It had been a while since I wrote a report, but now I felt like it again. The reason was a man named Peter Theunis, racing under the name of Embregts-Theunis. For me at present THE young pigeon specialist of the Netherlands.

And when someone races the way he does, people will talk. He lives in Hoeven, a village beyond Sint Willebrord, where they race in Rayon (Section) 2 of Brabant 2000.
That Section really is much too big, it extends from Zeeland to Reusel, from the Belgian border till the great rivers Maas and Waal, and is therefore divided into 4 rayons (sections) from west to east, and even these are still large.
From west to east there are Rayon 1, 2, 3 and 4.
On the west side, Rayon 1, they complain that you can’t compete with Rayon 2 because the pigeons are dragged to the east. For their part, in the Rayons 3 and 4, they are complaining about the advantage of Rayon 2, because the pigeons would deviate to the west.
In other words, when you see ‘chain’ results, it is easy to think that is due to not much competition, but in Rayon 2 that certainly isn’t the case. And the best fancier there is the 40 year old Peter Theunis.

He proved this again in the National Orleans on 1st September 2012. The whole of the south of the Netherlands released at the same time, from the North Sea to the German border, so also Zeeland and Limburg, not a single cloud in the sky, and with a slight headwind.
The fastest returns were in Zeeland, then in Oost Brabant and then came a veritable display of power from Embregts-Theunis. He won in the sector against 7,795 pigeons 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 20, 30 and so on, and scored 41 prizes out of 45, among which 30 per ten.
And to emphasize the strength of his pigeons; the biggest competition came from his neighbour Marc Palinckx with 5, 10 and 20. Marc won 21 prizes with 24 pigeons and… these were Theunis pigeons.

When some fanciers hear of exceptional results with young pigeons, they believe that this is not so much due to the strength of the birds, but more to the system.
Because they are young pigeon specialists?
These are as old as the pigeon sport itself.
In the nineties, the word took on a different dimension because some fanciers started darkening and administering drops, while others raced with ‘clean’ pigeons. I was one of the first to darken and to use the Peeters drops. But I am like most fanciers: I kept it to myself. I thought that the others could make up their own minds. It even came to the point where Frank Aarts and I had to report to the chairman, the late F. Marinus, to explain what we were doing, because we were destroying the sport. That was in the time that Van Hove-Uytterhoeven from Antwerp won every race from Orleans, and that half of Flanders was using Ledercort products.

But slowly, darkening became more widely known. “This is the end of the young pigeon specialists”, pigeon magazines wrote in capital letters. “Everyone has to start darkening, and the balance will be restored.”
“We will have to yield to others now”, I said to Kees Bosua at the time. I still remember his reaction: “I think that it is good that everyone starts darkening, it will not end our supremacy. They need to have good pigeons as well.” The foresight of Kees’ proved right, the young pigeon specialists of that time became the celebrities with old pigeons later.
What I am trying to say is this: Peter Theunis is not only a specialist who has made racing with young birds into an artform, he obviously has superb pigeons in his loft too.
This was proven again by Ludo Claessens when he won 1st and 3rd NPO Orleans against 9,142 birds with pigeons that originated from Peter Theunis. At the time there was no publicity given to this, therefore I am doing it now.
Besides, in 2008 the previously mentioned Marc Palinckx won 1st NPO Orleans against 9,372 pigeons, also with a bird from Theunis.
Actually, it was after that memorable race from St. Quentin in 2011 that I really started taking notice of Peter. Embregts-Theunis won 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 against 8,115 pigeons. And these 10 pigeons were all clocked within 8 seconds.

Two weeks after the national Orleans of 1st September, we had another race from Orleans. And again it was excellent pigeon weather.
In the morning we raced Morlincourt, from which Willem de Bruyn came to watch the birds return, and then I suggested to go to Embregts-Theunis in the afternoon. Peter had all his birds in the race from Orleans. Willem didn’t have to think about it for long. “THAT man races fast, let’s go there” he said.
Well in time we arrived at a large farmstead, and Peter showed us the lofts. I didn’t believe my eyes. He used exactly the same system as I used to do in the eighties and nineties. Only he did it even better, though they called me ‘Mister Orleans’ at the time.
The sexes were housed separately and in two identical lofts, where everything was done to heighten the urge for a territory. A corner here, a perch there, you know what I mean. Then the telephone went. He had to be on the spot at 14.26 for the 1st over all.
Exactly at 14.26 10 pigeons came low in the sky, straight on course. Six of them rushed inside without making a turn, four flew on. They stormed so fast and straight into the loft, that I was reminded of the airplanes in those towers.
When Peter showed us the pigeons it became clear with what a professional we were dealing. All the pigeons had cast just one flight, and from the second one the tip was removed so that this wouldn’t drop. Nothing indicated that they had just flown for many hours.
A bit later again, telephone from here and there. One had two pigeons, the other three, another one had still nothing. Theunis had at least 20 birds back home. The final result was almost as good as two weeks earlier with 3, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and so on against 5,179 pigeons.
The victor was André Smits from Zundert, Belgium, with… of course, a pigeon acquired from Peter, 2nd became Johan Gillis from Baarle Nassau, Holland, and then came the champion from Hoeven. His first pigeon was missed by everyone. Of the rest they only got a glimpse. They were just going too fast.
We were impressed, and three weeks later I visited him again.

Questions and Answers
How did you build up this loft with top pigeons?
“The basis is formed by a cock from the late Bart Cools, which was still a pure Cees Gijzen. Further, the ‘Rocketeer’ from Rinus van Gastel plays a large role, this bird is a descendant from his national Ace ‘The Rocket’. These two are the most important.
(Note from the writer: Rinus van Gastel is not so young anymore, only recently he sold almost all his pigeons, but boy oh boy, what super pigeons he has had in his lifetime. Especially Cor Leytens knows about that!).
I also bought an excellent hen from Van Hove-Uytterhoeven, a very good one from Jelle Roziers, another from Leo Heremans (out of the ‘Nieuwe Rossie’ and ‘Eenoogje’), and I have always been successful with birds from Davy Tournelle and Johny Jonckers from Drieslinter.”

So your method is different from De Bruyn, who always buys a basket full when he wants to cross with new blood. These birds have to prove themselves first in the races.
“Yes, I do it differently. I want a youngster from the super pigeon itself to put into the breeding loft. And it doesn’t matter where I have to buy it. If I know of a very special bird, I will drive down there. However, I must say that I have had bad experiences with Belgian pigeons. Except for the ones with a ring beginning with ‘6’; the ones from Antwerp. An exception is that little bird from Jonckers.”

Tell me about breeding
“Like almost everyone else I breed in the winter. I couple the 14 breeding pairs in early December. The racers are then coupled at such a date that I can put the 2nd round of the breeders under them. I do this because I want 4 rounds from the breeding cocks, with two different hens. And no matter what super pigeon I have, the parents will get a different partner (like with Verkerk).
Like you, I don’t believe in breeding couples that produce a whole string of good ones, but I do believe in breeding pigeons. And you should know that I put youngsters who perform tremendously straight into the breeding loft, and that I don’t breed with old pigeons. A pigeon of five years or older will always be paired to a young partner.”

What can you say about racing with old pigeons?
“Total widowhood”.
You don’t need so many pigeons for this method, but the drawback is that the cocks don’t come so much into their own (now where have I heard that before).
The sexes only come together before basketing for the first one day long-distance race.
For the middle-distance they only get the nesting bowl.
Besides, from next year I won’t darken the old pigeons anymore, that didn’t work for me, but I will keep giving extra light.”

And the youngsters?
“They are darkened from when they are weaned. I keep putting the new youngsters with the rest, so 3 rounds of some 20 pigeons each, and the birds that can’t cope with that will have to go. Just yesterday, I killed a young bird that had won a 1st. He didn’t look healthy, while the rest were all fit. Such birds have to go.”

How about training the young birds?
“I have a different system than most. Other fanciers start from nearby and gradually go further away.
I bring them to 15 kilometers away at once, then 25, and if they are still doing well they go to 40, and that way they are in Duffel, 65 kilometers, in five stages.
Many had to bring the birds away 15 or more times to reach this stage. I don’t see the point in that, and I don’t lose many.
Also, a bird that only comes home the next day from a training flight is removed. These are never good ones.”

Do you also have trouble with Coli?
“Every year again. For a few days, I give very little or no feed at all. If that doesn’t help then I give them Amco from Henk de Weerd, who is a good friend of mine.”

So sexes separate?
“My pigeons are only separated after 3 or 4 races. I find that they are at their best when they have been separated for 6 weeks.
Until 1999 it was the opposite. In those days they were separated first and when the important races started, I raced them on a nest. That worked fantastic too.”

And driving and training?
“I only drive with them in between two NPO flights . On Monday and Wednesday. Each time 35 kilometer. All birds have to exercise two hours a day, the old hens as well. Only the old cocks don’t have to. If they are not in good shape they’ll only go into the field.”

And what are you doing medically?
“I do very little. Old pigeons are treated against the trichomonas after two nights in the basket and young ones 14 days before an NPO flight. I have bad experiences with treating a week before basketing. I won’t inoculate. I have treated them with ‘Orni special extra’ before the first race from Orleans, before the second Orleans they didn’t get anything.
But I do something that not many others do and what suits me greatly. Before the NPO races, I immerse the pigeons in a bucket of warm water with a few spoonfuls of vinegar and salt. They have to be submerged until I can see bubbles. After that they will ‘spit’ out all the waste in their bodies. A few days later, you will be amazed how white their noses are.”

And the lofts?

“You have seen for yourself. Beech chippings on the floor. Good ventilation, but not TOO much. The vents in the ceiling have never been used. All the lofts have heating panels that are switched on day and night, even in temperatures of 30 degrees Centigrade. The old pigeons have two ATX panels, so it never gets colder than 12 degrees.”

Are you racing in championships?
“Championships are much too unfair. They don’t appeal to me at all. I want to have good results in the important races.”

Feed and by-products?
“Throughout the year, racers, breeders, young and old birds all get the same feed, my own mixture with not too many peas.
I also give ‘Allerlei’ and liquid sheep fat. No brewer’s yeast, tea, garlic or vinegar. I don’t believe in these anymore.”

How is the selection done?
“Purely on performance as a young pigeon. Four prizes 1 in 10 is the absolute minimum. Like I said, a young bird that does extremely well goes straight into the breeding loft. Like I did with ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Rocketeer’, and I have never regretted that.”

Are eyes important to you?
“No matter how I look, I can’t find anything special in eyes. But I certainly dislike deep pigeons, and you won’t find these here.”

Everything indicates that we are dealing with a passionate man with vision.
What struck me most were the lofts.
He can slide away the glass, then the pigeons are sitting behind windbreak netting.
But when it gets too warm, he can slide that away too.
So for me, at present, Embregts-Theunis is the best racer with young pigeons in the Netherlands.
The combination van Wanrooy from Geffen comes a close second.
And as said before, you must have top pigeons to be able to dominate the field. No system will improve bad quality birds.
In the Far East they are by now aware of this too, because Peter had a few young birds ready to sell to them.
The pigeon world has become small with the use of Internet.
There is no space anymore for paper champions, like sometimes happened in the past.

Ad Schaerlaeckens