Sint Martens-Latem, Belgium – Winning a classic long-distance race… obtaining top rankings in the national championships… these things seem to come naturally to Etienne Meirlaen!

Etienne was able to buy himself a little piece of paradise on the river Leie, and in 2000, from above the stables of his splendidly restored farmhouse, he made a spectacular start in the extra long-distance races.
In 2006, he won the prestigious ‘Gouden Vleugel’ of the Barcelona-Club in Brugge… in 2007, he won 1st International San Sebastian against 1,995 pigeons… in 2011, 1st International Narbonne against 13,779 pigeons… and now, in 2012, he won 1st National Cahors against 8,401 pigeons with ‘Conar’.

In between these feats Etienne won 1st International Perpignan ’09 against 3,841 pigeons… and his track record was adorned even further with 1st National Ace K.B.D.B. extra long-distance 2009… 1st National Ace K.B.D.B. extra long-distance 2008… 2nd National Champion long-distance K.B.D.B. 2010… 3rd National Ace extra long-distance K.B.D.B. 2008… and 5th National Ace long-distance K.B.D.B. 2010!
Not that easy at all Etienne says… for that to happen, you need very good pigeons in excellent form!

He bought his very good pigeons for the extra long-distance from Van Damme-Boddaert… and from the late Antoine Vanhove from Loppem. For the even more difficult races, he looked for strengthening bloodlines at Cor de Heijde from Made… and Wijnands and Son from Maastricht, both in the Netherlands. Also a pigeon from Sylvere Toye, out of the ‘Invincible Montauban’ from M. & G. Casaert proves to be a real super breeder.

And to get those good pigeons in form, you’ll have to work at it for 365 days a year.

The 2012 season was started with a team of 40 old widowers and 23 old hens… also 40 yearling cocks plus 28 yearling hens. Etienne is a widowhood cock racer at heart… although he also races with hens from Barcelona and Perpignan.
The first and only pairing takes place at ‘Lichtmis’ (2nd February)… the widowers rear one young… there is no more laying of eggs… and then widowhood begins! Mid April, training is started… and after being taken out by car four times, the club basket is made ready. They fly 50 km… Arras… Noyon… Clermont… Dourdan… Vierzon… national Chateauroux… then the racing team is split up and the rest of the races are raced.

In between two races of 600/700 km there is a rest period of two weeks… in between two long-distance classics, the birds get three to four weeks rest.

After returning from a race, the pigeons are fed with sport mixture from Versele… after two days this is switched to 1/2 sport + 1/2 Super diet and cleansing. One week before basketing, they are back on sport mixture again.
The pigeons get ‘volle bak’ ( full feeding trough) in a joint feeding container for one hour… they can eat as much as they like, but all the food has to be eaten. Etienne spends 10 minutes per box on feeding… in several rounds the rations are put in the feeder… and this keeps the widowers eating. The last two days he puts Dextrotonic in the drinking water.
During the ‘rest weekends’, the cocks get to see their hen… at least once every two weeks!
Widowers returning from a race (in the evening or in the morning) are first put in a nest box with food and water… but without the hen. Half an hour after coming home, they go into the loft, where they sometimes stay with their hen for half a day. Before they leave for a race, cocks and hens come together for half an hour to an hour.

The week before the race from Limoges, the pigeons were treated against bronchial infections (Soludox) for four days. Before the start of the season there was a 5-day treatment against trichomonas… and during the racing season, the long-distance flyers get a tricho tablet (Oropharma) each time they return from a long-distance classic.

‘Conar’ (B10/4284640) is a two year old, blue athlete, who stands at the brink of his career and who had already shown a few glimpses of his talent. He entered the basket as 8th nominated of 12 pigeons… and naturally, he had to let the established order precede on the pooling sheet! But he didn’t hang his head like the Dutch football team… and in an impressive finish of 1,324.22 m.p.m. he showed himself as the boss over the whole contingent of 8,401 Cahors racers!
When just after five o’clock he returned to Sint Martens-Latem, he still went enthusiastically after a latecomer from Montlucon… and so lost at least a full minute.

And another observation from Etienne Meirlaen: “It is good news to clock a two year old before your older pigeons once in a while… because they are the future of your long-distance colony. The day when that doesn’t happen anymore, you are rapidly going downhill!”