Jean Denis' beautiful lofts in Baileux.
Adonis Denis was 93 when he died in 1980. The year before we saw him come into the clubhouse with a little crate of birds to basket for Barcelona and we admired his erect bearing. How lightly he carried his more than 90 years, what strength and vitality ! Was it the glasses of stout that he rather liked, that kept him straight as an oak and completely able to basket and countermark his birds without any help ?
Delighted with the great success their father had in long distance racing, his sons Jean and Marcel were really impressed by all the genuine thrills and excitement he experienced when his birds flew exceptionally well from St. Vincent or Barcelona.
Jean Denis let us go over their archives and we noted some remarkable exploits.
For example : The Barcelona birds were released on Friday the 14th of July at 6:30 and the first birds called in to Brussels the next morning were:
Denis Jean, Bailleux
Denis Adonis, Bailleux
Monin Albert Cul-des Sarts
Denis Adonis, Bailleux
That was in 1967 and 4.876 birds were in the race. Jean and Adonis were 4th and 5th internationally.
In 1938 Adonis Denis was given a unique bronze masterpiece directly from the hands of the sculpter Jef Lambeaux. He won it by having the first series of two birds home from the thousand mile race from Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. He was actually 4th and 23rd in this super-difficult international race organized by the Curegem Center.
Among the press clippings and notes that we found to be of special interest was the following story told by Adonis Denis.
"When I started racing pigeons, and that was back at the end of the last century, we had to go by foot to Chimay (5-6 km/3-4 miles) to ship our birds. When the first bird homed it was stuffed into a cloth satchel and back to Chimay we would go. Back to Chimay we would run is more accurate. When the second bird arrived we did the same thing. At the clubhouse in Chimay the master would mark down the time we arrived and would then hang the little satchels, one by one, on the wall. This until all the prizes were won.
Rubber countermarks (rings) were not used at that time, and of course we had no pigeon clocks either. There were lots of wild rabbits though. So every time I shipped my birds I would also pick up a rabbit for dinner"
Ajaccio, Santander, St Sebastian are names that along with Barcelona are written in golden letter in the annals of Adonis Denis' racing career. Jean and Marcel had a lot of success due to their father's help. They continued to do so after he was gone but of course it was thanks to the strain their father had built up over the years.
The strain, or strains their father had before the first World War, is a subject the sons know very little about.
This unknown family was later built up with Bricoux from Charmann from Chatelet. Later came 2 cocks from Hentges in Bonnevoie, Luxemburg. A couple more birds were bought at the total sale of Hector Desmet from Geraardsbergen.
We note that Adonis and his sons were great believers of inbreeding, even very close inbreeding.
- Are your hens raced to the nest or widowed - details please ?
- Do you show hens before basketing ?
- Do you breed before and after the race season ?
- What do you do wen a widower loses appetite and weight ?
- Loft flying - what time - flag or broom - or free loft - how long are they out ?
- Do you feed in a commun feeder or in individual nestboxes ?
Jean does not race old hens.
Years ago he raced young hens from Bourges and La Souteraine. (note : these are August and September races. rhw) More recently he usually stops racing when the widowhood season is over.
At the beginning of the season the hens are shown 2 or 3 times to be sure the windowers will know what it's all about. Once they are at 500 km (312 miles) and farther the only thing done is simply to turn the nest bowls upright. (They are upside down during the week.rhw). That is plenty of "motivation" for the two-year-olds and older birds. When they are being shipped past 700 km (440 mile) it is importent that they be calm and quiet in the shipping basket. Otherwise they wear themselves out prior to release and then risk getting lost . (Note : Belgian birds are basketed 3 or more days before release date on long races.
Recent years we've been having the widowers raise a couple of youngsters, sometimes even two sets of youngsters, before the race season. Whenever one only has, as was our case in 1983, a couple of pairs of stock birds this breeding by widowers is important.
After the season they raise one pair of youngsters. The best looking youngsters, especially those from the best flyers, are kept. This is never more than a third of those raised.
The birds are given free loft twice a day for about an hour.
The lofts are opened mornings and evenings by an automatic opener. When unforseen professional duties force me to be late home my wife closes the lofts. She is used to pushing the button. Thus when I get home the birds have been exercised and usually are back in the loft. They can thus be fed immediately.
This is an ideal system for people who are terribly busy yet do not have loft managers.
Not having much time, the lofts are only cleaned three times a year. The floors are covered with thick corrugated paper to keep them bone dry.This absorbs all the moisture, it can be bought in rolls one or two meters wide. Before the race season, after the race season, and after the molt everything is cleaned thoroughly and disinfected with a blow-torch.
One should add that the lofts are only half full most of the time. Plenty of room and very few birds is an excellent solution. If the corrugated paper were no longer to be had. Jean says he would have to give up.
The nestboxes are very wide. They are scraped out once or twice every day.
Widowers are fed all year round in a regular feeder on the floor. During the race season they get the race mixture, the rest of the year I feed moulting mixture.
Of course during the breeding period they get breeding mixture. They are never kept hungry, not even the first days after returning from races. They get, so to speak, all they want. Still, they are not given more than they will finish, nothing is left in their feeders.
My father, Adonis has used the Descheemaeker products for years with excellent results. Why change ?
- How do you know when your widowers are coming into form - or already are in top form ?
- Is your loft darkened - when ?
Not everyone can tell when a pigeon has come into form and should therefore be the first nominated bird. I make as many mistakes in choosing my first nominated bird as anyone. Thus I really can't, or shouldn't, discuss the point.
My widowhood lofts are darkened all day long, although one can still read a newspaper in there. This not only assures that the widowers will rest but protects them from being disturbed during the day by the young birds flying.
After the race season the widowhood hens raise a pair of youngsters. They lay once ore twice afterwards. They are taken out of the widowhood loft at the beginning of December. They are put in the fly pens under the widowhood lofts.
Once the molt is over, and whenever they are being used as widowhood hens, they are fed very lightly.
To discourage them from mating up together various objects (balls for example) are thrown onto the floor. This keeps them up on their perches alone, they do not trust the floor.
STOCK BIRDS :
In a separate loft are two pairs of breeders, they are alone and have four nestboxes.
Their feeding depends on the time of the year. While breeding they get the Descheemaecker Breeding Mixture.
Then they get the Descheemaecker Moulting Mixture until a couple of weeks before they are to be put back together.
We used to give greens now and then. Recently we haven't been doing so and that seems to be OK too.
Due to our lack of time, the floor of the loft is only cleaned three times per year. When the corrugated paper and its cover of dry droppings are removed all the corners of the loft and the nests are thoroughly sprayed with disinfectant.
MATING - ACE PIGEONS :
- Out of what matings are your Ace Pigeons - National Winners ?
- Are they inbred or crosses ?
We are great believers in inbreeding, even close inbreeding. We do not hesitate putting father and daughter or mother and son together . We regularly pair up half-brothers and half-sisters. This is to reinforce the foundation bird's blood or that of an extraordinary bird. By such matings one gets, in theory at least, 50% of the desired subject whereas there is only 2 times 25% of the other blood.
That you can't go wrong this way is something Adonis Denis has known for years. Jean, who follows in his fathers footsteps, only had 14 birds over a year old in 1979. That same year he mated his best stock hen with her son.
Only 50 youngsters were banded that year. Seven of them went to friends or were claimed by buyers of "bons" Jean had given to worthy causes. So he only kept 43. Roughly half of the 43 were hens of course.
Two years later, in 1981 to be exact, he still had 8 cocks out of that lot. All 8 got free trips to Barcelona and 6 of them flew back fast enough to make national and international prizes. A friend who got one of the 7 mentioned above also sent his bird to Barcelona and it also made the national and international prize lists. This is the sort of thing that has to be seen to be believed. Buy 50 bands and two years later send (8+1) to Barcelona with 7 of them scoring !
Thus it appears that his system of close inbreeding has not led him astray. This proven method was read by Adonis' father in the book "Le pigeon Voyageur" (The Racing Pigeon) by Gigot, and that back in the 19th century.
Jean received the book as a momento from his grandfather and prizes it like a family heirloom.
- Do you believe in eye sign ?
The older one gets the less one believes in theories.
When I look into a bird's eyes it is in search of brightness and luster. I do like long wings that are closely covered. Cover is very useful in case of rain. Once rain gets through feathers the bird can not fly any farther. A good inner-wing is also important.
VITAMINS and TRACE-ELEMENTS :
- What sort of vitamins do your birds get ?
- When - what days ?
- How much per liter ?
Once in awhile I occasionalley give vitamins. Usually this is before or after a very hard long distance race. But I do not have a set system. There are lots of vitamin complexes to be found commercially. I usually use one of the compounds that is made for calves or for poultry. Dopyphral is one of the well known vitamin and trace-element compounds. A
level teaspoon for 2.5 liters ( 3 quarts ) is ampla.
New blood :
- Do you believe in bringing in new blood every year ?
- What have you brought in most recently and what sort of success have you had with it ?
As a firm believer in inbreeding I rarely look for new or fresh blood.
In 1971 my brother Marcel ans I bought a bird together from Pol Bostijn. It was 30500674/70 a brother of "Benoni."
We also bought the famous La Souterraine-hen" from Albert Dekeyzer from Renaix at about the same time.
Since then we have limited ourselves to an occasional trade with friends. Usually that is with friends who have our strain to a high percent. Thus we receive birds of our own strain that have come from a different environment.
Our hobby of racing pigeons is getting increasingly more and more difficult for beginners to make a start in. Building a loft buying baskets and birds, the price of pigeon food, etc., runs to a lot of money.
It follows that it is of the utmost importance to keep the cost of actually racing one's pigeons as low as possible. Obligatory pools, clock rentals, and race reports are all too expensive. Especially if one wants to compete on the provincial and national levels.
In this respect we could well take a minute to learn how our neighbors across the border operate.