Steenbergen – Magnificent springtime sunshine accompanied us on our trip towards the quiet region of West Brabant . It was a very busy time for the Dutch farmers who were ploughing their fields with gusto, meanwhile the sparrow hawk eyed the scene with some enthusiasm.
Summer is nearly here and not just for the West-Brabant farmers. A Long Distance specialist has finished his hibernation and is preparing for the new season. The first rounds of youngsters have been weaned and the racing team is already under preparation for the competition from Barcelona which will take place in July. We were approaching Steenbergen and respecting the traffic humps that reduces the speed for drivers.
It was here that Antoon and Luci van der Wegen created the famous “Van der Wegen” strain over 50 years ago.
The “Krommeweg” in Steenbergen leads us straight to the very top. That’s something that the international Long Distance world champions would have experienced many times during the last decades.
Luci and Antoon Van der Wegen have managed to exploit their talents for more than an impressive half a century career with their powerful Van der Wegen breed! He cleans the lofts until he has a sore back and she is in charge of the administration. But unlike anyone before them, they both run their long distance colony as no one has done before and probably will not for years to come.
A fantastic Career!
3 x winner Europa Cup
1 x winner Europa Marathon
1st West European Super Marathon
2 x 1st National Marathon
4 x ‘Keizer’ of the super long distance ZLU
2 x Grand Prix ZLU
4 x Club der Azen
1st National Pau
1st National Marseille
1st National Dax ZLU
1st National Barcelona 1973
2 x International Kampioen 1 + 2 nominated IFC 4000
1st Internationaal Kampioen 10 nominated IFC 4000
1st Pau 1 + 2 + 3 nominated IFC 4000
1st Barcelona 1 + 2 nominated IFC 4000
Anyone that wants to see a complete long distance team has to go to the Van der Wegens. That’s something that you surely should have done this last few seasons. Winning the 1st West-European Super Marathon , the 1st National Marathon ZLU, the 1st International General Championship IFC 4000, the 1st General Champion FBZ are the most important highlights of a very strong season which in turn, added another impressive page to there incomparable record!
Their results had not been that good in the past couple of years due to the many huge trees surrounding them. These trees produced a lot of shade and moisture around the lofts. Now, the trees and most of this misery has gone and for the last few years the results have improved beyond recognition.
“Ready to start”!
Luci and Antoon van der Wegen enjoy their siesta in their giant conservatory which gives them a superb view of their lofts and pigeons. It is a very nice place to wait for the long distance racers to arrive home.
Mornings are reserved for the loft management of the pigeons. Antoon observes the sunbathed lofts were the team that will compete from the long distance is getting ready with great contentment and even some complacency.
A strongly built Rottweiler, weighing 58 kilo, is also influenced by the spring sunshine and is playing like a young pup running through the house and garden. Antoon says: “A strong boy, very friendly to everybody but you have to be careful”. We bear these words in mind.
Antoon and Luci continue: “We start the new season with about 70 widowers, of which about half of them are yearlings. Apart from them, we have a couple of yearling hens. We, also, think that it is important to maintain the number of our hens. Every year, we breed about 100 youngsters for our own use but, as you probably will know, racing with young pigeons is not our priority. The youngsters are released for the first time when they are around two months old. In this way they can’t be infected by anything lying on the flat roofs of the neighbourhood. They will come into the lofts via the sputnik so they can develop their orientation abilities. When they are released for the first time, about 30 of them will stay outside for the night but usually everything works out ok. We might have a few minor losses.”
He adds: “After Perpignan, the racing pigeons raise a round of youngsters and are then separated. During the winter months, the pigeons are released for one hour each day. We haven’t had a lot of trouble with birds of prey for the last few years however every year they seem to increase in their numbers. The coupling of the birds takes place during the middle of March and a round of youngsters is raised, and then the widowhood starts. There is no winter breeding because breeding with our winter conditions makes the parents over feed the youngsters with food. This will result in big crops and you can’t do anything with “big eaters” when they are racing the extra long distance.
Training starts when they have big youngsters. This is usually the race from Quievrain basketed with the Belgian pigeons because they have to learn to fly on their own. Then, they compete in the race from Etampes twice, building their training distances up. After this, they are ready for the heavier work and distances.”
He concludes: “With the team as it is now and without any major disaster flights, we aim to divide the entries up as follows: 5 pigeons for St. Vincent, 5 for Pau, 19 for Barcelona, 15 for Bordeaux (two year olds), 5 for Dax, 19 for international Dax, 9 for Marseille, 5 for Montauban and 19 for Perpignan. Barcelona is obviously the major race and prize for us!”
“Rest and light food!”
We asked if racing from the heavy long distance requires a different type of mentality by the fancier and pigeon.
Antoon and Luci van der Wegen answer the question: “Of course, most fanciers know that. A pigeon returning from Pau, Barcelona, Marseille or Perpignan is physically and mentally broken. A real long distance champ will go into the red and the only thing you have to do when they come home is leave them alone.
Moreover, a pigeon becomes very stressed after such a long time in the basket. After they come home we don’t show them their hen. We re-invigorate the home comers with a light feed for about 4 days and it is only then that the hens are allowed to come into the loft. Meanwhile, we have also prepared the hens for a few days. We fed them better and separated them so that the cock will have a heated hen in his nest bowl. That’s a real boost for a long distance racer. The birds that didn’t race get their hen at the same time and usually they stay together from around 5 pm until 9 pm. Then, the hens are transferred in to the aviary and the next day the cocks receive a bath in the loft. From that moment onwards, the build up and training for the next race can start again. Light feed and rest makes sure that the long distance racer can start in perfect condition for the next race.”
He adds: In between two long distance classics, rest is indispensable and that must include the 5 days in the basket. A hen is even more capable of enduring a tougher regime!
The less medicine we use, the more successful we are in the races. It is only after a few races that they are very “mildly” treated against tricho and head diseases. That’s the way we think we should treat our long distance racers medically. Besides a varied nutrition, that we get from Mariman… grit, picking stone, minerals, seaweed, linseed, tea, yeast, glucose and honey (on arriving home) are provided. We prefer this more natural approach over the preventive “cures” that are very trendy in a number of other lofts.”
“Feeding with sense”
The pigeons are in the basket for about a week for the Barcelona race. Long distance racers have to be fed differently from other racers that only have to race say 300 kilometres.
Antoon and Luci Van der Wegen continue: “Of course! An extra long distance racer must continue eating during his transport to the race point; otherwise he will run into trouble. The batteries have to be charged fully on race day. For the pigeons racing from the extra long distance, they are slowly fed before the race but certainly not stuffed. We don’t give them too much “small seeds or fine food” as they only get what they can eat and digest easily. The first week after arriving home they are fed only purification feed which lasts for 5 days. Then, we switch to half and half together with a sports mixture, but we never give large portions or a very heavy mixture. In this way, the pigeons keep on eating during transport and they will build up their condition instead of breaking it down”.
To reach the top is one thing but to stay there is another thing!
Antoon and Luci say: “We have to keep an eye on things. A fixed rule here is that breeders or racers that have proven themselves will never be sold. We will sell the fruit but never the tree! Introducing “new blood” becomes a serious problem. We try to inbreed by introducing pigeons from lofts that were successful with our own pigeons. I don’t have to tell you that the success of our breeding programme is very important because we don’t want to fall out of the frying pan into the fire. Breeding is the spine of successful pigeon sport, you can be sure of that”
He concludes: “My selection is very strict. However, it used to be very different in the past. Now, I eliminate any bad offspring immediately. Luckily, I am always right because an eliminated pigeon can’t prove the opposite and this will help me to keep my confidence intact. When I hold a pigeon in my hand, it has to be streamlined, must have a perfect feather quality, a good wing and a beautiful head. When the youngsters reach the age of eight weeks old, it seems like ¾ of them are hens. This isn’t the case of course, but I like cocks with a bold head. The many years of experience in the pigeon sport have proved my point”.