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PIPA's pre-season questions 2021 (part 1)

PIPA had the idea to ask a few open questions to a number of pigeon fanciers in the run-up to the racing season of 2021.

We posed 8 (springtime) questions to a number of top pigeon fanciers from Belgium and the Netherlands with whom PIPA maintains a close relationship. These questions addressed, amongst other things, the coming season, their experience with the pigeon sport, their mistakes, tips, etc...

Today we start with part 1! With us are Jos Cools, Tom Van Gaver, Maarten Huijsmans and John Debaene, a mixture of youthful and experienced players in the sprint, middle distance and long distance.

Here are the 8 questions that we posed to each of them:

  1. From whom did you learn the most about the pigeon sport? Who was your mentor?
  2. Which moment or achievement of your pigeon career are you the proudest of?
  3. What are your objectives for 2021, or what would you be satisfied with when the 2021 season is over?
  4. Who will be the big surprise of 2021 according to you?
  5. Imagine, tomorrow you are suddenly in charge of the National Pigeon Union, what would you want to change to the current pigeon sport?
  6. What is the greatest mistake that you have ever made with your own loft?
  7. The slogan goes "Pigeon sport, family sport". What is the attitude of your partner or family towards it?
  8. What is the ultimate tip that you want to give to a starting pigeon fancier?

Jos Cools (Grobbendonk, BE)

The sympathetic Jos is a true speed freak. He loves the game and plays it with success in his own signature style. Naturally, the answers he gave on the springtime questions are totally in line with what we can expect from him

Jos Cools

From whom did you learn the most about the pigeon sport? Who was your mentor?
Actually, I did not have a mentor. I read a lot and I also had a good look around here and there.

Which moment or achievement of your pigeon career are you the proudest of?
For me, that was when I became the National Champion Youngsters Sprint in 2015.

What are your objectives for 2021, or what would you be satisfied with when the 2021 season is over?
In the first place, to stay healthy and maintain my current level. Naturally, standing on the national podium again would be the cherry on top.

Who will be the big surprise of 2021 according to you?
I find that hard to predict, it tends to be a surprise.

Imagine, tomorrow you are suddenly in charge of the National Pigeon Union, what would you want to change to the current pigeon sport?
I play sprint, and would prefer to only have a single race every weekend. For example, start with Quiévrain, and then after a few races, Noyon, and at the end back to just Quiévrain. This way, smaller districts are able to gather more pigeons. Besides, from a greater distance, the liberation position matters less. On top of that, every Wednesday, one can play Quiévrain for those who want to (at least within the province of Antwerp).

What is the greatest mistake that you have ever made with your own loft?
I once had a pigeon who was always early, but kept flying circles and would come in late. On the advice of a top fancier (?), I got rid of him. The next year, his brother did the same thing. I just let him do it, and as a yearling he would finish properly, and he became a great racer. I probably killed a good pigeon back then...

The slogan goes "Pigeon sport, family sport". What is the attitude of your partner or family towards it?
They support and cheer for me, but beyond that, it is my hobby.

What is the ultimate tip that you want to give to a starting pigeon fancier?
Visit two well-playing fanciers in your local area whom you can trust, and get some pigeons from them. Race with them and be strict during the selection. The ones you keep, you can breed. Do not spend too much money in the beginning, because if you do it tends to be hard to get rid of them. Beyond that, do not keep too many pigeons.

Tom Van Gaver (Moorslede, BE)

The ambitious young wolf, Tom Van Gaver, had a meteoric rise to the national top of the grand middle distance and the long distance in the last few years. He became a trendsetter by playing his pigeons, both hens and cocks, weekly with success. With the help of his father, Marnik, he keeps setting the bar higher and higher. Even within his answers, you can notice the general vision that drives Tom to success within the sport.

Marnik & Tom Van Gaver

From whom did you learn the most about the pigeon sport? Who was your mentor?

I grew up with pigeons thanks to my father. He was a decent fancier in the ‘80s and 90’s. My father taught me the basics of the sport. It was from that point onwards that I slowly started to take the reins. These days, I basically run the colony by myself. Still, I can count on my dad, who takes care of the birds when we are on holidays outside the season, or when I am held up by work. The accommodations are adjusted so that, after the season is finished, I can put everything in the aviaries to minimize the work into just giving them food and water. Last winter we invested in new aviaries for the widower’s lofts so that they too could be locked into the aviaries. 

It is also my father who transports the hens so that I am home when they arrive from their weekly practice flight. I can also count on him to bring the clocks in, and he takes a great deal of the housekeeping upon himself so that I can focus solely on the pigeons, because these days, you have to do everything to be at the top, just like a driver has to sacrifice everything for those moments of truth. For now, the pigeon sport can be combined with my current job (accountant and secretary of a large police zone), though it can be difficult to get everything done. This is why the entire accommodation has been adjusted so that one can work as quickly and hygienically as possible, though I must say that the new online way of working is a gift from the heavens.

In addition, I have taught myself to constantly push my boundaries. For example, I might have been the first fancier who played weekly with the cocks on the longer middle distance while everyone at that moment declared me insane. However, my approach paid off and many fanciers followed. After several years, this worked so well that I tried the same thing for the long-distance races. This too was a success, to such a degree that it became some kind of signature style. Sometimes, traditions exist to be broken, and a pigeon in top condition can handle more than we think. It is mostly a matter of a comprehensive and hard selection based upon natural health where rhythm and routine are the foundations of success. Throughout the years, I have come into contact with many top fanciers, and I learned something from every visit to their lofts. On the subject of pigeon selection and coupling, I have a very solid understanding with Bart Geerinckx. We have a roughly similar view on how a pigeon should look, and we help each other with advice and assistance when needed.

The new aviaries for the widower's lofts of Tom Van Gaver

Which moment or achievement of your pigeon career are you the proudest of?

There have been various beautiful moments in my career. This year, there were once again several of them, both with my own loft and those of comrades who achieved top performances with my pigeons. The most beautiful moments are still those when you are holding 1st place among the national ace pigeons... and when that same pigeon arrives very early on the next race, that gives a massive kick. Naturally, a national victory also sparks the imagination. Like everyone who standing guard in Brive got chills when Teske suddenly dropped out of the sky and was the fastest pigeon of Brive and managed to stay ahead of the powerhouse Vandenheede. 99.99% of the fanciers would not even have played this top hen after winning two provincials as a youngster. However, if I believe that I can make something special happen with a specific pigeon, I will try it. Sometimes, this proves to not have been the right choice, but very often it is. These are the performances that spark the imagination. The flying crew for the coming season looks strong with no less than 8 national ace pigeons who can once again participate.

Perhaps the most beautiful moment was the final national flight of the season on Chateauroux. I was in the car on my way towards Philip, to celebrate his 1st national ace pigeon when I realised that this could be a very special day within my pigeon career. My comrade managed, with a grandchild of my stock breeder Finn, to grab the most important title of 2020. Then there was me, who had managed to get the 5th national ace pigeon, who had some formidable conclusive achievements (1st provincial and 1st zonal against the wind), on the final flight, and this was done with a pigeon raised by my brother-in-law. To this day my slogan is "good friends make good pigeons" and that day everything just fell in its place, and that on the final flight of the year.

What are your objectives for 2021, or what would you be satisfied with when the 2021 season is over?

Once again I am going to try my hardest and try to take another step. I have already achieved a series of beautiful podium places. The only accomplishment I have not achieved is the 1st national ace pigeon.

Who will be the big surprise of 2021 according to you?

It is very difficult to say... there are many candidates. I could see my brother-in-law Davy Neirynck, who is a young motivated fancier who keeps growing every year, breaking through into the national top competition in 2021.

Imagine, tomorrow you are suddenly in charge of the National Pigeon Union, what would you want to change to the current pigeon sport?

The KBDB does good work and they are sufficiently transparent compared to how things used to be. It might be a good idea that an independent manager joins the KBDB, someone who does not have to have any relation with the pigeon sport, and perhaps has an outside perspective on the topic of the organisation of our modern-day sport.

In addition, we should perhaps review certain parts of the articles of association so that professional fanciers or interested parties (veterinarians, brokers, producers of food/necessities etc.) would be able to apply as candidates for certain posts within the KDBD.

Actually, the KDBD should be a big working group of hobbyists, professionals and several non-fancier partners. While we are on this topic, Covid has produced several groups who did excellent work to let us race again last year. The same thing happened recently with the new European quarantine regulation and the avian flu. I would like to thank all the people who helped to make this possible.

What is the greatest mistake that you have ever made with your own loft?

On a Wednesday, I once basketted one of my very best long distance racers on Montauban, a week after a good result on Brive. It became a true disaster race, when the day after the liberation, I only had a single pigeon beneath the tiles. Eventually, I had lost half my birds, and the few that did return weeks later were lost for the races. When playing weekly on the long distance, one has to check everything properly, like the weather, distance, and the condition of his pigeons. A Montauban is also not a Limoges. By hitting the wall every now and then, one can learn a lot, even though I naturally try to avoid this as much as possible. After all, the fewer mistakes you make, the better you play.

The slogan goes "Pigeon sport, family sport". What is the attitude of your partner or family towards it?

Pretty much everybody in my area knows that almost everything must give way to the pigeon sport. I try to find a proper balance between my work and the pigeons, where the busy season for work in the winter when it is calmer with the pigeons, and vice versa. This way, I can combine both for now, though besides work and the pigeons, very little time remains for anything else...

What is the ultimate tip that you want to give to a starting pigeon fancier?

Definitely do not start racing with pigeons for the money. These days, I often see people who start racing with this mindset, even though money should be the last thing on your mind when you start keeping pigeons. The love for the game and for the animals should be the motivation. Those who get into the pigeon sport for the wrong reasons rarely experience a long career.

The pigeon sport is a fantastic hobby, and our first priority should be joy, even though we all want to win. The pigeon sport also requires patience, and I can say that where there is a will, there is a way; and that which is good often arrives early, of which the carrying crate is the best judge. Starting fanciers often succeed when they get into contact with decent, well-established fanciers. Personally, I try to do my best for the starting fancier, with the right mindset, within reason. When one wants to get good birds, I often advise getting eggs from the racing birds of a well-playing fancier just before or after the season.

 

Maarten Huijsmans (Hoogerheide, NL)

Another young but extremely successful fancier is Maarten Huijsmans. In the middle distance, he entered the Dutch top within the blink of an eye. Discover his answers to our 8 questions here.

From whom did you learn the most about the pigeon sport? Who was your mentor?

Ludo Claessens 

Which moment or achievement of your pigeon career are you the proudest of?

Two time 1st National Champion Middle Distance in 2016 & 2019. Also the series; 2015 2nd National Champion Sprint, 2016 1st National Champion Middle Distance, 2017 2nd National Champion Middle Distance, 2018 3rd National Champion Middle Distance, 2019 1st National Champion Middle Distance. Never before in the history of the pigeon sport has this happened. Consistently, 5 years in a row in the top 3 national champions. All this before you are thirty years old against fanciers who have been playing for years.

What are your objectives for 2021, or what would you be satisfied with when the 2021 season is over?

The addition of a national ace pigeon...

Who will be the big surprise of 2021 according to you?

Stef Bals, a good friend with super birds.

Imagine, tomorrow you are suddenly in charge of the National Pigeon Union, what would you want to change to the current pigeon sport?

So many things, but mostly small things like, for example, to cover the pigeon cars with advertisements. After all, those trucks drive throughout all of the Netherlands and Belgium during the season. With the advertisement money, we would be able to hand out beautiful prizes without requiring the fanciers to put in any money.

What is the greatest mistake that you have ever made with your own loft?

I did not put a Koudijs smoke tablet on a bowl, but instead on a wooden drink water table, after which, the loft was partly on fire. The silver lining was that most of the birds were on transport.

The slogan goes "Pigeon sport, family sport". What is the attitude of your partner or family towards it?

All of them are a massive part of it. For example, I named my Olympiad pigeon, Olympic Roel, after my far-too-early departed brother. I also named my 4th national ace pigeon and super breeder after my departed grandfather; Super Cees! After my sister-in-law, I named the provincial champion against more than 10.000 p; Golden Iris! And many more like that. Everybody takes part and helps where they can. I enjoy the most being in the backyard with friends and family!

What is the ultimate tip that you want to give to a starting pigeon fancier?

Try to get some eggs from the 3rd or 4th round from a local champion, and play with those. Keep the best ones and you can play next year with the old ones. Breed with proven pigeons. And perhaps the most important, make sure that your pigeons like being in the loft, make it cosy with some straw.

John Debaene (Knesselare, BE)

As the son of Hubert Debaene, John was born for pigeon racing. However, unlike his father, he longed for the extremely long distance. It took some time before he started playing for himself, but he went all out from the start when he started building in Knesselare. With a truly unbelievable speed, he began climbing towards the (inter)national top of the extremely long distance since 2016.

John Debaene after winning the 1st Internat. Perpignan

From whom did you learn the most about the pigeon sport? Who was your mentor?

Noël Peiren from Zedelgem, with his unshakable belief in good and healthy birds rather than superstition from trivialities, as well as his never ending search for super breeding material, and to do even better in the future.

His admiration for the athletes of the extremely long distance and his comparisons to the top runners of the great classics of longer than 250 km.

The constant reexamination of the breeding results, the expectation, the hope, the competitions and finally, the selection.

'An addiction' as Noël calls it, but a healthy one.

Which moment or achievement of your pigeon career are you the proudest of?

I started keeping pigeons in 2016. In 2019, during my second season on the extremely long distance, I won the 1st International Perpignan and 2nd National Agen. But, I can also hold that international champion and her parents every day...

What are your objectives for 2021, or what would you be satisfied with when the 2021 season is over?

To finish in the top 10 national in the extremely long distance classics, so there is little chance I will ever be satisfied. However, that does not mean that I would be unhappy or unenjoyable if I were unable to meet those goals.

Who will be the big surprise of 2021 according to you?

Bastogne-Henry from Corroy Le Chateau for the extremely long distance. But, it could as easily be 2022 instead of 2021.

Imagine, tomorrow you are suddenly in charge of the National Pigeon Union, what would you want to change to the current pigeon sport?

I would make sure that the many 'volunteers' from the clubs were much more appreciated, and thus could be better compensated. Respect for all the people who have made it possible for us to enjoy our hobby all season long!

What is the greatest mistake that you have ever made with your own loft?

The most beautiful hen that I have ever held was caught in 2018 by a sparrowhawk. She had been coupled with a Peiren-cock to breed for two rounds on an empty nest. After that, I let her fly for the first time, together with a group of hens who had been flying every other day during the winter, and thus were in perfect basic condition. You can guess the result: instantly caught by a sparrowhawk.

My first two arrivals from Aurillac 2020 are 2 of the only 4 youngsters that I have bred out of the couple, and I suspect I will regret that even more in 2021 or 2022.

The slogan goes "Pigeon sport, family sport". What is the attitude of your partner or family towards it?

My wife and children help with the little things, such as letting them out to train and bringing them back in. Without their help, I would have to scale back my ambitions or try to peak on 1, or at most 2 races. They only do this to help me, not out of an interest in the sport, so I should never take it for granted.

What is the ultimate tip that you want to give to a starting pigeon fancier?

You can enjoy the sport at every moment of the year and at every level.

Coupling pigeons, watching the youngsters grow up, their first circles around the loft, their first practice flights, their first races, the first arrivals...

Holding pigeons, making them tame, 'fancying' pigeons with colleagues...

If you can not enjoy that you are better off watching football, rather than racing with pigeons.