Double interview Vandenheede - Verreckt-Ariën

On a summery tinted Monday evening in October there was a rendezvous planned on our calendar with 2 leading figures from our country in the ‘extreme middle distance’ and ‘light long distance’, the ‘taste makers’ of the 2010 sport season…

Namely the duos Agy & Pascal Verreckt-Ariën from Tesssenderlo, recently proclaimed 1° National Champion ‘Grand Middle Distance’ KBDB’ 2010… and Freddy and Jacques Vandenheede from Zingem! We had agreed to meet in the ‘Bistro under the towers’ in Gijzenzele by Koen Brackenier where we were to question the ‘top 2’ from our country in 2010 in both disciplines… and to go in search of their ‘success formula’ that lies at the basis of the glorious performances which they have more or less week after week harassed their opponents with, or more… they dominated with their class. Not a single question or item was left out… no subject was taboo. We had written down out questions in advance… and the whole event was recorded on camera and filmed. Lifelike, without scruples, right up front… with the questions burning on everyone’s lips… straight to the point.
We  had invited the 1° Nat Bourges winner youngsters 2010, Andre Moonens…  to lead the conversation in the right direction… to guarantee the continuity of the story and/or chat in the film… we certainly wouldn’t have been able to talk, ask questions, listen and take notes all at the same time.  It was a very educational evening for us (Andre and myself), as we agreed in retrospect… hopefully it will be the same for you as reader (and en viewer). So as stated, the 2 hour interview was also fully filmed… a film, which after being assembled by PiPa, will be projected for everybody to see. These are the questions that we fired at our hosts, and the answers we were allowed to take down directly from their mouths… we wish you great reading and learning pleasure!
(P&A: stands for Agy & Pascal Verreckt-Ariën… F&J: for Freddy & Jacques Vandenheede) 


The interview

Racing system

PiPa: -Agy and Pascal, you lay the emphasis on the game with the old birds and the yearlings which are raced according to the principal of ‘total widowhood’. Have you ever tried the classical widowhood? And in addition to the ‘smaller number of pigeons’ (no more stay at home partners) which are necessary by ‘total widowhood’ … what are the other typical advantages or differences with your system? 
P&A: We came to live at our current address for the pigeon sport in 2002.
In 2003 we started with 10 couples (cocks and hens) in ‘total widowhood’! It was rather a ‘poor’ to ‘bad’ year… and we don’t put that down to the system itself… but to the fact that with only 10 pigeons the team was too small. The pigeons didn’t train as they should… and pigeons that don’t train during the week can’t be won with at the weekend.
In 2004 we started with 60 pigeons, and the training went well. I also then call our system the ‘system of the chaos’… not too many fast patterns or rituals… the pigeons motivate themselves as it were. As carer you just have to keep your eyes open, and lend a helping hand here or there. Now… in 2005 we had the idea that classic widowhood would go better, and so we tried it. It was immediately clear to us that this way it is more difficult to keep the ‘top condition’ for the entire season. The hens began to pair with each other… when we locked them up in boxes they didn’t eat anything and even became thin… I wasn’t satisfied, that’s why since 2006 we changed over to ‘total widowhood’ for good !

PiPa: -Freddy & Jacques, why do you still opt for the ancient system with ‘stay at home partners’ ?
Freddy: Let me firstly make something clear. In the beginning our game was only focused on the game with the youngsters. That fit my lifestyle… I was a teacher and the school holidays were always in the high season for the youngsters. When we had a bad La Souterraine in 1997… whereby all our ‘nests’ were broken, and the rest of the season was more or less lost, then we decided to take a chance with the yearlings and the old birds. Yet there was not enough time to race with both cocks and hens, and to let them complete the necessary training… at that moment the hens in the team of youngsters were the best… that’s why we decided to start with the yearling hens in widowhood. Hens appear to be ideal for the races of 400 to 600 Km which held our preference at the time.
It is only since 2008, when we decided to start as a duo… that we also put our cocks into the arena, but then more with an eye to the ‘extreme middle distance races’ (read 600 to 800 Km). They usually race then a long distance race every two weeks! You can basket hens weekly… they go then in blocks of 3 – 4 to 5 weeks in the basket consecutively in the provincial and national ‘grand middle distance’… depending on the difficulty and toughness of the race… something like this has to be evaluated week after week and adjusted where necessary! If the performances dwindle or they train less… then you have to feel this as a fancier! This is not evaluated loft per loft, but rather pigeon per pigeon. This way you can make progress by responding to the circumstances. We still race then with ‘stay at home partners ’!

PiPa: pigeons basketted more or less every week, how do you make sure they keep they ‘panache’? Is there a certain set pattern in the showing beforehand and when they come home… can you go into more detail over your approach and experiences in this matter ?
P&A: The system and the pigeons which we performed best with in 2007… were also still the best in 2010! We had experimented with 10 breeding pigeons as permanent stay at home partner, also to create more jealousy and so create more ‘chaos’ in the loft… to heighten the motivation. After a while we saw that the cocks started taking the breeding hens as partner, and this thwarted our aim… the system didn’t work anymore for the hens. We discovered that the hens which always remained home didn’t have the motivation, but the racing hens which were basketted weekly did! What we do notice is that ‘couples’ usually do really well by the ‘total widowhood’! To add to what Freddy just said… by us, the hens are basketted every week… but we only enter the top classics with the hens which in our eyes are ‘top’ at that moment! The others are given a smaller (middle distance) race. The motivation by the homecoming is not very important to us… a pigeon that went ‘deep’, or is tired even… likes to be left alone. So as already said, our system is a complete ‘chaos’… the hens who arrive home from the ‘short’ races don’t always find their partner home… although there are always a few cocks home somewhere. By the time the other pigeons arrive home from the ‘longer’ race, the hens from the ‘short distance’ are usually locked up in their boxes… sometimes even put into the basket .
F&J: By us it is so that the hens which in our eyes are not ‘top’ at that moment, and are so not entered for the provincial or national ‘grand middle distance’… do indeed ‘stay’ home! By the homecoming of the others they are let out together with their partner. Since I’ve raced with the pigeons I have always written down everything in detail… day after day! And the necessary conclusions were made from these experiences and notations, and acted upon appropriately … let me add a ‘thread’ runs through our way of racing and acting… experience has taught us that ‘THE’ thread… doesn’t exist! The fancier has to feel certain things, and handle how he sees fit! I will give you an example… the hens used to be shown their partner for an hour before they left. One day I had ‘parent’s evening’ at school… and it took longer than planned. When I came home I could only let them be together for 10 minutes or else I would be too late to basket them. The door was opened… and I had to start putting them in the basket straight away… the pigeons were only together for 1 to 10 minutes before they were basketted. I have to admit… I didn’t feel reassured when I left for the club. On Saturday the pigeons achieved one of their best performances of the season... something which was later repeated and confirmed. That’s why i dare to say… the time that the pigeons spend together before being basketted is not important! The cocks here never see their hens before they leave! By the homecoming, the length of time that the partners are together is not important either… it is the intuition of the fancier that is the decisive nature… how tough was the race, what is on the programme for next week… these are factors which decide things for us, how we act !
P&A: We always show the pigeons before basketting… this also to ‘catch’ them! The racing pigeons don’t all have a permanent box or partner… that’s why we speak of the ‘chaos’. Normally I (Pascal) arrive home at 5 o’clock from my work, and I allow them to mix… I then go and have a cup of coffee… and after 45 minutes we start removing the pigeons. By a long distance race where the pigeons are basketted on Wednesday we usually take the pigeons for a training of 20 to 30 km in the afternoon. At 17h00 they go together and remain so until the evening. Then they are basketted normally on Thursday ‘without showing’… or for a middle distance race they are together for 5 to a maximum of 30 minutes. By the homecoming they usually stay together until the following morning during the full season… then we get up at 5a.m. and by the time it is 6 a.m. the pigeons have already been separated… then it is time to give them an early feed so that they can eat as much as they want. Only after a tough race… or when the pigeons don’t give the impression of being fresh when they arrive home, are they separated earlier, and don’t remain together too long… so that they can have a good rest, recuperate and… eat well! Although sometimes after a ‘difficult or tough race’ we make the decision not to let them come together at all! We allow the pigeons to firstly recuperate… and then they are allowed to be together on the Sunday! During the week the hens reside in their rest loft… during the day they are forced to stay outside in the aviary, in the evening they reside in the rest loft. The cocks are free to choose whether or not they remain in their loft of during the day they can go into the aviary and enjoy the sun and fresh air .

Feeding and coaching

 PiPa: The training programme and feeding regime, how do they look by you ?
P&A: The hens only train once per day at around 9a.m.. We don’t really increase the feed towards a race… the pigeons are always given as much as they want. Over the years we have created an own sort… which don’t easily pair with each other and which train very well… the pigeons are selected as it were by the system. Whoever doesn’t fit into the system is removed immediately !
F&J: By us the pigeons train once or twice per day, depending on where we are in the season and the course of the previous race(s). They are also given plenty to eat here, but then rather  ‘light feed’ consisting of 50% breed + 50% light (read depurative and diet).
What feeding up means to us?
That means gradually replacing the depurative and diet with sport mixture… the last meals are even ‘fatty’! The mixture we use is a mix from certain manufacturers !
P&A: I can probably best describe our feeding system by beginning with how we handle starting with the preparation. Weather permitting, our pigeons have to fly every day starting in January. The 14th of February is not only ‘Valentine’s day’ for us… but also for the pigeons, because that is when we always couple them. Around that time I like to see the hens in the air for 2 hours, the cocks for 1 to 1½ hours! We discovered… when they don’t do this… you have a problem, which translates later in the season into less condition and poorer performances! You can let the pigeons train for 1½ hours continuously… by feeding them lightly! Our experience is… when the pigeons train well at the start… they also keep doing this during the season… but of course during the season this is no longer possible with ‘light food’ !

PiPa: In previous discussions, and as a result of the report over your national victory from Tulle… we discussed your feeding system. I think we can mention the name… the feeding system that you use is based on the Matador-mixtures, for which you act as a sort of ‘test loft’ ! Which mixtures do you use and how?
P&A: The Matador food advisor visits us regularly, and we always listen to his advice. Although of course this is only ‘theory’… in practice there can be some deviations or differences!  So as just stated… in January-February it is light food, so with little fat. As soon as they train for more than an hour, and approach one and a half hours… they have to be fed more carbohydrates, and for us this means… feeding them more corn. To keep them flying longer we later also give them ‘fatty’ (read ‘Turbo Matador’). In February it is ‘Start’-mixture.  Later in the racing season it is the ‘Sport mixture’ enriched with the more fatty  ‘Turbo’.
F&J: The system of Pascal & Agy is like our own… but we use a ‘mix’ of mixtures. So as just said, we also use a more ‘fatty’ mixture towards the basketting.. by us is this ‘Energy Versace’ supplemented with peanuts !

Pipa: Freddy & Jacques, in your circle of friends there are people who race really well with these Matador-mixtures that Agy & Pascal use… have you tried these mixtures?
F&J: When we won 1° Nat Argenton this summer, the people from Matador visited us to make a report for a certain pigeon magazine… they gave us a sack of ‘Turbo’ to try, but prior to this we had never used their mixtures .

PiPa: If your hens are more or less basketted every week for races of 500 Km… then their batteries have to be recharged within the shortest space of time? In addition to the above mentioned food, do you use other products to help the pigeons recuperate or build up their condition?
P&A: We consider a ‘fast recuperation’ very important… and we try to support that with certain by-products. For the pigeons to recuperate as soon as possible they need ‘protein’. That is the reason why people used to feed their pigeons with a mixture containing extra peas by the homecoming. We don’t… because peas need about 48 hours to store the energy by the pigeons, and they also have the disadvantage… that they are for 40% waste, and the pigeons also have to process this!
We prefer therefore to use a powder… so as ‘Backs Protein’ wherefrom 80% is directly absorbed and only 20% is waste. How smaller the pieces or particles of protein are, how quicker they are absorbed in the blood… and how quicker the recuperation starts! This way the pigeons are ready to train fully again after 5 or 6 hours…and so these pigeons can be basketted again a week later for races of 500 to 600 Km without any problems! Endurance athletes also use such protein products for recuperation, usually on the basis of very small pieces of peptide… which consist of 2 to 3 amino acids. These di- and tri peptides are absorbed much quicker, if not directly into the blood!
F&J: Actually we don’t do anything special at this level. We give electrolytes by the homecoming… How long? That depends on the toughness of the race, and the programme being followed! For us it is more of a case of ‘testing the boundaries’ … experience shows that pigeons in ‘super form’ can achieve more than the rest !

PiPa: Now that we have arrived at the coaching of the pigeons… we would like to ask the question that is ‘burning’ on everyone’s lips… how does the medical picture look by you, do you follow a fixed pattern or a certain approach and treatment?
F&J: By us they are always treated by the homecoming for ‘trichomonasis’… depending on the race, sometimes 1 day… sometimes 2 days… in the drinking water! For the rest we don’t usually do anything by the old birds. We do go to the veterinary surgeon for check-ups regularly… and then follow his advice, but without sticking to strict schedules! The youngsters are another matter… they are just like children… and pick things up quicker… also because there is bad amongst the good, especially in the baskets. We are more strict with the youngsters… and we also treat them for the so-called ‘head sicknesses’!
P&A: We don’t treat the pigeons for trichomonasis every week. We have no set pattern either. We do however have a set schedule on paper which we follow strictly in the period after the season… until the start of the new season, say on the 1st of April. Directly after the season we give an 8-day cure for trichomonasis… you could say a ‘double cure’ (read: dose). The medicine cabinet remains closed for a while. At the beginning of January we cure for 10 days for paratyfus. Around the 23rd of January there is the compulsory vaccination for paramyxo. A month later, on the 23rd of February  they are vaccinated for ‘small pox’. Then at the beginning of March there is an 8-day cure for trichomonasis, followed by a 10-day cure with ‘Soludox’ for the airways and heads. At the end of March there is a check-up by the veterinary surgeon!
As long as the performances are good then nothing special follows until 2 weeks before ‘Bourges I’ national! If I open the windows or doors on the Monday morning… then they have to rush outside… in other words they have to push me out of the way as it were! For me this is ‘the’ signal… as to whether everything is okay! If this doesn’t happen, or in the worst case, I have to force a few of them outside… then I leave directly to visit the veterinary surgeon! You have to be very careful during the season, and keep your eyes wide open!  In normal circumstances we visit the veterinary surgeon 4 times a year !

Youngsters – Darkening – Lighting

PiPa: Your approach and way of racing is also different by the game with the youngsters. Agy & Pascal, is it still true that the youngsters come in  2° place for you, or are there going to be some changes?
P&A: I (Agy) am glad that you have arrived at my terrain, because the youngsters are actually ‘my terrain’… up until now Pascal hasn’t attached too much importance on them… partly because he doesn’t have the time, he has his hands full with the team of old racing pigeons. Therefore the youngsters are ‘very important’ for me… ‘less’ for Pascal! That was actually the reason why up until now we always disposed of our 1° round, and only kept the youngsters from the 2° round for ourselves! We then trained them up to a Soissons and middle distance a few times… depending on the condition and the moulting… the nationals were not so important.  In fact we can say that 2010 was a sort or re-start with the youngsters. Our aim is to get a team ready for the nationals next year… and this in a new loft. The question that Pascal asks himself  is… how will he make sure the pigeons reach their peak? Our pigeons are not exactly what you call… a ‘ready for pairing’ sort. In any case the concept is that there is a central loft where the pigeons then come together… both corners of the loft are ‘rest lofts’. What I (Pascal) try to create is a loft with a loft of colours, corners and edges… where the pigeons can play about, hide, and feel at home in… call it for my part… the creation of the ‘Red-light District of Amsterdam’ in Tessenderlo… but then in the pigeon loft!
The feed is very similar… up until now they haven’t been given anything special, nor any by-products. Starting now, we will coach and feed them in the same way as the old racing pigeons. Although the game with the youngsters will not count as a real ‘selection norm’. We will more or less keep everything what remains at the end of the season as yearlings… the intention is to let the youngsters race 1 or 2 nationals for routine. This does not mean that our youngsters won’t be selected seriously. I don’t want any youngsters with ‘bad eyes’… they have to go. Also youngsters which (easily) get sick will be removed… that is sort of the first ‘natural selection’, if you like. We will keep a few pigeons with ‘good eyes’… although I’m no expert… I’m going by what I have learned from experience, from reports, from books… I used this to build up my knowledge. I also like to examine ‘national Ace pigeons’ and ‘winners’… I try to find common properties.
Agy treats her youngsters as if they are her children… she tames them… and Pascal is not always happy with this. This sometimes makes it difficult with the yearlings, and can cause problems by the training and with pairing with each other… that’s why I prefer not to have them too ‘tame’!
F&J: We always race the youngsters with the ancient manner of the nest game… no widowhood in Zingem. Why should we change when the old system still proves its soundness? We still have straw on the floor…which creates a lot of corners and edges… and that brings ‘ambiance’ to the loft…nearly all the pigeons have made their nest in the straw on the floor. That gives a large diversity in the stages… some are recently paired, others are making a nest, others have eggs, end of brooding, small youngsters or large youngsters in the nest… there are always pigeons which are ‘suitable’ or extra ‘motivated’! The youngsters are darkened from the end of February, beginning of March until the beginning of June… but no lighting is used!
P&A: We also darken the youngsters, but then also use lighting… with the aim of postponing the moult, to shift the cycle… in the hope that they will take over this (new) cycle as yearlings and as old birds .

PiPa: And the training and coaching… are the youngsters trained a lot, taken away during the week, and.. I heard Freddy & Jacques just say that they pay a great deal of attention to the youngsters, could you explain in more detail?
F&J: In the beginning the youngsters from the 1° + 2° round are kept apart, but once everything is flying well… the doors are opened and they can mingle… we are talking about approx.. 200 youngsters. We don’t put all our eggs into one basket by the training… and the 1° and 2° round are trained separately… not only because of the difference in age, but also as it is difficult to get them all into the baskets and the car.
Once trained, our youngsters are only taken away by us to be trained sporadically… They usually train well from home… even 45 minutes to 1 hour spontaneously. Taking them away to train them ourselves would mean a lot of extra work… you have to get hold of them all… that’s why this is more an exception than a rule. As stated earlier, we follow a stricter coaching schema by the youngsters than by the old birds. The treatment and keeping under control of ‘tricho’ runs like a ‘thread’ through our care system… but we give the youngsters something for the ‘head sicknesses’ more often… without using one or other specific product. Look, if you cure for something… then you should see ‘results’… by the training, better condition, the pigeons should start looking better etc… in other words you have to see (which products) work best, what your pigeons are sensitive to, what they react to. But the so-called ‘eye swabs’ are not for us… once again, we trust our instincts… and in the meantime experience has taught us which pigeons are the most sensitive.
P&A: We don’t really cure for the heads, and we don’t buy ‘eye swabs’ either. However, a loft of lofts have had trouble recently with the so-called ‘one eye colt’… an injection of 0,2 cc Linco Spectin, 0,2 cc Suanovil and 0,2 cc Catosal gets rid of this problem straight away.
F&J: We always administer the medicine via the drinking water or via the food… we are allergic to injections! We try to get rid of such (eye) problems with ‘drops’
P&A: Every year our youngsters are troubled by ‘adeno’… usually in a mild form… but every year is different. Apparently our pigeons are sensitive to this. When they are troubled by this early in the year… they we do very little or nothing. If it happens just before or during the training… then we treat them straight away. But doing something preventive… doesn’t help… whichever naturally based product is being promoted. The syndrome can sometimes last for 8 to 10 days… and both the ‘good’ as the ‘less good’ (read: bad) pigeons can be affected… we think it is a phenomenon related to the sort. We had a youngster which was affected badly by it… was the worst of them all… it didn’t stop her later winning 1° Prov Bourges. Pigeons which are more sensitive to other diseases… we are not so patient with… they have to be removed immediately.
F&J: I would like to add something… the ‘adeno’ phenomenon which affects the entire colony… it is then definitely not a sort of elimination on the basis of health. Other sicknesses are… we also don’t have much patience here, and youngsters easily troubled with health problems… shouldn’t count on any mercy .

PiPa: And the selection?  Are the youngsters allowed to stay for the winter on the basis of the prizes won… or do you take other things into account?
F&J: In the past we only raced with the youngsters, and so they were selected on their performances, that seems logical to me! The last 10 seasons there was an evolution in the game from youngsters to old birds… where we used to try to get the very best out of our youngsters… we now try not to force anything. We try to let them complete a few races from 400 to 500 Km (provincial or national) as youngsters… this for the pigeons which are brooding or have youngsters between 10 and 20 days old. Pigeons with just a nest, or are at the end of their nesting, or with small youngsters… are entered for the shorter races, usually an Ablis or Angerville. Some pigeons are selected on thee prizes achieved, others on their lineage. They have to do well as a yearling and the criteria is the achievement of prizes per 10 at least!
P&A: At the end of the season we usually keep everything… simply because up until now, the game with the youngsters was not really an aim in itself…that’s why the performances don’t really play a deciding role in the selection. By the time the season has finished… the wheat has already been separated from the chaff… because we work with elimination throughout the entire season… everything which was sick or not right, or had a bad eye… had already been disposed of during the season !

Breeding strategy

PiPa: To obtain a loft full of ‘top pigeons, with several ‘real cracks’, there has to be enough quality present in the lofts. Is there anything special that you take into account when coupling the pigeons? How do you go about it?
F&J: Initially we also go for coupling ‘good’ x ‘good’… and then we try to compensate a little  qua build, model. We don’t really do family breeding… or only very exceptionally … for example, a brother x sister coupling is only a trial. The fact is that we have noticed that the greatest ‘cracks’ descend from crossing… although we don’t know much about it. Genetics cannot simply be steered. Proof of this… our greatest disappointments by the breeding were usually the couplings ‘good’ x ‘good’ in which he had high expectations… they often turned out a damp squib.
P&A: We don’t believe in inbreeding either… so as Jacques just said… the greatest cracks of often bred from crossing. We also opted for coupling ‘good’ x ‘good’. I like to see pigeons with ‘long narrow’ flights, have not too short a breastbone… and especially no bad eyes. Although I don’t often couple ‘too good eyes’ with each other…  !

PiPa: both by the assessment of racing pigeons as well as now by the breeding pigeons, you take a lot of notice of the eyes. What do you look for and why?
P&A: A good ‘iris’ is very important… an ‘iris’ with a lot of colour pigment… is a sign of rich blood. A good ‘iris’ with a small pupil is necessary for the pigeon to be able to see well, and to guess where she is at the time. I suspect that a pigeon with a good iris is also… high in the air… able to see for about 100 Km… so then he can judge the racing distance as it were. Compare it to focusing the lens of a camera until you get a ‘sharp picture’!
F&J: We don’t really take the eye into account…  the performances are more important here… and the pedigree is not important either. This only starts playing a role when the performances are there… and not the other way round! The age of the pigeon is not important either… as it is not the age that decides the ‘vitality’ of a pigeon… it is more a ‘pedigree related’ attribute. The nicest example of this is the ‘Limoges’ De Rauw-Sablon, which was bought in their total auction in 2003… he was 12 years old at the time. It didn’t stop him giving us extra youngsters up to and including 2009 !

PiPa:  Someone who has grown to a worldwide celebrity in the examination and judgement of pigeons is the late Piet De Weerd. He also judged the pigeons on their ‘muscles’… do you attach importance to this?
P&A: It may be important, but as I have no knowledge in the matter… I can’t take it into account!
F&J: We are not very knowledgeable here either… but we assume that the basket automatically removes the less talented… the real ‘toppers ‘will probably have the necessary qualities at that level !

That was a short account of our 2 hour interview in which we tried to learn more about the ins and outs behind these colonies… their racing method, manner of coaching, the training of their pigeons for the races… in short: trying to find out their philosophy over that ‘flying wonder’… which is still called ‘pigeon’! Hopefully many of you will have learned something… although our conclusion has to be that ‘the’ system doesn’t really exist… but that it is more the instincts of the fancier in question, what the pigeons need or don’t need at that precise moment… were they have to be guided… and the condition of the loft at that moment, weather and racing conditions also play an important role. Although there will no doubt be a ‘thread’ perceived somewhere in their tales… call it a sort of ‘guiding principle’ which runs through their way of racing and coaching… which you can use as guidance when caring for your pigeons. It is then up to you how you react to certain conditions… to turn your way of caring for the pigeons into results… it often relies on the details! Is it not that the great difference there between the ‘real toppers’ and ‘Mr. Average’… is the average fancier? The entire film will soon be available on PiPa… we wish you reading and watching pleasure! Hopefully you will learn something which will contribute to an improvement in your performances! Success !

P.S. We from PiPa, would like to use this opportunity to thank both Agy & Pascal, as Freddy and Jacques for their willing collaboration by this frank discussion and interview! And to colleague Andre for his expert assistance in managing this interview !