Q. How do you prepare your stock-birds?
A. After the last round, this is about the beginning of October, the stock-birds are separated. The cocks stay in their own loft but the hens are removed to the aviary. During the mould they are fed fairly heavy. Once the mould is over, they are fed on a cleaning mixture till a fortnight before pairing up.
According to my opinion, it is very important that the stock-bird, when they are paired up, are in a first class condition. That is why there is, in the so-called dead season, nothing is left to chance. I think, it is very important that the birds are flying out regularly and that they have a bath once or twice a week.
A fortnight before they are paired up, they are fed on a rearing mixture.
Since a few years my birds have a regular medical examination. A month before they are paired up, I have their droppings examined and from some I have a blood sample taken. My opinion is: that out of unhealthy pigeons, unhealthy youngsters are born. if the result of the examination is negative I never give them any medicines. if the result is the other way round, there are enough remedies to cure eventual complaints. Several diseases are caused through overcrowding through which the resistance is diminished. My principal is, not to have too many pigeons in a spacious, dry and well ventilated loft.
Q. When do you pair up the stock-birds?
A. Since a few years, I pair up my stock- and also my race-birds, at about the 20th or 25th of December. This is thus a month later than most fanciers.
This time suits me best because I have a few days off at that time and I like to be in the loft the whole day when I pair the birds up. Normally the weather is good, around that time what is in their favor. Birds that are paired up as the previous year, are left free in the loft but all new pairings are locked up in their nest boxes for a few days. Those that are not paired up in a few days, are placed into a loft on their own. When they still will not pair up I change their partners.
Q. How do you prepare your racing birds?
A. As I mentioned before, the race-birds are, since two years, paired up early 20th or 25th December. In former years they were always paired up the 1st of March. We did very well with that. The reason for the alteration of our system was not because our performances diminished but because young bird racing became more and more popular. One cannot compete with youngsters that are born in April against youngsters that are born early in the year. Especially in the longer races at the end of the season, which are the races worth winning. I always race my youngsters, bred from the widowers, right to the end of the last race, especially the hens. Through this, I have a chance to discover some new good stock-pairs for the future. I am more careful with my youngsters bred out of the stock-birds so that they retain all their energy to fly as old birds.
Q. Is the loft heated or is straw brought into the loft?
A. My stock-loft is situated in a dry and well ventilated attic. Heating is Out of the question, also straw. An attic loft is ideal for early breeding. A garden loft, on the contrary, is not recommended especially in a wet and damp winter. In such a loft one has to have some form of heating. Straw would then be a good thing but should be changed very often. They are not let out when they have youngsters in the nest. My stock-loft is fairly large and is absolutely not overcrowded.
I try to give them, at that time, as much as possible the things they
normally find in the fields, so as: calcium, minerals, grit, etc..
Q. How do you manage and feed the stock-birds?
A. During the breeding period, they are fed very light, cleaning mixture and some maize. But when they have youngsters in the nest, they are fed on a commercial breeding mixture to which I add a great part of wheat, dari, sunflower seed and rice. After this they are given, till they are weaned, the ordinary rearing mixture, but I always make sure that it is not to heavy, never more than 20 % of pulse (beans, peas or tares).
They are fed three times a day, in the morning, noon and evening. But never with artificial light. In the evening they are given a full trough, because, through my work, I am not able to feed them every morning at the same time.
Grit, vitaminized minerals and ‘piksteen’ (calcium blocks) is always
at their disposal. I never give them any vegetables, because at that time it is mostly very difficult to get always fresh vegetables. And I don’t think it is necessary.
Well do I give them special baked black-bread (Bread baked from rye.), which is dried and grinded to small pellets. This is given till the youngsters are about 10 days old.
Every other week, they have vitamins added to their drinking water but never any disinfectants. Also every other week a pigeon tea. Otherwise, nothing special is given.
Q. When are the youngsters taken away from their parents and bow do you manage them?
A. The youngsters are weaned when they are about 22 days old. They are placed on their own into the young-bird loft, thus without a hen. The first two days they don’t eat much but are fed, for the most part, on small grains such as wheat, dari, cardy, rice and a little maize. They are fed in this way till they are about 35 days old. After this they are given in the morning and in the evening, the ordinary commercial mixture. By the time that they flying well around the loft, they are given in the morning a cleaning mixture and in the evening their ordinary mixture. This feeding system is kept up the whole season. Each round of youngsters is placed into a separate loft. This, I think, is very necessary. When they are all placed in the same loft one can expect a lot of trouble. The youngest are pecked on the head and get hardly anything to eat and the older ones would not fly. This is the reason why I never put them together in the same loft.
When the weather is not too bad, they are let out every afternoon. When the rime arrives that most of the fanciers start training their birds, they are let out later in the afternoon to prevent them flying away with other groups of birds, which can cause heavy losses. After a few hours, when they have had enough training, they are called in because when they don’t fly they are only sitting on the house tops and pick up things in the gutters which may be the cause of one of other disease. They are never forced to fly. They will fly on their own when they are healthy. They will fly high in the sky and are sometimes out of sight for more than half an hour. When they do this every day I can expect a good flying season.
Q. Do you use any small tricks to make your youngsters fly faster?
A. I never bring any old birds into the loft to make the youngsters pair up earlier. This may be the start of fighting and sometimes youngsters that have claimed some nest boxes may be thrown out of them by the older birds and this can be the cause of some bad performances. Tricks are never used because I specialize for the middle and long distance races. According to my. opinion class and origin play a great roll in this kind of races. Healthy youngsters bred from good stock will race when it is in good form and an ideal nest position. One can have some good results with them. The best nest position is: A small youngster in the nest from 8 to 20 days old, also when they have a big youngster or when they are back on eggs again. I don’t like to send them to a race when they are feeding soft food. When they are flying around or above the 400 Km., they are only raced every other week. They are only babies and should be treated accordantly.
Q. Do you attach any value to the state of the feathering?
A. Yes I do, especially where young birds are concerned. I don’t take much notice of their flights but when they are moulting around the neck or head they are kept home.
I never take any chances with youngsters because I am more interested in old bird racing. That is why I only race youngsters that are not showing any signs of the moult. Youngsters that were stopped early have always been my best yearlings.
Q. Do you race your youngsters on the widowhood method?
A. I have never raced my youngsters on the widowhood method and that is the reason I don’t separate the sexes. Experimentally my youngsters are rather slow in pairing up.
My lofts are so arranged that they only can go to nest when I think they are old enough to do so. The size of the perches in the lofts are 25 x 30 cm., when any of the youngsters shows any signs of pairing up, I only have to take out a dividing partition between two perches and they have a good nest box to build a nest in. This is nearly always around July. When I see that they are well paired up, I place a nest pan in that nest box and let them go on with it. I never force a cock to pair up with a certain hen but let them go their own way. Those that are sitting in a good nest position are kept for the long distance races. Preferably the National races. Those are the only systems I put into practice with young birds.
Q. When do you race them for the first time?
A. The first race in which the young birds participate takes place in the beginning of July. The youngsters of the second round can also fly in those races. The question is to train them, what makes a lot of work. I always take training youngsters seriously. I always take them by car to various training stages and sometimes I release them one at a time so that they have to find their own way. They never fly on widowhood. They are given the opportunity to build a nest from about half July. This is according to me the best time to get them in an ideal position for the long- and National races.
My training program for them is: 10 liberations from 5 to 25 Km.. They do every distance twice before they are sent to the first race which is from 80 Km..
Q. Do you give anything special to your youngsters?
A. I only give my youngsters something to keep them healthy. This consist of pigeon tea in their drinking water each week and every other week cod liver oil and beer yeast on their corn. Vitamins, disinfectants or any other products are never used. I use the ordinary commercial corn mixture to which is added some cleaning mixture.
Q. Do you attach any value to the origin of your youngsters?
A. My Father always told me that with pigeons without any good origin good performances are impossible. The quality and the management of pigeons plays an important roll. Desmet-Matthys pigeons have shown good performances for the past 30 years and will always give good performances as long as they are well managed.
The pigeons from Desmet-Matthys are from an original strain and one can read more about them in the book: “The History of the Belgian strains.”