1st NATIONAL CHAMPION SPEED YOUNG PIGEONS
1st NATIONAL ACE SPEED YOUNG PIGEONS
Vorselaar, Belgium. Men who succeed in becoming the champion of Belgium twice can be counted on the fingers of one hand… they are the white blackbirds of the Belgian pigeon sport. Leo Heremans is such a white blackbird, even though his hair is now as grey as a pigeon.
In 2010, Leo stood on the highest podium of the KBDB Championships… and in 2012 he was there again… becoming the national champion for the second time in three years.
A man like this deserves a standing ovation, and Leo received one… when he came down from the podium, the emotions of this top sportsman almost flowed over.
Leo’s star has shot to the top of the pigeon world. His home has become a pigeon fanciers Mecca, but Leo is still the same person. He just goes his own quiet way and always tries to do his best for everyone.
Leo: “I almost lost hope at the beginning of the season. My health wasn’t good and didn’t get any better. On the day of the Gouden Duif I was in hospital… I was in a bad way and just couldn’t spend any time in my pigeon loft. Because of this, the bond between me and my pigeons got a bit lost… but fanciers and pigeons are made of stronger stuff… when the weather got a bit warmer… my health improved… and every Tuesday I now spend half a day away from the loft to go for a bicycle ride and to play cards with my friends.
Up until two years ago I used to cycle 40-50-60 kilometre… and up until two years ago I was always in the lead… my friends were forever pleading for me to slow down a bit… but now those days are gone… in 2012 I often couldn’t keep up with the peloton. Now they call out: ‘slow down a bit boys, because Leo has been left behind…’ This is not easy for me, it goes against my nature, but afterwards we go to the bar… to play cards and enjoy ourselves.
So when the weather improved last spring, I started to feel better again…but the problem is my breathing. I can’t go into the loft anymore without a air filter helmet… I also take too much on… I breed a lot, get many visitors, and (to get all the work done) rush around from loft to loft. I have never been a heavyweight but now I have shed even more kilo’s… but the achievements of my pigeons make everything all right… and I am pleased that they perform well in so many different races.”
Young pigeons are like small children
Leo: “Weaning young pigeons is a lot of work for me. I carry the young with their nest bowls to their new loft (20 youngsters in a compartment). I place the nest bowls on a wide shelf… most people put the nests on the floor… but I find the birds get scared on the floor… I much rather put them on a shelf at waist level… then I can stand next to them, put my arms on the shelf, stroke the young and get them to eat out of my hand… literally and figuratively… a pigeon that has been raised by me is not easily frightened…”
“With the breeders, I do have feeding troughs on the floor of course, but not in the racing sections… all are fed with the spoon in their boxes… old birds and youngsters. I also feed them outside the loft… with this system, you never have timid pigeons… what’s more… I can catch every young and old pigeon from the shelf outside… which is convenient. I put them outside when they are just 25 days old… they can’t fly yet and I start feeding them on the shelf.”
Leo has a favourite loft…
Leo has a favourite loft. In this loft he puts his 20 best young cocks that he identifies with a red clip ring. These 20 best cocks he has selected during rearing. After these have flown two races from Quievrain, Leo selects 12 of these young cocks to couple with old hens (maximum 5 days sitting eggs).
It is a fixed ritual; this is the loft that Leo visits first every morning is this loft. This loft witnessed the racing careers of the ‘444’, the ‘426’, the ‘Jan’, the ‘Euro’, the ‘Di Caprio’ and in recent years the ‘Porsche’, the ‘Nieuwe Olympiade’, the ‘Louis’, the ‘Gilbert’, the ‘Bolt’, the ‘020’ and the ‘Olympic Sperwer’. Every one of them national toppers.
Leo: “I have a simple system. That loft always comes first. I darken the youngsters until the first or second week of June. In 2012 I didn’t give any extra light. In 2011, I did… with giving extra light, the top form can be held two weeks longer.”
Three lofts for widowers
For a man of his calibre, Leo does not race with many old pigeons or yearlings, only 33. And he has his very own system.
Leo: “I have three lofts with 9 boxes. To hold a few pigeons more, I place two boxes on the floor of every loft. That doesn’t do any harm. The best example is the ‘Jan Junior’… Everybody talks about his achievements, but I know… he lives in a box on the floor. Because of this system with the boxes, I can hold 11 racers in each loft. The racers for Quievrain, Noyon and the middle-distance are in the same lofts. Basically it’s a bit of a chaos…”
Leo: “I race from Quievrain and Noyon in the ‘Tienverbond’ and in the ‘Vierdufkes’… that means 12 races per week… to catch the birds for basketing takes two hours… that costs me a lot of energy, and I sometimes ask myself ‘What am I doing?’…
Leo: “Feeding takes the most time… all racers get their feed with a spoon in the box… I give one spoonful five times… that way I can keep an eye on every pigeon… I start with corn, then smaller seeds… and when a bird looks away I clear the table so to speak… they are not allowed to over-indulge… an acid crop is a disaster for the form… but don’t worry: all that trouble is not for nothing… because of feeding with the spoon, the pigeons keep their form for longer.”
A year after the sale
After the sale in 2007, Leo was left with the ‘Nieuwe Rossi’, the ‘Eenoogske’ and the ‘Goede Witpen’ (18 times 1st) that hadn’t been fertile for some time. At the end, he was completely blind and he literally died of old age in 2011.
His son in law, Bart, had a round of youngsters out of Leo’s best pigeons. The loft manager Hugo had been given eggs from Leo’s best birds before the sale… Hugo didn’t want all the young pigeons and brought some back to Leo. These became the new breeders in Leo’s loft. At first, he wasn’t that enthusiastic, but when he let the young pigeons out for the first time, his inner flame started to burn more steadily.
Leo: “I saw those birds sitting on the perches and felt like a fancier again. In 2007, I only went to the club with pigeons twice… both times they flew with no nominations… one of those times the mother of the ‘Olympic Sperwer’ could have won a 1st (nest sister of the ‘Jan Junior’).
The first time that I raced with widowers in 2008 was good as well: 1st and 2nd from Quievrain (‘Jan Junior’ in the lead).
Paul and Hugo
As a pigeon fancier, Leo has luck on his side with two base breeding cocks… the ‘Olympiade’ and the ‘Jan’. Luck is also with him for having two pigeon friends on which he can count unconditionally.
Leo: “Hugo cleans all the lofts. He is extremely dedicated. I have known him for many years. Hugo was a friend of our Michel (Leo’s brother), and was with us all the time. In those days the house was always full of young people. Hugo even taught me to dance. In the pigeon lofts, Hugo never lets you down. Sometimes he will even tell me off, but always with a smile. When I am away with friends, I don’t go home to feed the pigeons. Of course, Hugo sees that the following morning in the droppings of the birds, but going a little bit hungry now and again doesn’t do them any harm…”
Leo: “Paul Huysmans is of the same calibre. Years ago Paul had different things on his mind other than pigeons… he was going to marry Marina and was looking for someone to look after his last two pigeons. The next day his pigeon basket stood on my doorstep. In 1978, I bred out of Paul’s ‘Teentje’ a pigeon that had won 14 prizes. It was the beginning of everything for me.”
Leo: “In 1993, I asked Marcel Mols to race with me. When the young pigeons were old enough, I let Marcel choose a youngster from every nest. Marcel liked the Quievrain races the best. I raced with the brothers and sisters from Noyon and also the middle-distance races and all went well… 1st provincial champions middle-distance young pigeons and 3rd provincial champion speed young pigeons. Marcel was a real ‘people person’… on Sundays there was always lots of visitors when the pigeons were due to return from the races… many crossed the street from the football fields to our pigeon loft… and all thanks to Marcel.”
Leo: “After the death of Marcel, it became Heremans-Ceusters, and after the sale I went on under my own name. But what would I have done without Hugo and Paul? Paul always takes the pigeons out training for me and he delivers the pigeons for basketing in the ‘Vierdufkes’ club. Many thanks to both men.”
Controversial acquisition of the ‘Olympiade’
Leo’s base breeding stock is well known in the pigeon world. With pigeons from Dirk Van Dyck, the Hasendonckx Bros, Maurice Hasendonckx, Jan Diels and in recent years from Verkerk and Koopman. But the most important role is that of the ‘Olympiade’.
Leo: “I met Gust Jansen in the bar in Beerse. We went there for a beer (or two) during a cycle ride. The landlady always said that Gust Jansen and Jos De Visscher had the best pigeons. Jos had a good blue pigeon. ‘You should show me the bird’, I once asked him. It was a very nice pigeon indeed and we started breeding from him with two hens. The young were equally shared. Jos released his to fly out, I kept mine inside. I did release the youngster of the second hen… the ‘Penny’. She was a good pigeon herself and mother of the ‘Natalia’ and others. Sometime later, the pigeons of Jos were sold… I went to the sales out of sympathy… the ‘Goede Blauwe’ was sold for just a few euro’s. I didn’t know then that these pigeons were such good ones… a big mistake.”
“With Gust Jansen it clicked from the very first second that I went to look at his pigeons… they were very good ones.’Why don’t you choose a few to get a couple of eggs from?’, Gust suggested… I chose the ‘Asduif’ (1st provincial champion) and the ‘Vale’ (brother of the ‘Asduif’)… I got perfect results… and that’s when I realized that I could build up something good with Gust. Later I got the ‘Asduif’ on loan once more.
In 2002, Gust had a fantastic yearling… he was to become 2nd National Ace. When the results came through I went to Gust to congratulate him. He told me that he had an offer for the bird but that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to sell him. I drove home but that night I couldn’t get to sleep. My wife Chris said “Leo, if you like that pigeon so much, why don’t you try buying it yourself.”
Leo: “The following day I went back to Gust. He was still hesitating. That’s when I made my suggestion: ‘I want to buy half of the bird.’ Gust laughed and asked ‘how are we going to do that…’ In the end we came to an agreement… we would take it in turns… one month Gust would have the pigeon, the other month the bird would be with me. In other words, I bought half of the breeding time, and it worked out very well. A short time later he became the Olympiad Ace pigeon as well. Heads were put together… the entire world wanted to buy the ‘Olympiade’, but that didn’t happen… such a pigeon is a dream… I kept him in a separate compartment… I bred a lot with him… sometimes with four hens at the same time… The ‘Olympiade’ was a pigeon with character… When he came back from Gust and I put him in his compartment… he began to roar… as if he wanted to say, I’m back here now.”
As a fancier, Leo believes in very minimal medical intervention.
Leo: “I don’t give anything when it’s not absolutely necessary. In 2012, my young pigeons were not treated against tricho for the entire year. If they exercise well then it is not necessary. In 2011 I started giving drops from Birdy…also 1,000 kilo of ‘red pickstone’ in a year and lots of vitamineral… it doesn’t do them any harm…”
Is there anyone who has a better nose for pairing pigeons than Leo Heremans?
Like so often, the strength is in keeping it simple.
Leo: “In pairing pigeons you need luck. They must come out of good pigeons. I only breed with very clean birds. I find that very important. The eyes have to shine. That is a sign of vitality. And they must be super healthy. Most pigeons in my breeding loft have never been raced, but their offspring are tested rigorously. I only keep one round for myself. That is an advantage for people who buy pigeons from me. The children from the best couples are also available here. That way, people have better results with them. Because everything starts and finishes with quality.
But with pigeons such as the ‘Olympiade’ and the ‘Jan’ you don’t have to think twice. These are just good pigeons…”
The Usain Bolt of Vorselaar
Leo: “Quievrain is my favourite race. I send my best pigeons to that race. This year, the ‘Bolt’ was the best… even though he had a serious setback… on the Saturday before the first race I let my young pigeons be fitted with a microchip… one pigeon was not on the list: the ‘Bolt’… I let him fly without entering him in the race him… he was my first pigeon and flew in the lead… if I may make a comparison you could say that the ‘Bolt’ was too quick out of the starting blocks… but he kept on flying well… 1st National Ace… who doesn’t dream of that?”
The ‘Olympic Sperwer’ has a great story too. That is a bird that can fly very fast… he proved this by becoming 1st from Melun against 2,023 pigeons, and with 1st Angerville also against 2,032 birds (in two successive weeks).
But the ‘Sperwer’ had Leo living in fear as well by staying out for a night. ‘He must have had an accident and we will never see him again’, that was the general feeling of Leo and the men watching for the birds to return. Between Quievrain and Noyon, Leo went indoors to get something to drink for his companions, when there was a knock on the window… the ‘Sperwer’ was home… apparently unharmed but at a closer look bruised on his belly. But good pigeons are resilient… after a week of rest he was entered in another race and won 1st Ace middle-distance Region Mechelen. The last middle-distance race he won 20th against 463 nominated pigeons. Which wasn’t a bad result at all, but Leo could use a good bird as second nominated for the race from Noyon. So only a few hours after returning home from Angerville, Leo basketed the ‘Sperwer’ for Noyon. The next morning, he won 3rd and 4th against 555 pigeons with his 1st and 2nd nominated.
Leo: “That was a magical moment. I knew then that I would have excellent results in the championships…”