Oud-Ootmarsum, the Netherlands – Kas and Karel Meijers are rising stars in the Netherlands. They have fantastic results, and as the icing on the cake an Olympiad pigeon and also the winners of this difficult edition of the Gouden Duif 2012. That makes one curious. Naturally to see the pigeons, but also to speak with the fanciers. It turned into an interesting meeting with a passionate son Kas and father Karel, who visibly enjoy it all.
Ootmarsum is a village in Twente, in the most north-easterly corner of county Overijssel. A region I have not visited very often, but without any good reason, because it is a beautiful cultivated landscape with a serene tranquillity, where agriculture has been the main source of income for centuries. An ideal place to escape the bustle of the crowded parts of the country for a while. Ootmarsum is a small town with many half timbered houses and a respectable number of galleries.
In this setting, Kas focuses a hundred percent on his pigeons and he is in the process of making his profession the pigeon sport. His methods are quickly paying off with the ‘Xena’ becoming 1st national Ace pigeon Natour WHZB 2010, the ‘Olympic Bolt’ as 1st Olympiad pigeon Young pigeons Nitra 2013, a series of super results, and by winning the Gouden Duif for the Netherlands, a title for which most fanciers need an entire career to obtain, and of which only a few will succeed.
The Meijers are not a pigeon fancier’s family by origin. They came in contact with racing pigeons through a pigeon that flew into their garden. They gave the bird shelter in a rabbit hutch, it flew around the house and was sometimes taken away a short distance, from which it always returned. That went on for a time, until some fanciers in the village started taking notice. They came to inquire about the pigeon they kept seeing around the area. And after an explanation of the situation, they managed to inspire father and son to the extent, that they started keeping pigeons themselves. The loft that was needed wasn’t built by the Meijers family, but by their newly found fancier friends from the village. Now that is active recruitment of new members! Kas especially enjoyed his pigeons and his pigeon friends to the full in those early years. And success followed suit. In 1996 they became club champion for the first time, and the following years they also raced well.
In 2012,Kas had to attend to his studies and the pigeon sport had to go on the back-burner. Father Karel is now in early retirement, but in those days he was a practising vet with very little free time, which also meant no time for the pigeons.
In 2006 father and son started again. At first, their intention was to participate in one loft races. For the Dutch Open 2006 they bought a voucher from Leo Heremans, and during their first visit to this sublime champion they bought an extra pigeon as well. The Dutch open didn’t happen, but the pigeons from Leo Heremans and especially his welcome and the way he treated them were such a pleasure that within a couple of years they had bought a complete breeding loft with 16 couples direct Heremans pigeons, and the combination father and son decided to start racing again. “I will give you pigeons that will make you a fancier,” Leo said, and young from his best pigeons found their way to Ootmarsum, among which children from the ‘Olympiade’ and the ‘Jan’.
In 2008 they bred a team of young pigeons out of these direct Heremans pigeons. They were housed in a bicycle shed and flew so hard that everybody in Section A turned pale around the nose. The name Meijers was thereby established.
And after they moved to another location in the town, where a nice accommodation had been built, they could develop their colony further with pigeons from Marcel Wouters from Westmalle… Stefaan Lambrechts from Berlaar… a pigeon from G&S Verkerk from Reeuwijk (already a good breeder), and one from F&J Vandenheede from Zingem.
In 2009 Kas had the opportunity of renting a detached farmhouse with a good sized plot of land on the edge of town. He seized his opportunity and built a substantial loft complex with spacious and deep (3, 5 meters) compartments. There is space for 28 breeding couples, 50 pairs of racing pigeons, two sections with outside aviaries for the young birds, and wide attached aviaries for partners of the racing pigeons and for reserve pigeons.
The lofts are right beside and partly under old, massive trees of about 20 meter high. As long as the temperature stays about 20 to 25 degrees C, these trees provide a lot of shelter and a very good loft climate. When it becomes warmer, they create an oppressive atmosphere and the pigeons’ form will deteriorate rapidly. Father Karel thinks that a shortage of oxygen is the reason for this deterioration.
In 2012 the racing pigeons were coupled at the beginning of February. When the young were 12 days old, the hens were removed and the cocks reared the youngsters. After the young were weaned, all pigeons were started on widowhood and they were taken away five times for training before the first race. These were usually short flights to increase the sense of direction and to get them used to widowhood.
From early April the pigeons are entered in races. “I would very much like to become speed champion, because our pigeons are especially suited for these races. And why wait when the pigeons are ready for it?” Kas says. And for that championship and for getting good results, they work the pigeons hard and build their motivation [note from the editor: in 2012, Karel and Kas became 1st non nominated and 2nd nominated champion speed Kring 2 (about 500 members) and 2nd non-nominated and 4th nominated champion speed Region 9 (about 1,600 members)].
In April the pigeons exercise twice a day mandatory for at least an hour, and as preparation for the first middle-distance races they are taken away for a training flight once or twice in between races. Every time they are released from 10 kilometres away, but each time the partner is waiting at their return. “We race with a lot of yearlings, and they have to learn what is expected from them. I also believe in getting and keeping the birds motivated to get good performances. For every official race the partner is shown. For at least 20 minutes. This fits perfectly with my intensive contact and supervision of the pigeons, and I don’t see any sign of a decrease in performances towards the end of the season,” Kas tells us.
The combination Meijers doesn’t work with double widowhood. They don’t believe in it. “The partners of all racing pigeons stay at home and are rested for the return of the racers. Pigeons have to know what they are returning home for, and an empty bowl, a different partner or a cock or hen that is tired won’t contribute to that at all. It is true that we have to keep more pigeons for this system, but we partly solve this by using breeding pigeons as partner for the racers,” a resolute Kas explains.
Care of the pigeons
The pigeons are cared for very intensively. The lofts are extremely hygienic and are scraped completely twice daily, and that through the entire year. It all looks very clean indeed.
On the day of racing the racing pigeons are welcomed with Recuvit Forte. After a few hours together they are separated and immediately they get plenty of Top Energy from Ovator, and after that they rest. On Sunday morning, they again get as much as they like and Sedochol in the drinking water. They are also released for the first time again on the Sunday. For 20 minutes only, but that is enough.
On Monday the feed is made a bit lighter and they have to exercise an hour in the morning mandatory. At noon, they get full tray allsorts and at 3 pm they are fed with Top Energy. At the end of the afternoon they exercise 1, 5 hour. After this they get plenty of feed again with added oil, amino acids and BMT.
Tuesday is the same.
The day before basketing Kas gives them racing vitamins and again BMT, and the day of basketing itself they get electrolytes.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the pigeons also get Forte Vita in the drinking water. “They don’t know clean water here,” says Karel with a smile. Karel is the one who keeps an eagle-eye on the medical care of the pigeons. Straight away on Sunday or when there is something wrong with a pigeon, Karel examines the bird himself, and because he used to be a vet, he can be very much entrusted with this.
There is a lot of confidence in the supporting products from vet Norbert Peeters from Genk, and when they find something wrong, they also use his medicines.
During the quiet period the pigeons get the condition product Forte Vita every day.
Not everything went like clockwork in 2012. The yearlings didn’t have much experience, which made the start not very very smooth. Also, the cocks refused to exercise after a few weeks. They would rather sit in the high oaks right next to the lofts, where the fanciers couldn’t see them and where they couldn’t be reached to be scared away. And they didn’t perform well at all. This they kept doing through the season, and that is why they won’t get another chance in 2013. To prevent them teaching the yearlings this habit, all 2012 widowers were removed from the lofts, and the team of cocks in 2013 consists only of yearlings. The hens didn’t take any notice of all this and performed well. And how! It is noticeable that the family Meijers are mostly successful with a head wind. And they prefer a north-easterly wind, despite the fact that they are situated far into the last drop of this extensive District 9 (the difference with the shortest distance is about 80 kilometre).
The ‘Tukkers’ (an old name out of the time of the Geuzen for the people living in Twente) themselves say about wind and position: “West is not best”. Which says it all.
There were a few problems especially with the cocks during the old pigeon season 2012 but racing was still at an exceptionally high level and results were realized with among others the seven fastest pigeons against over 4,000 pigeons, with both first nominated first back in the loft.
Fastest of all was a young cock that had been ready for weaning only at the end of April and that had been bought from Stefaan Lambrechts from Berlaar. With 2nd Maaseik against 1,981 pigeons (2nd against 7,656 birds), 1st Nijvel against 1,655 pigeons (4th against 6,899 birds) and 4th Chimay against 944 pigeons (4th against 4,271 birds), this young phenomenon became the best young pigeon in the sports class team of the Netherlands. His father is a direct Leo Heremans. The mother is of Lambrechts’ own breeding, and was as a young pigeon 1st Ace on Noyon in Berlaar.
The three best old hens at the family Meijers made a good impression when I held them in the hand. Of delightful beauty is the crack hen ‘Heartbeat in the Sky’. She was bred by Leo Heremans out of a son of the ‘Di Caprio’ and a daughter of the ‘Olympiade’. In the time that she was in Ootmarsum she flew among others 1st Nijvel against 7,422 pigeons, 1st Strombeek against 1,811 pigeons (2nd against 8,407 birds), 1st Arras against 973 pigeons (12th against 4,191 birds) and 1st Peronne against 1,170 pigeons (7th against 6,035 birds).
And to demonstrate that even a ‘Crack’ can sometimes miss the boat is proven by the story that she was once (even as a good performing pigeon) picked up in Belgium and brought back to Ootmarsum. And then the very first time she was entered into another race she immediately flew a 1st prize again. Such pigeons make you a fancier, and that is the motto in Ootmarsum: ‘You can only succeed with good pigeons!’
For a young man such as Kas winning the Gouden Duif is an important milestone. Generally, it takes a long time of working and building to create a colony of pigeons that are able to achieve at such a high level. To stand on the top step as a young man next to your father is something special. All the more reason to receive the applause on 23 February with pride!