ALBIA — Tucked behind the pastures and barn at Southern Iowa Alpacas is a small, unassuming building that resembles a train car. The closer you get, the more you realize that Bill and Sherri Duey have expanded their horizons right into the sky.
Bill's second passion, in addition to the 20 alpacas on the property, is the 38 white racing homing pigeons that live in this loft. It was built three years ago with quite a bit of help from family.
"I think every relative we've got helped build some little component of it," Bill said. "I designed it from state-of-the-art everything after I'd found everything I could researching it. It's a neat facility, but then everyone pitched in to help us."
The loft has several rooms inside, two specifically for the birds' perch boxes. One wall is completely lined with cubbyholes, and there is a very specific pecking order to those boxes. They will claim their own box and then fight to defend it if another pigeon tries to take over.
The fascination with birds began at an early age for Bill.
"We had the ferrel pigeons around the barns when I was growing up on the farm, and I was always intrigued with pigeons, hawks, all kinds of birds," he said. "I'm a wildlife biologist by education, so I have a tendency that way anyway."
The homing pigeon gets its instincts from when it first comes out of a loft. These birds were sent from Tuscon, Arizona, when they were 60 days old. You can actually ship poultry and other birds through the mail, so the babies were shipped overnight to Albia.
The white pigeons are selected for their pure color, which means their homing instinct isn't quite like the other types of pigeons. They generally have a 30-mile radius, though Bill is staying within 10 miles of Albia. He has them trained so well that they're now being asked to do weddings, funerals and even car shows.