small to medium sized and shallow keeled. They are mostly chequers and dark chequers with the occasional blue and pied

. Legend is typical of the family as he is just on medium sized with a good width across the shoulders and good muscle development giving the impression of great buoyancy in the hand. He also sports a gravel/pearl eye and was sent to the Dax race with his first flight half grown. As mentioned earlier, his sire is a direct Jos Thone cock whilst his mother contains all the very best of Brian’s old family as she was bred from the same mother as “Jingles” when mated to the full brother to the sire of “Jingles”. “Jingles” by the way being Brian’s Certificate of Merit winner with the NFC winning 6th, 34th and 35th Open National from Pau. 

Along with the rest of the Sheppard team of 27 widowers, Legend was mated at Christmas and allowed to rear a pair of youngsters in the first nest before going down on eggs for the second time and being allowed to sit for 6 days. The team was then separated and the cocks did not see their hens again until they were re-mated in late April. Whilst sitting this third nest of eggs the widowers were trained to the south coast at Portland and Thorness on the Isle of Wight. Following this early season training they were once more placed on widowhood, only seeing their hens for a short while before basketting for the channel races and on their return. In successive weeks the Sheppard team of widowers then underwent an exhaustive, but obviously not exhausting, series of channel races which reads as follows:- Picauville (139 mls), Picauville, Nantes [282mls] (BBC), Nantes (NFC), Picauville once more and then onto Saintes where they excelled with 2nd & 6th Open NFC 4,526 birds. In the two weeks between Saintes and Dax the birds were kept on their toes with twice daily forced exercise periods of one hours duration and did not see the basket again until the night of shipping to Dax. 

The widowers are fed twice daily, in their boxes with a measured amount of corn. This is a proprietry Belgian widowhood mix with a low protein content and a correspondingly high carbohydrate content. They are never broken down with depuratives, the only other supplement they get is high protein pellets at various times of the year. At the beginning of the racing season the widowers are allowed to do as they like during their twice-daily exercise periods. However as the classic races approach they are forced to put in a one hour shift on each occasion.

 Brian is not a member of a local club so his birds are not raced weekly but are prepared for Classic and National races by competing with the Wiltshire Continental Club which caters only for channel races. All of Legend’s early channel races from Picauville were undertaken with this well organised association. Every one of the Sheppard young bird team are expected to fly the channel in their first year with the hens going to every channel race if fit and well. As yearlings Brian expects the novice widowers to compete from Saintes 393 miles and as two year olds upwards they go to Pau, Bordeaux or Bergerac - or sometimes all three. Reggie, winner of 1st NW Section, 6th Open CSCFC Pau For a number of years now Brian has mated his stock birds in late November to breed a round of early babies. These early-bred youngsters are not put on the darkness system as the time of year that they are bred makes this unnecessary.

 However, the second round from the stock birds, and the widowers first round babies are put on darkness up to the beginning of June and Brian has not experienced any ill effects with them in their subsequent racing careers as old birds. As Brian is no longer a member of a local club the birds, both young and old, are trained privately to the south coast at Poole and Weymouth and gain their early season experience of channel racing via the previously mentioned 80-member strong, Wiltshire Continental Club. Only when Brian feels they are fit enough are they engaged in Classic and National races. In order to get birds fit they must initially be healthy and so all birds are treated for cocci, canker, worms, salmonella and respiratory disease to ensure that they are in A1 health before any training takes place. I won’t bore readers with a long list of the Sheppard team’s past performances but can state that the performances of pigeons like “Reggie” and “Jingles” are fairly typical of a long line of top-class winning pigeons over more than two decades. Highlighted below are some of Brian’s recent successes in top class competion.

 Readers can therefore judge for themselves just how successful these methods have proved for him. He has won 5 x 1sts section plus a 2nd Section in the last seven National and Classic races in which he has competed. In the Saintes/Pau National flown two weeks after the Dax triumph Brian entered just two widowers with yet another incredible result of 1st & 4th section 45th & 106th Open NFC .The Langstone Gold Cup, awarded by the NFC to the fancier with the best average velocity in the 3 original National races flown each season has also found its way into the Sheppard trophy cabinet in the recent past. Not bad going for a small back garden set up! I hope the reader has enjoyed this article on the first British pigeon fancier to win an International race. I can assure you that it has been a personal pleasure for me, as in 30 years of reporting on the sport, I have never met a fancier who was more deserving of the highest accolade or a more decent man than the HISTORY MAKER, Brian Sheppard of Trowbridge. Congratulations Brian. 3/7/07 POSTSCRIPT Table showing the ultra-consistency of Brian Sheppard at National level. Our thanks to