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Selection methods: the selection of young birds - part II

We were scrolling through some of our files and documents and we found an old copy of the newspaper Le Soir, in which René Dax talks about the experiences he gained from conversations with the late Louis Vermeijen, discussing the strict selection procedure that Louis used for selecting young birds.

I will explain what René Dax has been saying in my own words. It is basically something that has already been told before by a few other fanciers who also adopted the theory of Vermeijen. However, it is interesting information so it cannot be said too often.

“To tell you the truth I started the selection procedure when the eggs were laid: eggs that were too big or too small were disposed of. This is also the case for deformed eggs and eggs with an uneven shell." Louis Vermeijen believed these eggs would not lead to a good bird. He wanted the two eggs to hatch almost at the same time. On top of that he did not like it when it took a youngster too long to hatch.

As soon as the youngsters were in the nest he kept a close eye on them. Youngsters with a delayed development compared to the other nest birds were removed, whatever their origins or bloodlines.

Louis Vermeijen would select birds even before they were hatched

The nest itself had to be very dry. If the nest was too damp for more than two days the youngsters had to be removed as well: they could carry a disease like pigeon pox or the plague! The birds that had bred these potentially sick youngsters were closely monitored as well and if needed they were put in the aviary for a while.

The youngsters were weaned early and they had to take care of themselves right from the start. The pigeons that could find the drinking bowl first are assumed to become excellent pigeons. The same applied to birds that always use the same place to rest and that would even defend their spot. Louis Vermeijen used to say he did not like it when a pigeon was scared of him. Pigeons that hide away from him would never become great champions!  

Every week he took the pigeons in his hands: the pigeons of which the feathers did not get a slick surface and of which the primaries remained hard were killed. This was also the case for pigeons with weak bones or pigeons with an open keel. As for the wishbone Louis was more tolerable. He just wanted the wishbone to be strong enough.

When the pigeons were let out to get used to the environment they were closely watched and judged. They had an open loft as long as they had not completely explored the environment. In the evening they were released after the widowers, which means they were still flying around when darkness set in. René Dax remembers he was standing in the garden of Louis Vermeijen, along with some other fanciers. He was starting to get worried because the youngsters were still flying out after dark. "But Louis calmed us down: he was confident that the cleverest birds could spend the night outside without a problem. In fact they would gain some experience."

Louis Vermeijen did not put a lot of trust in the origins and the pedigrees of a pigeon. However there was one bloodline that proved to be very good in his days: the famous Soflé, the old bloodline from Antwerp, which was well known over a century ago. First of all the youngsters have to prove what they are capable of, said Vermeijen. Only when they come home from races regularly and when they appear fit and not tired afterwards do I take their origins into consideration. Louis believed too many fanciers were paying more attention to the pedigrees than to the pigeon itself, which often resulted in fanciers keeping pigeons that had no real value. He did not keep late youngsters in his loft very often, only the ones of which the type, plumage, appearance or behaviour resembled that of one of its top class ancestors. He used to give away the other late youngsters to friends and neighbours, people who would often drop by for advice. He also got rid of pigeons that would crawl away and that were very easily startled. Such birds would not come home after the first difficult flight so it is not useful to keep them.

To conclude René Dax wrote: “It is absolutely not an easy task to judge the quality of your youngsters correctly if you have a large family of pigeons. But the method of Louis should help fanciers with a moderately crowded loft to select the best birds. According to this method you should try not to keep too many young birds. So far for the article in Le Soir.

I would like to add that Louis Vermeijen came to this conclusion after years of experience and after having created his own bloodline. It was probably thanks to his strict selection procedure, starting from the egg until after the birds have had their first flights, that Vermeijen has become such a successful fancier for so many years. But even back then fanciers would rather obtain birds from well known names that were in fact a one trick pony, instead of paying attention to the bird itself.

I am afraid that people who want to buy pigeons focus too much on origins and not enough on the quality of the bird itself. This is what René Dax wanted to point out as well. Why would you buy a bird with a promising pedigree if the bird in question is already too old or simply not strong enough? That is the problem: well known fanciers are likely to have a good selection procedure, but they will be less strict when it comes to selecting eggs or young birds that are going to be sold. They are likely to keep the strong birds for themselves and sell the less promising ones. We understand this practice but there should be no inferior pigeons among the birds that will be sold. Some auctions include youngsters of one and the same couple with consecutive ring numbers. In such cases I can’t help wondering whether any of these youngsters might actually be an inferior bird.