Jon Farr

Jon Farr

Interview courtesy the Utah State Roller Club


Jon Farr and Blake Coates

Tell us about yourself, how long with rollers?

I grew up in south Utah County, Payson. Graduated from USU in Logan and have been living/working in Idaho since. I work for USDA wildlife services to protect agriculture/livestock from damage by wildlife/predators. I have 5 kids ages 13-20.

I had pigeons as a boy, started out with racers. Within a few weeks, I was nearly wiped out by house cats. I sent a few on some distance races, but as a boy I didn’t train hard enough to excel. I couldn’t ride my bike that far. I got a pair of rollers when I was about 14 and the next year got a whole loft of them. I have no idea if they were good or not. When I got into high school and sports, the birds took a back seat.

I got into rollers this time as a result of telling my kids about boyhood experiences. They all wanted to get some pigeons too. I told the kids they could pick what kind they wanted. Of course with 5 kids, they chose 5 different varieties. I decided to get some rollers at the same time. Being the good father that I am not, I overrode my kids want to have pets with my desire to be competitive. They lost interest (due to my interference) and I inherited the loft.

I got my first rollers in 2000 from Dennis Briggs and Dirk Deboer. They were a line down from the Telstar hen of Jim Gilespe in Boise. I dabbled in a few other families over the years until 2005-6. I had a severe Chlamydia outbreak at my loft and lost all my kitbirds and about ½ my brood stock. To get restarted I got Starley bred birds from Adam Hill, Rod Forbush, Brent Martindale and others. These I bred to what I had left of the Deboer birds, to get the birds I am using now. The loss hurt badly but in the long run it helped my program move forward, thanks to generous friends. I bought a loft from a man in Idaho in 2007 of Easley/Starley birds that contributed to what I have now too.

I know you fly Starley lineage of birds, what do you like best about the birds you have now?

The Deboer’s and Starley’s are both capable of very good quality rolling. The originals from Dirk were seldom in the roll. The Starley crossed onto them worked to increase frequency without trading off quality. Jay’s family seems to naturally like to work together. Teamwork is something I have tried to accentuate. Dirk stopped working his family of birds about the time I got started and it became increasingly more difficult to get access to that blood. I got some birds from Adam Hill and Tom Monson to supplement my breeding. There are numerous guys with Jay’s birds and it has been easier to trade birds within that family line. The birds I am breeding/flying now are easy to manage. They don’t require a lot of prep work to have a good fly. I am always in search to improve my birds. I keep a few pairs as projects, a research and development department.

Tell us about your favorite kit and birds.

When I got serious about wanting good rollers, (about 2002) I determined to go around to as many lofts and see as many kits fly as I could. In 2004, I saw what is still the best kit I have ever witnessed, at Ken Billings. He flew a 20 bird kit of 20 outstanding rollers, deep, fast and frequent. My eyes could hardly take it in. I saw a very good kit at Larry Hollingsworth, his last competition fly. Beaver Dayton has flown some terrific birds. I have seen good kits over several lofts in Utah. Jay, Adam, Guil, Lenny, Blake, Brian, Brad and Scott Campbell have each flown kits I still remember. I had a very nice kit in 2005 but I went to watch/support my regional fly and the instructions I left for feeding got misunderstood, the kit tanked. I am proud of the kit I won the national championship with, but I think I have flown other kits that were better at times. I saw my only “full turn” in 2009 from one of my own kits.

Favorite birds are a little more personal. Again I have seen good ones in many places. But I’ll tell about a few of my own, not because they were better, but I knew them more. Adam gifted me a black cockbird, 00 UTAH 592. 592 produced very well for me and moved my breeding program a huge step forward. He was a great looking bird too, I thought. I got a blue check hen from Dennis Briggs, 2003 AP 16, that was brilliant in the air and produced very well. I lost most of her blood in 2006. I raised a lavender cock in 2007 NBRC 70 that had great speed, clean spin and good frequency. He would vary his depth from 10 ft to 40 ft and would pace his frequency to match the kit he was flying with. 70 got picked out in every kit I flew him as an all-star. I don’t name many birds, but I had one I called Steady Eddy, 07 NBRC 35. He was a mongrel mix of bloodlines. He wasn’t so exceptional, although he won our Idaho individual bird fly-off, but he gave the same kind of show every day I put him up. It didn’t matter if he was fat or thin, wind or heat, he went to work and it was pretty. I lost him to a falcon spring of 2011. I raised a hen in ’08 I named yo-yo. She did 30-40 ft every nice and went back like she was wound up on a string.

In building competition kits and judging, tell us what you’re looking for?

As a judge, I try my best to score by the rules of the fly as I understand them. I don’t put any of my personal preference into it. They must break together and be sufficient depth and quality to score. When I am judging, I cannot pick out a ‘best bird’. I try to watch with a different ‘set of eyes’. I am watching for the complete package as a kit. If I let my eyes get stuck on 1 bird, I am cheating the rest of the team of attention.

When I am putting together a kit for competition, I will practice judge them a few times. If there is any single bird that stands out from the rest, it must be because it is superior. If I notice a bird that is sloppy, too frequent or short more than once, I pull it. I look for birds that are good quality and depth and compliment the rest of the team. I don’t want birds popping off, rolling on their own, no matter how good or deep they may be. I don’t like birds that habitually roll off the back of the kit or roll as soon as they rejoin the kit. It disrupts the kits rhythm and limits opportunity for bigger breaks. I look for birds that routinely fly through breaks and pull them, regardless of performance. I expect them to contribute to the team’s performance.

Tell us about breeding, what you look for in stock selection? What kind of relationships work best?

I will first confess I do not consider myself a very good breeder of rollers. I owe most of any success I have achieved to others breeding. With that said, I’ll share my opinion. To qualify for stock, they must be good, without significant performance fault (no wing switching, bumping, out flying). They do not have to be perfect or even exceptional. I prefer them to have good performing brothers and sisters too. I prefer an H wing style. I prefer good, clean, balanced spin over extreme speed. They must be smooth in, smooth exit. They must have heart to return directly to the kit. I expect them to work in sync with a team. I prefer them to be 20-40 ft.

I fly all of mine for at least 2 full seasons. Sometimes I will pull in a yearling bird after WC and breed it over the summer, but if I do, it always goes back into the kit and flys through the next year. I like to re-fly any bird I breed from at least once. It tells me about its character if it can get back into form and resume its previous performance status. Several of my breeders have been from brood loft to kitbox and back multiple times. I know it’s risky in today’s skies with hawks etc, but it was something the creators of these birds did regularly and I think it’s important to do in order to maintain stable spinners.

When I put pairs together, I always do it with a purpose in mind, based on the attributes shown by each prospective parent and if possible how they have produced in the past. I try to compliment each mate with its match. I have not had much success breeding from full bro/sis matings and mixed success with parent/offspring matings. I like ½ bro/sis, cousins, uncle type relations to breed from. I don’t take relationship into consideration much, more of an afterthought. I do try and color balance a little. I avoid doubling up on grizzle, white flights/pied and recessive red.

What are some challenges of flying rollers in Idaho?

The biggest drawback to flying where I do is remoteness from other roller guys. I am 3 hrs from Cache Valley, 4 hours from Boise, 5 hours from Missoula, where there are other serious roller fliers. There are a couple of other roller guys around me but none that are into flying. They are more of hobbyist roller keepers. Where I live it is cool climate and windy in springtime. My property is open and so is the surrounding country. It helps to not harbor hawks but there is no protection from wind and elements for the birds. Raising a family (children) here has been more important than flying pigeons. Maybe when I retire I can look for ideal roller flying country … next to Thayne Lee?

What are some things we can do to better the hobby?

Get involved and stay involved, participate. Be a part of making your club happen. Don’t sit home and expect guys to come to your place and do it without you. Realize everyone is unique and personalities don’t always mesh, but learn to set that aside and be supportive of the club/hobby. Go around and watch /birds/kits perform, outside of your neighborhood/region/state. It will help prevent loft blindness and foster fellowship in a hobby that relies on a social network. Be honest. Honest with yourself about your birds and honest with guys you fly with or trade birds with. So many relationships and clubs have been ruined by men who believe they and their birds are greater than they actually are. Don’t make excuses for bad performance from your own birds, ever. Realize they aren’t machines, but don’t take your eye off the prize of producing the very best kind of rollers you can. You cannot get attached to birds/names/lofts/pedigrees and still make decisions that will improve the birds you breed/fly. Adopt a long term perspective with these birds. They aren’t easy to breed and fly well and it will take most of us years to realize progress. There will be many more disappointments than victories.

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