Mertens René Arendonk
I already had a particular passion for pigeons when I was little and I was dreaming about participating in real pigeon races to hold my ground against the adults with the pigeons that were so very dear to me.
At the age of 8, I already was the proud owner of a couple of fancy pigeons and three years later, in 1956, I was driven by my boy’s dream and switched to homing pigeons. The main goal was to participate in pigeon races.
Initially, things did not go the way I hoped and wished in spite of lots of sacrifices, courage and a little pigeon knowledge in the end as well. During the first 15 weeks that I put my pigeons in their baskets every week with a great deal of attention, I acquired not one single prize and was very disillusioned.
One of our close neighbours in those days happened to be Jan Claessen. He was a fancier who obtained very good results back then, especially with pigeons he got from the Janssen Bros. in Arendonk.
During one of the many times I spoke to Jan Claessen, I proudly showed him 12 young pigeons I had raised with lots of care. My expectations ran high but his conclusion was a big disappointment to me. I remember what he said as if it were yesterday: “I have never seen such rubbish ever before.”. I was robbed of an illusion once more.
No doubt he felt sorry for me because he promised me a round of young pigeons for the next season. Jan kept his promise and barely one pigeon season later, beyond all hope, my dream came true. That year, I obtained the title of Champion with young pigeons at our club “De moedige duif in Arendonk”.
It goes without saying that I was extremely happy with that first recognition but there was one thing even more important: the pigeons of Jan Claessen. Thanks to these birds and their descendants, I had a solid foundation that guaranteed many of the successes I achieved later on, especially in speed racing but also in middle distance racing in 2003.
That year, I obtained the title of Champion of Middle Distance racing in combined play in Arendonk with a dozen of young pigeons and I ended up in a very worthy sixth position in the renowned combined play of Hafo Turnhout.
Up until today, the pigeon breed of Jan Claessen is still part of my pigeon colony which is not really large in the end.
The current successes I’ve had, happened thanks to two extraordinary breeding couples and especially to a main couple which consisted of a cock (6427800/96) of Staf Van Gorp and a hen (6330565/97) of Louis Meulemans, two pigeon fancier friends from Arendonk.
The start of many successful years took place in 1999 when this breeding couple produced a beautiful blue cock (ring number 6266536/99). After a couple of races, he was called “den Ezel” (“the Donkey”) because of his bad nature. Eventually, this pigeon is to this very day the progenitor of many good pigeons in the racing team as well as in the breeding loft.
As a young pigeon, he acquired no less than eight prizes in Quiévrain races. As a yearling, he achieved six first prizes in spite of the fact that he had a habit of waiting outside for 2 to 3 minutes once he had arrived. Eventually, he entered the loft very reluctantly.
He was declared ninth national ace pigeon yearlings in 2000 on the basis of those good performances. Through the years, he became the undisputed progenitor of a successful pigeon colony that consists of 8 breeding couples. Practically all of these couples are very closely related to the main couple which is mentioned above. Apart from these 8 breeding couples there is the racing team which consists of 16 widowers: six old pigeons and 10 yearlings.
About sixty young pigeons are being raised every year. As from early springtime, as soon as the pigeons are being weaned, they are subjected to an extremely severe selection based on health, athletic abilities and performances. Only the very best birds manage to obtain one of the spots in the racing team.
Every year, the entire pigeon population, breeders as well as racers, is coupled on December 10.
Directly after the breeding pigeons have raised a first round of young pigeons, they are raising a second round. The racing pigeons however are separated after the first breeding round when they have youngsters of 17 days old. As soon as the youngsters are 17 days old, I remove the hen together with one youngster. The widow cock remains in the nest box with the other youngster until it has reached the age of 25 days.
The widowers are not recoupled before the start of the racing season. During the last four years, experience has showed that the racing performances of the widowers are considerably better when the birds have not been recoupled. When the widowers are recoupled before the season starts, the development of their shape seems to be slowed down which occasionally results in less good racing.
Three short training races of about 12 kilometres are sufficient to make a successful start of the season with old pigeons and yearlings.
Due to family worries, I only participated in the Quiévrain race (135 km) last season which is in contrast with other years, when the entire racing team heads for Noyon (243 km). The widow hens are living each individually in small dark boxes during the week. Right before the widow cocks are put into the baskets, the hens can spend some time with them in the racing loft. They are flying on their own from their boxes to the widowers’ loft where they meet their partner in the nest boxes. The nest dishes are placed in the widowers’ nest boxes five minutes before the hens come to the racing loft.
Then, the hens stay approximately 2 to 3 minutes with the cock until he is lying in the nest dish. Sometimes, I allow a proud hen a couple of minutes of free time in the racing loft when there is not much time. During those minutes, the widowers are locked up in half a nest box. Eventually, I start basketing them.
Sometimes, a hen is put in an open cage in the loft for about five minutes. The widowers are then sitting in their nest boxes in the racing loft. This method is sometimes (rather exceptionally) applied to boost the widowers’ motivation during the season.
Before the last race of the season is flown, the hens can already spend time with the widowers on Friday night. I also provide them with nest material (tobacco sticks) which I scatter over the loft floor. This seems to be very stimulating for the cocks. The widower that has built the biggest nest before being put into the basket, mostly finishes in the top of the results on Sunday.
When the birds return from a race, both sexes spend mostly about one hour together in the racing loft throughout the entire season.
As far as feed is concerned, there is no difference between the widowers that race Quiévrain and those that fly the Noyon race.
On the day of the race, they receive one level tablespoon of diet mixture and one peanut after their arrival. In the evening, they get a level tablespoon of sport mixture and one peanut. They receive the same feed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
As from Wednesday morning, they get one level tablespoon of sport mixture, one teaspoon of candy seed and two peanuts in the morning and in the evening except on Thursdays and Fridays when they receive a large spoonful of sport mixture.
On Saturday mornings, they each get only one teaspoon of candy seed and two peanuts.
The young pigeons basically receive the same quantities but in a collective food box whereas the widowers are fed individually in their nest boxes. Furthermore, some tea is added to the drinking water on Sundays after the race during the racing season. On Fridays, a vitamin preparation is added to the drinking water.
I mix garlic oil and brewer’s yeast into the feed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
All the pigeons receive garlic oil and brewer’s yeast in their feed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays outside the sport season. I also add Naturaline and cider vinegar to the drinking water.
The widowers train twice a day: in the morning from 7:30 AM until 8:30 AM and in the late afternoon: from 5:00 PM until 6:00 PM. The windows are closed each time.
As soon as the young cocks are on widowhood (mid June), they simply train together with the old and yearling widowers every day. Interesting fact is that the widow hens, who spend the entire week locked up individually in small and dark boxes, are aired every Saturday for two to three hours and they always fly for a very long time.
The widow hens receive very light feed. Their ration consists of a level tablespoon of pigeon mixture (made of three quarters of barley and one quarter of diet mixture) in the morning and one level tablespoon of sport mixture in the evening. They receive a little more at the end of the week.
There is not much to say about medical support.
I only consult a vet once a year for the obligatory vaccination against paramyxo.
It has been five years since I had my pigeons treated against tricho.
I am very clear about this: treating the pigeons just to treat them is altogether wrong. It is clearly noticeable when pigeons are stricken with tricho: their behaviour and especially their racing performances indicate the infection. At this moment, there is still enough time to take appropriate action.
About racing performances and how the young pigeons became National Champion
As soon as the young pigeons are independent, the floor of the loft is covered with absorbent granules and the youngsters are weaned. The granules stay on the loft floor until the young pigeons can easily fly to the boxes and V-spots.
The young pigeons’ department consists of two double lofts. The dividing door remains open for as long as both of the sexes are staying in the loft until they are being separated.
The young pigeons are kept in a small aviary which is installed temporarily in front of the sputnik during the first ten days they are taken out. This is to give the young birds the opportunity to get to know the vicinity without running the risk of being caught by birds of prey or being startled by crows and jackdaws. Ten days later, the aviary is removed and the young pigeons fly almost instantly to the ridge of the roof.
This method clearly serves a useful purpose indeed: losses are mostly reduced to a minimum.
Exceptions however prove the rule and losing a number of young pigeons prematurely owing to exceptional circumstances is always possible. I lost no less than 38 of my 44 early young pigeons in a blizzard in 2001.
The young pigeons are aired every day and they are trained mostly one week before the first race. There is a condition however: the pigeons have to stay away for one hour or one hour and a half on a regular basis during their daily training races.
As soon as training has begun, the pigeons are taken away by car every day from Monday till Friday during one week. At first, they have to fly 4 to 5 kilometres. Later on that week, they are taken away to fly distances of 12 kilometres at most.
When this week of intensive individual training races is over, the birds fly their first training race (Halle: 87 kilometres) with the club. One week later, they are being trained from Quiévrain.
I never train young pigeons when there’s a clear blue sky or a northeasterly wind. I know that it is best to postpone training by one or two weeks in such circumstances.
The sexes are separated when the second Quiévrain race has been flown (around mid June). As from that moment, I apply the sliding door method. The young pigeons are darkened every day from 6:00 PM until 8:00 AM as from mid March until the end of May.
The young pigeons, that have been living in separate lofts for an entire week, can be together in the loft for about one hour right before the birds are put into their baskets. The nest dishes are placed in nest boxes that have been screened off and to boost the young pigeons’ motivation, I put some cardboard boxes on the floor of the loft, thus creating extra nesting opportunities.
When the young pigeons return from a weekly race with a normal course, they stay together in the loft until Sunday evening. If they had a tough race or if they were released in the afternoon, the young birds stay together during the night as well. They are separated after the early training on Monday, the day after the race.
There are considerably more hens among the young pigeons than there are cocks when the sliding door method is applied. In this case one sometimes feels tempted to put several old cocks in the loft but this is not a good way to motivate the pigeons since the old cocks often tend to drive the young cocks away from the nest boxes. Instead of motivating the pigeons, this creates agitation and trouble.
However, when the young cocks are in the majority and when there are less young hens in proportion to the number of young cocks, putting some old hens in the loft can be an interesting solution to boost the motivation of the young cocks.
This classic sliding door method can be applied without causing substantial problems for a pretty long period of time during the young pigeons’ season until approximately the second weekend of September.
Personally, I mostly race the young cocks until the start of August at the latest. Most of the time, I stop racing them when they’ve flown 7 to 8 races (Quiévrain or Noyon). It’s just a matter of giving the yearlings the opportunity to start the next season in the best possible circumstances.
The young pigeons are judged and selected extremely severely, mostly on their racing performances. One of the selection criteria that has to be met is the number of prizes a pigeon obtains. Another, even more important, criterion is the number of prizes a pigeon obtains per ten.
The basic standard is six prizes per ten when ten races were flown. If more than ten young cocks meet this standard at the end of the season, I check which pigeons have obtained most of the head prizes. Only those birds bear the test.
Apart from the strict selection based on race results, I also strongly consider health and recover capacity of the young pigeons after a race. Young birds that regularly suffer from wet eyes and black nose warts are eliminated pretty quickly.
Already when the young birds are being weaned I make sure that only the vital ones -not the weaklings- are put in the lofts. This combination of attentiveness and strict selection guarantees a healthy stock of young pigeons which is without any doubt one of the important cornerstones for success.
If health problems, such as the feared adeno virus, should arise among the stock of young pigeons in spite of these strict precautions, a vet is consulted who will administer the right medication dosage. The only good solution is to select the strongest pigeons and eliminate the weaklings.
The title of National Champion of Belgium -Speed young pigeons was obtained with four young pigeons. These are their race results:
Vluchtresultaten van de vier jonge duiven waarmee het Kampioenschap van
België -Snelheid jonge duiven werd behaald.
Ring number 6058236 / 06
This young pigeon has obtained twelve prizes out of twelve during the past season (Quiévrain) of which ten prizes per ten.
This cock descends from a first sister of “den Ezel” (ring 6278713 / 98) who, as a young pigeon, obtained the first prize four weekends in a row.
21 May 2006 – Quiévrain – 28 / 440 pigeons
4 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 87 / 1067 pigeons
11 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 33 / 1478 pigeons
18 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 25 / 1514 pigeons
25 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 62 / 1279 pigeons
2 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 30 / 1160 pigeons
9 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 4 / 1151 pigeons
16 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 3 / 1247 pigeons
23 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 7 / 1013 pigeons
30 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 212 / 901 pigeons
6 August 2006 – Quiévrain – 158 / 828 pigeons
20 August 2006 – Quiévrain – 62 / 736 pigeons
Ring number 6058223 / 06
During the past season, this young pigeon has achieved nine prizes out of ten races (Quiévrain) of which seven prizes per ten.
28 May 2006 – Quiévrain – 71 / 775 pigeons
4 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 37 / 1067 pigeons
18 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 1 / 1514 pigeons
25 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 29 / 1279 pigeons
2 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 27 / 1160 pigeons
9 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 14 / 1151 pigeons
16 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 23 / 1247 pigeons
23 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 261 / 1013 pigeons
30 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 234 / 901 pigeons
Ring number 6058150 / 06
During the past season, this young pigeon has obtained ten prizes out of eleven races of which seven prizes per ten.
5 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 161 / 660 pigeons
11 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 182 / 1478 pigeons
25 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 246 / 1279 pigeons
2 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 29 / 1160 pigeons
9 July 2006 – Noyon – 1 / 1262 pigeons
16 July 2006 – Noyon – 88 / 1401 pigeons
23 July 2006 – Noyon – 25 / 1134 pigeons
30 July 2006 – Noyon – 24 / 1188 pigeons
6 August 2006 – Noyon – 39 / 1322 pigeons
13 August 2006 – Noyon – 4 / 705 pigeons
Ring number 6058242 / 06
This young pigeon has achieved nine prizes out of ten races during the past season, of which six prizes per ten.
5 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 82 / 660 pigeons
18 June 2006 – Quiévrain – 27 / 1514 pigeons
2 July 2006 – Quiévrain – 9 / 1160 pigeons
9 July 2006 – Noyon – 52 / 1262 pigeons
16 July 2006 – Noyon – 414 / 1401 pigeons
23 July 2006 – Noyon – 22 / 1134 pigeons
30 July 2006 – Noyon – 370 / 1188 pigeons
6 August 2006 – Noyon – 22 / 1322 pigeons
13 August 2006 – Noyon – 11 / 705 pigeons
Beside obtaining the title of Champion of Belgium – speed young pigeons, my birds achieved the following results during the past season:
Young pigeons = a total of 213 young pigeons participated in races during the season of 2006, 183 prizes were obtained or 85,91 %.
Old pigeons and yearlings = a total of 222 pigeons participated in races during the season of 2006, 181 prizes were obtained or 81,53 %.
Some results I obtained during the past season of 2006
Combined Play Retie – Schoonbroek – Arendonk
Quiévrain – Sunday 2 July 2006.
Old pigeons: 11 pigeons participated and achieved the 2nd – 4th – 10th – 19th – 22nd – 26th – 35th – 51st – 100th and 101st prize. There were 310 old pigeons participating in total.
Young pigeons: 20 pigeons were entered for the race
5th – 9th – 25th – 27th – 29th – 30th – 62nd – 65th – 66th – 84th – 92nd – 95th – 99th – 174th – 202nd and the 229th prize. In total, 1160 young pigeons participated in this race.
Combined Play Retie – Schoonbroek – Arendonk
Great Prize Rik Van Leuven
Quiévrain – Sunday 16 July 2006
Old pigeons: 11 pigeons participated and obtained the 6th – 11th – 22nd – 30th – 32nd – 33rd – 35th – 54th and the 59th prize. 283 old pigeons participated in this race.
Young pigeons: 18 pigeons were entered for the race
3rd – 18th – 23rd – 30th – 33rd – 71st – 74th – 77th – 126th – 178th – 191st – 202nd – 263rd – 306th – 325th and the 402nd prize. A total of 1247 young pigeons participated in this race.
Specific external characteristics
For about ten years in a row I have been obtaining relatively good results with a pigeon breed that does not have any real specific external features. I always try to raise birds that are not too big in size, pear-shaped pigeons with a “closed build”. In short, I prefer pigeons that are not too big with an athletic build and an aerodynamic pear-shape. The head, body and wings have to be perfectly proportioned.