Stephan De Sloovere and Mario Van Belle have been close friends for years, partly because they are both pigeon enthusiasts. Stephan started keeping pigeons many years ago, inspired by the previous generations of fanciers in his family. Mario on the other hand got involved in the sport when he took over the loft of his grandfather. When Mario moved house together with his family, his wife did not want to have a pigeon loft in their new garden. That is when Mario asked Stephan to start working together. Stephan threw in the towel after a few years, but Mario kept going. Mario Van Belle has been racing his old birds from the loft in Gullegem, under the name of Stephan De Sloovere, while racing a team of young birds under his own name from a loft in Wevelgem. Stephan had decided to quit the sport, but he has continued to help Mario with cleaning the lofts and feed the pigeons regularly. Mario told us he would never be able to continue without the help of Stephan.
Mario has a very busy job, but there is always someone to look after the pigeons, because they run the loft together. They two know each other very well, and so they always understand each other. They are a great team, and they share the same ideas on how to successfully run a loft. That does not mean Stephan has any obligations with respect to Mario, but Stephan enjoys helping his friend with the caretaking.
On the other hand, the two friends are realistic enough to know that this is not a lasting solution. Mario is constantly travelling from his loft in Wevelgem to the loft in Gullegem and back, while also having a demanding job, and he admits that having two lofts in different locations is time-consuming and brings a lot of problems. They have not yet figured out the best solution, but they have decided to use this approach for one more season, the main reason being their national victory from Limoges. Their pigeons have been doing really well this season, and the two fanciers will go on as long as they continue to be successful. The long term plan for Mario is to focus entirely on the young birds.
The breed, feed, and medical guidance
Mario has no more than eight widowers in his loft in Gullegem. He had started the season with ten, but he lost a few of them due to circumstances. Besides, his loft in Gullegem offers room for only 12 pigeons, so he has no choice but to play with a small team. His loft in Wevelgem is a different story, housing about 60 young birds.
We take a look at how Mario feeds his pigeons as well. His pigeons get larger portions in the last three days before basketing, and their diet consists of Super Energy combined with a sports mixture. He adds an appetite stimulant to their diet three days before the race, to make sure they maximise their energy reserves. Some sugars and magnesium are given in the final days as well. When the pigeons arrive home, some magnesium and proteins are added to the feed, to allow for quick recovery. In between the races, he provides only a purifying mixture, as well as a super diet and sports mixture.
As far as medical guidance is concerned, Mario visits his veterinary surgeon three weeks before the start of the season, to make sure they receive the necessary vaccinations. There is also a full check-up.
Mario started out in the sprint competition, in which he competed most of his career. He tried his luck in the long distance for the first time this year, and it was the first time his pigeons had to cover such long distances. His choice for the long distance was based on the fact that our sport is constantly evolving. Mario and Stephan realise that the future of the sport is in the major races, and they know that the smaller races will start to disappear in the future. We noticed that Mario likes to take a risk from time to time. He joined the race from Limoges without any expectations, and he was surprised to see his four basketed pigeons finish in the top 20. The flight from Poitiers had been their only warm up race prior to Limoges. Mario had noticed how his pigeons arrived home from Poitiers without really being tired, and so he knew these pigeons had great potential.
He thinks his national win from Limoges is also the result of his new racing method for 2014. Mario used to play in classic widowhood but he wanted a different approach this year. It was decided together with Mario to add an appealing hen to the loft. This hen obviously sparked the interest of all four cocks, and this made them highly motivated to fly well. He then put them in a box together with this hen one after the other, which caused a lot of jealousy among the racing pigeons. It goes without saying that his national win from Limoges was the greatest achievement of 2014, but it was not his only good result this season:
The best results of 2014
Fontenay 424 olds: 5, 27, 45, 144 (4/4) Fontenay 118 olds: 14, 21, 24, 44, 45 (5/6) Tours 392 olds: 12, 13, 103 (3/3)
Achievements of his national winner BE11-3172003
Bourges Club 42 young birds: 2 Provincial 1,258 young birds: 34 National 14,598 young birds: 2.746 Zone A 3,409 young birds: 143 Argenton Club 17 young birds: 1 Provincial 795 young birds: 16 National 7,046 young birds: 88 Arras Club 45 olds: 2 Arras Club 289 olds: 80 Clermont Club 297 olds: 74 Clermont Club 344 olds: 48 Fontenay Club 424 olds: 45 Poitiers Club 315 olds: 46 Provincial 2.451 olds: 296 National 12.379 olds: 783 Limoges Club 165 olds: 1 Provincial 1.562 olds: 1 National 7.221 olds: 1
The 003/11 got injured in his second race of 2013, but Stephan and Mario continued to take great care of their pigeon. The pigeon eventually managed to join two races from Clermont towards the end of the 2013 season, so that the two fanciers could decide whether or not to keep this pigeon in the team. Pigeon racing is often a game of patience, but their pigeon eventually appeared to be back in great form.
Mario considers this victory the greatest moment in his career but it took him some time to realise he had actually won the first prize. He had difficulties getting to sleep in the first few days after the race, but he knows now that he is the proud winner from Limoges. He really hopes to experience this once again in his career, so he continues to invest in good quality pigeons and new bloodlines. At this moment, he wants to enjoy this special moment in his career.