“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
LOOKING BACK OVER THE YEARS (PART 7.)
Andre Vermote of Ostend, Belgium.
A name that had been at the forefront in the Belgian pigeon fancy in the 1970’s was that of Andre Vermote of Ostend. Andre was born in Ostend and started up in the sport of pigeon racing in 1963 at the age of 18, with 17 youngsters from friends. He joined the Gistel club but had very little success with his original ‘All Sorts’ pigeons. He then obtained some stock from Mons Vandevelde of Ostend and began his climb to the top rung of the Belgian success ladder. His main successful family all started with his ‘ace’ stock pair, ‘Spreeuwtje’ and ‘De Oude Blauwen’, which were called the ‘Miracle Pair’, being responsible for many champions the world over. ‘De Oude Blauwen’, a blue cock bred in 1964, was a Cattrysse / Deweerdt cross and ‘Spreeuwtje’ was 75 % Van Der Espt blue pied hen bred in 1967. This pair bred many champion racers direct, including ‘De Wringer’, a 1968 bred slate blue cock and winner of many top prizes including 2nd prize Chateauroux in 1970, 1st prize Dourdan and 1st prize National Cahore in 1971. Another great champion closely bred to the ‘Miracle Pair’ was the blue cock, ‘De Atleet’, winner of 2nd Ace Pigeon of Belgium in 1971 and his sire was half-brother to ‘De Wringer’. Andre said that all his top performers in his loft through the years are bred down from the ‘Miracle Pair’. The blue cock, ‘Perpignan’, winner of 1st International Perpignan for the Vermote loft in 1976 was a great grandson of the ‘Miracle Pair’. ‘De Barcelona’ was a son of ‘De Wringer’, whilst ‘De St. Vincent’ and ‘De Sprinter’ were bred from brothers of ‘De Wringer’, all outstanding racers. Andre Vermote said his pigeons did well pure or crossed with other top performing strains.
Andre had a lot of help from his great friend, Emiel Denys, when he started up and the Denys pigeons have crossed well with the Vermote pigeons over the years, producing some first-class racers. Emiel Denys paired up the Vermote loft for Andre one year. The Vermote loft was world famous for its countless performances in International and National races through the years including: 1971: 1st National Cahors, 1976: 1st National Perpignan, 1st open International Perpignan, 1981: 1st National Perpignan, 1st open International Perpignan, 1985: 1st National Limoges. In 1999 the Vermote loft won in the Kampion Schappen 1st National Marathon, 1st National Superprestige, 1st National Decathlon plus many other premier positions.
Andre said good loft design should have feeling and fanciers who never visit the prize table have no patience or the wrong strain of pigeons for the job they want them to do. He paired up his 14 pairs of stock birds and 50 pairs of racers in February and bred about 150 youngsters each season. Like most of the Belgian masters he raced on the widowhood system, with the International and National races in mind. Andre maintained his pigeons excel from 200 to 700 miles. He raced the widowhood cocks up to 700 miles, the hens up to 300 miles and the yearlings went through to 400 miles. For training the birds flew out at 06.00hrs and 17.00hrs every day. He liked inbreeding but not too much and liked to cross with another inbred winning family. He liked late breds and said the ‘Miracle Pair’ were late breds and when he selected breeders, he liked a nice rich eyesign.
The late Jan Olav Thrana of Norway.
I received a phone call from Ova in Norway to inform me that his brother and my good friend of mine, Jan Olav Thrana had lost his year long fight against cancer and had died in mid-July. I spoke to him only two days before he died and although he sounds very weak, he still talked about the love of his life: long distance pigeon racing! He was a good hard-working lad, who loved life and would think nothing of making the 2,000-mile drive to the UK to pick up some new long-distance stock birds. He was a good singer and was a member of a premier singing troop and did regular concerts around Norway.
I received a phone call from my good Norwegian friend, Jan, about once a month as he worked on the oil rigs in the North Sea and was away from home, sometimes up to a month at a time. I remember he returned home from two-week stint on the rigs and rang me with brilliant news that he was the 2007 Long Distance Champion of Norway. We had a mutual admiration for the wonderful long-distance pigeon family created by my late great friend, Eric Cannon of Godalming, and Jan won this award with two Cannon pigeons. He recorded 1st and 2nd Hamburg in Germany, to win the long-distance championship, which he had previously won before in 1986. Jan had been waiting for some time, with it being a hard race from Hamburg and had to go to ‘spend a penny’ in his house, and when he returned to the loft the two pigeons had come together, clocking themselves on the ETS. The two birds were only second apart and were 40 minutes in front of the next pigeon in the race. Normally the Norwegian Championship is based on a three long distance race average from Owce Aasa (450 miles) and Trond Heim (380 miles), but because of the 2007 ‘bird flu’ restrictions in Norway, it had to be won outright from Hamburg. I think it’s true to say that Jan probably had one of the best lofts of Eric Cannon pigeons in the sport and I for one, was highly delighted that he had secured the 2007 Championship with two of Eric’s pigeons. He had a fantastic stud of Eric Cannon pigeons and won at the premier level with them. Brilliant stuff! The Hamburg winner was a mealy cock grandson of Champion ‘Culmer Gold’ and Eric’s famous stock pigeon, ‘The 19 Cock’. This game cock was sent sitting ten-day old eggs and had two 100-mile races on his build up to his Championship win. Second bird on the clock was a blue hen, also sent sitting ten-day eggs and she was Champion ‘Culmer Sam’ bloodlines. A wonderful performance!
This Norwegian long-distance racer, Jan Olav Thrana, came over to this country just before Christmas 2006 for a week’s holiday visiting friends and pigeon fanciers in the south of England. He stayed with us at Claygate for most of the week and I took him on a couple of pigeon visits, including judging at the Spelthorne Sunday morning open show. I first met Jan in October 2000, when he came over from Norway for two of Eric Cannon’s dispersal sales and he stayed for a week at my home. He bought me over a Danish pigeon paper, and it contained a two page article on my ‘rabbit hutch’ loft system and I was amazed where they got the photographs and information from! Jan came over to England a second time with his brother, Ova, and his wife, Sonia, for the Silverstone F1 Grand Prix and they spent a day with us at Claygate to view the loft and pigeons.
Jan lived in Kristiansand on the south tip of Norway and they race pigeons from the north east, but because of the massive hawk problem in that area they have gone more northerly and race from the mountains. Jan told me two of their recent races were from the skiing centre at Hoven, 3,000ft. up in the mountains and they were very successful, with the birds recording very good velocities over the 100 miles races. There are two clubs in Jan’s area of Norway, one at Kristiansand and the other at Arendal in the north and both have no club radius, with some members living 100 miles away. Jan’s club at Kristiansand has a membership of 15 fanciers and they fly a ten race programme each season. There are about 550 pigeon fanciers in Norway and the nearest club to Kristiansand, apart from Arendal, is 100 miles to the west at Bergen and this area hosts the largest number of fanciers in Norway.
Jan said the winters in his area of Norway are to severe and they pair their birds up at the beginning of March and start racing at Rysstad and the longest race is from Hudijsval in Sweden, about a 420 miles fly to Jan’s loft in southern Norway. The young birds get four races, with the longest being from Dokka (200 miles). Jan raced on the natural system, because he worked on the oil rigs on the North Sea, and the system made it easy for his friend to look after the pigeons while he was away working. Jan liked long distance racing and kept several families to do this job, mainly pigeons obtained from the late Eric Cannon of Wormley. Jan had direct children of all Eric’s champions and at the dispersal sales he purchased several premier pigeons including, ‘The 19 Stock Cock’, ‘Culmer White Flight’ and Champion ‘Culmer Marion’, winner of 1st open N.F.C. Sartilly for the Cannon loft in 1990. He said a direct daughter of Eric’s champion stock cock, ‘Culmer Producer’, had bred well for him, including a hen that was the only bird on the day in the club from Ostersund (430 miles). Jan had recently spent a lot of money at the late Jim Biss dispersal sales and several premier pigeons were imported to his loft in Norway. He had won many premier prizes in long distance events through the years and had had some good success with his Danish family, which he obtained in the mid 1980’s. Jan housed his 50 pairs of old bird racers in a four section, 25ft. loft and bred 150 youngsters every season. The Norwegian fanciers have to breed a lot of babies and have big racing teams, as the losses to Hawks are so heavy. The old birds started training two weeks before the racing started and then they were given one toss during the racing season. He kept 20 pairs of stock birds and the young birds were only normally trained up to 80 miles and not raced. Jan liked hens sitting 12-day old eggs for the long distance events and when he picked out stock birds prefers pigeons to be small to medium in the hand. In Norway most fanciers use the Electronic Clocking System and Jan told me, he was one of the first fancier to obtain the system in his country. There you have it my good friend Jan Olav Thrana, the Norwegian long-distance champion! He is great missed!
Belgium / Holland Loft Visits.
For many years now my good friend, Brian Goodwin, has be threatened to arrange some Continental loft visits for us to enjoy and finally the month of February saw us get on the Euro Tunnel train to kick off a two-day pigeon trip of Belgium and Holland. The weather was freezing and to beat the traffic hold ups we caught the 03.00hrs train out of Dover. Brian has been commuting to the Continent and purchased the very best racing pigeons available in Belgium and Holland for the past 30 years, so he was the best man to arrange the trip. He is not a guy who messes around and in past years has purchase whole rounds of youngsters from the very top loft on the Continent, including Willy Thas, which have produced several Federation and Combine winners in recent seasons. Through the years he has been well known for racing the direct Emiel Deweerdt pigeons with brilliant success, but in recent seasons Brian has been over to Belgium and brought back several new strains, which have also performed very well. Our good mates, Darren Watson and Peter ‘Fat Wallet’ Mercer, came along for the trip and I must say they were a great laugh and their good company made the two days extra special. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been over the English Channel to Belgium and Holland, but have never visited pigeon lofts out there, apart from spending two days at the ‘Ponderosa’ in Holland, with Hans Eijerkamp and his family in the mid 1990’s.
Schoors & De Waele of Maldegem Adegem.
Our first loft visit was Alex Schoors and Maurice De Waele of Maldegem in Belgium and it seemed like we arrived at Alex’s home in the middle of the night, but I think it was about 05.45hrs. It was very dark and freezing cold! On our arrival we found Alex in the family pet shop sited at the back of the property and I must say it was very impressive, being housed in a warehouse type building, and selling all pet requirements, including everything for the pigeon fancier. Alex sells everything, from rat poison through to ETS systems! Before viewing the pigeons, we enjoyed a Belgium breakfast with the Schoors family in their home and it was a great pleasure meeting Alex’s wife and mother.
Alex has been in pigeons since 1978, with his father, Odiel, being a fancier since the end of the Second World War in the 1940’s and has won many premier prizes through the years. Alex and Maurice’s top prize was when they were General Champions of Belgium in 2003 and have been the most consistent premier loft in the region over the last 15 years. They have recorded four times general local champion (14 villages) and are the middle- and long-distance champions in their local club. The partners like racing from 350 miles through to Barcelona and Alex says, his dream is to win major races on the extreme long distance. They have flown all the International races over the last three years and have been very successful, with premier prizes from Pau, Perpignan and Barcelona.
Too say the Schoors & Maldegem loft set up was brilliant would be an understatement, with in consisting of several massive lofts and stock aviaries. The main racing loft is a brick built double decker and the racing birds are trapped into a full-length corridor through ‘sputnik’ type traps. All the lofts are self-built and have Pan tiled roofs for good ventilation and are cleaned out daily. The partners race their old family built on pigeons obtained from top Belgium fanciers in the 1960’s and several modern families including the Van Loon and Jan Aarden bloodlines. Alex and Maurice race cocks on the classic widowhood system and 27 natural hens, which get one race each season from Pau or St. Vincent, sent on eggs. The widowhood cocks for the 500 km races are paired up at the end of November, with the stock birds, and are allowed to rear a pair of youngsters before going on the system. The long-distance racing cocks are mated at the end of December and are split after sitting ten days on their eggs, so all widowers are parted at the same time. The widowhood pigeons are repaired at the beginning of April for about five days before going fully on the system for racing. The widowhood cocks are not shown the hens for the first few races in April, but from May until the end of the season the cocks see their mates for a few minutes on marking night. All the racers get their hens for a while on their return from the race and in the case of the long distance this could be over night. The old birds are broken down during the week on ‘Super Diet’ mixture. Alex told me the partners are not interested in the short old bird races in April but give them six good training tosses and then start them with a 300 km race in May.
The stock loft is made up with 36 pairs, 12 pairs for 500 km and 24 pairs for long distance, with everything in these sections being proven breeders. Alex says when they bring in a new breeder, he likes it to be inbred to a champion and he hates big pigeons. He also maintains handling and good feather is important when selecting breeders. Schoors & De Waele breed 200 young birds every season, but only race 50, which are put on the dark system from the end of March until mid-June and then are put on the light system until the end of the racing season. The young bird racers are paired up and race to eggs, and small youngsters. Alex says this system is excellent to achieve good results in the four young bird National races, but these 50 birds are finished after being on the system and are disregarded at the end of the season. The other 150 young birds are worked with the long term in mind, being trained up to 300 km. and are fed on the Belgium ‘Sport’ mixture, with added maize.
As I’ve previously stated the Schoors’ pet warehouse sold everything for the pigeon fancier, and I would say it is the best pigeon suppliers I have seen in time in the sport. I note their wooden nest boxes and ‘sputniks’ were very good quality and very cheap. They sell all the premier pigeon corns and the local fanciers were in their buying their feeding very early that morning, and the place got quite crowded. Darren and ‘Fat Wallet’ had Brian’s car boot full of cheap pigeon products when we left the Schoors driveway for the Dutch border. I would like to thank the Schoors family for their wonderful hospitality and congratulate Alex and Maurice on their excellent pigeons and lofts; they are a credit to them. This was my first ever loft visit in Belgium and I was lucky enough to start with the best!
After enjoying a loft visit with the 2003 Belgium General Champions, Schoors & De Waele, we drove over the border into Holland and arrived at the Laren home of Ronald and Annie Heesen just after lunch time. Brian Goodwin who arranged out tour of Belgium and Dutch lofts last February was particularly keen to visit Ronald Heesen, as he is an up and coming star in his pigeon fraternity and will be the next big name in Dutch pigeon racing.
Ronald & Annie Heesen of Laren.
Although Ronald Heesen is very much a back-garden fancier, with an average size team of pigeons, he has climbed the success ladder with outstanding result over the years and is now on the top pigeon racers in Holland. When we walked in to his garden for the first time I was very impressed with his very smart pigeon set up and I must say from the outset, Ronald himself impressed me as a person, being a nice modest man, who would do anything to help you if he could. A quality man with quality pigeons!
Ronald’s late father was a success pigeon fancier and Ronald raced on his own from 1967, also with great success. When his father passed away, he went in partnership with his mother, Annie, and moved his pigeons back to her garden in Laren. The base of his family today is Janssen and he likes sprint / middle distance racing, or what they call one day racing in Holland. Ronald has introduced a couple of long-distance pigeons to form a cross from his friend, Rob Boesten and hopes to have a go at one or two long distance events in the near future. He races 32 cocks on the standard widowhood system and pairs them up two weeks before the first race in April. The racing cocks are fed on a good quality widowhood mixture and are never trained, just get two hours exercise around the loft every day. Ronald never races his old hens. Ronald’s self-built lofts are of the traditional Dutch style, with Pan tiled roofs, ‘Sputnik’ trapping and he has used the ETS system of clocking for the last ten seasons. He told me that fanciers must strive to obtain the very best stock possible, as second-rate pigeons will put-up second-rate performances! Ronald is not a believer in treating his birds and tells me they have not been treated for any ailments since 1994.
These are some of Ronald and Annie’s loft results over recent seasons: 2007: 3rd National Champion all Holland young birds (26,000 members), 5th National Champion all Holland young birds (26,000 members), 1st Champion Average Nominated old and young bird Mid-Holland Combine 7 (2,800 members), 1st Champion Combined Average Mid-Holland old and young birds Combine 7 (2,800 members), 2nd Ace Yearling Mid-Holland Combine 7 (2,800 members), 1st Ace Mid-Holland young birds Combine 7. (2,800 members): 2006: 1st and 2nd National Ace all Holland young birds (26,000 members), 1st Champion Combined Average old & young birds Mid-Holland Combine 7 (2,800 members), 1st Champion Average Nominated old & young birds Mid-Holland Combine 7 (2,800 members), 1st Champion Average old & young bird Mid-Holland Combine 7 (2,800 members), 1st and 3rd Ace Mid-Holland young birds.
The 80 young birds are paired up and sent sitting eggs to the races, and are given one training toss every week during the season from 45 km. Ronald likes to work his youngsters and they get ten races, through to 480 km. The Laren loft houses 28 pairs of stock birds and Ronald’s ‘Gold Pair’ are reputed to be one of the breeding pairs in Holland. He has turned down many offers and vast amounts of money for this stock pair, ‘Carl’ and ‘De Telederby’, and they have only been mated since 2006. They are Janssen based and have produced a long list of premier performers, including: 1st & 2nd National, best young pigeon bred and raced in Holland 2006, 5th National Champion young pigeon in 2007, the 2nd Ace Pigeon Yearling Average Mid-Holland, 9th National NPO (10,648 birds) and 13th Mid-Holland / Combine / Federation (10,373 birds). A brilliant stock pair! The breeders are mated up on the 1st January and when selecting birds for the stock loft, Ronald, likes a strong pigeon in the hand, and pairs small pigeons to big ones. His birds looked in mint condition and I noted he used the ‘up and over’ type nest box fronts, which were all in the ‘over’ position leaving all the boxes open. His pigeons and lofts were a credit to him!
Other visits in Holland.
After a very enjoyable visit to the Heesen loft, Ronald took us to a hotel he had pre-booked for us about 30 km outside Amsterdam. We were glad to get to the hotel, as we had been travelling all night, not getting any sleep and were ready to hit the ‘sack’. Ronald had arranged two loft visits and a special visit to ‘PV de Zwaluw’, his local pigeon club headquarters for next day. We met up with Ronald at his mother’s house at 09.00hrs next morning and after a cup of his Dutch coffee we were soon on the road.
A few years ago, the late, great Jim Biss told me he thought the Continental pigeon fancier were ten years in front of the English fanciers, with their general pigeon management and the manner they run the sport in general. At that time, I don’t know if I believed him, but after seeing the ‘PV de Zwaluw’ pigeon club H.Q., I know he was right! Ronald Heesen has been the President since 2000 and he took us to see their brilliant H.Q. building, which the pigeon club members built in 1953 and now own. They got an interest free loan to fund the project and have never looked back. The super brick built building has a function room with a bar, which is hired out to the general public for parties on none pigeon nights, a computer room for working out race results, a marking room which is racked out to store race baskets and at the side of the building there was a garage that houses the clubs own pigeon transporter, which is used for training and ferrying the race birds to the Federation transporter. The building had proper, clean toilets and a storeroom full of booze, which the members buy in the bar on pigeon nights at cost price. I noticed there was a car parked at the side of the H.Q. and Ronald informed me it was owned by the pigeon club and was taxed and insured to pull the pigeon transporter. I’ve never seen any pigeon club that was so self-sufficient, it was brilliant! ‘PV de Zwaluw’ was formed in 1921 and has 40 members on the books, with 20 of them sending about 400 birds each week. The club is affiliated to Federation 1 (400 members) and Combine 7. (2,800 members), which are two of the biggest organizations in Holland and race on Saturdays, with the longest old bird race being from St. Vincent (1,174 km).
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com)