Eric Herbots and caretaker.
Eric Herbots’ victory is not really much of a surprise: in 2004, he achieved a 7th national prize and in 2005 a 9th national prize in the national results of St. Vincent. He had 102 pigeons flying the St. Vincent race this year so he was more or less compelled to have at least one or several early pigeons, particularly since many had focussed their (critical) eyes on Eric. Just like last year, his pigeons show up in the national top 100 as well with respect to the Barcelona race for which he basketed 160 pigeons. People sometimes say that such an amount of pigeons is pernicious to the charm of pigeon sport but the way the Herbots family is handling this top pigeon weekend certainly wasn’t charmless. The watchmen were treated to a breakfast and at lunch time, a caterer came by to provide the 25-30 co-pigeon fanciers, friends and family with food and drinks. The atmosphere was excellent, also because people knew that there would be a lot to see that day which naturally made everything even more pleasant.
All of Eric’s lofts are empty during the weekend of Barcelona and St. Vincent. The pigeons that stay home in the week prior to these two races are the breeders and the youngsters: all of the other birds are flying a race. This method naturally simplifies the practical side of things a little because all the pigeons are prepared for the same weekend but still, it is quite an organisation. During the last 14 days prior to the races for example, the pigeons are taken away 70 to 80 kilometres every day, no matter what the weather is like, rain or no rain, they are released every day. The question rises how much time someone needs to basket and take away approximately 260 pigeons every day. Eric replies that they have to “pack the birds like chickens”: if they would handle every pigeon carefully, they would never see the end of it.
As far as feeding is concerned, they also tried to find a way in order to loose as less time as possible. In other words: you will never see Eric filling the food box with a soupspoon to measure the quantities: “all a waste of time” says Eric. “My pigeons receive a full box, in winter and summer: they train well, they achieve good results and from a practical point of view; it’s very easy”. Their menu consists of 50% barley and 50% sports mixture and the pigeons gradually receive more sports mixture in the weeks before the St. Vincent and Barcelona races until their feed box contains 100% pure sports mixture.
In preparation to St. Vincent the pigeons have raced a distance of 450-500 km for one time at most. This year, they did Orleans after flying Momignies, Soissons for two times and another race of 300 km.
The day itself...
The first pigeon arrived from St. Vincent at 8:26 AM and immediately, everyone knew that this had to be a very good national result because no other results were known at that time except for Romain Goethals in Maldegem. He had clocked at 8:24 AM and achieved the 2nd national prize. The following hour (between approx. 8:30 AM and 9:30 AM) only 2 pigeons were clocked in the whole of Belgium. Everyone in Zoutleeuw rightly concluded that no-one would end before the yearling of Eric Herbots and they were pretty much convinced of a national victory. This euphoria grew even stronger when a pigeon from Barcelona came home at 9:25 AM. Everyone knew this was going to be a(n) (inter)national top prize but the pigeon however, wasn’t hurrying to enter and sat on the roof for no less than 35 minutes! According to Eric, this is the reason for the hesitation: 1 week before basketing, he had replaced the plastic plates used for electronic clocking. The old plates were white but the new ones had a brown colour. The pigeons had one week to adjust and they adapted pretty smoothly but “coming home after 70-80 km or coming home from Barcelona is not entirely the same thing. Apparently, the birds had not fully adjusted to the new colour of the plates and many of them hesitated to go in.”
The winner of St. Vincent is a 100% Bert Van Bree pigeon. Eric bought the entire extreme long distance loft of Van Bree in 2003 and at this moment, approx. 90% of Eric’s racers descend from these pigeons. The rest of his breeding loft consists of (a.o.) top 100 national winners that are regularly bought and naturally some top 100 national racers from his own loft move to the breeding loft as well. Eric will never sell his best pigeons and he won’t sell this winner no matter what the circumstances are. He obviously wants to build a future and he’ll need those winners to do so.
There’s one common characteristic to Eric’s lofts: there are all very open. For example: the front as well as both right and left side of the young pigeons’ loft is closed off with plain wire, only the back is closed. This means that the young pigeons spend day and night, winter as well as summer, in open air. The same goes for the yearlings, old pigeons and breeders: they are all living in a loft that is as open as possible. That way, the pigeons built up a natural immunity at an early age from generation to generation, says Eric. And that’s also why he seldom uses (or wants to use) medication: the pigeons are rarely ill.