There is no doubt about the fact that the Belgium fancy continue to produce top fanciers year after year, some we hear very little about in the UK while others receive a great deal of publicity for one reason or another. The Belgian pigeons are sought worldwide and in particular by the fanciers in the Far East where pigeon racing is big business, perhaps betting wise more than anywhere else in the world. The fanciers for this report are by no means new to the sport because they have been around for a long time and have a much sought after team of pigeons. Etienne De Rauw and Frans Sablon are brothers-in-law and both come from a family of pigeon fancier's which is probably why they became related by marriage. Etienne De Rauw is 66 years old and Frans Sablon is 61 years old and they have been pigeon fanciers for about 50 year's which between them is an awful lot of experience. They have not always been in a partnership because way back in the swinging sixties they raced pigeons separately but even further back before that they both raced with in partnership with their fathers. However they present day combination has successfully existed since 1972 when they decided that as a partnership there were far more advantages. Like most fancier's times change and the short to middle distance races become hard work as the year's roll by which is no different with this partnership because prior to 1980 they had a very good team of medium distance pigeons.
Then the trend in racing began to swing and in Belgium there was more and more call for long distance racing therefore they obtained some quality long distance pigeons from De Ridder J, St.Ulrikskapelle (1981) and Rosseel, Oostende (1980). Neither Etienne or Frans had any experience with long distance pigeons because of their successful years with the middle distance races they had stuck to the proven method. In those days they only had room for the old birds which meant that the newly added long distance pigeons were going to have a hard time in the beginning to gain a place in the Widower's loft. The first pigeon that got a chance to prove it's worth in the team was their Barcelona 4358204/80 which became a very good long distance racer. When he was eight years old he flew Barcelona with FCD and ended 4th out of 362 pigeons, Internationally he was 413th out of 21.194 pigeons. When he was nine years old he flew Barcelona FCD where he ended 6th out of 407 pigeons, internationally he ended 527th out of 25,502 pigeons When he was 10 years old he went to the breeding house and made his presence felt in the whole team. A very good point that the partnership have made which most fanciers appear not to be able to cope with and make the excuse that they are not interested in long distance races is that to get amongst the winners at the distance events you have to be patient.
In the early 90's one of the partnership retired which led to the other taking early retirement so that they could work together as a proper team of pigeon fanciers whose aim had now become the long distance events into Belgium which also leads to the international events. With this new lease of life and time to spend with the pigeons the partnership increased their team of widowers to 18 which included the yearlings. On the one-day long distance races they generally like to enter two, what I must point out is that they prefer not to enter the two day races but have a strong preference for the distance day races. The main reason that they do not participate in overnight races is because the losses are bigger then and with only 18 racers they consider that they do not have enough old birds. The main racing lofts for the widowhood cocks is 5mtrs long which is also the size of the stock lofts with aviary where the important breeding programme is kept carefully under control. The breeding houses with run are 5 meters long. The lofts where the youngsters are housed are 4 mts long. All the loft's are well ventilated without any direct air pressure on the birds to take away their condition, after all no one likes to be left in a direct draft with the pigeons being no different. The stock lofts house about 18 breeding pairs with a team of between 50 to 60 young birds bred for their own use.
Like many of the top widowhood racing lofts the racers are not allowed to rear before the start of the season, however they are allowed to pair and go down on eggs for 5 to 6 days and then return to the proper widowhood system. The breeders are paired on the 28th November but because they are not being bred from the widowers are left until the 25th March. Through taking great care with their breeding programme via line breeding the partnership have now built up a family that they can now call their own. Having said that they are still partial to bringing in the odd good pigeon such as in 1980 they crossed their good team of medium distance pigeons with the long distance pigeons of Rosseel and De Ridder. Then in 1990 they made further improvements when they exchanged pigeons with Eric Limbourg, De Graeve, Van Geert and Freddy Vandenheede. Their most recent acquisitions are autumn youngsters in 1998 from 'Wittenbuik' of Gaby Vandenabeele with a female pigeon of their own. There are very few additions because only the best will do and they have such a good team that they are very careful not to break the strain down too much. The type of pigeons housed which are suited to the purpose of racing the one day distance events are of a medium size and unlike many fanciers do not have a preference to colour because if they are good enough what difference does the colour of the pigeon make?
To get the young birds set in a system for later in life they are raced on half widowhood which gives them a great start into the dominant racing system raced in the present day. The old birds are sent to a couple of the middle distance races and about three long distance events to about the 800lm mark. These fanciers are by no means hard task masters because training takes place in the morning and in the evening, about one-hour which is not obligatory, if they do not want to do the hour then they are not forced. The youngsters receive more or less the same training. A few points that they look for in their future racers are signs of good shape, the feathers are nice and smooth, white noses and eyelids and they love to fly. All their feed is nothing special and is mixed by themselves from three well well-known brands. The widowers eat and drink separately in their own nest boxes so that they can be prepared individually for their next race. It gave me more confidence when it was pointed out that these top winners only use one type of food Supplements: which they buy exclusively from the Comed company and are Fertibol, Tempo, Murium, enriched oil and Phytoeur for old and young pigeons and breeders. For preventative measures against Trichomonial they give alternately Ronidasole 10% and Flagyl 500mg (a quarter of a tablet). Further medication on advice of the Veterinarian because they are very careful not to give the birds something that they do not require.
At these lofts there are no theories and they are firm believers that some fanciers will never have good pigeons because they have too many different breeds or are not interested enough in new sciences like 'Comed Science'. What the partnership are very proud of is that they have two first Nationals in 1997 1st National Young pigeons from La Souteraine (563) and in 1998 1st National Perpignan and 3rd International. Their racing is done in the FCD (Aalst-Ninove-Dendermonde) and National flights this is where these fanciers like so many others do get their race satisfaction from.