Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got started in the sport.
My name is steve and I am the older of the two brothers. I started to keep pigeons when I was 11 years old that was in 1951. We then lived in a small town called Newbury in the county of Berkshire, Having been Evacuated there from London in 1940 when the family home was destroyed by bombs. I was only 6 months old at that time. In 1956 my father gave up pigeons and my younger brother Philip joined me as a partner. We have kept going the partnership to the present day.
Give the readers the basic results that you have achieved as a partnership.
This is a difficult question to answer. We have moved the loft in the early days in Newbury about 6 different places. Owing to the problem of keeping the lofts on other peoples houses. Still the pigeons won there share. It was in 1977 when we purchased a house that we could get settled and start to race with no fear of moving again. From 1978 to the 1987 we were top in Club Federation and Combine also many good prizes in the all England nationals including 3 1st Sect Nationals and top National positions i.e 3rd -4th open etc. We raced only 10 widowhood cocks and we won an average of 14 1st prizes a year plus a average of 4 prov a year. In August 1987 we moved to the County of Shropshire, having sold the cocks and the whole family, of which the pigeons were of Busschaert origin. Before we moved to Shropshire we ordered 6 Young birds of the Jan Aarden family direct from M.Van Geel Holland, these pigeons came to us in the autaum of 1988. We never raced until 1990, and these pigeons along with a blend of Van Der Wegen lines from Simons & son of Massiek Holland and Robert venus took us to the top in Club & Federation once again, we were never beaten on the longest race which was 740km at that time. I think we won at that distance about 18 +1st prizes over the years.in Newbury and Shropshire. In 1996 we decided on yet another house move. For the last 2 years in Shropshire the Widowhood cocks never went out of the loft for exercise, we used to take them 40 plus kms a day training then lock them up for the day. This was due to a bad hawk problem. Perigriens Goshawks and Red kites and Sparrow Hawks. We lived in the country side and a big wood housed all this birds of prey. If we bred 50 young pigeons before we started training them we had lost 30 to the hawks.So we moved to the County of Somerset the west side of England in June 1996.
This was the start of a great change for us. We could now relax and concentrate on the pigeons. I must add that in Shropshire my brother Philip had a serious road accident in 1990. and this caused severe Damage to his legs His right leg is plated and screwed from the hip to the knee and he has nerve damage from the knee to the foot of which he has no feeling in and the left ankle was damaged and pinned. So we have not worked these last number of years. As I said once in Somerset we took just the breeders and bred 11 late-breds in august that year. We won in 1999 the Pau Grand National 900 Kms and since our move we have won 17 Major trophies in the National flying club All England racing. We do not race in local club races all our pigeons fly is from France no inland competition. This is also the same for the young birds straight to the first race across the English Channel of which they have to fly 3 times as young birds. We only race in the Big National all England clubs which there is two and another club at times which has a radius of about 100kms by 150kms.Some of our performances as well as the 1st National Pau is in 3 years 1999-2000-2002 we won 91 Postitions in the National Flying Club all England races. From Nantes Saintes and Pau and one Young bird race. Plus Many averages including the best Average Nantes and Pau Nationals. The Langstone Gold Cup best Average Nantes –Pau and Young Bird race. Plus more averages .in the other national club and the classic club above in the same years 1999-2000-2002 we have won about 150 prizes from France. in cluding best average all races with the same pigeon flying from Messac- Nantes- Pau- Bergerac in that season. So I cannot find which one is the best, but if I had too, I would say winning the Pau Grand National. Of which he was 34 yds per minute in front of the second placed pigeon and he was the first pigeon to be timed in although he was flying 80kms more than the coast pigeons.
Amongst those results what are the real highlights.
How do you race your pigeons and how many.
We race on the widowhood and our team this year will be 22 cocks and 12 yearlings. Plus we are going to race 6 hens.
What are your lofts made of and how big are they.
Our lofts are made of wood. The widowhood loft is 7m long ,and the yearling loft and hens loft is 6m long. The breeders lofts are 7m long we also have 5 single sections. And another section 3m long, The Young bird lofts is 5m long with a 2 m aviary each end. The Widow hens loft is 3m long. All the Breeders lofts have wire avairys the length of the lofts.
Do you attach any importance to having a tiled roof on a loft, if so are there any benefits.
We have tiled roofs on two of our lofts but one has a false ceiling in made of clear material to let the light through the plastic tiles, and we have a ventilation unit in this loft. The other lofts have flat roofs and the pigeons keep just as well.
How many stock birds do you keep and do you breed off your race team also how many pigeons do you think that you need to breed off any individual stock pair each year to see if they are quality producers.
Of our own proven family we have 24 pair of stock birds, Plus 5 Pair which are new and untested from Chr Van der Velden Netherlands. And 5 Pair from Wim Muller. Netherlands, these two lots from these fanciers will be raced as young birds this year, and breeding will be less from our own family so the young birds can be tested from the new imports.Saying that the Wim Muller pigeons will be put into ours I.e Muller Cocks to our best stock hens and our best stock cocks to the Muller hens. The other family together. This was decided between Wim Muller and Myself. Regarding how many we can breed from each pair only one to two pair because we hate overcrowding pigeons. We only breed from the very best of the Widowhood cocks about 6 to 8 Young birds.
When do you pair your pigeons and why then.
The breeders are mated about the 20th December. Some times a little earlier. And the widowhood cocks as well. But this year the racing cocks were paired later. The reason being that we then get a few Young birds early because of the type of races they compete in.
Do you move the hens with the young birds.
Regarding the Widowhood cocks.This year we only let them sit one round of eggs for 11 days and took the hens away, the cocks sat the eggs until they left them. Normally we let the cocks rear a baby. Until it is 16 days old then we take the hen away and let the Widowhood cock finish rearing on his own. Or another time we take the hen and Young bird away and put them in the Young bird loft on a bed of straw still in the nest pans line them up against the loft walls. Any hen will then feed any Young bird . The reason etheir way is for the benefit of the Widowhood Cocks If the hen does not lay her second round of eggs then the cock will not cast a flight It does not matter if you pair in December or early in the New year.
Young bird sickness is a problem, have you had this in your loft and if so what have you treated them with.
We have never had any problem with the health of the Young Birds. It is possible the odd one may go off colour but nothing serious. So we have never had the Young Bird Sickness in the team.
Do you race your young birds, if so how many races, if not why, do you think they are better off in the longer events if they are only raced lightly.
Our young birds do not compete in local club races. We train them with there loft mates to the coast 80 km and then they are jumped into a race from France with the National flying Club, British Barcelona Club, or the Central Southern Classic.. As mentioned earlier We expect them to fly the Channel from France 3 times as Young Birds. They carry on to make good old birds in the main if they have this experience. It is in the Strongest Competition. We can possibly fly in.
What criteria do you set down for the pigeons you winter with your thoughts on the following seasons racing and breeding.
The pigeons which remain must have put up some good performances If not then to have shown the potential that they probably will the following year. Above all no breaking down if the race turns out to be very hard. Stamina and the will to get home is Paramount.
Do you have any grills fitted in the floor or in the boxes, are there any advantages to using them.
Yes we have Grills on the floor of the Widowhood Cocks boxes. We put cut lengths of newspaper under neath. And just take up one piece a day and the box is clean. Plus it keeps the Ply wood tray underneath dry and clean, we put a bit of candle wax on the edge of the trays it stops them getting tight.
Do you attach any importance to grits and minerals or can the pigeons get what they want they are out of the loft. Yes very Important Certainly when pigeons are breeding The Widowhood cocks do not eat much but every thing is there if they need it.
Do you use any floor dressing or do you clean the pigeons out daily.
With the amount of Cocks we have in the Widowhood loft There are very few droppings plus the nest boxes as explained take only a minute to do. Once a week we put a small amount of loft white down but sweep it up clean so none is left,.The Stock Lofts Have a Deep Litter of Shavings with Loft white on the bottom then 6 inches of cut straw on top. The Young Bird loft has the Litter under the perches but the remainder of the floor is bare. A piece of batten keeps the litter in place.
Do you like to have plenty of room for the pigeons.
Yes Most important not to overcrowd the lofts. Note our widowhood loft in 2 sections 7m long by nearly 3ms wide has never housed more than 27 pigeons. But it can have its disadvantages as well. Because the loft stays too cold without a reasonable amount of pigeons in it. Young Birds must never be overcrowded. This will cause Health Problems . And anyway if fanciers who have ever overcrowded Young Birds they normally lose a few off the loft. Natures way of bringing back the balance
The Cocks are fed in the box in the mornings just a small amount, also in the evenings again just a small amount. Do you measure the amount that you give to each pigeon, or are they fed according to the individual pigeon.
Then they have a hopper in front of them for 15 Minutes. Then it is taken away this is morning and evening. The reason they are given a little in the pot in the nestbox is that if you only feed in a hopper or tray You will lose that Valuable contact with the cocks and we think this most important to a happy loft. We feed a branded mixture which is Ovator, Outstanding Corn. But we add a little when we get to a longer distance and that is Hulled sunflower seed. Not more Maize.
Whenever I have visited a loft fanciers always look at the pigeons eye. Do you consider that the eye has any importance in (a) the breeding, (b) distance races (c) sprint races. (d) the pigeons health. Or do you steer clear of the subject and if so why.
We do not study the eye regarding the guide to breeding or racing ability. But the eye will tell you if the pigeon is in good health and it certainly gives you a idea when a pigeon is coming into form. When you vist the Doctor the first thing he looks at are the eyes of the patient even before the person has sat down.By doing this it will tell him a lot regarding the health of the person.
Do you use any preventative medication. If a pigeon goes ill do you try to put it right or does the bird have to go.
We treat the breeders and the widowhood cocks for tricommasis and respiritory when they are sitting on the first round of eggs. The breeders are not given anything else until the same time the next year, unless of course some thing happens that we need to.The Widowers are given one more treatment 3 weeks before the Pau National for Tricommasis. And not again until the next breeding season. The Young Birds are not treated at all, unless something causes us to do so. The reason being that the parents were given one treatment and the babies have to get there own natural imunity against these problems . So we do not use but very little of any treatments.
How many weeks do you think a pigeon can maintain it’s form on the widowhood system for both cocks and hens.
We expect the pigeons to race and perform well from the beginning of May until the 3rd week of july . Of course they may lose form for a week or so but we think if you feed them correctly for the job asked of them at the time they will hold form pretty well the whole of the time required, If the pigeons do lose form our remmiedy is to stop feeding them for 24 hours .Keep them in the loft during that time then slowly bring them back up again with exercise and feeding.
Do you treat pigeons differently with their preparation if they are to go to the bigger races whether National, Classic, Specialist club or open.
All our races we compete in as explained earlier is the National and Classic races from France. When the Cocks have had there last race before the Pau National which is around 3 weeks. We cut back the food for a week just let them do there own thing regards exercise around home. Then we start to feed them in preparation for the race. They get everything good we can give them during the last 8 days to the basket day i.e Hulled sunflower seed and peanuts. And hemp. The road work is as follows 7 days before the basket day they have 5 training flights from the coast , one every day regardless of weather unless it is torrenicial rain. The distance is about 80 kms a day.then into the race.
Do you think a pigeon has the capabilities of racing both short and long distance races. Also what
distance can a pigeon actually still “RACE” as opposed to homing from any race point.
Yes pigeons can race at any distance and win consistently we expect ours to win from 100to over 1000kms and we have many pigeons in the loft which have done so.our Oniview grand won 86th Opem National as a Young Bird 460 km then he won 5 +1st Prizes at 140 to 200 kms. 1st at 500 kms. 1st at 760 kms. Only pigeon on day.3rd at 500 kms 5th Sect 105th Open Pau grand National 1040 kms etc. His sons have done very near the same. In todays racing I do not think there is any distance that a pigeon cannot race at. For instance the Barcelona International the prizes are won days before they used to years ago. Pigeons must race at a good speed even from 1000 plus kms the days of the plodders ended many years ago.
What proportion of you pigeons get better on subsequent trips to the long distance races and what do you call distance.
I think it depends on where you live and the type of races a fancier competes in.Let us take England for instance. Every time we compete it is from across the English Channel from France. This is because we live 80 kms from the coast. Now we race say, from Dax about 830 kms to me. The pigeons are Liberated in the morning they will not be reaching the Channel until the evening if the wind is against them. So they have been flying for 10 to 12 hours then they have to cross the Channel and it takes a strong willed pieon to cross when it has been on the wing all day more so if the channel is poor weather wise . And if they cross, carry on in land to get home when the light has almost gone . Now if you live say in the Yorkshire area or north west of Enlgand the Liberation point on a comparable distance would be Nantes. The pigeons would be at the water in around 4 hours so if liberated at 6,oclock they would be crossing the English Channel by 10 oclock in the morning still very fresh pigeons compared to the ones liberated deep in france the same time. Then of course once the pigeons reach England they fly on land for the best part of the journey home. This is not to say the same pigeons would not do well if the liberation s were opposite . It is just to show how the same distance can be so different from each other. So I hope this explains the term distance. Of course from Pau and Barcelona they would all night out so it would be different again.
Which is the more difficult, establishing a team of sprinter’s or distance pigeons and why.
Having raced both sprint and distance racing . without question it is more difficult to establish a team of long distance pigeons. Patience is needed for them to Mature and this can take at least 3 to 4 years. Sprinters if they do not win there share pretty well as young birds or yearlings it is not much use keeping them they mature so much quicker than long distance pigeons . but saying that we still like them to win as Young Birds.
What families of pigeons do you keep.
The base of our Pigeons came direct from M.Van Geel Netherlands.The we added Van der Wegen lines from Simons of Massiek and Robert Venus Belgium with a few Peter Van den Ejinden Netherlands. Later just a small cross of Vanbruaene. So the Base is Aarden , Van Der Wegen, +a little Vanbruaene.
How do you go about bringing in a new family and what do you look for.
As our family is a Line bred and Inbred Line we looked to bring in a family which was worked on the same lines as our own and also with basicly the same base. And this is what we have done by bringing in the Wim Mullers and the Chr Van Der Veldens. We must always look ahead not to rest on performances gone by ,but to the future performances.
When you bring in that new family do you think that they need time to acclimatise, if so how long.
Yes when a new family is bought in it takes time for them to acclimatise to your management, and to the different envioment they have been taken to. The pigeons will tell you when they have acclimatised. By there actions and the response you get from the young ones when first bred off. A pigeon which has acclimatised will be relaxed with the loft area and the fancier tending to it so you cannot really put a time limit on it.
Do you think that fanciers change for the sake of changing or do you think a loft can breed a winning team out and lose track of the winners.
It is possible for fanciers who have won for many years to just fade away from winning. This can be because they have sold too many pigeons and their best pigeons thinking we still have the blood. But it does not work like that. In England we have a saying. (You cannot burn the candle at both ends.) meaning you must look after your own loft first Breed what you need for your own use, Then you can afford to let some bred the same way go. And the top pigeons cannot be easily replaced no matter how good a fancier thinks he is. We all know money talks but if you wish to remain at the top then one has to be very careful of parting with the Top pigeons Racers and Breeders. Some fanciers change a family if the first young birds fail to win. They have no Patience and this all goes back to accimatisation, Plus the fact some people are lucky enough to win with the pigeons they purchase as young birds but they do not have the ability to reproduce the winners.
When looking for new pigeons do you look for a particular family, one for specialist races or club races or just be name.
When looking for a new family the fanciers that we go for is the ones who win in National and International Competition. Not club or minor races. Both Wim Muller and Chr Van Der Velden have won for years in the National Competition that is why we went to them.
Some fanciers go out and purchase good quality winning pigeons but never appear to make the grade, why do you consider that this happens.
As I said earlier some fanciers are not patient enough and expect results to come right away just because they have purchased top blood lines. It is not that simple other wise every one would be a Champion. And of course there are very few of those. Some people or I should say a lot of people cannot continue to follow on the line as done by the fancier who sold them. It is easy to lose the type of pigeon which has taken years to develop, it can be lost in two Generations, and a different type of pigeon evolves. There are not many Stockmen about I think they are the minority so they become the Champions.
Do you race your pigeons every week or do you prefer to condition them for a specific race.
As I said some time back we only race in the National races and the very strong central southern classic with a huge radius. So each pigeon goes to certain races. As we race the Channel every time we compete it is not possible for them to race every week Probably they have 4 to 5 Channel races a season.
Is there any specific condition that your pigeons perform best at, or any particular time of the year.
Our widowhood loft does not warm up until the warm weather comes so the pigeons as a whole do not reach top form too early but still they win some very high positions in the shorter early channel races. We fly the Widowhood system so there are no frills with it just the basic way keep the pigeons calm for the channel French races, Some times for the very last race we pair the cocks to their mates the evening before they are put in the race basket this gives them renewed interest and they can go to nest and build a nest and relax.
In your view do you think that a loft needs different pigeons for different distances.
If you are con centrating on the very short distances from 50 to 250 kms then I would say it is only common sense to get a family of that type , but from around the 200kms on the long distance pigeons can win very well as ours have proved so many times, but saying this it must be remembered that our pigeons only fly across the channel and a 200 km race can turn out to take twice as long as the same distance flying on land if the channel is not clear or the weather is bad.but we expect the same pigeons to give a good account of there self regardless of the distance.
Is there anything that you have not won in the sport that you would like to achieve.
Yes there is a tremendous amount we would like to achieve, Like winning the Pau Grand National again. This year the National flying Club is competing in the Dax International for the first time. It would be great to win it. In fact it would be amazing. But if the National Flying Club went to the Barcelona International in the near future. That would be a dream come true to win that, because we think it is the Greatest Pigeon Race in The world, Then we would be famous.
Do you read many magazines/Articles, if so which type of article do you find interesting and why.
Yes we have the two british weekly pigeon papers. And we have the Fondkrant sent to us from Holland, I can follow it and have learned a great deal from it. I like any writing on the breeding of pigeons. And take interest in the different methods of the top fanciers.
When it comes to breeding do you line-breed or use a first cross or just pair winners to winners.
Our family is of a line bred –inbred method of breeding. On the rare occasion we have bought in one line of the Vanbruaene blood into them. And this has produced amazing results. But then Andre Vanbruaene was a Master at Breeding and Racing ,one of the all time greats.
Do you breed off the top widowhood cocks after the racing has finished, do you breed late bred youngsters and what do you think of those later bred youngsters.
We do breed off the best Widowhood cocks at the end of the season. Not only because sometimes it is the only young birds from them that season but as a reward for the work they have put in during the year. Plus we set great store in a Quality bred Latebred. Very valuable for breeding and if treated with respect of its age can make a top class racer given the due time.
Do you use the darkness system for the young birds, if so for how long and do you think it affects them later in life.
We have used the dark system for about 10 years. We do not darken the loft down until the young birds are eating properly and they are on a perch. We darken from 4.30 afternoon till 8.30 the next morning, around 16 hours dark. We take them off the system the first week of june. I may add that the Young birds race until the 3rd week of September. And as I have said earlier every race they compete in is from France across the channel. Now to me the most important part of the system is now to get them to Complete the Moult. Once racing has finished 3rd week of September, we keep the youngsters in the loft. All the time no exercise at all .Plenty of food Protein and Fats. And they are left to moult out.We do not use any form of lights to make the days longer just normal time. We have never in 10 years on the system ever had one young bird fail to complete the moult by end of December. As regards to later on in life we can talk about Oniview Grand, Oniveiw Queen Somerset Pride Somerset Boy etc all darkness treated young birds, but each one turned out to be a Champion if I may use that word. So if we thought it not good practise for future performances we would not do it but there is no problem with that at all.
Do you use any form of heating system in any of your lofts. Do you think it would be advantages for the birds. I suppose with our loft as I said is very cold in the early part of the season, but I would not put in any form of heating, I do not like false form. It will come if the fancier is doing his job right and has patience.
Do you attach any real importance to the pigeons wing i.e back wing, end four flights and do you look at the wing to see if they have cast before a race. Any other comments on the wing.
This is a question that is very much as Do you believe in Eye sign. Which we do not, at least for the reasons we gave, But the wing is different. We have noticed from a very early time that we have been developing this family ,that our pigeons wings were a little different from other Long distance pigeons we had handled. In as much ours have Two steps in the wing. The second step is from the 6th to the 7th flight. Also the last 3 flights are as long as possible to each other and the last 4 flights are narrow and Very very Pliable’ in Fact if you bend the 10th flight back and release it . it almost makes a small humming sound. This is a trait which has built its self into our family also the 10th primary tends to curve inwards .
Is there anything that you do not like about the sport, something that you feel needs changing for the good of the sport.
We do not like the greedness that has come into the sport. In England the pooling system in the Nationals. The Ratio is two high. 20-1 paid out Does not give the small team working fancier a chance to compete with the money men. They could cut the pools down to 4-1 and 10-1 and they could have any big wager pool they wanted like a £200 pool at 20 -1 if they wished but the fancy will not vote for a reduction of the pools ratio. Plus in England we have too many small clubs . they should only have one club in a certain radius if there is less than 30 members they should all be made to join up with the biggest club in the area. All federations should be members of one National club without joini ng fees so that they need not race in it if they did not want to. Abolish all prize money and just race for pools Based on the Belgium and Dutch pooling systems. We need new younger people to come into the sport but I do not know how to attract them to it. Many years ago when I lived Newbury Berkshire, I went around the schools and gave talks on the Sport of Pigeon racing plus taking pigeons and a clock with me. Also to the bird cage society. About 12 times in all. Not one fancier came from my efforts. And this was in the days without Computers and the things young people have today so I am at a loss to know how to attract them to join this great sport of ours. Perhaps we should try and get recently retired people into the sport, to give them a pastime to enjoy.
What advice do you have for a young fancier ?
To the young fancier I would say take your time to build up slowly, Have patience and get friendly with a top fancier in your area, and listen, not talk to much. My tutor was a great and famous fancier in England who died in 1969. I used to travel down to his home many times a year, and was treated like a son of the house ,The Late great A.R.Hill of St Just Cornwall.and the distance I travelled to see this great man was 400kms each way, I still think of him to this day almost as a father. Never to be forgotten. With pigeons as in all livestock never be in any hurry. You must get them to think of you as if you are one of there kind, then you will have contentment in the loft. As my old Karate Master used to say to me. (Those in Haste, Go no where.) very true words.