by Drew Callan, Press Officer

The Rome Pedigree Engineered to succeed

In a few short years Rob Rome in his home near Cheltenham has established a loft of birds that have succeeded at the top levels of Club, Fed and National competition right through to 600 plus miles. In the 3 years that I have been reporting on the NFC races Rob has been a constant figure at the top end of Section I.  Since he first dipped his toes into National racing in 2012 the Rome loft has laid claim to 3 x 1st, 6 x 2nd, 3 x 3rd, 1 x 4th, 4 x 5th and 3 x 6th National Section prizes, plus a host of other diplomas for being in the top 10 and top 20. Alongside this Rob has also tested his birds at International level with the BICC and from the difficult NFC Tarbes in 2015 from 606 miles Rob secured 1st, 11th, 17th, 21st, 23rd National Section and the Car sponsored by Mark Gilbert and Eamon Kelly.  To demonstrate the depth of consistency the loft is achieving at National level, in 2014 Rob stepped up at the NFC presentation to collect the Trophy for Best 2B average in Gloucestershire from Tarbes. It should be remembered that 2014 was regarded as the hardest Tarbes Blue Riband race in the past 10 years, and readers should note that Rob only sent 2 birds to win the 2B average. In 2015, the team has been at the top again from the word go and as a result Rob will be stepping up to pick up the 2 Bird Tarbes average trophy again and 4 additional trophies all won at National level this year.  He is also the 3rd placed loft in The F.G Wilson Challenge Trophy for the best average from Ancenis and Tarbes and also claimed 10th Best Average in all NFC Old Bird races.

To try and gauge how consistently good these birds are it would help to consider that in 4 years of competing at with the National Flying Club the lowest section position achieved by the team with the first pigeon has been 8th Section - and this is from distances ranging from 181 miles up to 606 miles. Over the same period of time Rob has managed to get 72 birds in the top 10% of the result in all national races now that is consistency with a capital C.


Rob Rome with the Scottish Master, his father, RSR Rome

Now, let’s go back a bit. None of these results have come about by accident, but is the result of a meticulous approach undertaken by Rob, with the ground work being put in 8 years previously. Rob is an engineer by discipline and works for an international Energy company.  His job involves complex analysis and planning and this set of skills has been used to great effect to help create this family of birds. Rob’s career has seen him being located in a number of areas of England, but it wasn’t until he was settled in to his current home in 2010 that he was in a position to have birds again. It must be remembered that in the preceding years he was still actively involved and in partnership with his father, Robert SR Rome, in Annan, South West Scotland.  So he had the nucleus of top Scottish National performance birds to draw on when he was in a position that allowed him to. The engineer in Rob started to formulate a long term plan that saw him use the existing SNFC winning family whilst improving it with painstakingly selected birds that represented the best that the continent had to offer. Rob didn’t want corridor pigeons; he wanted a family of birds that won races at all distances and in all winds, but especially head winds. He was looking for birds that would break from the pack, get to the front and stay there especially when the races were won on ‘working velocities’ around the 1000 ypm mark. Now this was a tall order, and seemed even more implausible when you consider that these birds would be expected to be competing with the best at NFC level. The initial starting point was to pick the brains of his long time friend and mentor Silvere Toye. After a series of conversations with Silvere, Rob had a short list of fanciers that it was suggested he consider.  We all know that pigeons which can win from the first race to the last race in any types of weather and wind conditions are few and far between, but Rob has searched for this type of pigeon for many years and with the help of his close friend, Silvere Toye, has been able to gain access to top Belgian lofts every year. However, this was not going to guarantee success but would help him to narrow his search.

Champion Reimus 1st Open SNFC Reims the starting point

He did his research meticulously and this very short list was reduced further when Rob applied the criterion that the loft had to have top distance performing birds that were placed in championships amongst the best. The performing birds had to have a number of equally good brothers and sisters and all of them in turn had to be producing their like with a high strike rate?not much to ask really. As it turned out the top lofts that Rob had in his sights are not interested in marketing or selling their pigeons and are therefore very much “under the radar” outside of Belgium.  The lofts which Rob has made introductions from are the very same lofts that most of today’s household names in Belgium have used to devastating effect.

His starting point was the existing line of Champion Reimus, the Rome partnership’s Blue Riband Scottish National winner who was proving to be a prolific breeder. Reimus is 50% Hofkens , half of which came from the loft of Andre Roodhooft and on Andre’s advice Rob purchased more from the his Hofkens line.  Andre Roodhooft is now recognized as probably the finest middle distance racer in Belgium.  In 2014 Andre won 2 x 1st and 2nd National.

Rob getting guidance from Silvere Toye

The next port of call was to Silvere Toye himself, and at the time Silvere had a fantastic loft of George Carteus pigeons and these were making their mark at the long distance races for Silvere and many other lofts up to 1st International level. From Silvere, Rob bought wisely and was guided by the master himself, and as a result children of all the top breeder/racers were introduced including direct and brothers/sisters of Zatopek and Misty. Rob also availed himself of the cream of the Gaby Vandenabeele birds that Silvere possessed including from the Bourges National winner ‘Libelle’ when she was paired back to ‘Majoor’ her father. This blood is directly responsible for ‘Faraday’ a top racing cock for the home loft in Scotland, 3 x 1st, 3x2nd, 2x3rd plus 4th, 6th, 26th National from 76 to 474 miles and “Faradew”, winner of the Best OB of all Scotland in 2014 (Dewar Trophy) and herself winner of 2 x 1st, 4 x 2nd plus 6th and 22nd National from 76 to 474 miles.

The Ace Breeding Pair of Silvere one foundation block for Rob

The next port of call in the quest to engineer the perfect pigeon was to one of Belgiums best kept secrets namely the father and son partnership of Patrick and Dimitri Houfflyn. This loft is based on the old Willequet family of birds that the partnership had relentlessly tested via the basket over many years with top results. They took the calculated risk of introducing top lines from Gaby Vandenabeele in the 1990’s and this resulted in a new wave of top distance birds such as ‘Geronimo’ who won 10  prizes in the top 100 in Belgian national and international racing from distances from 267 miles through to 534 miles. More importantly ‘Geronimo’ was starting to get a reputation for breeding the goods as well, so as he ticked all the boxes for Rob children were purchased alongside birds from other key performers in the Houfflijn loft. Once again it would appear that the research and planning had paid off as the Houfflijn blood can be found in many top Belgian lofts today and their birds have bred 3x1st Nationals in other Belgian lofts in the past 3 years. Back in Cheltenham these birds are quickly becoming the backbone of the Rome loft and Rob sees them as central in developing the Rome family of birds.

Rob and Patrick Houfflijn

Further additions were added from both Ignace Pollet and Roger Mylle, and as with the Houfflijn partnership there were relatively unknown lofts that had an enviable record at the distance. Birds from both these lofts made their way back to England with Rob and are being incorporated in to the present day team with already fantastic results.

Effectively, what Rob had set out to do was to produce a team of fast long distance birds that can break, get to the front and have the endurance and speed to stay there. He wanted birds that could be relied upon regardless of the wind direction or distance. The Rome family of birds that Rob possesses now is the distilled essence of the best that each loft visited had to offer. The single selection process used has been results and as can be seen from the results achieved that introduced this article Rob is quite some way down the road in terms of having the perfect, all terrain distance bird thanks to the input of Mr Basket and his own innate ability to put the right birds together. So, what does a pigeon that has been engineered to succeed look like then? Well in the hand the cocks and hens are beautifully solid, balanced and medium sized. They are short set and close to the ground, and give the impression that it would take some effort to push them over! Across the back they are broad and solid and from knuckle to knuckle they are the length of your finger tip to the crook of your thumb, and you could comfortably throw a saddle on the backs of some of the cocks?especially those with a heavy Houfflijn influence. They are built to get their heads down and stick at it, and this is helped by silky feathering that wouldn’t be out of place on a Teal. When you handle and look at these birds you are struck by how consistently they conform to a type, supple, narrow wings and a constant intelligent alertness. They are undoubtedly a family and their appeal is only added to by their performances at the very top. It is perhaps pertinent at this point to mention that the loft is probably the most westerly in Section I of the NFC and sits in the very bottom South West corner of the section. This is not where you want to be racing a programme where all race points are east of you and the prevailing wind is south westerly.  Consider this when you re-read the results achieved over the past 4 years.

Rob being presented with the 2015 NFC Tarbes car by Eamon Kelly.

Now, if you are still wondering whether these birds are all that then consider what they are doing in other lofts. The Fishlock brothers in South Wales have invested in a few of the Rome pigeons and these have quickly established themselves in the partners inland and channel team and have stood up against the brother’s well established Channel King family. The Rome birds have produced 2 National winners for the brothers.  A particular nest pair ‘Rome 830’ and ‘Rome 831’ have been leaving their mark. Rome 831 is the sire of Bernie, 5 x 1st plus 1st National Hythe 180 miles and fastest of all 5,000 birds liberated. Rome 831 is the grandmother of 1st National Rosemount 2015 354 miles for another partnership in Wales. These two are bred to be brilliant as they are bred from a son of Houfflijn’s ‘Geronimo’ when he was paired to the mother of their 1st National Cahors 480 miles.

The multi-national winning loft of Mel & Sue King is another loft that has introduced the Rome birds and 2014 was their first year racing youngsters bred from Robs Houfflijn and Zatopek Carteus lines.  One special pair bred 4 young birds last year, 1 was lost from the loft but the other 3 won 1st prizes as young birds.  One of these in turn bred 1st Section NFC Guernsey 2015. So once again the Rome birds have stood shoulder to shoulder with the best of an established national winning family and have not let themselves down.

N & D Wordsworth from Workington in Cumbria have had the Rome birds since the late 1990’s and has had much success up to 1st Combine level.  Neil introduced a son of “Champion Reimus” in 2009 plus other birds from the Houfflijn and Champion Dagger lines.  Since 2012 these have been responsible for multiple 1st Fed, 2 x 1st and 2nd Combine, 1st Amal and 1st RPRA award etc.

Continuing at National level, A&S Butler from Essington have introduced have had success at Club, Fed and National Section with the MNFC including 1st Section (2,200 birds) MNFC Carentan 220 miles.

Finally, in the 2015 season a new starter called Tommy Jackson from Ledbury had a team of 30 young birds bred from Rob’s race team and flying these in sprint races between 50 and 140 miles he has won: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th plus 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, Fed and in his first National race won 8th Section 50th Open NFC Guernsey.

These birds are also starting to make their mark in Ireland, a number of lofts have had the foresight to get the Rome birds in and in only a couple of seasons breeding they are starting to excel.

Fabia, perfectly engineered to succeed.

So, in conclusion, Rob had clearly set himself a near impossible task in creating a family of super fast long distance birds. He bought wisely that is for sure and had the guiding hand of his father, the Scottish Master, and Silvere Toye the Belgian Master himself. However, it was no mean task to pull all these threads together and engineer a family of birds with a template for type and tenacity, and Rob will be the first to admit that some of the originals did not make the grade. The basket is what has ultimately produced the final product and the Rome strain is now up and running with quite some success. Final proof of this came in 2015 when his beautiful blue hen ‘Fabia’ dropped in from the NFC Blue Riband race from Tarbes to secure 1st section and 15th open and winning the car nomination. This was her third trip in a row to Tarbes having previously been 5th and 4th Section, and just outside the top 100 on both occasions. I have no doubt that this hen is what Rob had in mind when he set out on this project and having seen the birds first hand it is clear that the Rome birds have indeed been engineered to succeed.