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BSE AFTERMATH: Livestock auctioneers put pigeons among the cattle

WORCESTER CATTLE Market will echo to the cooing of a new commodity this evening when 56 pigeons go under the auctioneer's hammer amid animal stalls built to hold hundreds of sheep and cattle.

The sale is the latest venture designed to help a Midlands livestock auctioneer ride out the recession gripping farming.

The birds, likely to attract potential buyers from the Midlands, South Wales and the West Country, will never go near the cooking pot. As champion racing pigeons some of the best are expected to fetch pounds 300 each or slightly more than pounds 144 a lb, about a thousand times more valuable than the market rate for hooved merchandise.

The sale is the first of its kind to be held at the market since it was built nine months ago on a greenfield site near the M5 to replace an existing market on a cramped city-centre site plagued by traffic congestion.

Traditional sales at the new location are running at an average of 250 fat cattle and 2,500 sheep every week, but the market still does not do enough business despite a drive to bring in more farmers.

"Due to the crisis in agriculture, we have had to diversify into other areas and I have been experimenting with racing pigeon sales," said Michael Thomas who is organising the event for the auctioneer, McCartneys.

"There is a big following for pigeon fancying in Britain and particularly in this area, which is close to the Black Country, so this is another string to our bow.

"We held two sales of local racing pigeons at our branch in Ludlow, Shropshire a few weeks ago and those were very successful. The Worcester sale involves birds from a wider area and we are also limiting the number of entries."

This means that the birds, which are being sold by fanciers in Bristol, South Wales and the Black Country, are of a higher racing pedigree and include several champions. Nearly every pigeon being auctioned has won a prestigious race organised by the British Federation of Homing Societies.

Several have been produced by two of Britain's top breeders. There are a number of the Busschaerts breed developed by Jeff Fryatt of Milton Keynes and several examples of the Janssens Van Loon strain from the breeding loft of Len Hopton.

Further sales are being planned for next year. Dates have already been arranged in February, March and April for the auction of young pigeons known as "squeakers".