Etienne MEIRLAEN, St.Martens-Latem
and Martin Martens
Chateauroux 805 yearlings 2,6,16,18,32,34,54,55,64,75...
Chateauroux 461 old pigeons 8,15,20,24,26,34,36…
Barcelona 402 old pigeons 3,6,10,14,15,27,36...
St.Vincent 282 yearlings 1,2,4,31,41,43…
Orange 98 old 4,12,16 (4)
Argenton 828 yearlings 2,4,18,21,25,28,36,37,44,46,47,59…
Limoges 984 yearlings 8,9,14,41,47,66…
Souillac 279 old pigeons 1,20... - Prov 1.458 old pigeons 1...
Marseille 78 old pigeons 1,5,7,8,9 (5)
Narbonne 169 old pigeons 2,4,5,6,10...
Perpignan 100 yearlings 1,2,5,6,9…
Perpignan 193 old pigeons 6,9…
It is in Deurle, which is a formerly independent municipality of St.Martens-Latem, situated south of the city of Ghent in a heaven of peace, that a new distance star came to settle: Etienne Meirlaen. Sports friend Etienne was surely sufficiently well-know in pigeon midst because of his often spectacular achievements, mostly on middle distance and long middle distance. From the eighties until the mid nineties, he bombarded the competition with some excellent results.
As a 20-year-old self-employed, he started up a business that specialized in zinc, lead, sanitary fittings and roofing. The business flourished, the orders piled up…and pigeon racing occasionally moved to the background even though he could count on his wife to provide the pigeons with the necessary care. But when she started to suffer from pigeon dust and his business and shop, which were situated in the centre of St.Martens-Latem, were really starting to thrive, there remained only little spare time to spend on the pigeons. And since Etienne does not like to do things by halves he decided in the mid nineties to say goodbye to pigeon racing and he sold all of his pigeons.
Once fascinated by pigeons…
In the meantime, his son Steven was settling into the business and Etienne bought an old homestead situated at the edge of St.Martens-Latem. He started up renovations so that his son could move in later on. Etienne passed by each day to look after his horses which he had stabled in the large barn of the old homestead. The renovation was completed four years later and everything was ready for son Steven to move in. But then Etienne started thinking that the barn would be an excellent loft and once retired, he would be able to pick up his old hobby. Eventually, it did not take him so long because, as you will know, blood will tell and once fascinated by pigeons… A family reunion was organized at the Meirlaen’s place and in the end Etienne and his wife moved to the renovated homestead whilst Steven stayed in the shop.
The first pigeons moved into the lofts in Deurle in 2000 and they were immediately on the right track.
A lot of effort was put into transforming the beautiful barn into one of the most modern pigeon installations we were ever allowed to visit. The barn, which was about 40 meters in length, had one disadvantage which could not be underestimated: the front was facing west. So there was not only the disadvantage of often turbulent westerly wind mostly accompanied by the usual rain, but also heating of the lofts left a lot to be desired because the sun only shone onto the lofts in the afternoon. After about 2 seasons, Etienne came up with a suitable solution. He made the entrances of the lofts as good as draught-proof and sealed the lofts at the top. Thanks to an ingenious adjustable ventilation system, using 1 large central fan, polluted air is being removed from the lofts and by using the thus created underpressure fresh air can enter the lofts through the front. The fresh air is immediately heated by means of an electrical resistor and enters the lofts with an ideal humidity level. The fan is spinning day and night which has a big advantage: the pigeons are no longer startled when the fan starts to spin to remove the polluted air as was the case when he let it spin during 5 minutes every quarter of an hour by using a time switch. Top fanciers really do think of everything… This scenario is put into action as from springtime (i.e. March) until the end of the season. Then, the fan is switched off, the roof above the pigeons is opened up and the lofts are again ventilated in a natural way.
The garret windows that allow the pigeons to go in and out are automatically opened and the installation can also be operated per loft. So this implies that the youngsters can be darkened using a timer allowing the roll-down shutters to go up and down at the programmed time. Thus, there is still enough light in the lofts for the youngsters to find their way to the drinking fountain. During our visit, the new lofts for the youngsters were being built at the bottom of the barn. If the youngsters return from a race, they will arrive right in front of the ‘watchers’. Previously, the youngsters used to be housed at the other end of the barn.
In short, this is a real state-of-the-art pigeon installation and nothing was left to chance. One can see that this loft was built by someone who is not only a craftsman and a true fancier who knows what he wants but also by someone who has an eye for every little detail typical to pigeon sport and who also clearly realizes what is necessary to be part of the top of present pigeon racing. According to Etienne Meirlaen, one should initially possess an extremely solid loft with the much-needed ‘good pigeons’ and then it is up to the fancier to run the business judiciously or, let’s say, to make it work.
On one side of the barn, there are some compartments where the youngsters have been staying up until now (as from 2006 they will be moved to the new lofts at the bottom of the barn). By the end of the season, the little cocks will be moved to the other side of the barn where the yearlings will be staying in 2 separate lofts. At the age of 2 the cocks will definitely move to one of the 4 central compartments where the old racing pigeons are living. These 4 divisions contain one separate compartment for the ‘Barcelona team’, 2 compartments for the ‘extreme long distance pigeons’ (i.e. from Cahors till Dax, Marseille, Narbonne and Perpignan) and there is 1 compartment for the ‘long distance pigeons’ (who have Brive-Limoges Derby and Souillac on the menu).
Origins and care
It is clear that Etienne Meirlaen took no chances when taking a new start back in 2000. He arranged for some excellent accommodation and also the pigeons with which he got started prove that Etienne looked before he leapt. His goal was building up a loft that would be able to compete with the best on long and extreme long distance, so he looked for actual top lofts to stock up. At the total sell out he gave a round of late breds that descended from some of his excellent couples to his sports friend Michel Heggerick and his wife Aline, who have been -and still are- lending a hand with respect to caring for the pigeons. At the new start, Etienne naturally recalled some of the descendants of these pigeons. But the present strain is mainly based on ‘new’ pigeons that were obtained from some top colonies.
Because of his friendship of many years’ standing with reporter ‘Gerry’, i.e. the Van Damme-Boddaert team, a series of youngsters from top breeders in this success colony in Oostkamp naturally came to St.Martens-Latem. And immediately, it was a bull’s eye. Being the treasurer of the Barcelona club from Bruges, Etienne was a close friend with the top man of Club Brugge Antoine Van Hove and also some pigeons from Florizoone and Gyselbrecht in Loppem came to strengthen Etienne’s colony. Later on some other successful pigeons were bought from Cor De Heyde (Made-Nl), Wijnants & Zoon (Maastricht), Gubbemans (the ‘Theelenduiven’) and a pigeon from Sylvere Toye of the ‘Invincible Montauban’ from Caesaert which seems to be a real top breeder. So these are about the pigeons which have already proved to be successful racers and in the meantime some more new blood was obtained, but Etienne is wisely not yet telling any names in anticipation of the results.
One thing can be certainly stated…it was in no time that Etienne Meirlaen claimed a leading part in long and extreme long distance racing with his often pricey pigeons and, trust us, this is not granted many. It witnesses ‘great class’ and instantly proves the excellent quality of the Meirlaen colony. Titles such as 1st Champion Long Distance FVOV (long distance club of East-Flanders), 1st Champion Extreme Long Distance FVOV, General Distance Champion at the ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’, 12th National Champion Long Distance KBDB…were all obtained in 2004, which is no small matter and such titles are not won just like that.
In 2005, Etienne has won the ‘Great Marathonprize’ issued by the KBDB in East-Flanders with a coefficient of 0,7% with a 12th National St.Vincent and a 25th National Perpignan, thus beating the 1st National Acepigeon ‘Extreme Long Distance’ 2005 from Chris Hebberecht. So one can safely state that Etienne Meirlaen possesses the ‘BEST EXTREME LONG DISTANCE PIGEON of BELGIUM’! Too bad for sports friend Etienne that St.Vincent was not an international race, otherwise, his yearling super hen would most definitely have been laureated 1st National Acepigeon ‘Extreme Long Distance’ in Ostend! Which does not alter the achievement of the pigeon from Chris Hebberecht, on the contrary, those are the rules and Etienne reconciles himself to that. Nevertheless, it is a pity if you have been that close… Still, dear sports friends, one should know that all of this has been realized by an extreme long distance colony in full expansion! Where will all this end…
As we wrote above: only the best is good enough, not only with respect to the pigeons, but also as far as nutrition goes merely the best quality mixtures are given to the pigeons and the ‘Plus-mixtures’ from the company Versele-Laga are preferred. As a supplement, the Colombine products or the Oropharma products are used because they are based on scientific research to which Etienne Meirlaen attaches a lot of credence.
At the start of the season and when the first training races are flown, the pigeons almost exclusively receive ‘Gerry Plus’. Once middle distance races start ‘Superstar Plus I.C.’ is also added to their feed box. And when the distance races start they do not receive ‘Gerry Plus’ but 2 days after the race (or sometimes even not at all), after which Etienne switches to ‘Superstar Plus I.C.’ mixed with ‘Super diet’ which is more rich in fat. During the last days of the season this mixture is no longer on the menu and the pigeons then merely receive the racing mixture supplemented with some maize. When Etienne thinks it is necessary (which he concludes from the training results of the pigeons) some vitamins are added to the menu a few days prior to basketting. So far for the substantial feeding system, with stress on ‘Quality Food’, thanks to which Etienne Meirlaen has climbed to the top of excellent results on long and extreme long distance races in no time.
Preparation to the racing season
To our question how the widowers are being prepared to the season we get the following answer: ‘Well, I’ve been applying and trying out everything: early coupling in November and let them raise youngsters, then re-couple the pigeons by the end of March or not re-couple them and start with the season right-away. I’ve also tried to let them breed twice for some days before the season and not let them raise youngsters or to couple them early February and then let them leave on widowhood with their youngsters on the nest by the end of March (as was the case in 2005)… By the end of the season there was no significant difference in the performance curve of the pigeons. It’s all to do with variation in their training schedule. Just to say that many roads lead to Rome and as long as one possesses pigeons with excellent strains and if the birds show up at the starting point in ‘optima forma’ (i.e. in perfect health): the results will evident’, says Etienne Meirlaen. ‘There is one more thing of similar importance’, so adds Etienne: ‘The pigeons must be given the opportunity to fly the races that suit them. The achievements of young pigeons are of minor importance, but they need the experience. As yearlings, the pigeons are thoroughly tested. They have to graduate as Limoges Yearlings.’
If the pigeons get the title ‘cum laude’ they can move to the old widowers’ loft. The remaining pigeons still get their chance to race Narbonne (Beziers) or Perpignan and Etienne has already discovered some truly excellent future extreme long distance racers. He is an advocate of putting at least one race with afternoon release on the programme of the yearlings, because the real extreme long distance pigeons need such races to stand out. And this surely is not the worse for their future racing career, on the contrary…it is the best training one could possibly imagine! It is all a matter of having some patience with the pigeons and giving them a fair chance, which they sure get at the Meirlaen lofts.
Best ‘Extreme Long Distance Pigeon’ of Belgium in 2005
As you can tell from the list of achievements of 2005 (see separate frame) sports friend Etienne has achieved excellent results this season 2005. Apart from the 1st Provincial Souillac against 1.458 old pigeons, Etienne is also the proud owner of the ‘BEST EXTREME LONG DISTANCE PIGEON’ of Belgium in 2005. This title was achieved by a yearling hen, ‘MARATHON LADY’ 4391386/04, a stunning blue hen, not very big but a real ‘piece’ when handling her; she has vibrating muscles as if they were charged. This is a pigeon that will appeal to many fanciers. These are the results of this extraordinary hen :
Blois locally 1st prize, OVV 4th prize
St.Vincent 282 p 1st Nat Zone A 3.885 p 2
Nat. Hens 3.320 p 6, Nat. 10.020 yearl. 12
Perpignan 100 p 1st Nat. 3.796 yearl. 25
With a coefficient of 0,7% she was crowned winner of the ‘Great Marathon prize KBDB East-Flanders, right before the 1st National Acepigeon ‘Extreme Long Distance’ KBDB 2005 (with a coefficient of 0.8%)!! Only the international races were taken into account for the national championships and since St.Vincent was not raced as an international race, Etienne could not send in this super lady for the national championships.
The Meirlaen colony had an excellent team of youngsters in 2004 and that is why during winter Etienne came up with the idea to prepare a small team of yearling hens for St.Vincent and Perpignan. Not only because some much-needed points can be won for all kinds of championships, but Etienne also wanted to gain insight in the breeding qualities of the team of ‘extreme long distance pigeons’ and thus, it was his intention to discover some future breeding hens. About 30 hens were crammed for this ultimate exam. The hens were raced on regular widowhood during the training races and they were basketted each week for successively Arras-Clermont-Dourdan-Blois and Chateauroux. Most of the hens were then coupled with a breeding cock and the other hens were coupled amongst themselves so that they could be basketted for St.Vincent with youngsters of about 3 days old on the nest. No less than 29 hens were basketted for St.Vincent and 12 of them got qualified locally (per 3), starting with 1st, 2, 4… etc against 282 yearlings and on a national level 12, 20, 50… against 10.020 yearlings. All those who arrived late were done in without mercy and the twelve prizewinners were crammed for Perpignan, again with an identical nest with youngsters of about 3 days old on the day of basketting. A hen from Etienne’s own ‘old kind’ was removed from the Perpignan team, so eventually 11 yearling hens were basketted with as a result: 1st, 2, 5, 6, 9, 15, 23 against 100 yearlings; a true surprise with 7 excellent prizes out of 11!! A real successful experiment, worth repeating according to Etienne. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Everybody who can present such an excellent list of achievements (see separate frame) in less than 5 years after taking a totally new start and everyone able to compete with the best extreme long distance experts, has a brilliant future in store. It goes without saying that Etienne Meirlaen will be a great competitor in the field of long and extreme long distance… Meirlaen; a name to remember.
The excellent list of achievements 2004-2005 of the colony Etienne Meirlaen
In 2004 :
06/6 Brive 669 p. 20,48 (1+2),74,82(3+4),96,104,141… (15 p)
Nat 19.477 p. 277,651,948,1058,1232,1299,2094,3549,3983,4587 (15)
12/6 Montélimar 173 p. 13,14 (4) - Nat 8.538 p. 863,994 (4)
19/6 Cahors 202 d. 8,18 (4) - Nat 7.340 p. 160,315 (4)
26/6 Pau 162 p. 5,9,38 (1+2+3) of 5 p. - Nat 2.118 p. 47,67,203,351 (5) - Intnat 8.270 d. 106,149,425,770 (5)
26/6 Bordeaux 316 p. 6,10,41,53,85,99,100,102 (17 of which 14 two-year-olds) - Nat 7.519 p. 59,110,430,547,1051,1283,1285,1339,1377,1675 (17)
03/7 Orange 113 p. 7,20 (2) - Nat 2.257 p. 151,338 (2) - Nat FCW 7.568 p. 492,1166 (2)
03/7 Barcelona 300 d. 2,3,4,6,16,51,71,75,76,80,84,86 (22) - Nat 12.275 d. 17,104,129,197,680... etc
10/7 Limoges 748 p. 1,39,40,97,112,120,123,140,145,168,198,205 (19) - Nat Zone A 6.076 p. 6,373,379,881,1015,1119,1128,1238,1286,1414 (19)
Limoges Derby Prov 2.289 p. 110,262,277,302,315 (2nd),382 (1st ((af))),542… (13) - Nat Zone A 3.572 d. 217,572,622,685,716,872 (13)
10/7 San Sebastian 432 p. 6 (1st ((af))),20 (1 widower + 6 late hens). - Intnat 1.443 p. 15,130 (7)
19/7 Dax 300 p. 5,46,71,75,95 (12 of which 10 two-year-olds) - Nat 6.138 p. 64,595,939,963,1193 (12)
Intnat 17.526 p. 100,1147,1678,1727,2236,3077,3265,3335,3587,4086 (12)
24/7 Brive 420 p. 5,14,25,36,98,117,123 (10) - Nat 7.446 p. 75,152,265,405,1108,1419,1520 (10)
24/7 Marseille 74 p. 1,3,11 (4) - Nat FCW 5.738 p. 72,107,408 (4) - Intnat 19.627 p. 190,306,1158,4783 (4)
30/7 Biaritz 108 p. 1,3,6,14,16 (15) - Nat 2.343 p. 30,98,189,303,357 (15)
07/8 Perpignan 181 p. 21,27,50,61 + series (7) - Perpignan Yearlings 138 p. 6,19,33,42 (8) - Nat 6.489 p. 490,661,1245,1440 (8)
In 2005 :
18/6 Chateauroux 805 yearlings 2,6,16,18,32,34,54,55,64,75,85,88,89,102,106,113,117,118,128,129,130,140,141,157, 158,165,166,172,173,174,181.... 40 out of 57 per 3
25/6 Chateauroux 461 old pigeons 8,15,20,24,26,34,36,66,80,106,118,132,155 (17)
25/6 Pau National 2.212 old pigeons 9,58
02/7 Barcelona 402 old pigeons 3,6,10,14,15,27,36,48,64…. 12/31
National 12.998 old pigeons 84,125,450,495,553… etc
02/7 St.Vincent 282 yearlings 1,2,4,31,41,43,66,78,79,81,83,88,89 (29)
Nat Zone A 3.885 yearlings 2,4,10… etc
National 3.320 hens 6,10,27... etc
National 10.020 yearlings 12,20,50... etc
02/7 Orange 98 old pigeons 4,12,16 (4)
03/7 Argenton 828 yearlings 2,4,18,21,25,28,36,37,44,46,47,59,87,90,107,114,133,134,135,137,151,182… 33 out of 56 per 3
10/7 Limoges 720 old pigeons 31,35,39(2+3+1),48,52,70,79,80,92,95,129,163… 17 of 18
16/7 Limoges 984 yearlings 8,9,14,41,47,66,101,118,135,149,158… 26 out of 56 per 3
23/7 Souillac 279 old pigeons 1,20,58,65,77,83 (9)
Provincial 1.458 old pigeons 1,… etc
23/7 Marseille 78 old pigeons 1,5,7,8,9 (5)
National 4.398 old pigeons 46,417,426,442,462 (5)
30/7 Narbonne 169 old pigeons 2,4,5,6,10,44,46 (9)
National 5.963 old pigeons 74,350,362,363,471… (9)
06/8 Perpignan 100 yearlings 1,2,5,6,9,15,23 (11)
National 3.796 yearlings 25,64,116,158,232… and 7 out of 11
Perpignan 193 old pigeons 6,9,29,38 (8)
In 2004 :
1st Champion Long Distance Old Pigeons ‘FVOV’
1st Champion Extreme Long Distance ‘FVOV’
1st General Champion ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’
1st Group Champion ‘International Long Distance Club’
1st Freunde der Internationalen Weitstrecke
1st Acepigeon Long Distance ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’
1st Acepigeon Extreme Long Distance ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’
2nd Long Distance Champion ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’
2nd Champion ‘Oostvlaamse Brivevrienden’
2nd Champion Fond ‘Les Amis du Grand Fond’
4th International Criterium ‘Belgica De Weerd’
5th General Champion ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding)
5th Criterium of Ace Pigeons ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding)
5th Champion General ‘Les Amis du Grand Fond’
6th Long Distance Champion ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding)
6th Individual Champion ‘International Long Distance Association’
6th National Club Race (with partner)
8th National Decathlon
8th National Champions League
12th National Champion Long Distance ‘KBDB’
Co-winner Tiercé Long Distance ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding)
Co-winner Tiercé Extreme Long Distance ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding)
Co-winner Quarté 2004
Co-winner Sextet ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding). etc.
In 2005 :
1st Extreme Long Distance Prize ‘KBDB East-Flanders’
2nd Marathon Champion Old Pigeons ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’
3rd Champion Extreme Long Distance ‘FVOV’
21st IATP-ranking PIPA
1st National Club Race Extreme Long Distance (with partner Andre Lietaer)
1st Ace Pigeon Long Distance Old Pigeons ‘Long Distance club Eeklo’
6th National Belgian Mistral Gold Cup
6th Provincial Acepigeon Long Distance Old Pigeons ‘KBDB East-Flanders’
At ‘La Colombe Joyeuse’
4th Cup of Europe International (1st Belgian)
12th Cup of Europe International Extreme Long Distance (1st – 5th nominated (2nd Belgian)
11th WESM (West-European Super Marathon)
At ‘B.V.’ (Belgische Verstandhouding)
4th Champion Extreme Long Distance
7th Acepigeon 2005
9th General Champion