An interview with Raf Den Haese is always exciting. How does he manage to achieve such great results with his team of hens year in year out? Fanciers are wondering about his approach and his special methods but Raf says that is not how it goes. “I am just a simple pigeon fancier with some common sense”, he says. Raf really likes his pigeons and he keeps them motivated by taking good care of them. He has a disciplined approach and selection is important as well.
A pigeon breed needs a solid foundation
You cannot perform at a top level for many years without having a strong foundation. His pigeons are taken away once every week and when the extreme middle distance races are coming up (Argenton, Poitiers, Vierzon, etc.) he takes them away every two weeks. He has been doing this for many years. You cannot achieve something without a top quality breed and the fancier from Moortsele has plenty of great pigeons in his loft. This is a pigeon collection we do not see very often, with strong pigeons with a soft and delicate plumage that appear to be full of life. 90% of these pigeons originate from the lofts of Eric Limbourg (Brussegem, BE), combined with pigeons from his good friend Eric Hofman (Scheldewindeke, BE), whose pigeon breed is heavily based on Limbourg as well. He was also involved in a joint breeding with the Desbuquois brothers (Kapelle-op-den-Bos, BE), who are excellent extreme long distance fanciers. The greatest champions in his loft come from the lines of Slappe (BE05-4033597) and of stock dam Blue Erika (BE05-4402403). De Slappe is a 100% Limbourg pigeon and winner of a 9th national Bourges 11,875 p. and a 47th national Tulle 5,676 p. Blue Erika, daughter of blue Ace Limbourg, is the dam of two national winners: the 1st national La Souterraine 2009 and the 1st national Argenton 2011.
He obtained an outstanding cock from Eric Limbourg a short while ago as well: Son Eagle Ace (BE11-2205912) is a great looking pigeon and a son of Eagle Ace, an outstanding racer and breeder paired to a daughter of De Favoriet Marseille (Marcel Aelbrecht). This cock will now be paired to his best breeding hens in the loft. Click here for the pedigree of Son Eagle Ace (BE11-2205912).
Raf seems to have a magic wand with which he coaches his pigeons. His pigeons listen to his voice and they follow his instructions. This is something they learn at an early age and it allows him to keep his pigeons in line. He has a relatively small team of pigeons because Raf does not want to sacrifice his social life. This means the pigeon loft is not always his first priority. He has five trusted breeding pairs and their eggs are brooded by foster parents. The racing team consists of 16 hens that breed youngsters as well, along with 10 substitute hens that are also put to the test. He usually baskets a number of widowhood cocks as well but his hens are still his main point of focus.
The pigeons are paired by 25 March and they are allowed to brood for two days before being separated again. The hens live in an aviary in open air during the day; they can enter the loft in the evening to sleep on a small board. At the start of the season pigeons are trained for one hour every day. During the season, there is one training flight on Mondays and Tuesdays and two training flights on Wednesdays. The hens get to see their cocks briefly before being basketed but they can spend more time together after the race is over.
Raf provides a light mixture of Beyers Vandenabeele, which is low in protein. A large portion of moult mixture is provided on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and he goes back to the Beyers Vandenabeele mixture on Thursday, which is then supplemented with corn and plenty of sweet seeds.
What would be the secret of his success? One day before the pigeons arrive home Raf prepares a mixture of milk, water and sugars (cane sugar and sugar candy but no white sugar). He then blends the mixture and he lets it rest overnight, so that the sugars have time to dissolve. He then gives this mixture to his pigeons on the day of arrival. It allows them to get purified and to replenish their blood sugar. The results are spectacular: they recover quickly, there is a lower risk of infections and they have nice and pink breast muscles. The downside is that the pigeons have watery droppings and that the loft is not as clean as it should be but Raf does not mind. He also sours the drinking water once a week. He does not provide any treatments; he rather prefers to take preventive measures: he checks the droppings and the mucus every week and he does not provide treatments against respiratory diseases and other illnesses if there is no need to. He does provide a treatment against coccidiosis once in a while for the pigeons that stay in the aviary. His last vaccination against paratyphus dates back from five years ago. His young birds are administered a smallpox vaccination.
The young birds are trained from the basket about ten times before they are basketed for big races. The widowhood hens are taken away five times before completing two flights from Noyon. They then take part in the race from Blois, after which they are basketed nearly every week for the rest of the season. The hens that tend to pair are removed from the loft.
Some of Raf's champions
Daisy has only had one season as a racing pigeon, after which she was immediately moved to the breeding loft to develop into an outstanding breeding hen. Click here for an overview of her best results.
These are all spectacular results. Some of his hens have been able to win top prizes on a weekly basis even at the age of four. This shows that a pigeon with good origins can have a long and successful career when taken care of by a good pigeon fancier. A hen can perform at a top level for several seasons, contrary to what many fanciers believe.
We witnessed during our visit that his pigeon collection is in excellent shape. Raf is highly motivated and we are confident that 2014 will be another outstanding season for the pigeon loft in Moortsele!