Vandenabeele Gaby, "Undisputed the best Belgian long distance racer!"

Gaby Vandenabeele - Dentergem

No one in the whole of Belgium had such a fantastic season in oneday long distance racing as Gaby Vandenabeele. This 53 years old accountant / book-keeper is ruling on races from 300 up until 800 kilometres week in week out.
In de province of Western Flandres the fastest fifteen birds are published on Teletext and almost every week Gaby Vandenabeele was amongst these quotations. Sometimes even with three birds!!
Racing only a hand full of birds, this achievement is by far not easy, but for Gaby it became almost an insurance, because his strain of birds proved to be the absolute top from the early eighties on.
Introducing Gaby therefor is like forcing an open door; fanciers who do not know his name are very hard to find. His strain also brought great successes to other fanciers, and made them champions all over the globe

From 1988 on, he won 62 provincial races, on National level his results were a/o:
- 1988: 1st National Bourges against 13,154 birds;
- 1995: 1st National Limoges against 8,883 birds;
- 1995: 1st National Brive against 3,970 birds, and

- in 2002 he again won National Bourges. His ‘James Bond’ (NL01-3031007) left behind 13,166 yearlings.
From such a grandmaster something can always be learned. We asked Gaby some questions.


Gaby, can you tell us how you composed your strain?

‘I build a new house in 1976 and started to race my first birds than. The first birds to house my loft came from my dad Gentiel, in his glory years a very strong middle distance racer is the west of Flandres, one of the strongest centres of Belgium.

The birds of my father originated from famous lofts like Valere Desmet-Matthijs (Nokere, Belgium), Pol Bostijn (Moorslede, Belgium) and Lucien Verstraete (Deinze, Belgium). In my early years I participated on the races without owning any breeders for about five years. My fathers stock got the biggest share in forming by own strain.

In 1981 ‘Kleinen’ (B81-3238253) was born, I moved him to breeding loft right away. Circumstances and luck were on my side than, because what was the case? His sire, 'Zitterke' (B80-4055428), I borrowed from Jozef Delodder from Zulte, after he won a first prize from Orleans with very hot weather and the winds on his head. I had this cockbird at my disposal for a short while and unfortunately I had no good enough hen from my own stock available for this cockbird. I was lucky to get help from my friend Gilbert van Parijs (now loft manager for Norbert and Filip Norman, FE). He offered me to pair one of his best hens called ‘Ameyke’ (B77-3064419) to ‘Zitterke’.

‘Kleinen’ is the best breeder I ever had. He is amongst others sire to 'Picanol' (B82-3258240), best provincial acebird on middle distance 1983 and sire to 'Sissi', the number one breeding hen from Ad Schaerlaeckens. 'Fideel' (B83-3105147), a direct descendant to 'Kleinen' too, won 7 x 1st and 2nd Nat. Limoges. I was unlucky to loose this bird on Poiteirs. Another toppers is ‘Wittenbuik’ (B88-3206112), a direct son to ‘Kleinen’. He already listed three provincial victories and was beaten by a loftmate once. And he appeared to be a super breeder. Especially Koen Minderhoud has phenomenal birds from the 'Wittenbuik'-lines.

1981 brought me another miracle, because in that year my 'Bijter' won 1st provincial Orleans (a real classic over here) three weeks in a row. I used him as a breeder after that and he too developed as a true champion breeder. One of his daughters is dam to 'Wittenbuik'.'

In the early eighties you were a very successful middle distance racer. Why did you set your goals in racing long distance?
‘In 1985 I was expelled for the second time, for racing too good. That made me decide to race my birds on long distance. Limoges was the race and it became a tough race with a velocity of only 1,000 meters a minute. I won 2nd and 10th National from over 6,000 birds. The birds that listed those performances were ‘Fideel’ and ‘Picanol’, both direct sons to ‘Kleinen’. I had already purchased some birds for long distance racing, as I also wanted to win on that discipline in the future. Very much to my surprise, my own bird were much better than these ‘so-called’ long distance-birds. From that day on I started to race my own strain of birds on long distance races.’

Is my conclusion that your birds can race top on every distance therefor justified?
‘I dare to say it is. This year I won 5th National on Montauban with 1,200 meters a minute. For the total distance was 780 km. I entered two birds and they both won prize cards. I also won 2nd National Narbonne, from a distance of 900 km. A good short distance racer from around bought two sons to ‘De Wittenbuik’ and raced youngsters from them with big success on Quievrain . . . 60 kilometres!’

What do you find important in selecting your birds?
‘Birds that win a 1st prize on a race with 1,800 meters a minute velocity, do not make me enthusiastic. With such a velocity every bird can win a 1st prize. The good birds win top prizes with head-winds.
About ten years ago I had a bird, that won 3 x 1st on 300 km races with 1,800 meters a minute. But when the distances grew bigger and races were getting heavier, he always came in late . . . I removed him from my loft.

I must say, not all birds are capable of racing oneday long distance. The Antwerp Union is world-famous in pigeonsport. They probably own the best bird for races up until 400 km, but if you are looking for 500-600 km birds, I think this is not the place to be. Because after 400 km they are out of fuel. In Western Flandres we race long distance every week. They are trained on this . . and tested!
When I look for birds to strengthen my loft, I usually buy birds based on my own bloodlines. Last year the best young acebird long distance and best acebird middle distance in the Western Flandres were 50% Vandenabeeles. I bought them both. My biggest concurrence is racing my birds and I am pretty proud at that.
No, I really don’t go to big names from the past. They have had their glory times, but times change. It is not interesting to hear if a super crack still descends from the old Stichelbout or Cattrysse strain.'

Must a bird have certain outer characteristics according to you, or do you only base your judgement on results?
‘The results are most important to me, but I want a bird to have a good wing and soft plumes. When the wing is opened, the last four pinions should almost stand in one line. I prefer narrow, lightly rounded and supple feathers.’

Do you believe in the eye-theory?
‘Once I almost believed in it. Until a selector visited me and gave all my best birds the worst grades. I asked him to come back three days later and I gave him the same birds to judge again. This time the same birds got a much higher grade. I showed him the results of a few days earlier and asked him for an explanation. He answered me it had to do with the condition of the bird, the situation of the light and I thought to myself . . . ‘what a nonsense!’. I also showed him one of my best birds and this bird was awarded with a very high grade. His sire and dam however got a much lower grade. How can you depend on something like that??'

How are your birds brought towards the season?
‘I only race with cockbirds on widowhood. I used to put them on widowhood without nursing any youngsters, but now I let them bring up one round of youngsters before the season. I put the eggs of my breeders under my racers, so I can breed more from the breeders.
I have two lofts at my disposal for the widowhood cockbirds. I used to put one loft on widowhood without nursing any youngsters, while the other section brings up a round of youngsters. My experience was that the last group had much better results, therefor I quit the method of not nursing any youngsters.
When the youngsters are about twenty days old, they are weaned and the parents are separated. About the 20th of March I pair them up again and after a few days of breeding they are put on widowhood.'

‘Do you show the hens before the race??
‘I quit doing that since 1981. We had a race with very strong tailwinds at the time and I told some fanciers I was not going to show the hens for that race. Because everybody did show their hens, they found my decision a bit awkward. I won three prizes within the top 5. The week after the provincial classic race from Orleans was on the program, and again I showed no hens. In the club all the birds were calling for their hens, mine were sitting quietly. I won 1st provincial then against over 800 birds. The two races after I won 1st provincial too!! Showing the hen is good for short distance birds, with only one night in the basket. But my birds are normally two or three nights in the basked, they should not be nervous than. A small disadvantage of not showing your hens, is them coming in a bit slower. I must always use a tempting-pigeon.'

How many times a season do you race your birds?
‘About ten or eleven times, with about six long distance races amongst them. The rest is just training and getting into the rhythm.'

What is your daily schedule with the birds?
‘At 7.00 a.m. I liberate my widowers. They train for about half an hour with the windows open. They train very hard, but never fly out of sight. They only fly to the church (a couple of hundreds of meters away from Gaby’s loft) and back. When I close the windows, they are all in the loft within 5 seconds. I do not favour too long a training. This costs them too much energy, energy they can use in the weekends.'

Tell me something about your feeding system.
‘I always thought there were too many pees in the mixtures for racing pigeons. Therefor I have always fed my birds 50% purifying mixture en 50% breeding mixture. I had some ideas about a good mixture for racing pigeons and asked Staf Theeuwes, representative of the Beyers food-firm, if it was not possible for him to produce 500 kg of this mixture for me. This quantity appeared to be far too low, but he asked my if he could put my mixture on the trading-marked. I had no problems with that.'

Can you tell something about the composition of this mixture?
‘Of course, no problem. It is composed from 31% maize, 20% white soudan dari, 20% paddy rice, 2% kadjang itjoe, 1,9% white wheat, 1% barley, 1,6% pealed oats, 1,6% Australian milo, 0,3% turnip-seed, 0,3% linseed and 0,3% bucwait.
My widowers get this mixture from the moment of returning home until the new basketing. The only thing they are given extra once in a while, is a hand full of maize and pealed sunflower piths; the last two days before basketing. I feed them on the ground than, so they will eat a bit more.'

Do you often visit a veterinary surgeon?
‘Almost never. I do visit him just before the young bird season every year. Last year I ran into the v.s. in the club where I basketed. He had tested the droppings the day before and he told me some birds had three crosses of coccidiosis. That scared me, because I had just basketed all my birds. I asked him what to do. He told me it was the best to give them an Appertex-tablet directly after the race. On Sunday we raced provincial Chateauroux and against 7,347 birds I won 5th, 6th, 10th, 11th and 26th. Of the twenty birds I entered, 14 won prize cards. I did treat the birds afterwards and two weeks after I won 1st and 9th provincial Chateauroux 6,334 b. I entered 18 and 16 of them won prize cards, from whom 14 in the best 10% of the result. The same day I raced National Montauban. The birds I basketed both won prize cards, and I started with 5th National against 6,711 birds.'

What else do you do?
‘Once a month I disinfect my loft with Koudijs Dry-disinfector. Those are tablets that must be lighted and after that the gas formaldehyde is produced, which fills the whole space, and penetrates in every hole and chink. The birds can stay in the lofts that need to be disinfected throughout the whole process of disinfecting. The fume kills all the moulds, bacteria's and a great deal of viruses. As the birds come home from a race, they are given electrolytes in the drinking water. Other additional products they are given is 'Blitzforme' on Monday, and the vitamins E and B on Tuesday. Always 50% of the prescribed dose. This to supply them with the shortages of vitamins they have.'

And what about Sedochol, that is so popular in Belgium at the time?
'Sedochol is good for the fanciers who give many medicines . . . and to purify the liver . . .'

And what else?
‘If things are not going as I want them to, I sometimes give Colombine tea. I always ad one spoon of honey to make it a big more tasteful.
But most important is good food. I can put any kind of food or any quantity on my loft, and still the birds do not get fat. This summer I once put a little pot with Vitamineral on my loft and it is still there. They do eat some peck-stone, but that does not cost me that much. If I place such a red peck stone on my loft, my thirty breeding pairs have enough for a week.
An explanation I can not find, maybe it is the food or the water, that I still draw from a well. I want no water from the city.
A good bird is in the first place a healthy bird. You should not keep it healthy with pills.
In 1987 I bred a youngster from my 'Kleinen' x a purchased hen, this young cockbird raced great as yearling. In winter he became ill and I took him to a veterinary surgeon. His diagnosis was ornithosis and he wanted to inject him against it. I told him: 'Make no trouble, I will remove him from my loft.' The vet. did not agree and purchased the bird from me. He bred a lot of good birds from him, but even still I do not regret getting rid of it. A weak strain must be prevented at all times!'

‘Before the racing season all my birds are treated with a full cancer cure. Besides, once a month all my widowers are given a tablet against cancer. In the past I preventively cured against paratyphus, but if the birds are healthy, it is best not to treat them. Nowadays I'm having the droppings tested. If something is wrong, they are given medicines, otherwise never.
It is said the birds infect each other through the drinking water, but at my place this is not an option, because drinking water is given to each bird separately. By the way, I think ornithosis is 'wandering around' in a loft. Therefor I am convinced of the good influence of the Koudijs dry-disinfector; it kills everything.

Tell me something about your lofts . . .
‘All my lofts are situated with the front at south-east. At the front I have two widowers-lofts, on the back the breeders and youngsters are housed. The bottom and the side-walls are isolated. Behind the wooden plates there is a layer of 5 centimetres isomo. On the outer side I made plates of synthetic material in the colour white. This colour ensures the loft not getting too hot in summer. On the inner side I added a bit of blue colouring pigment to the white paint. This is less sharp for the eyes and I expect it to have a peaceful effect.
You can supply the birds with too much or too less fresh air. I noticed that too much fresh air in spring also cools things of too much. Therefor I closed the openings under the roof at the backside. I live pretty close to the sea and sometimes the winds are very hard here. The air-opening at the backside caused too big a supply of fresh air.
I know many champions are very sceptical about the supply of air on the bottom of the loft. Their concern is many times justified, it can cause too big a supply of fresh air. I barricaded the little grates under the windows from the inner side with a plate bigger than the opening. The plate is a few inches away from the opening. The air can get in therefor, without entering in too much a quantity.
I think the best lofts are never that big. In my opinion a loft should not be wider than two meters. The lofts of my widowers are only two meters wide and the climate is always good. My youngsters are housed in a loft 2,80 meters wide, and I am having the biggest problems with draught and such in there. The bigger the loft, the more circulation of air. The temperature is hard to get up then and the lofts cool down a bit too fast.
Further more, I would like to advise everybody who is building a new loft to investigate their premises for water-veins and earth-rays. I used to have a yougbird-loft on which my youngsters never listed magnificent performances. Every year I lost a lot of birds too. But from the moment they moved to the widowers loft, they raced like crazy! I invited a man with a divining-rood and he told me my loft was on a water-vein and a crossroad of different earth-rays. I broke down my loft and rebuild it two meters from that spot, as the man advised me to do. All the trouble was solved right away. Success sometimes lays in small things.'

In 2002 Gaby listed sublime performances week in week out. Hereby a small selection of them, and believe it or not, this is just a small selection!!:

Chateauroux : 386 old birds: 1, 4, 5, 6, 8 etc.
provincial against 4,498 birds: 5, 13, 14, 16, 22 with 12 prize cards of . . . 13 basketed birds
Angoulème : 296 old birds: 2, 3, 10, 13, 20, 25, 34.
provincial he started with position 8 and 10 against 3,346 birds. 7 prize cards from 14 basketings.
Chateuaroux : 583 yearlings: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 etc.
provincial against 7,347 birds: 5, 6, 10, 11, 26, 43, 128, 140, etc. with 14 prize cards of 20 basketed birds.
Limoges : 198 old birds: 1, 2, 3, 5, etc.
provincial: 2, 3, 14, 60 etc. 14 birds entered, 8 prize cards.
Chateauroux : 540 yearlings: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, etc.
provincial against 6,334 birds he started with 1, 9, 22, 27, 62, 79, 85, 93, 99, etc. 18 birds were basketed from which 16 birds won prizes.
Montauban : 71 old birds: 1 and 13.
National 6,711 birds: 5 and 613. 2 birds entered and 2 prize cards!
Ruffec : 104 old birds: 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 18, 19, 30
provincial against 1,600 birds he started with positions 2 and 8. Eight birds were basketed . . . and all of them won prize cards.
Limoges : 174 old birds: 1, 7, 9, 10, 16, etc. From 12 basketed birds 10 won prize cards.
Bourges : 363 yearlings: 1, 2, 10, 32, 38, 56, 88, 122.
National he started with 1st and 6th against 13,116 yearlings!! 9 prize cards out of 16 entered birds.

Gaby Vandenabeele is maintaining his position in the world-wide top of pigeon racing for about twenty years now! Birds that win big on 1,800 meters a minute races do not speak to his imagination. According to Gaby, any bird can win with those kinds of circumstances. Racing top with headwinds, . . .on distances from 100 until 800 km; those are the birds he wants!
Schaerlackens is a top fancier who is at the absolute top just as long as Vandenabeele. He says: 'A bird that wins a 1st prize with tailwinds and high velocity are privileged for me. They prove they are blessed with the most important quality a pigeon needs; a good sense of direction.
Pigeonsport is complex; what is wisdom??

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