The Elimar Interview...
JIM EMERTON TALKS TO
(M & D. EVANS OF MYRTLE LOFTS)
Mark holding 17 year old Champion “Shadow”, responsible for over eight generations of winners including 24 x 1st Open winners in Classics & Nationals.
What inspired you to concentrate on the Vandenebeele birds?
It was back in the late seventies, early eighties that I noticed the name of Gaby Vandenabeele when studying results in a Belgian magazine. At that period of time we had all the pigeon magazines from Belgium, Holland and Germany posted to the UK to ensure that ourselves at Myrtle Lofts were up to date regarding the best fanciers and the best bloodlines that were winning at that moment in time. We no longer purchase these magazines now because it’s so much quicker to receive the same information using the World Wide Web. At that period of time we purchased all the magazines as an advantage over our fellow competitors but now we are all playing on a level playing field providing you own or have access to a computer.
Throughout the eighties Gaby Vandenabeele was in the race results for winning an average of around twenty to twenty-five firsts a year at club level with good team performances in provincial races. It was at this time I spoke to my father, explaining that this unknown fancier to many was gradually getting better and better and it was only a matter of time before he hit the big time at National level. The following year 1987 Gaby Vandenabeele won 1st Belgium National Limoges 13,631 yearlings and only one year later Gaby won 1st Belgium National Bourges 13,154 old birds beating a total liberation of 63,176 birds. What really stood out after watching Gaby’s performances was that his pigeons flew extremely well as a team and accelerated into a league of their own in hard head wind races. These were the bloodlines I had been looking for, for several years.
It was such a pleasure to watch a so called young fancier getting better and better year after year. If this was in today’s time and because of the internet his e-mail and phone would have never stopped with enquires for youngsters and offers for his top racers. Luckily for me and my father the name of Gaby Vandenabeele was still very much unknown to a very high percentage of the UK fanciers. After over ten years studying Gaby Vandenabeele and watching him climb to the top and claim his two 1st x National victories I was itching to go and look at what he had to offer. I spoke to my father regarding my plans and made enquiries for us both to visit Gaby. After a couple faxes back and forth, our arrangements were made.
It was a very cold foggy February morning then we arrived at Gaby’s home in Dentergem, Belgium. This wasn’t a good start to the day and I remember thinking when we walked down the garden to Gaby’s loft the birds would look much better with a little sunshine on their backs but, believe me, Gaby’s breeders didn’t need any sun to make them look good. Gaby’s race results were good and the birds were even better. My father and I were both so impressed with what we were shown, we increased our pre-planned young bird order by almost five times what we intended to spend. One thing that really impressed us was that there were a large amount of other fanciers in Europe already winning with Gaby’s bloodlines. Different fanciers winning in different areas and racing different systems. To us this showed the real quality of the Vandenabeele bloodlines and the trust in Gaby for selling the right winning lines to other lofts.
Are many of the birds now your family due to intense, related breeding?
I do believe due to the fact that some of the top winning Myrtle Lofts pigeons are five and six generations away from the old Gaby Vandenabeele originals that many fanciers do consider that our bloodlines have become our own M & D. Evans family.
I do think the main reason for our success year after year is down to inbreeding and line breeding with the winning genes we already own plus the fact we invest in new pigeons every year. We never stand still and whenever a good pigeon comes up for sale (Vandenabeele or not) we have no hesitation in trying our hardest to obtain him or her for our own breeding lofts. Remember you can never have enough top pigeons, ever, but we will only introduce pigeons with the same ability to win right through to National level and in hard day races in head winds. At Myrtle Lofts we have been known to cull breeders that only produce winners in high velocities. Many of our top breeders at present are pigeons we have sold as young birds from the nest but because of their success as breeders or racers in hard day competitions for other fanciers we have purchased them back regardless of the cost. The key to Myrtle Lofts' breeding of so many Classic and National winners is down to crossing hard day pigeons to hard day pigeons and again this is a reason why fanciers now say they are our own M & D. Evans family.
What personality traits are the basis for your huge success as racers/breeders of champons?
All stock must have a pedigree full of winning bloodlines at National level. Both my father and I like a medium-to-small pigeon for racing. I am not too fussy if I purchase a medium-to-large pigeon for breeding because it’s easy to down size the next generation by selection of the right mate. Neither my father nor I believe in eye-sign but I do like to see a pigeon with a real dark red eye that shines like a diamond. I don’t like pearl eyed pigeons and I am reluctant to have too many in my breeding loft because this will reproduce down the lines, resulting in a weak genetic link at a later date. I also like to see a good strong dark bar on a blue bar pigeon and more so if the third bar is showing on the wing. Over the years in our own lofts I’ve noticed the weak barred pigeons don’t breed generation after generation. Long kept records have proven the fact that we at Myrtle Lofts have had very little success with such pigeons. By nature mutations occur around every third generation. This can then be used to our advantage using any positive mutation to provide beneficial genetic enhancement. Whereas any signs of negative diluted genes should, I believe, be eliminated. (This would happen in the course of natural selection, ie the way NATURE intended.)
This young bird has “Jester” & “Carrie” in her pedigree at least 3 times and although she is inbred, the third bar markings show a lot of vigour and vitality and no signs of genetic weakness. This young hen will make an ideal cross for any top bloodlines outside “Jester” & “Carrie".
Can you state please the key aspects of your brilliant racing systems?
The key aspects of any successful racing loft are firstly you must own top class breeders. In our own loft my father and I wanted to breed the best racing pigeons in the world, and everything about our programme has been geared toward breeding better pigeons. This meant that in the early years we spent a great deal of money and effort acquiring some of the finest genes available in the sport for the purpose of establishing a world class gene pool from which we could work. Once this was accomplished, our efforts shifted to evolving that gene pool. As we move forward in this regard, the famous birds that are the foundations of our lines become more distant in the pedigrees. However, the value of the birds we produce should increase with each succeeding generation if we are to be considered successful in our breeding programme.
Too many fanciers will run toward easier competition rather than face the fact that their pigeons are not good enough or the fact they simply aren’t willing to put in the level of commitment and work to acquire the best results with the pigeons they own (possibly both). Many fanciers will propose boundary changers again just to try and eliminate better competition. These fanciers are only kidding themselves that they have good management and good pigeons. Take the M.N.F.C. This was a fantastic club back in the nineties and early two thousands. The club then only had four sections but because of poor losers wanting easier completion, we’ve seen the sections split on several occasions and in my opinion this has ruined a fantastic club by allowing this to happen. Even my own North East section has been split three times resulting in a poor amount of birds going into each section. Winning a 1st Section out of only a couple of hundred birds (knowing you are minutes behind other fanciers only yards away in a different section) is in my eyes NOT much of a worthwhile or satisfactory achievement. To have a brilliant racing system you must be dedicated to wanting to be the best and want to compete against only the very best. In our partnership loft in America we’ve spent thousands of pounds moving to a different area just to race against stronger competition. To be crowned the best then surely you must race amongst the best. This in my eyes is a far more outstanding achievement and well worth the commitment.
Other key aspects are feeding only the very best corn; this means second best isn’t good enough. Any corns purchased by us at Myrtle Lofts for breeding or racing must be well polished and very clean and dust free. The loft must be dry with good ventilation which can be controlled to suit the different weather conditions we have here in the U.K. You must never over crowd your loft because this will result in stress. Stress then being inevitably followed by health problems. Having health problems in your pigeons results in having to use medication and medication causes low immunity within the birds as a whole. This then creates a roller coaster effect which takes some controlling. I have witnessed this effect in lofts where fanciers are fighting a losing battle due to the over use of medication and its long term usage causing suppressed immunity. It’s so easy to avoid by not overcrowding in the first place. Quality pigeons will reign supreme over quantity.
Another key aspect is patience. This must be applied in a hundred and one different ways. First, never rush in to purchasing new stock without a lot of homework studying the performances and honesty of the fancier concerned. Never believe everything fanciers tell you until you see the facts in black and white. If they say their bloodlines have won this and that, ask to see the result sheets. If they say they’ve bred winners for other fanciers, ask to see the facts. You are in your rights to see any information regarding anything they are claiming.
Have patience in preparing your race birds. Don’t do anything silly regarding training in poor conditions just so you can meet the deadline for the first race of the season. You want your race team to enjoy what they are doing and to be attentive in their work. Try to avoid training in cold north-east winds at the beginning of the season and if you must train in these conditions, drop the pigeons at a shorter distance of about 10 miles so not to sicken the team before you’ve really got started. It takes a few weeks to get your racers in top form and only one silly mistake to knock them off form over night. Watch your birds carefully, study every individual pigeon in your loft to find out their likes and dislikes, which will allow you to get the best from every one of them in turn. I must say pigeon racing isn’t rocket science, it is just a matter of using common sense. If a pigeon shows to you what turns them on, what they like in life to make him/her happy, use that to your advantage to get the best from him/her on race days.
Dick Evans has not only been a great father to me but a fantastic teacher regarding my 40 plus years interest in the pigeon sport. Even at the grand old age of 81 he still enjoys travelling Europe with me looking at new stock for our future breeding programme at Myrtle Lofts. He is such a knowledgeable stockman that I could never repay him for all the advice he has given me over the years. – Mark Evans.
Noted for sprint/middle distances up to 500 miles, do you support my insight that some birds of your origin, if managed well, will race at marathon level?
Both my father and I do believe you must obtain pigeons built specifically for the kind of racing you like. It’s no good obtaining sprint pigeons if you want to win at Classic & National level. There are many different types of bloodlines around. I personally would recommend obtaining very good middle distance pigeons because with the right management these same bloodlines will win at sprint and also excel at long distances. This will not be achieved by obtaining just out and out sprint or out and out long distance birds. A sprint bird will hardly ever win a 600 mile race and a long distance bird will hardly ever win a 70 mile sprint race. It is absolutely no different to human athletes being selected for their specific talent at long distance or sprint racing. Neither would be entered into the opposite category, but chosen for their genetic build to excel in their particular field.
Do you place performance above mere physical selection criteria?
Yes performance above mere physical selection criteria every time. Champion pigeons come in all shapes and sizes, so the basket and result sheets are the real judges in who owns the champion racers and the golden breeding pairs. There is no better selector of pigeons than the basket, and every good fancier should tell you this. The most valuable birds in your loft are the good breeders. Once a bird shows promise as a breeder you should not risk it in any race. The bird may continue to win, but you may lose it and it is more valuable as a breeder of future racers. You sometimes hear fanciers saying "everything in my loft must race". The smart fanciers don't race their good breeders.
Don’t be fooled, good looking pigeons with long pedigrees don’t always mean a lot. In the old days the Beauty Queens and Miss Worlds were selected and elected purely on their external (admittedly not unattractive) merits, and the results were unfortunately that these lovely long-legged creatures were often as thick as two short planks (sadly lacking in the intellectual department). Racing pigeons are no different.
Any new stock which is introduced to Myrtle Lofts will only be purchased from a proven racing loft with winning success not only for themselves but which also has, like my father and I, a successful record for producing winners for other fanciers. All new pigeons purchased must carry a full pedigree with top winners or top breeders no more than two generations away. Many fanciers do say the pedigree is of no importance; they could not be any further from the truth. Honest pedigrees can provide you with the most valuable information regarding the genetic history of its family and therefore great insight into its possible potential. The pedigree teaches you how to keep a successful winning line going over a period of several generations by using a combination of broad based line-breeding, but please remember inbreeding and line-breeding should only be practiced with world-class pigeons. Then at the right time careful out-crossing is always an integral part (in the long range view) of any successful inbreeding loft. Never start inbreeding with anything but the very best stock. Do not expect to take mediocre birds and improve their quality by using this system. Inbreeding quickly shows up all the good qualities by allowing the best association of genes, but it also shows up the faults.
At this point I must again stress that you must not get carried away with outstanding good looking pigeons. There are far too many fanciers out there thinking because it is good looking and handles superbly it is guaranteed to produce the goods. On many occasions it is the total opposite. A prime example of this is the top Gaby Vandenabeele hen “Sissi”. To sum it up in one word, she was a breeding miracle. The thing about her is she would not have been most good fanciers' choice of pigeon and until she passed away she was the prize possession of Ad Schaerlaeckens.
I would like to conclude with a few wise words from Ad Schaerlaeckens. He quotes: “To get a good bird you need luck. What do we know about pigeons? The Belgian guy would never have given me Sissi if he knew he had such a good bird. The great champions who wanted my pigeons but not those of Sissi before 1995 were all wrong in judging the quality of birds. They wanted her children when it was too late and I no longer had them for sale. You are never sure about the quality of a bird but that’s the nice thing about the pigeon sport. If we could simply look and see that a pigeon was good, the super birds would soon be in the hands of people with money”.
Sissi is well known all around the world for two things. Firstly she was without doubt one of the worst handling and ugliest looking pigeons ever to have existed. The second thing this hen is well known for is its outstanding record for breeding top class pigeons and I do believe without doubt she was the best breeding hen of all Holland. This proves there are no fixed connections between outward beauty and internal qualities, neither by man nor by pigeon. We would no more enter Miss World to win the London marathon, than we would Zola Bud (the amazing little runner who took the world by storm) to win the Miss World competition.
There is a tale to tell which I would like you all to think about when pairing up your stock next winter. The story goes: the famous Irish author, George Bernard Shaw (you have probably seen the musical My Fair Lady which is based on his Pygmalion), once got a tempting offer from an actress who owed her fame more to her sultry sex appeal than to her acting talents. She wrote that she passionately wanted to have his child because it would have her wonderful figure and his intellect! Obliging as they are, most men would have considered this an invitation they could not refuse and taken her up on her friendly offer. But the Irish writer, famous for his sarcasm and cutting wit, wrote back to say that he was sorry he could not respond to her proposal since it could also turn out their offspring would have his build and her intellect!
How do we create optimal race condition? Do you advise any supplements?
The secret to success cannot be found in a bottle. I do believe there are too many fanciers out there that are adding supplements and tonics in the water day after day and not giving their pigeons enough clean clear water to keep the body flushed out and functioning correctly. We have used supplements and tonics on our pigeons but with a limited usage.
To get the best from your pigeons, have a dry well ventilated loft with no drafts blowing in. Exercise twice a day with good quality corn, fed both morning and night. Don’t break down, but feed as much as they can eat. The more corn they eat the more capable they are for exercise, and the more they fly the more the muscle will develop. The more developed the muscle becomes the faster they will race.
Who would you go to if an outbreed was desired?
At Myrtle Lofts we are always on the lookout for better pigeons than we already own. We never sit back and we are constantly studying other families of pigeons to see if we can improve our own breeding lofts. Our present day M & D. Evans family are mainly made up from the Gaby Vandenabeele bloodlines (about 80%) with crosses from Karel Herman, Flor Vervoort, Robert Willequet, Louis Deleus, Noel & David Lippens, Leo Broeckx, Koen Minderhoud plus others.
This year we have introduced several new breeders from the very best of Jos & Jules Engels (9 x 1st Belgium National winners) and we have also spent a small fortune on the De Rauw-Sablon bloodlines which are taking Europe by storm at the moment making unbelievable prices and attracting interest from all over the world. I must say none of the new stock will be crossed into our own M & D. Evans family until the basket proves that they are in the same league for producing winners at Classic & National level.
Inside one of the breeding sections at Myrtle Lofts.
How can we improve the hobby/sport for all, which is crucial?
This is a hard question to answer because I don’t think the UK are in a position to turn around the decline in the pigeon sport. It’s very sad for me to say this because my whole life has been dedicated to pigeon racing. It’s sad to see the decline when you see other countries like China and Taiwan moving forwards at a vast rate. I don’t believe our governing bodies have any interest in slowing or stopping this decline. It’s not hard to see why new fanciers aren’t joining the sport when there aren’t any rewards at the end of it. It needs a lot of sponsorship to encourage new fanciers to invest their well earned money into having an interest in pigeon racing. We have all seen the outstanding prices the Chinese are paying for pigeons at the moment but it’s not hard to see why when you look at the money they can win week in and week out. I think the U.K. governing bodies need to have a good look at China and learn from what they are doing. I myself am all for raising money for different charities but I do think it’s about time we stopped giving all the money made at Blackpool show to charity and put it back into our own beloved sport.
What system did you race your old birds?
Before retiring from racing at Myrtle Lofts, my father and I raced 32 cocks on full widowhood and between 6 to 10 hens raced on the natural system paired together as lesbians.
The 32 widowhood cocks were paired up around December and they would be expected to breed at least one round of youngsters so that the cocks were very strongly bonded to their nest boxes and their partners. These cocks would remain paired together until four weeks before the first race when the hens, eggs or any second round youngsters would all be removed from the loft together. In this four week period before the first race the cocks would be trained on every opportunity from a starter training flight around 12 miles right up to about 50 miles and on the weekend of every week prior to the first race the widowhood cocks would have a dummy race returning back to their hens. This means by the time these cocks had their first proper race of the season it was like their fourth race to them which reassured that all the yearlings understood the widowhood system. Please don’t forget what we said in an earlier answer about being careful regarding training in north-east winds.
Once the cocks were on full widowhood they would be exercised twice a day except on race days. Also once the racing had begun the widowhood cocks would be trained Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at distances between 35 miles and 50 miles depending on the wind so they would achieve about 45 minutes on the wing. On the Tuesday and Wednesday training flights the birds would return to an empty loft but on the Thursday training flight the cocks would return to their hens which proved to be a better advantage than the older system of showing the hens on a Friday night before basketing for the races. By showing the hens on the Thursday training flight rather than the Friday night, would guarantee that the cocks would travel to the race less worked up and stressed prior to the next day’s race. These widowhood cocks would race every race right through the season and would not be re-paired.
The cocks were fed the best quality corns possible and as much as they could eat. Feed hard, work hard was Myrtle Lofts' policy. By feeding top quality corns every day of the week ensured that the cocks had a full tank of fuel at all times. The widowhood cocks were fed on Super Diet & Sneaky Mix 50% x 50% seed mix in the morning and then Super Widowhood 75% & Junior UK 25% at night, all hopper fed. Also 2 to 3 weeks before their first race we would add Blitzform in the water Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday just for the night feed (fresh clean water in the mornings).
The 6 to 10 old hens were selected because of their outstanding results as young birds. For several years both my father and I used to say (because of only racing widowhood) how sad it was to stop young performance hens and not carry on racing them on as yearlings. These selected hens were put in with the young bird team and flown on the darkness for the second year running. These hens would pair together as lesbians and we would prepare them for the Classic races mid-way through the season. Due to the fact that I owned my own transport company these hens would be doubled and singled up at all distances right through to the south coast at 200 miles. These hens may only have had two club races before the Classic but regarding training they would know the countryside from one end to the other. We won with these hens 1st & 2nd Open Northern Classic Fourges 368 miles with a five bird entry; 1st, 2nd, 19th, 20th & 27th Open Northern Classic Picauville with an nine bird entry, also winning 3rd, 5th, 8th, 16th & 108th Open N.M.F.C. Picauville 300 miles with a five bird entry.
The hens were prepared so they were always feeding an eight to ten day old youngster for these races. This wasn’t hard to achieve as we could get the hens sitting and because they were infertile we gave the two hens a youngster from the breeding loft. Once the youngster reached ten days old we would swap the youngster for one two days younger so the young bird would never get bigger than ten days old. This ensured the two hens were only feeding one young bird between them and it would never become hard work due to the age.
How many young birds did you keep each season and can you give details of how you trained, raced and fed them. What system did you race your young birds?
Before retiring from racing in the UK we used to race approx. 50 to 55 young birds per season. Except for the last season we raced, when our young bird team was 73 strong due to trying out several new bloodlines. The young birds here in the UK were raced on the darkness system. (This year 2012 we will be racing about 68 young birds on the lightness system at our racing lofts in Florida U.S.A.) The darkness youngsters here in the UK were darkened at 5 o’clock at night and then taken off the dark at 9 o’clock the next morning. All young birds went straight on the darkness at 28 days old straight from the nest. Our young bird team would be added to the loft from early February right through to the middle of April. The darkness system was completely removed on the longest day of the year, 21st June. An important fact regarding the darkness system is, if you remove the darkness before this date your young birds will drop into a second moult before the final races of the season, which to be honest is the major requirement for the system in the first place. Also if you leave your youngsters on the darkness system after the 21st June you will struggle to get your young birds through the wing for yearling racing the following year. The main secret to being successful with the darkness system is that when you close the loft down at night is to ensure the air ventilation to the loft is adequate for the required amount of youngsters housed.
Regarding training, the youngsters would be started approx 10 weeks before the first race at about 3 miles from home and then each day the training would be increased to 5 miles, 7 miles, 9 miles and then 12 miles. The youngsters would not be taken any further than 12 miles until they were racing straight home doing a mile a minute on a regular basis. Only after we were happy with the 12 miles return would the training be increased again each day until we reached the distance of 50 miles. The youngsters would never be trained off line regardless of how far we would drive from the major road ways. Once the racing began the youngsters would be trained Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at about 35 to 50 miles depending on the wind.
Regarding feeding, the youngsters were fed on (all Versele-Laga corns) Best All Round mixed with a small amount of Super Diet & Sneaky Mix until we got them eating well on their own. Then once the young birds were flying around the loft they were fed on Super Diet & Sneaky Mix 50% x 50% in the morning (small amount to keep them under your control) and at night Super Widowhood 75% & Junior UK 25% giving them as much as they could eat. Also starting 2 to 3 weeks before their first race the young birds were given Blitzform in the water Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday for just the night feed (fresh clean water in the mornings) and this continued throughout the young bird season.
All young birds were raced paired up and all young birds were expected to fly across the channel (300 miles) in the young bird National or Classic races.
Myrtle Lofts – Home of M & D. Evans’ champion breeders.
What has been your most thrilling experience in the sport?
Our most thrilling experience in the sport is having the telephone, texts, and e-mails going week after week with winning reports from different fanciers from all over the world achieving top performances by racing our bloodlines.
My father and I decided to introduce the Gaby Vandenabeele bloodlines back in the early nineties with the intention of putting together a family of pigeons for middle-distance Classic & National racing. Our main ambition was to try and put a 1st Open National winner to our own list of achievements. Back then in the nineties when purchasing these birds little did we realise what outstanding bloodlines we had invested into and how famous they were about to make the name M & D. Evans world-wide. These bloodlines have amazed even us achieving far more than we could ever imagine. Sixteen years later and we are proud to pronounce that our M & D. Evans bloodlines have won to date 78 x 1st Open winners in Classic & National events for ourselves and other fanciers that are racing our bloodlines. We have also had winners reported in America, Canada, Hawaii, South Africa, Taiwan, Kuwait, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Hungary and all parts of the UK.
For us these outstanding results for other fanciers are far more rewarding than any 1st Classic or 1st National winners in our own racing lofts. A small example: One fancier in the USA purchased two pairs of pigeons from our breeding lofts in 2010 and in his first year breeding he bred the following three One Loft Race winners: 1st Kansas Prairie Classic One Loft Race (USA) 300 mile 2011, 1st American Internation One Loft Race (USA) 300 miles 2011, 1st Red Neck Classic One Loft Race (USA) 2011. Another American fancier also won 1st Sunshine State International One Loft Race (USA) 350 miles 2011. What makes us so proud about the four American One Loft Race winners in 2011 is that all these performances were achieved with pigeons five and six generations away from our original foundation breeders. I did quote in an earlier answer to one of your questions: “We spent a great deal of money and effort acquiring some of the finest genes available in the sport for the purpose of establishing a world class gene pool from which we could work. Once this was accomplished, our efforts shifted to evolving that gene pool. As we move forward in this regard, the famous birds that are the foundations of our lines become more distant in the pedigrees. However, the value of the birds we produce should increase with each succeeding generation if we are to be considered successful in our breeding program.” The winners reported from birds five and six generations away from the foundation breeders prove we are on track for accomplishing what we set out to achieve many years ago. There is no reason why we can’t still push forward breeding more champion racers and breeders in the coming years by working the same system over and over again.
Breeding with top winning genetic genes crossed with passion, dedication and determination from myself to be one of the world’s best breeders is an ideal recipe to guarantee success for many years to come in our lovely sport of racing pigeons.
Thank you so much Jim for the opportunity in letting me voice my opinions by answering your questions. Thanks again. Kind regards, Mark Evans.