From L. to the R. : J. Rijckaert, J. Symons, Prof. A. Anker and Raoul Verstraete
We are finding ourselves more and more in contact with the continental fanciers, mostly through the regular trips that are available to the fancy in general. Many names stand out from the Belgium & Dutch fanciers, one in particular has stood out for many years, the one I am thinking of at the present moment is the father & son partnership of Raoul & Xavier Verstraete of Oostaker. The first time I visited this loft was when Dave Healey of Middlewich organised a mini bus to go over and take a look at a few of the Continentals. I remember many years ago during a visit to Planet Lofts the name Verstraete came up and I remember thinking at the time that it was a name that had been in the press on many occasion's. This is one of those lofts that lives up to the once recognised tradition of having the loft in the attic and this cannot be seen better than from the rear view of the house.
Many years ago the cream of the continent fancier's had the financial support to indulge in such luxury's that is not seen as much with the modern day fanciers from both Belgium & Holland. There are now more back garden lofts on the continent in comparison to years ago when that was the only place to have a winning loft.
The problem for most of the back garden lofts on the continent is that they do not always have the money to spend on extravagant lofts and if there was enough money about the odd ones would go to lengths and make an excellent job in the process. A loft that does show the wealth of some of the Belgium fanciers is that of Raoul and Xavier Verstrete who had two houses built with the lofts set in the roof to Raouls house. Many of the worlds fanciers believe that is how all Belgium fanciers have there lofts which is not the case but these lofts are quite something, even so nowadays the traditional position of the back garden is where we are influenced by the room available and of course any building restrictions that may be in place for any given area. There is one advantage about having the pigeons well above the house as in this case it stops thieves from moving in as they did in 1976 stealing the best racers totalling some 20 pigeons. The loft in the attic at Oostakker are not for the race team but for stock purposes where the National winners are housed along with the best pigeons available for stock purposes, the National winners are 'Uno', 'Solo', 'Brive Hen', 'Dax' and 'Bingo'. There are also 1st National Ace pigeons in the loft including 'Eurosta, 'Bigg Boss' and 'Victory'. They are the offspring of those that were sold two seasons ago such as the and 'Kanon' plus 'Worldstar' two world champions 87/88 at the middle distance. New ones are 'Plastron' ace pigeon 1993, 'Bolide','Cadillac' 'Jonas' 'James Bond' 'Blue Madonna' with 'Zidane' being 505 Verstraete.
There are many excellent pigeons housed in the luxury of this top floor including the 5 National winners that are already producing some fine pigeons. The quality of stock house is first class and a family that are in great demand on the continent especially Germany where they are taking many top honours. There is plenty of room for them and they also have the access to aviaries across the entire roof at the back of the house. They have had many good years the best bring 2nd National Champion YB 1979. Then in 1985 2nd General Champion Belgium YB & OB long distance, 1st National Duivensport YB. 1988 3rd National Champion OB pigeons long distance, 4th General Champion Young and Old bird Belgium long distance. From 1973 to 1994 they have won 53 x 1st Provincials, 3 x 1st National winners with old birds and many times 1st Provincial ace pigeon and 1st National Ace pigeon. Others have also gained National wins with these pigeons gaining such prestigious wins as 1st Nat Ace Limbourg Belgium long distance 1994 KBDB old. 1st Nat Ace pigeon long distance 1992 old. 1st Nat Ace Pigeon YB Holland 1993 for Mr Cor Haneggraaf Nuland. 1st Nat Ace pigeon Middle distance Holland 1991 old bird for Mr Vanstroe. 1st Nat Ace pigeon Holland 1988 old bird WH2B Mr Stoll from Herwen. 1st Nat Bourges 1993 yearlings Mr Mattheus Baal 50% Verstraete. 1st Nat La Souterr 1993 for Mr Nevens again 50% Verstraete. 1st Nat Bourges 1994 old bird 25%. 1st semi Nat Vierzon Fons v Driessche Hamme, 1st Nat La Souterrane 1994 yearlings, these being the 1st Nat wins for the last for years as there are far too many to mention prior to then, But also 1st Nat Etampes 1994 Holland. Mr Ejyerkamp 100% Verstaete plus 1st Nat 1998 best yearling 1994 Germany Middle distance (Grandson 'Uno') from Mr Nebel Ernst who was editor of the World Famous book "ELITE & CHAMPIONS" and 1997 1st Nat Ace hen Germany Middle Distance with 'Charline' g.d of 'the great stock pigeon 'Uno'.1996 1st Ace pigeon Middle Distance (Ernst Nebel) with 'Charly' a grandson of the great 'Uno'.. Also in 1998 best pigeon in Holland one day races for Mr Ruud KOK with a g.son of 'Uno'
The story of this fabulous line of national wins for the family connections started over two generations ago when Raoul's grandfather kept pigeons on the arm which has carried on through the years to the present team of Raoul and son Xavier. These fanciers are known the world over for their excellent stock but no longer live on the farm, Raoul now 69yrs old spends all his time with the pigeons in fact one of the professionals who get it right first time with the breeding. Raoul pointed out that when his father flew pigeons down on the farm there was no widowhood as they were always raced on the natural system unlike the modern Belgium fancier on the widowhood system, which is now the dominant system of racing wherever you go in the world whether for hens or cocks. Raoul does have another interest as he likes to coach cyclists while his son, Xavier takes a great deal of interest in various sports including football, horses, cycling etc. Xavier was born in 1954 at Gent and became a partner with his father in the winter of 68/69, now competing there first quarter of a century together. The first pigeons they brought in were from outside their own area, a fancier who had good birds especially a very good yearling 'Whitkop' on the natural system at that time and won the very first race they entered with him, the sister was a latebred and went on to win 11 x 1st prizes she is also the mother of their best pigeon the 'Golden Bol' who was entered in the Olympiad Belgium on Germany 1972 the Sire of this top pigeon is 'Old Bolleke'. He has now been mentioned the 'Old Bolleke' who was purchased at the same time and the winner of 14 x 1st.
There was no stopping this team because right from the word go the loft became a winner and by the time the second season had gone they were Champions of the club and by the third going to the Olympiad. It was totally new to the family and they admit they knew nothing really more than the next fancier, their only benefit was that the pigeons were extremely good and even years later they see that those first pigeons were the best ones building a foundation that has since kept them going. As previously mentioned the first pigeons were 'Witkop' and a sister plus 'The Old Bol' then in 1970 they had eggs direct from Janssens out of the 'Wondervos' lines which were crossed with the 'Bol' lines to produce so many good pigeons. Raoul and Xavier soon found out that when they won everyone wanted to know them because they believed that they had a secret or a special product that was getting them ahead of the field, but there was nothing except good honest working pigeons. By the way they fly their pigeons with the Oostakker club and City of Gent, Union & Liberty Gent.
The original loft was only a small affair built with the help of other fanciers, a loft that was important so was the second hand wood then every year there was an additional loft until the present ones. Although the stock lofts are above the house there is also a double decker loft at the bottom of the garden where the race birds are housed. Both lofts are kept dry and not too much ventilation with the best loft direction being z-o letting in as much sunshine as possible for as many hours as possible for the race team, at that time of racing the warmer the loft the better the performances, within reason of course. Behind the garden loft there are rather large averies at the rear. A good point that was made at this time was that if you are going to be a top fancier you must never think that you have the best because it is a necessity to always try to get better birds. You can swap pigeons with other fanciers or if you do not want to let any of your own go there are always pigeons on the market to try against your own. Select them on distances i.e. 200-300 klms or even better 4-5-600 klms, always be prepared to experiment with the other pigeons in the quest to improve your own stock.
The winning loft is made up of 75% quality of pigeons and 25% fancier and loft. Generally they keep around 23 pairs stock above the house while there are 70 yearlings and old birds with the stock being paired at the end of November beginning December leaving the racers to sit out two pairs of eggs and not rear, their first job is to race and the stock are there to rear. For the 1995 season the team has been made up of 20 old birds, 45 yearlings, 60 widowhood hens, 25 breeding cocks, 60 breeding hens plus 10 pairs just as feeders reeling a total of 120 young birds, the numbers housed are slightly more than usual. It is preferred to be racing from 500klms especially when you have seen some good signals in Midweek, Signals of high condition, a pigeon on top condition shows as it always flies alone for much longer, also sitting in a special place in the loft, looking more than usual for a hen, the pigeon looks smaller and the feathers are closer to the body, if you understand these points you will pick the good healthy pigeons out during the week, the observant fancier is the one who picks out his pool pigeon and gains the upper hand. As with most fanciers the system is widowhood with the old cocks which when right will race home to their territory more than their partner. Before the racing actually starts they like to have had the widowhood cocks on two rounds of eggs and by the way these widowhood cocks have their own choice of hen because they are not bred off. Before the training season even starts the veterinary advice is sought around Mach/April so that they have total control of the pigeons health then every 2 to 3 weeks they use Ridsol or Flagys, plus before the race season starts they have 5 days altebactine.
When the birds are being prepared for the racing they receive probably five or more tosses from 20/30miles, there are also some midweek races from 30/40 miles which they also get. One point that came out was that they do not always show the cocks the hens before basketing for the race because it is not necessary with the old cocks who know what the system is all about. The yearlings are different because they are in the learning stage therefore they need to see the hen so that they are educated to the system and will know in the future years what is expected of them. A pigeon always appears to like new things, new territory, new partner, etc. The sprint to middle distance racing is done with the city club 150 to 340 klms then in the Union Eiktak City Eeklo which is 15 miles from Oostakker they compete in the 450 to 8/900klm events and they also like to compete the National Programme. The present day team are made up of children and grandchildren of such champions as 'Elvis', 'Bol',, 'Panther', 'Carl Lewis', (Hofkens blood), then the 'Uno' line is also a dominant force with 'Uno', 'Solo', 'Bravo' 7 times 1st Prov, 'Unique' 'Dino' 5 times 1st Prov, etc followed by the lines of 'Victory', 'Bigboss' and 'Bingo'. The 'Crusson' line is also maintained for the distance events.
The newest lines to be introduced are the 'Bolide' which is 100% 'Bol' product and 'Plastron' who was the Ace pigeon of 1993 at middle distance a super racer and breeder. There are special sprint pigeons in the form of 'Rapido' and 'Panther' lines and there are of course children and G.Children of many top Champions etc which have been previously mentioned. The new top class birds introduced include 'Admiral' who won in three consecutive years 1st Prov.Ace Pigeon Middle Distance, 1995, 96, 97 which is a feat that has never happened before and is a winner of 1st prizes from 100 to 400mls. 'Erica' best YB in Belgium 1997. 'Blue Madonna' 1st Prov. Barcelona hens 1998, 1st Perpignan 1998, 2nd Prov. Perpignan 1997. 'James Bond' 1st Prov. Narbonne 900km 1472 birds. 'Cadillac' 1st Prov. At 300km, 1st Prov. Barcelona 1996. 'Jonas' 1st Prov. Ace Pigeon long distance 1995 O-VL. 'Blue Crack' 1st Prov. Chartres' 300km, 1st Prov. Chatearoux 500km. 'Sprinter' 1st Prov. Ace pigeon 1994 short distance plus 12 times 1st Prov. 'Br.Superke' 1st Tours 480km, 1st Prov. Argenton 540km also many other very good hens have been brought into the lofts. New blood is always sought but they have to be 1st prize winners or 1st Ace pigeons. They do not necessarily have to have big names on the pedigree as long as they are winners and they are not after sons and daughters but the originals. All selections are done at the races around 400 to 600km. They have found that after 30yrs it is in their opinion the shortest route to success and they never think that they have the best pigeons, they are always looking for something better.
The best reference for these lofts is the fact that they have some 800 different fanciers winning over the last 15yrs with the original Verstraete pigeons. As we have already pointed out all selections are done on a minimum distance of 350 miles and with their record of producing winners who can argue.