I had an opportunity to visit Dave Hales in July of last year to photograph his British International Championship Club winner from Marseille. It was a very hot afternoon when I arrived, and as he invited me into his loft I was taken aback by the cool, fresh environment within. I immediately looked for a mechanical ventilation system but to no avail, as the ventilation was purely natural and worked very we’ll indeed.
I continued to photograph his pigeon and left, but on the drive home I resolved to make an appointment to return when more time was available to further investigate his loft design, and the thinking process that lead him to build it in that way. It really is one of the best I have seen in all my loft visits over the years.
The lofts are built after a lifetime of experience with pigeons as his Father used to race them, and the loft nearest the house is designed on how his was. He used to fly to closed in lofts and they flew well as long as they were not overcrowded, but when he built his other loft, 10 years ago, he designed it based on everything he had learned over the years.
“no one can tell you how to build a loft, you have to learn from your own experiences and try to eliminate your mistakes”
David used to be a sprint flyer and was very successful with the widowhood system at federation level. Then he decided to have a go at the Nationals and sent to the National Flying Club, which he duly won at his first ever attempt, and has subsequently gone on to win four more Nationals since!
The nucleus of the loft is designed around his health, as he does not like wearing masks etc, so the logical conclusion was to design the loft in such a way that it would be better for him, rather than anything else. His completed design is such that the dust just disperses either through the roof, under the grills or out from one end of the loft to the other, as he has a good amount of through ventilation via the open doors at each end of the loft.
The loft faces due west which is because he lives near the east coast and although he has a lot of land available, he wanted to place the loft so that it screened the garden from the very cold east wind that comes in from the North sea.
The loft is always cool and indeed he has insulated the loft between the rafters to prevent the sun heating the loft too much, where as most would insulate between the ceiling joints to prevent heat escaping. His main races are held in the hight of summer so he thinks its more important to keep the loft cool rather than warm.
“Pigeons don’t like to be too hot, and in his loft during racing they can have their choice”
Either outside in the sun, whilst on open hole exercise or within the loft, “its their choice” he says but they like to be within the loft when its very hot.
A damp loft is one of the worst things you can have, and when he first designed the loft he was taking damp readings and as a consequence of this he tried all manor of alterations. He finally managed to get the loft dampness down to 35% Humidity, which he discussed with the Belgian Vet DeWeerd, who said it was impossible to get the loft humidity down to that level because it was the same as the sahara desert!
He advised him not to keep it so low as it would make the mucous membrane of the pigeons too dry and also the plumage would suffer. So now he does leave all the traps open to keep the humidity up a little but it can be controlled if required.
He has the ATX heating plates installed, with a humidistat set to 60% incase of sever weather conditions. But David believes that rain is not the real problem but misty and foggy days can be far more detrimental to the pigeons. Thats why he has the ATX panels installed, to use on day such as that. Snow can also be a problem during the winter but we do not race during the winter. There is a very fine netting on the rear of the loft to stop the snow coming in too much.
A good indicator is the dust in the loft. It should blow around with the movement of the pigeons and not be too damp as to stick. He has grids on the loft floor for the dust to settle into and his loft is open from one end to the other.
As fresh air is free, he decided to create an opening at each end of the front corridor for the breeze to pass through. He also placed a break in the middle to give a change in direction to prevent too much draught.
“I have one vent per set of nest boxes. It’s about getting the bloom out of the loft for me and as a consequence I can not knock my performances”
He has Hermes nest boxes with automatic cleaning belts and there was a necessity to have a rear corridor to be able to reach the droppings from the belts, and this had a double benefit. He decided to place a full board on the rear of the hens section on which the perches are fixed to and underneath them he put dowels, spaced at 50mm apart and at a 45 degree angle.
This allowed the droppings to fall on to another board at an opposite 45 degree angle which he can clean off with ease in the corridor itself. Also, when the droppings do hit the board at an angle, the surface area they cover is increased so they dry out quicker. It makes it all very easy to keep clean and takes the droppings out of the section.
“I went to see a very good National fancier named Jim Biss and he was talking to me about the pits he had under his floor grids”
He thought they kept the loft too cold for too long and were damp because they were built under the loft itself, into the foundations. He also talked to other fanciers and came to the conclusion that you can not have the pits within the ground under the loft. He liked the idea of floor grids but did not want the cold and damp area under the pigeons so he constructed his loft an extra 50cm higher from the floor to the ceiling and built the pit underneath the grids within the loft itself.
The floor of his loft became the floor of the pit and there is no dampness what so ever, and there is no real need to clean it out too often either, because it is so dry and away from the pigeons. The only problem he does find is that the moths do like to hide in there so he has to take precautions, like burning them out with a blow lamp occasionally.
“finding the right pigeons with the ability to fly the program I race is difficult, so I do not suffer with over population”
The corridor in front of the hens section has a dowel door but in the nest box section there is a solid wall separating it from the front corridor, and it is within this wall I think the real genius has come into play. It is made of 100 x 50mm stud timbers with solid boarding to each side which creates a 100mm void within the wall itself. This is then taken through the solid ceiling within the section so air from the roof void above can fall down the centre of the studding. Underneath the floor grills, and within the pit space, there is a 225mm x 150mm vent grill in the solid wall to allow that air to spill out at the bottom. In the ceiling there is a flue to allow stale air to escape and it is this arrangement that completes the natural ventilation within his loft.
The air in the roof space is never as high a humidity as outside so David made use of this to ventilate his nest box sections
The volume of air per occupant is also important to Dave and he allows 30cm per pigeon, over the length of the loft. So a 2.4 section will have just 8 pigeons. There is a combination of several benefits to this, if they are not overcrowded there is less stress, less illness due to stress and less work for the fancier. Everything remains calm. His loft is 66m long and he has less than 100 old birds within plus he begins with 50 young birds each year, so there is no overcrowding.
All in all a very well thought out loft ventilation system that is beneficial to both the pigeons and David Hales himself.