Carlier-Petit, "A thirst for the future"

I was teased a little, on my visit to France, with a friendly but nevertheless accurate jibe about how we, the English, live in the past. Why do we have a Trafalgar Square and a Waterloo Station? Do we not know that it pains our European cousins, just across the channel, to be reminded of these past battles? Should we not come up to times and give them new names that express the future rather than the past? The problem is that even if we gave them new names I am not all sure it would change our consciousness. I had become so inured to our condition that I was unable to give a fitting reply nor could I offer any sign of hope for change, which provided a stark contrast to what I found there. The revolution that changed the face of France happened a long, long time ago but if we were seeking a causal link for the enthusiastic optimism I encountered we might attribute it to those times. Whether it really is the fire of Liberty, Egality and Fraternity still burning strong or whether it is an entirely new phenomena I know not but in a sport that seems to be forcing itself into oblivion here I found to be thirsting for the future there. The French have found a much better way of despatching their foes than “Madame Guillotine” and, in pursuing an entirely bloodless revolution, they are ganging up on the rest of the world and threatening a gradual take over of the International scene. Slowly but surely they are making inroads into International pigeon racing and are looking forward to a healthy future. The first loft I visited was that of Eric Vanacker but now to another part of that “gang”, Carlier-Petit.

The Gang.
Gang is an unfortunate choice of words because to many it has really nasty connotations but there is absolutely nothing nasty about this group. Quit apart from the invigorating feeling of being amongst people who are bursting with energy and enthusiasm this is a collection of very nice people brought together for a common purpose, they intend to win in the toughest and most prestigious International pigeon races in the world. In all there are three elements to the group, first there is Eric Vanacker at Pouilly-sur-Serre who you will know if you are following this series. Then there is the loft that we visit today, Carlier-Petit in the charming little village of Montigny en Cambresis, the partnership of Guy Carlier, who really has the sole care of this loft, and the father of Olivier Petit. As you will hear this loft enjoyed great success in 2004 in what was really still a build up year to its assault on the International scene. Finally the third element is a new loft at the home of Olivier Petit in Seclin, just outside Lille, and a new partnership of the three sons Olivier, Jean Paul son of Guy Carlier and Eric Vanacker’s son, who I have not yet met. So perhaps, in the not to distant future I will have to return to report on International winners from all three of these elements.

The early years.
Here at Montigny en Cambresis Guy is the master, a master of the pigeon craft. Guy started his life in quite humble surroundings. Born in 1947 in Vertain, a tiny country village with but 400 inhabitants only a few kilometres away, his young life was marked by the austere post war years. From an early age he was obliged to work in the garden and fields as well as the house helping his parents to eke out a living as best they could. He was the youngest of three children living in a house with no running water, no bathroom, no shower, not even a sewage system just a primitive toilet out in the stable. Times were hard but happy and although his father did keep pigeons he did not race them but indulged in a more ferocious feathered sport, cock fighting. This was popular and an ancient sport of the men who worked in the collieries, textile mills and steel industry of northern France. Guy grew up as a country boy steeped in the rural skills of plant and animal husbandry and has always stayed close to nature but as he reached his later teenage years he was sucked in to the blast furnaces of the giant French steel maker USINOR at Anzin. At that time, the mid 1960’s, the demand for coal and steel seemed endless and the drive to supply was paramount. USINOR, at Anzin alone, called in 20,000 workers from surrounding villages, making it the dominant employer in a lightly populated area. It was at about this time that Guy started to take an interest in pigeons, which probably acted as a distraction to his work. He found the ferociously hot and deafening atmosphere of USINOR and its furnaces a complete and unwelcome contrast to his earlier years. This employment only lasted a few years though as circumstances stepped in first with his fathers death, which meant he had to pull back from pigeons for a while as the family regrouped and then he met Danielle, which really was a turning point in both their lives. Guy and Danielle married and settled at 15, Emile Zola Street in what was to Guy the slightly larger village, some 600 inhabitants, of Montigny en Cambresis where they have lived until to day. As soon as he could Guy left USINOR and took a job as a van driver at the laundry in nearby Caudry and as soon as he could he built a loft, his passion for pigeons was established

The home.
The house at Emile Zola Street was built by Danielle’s grandfather small at first but as the family grew so did the house, room by room. It is a house that has served the family well over the years but while it is one thing building to expand it is quite another to make it contract as the family disperses. Now it has only two occupants, Guy and Danielle, as their son Jean Paul has moved to make his own home near to his work. Jean Paul is a Gendarme and France has its own structure for policing. While they have a civil police force working in most towns and villages the surrounding countryside is often policed by the Gendarmerie, who are part of the armed forces and so military police. I still have difficulty in fully understanding this concept but it works and that’s what counts. Fortunately, on the day I visited, Jean Paul was able to return home to show me around and explain everything. He speaks excellent English, a talent he has acquired from his mother who teaches English to local work people as part of a government initiative. This is an impressive scheme in a country that is so ferociously proud and protective of its own language and yet finds the resources to teach a foreign language at this level. From his father Jean Paul has inherited a great passion for pigeons but what shone out from his bounding enthusiasm was the great respect and admiration he holds for his fathers judgement and ability.

The Gaudfrin experience.
In the early days Guy raced in the shorter races and over time improved his skills and results. Gradually he improved his stock and systems and the results followed so much so that he came to dominate the short and middle distance races in the area of Cambresis through the 1980’s. A change of employment at the end of the 1980’s brought about a change of direction in pigeon racing as well. Guy was fortunate to get a tip from a fellow fancier and as a result of that got himself a job as salesman for Tornado International, a large German textile company. This job involved him travelling all over northern France, which limited his ability to race pigeons, but it also led, through a friendship he struck up with Roger Delbruyere, a customs officer on the Franco/Belgian border, to meet Gerard Gaudfrin in 1992. Gaudfrin had just won 6th International Barcelona from 27,068 pigeons with F89-134767 when only 5 pigeons reached their loft on the day. Gaudfrin went on to prove this was no freak result when in 1995 he took 7th International Barcelona from 20,936 pigeons with F93-430205 a son of the 1992 pigeon. In Gaudfrin Guy found a friend who shared many of his own character traits as he was a very generous and truthful man with a great heart, unfortunately he died at the relatively young age of 67 years on 22nd January 1998. Twenty seven Gaudfrin pigeons found there way to Montigny all bred around the Barcelona winners and one in particular formed part of a foundation pair, responsible for many good racers at Montigny, “The Barcelona” F96-322462 a blue chequer cock who is a son of the 7th International Barcelona 1995 and a grandson of the 6th International Barcelona 1992 and his partner “Rikky” B96-3085157 a blue chequer hen direct from Luc Sioen of Moorsledge and who is herself a granddaughter of Jan Theelen’s famous RIKKY, winner of 1st International Barcelona 1993 from 33,196 pigeons.

The Internationals.
The meeting with Gaudfrin marked a turning point in Guy’s pigeon career because it provided him with a pathway into longer races. Not the Internationals at first, that only came later, but it moved him on from the short and middle distance races and provided him with a spring board so that when he eventually did move on to the International scene, in 2001, he leapt to the front. Look at the following full International positions won in those first four years.

102th MARSEILLE – 19,682 pigeons
110th MARSEILLE – 19,682 pigeons

230th PAU – 7,867 pigeons
311th PAU – 7,867 pigeons
16th DAX – 14,507 pigeons
63rd DAX – 14,507 pigeons
79th DAX – 14,507 pigeons
106th DAX – 14,507 pigeons
302nd SAN SEBASTIEN – 2,549 pigeons

401th PERPIGNAN – 16,800 pigeons
186th MARSEILLE – 20,786 pigeons

50th BARCELONE - 24913 pigeons
7th BEZIERS – 6,602 pigeons
50th BEZIERS – 6,602 pigeons
77th MARSEILLE – 19,627 pigeons
327th MARSEILLE – 19,627 pigeons


Out of a total of 92 entries into Internationals races 63 prizes have been won, representing a success rate of 68%. It is not only this prize winning ration that is impressive but the way they returned as a team. For instance at Perpignan 2004 four of the six entries were timed within 1hr and 20 minutes and at Barcelona five of the eight entries were timed in a 3 hour period. You can also see a steady progression through these early years crowned, thus far, with 1st and 6th National, 7th and 50th International Beziers in 2004 as well as three excellent International positions from Barcelona and Marseille. It was this superb overall performance that put this loft in 1st position in the European Cup competition for the best five positions in International races.

2. JANSEN B. & Co NL 15 2
3. MEIRLAEN E. B 14 3,3
4. BEYER C. & Zn NL 14 3,3
5. HENDRIKX P. & Zn NL 14 3,3

It is this sort of competition, I believe, that shows up the real quality lofts as the favour and luck that might exist in any one race is balanced out by looking across several. There are things that could make this competition even better but as it stands it is one of the most equitable measures we have. Lets look at some members of that winning team.

The Pigeons.
First is “Le Macot” F01-495083 a small, dark chequer pied cock who gets his name from his colour. I put him first because he is the pigeon I fell in love with. He is a compact little cock that sits calmly in your hands. He knows you are a visitor and treats you courteously as a guest. Curious, with the confidence to look around and take in all that is going on but cool, relaxed and gentle. Yes “Le Macot” is gentle but you can feel in him, and you can feel in him that he knows you can feel in him, that he could break free from your grip at any time he wished. He has everything you could wish for in a pigeon, looks, strength, intelligence, temperament, determination, beautiful silky plumage and he flies like a champion.
In 2004 he won 7th National 1,933 pigeons and 50th International Barcelona and then went back to Perpignan to take 77th National 1,598 pigeons. “Le Macot” is a product of the Dutch connection. His sire, from Gerard Fruitier, is down from Leo Kurvers pigeons and in particular a cock that flew Barcelona 5 times, Marseille 4 times, Perpignan 4 times and was the long distance champion in Holland in 1997. The dam of “Le Macot” is another hen from Luc Sioen and another granddaughter of Jan Theelens “RIKKY”. “Le Macot” was born to fly Barcelona and I hope he goes to Barcelona again this year, 2005, as he will be four years old by then and I think, given the right circumstances, he could win the race outright.
The next two pigeons are the Marseille pair. Although they are not actually a pair they are closely related and demonstrate the way in which Guy has both concentrated genes and outcrossed. When Guy obtained the Gaudfrin pigeons he selected some that were very closely related to the Barcelona pigeons and were chosen for stock to produce racers when paired to other pigeons like the Luc Sioens. If we look at “Le 050” F98-382050, who has been timed in each of these years from Marseille taking 25/1,920 National 2001, 104/1,918 National 2002, 120/1,663 National 2003 and finally 16/2,667 National & 77/19,627 International in 2004, and also “Le Marquis” F99-282026, who has also been timed each year from International races 39/1,646 National Perpignan 2001, 26/1,918 National Marseille 2002, 86/1,664 National Perpignan 2002, 146/1,336 National Dax 2003 and finally 36/2,667 National & 327/19,627 International Marseille 2004, we find that their sires are brothers. Actually these brothers are nest mates from a pairing of a half brother to the 6th International Barcelona and the dam of the 7th International Barcelona. While the dam of “Le 050” is a product of another one of these closely bred Gaudfrin pigeons and the Luc Sioen foundation hen “RIKKY” the dam of “Le Marquis” is “RIKKY” herself. This crossing of Gaudfrin and Luc Sioen has worked very well but it is not the only formulae that Guy has worked on.

The system.
The pigeons at Montigny are raced on a conventional widowhood method with cocks only being raced. Through the winter the pigeons are left together, although the boxes are closed, and while they are exercised in good weather this is mainly a time for relaxation and calm. Some put on a little weight but Guy is not to worried about that, although it leaves some other members of the group just a little uneasy. At the end of January the sexes are separated and shortly after the Belgian Vet, Paul Lemahieu, is consulted about their general health. In the first week of March both stock and racers are paired and the racers rear one squab each. When the second round of eggs is laid training begins and the birds are separated and go onto widowhood in early May. The daily loft flying grows progressively longer as the season develops until in June they are flying for at least one hour twice each day. Any that show reluctance are encouraged to take to the sky again with a small rubber ball that Guy throws amongst them. The cocks are sent on training flights to 125 km on a couple of occasions and then 250 km and 500 km. The yearlings only go once to 500 km and no great notice is taken of their performance. Although a little more is asked of the two year olds they still only complete a light programme. The older pigeons share the International races between them. After Perpignan the racers are paired again and the Vet. consulted again about their general health. Once again the racers rear one squab and after sitting a few days on the second round of eggs the nest boxes are cleared and closed and the pigeons left together for a tranquil winter. Guy says “We attach a big importance to let the pigeons grow peacefully like a good wine” and he believes that the three secrets to good results are Patience, Observation and Healthcare. As far as healthcare is concerned this is very much dealt with in conjunction with the Vet. Apart from the two yearly routine examinations he may well be consulted during the racing season if it is thought necessary, but not routinely. Obviously, if he recommends treatments they are given. Guy is very keen on prevention rather than cure and believes in the use of natural products as much as possible. He has a large wardrobe in his pigeon room in the house, which is crammed full with just about every natural remedy you could imagine. He has no blind faith in any one thing but believes that they all contribute a little including carrot juice, beetroot juice, onions, garlic and various herbs and so they are all given in rotation. This applies equally to vitamins and supplements, he likes to rotate them round to provide both a variety and ensure that no trace element is left out. Feeding is basic and simple using commercial mixtures on an eat as much as they wish basis with the food taken away when they are done. One thing Guy is very keen on is providing five different sorts of maize. His reasoning is that the feed given in International races is maize and so he wants his birds conditioned to all the varieties so that none take them by surprise.

The lofts.

Another indication of Guy’s commitment and determination to make his mark on the International scene is the lofts. Because of the success he has enjoyed so far Guy has deliberately made little change to the widowhood cocks accommodation. The cocks are housed in three separate and distinct units. The first, and largest is in the attic of the house itself. This is the first time I have seen cocks kept in this way, although of course I have heard of it, and what an ideal environment it provides. I know of no evidence to prove it but I am sure height alone has a beneficial effect. When you look around at the locations pigeon choose, when allowed, to roost or nest few if any pick a spot near to the ground. The roof in Guy’s house has stood for a number of years and Jean Paul pointed out to me a piece of damage to one of the wooden trusses caused by a 1914-18 shell. That apart the roof was sound and all that there was above the pigeons were the tiles and roof lights, while below was the whole winter heated house, producing a delightfully dry, light, airy and comfortable atmosphere. No wonder the birds looked well. The second unit is smaller but again above ground, though not quite as high, and is the first floor of a shed running across the garden which contains a couple of stock pairs at ground level. Again this provided a nice light, dry atmosphere. Standing next to it is the third unit, a smaller tiled roofed loft at ground level. In 2004 a total of 60 racing cocks were housed, 44 old birds and 16 yearlings, but in 2005 it is intended to keep a further 12 yearlings. To be competitive over the whole International programme you do need strength in depth and you have to be prepared to wait for the pigeons to mature, so you do have to carry a fairly large team. The youngsters and stock birds have a magnificent new wooden loft which has a maintenance free plastic back. It is equipped throughout with self cleaning perches, for the young birds, and nest boxes for the stock. Just a flick of a switch and the whole job is done in less than five minutes with all the waste delivered into a waiting bag. Expensive? Yes, dearer than the loft but worth every penny. I shall have to start saving. The floors of all lofts are solid and regularly scrapped because that is the way Guy likes it. Guy does wear a mask, so I didn’t need to deliver my lecture on the dangers of pigeon lung. Both the young birds and the stock have modern, secure aviaries where they can enjoy the elements at will. For the young birds the emphasis is on health, growth and development. They are given a sound training and exercised well in order to assist that growth and development but they are not raced, in the accepted sense of the word, although they may be sent to some races purely for experience. If so this would be no more than four of about 125 km.

The future.
Guy has laid the foundations of a very successful International venture. He has a splendid array of lofts that accommodate an up to date and well considered range of pigeons. With the solid base of Gaudfrin pigeons established he has brought in carefully selected individuals from Luc Sioen, Gerard Fruitier and George Carteus that posses qualities to complement and blend with that base. He has already shown that he is able to breed and race pigeons to compete at the highest level in all the International races from Beziers to Barcelona. Like all true competitors he is constantly looking for new pigeons, new methods and new techniques but the search is conducted with intuition, discrimination and a quiet patience. Guy knows that the most important thing of all is good pigeons and he has a growing number of very good pigeons at Montigny en Cambresis, just a few of which I have mentioned here, and I know I will have to return very soon because they will demand the attention of us all.