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Etienne Devos, Deerlijk… Part 2 by Michel Bommerez
“I love seeing my pigeon loft… To be there is my greatest pleasure… Because in the loft, you can forget all and you won’t have any problems.”
From the fathers side
Last time we could read how Etienne Devos from Deerlijk in Belgium built up a champion’s colony through craftsmanship and patience, in particular based on the very best breeds of the so called Flandriens: Stichelbaut, Vanhee, Bostyn, Cattrysse and Vereecke. But perhaps based even more on the best middle-distance pigeons of that time from champions like: Theo Gilbert, Jozef Verheye and Desmet-Matthys, which names were actually almost synonymous with middle-distance champions. Out of this mix he moulded his own ‘Prinsen’ line with toppers such as the ‘Merckx’ and the ‘Witterugge’, and also with national winners like the ‘Stanics’ and the ‘Zidane’. And let’s not forget the National Ace, the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’, who’s mother stemmed out of the Prinsen line. But the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ has also a father and part 2 deals with this. The best had yet to come…
Most fanciers, while reading Part I, will have been impressed with the number of champion pigeons in the loft of Devos. But the best had yet to come, and it came out of an unexpected corner…
Etienne Devos had always been the very best of friends with the late Joseph Van den Broucke, an industrialist from Wielsbeke, who later moved to a home in Zwevegem.
During a celebration in the winter of 1988, Etienne bought a coupon from Van den Broucke. More out of politeness and sympathy than to acquire those pigeons. Even to the extent that he forgot the coupon and failed to collect the bird. Van den Broucke brought this smiling to his attention: “Are my birds not good enough for you, Vostje?” Devos is said to have answered: “Of course they are, of course they are”, and the following day he went to collect the bird. And to make amends he bought a few more young as well.
But truthfully, Etienne Devos wasn’t really convinced of their quality, and the youngsters were put in with the rest in the aviaries of his lofts in Deerlijk, and nothing much happened with them.
In 1991, the youngsters had grown into reasonable pigeons, and Devos put two of them together: the ‘Jonge Didi’, a grandson of the ‘Didi’ who was a 1st National Ace, and the ‘Pipo Duivin’, a pure Norman hen, granddaughter of the ‘Pipo’ of Norbert Norman.
And the miracle happened. A son of that couple, the ‘Didi Junior I’ (3300507-91), flew repeatedly in the spotlight with several prizes firmly in the lead nationally, and with this became 9th Provincial Ace.
This ‘Didi Junior I’ (3300507-91), brother of the ‘Kleine Didi’, won among others:
9th National Pau against 2,212 pigeons
31st National Pau against 3,144 pigeons
52nd National Pau against 1,928 birds
24th National Dax against 2,705 pigeons
72nd National Perpignan against 4,889 pigeons.
Later, he was sold to Gaby Vandenabeele.
To refresh the memory we give you a few results of the old ‘Didi’:
The ‘Didi’ (3085841-85) from Joseph Van den Broucke became 1st National Ace Long-distance with among others:
5th National Cahors against 7,081 pigeons
11th National Brive against 15,376 pigeons
14th National Narbonne against 4,665 pigeons
40th National Cahors against 7,271 birds.
The ‘Didi’ was named after Dietrich ‘Didi’ Thurau, a not completely faultless but nevertheless talented German cyclist of the ’70’s and ’80’s.
For the younger readers, here follows a short historical intermezzo.
Jos (or Jozef or actually Joseph) Van den Broucke used to say of himself that in his younger years, he had just been an ‘also ran’ in the pigeon sport. That only changed when the renowned Piet de Weerd became his personal advisor and even pigeon-partner. Piet de Weerd coached him with buying pigeons and with pairing the birds, and almost straight away the successes started for the tandem Van den Broucke-de Weerd from Wielsbeke. Time and again they raced in the national top ten during the period of 1958-1962, as if it was the simplest thing in the world. Until the KBDB (evil tongues say that jealousy of competitors played a part) introduced a new rule which stated that foreigners (and the Flying Dutchman Piet de Weerd was of course just that) were not allowed to race in Belgium anymore.
Meanwhile Piet de Weerd had helped Van den Broucke firmly into the saddle with some excellent breeding couples. But after the tandem had been forced to disband Piet de Weerd continued giving Joseph advice from time to time. And it was Piet de Weerd who alerted Van de Broucke of a chance to buy the ‘St. Vincent’ and the ‘Pipo’ in the total sale of Norbert Norman in 1978 when he moved from Country to the Seaside.
This ‘Pipo’ (3233504-71) flew among others 13th and 32nd National Bordeaux, 19th National Montauban and 10th National St.Vincent. But Piet de Weerd recognized it especially as a good breeder. And he was right once again… without his intervention there would never have been a ‘Kleine Didi’…
Naturally, Etienne Devos left the Van den Broucke couple together, and they produced a myriad of good pigeons, especially super breeders. You can find a selection of these in the diagram: the Didi line.
In 1992, the wondrous ‘Kleine Didi’ was born. First his track record:
The ‘Kleine Didi’ (3000607-92)
1st National Ace Long-Distance KBDB 1997
1st Provincial Ace KBDB WVL 1995
1st National Dax against 3,276 pigeons (1997)
2nd National Perpignan against 4,694 pigeons (1997)
(3rd International against 13,267 birds)
47th National Brive against 20,611 pigeons
55th National Pau against 2,084 pigeons
24th National Pau against 1,928 pigeons
47th National Pau against 1,876 birds
23rd National Perpignan against 4,889 pigeons
98th National Dax
72nd National Perpignan
After that, the ‘Kleine Didi’ was sold for a fortune to Heinz Seegmuller (deceased in 2008) from Grossteinhausen in Germany.
“I would never do that again,” Etienne Devos mused afterwards. He had sworn himself the oath never to sell his top pigeons again. On the other hand, this high level transfer gave him a lot of attention from the media. The ‘Kleine Didi’ is by now known among the entire pigeon world. And a phenomenon without parallel he certainly was.
For all that, you must have the nerve, or be called Etienne Devos, to risk a national winner from Dax again in the race from Perpignan… But Voske’s gamble paid off and the ‘Kleine Didi’ brought the second prize national victory to Deerlijk.
Good pigeons galore
Fortunately for Etienne Devos the ‘Kleine Didi’ was not the only good pigeon in his colony. On the contrary. His parents were a golden breeding couple, and the number of national winners that were born in the wake of the Didi couple is countless…
1st National St. Vincent for André Colbrandt
1st International Pau for Kurt Pfeifer
1st Semi-National Argenton for Ivan Van Vuchelen
1st National Limoges for De Graeve-Van Geert from Smetlede
1st National Perpignan for Germain D’Hondt from Anzegem
1st National Montauban for the Family Serge Decroix from Rumbeke
1st National Tarbes for Remy Vantorre from Virelles
1st National Limoges for Kristian Vrebos
1st National Gueret for Marc Van Haute
1st National Barcelona for Harinck-Poelmans from Genk
1st National Limoges yearlings for Ronald Lodewijckx.
And there are undoubtedly more.
Devos himself raced and bred well with brothers and sisters of the ‘Kleine Didi’. For example the ‘Zieken Didi’ won 5th International Dax, the ‘Didi Junior 2’ won 16th National Pau and so on.
Out of the ‘Schone Didi’ (3200260-95), a full brother of the ‘Kleine Didi’, Devos bred three famous brothers:
The ‘Crayonne Didi (3190024-00):
14th National Castres against 4,101 pigeons
5th Provincial Poitiers against 3,234 pigeons
101st National Pau against 2,118 birds in 2011
192nd National Dax against 5,026 pigeons
The ‘As Didi’ (3190023-00), nest brother of the ‘Crayonne Didi’:
453rd National Brive against 25,352 birds
100th National Beziers against 6,711 pigeons
67th National Dax against 4,772 pigeons
240th National Dax against 5,026 pigeons
371st National Brive against 19,477 birds
398th National Cahors against 7,340 pigeons
160th National Orange against 2,257 pigeons
121st National Beziers against 5,934 birds
But the best son of the ‘Schone Didi’ is without doubt the new ‘Witterugge’, brother of the ‘Crayonne Didi’ and the ‘As Didi’.
The ‘Witterugge’ (3002523-04) wins among others:
11th Provincial Blois against 6,973 pigeons
65th Provincial Blois against 4,896 pigeons
79th Orleans against 1,439 birds
16th Provincial Angouleme against 1,547 pigeons
47th Provincial Angouleme against 2,070 pigeons
8th Provincial Poitiers against 1,227 birds
1st Roye against 402 pigeons
17th Provincial Poitiers against 1,183 pigeons
128th Poitiers against 1,318 pigeons
341st Provincial Tours against 2,898 pigeons
3rd Poitiers against 285 pigeons (37th Provincial against 1,827 birds)
24th Poitiers against 324 pigeons
22nd Provincial Tulle against 1,081 pigeons (82nd National against 6,695 birds)
The mother of these three Musketeers is the ‘Zus of the Super Prins’, who is also grandmother of the National Ace ‘Witpen Rivaldo’.
The Molenaars from Roger Florizoone
Naturally, Etienne Devos kept a few children out of the ‘Kleine Didi’ for himself. And later he also bought back a couple from Seegmuller. Of these children the ‘Didi Junior’ (3336619-95) is the most important for our story. Because he became yet another superior breeder in Deerlijk.
The mother of the ‘Didi Junior’ was the ‘Bordeauxtje’ (3044602-92), who still stemmed from the IJzeren Stichelbaut line and who locally flew a 1st from Bordeaux.
In 1998, Devos lent the ‘Didi Junior’ to Ludwig Van de Casteele from Roeselare, where he was paired with another pigeon on loan from Roger Florizoone, later renamed to the ‘Florie I’.
The ‘Florie I’, with ring 3155048-93, was bred in Nieuwpoort out of the ‘Oude Molenaar’ x ‘Zus Witneus’. The ‘Oude Molenaar’ came out of the ‘Rammant’ x ‘Vale Peiren’. The ‘Zus Witneus’,the Primus inter Pares winner in 1984 was of the sort Bolle x Vanhee x Huysentruyt. Out of this chance coupling Etienne Devos obtained among others his ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Rivaldo’…
For the record, it would later prove a major oversight that he had not re-registered the ‘Rivaldo’ with a ring from Van de Casteele at the KBDB, because in 2005 that cost him the Ace title Long-Distance ‘due to this administrative omission’…
The ‘Rivaldo’ was another phenomenon in the lofts in Deerlijk. Soon, it became clear that he had Barcelona blood in his veins. Judge for yourself.
The ‘Rivaldo’ (3100356-98), a grandson of the ‘Kleine Didi’, flies a lead prize from Barcelona six years in a row:
2000: 243rd National Barcelona against 13,659 pigeons
2001: 1,991st National Barcelona against 13,161 pigeons
2002: 167th National Barcelona against 13,021 pigeons
2003: 269th National Barcelona against 11,807 birds
2004: 124th National Barcelona against 12,275 pigeons
2005: 57th National Barcelona against 12,998 pigeons
2001: 85th National Perpignan against 8,041 pigeons
2005: 41st National Perpignan against 7,611 birds
With this the ‘Rivaldo’ becomes among others:
– 8th Provincial Ace 2003
– 2nd National Ace Mistral Gold Cup 2003
– 3rd Primus Inter Pares BBC Barcelona 2004
– 4th Primus Inter Pares BBC Barcelona 2005
And as mentioned before, he became the moral title holder of the 2nd Ace Extra Long-distance 2005 and 1st provincial Ace WVL, were it not for the bureaucracy of the KBDB.
The ‘Ronaldo’ (B3304274-98), a full brother of the ‘Rivaldo’, was to be reckoned with as well with among others 56th National Barcelona and 217th National Perpignan, but he could never beat his much better brother.
For the sake of completeness we also want to mention the ‘Zilveren’ (3252504-03), a brother of ‘Rivaldo’ and the ‘Ronaldo’, who is with André Colbrandt and who is the father of his 1st National Saint Vincent.
More of the same
In 2004, Devos went back to Roger Florizoone to see if he still had some of the bloodline of the famous ‘Florie I’ left. The ‘Florie I’ was not there anymore, but Devos could get a slightly younger sister on loan, known as the ‘Florie II’ (3301433-97), and also out of the ‘Oude Molenaar’ x ‘Zus Witneus’.
In accordance with his tried and tested method, Etienne Devos paired this hen back with his ‘Didi Junior’, and out of them he bred the ‘Halfbroer Rivaldo’ with ring 3002984-04. Of course theoretically, the ‘Halfbroer Rivaldo’ was more than a half-brother of the ‘Rivaldo’, since his father was the same and the mothers blood sisters. He was a dream of a pigeon, and Devos didn’t hesitate putting him in with the breeders. And again he had judged right, because this ‘Halfbroer Rivaldo’ very quickly grew up to be a top breeder… he is among others the father of the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ (3008642-07), the brand new National Ace Pigeon Long-Distance 2012.
The Rivaldo line
Immediately, the ‘Halfbroer Rivaldo’ gave Etienne Devos a few fabulous sons, of which the best known is the National Ace.
The ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ (3008642-07) wins among others:
1st Provincial Pau against 471 pigeons, 15 minutes ahead (2012)
(18th National against 1,989 pigeons)
1st Provincial Perpignan against 1,128 pigeons (2012)
(5th National against 6,661 pigeons and 5th International against 16,921 birds)
1st Ace Extra Long-distance KBDB 2012
2nd Provincial Marseille (2011)
51st National zone Montelimar against 979 pigeons
69th National Perpignan against 6,257 pigeons
(92nd International against 15,756 birds)
285th National Orange against 4,466 pigeons
385th National Tarbes against 4,576 pigeons
321st National Marseille against 3,179 pigeons
598th National Perpignan against 5,591 birds
As mentioned above, the mother of the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ is the 3003060-02, a nest sister of the 4th Provincial Ace ‘Witten Tik’ (3003061-02), with among others 9th provincial Angouleme against 2,915 pigeons and 21st National Derby Limoges against 12,266 birds.
The ‘Witslag Rivaldo’ (3005126-08), a brother of the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’, wins among others:
32nd Interprovincial Bordeaux against 857 pigeons
350th National Tarbes against 4,576 pigeons
116th National Pau against 2,279 pigeons
95th National Tarbes (Agen) against 4,818 birds
The ‘Stijn’ (3000729-06), a half brother of the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ out of the same father:
5th Tours against 2,874 pigeons
9th National Brive against 17,456 birds
50th National Montauban against 5,438 pigeons
102nd National zone Souillac against 3,625 pigeons
165th National zone Souillac against 3,290 pigeons
1st Ace Zwalmvallei
The ‘Bamby’, another brother of the ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ flew also a 1st from Poitiers.
A half sister, the ‘Delphine’, flies strongly in the Sun City Million Dollar Race Zuid-Afrika. She comes out of the ‘Halfbroer Rivaldo’ x a hen from Emiel Denys.
Just what he wants
“If I should have to choose between a national winner and a pigeon that has won two or three provincials, well, the chances are that I will choose for the regularity,” says Etienne Devos. And we can understand his reasoning: for a national victory, everything has to go smoothly and you need a little bit of luck, but a pigeon that for instance flies three times ahead of an entire county, you should not have any doubt that is a good one.
“Naturally, you must take everything into account,” Voske explains further, “the pigeon itself, the pedigree, the suitability to the distance…”
When recently Noel Lippens from Aarsele sold his entire colony via Pipa, Etienne Devos saw a chance to put his theory into practice. The ‘Cancellara’ from Lippens, with his three provincial victories, was just what Etienne wanted. But he had a fight on his hands to buy the bird, with all this new money from China. But now, the ‘Cancellara’ sits well and good in Deerlijk… and not only because he has the same name as a racing cyclist.
Let’s summarize for a moment:
The ‘Cancellara’ (4422698-04) flies for Noel Lippens
1st Provincial Montauban against 921 pigeons (2007)
1st Provincial Souillac against 1,712 pigeons (2009)
1st Provincial Montauban against 1,105 pigeons (2009)
139th National Brive against 16,007 birds
23rd Chateauroux against 711 pigeons
Also the lineage couldn’t be better! He is a grandson of the famous ‘Vital’, 1st Ace Long-distance 1993 for Lippens.
This ‘Vital’ (3389798-88) forms the base stock of many super pigeons, like for instance the ‘Noel’ of Eric Vermander Oekene, the ‘Falco’ and the ‘Bliksem’ of Gaby Vandenabeele. The ‘Bliksem’ is for that matter also a grandson of the same ‘Vital’.
You can also find the ‘Vital’ line with Roger Vereecke, with Decroix, with Georges Bolle, Luc Vandenplas and so on.
And for your information: The ‘Vital’ of Lippens became 1st National Ace Long-Distance with:
2nd National Montauban against 6,814 pigeons
6th National Narbonne against 6,531 pigeons
9th National Cahors against 8,073 pigeons.
There can’t be many better pigeons, we believe. And we almost forgot to mention that he also flew 75th and 83rd National.
And while we are at it, here is the track record of the ‘Bliksem’, a cousin of the ‘Cancellara’:
1st Provincial Poitiers against 1,488 pigeons
2nd Provincial Chateauroux against 4,662 pigeons
4th Provincial Ruffec against 1,778 pigeons
5th Provincial Perigueux against 1,119 birds
8th Provincial Poitiers against 2,975 pigeons
Or, as Etienne Devos likes to have them: good pigeons out of a good family.
And since we’re talking about Gaby Vandenabeele…
Etienne Devos knows the breed of Vandenabeele very well. “Up to 600 kilometres, there are no better pigeons,” he says. So it is only natural that Etienne regularly acquires a few Vandenabeele pigeons. In 2000, he and Gaby had already been breeding together, and out of that came for instance his International winner the ‘Carcassonne’.
In recent years, Etienne has also brought in a fair amount of Dentergems blood, in particular via Noel Claerhout from Ooigem (Wielsbeke), who has direct Dentergems. And via Rik Cools-Blancke from Ruiselede, via Raf Van Temsche from St-Eloois-Vijve, and via his friend Vital D’Heedene from Wielsbeke.
Twice, Devos acquired a dozen youngsters from Noel Claerhout to race with. Once in 2009 and the second time in 2011. And Etienne wouldn’t be Etienne if he didn’t breed a few cracks from these… Judge for yourself.
The ‘Mannequin’ (3088501-09)
1st Ablis against 491 pigeons
2nd Souillac against 242 pigeons
(4th Provincial against 1,138 birds)
4th Provincial Tulle against 698 pigeons
(25th National against 5,124 pigeons)
8th Dourdan against 173 pigeons
8th Provincial Argenton against 3,250 pigeons
(21st National against 19,816 birds)
6th Provincial Poitiers against 801 yearlings
10th Provincial Bourges against 2,054 pigeons
(204th National against 17,138 birds)
13th Provincial Poitiers against 964 old pigeons
46th National Chateauroux against 20,517 birds
(6th Provincial against 2,395 pigeons)
56th Provincial La Chatre against 1,615 pigeons
81st Provincial Chateauroux against 4,107 pigeons
1004th National Brive against 10,089 birds
6th Provincial Ace yearlings KBDB WVL 2010 Direct Noel Claerhout
The ’13’ (3088513-09):
14th Provincial Poitiers against 801 yearlings
24th Provincial Poitiers against 964 pigeons
57th Provincial Bourges against 2,054 pigeons
63rd Provincial Chateauroux against 4,107 pigeons
136th Provincial Argenton against 3,250 pigeons
156th zone A Bourges against 4,806 birds
782nd National Bourges against 17,138 pigeons
412th National Argenton against 19,816 pigeons
755th zone A Limoges against 6,810 pigeons
1709th National Limoges against 14,211 birds
10th Provincial Ace KBDB WVL Direct Noel Claerhout
The ‘Cavendish’ (3068321-11) wins:
1st Provincial Argenton against 2,844 pigeons (2012)
(10th National against 22,334 birds)
2nd Provincial Chateauroux I against 885 pigeons (2012)
4th Provincial Chateauroux II against 2,905 pigeons
(9th National against 15,902 birds)
29th Clermont against 777 pigeons
Direct Noel Claerhout
“These are the real ones, eh” Etienne Devos sums it up.
You achieve what you aim for.. Your own bloodline first
No, this isn’t a political statement. It just means that Etienne Devos likes to bring back pigeons of his own bloodline. He believes that these are best for strengthening his breed. And of course he is not the only one to believe this.
You read earlier that Etienne coupled the national Limoges winner to his niece, which he brought back from Jean-Marie de Craene as sister of their 1st National Cahors.
He also didn’t hesitate to retrieve some pigeons from Roger Harinck-Poelmans from Genk. Roger could lend a sister of the ‘Kleine Didi’ for three months. He paired her to a Nouwen-Paesen cock and from these he bred his ‘Camille’ (5094750-01), 1st National Barcelona in 2007.
From De Graeve-Van Geert, who have a loft full of Devos pigeons and who achieve fantastically well with them, Etienne Devos brought back the national winner ‘Ronaldinho’ himself, ring 4295602-04. This ‘Ronaldinho’ won 1st National Limoges in 2006. His father is a De Rauw-Sablon and his mother is a granddaughter out of a brother ‘Kleine Didi’ x a hen from Gaston Devooght from the 1st National Dax.
With this method you can achieve the necessary blood refreshing without the danger of going backward in genes.
Staying at the top
It is always a remarkable phenomenon that often the same champions will find that one top pigeon, will put that top breeding pair together, will buy that top purchase from friend or competitor, will select a pigeon and succeed with it…
“Why do you think that is, Etienne?”
“I find that a difficult question, especially because a lot of things are so obvious for me… I can’t imagine that someone ‘can not’ feel the difference between good and not so good plumage, between a pigeon with ‘gusto’ and one that has no spirit at all… You can call it intuition or feeling, but I think that a large part is also lots of practice and experience: studying good pigeons and holding them in your hand, listening to old hands and especially not looking too much at the papers that come with a pigeon. I am not a fan of pedigrees… you must have good pigeons, and a good lineage is a bonus… not the other way around.”
“Is it true that you can acquire good pigeons easier when you have a good colony yourself?” we ask an almost rhetorical question…
“That is absolutely correct of course: you can exchange easier, you can breed together, you can sell some pigeons and buy some strengthening blood with that money… but you can never take it for granted. I know wealthy people who spend fortunes on pigeons, but never really succeed with them. Do these fanciers only buy bad pigeons? I can’t believe that… the fact is, you must also have the knack to couple these pigeons well and you must be a bit of a fancier…”
“Does it also have to do with mentality, with being a winner?”
“Without any doubt. A born winner will always come out on top, in business, in any sport, and also in the pigeon sport. Often you get from life what you set yourself as goals… If you set your goals not very high, than you will never get very far. I know a lot of fanciers who call their pigeons ‘good ones’ when they fly once among the first hundred national… For me, the bar lies much higher. I want Ace pigeons, winners, pigeons on which you can put money. And strange but true, with goals like these, you can make it work too, because you will do anything for it… Who is satisfied sooner, is often left with his little prize winners, one day wonders, paper pigeons… But to each his own. It is the nature of the fancier, eh.”
“Etienne, what do you think is the most important factor in racing with pigeons?”
Etienne Devos doesn’t have to think twice for an answer: “Noticing everything, seeing everything… And that is not possible when you have too many pigeons in a loft. I am known for the fact that I don’t like too many birds in a loft. Many pigeons in a loft makes me ill… you can’t ‘see’ anything then. The pigeons are restless; you can’t see the wood for the trees. In my lofts, there are on average 2 to 5 pigeons in an area that is big enough for a dozen birds. Immediately on entering the loft, I see everything: where the pigeon sits, how the bird looks physically, how the ‘understanding’ among them is, who is boss… With 12 or 16 pigeons in a loft you can’t see it all, or at best with much more difficulty.”
“You must have a lot of lofts,” we say.
I have 13 racing lofts for 55 to 60 pigeons. Count it out for yourself.”
“But not everyone has facilities like that…”
“True, but then you must keep fewer pigeons. Isn’t it better to achieve well with 6 pigeons, than being a loser with 24 birds. It is often the problem: too many pigeons, no overview, not being boss over the set-up…”
“And you think…”
But Devos continues himself: “Look, the ‘Kleine Didi’ sat in a loft with two pigeons. The ‘Ronaldo’ and the ‘Rivaldo’ sat together… You don’t need to motivate these pigeons: they can drink each other’s blood, because they all want to be boss over the entire loft. With 12 birds in a loft, you don’t get that… they are happy enough when they can keep hold of their bowl and they will only occasionally fight a bit with a neighbour, until they tire of this too. Believe me; you get entirely different dynamics when they sit with 2 or 3 in a loft. And I’m not even mentioning the other advantages: less dirt, less dust, more oxygen, clean drinking containers, less stress… These are all advantages for the fancier too, eh.”
I am quietly digesting this and counting myself amongst those fanciers with far far too many pigeons…
“Can you tell me how you select your pigeons to keep mainly the good ones…?”
Etienne Devos laughs: “The pigeons select themselves… For myself I breed a maximum of 100 young, and I am not particularly interested in their performances as youngsters. I find that good old pigeons are not often very notable as youngsters. Moreover, young that fly in the lead once will not automatically grow into good old pigeons. My experience is that what you need above all is a lot of patience: because good pigeons will improve over the years. It is often said that they are like good wine…
Take for instance the ‘Rivaldo’: as youngster, he didn’t easily win anything. Which didn’t prevent him from flying in the lead from Barcelona 6 years in a row, and every time he got better…? The ‘Kleine Didi’ was 6 years old when he was at his best… The ‘Witpen Rivaldo’ is now National Ace in his 5th year… But it is a problem that things can’t be done quickly enough nowadays…”
“Yes but,” we put forward, “we are talking about selection, and if I understand correctly, you have to keep all pigeons and practice patience… Do I exaggerate a bit…?
“I think that we misunderstand each other,” says Etienne Devos. “Let’s go back to the beginning: of the 100 young I have just over half left at the end. Let’s say some 25 to 30 cocks and the same number of hens. But I am only interested in the cocks, because I don’t race with hens. The cocks can grow into yearlings, and I have a clear preference for cocks out of proven couples and lines. Naturally. As yearlings, they get a thorough training and they must repeatedly fly 400 and 500 kilometres, up to Limoges. That is enough. Those pigeons that I am not yet sure of have to fly a little bit further still. Of course I like them to show their worth a bit at this stage, but it is not a must yet, certainly not for the long-distance pigeons, especially not when they have all the hallmarks: the blood line, the body, the feathers…”
“So you only go on with the pigeons with a lineage that show themselves enough of an athlete?”
“Something like that. But as two year old pigeons they will have to prove their worth, of course. Then, their pretty eyes are not taken into account anymore… and yes, by then there are not many left…”
Keeping them healthy
“Do pigeons that sit with 2 or 3 in a compartment automatically stay healthy?” we ask.
“I wish that was true. You have less illness because of over-population, less hygiene or stress, but most illnesses are picked up in the baskets. And believe me, with infected pigeons you can’t race at the top…”
“So you treat liberally, then?” we remark.
“I won’t deny it: I don’t take any risks with regard to tricho and bronchial diseases. Against those, I treat regularly. You can’t wait until the birds are really ill or until you lose them… You have to notice it immediately as the form diminishes: they eat different, they fly different, they sit different, their feathers look different, and they act different. At that point I’ll react immediately. And it doesn’t prevent them from racing as champions until their 7th or 8th year. I won’t give any medication in the winter or when they are moulting of course. That way the liver and kidneys can recover.”
“Do you do all this from your own experiences or rather in consultation with the vet?”
“Both. During the season the vet visits about every two weeks, but I don’t need a vet to treat against tricho. All racers get 1/6 tablet Flagyl regularly. And this method suits me.”
“Yet, the present trend is to avoid medication in order to make the pigeons more resilient with natural remedies and by-products…” we remark.
“Yes, I read that as well. But I give less and less of all these by-products… honey, garlic, tea, yeast, oil, eye drops… it gives a lot of work. Good feed – and with me that is Weduwschap Pan-1 and Pan-2 from Versele-Laga -, electrolytes after a race and once in a while Naturaline in the drink water, they have to make do with that. Shortly before basketing I’ll give them a bit of extra maize, and that is it. And of course lots of fresh grit but that speaks for itself. And bathing often…”
“Etienne, you are now 76, is such a colony of pigeons not becoming too much for you?”
“It is not too bad yet. My health is good at the moment, and my advantage is that I only have to look after the widowers. The rest is for the loft helper. But the widowers I do myself: releasing them, calling them in, feeding, and looking after the drinkers and so on. The widowers are allowed to exercise together twice a day. Also, they are all fed individually, with the spoon in a small pot in their nest box.
It is a lot of work, but I believe that it is the only way to feed correctly. Every pigeon must eat the varied mixture completely. I give them enough: in the morning and in the evening one spoonful. If they don’t eat it all, I take away the rest after some 15 minutes. Otherwise they get too full and then they won’t eat again later.”
It is clear once again: many roads lead to Rome, and to big victories, but one thing has become a lot more certain: you must have good pigeons… and you must have the proper ambition… and you must be ‘a bit of a fancier’. Whatever that may mean…