By Ski Grabanski

My wife and I took a drive down to Oregon a couple of days after Christmas and stopped and visited with Gary and Jean Braden. We really had a very nice visit and the home made potato and ham soup that Jean made was delicious. It reminded me of the soup I had when I was growing up in North Dakota.

I have known Gary for a number of years and a better person, you could not find. Gary is a fun guy to be around and has always gone out of his way for the betterment of our sport.

 Not too long ago, I judged the Oregon Trail Combine show.  Gary was at the show and as we talked I asked if he would consider donating a bird to the Washington State Show that the concourse I belong to was sponsoring. The answer was yes and in fact he could show me the bird right now. It was a beautiful young hen that he had put in the show that he had bred for his 2014 breeding program. He said “It really hurts to donate this hen, but if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be worth  putting  in the auction”. What a true statement!!!

Gary was born in Salem, Or. in 1938. He attended Western Oregon University where he obtained his BA, BS, and MS and in 1971 his PhD from Oregon State University. He has been happily married to his lovely wife Jean for 52 years. CONGRAULATIONS Gary and Jean!!!! Jean told us a funny story on how they met. A friend of Gary's back in 1956 just before Gary was suppose to leave for Europe for his tour of duty in the Army was setting up a blind date between Gary and Jean. It was suppose to be a double date, but just before the date, Gary's buddy had to back out. Once Jean's mother found this out, she told Jean that there is no way she would be going out on a blind date with a guy that would be leaving to Europe in a few days. So the date didn't happen as planned. But things have a way of working out. Sometime later when Jean was talking to one of her class mates and telling her about the blind date that never happened, it turned out that the classmate was Gary's sister. Go figure. Well the next thing you know Gary's sister asked Jean if she would like to write Gary and gave her Gary's address in Europe. So that's how this romance of 52 years was started. As the old saying goes, "If it's meant to happen, it will happen". Gary & Jean have a son and daughter and two grandchildren. Gary was a professor in Guam for a couple of years and is presently the Clinical Supervisor for the Grand Ronde Tribal Behavioral Program where they treat children and adults for mental health & adolescents and adults for A&D problems.

Gary started racing pigeons in 1952 when he was 13 years old. He flew with the Cherry City Racing Pigeon Club in Salem, Or. At 16, he was the president of the club. He still remembers setting a speed record and winning the 550 mile race from San Francisco Ca. In 1956 Gary went into the Army. His 15 year old sister and his mother cared for and raced the birds for the two years that he was in the service. He still remembers how excited he would get when he received the race results in the mail, especially when they wrote that they had won the premier 350 mile race from Red Bluff, Ca.  After the service, Gary got out of the birds for quite a few years because of college, marriage and working overseas. In 1974 Gary started racing again when Gary and Jean moved to Gresham, Or. Offices in the club he has held are: President, Race Secretary, Reporting Secretary, Treasure and he was an AU Board Member.

Now that you have met Gary and know a little about him, I would like to tell you a little bit about the fantastic 2013 YB season he had and share some of the information that Gary gave me on how he achieved these amazing race results.

 Gary flies with the Mt. Saint Helens Combine. The Young Bird season goes for seven weeks, but because of bad weather this year, they only flew five weekends (5) races.                                                             Results: 1st thru 18th @ 120M vs 306B                                                                                                                                                       1st thru 7th   @ 120M vs 245B                                                                                                                                                  1st thru 10th @ 140M vs 295B                                                                                                                                                  1st thru 4th   @ 170M vs 255B                                                                                                                                              1st thru 17th @ 120M vs 73B                                                                                                                   1st Average Speed, 1st Champion Loft, 1st Master Loft & Champion Bird. In fact, Gary had the first 4 Champion Birds and 14 of the top 16 Champion Birds. A season that most of us don't even dare dream about.

BIRDS: He said he won't purposely keep birds for breeding simply because they come from a specific strain. His best breeding hen is a Van Elsacker pigeon he purchased at a Bruce Gordon auction in 2008. Another family comes down from an imported Joseph DeRidder cock he purchased from Bruce in 1992. The Ritter cock bred Gary three concourse winners the first year. He also has a family of Van Hecken Meulemans he purchased from CBS 15 years ago. Gary says they have been tough and are great crosses.

SYSTEM: Gary said he has had a great deal of success flying young birds on the Darkening System. He darkens them for 18-1/2 hours, starting when the first round has dropped their second flight. He believes by doing this, the birds are more competitive in the races and the birds will finish their molt and be ready for old birds. The loft is darkened until two weeks before the first race. The 2013 YB season started August 17th. As soon as the birds are taken off the dark system, they are given 16-1/2 hours of light per day through the last race.

LOFT: Gary's young bird loft is 8' X 12' and houses 42 race birds, two old hens and two droppers. It is through experience that Gary knows he cannot go above this number to keep them in a loft that is darkened for 18-1/2 hours a day. He has a large fan in the front of the loft that helps move the air, especially when it's hot. He also has a black flexible tube that runs from the back and side vents. The tube (like a dryer vent flex tube) keeps the air flowing without letting in light. He likes the loft dark enough that you can pick up a youngster.

Gary says his team of 42 youngsters makes his young bird season easier for him. The two old hens he keeps with the youngsters keeps them calmer and demonstrates where the water and feed is located when the youngsters are moved over from the stock loft.

BREEDERS: Gary puts his breeders together around February 10th. He doesn't believe young birds flown on the Dark System have to be bred early. An example he gave me that backs this up, is that he had a young bird that hatched May 1st and won two combines and was 2nd in another combine race. She was the Combine Champion bird and her nest mate was 4th Champion Bird.  


WEANING: The young birds are weaned at 28 days old. When they're brought over to the young bird loft, they are also vaccinated for PMV. He does not clean the young bird loft for the first eight weeks. He believes by not cleaning the loft for this period of time, the birds build up their immune system. After the eight weeks, the loft is cleaned daily. Just before the birds are weaned, when there about 18 days old, Gary will take the youngsters and put them out on the landing board of the young bird loft for an hour or two, He does this at least a couple of times before they are weaned. He believes this helps them when he starts to settle the birds. He said the trick is to get the babies back into the right next boxes when he takes them off of the board and back to the stock loft.

 Gary said when he starts settling the young birds, they are never scared or forced off of the landing board. He wants the young birds to know that the landing board is sacred. He allows the birds to begin flying off the board when they are ready. Consequently, they never become trap shy and he can walk up to them at any time without scaring them.  When he lets the birds out for exercise, he does not close the exit door. The trap door is always left open while they are exercising. This way if they need to escape a raptor, they know the loft is open and safe. They seldom abuse this method. Gary said if the birds come down in 30 minutes or sooner, they are free to go in. Since they feel completely safe on the board, it's rare they land anywhere else.  He also only catches the young birds in the dark. He will darken the loft when he catches them for training. He believes catching them in the daylight is very stressful on the youngsters.

FEEDING: This year Gary fed Wheatland Seed Top Flight and was very pleased with the results. On the day of shipping, he divides his race team into three equal parts. At 7:30AM he feeds all the birds their usual morning amount of race mix. Then at noon he baskets a third of the birds and gives the remaining two thirds some feed. He baskets another third at 3:00PM and then feeds the remaining third of the birds again (4) hours before shipping. After he feeds the last 1/3 of the birds, he lets the first 2/3 back into the loft. He does this so that the birds have chance to relax and get over the stress of being in the basket for so long and so that they get a good drink of water before the birds last basketing  Using this method , he won the first four positions in the combine from the 140 mile station. The birds were released late and the race was very tough. The first four, were in the last third fed. Of his first eight birds, seven were in the last group fed. On their return from the race, they are fed Safflower only. The next day through Tuesday, they are fed a light mixture of equal  parts of wheat, milo and paddy rice, as much as they want. The race mix (Wheatland Seed) is fed Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. He adds Raw Spanish Peanuts to this mix on Wednesday and Thursday, increasing the peanuts as the distances increase, adding 5% for a 100 mile race and increases it 5% for every 100 miles. Gary said he microwaves the peanuts for 15 seconds per cup, hopefully killing any mold or mildew. He only buys peanuts prepared for human consumption. He feeds the race birds on  2' X 2' metal trays. When some birds are still on the board, they hear the pecking and scramble into the loft. The trays are easy to clean and disinfected with Clorox when needed.

SUPPLEMENTS: On race day they return to clear water. On Sunday they get Improver. The rest of the week, they get plain water.

He mixes his own grit. The ingredients are oyster shells, cherry stones, pink minerals, iodized salt, charcoal, Colombine grit plus red stones from Jedds and Jovati mineral from Ganus. This grit mix is given year around, to all the birds, changing it every day. The grit is pulled the day before shipping, after they have had their last feeding. The grit is also available when the birds return from the race.

TRAINING: The training starts about five or six weeks before the first race. The first toss is about 500 yards from the loft (single tosses). Gary believes the first few tosses are very stressful for the birds. That's why he wants them to see the loft when they are released for the first time. The next toss is from 2 to 3 miles. He tosses one bird and waits for a call from home that tells him the bird has arrived. If he doesn't receive the call in 15 minutes, the rest of the birds are not tossed. He will go home and wait for 30 minutes. If the single tossed bird returns in that time period, he will than go back and toss the other birds (single toss) to the same spot. He has used this method for several years. The main reason for this method is the concern that there is a falcon between where the birds are being tossed and home. A falcon will devastate the flock. That is why he is so cautious the first  three or four tosses, always verifying the first bird is home before he releases the next one. Up through the first 50 miles, all tosses are single tosses. Then he begins tossing them three at a time. He seldom releases them in a flock. He does ask other flyers to send their birds with him and will toss three of theirs and three of his.

Gary is very concerned that the youngsters know how to drink in the basket on race day. So when he starts training, he puts a shipping crate in the loft and puts a water trough on one side. He positions the crate so they can only get water if they go into the crate and drink through the bars. This is done throughout the young bird series.  When Gary single tosses or tosses three at a time, they return to Fancier Choice Pellets. This way, they do not overeat, leaving pellets for the last bird. His last toss before the first young bird race is from 70 miles with several other flyers. All birds on this toss are released as a group. Once the races start, he trains two or three times a week. No further than 30 miles. During the race season, because of the age of the youngsters they are not separated and are flown to the perch.

As Gary and I were talking at his home, he showed me a two bird timer that I had never seen before (made by St. Regis). It was very interesting and I have included a couple of pictures. The timer is setup the night of shipping but not started. It is setup so that when the first bird arrives, you put the counter marker in the slot and when you pull the lever to close the slot it starts the clock (1st clock only). When the second bird arrives you repeat the procedure and the second clock starts. At knock-off, when you open the clocks, you figure how long the clocks have been running since the two birds were clocked and subtract that time from the official knock-off time and that gives you the time the birds arrived home. I know, clear as mud.

I would like to thank Gary for taking the time and sharing his young bird dark system with us. I found, as I think you the reader will agree some of the things he does new and thought provoking. Again, thank you Gary and Jean for sharing your afternoon with Eileen and I. We had a very good visit and enjoyed the conversion..