*A strong tandem: Hilde Vanoverschelde and Luc Sioen. Luc helps deciding on strategy and breeding, but the finer points of caring for the young pigeons and hens for the middle-distance, he leaves in the capable hands of his wife. Hilde has ‘it’ in the fingers, that much is clear. If you can win 5 nationals, you are a natural talent. And very probably, we haven’t seen the last of it.
PART II: A ruthless selection is the best medicine
In part I you could read that up till now Luc Sioen has had an eventful pigeon career. This is only to be expected with a man as driven and no-nonsense. Luc doesn’t like compromise: it’s all or nothing. Luc believes that you have to keep both feet firmly on the ground as a pigeon fancier. If you set a goal, you’ve done everything possible to achieve that goal, but only half succeed, you must change directions completely. “Do what you have to do” he calls it. In part I you could read how Luc consequently did just that several times. Fortunately, in addition to Luc’s far-reaching experiments, there was always his father’s loft to fall back on.
On the whole of course, the balance was not at all negative: when you win 1st international St. Vincent, finish in the top 20 or top 30 nationally on the extra long-distance regularly, and classify in all prestigious national and international championships frequently, then that is not bad, not bad at all… But champion Luc Sioen still wanted something more, still wanted something better. And these surpassing successes came… but from a completely unexpected direction.
The arrival of Hilde
When Luc Sioen met Hilde, he told her tentatively that he was a pigeon fancier, and… that the pigeons were an important part of his life and that they took up a fair bit of time and attention. Although Hilde did not come from a pigeon fancying background, she saw no obstacles. On the contrary, the mystery of these wonderful birds that could find their way back home from hundreds of kilometers intrigued her. When she saw the pigeon installations for the first time, she was a little bit overwhelmed, but she quickly overcame this and before she knew it, she was involved in looking after the pigeons herself. She was also very supportive of Luc in everything that happened with the pigeons, but after a while, something was missing for her: she didn’t like the fact that she was looking after birds that she didn’t know and who might not even be there anymore the following week… lost during a flight, sold, selected out… Luc, who from young boy on had always wanted to be his own boss and go his own way, understood this perfectly. The solution was simple: they built a separate, smaller loft at the side of the big loft, from where Hilde could fly with young pigeons and later with hens. Luc knew very well that his long-distance pigeons were not suitable for these disciplines: these pigeons didn’t perform well as youngsters, and would be too slow for these kind of races. And thus it came about that, in 1998, Hilde started on her own -she could of course always rely on Luc and his father for help and advice- with young pigeons.
They bought an entire round of young pigeons from the ‘Dream Breed Lofts’ from Taveirne-Rigole from Koolskamp. These pigeons were all closely or distantly related to the super pigeons from the champions loft of Gust Taveirne and Frans Rigole (like the ‘Witslager Desender’, 3364845-70, national ace pigeon Long-distance 1975 with among others 3rd national St. Vincent and 5th national Cahors; the ‘Een-Witpen’ from Theo Marchand, 3079342-64, national ace pigeon Long-distance 1969 with 1st national Angouleme, 4th national Cahors, 11th national Bordeaux; the ‘Blauwen Angouleme’, 2085635-67 from Germain Imbrecht, Olympiad Dusseldorf with 2nd national Brive and 3rd national Barcelona and 4x top 10 provincial Angouleme; the ’76’ from Victor Torrekens, Olympiad pigeon with 1st Orleans against 1,177 pigeons, 1st Salbris against 1,194 pigeons, 1st Angouleme against 1,049 pigeons and much more).
Hilde started to care for them in her own unique way, and she was rewarded for it straight away. Her young team flew more than 50% prizes up to Tours, Blois, Chartres and La Souterraine. From La Souterraine, she won in the club against 196 young pigeons: 1, 4, 5, 7,15, 16, 17 and so on, with 18/28. What a start… The tone was set. But immediately this led to a problem: Hilde had intended to race with young pigeons, but pigeons that achieve so well as youngsters could hardly be disposed of… so they would also keep a compartment of yearlings. And it was here that Hilde and the people around her discovered her talents even better… The yearlings, and more specific the hens, were performing even better: 12/19 from Chateauroux, 6/9 from Bourges and 4 out of 4 from La Souterraine, including 1st and 10th national against 1,542 yearlings. The winning hen was ‘Miss La Souterraine, 3190101-98, a bird from the round of young from Taveirne-Rigole. You probably not have forgotten that ‘Miss La Souterraine’ afterwards became mother of ‘Goudklompje’, in her turn mother of ‘Il Grillo’ (1st international St. Vincent).
‘Miss La Souterraine’ was good publicity for the ‘Dream Breed Lofts’, and Gust and Frans were all too willing to house another round of young with Hilde and Luc in 1999 and 2000. And again, success followed. That Hilde was now pregnant with the first Sioen-child was not even a problem at first. In 2000, Indra Sioen was born, and racing with the middle-distance pigeons had to be reduced a bit. Although… In 2001, Hilde Vanoverschelde repeated her stunt from La Souterraine once more. A second national victory for the Sioen family was a fact. The winning hen got the name ‘Indira’, in honour of Indra Sioen, the daughter of Luc and Hilde who was born in 2000. The ‘Indira’ did not only win 1st national against 2,338 yearlings, she was also fastest of the entire field of 21,596 pigeons. Soon though, Hilde found that intensive pigeon sport and looking after a toddler are difficult to combine. And because Luc, nor Hilde like to do things by half, they decided to stop with the middle-distance for a while. We have said it before: in the Sioen family it’s all or nothing. Hilde still assisted Luc and Gerard when possible, but she didn’t have her own loft anymore… until 2011. In the meantime, in 2007, their son Cedric was born, and she had her hands more than full with the young family. But as soon as Cedric went to nursery school, Hilde’s hands started to itch. The loft was still there, the only thing missing were the pigeons. She didn’t have to tell Luc twice. He would take care of buying the right pigeons, and this time they would breed their own young.
Even more: they would build another loft, completely designed for racing with young pigeons. The model for this loft was the young pigeons loft from Kees Bosua and the one from Rik Hermans that already was a copy of the loft from Bosua.
Rik and Jan Hermans
It has already been written many times, that the best way to make a new start is with summer young or late young from two good performing lofts. This is what Luc and Hilde intended to do. The choice of the first loft was quickly made. When you can count Rik and Jan Hermans among your best friends, there is no better source for base stock. Rik, for that matter, was very successful that year: 1st national Bourges, 5th national Argenton, 9th national Bourges, 12th national Bourges and so on. And the years before: 2nd national Bourges, 3rd national Argenton, 6th national Chateauroux and more. The breeding loft of Jan and Rik -in which at that time Miel Van den Branden still played an active part- was populated with the best that there was to find in the Benelux countries for the middle-distance: two sons of the ‘Kannibaal’ from Dirk Van Dyck, Leo Heremans by way of Marina Vandevelde, still a Janssen hen of the old sort, the breed of ‘Fieneke 5000’ from Vervoort, Gerard Koopman, Kees Bosua, Rudy Diels, Bas and Gerard Verkerk and many others. In total 24 summer young from the team Hermans-Van den Branden came to Moorslede, in particular out of the line of the ‘Jaarling Dondersteen’ (grandson ‘Kannibaal’) and his fantastic breeding grandson, the ‘Propere’. A handful of these were trained, the rest were kept for breeding. And when Luc asked Jan from which loft he could best buy stock to cross with, the name Willem de Bruijn was the immediate answer.
On to Reeuwijk
Supported by friend Jan, Luc asked Willem de Bruijn if he could buy a number of young out of his best pigeons. Of course this was possible, but Willem de Bruijn cautioned Luc Sioen to keep a healthy dose of realism: even out of the best pigeons there is no guarantee that you can breed good pigeons… Luc Sioen could live with this, because De Bruijn didn’t tell him anything new of course. They agreed on a price for eight young pigeons out of the best proven stock pigeons. Once the young were ready, Luc went to Reeuwijk to collect them. “As usual, I was welcomed warmly by Willem de Bruijn, but I got a shock when Willem pointed to a large basket with 24 young instead of 8… I was overwhelmed and told him that I didn’t have that much money on me…” Willem de Bruijn laughed and immediately reassured Luc: “You pay for 8 young as agreed, and the rest I give you as guarantee. I definitely want you to be successful with my pigeons and therefore I have put one young out of all my good couples into the basket. With 24 there is more chance that there is a good one among them than with 8…” For a moment, Luc Sioen didn’t know what to say, and then he thanked Willem heartily. Talk about a windfall. But the real windfall would show when Luc started to breed with these pigeons. Because you’ve got to understand: Hilde races with the pigeons, but it’s Luc who breeds them for her. Or more accurately, Luc decides on the breeding strategy, but it is friend Yves Vandecapelle who takes very meticulous care of the breeding loft. So let’s say it here once more: “Thank you very, very much, Yves, for your tireless efforts!”
When the pigeons were ready, they were divided over two breeding lofts, taking great care that brother and sister didn’t go into the same loft. It was, after all, their intention to let the breeders form spontaneous pairs. The inspiration for this came from the experience that pigeons that are not happy will not give good offspring and sometimes even breed reluctantly. The fates were with them, because just through what some people would call ‘affinity’, a super couple was formed, the cock ‘Explosief’ from Willem’s loft, a grandson of stock pigeon Apollo x hen ‘Gipsy’, a direct Jan and Rik Hermans, granddaughter of ‘Jaarling Dondersteen’. In the first generation, this couple produced ‘Andrea’, 5th national La Souterraine and in the second generation ‘Nairo’, 1st national La Souterraine and the ‘Xiao Li’, 3rd national La Souterraine, which is a good result. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. In principle, you could already talk about a super successful input… but that was only a fraction of the success that would come out of the collective input from the pigeons Hermans-De Bruijn.
Discovery-round in 2012
With the late young from 2011, they bred two rounds of young in 2012. They were trained extensively and it became a discovery-round for pigeons and fanciers alike. A few direct Rik Hermans’ had already been trained in 2011 and they were immediately showing their worth. For instance ‘Emilia’, 3088148-11, and full sister of ‘Ranomi’ with Rik Hermans, flew in two seasons: 3rd provincial Fontenay against 7,568 pigeons, 30th national Chateauroux against 15,902 pigeons, 119th national Bourges against 16,859 pigeons, 14th Montlucon against 588 pigeons, 17th provincial Fontenay against 6,144 pigeons, 27th national zone Chateauroux against 4,288 pigeons, 29th national zone Argenton against 2,650 pigeons, 64th national zone Bourges against 3,085 pigeons, 80th national zone Bourges against 5,193 pigeons and 20th provincial Tours against 2,155 pigeons. After this, she was put into the breeding loft, where she became mother of ‘Nairo’, 1st national La Souterraine in 2015. We will come back to this later. But also among the young that were bred out of the round of late youngsters from Willem and Rik, immediately there was one good pigeon, ‘Raffaela’, 3142012-12. ‘Raffaela’ came out of the before mentioned crossing De Bruijn x Hermans: Explosief x Gipsy, and we will come back to these later as well. ‘Raffaela’ flew in succession 1st and 2nd from Fontenay against 584 and 340 pigeons. After that, she put the icing on the cake with 1st provincial Brionne against 3,308 young pigeons. That was a welcome victory, because it was proof that they were doing the right thing with their new input. Further that year, ‘Raffaela’ also flew: 24th Argenton against 835 pigeons and 35th Blois against 944 pigeons. It was good to see that her full sister ‘Zirtaki’, 3142078-12, performed almost just as well: 6th and 7th in the same two Fontenay races against 584 and 340 pigeons and 40th from Blois against 944 pigeons. You could start believing that you had discovered a breeding couple… When, in 2013, that same duo won 1st and 7th from Orleans against 145 pigeons, and the nest sister from ‘Raffaela’ 30th national La Souterraine against 11,236 yearlings, this hope was even more reinforced. They quickly bred another pair out of Explosief x Gipsy, which would go into the breeding loft. We’re talking here about ‘Rigoberto’ and ‘Natalia’, ring numbers 3138175-13 and 176-13. This proved to be a very good decision, because they became father of the 1st national and mother of the 3rd national La Souterraine in 2015.
Where 2012 was foremost a discovery-round with some very promising results, in 2013, the loft of Luc and Hilde Sioen was already going full speed ahead. Hilde had a round of young out of the Willem de Bruijn and Rik Hermans pigeons, and more than 19 yearling hens, plus four second-year direct Rik Hermans hens and a second-year hen from Rik Cools. In the club, the other members knew straight away that Luc and Hilde Sioen meant business. A few results to prove this are:
– Fontenay (301 kilometer) against 116 pigeons: 1-2-3-4-10 and further (10/19)
– Orleans (340 kilometer) against 145 pigeons: 1-3-4-5-7-10 and further (13/18)
– Fontenay against 376 pigeons: 2-3-5-7 and further (15/18)
– Fontenay (doubling) against 4,802 pigeons: 12-16-26-47 and further.
– Fontenay against 229 pigeons: 2-4-8-10 and further (10/13)
– Bourges (426 kilometer) against 267 pigeons: 2-13-21 (4/5)
– Chateauroux national (zone) (466 kilometer) against 4,107 pigeons: 5-9-11-12 and further (17/22)
To be complete: the 2nd prize out of Bourges was won by a hen from Eric Vermander. And among the pigeons there was also a champion from Rik Cools, ‘Kati’, 3088056-11. She won among others:
– 37th national Argenton against 12,187 pigeons
– 39th national Chateauroux against 17,984 pigeons
– 36th national La Souterraine against 9,545 pigeons
– 3rd provincial Montlucon against 2,609 pigeons
‘Kati’, for that matter, was not the only contribution from friend Rik. At Hilde and Luc’s restart Rik Cools had meticulously outlined to Hilde his system for racing with hens. We can therefore safely say that her method of racing with hens is almost a copy of Rik Cools in Ruiselede.
And then there was Poitiers…
For Poitiers the weather forecast, with north-easterly winds, was favourable for the west side. There were 12,984 yearlings in the competition, 27 of which from Hilde and Luc (among them a handful of long-distance pigeons from Luc). Because of the excellent results in the previous races expectations were high, but that they would become 1st and 4th national, even Hilde and Luc could never have dreamed. Five of their pigeons finished in the first 100 national against almost thirteen thousand birds. A dream result:
Poitiers National (520 kilometer) against 13,135 pigeons: 1-4-57-76-77 and further (17/27)
National winner was the blue hen ‘Nomi’, 3142056-12, a pure Willem de Bruijn. The week before, she had already finished 12th national zone Chateauroux against 4,107 pigeons, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise. She went in the basket as 4th nominated. After Poitiers, ‘Nomi’ stood 7th in the classification over 3 national races. Her father ‘Acapulco’ is a son of top breeder ‘Jeroen’ (4th national Ace pigeon and brother of ‘Olympic Schanulleke’) x ‘Olympic Sharon’ (Olympiad Poznan and mother of ‘Olympic Froome’). Mother of the ‘Nomi’ is ‘Adriana’, who comes out of Coco x Carina, both also top racers and proven breeders in Reeuwijk. ‘Nomi’ was put into the breeding loft and is by now mother of the 3034014-14, who flew:
– 1st Pontoise against 1,251 pigeons
– 5th provincial doubling against 20,341 pigeons
– 92nd provincial Pontoise against 12,172 pigeons
The second pigeon from Poitiers, that won 4th national, is ‘Anouk’, at that moment already a star in the loft with:
– 2nd Fontenay against 376 pigeons (provincial doubling 12/ 4,802 pigeons)
– 8th Fontenay against 229 pigeons
– 5th Orleans against 145 pigeons
– 9th national zone Chateauroux against 4,107 pigeons
– 4th national Poitiers against 12,984 pigeons
With this, she becomes 3rd provincial Ace pigeon GHF KBDB in 2013, with nationally 2nd best classed after two long middle-distance races. Understandably, she was put into the big basket as number 1. After her stunt from Poitiers, she was entered further with the results:
– 7th provincial Tours against 6,400 pigeons
– 18th provincial Fontenay against 5,268 pigeons
– 11th provincial Tours against 2,297 pigeons
– 4th Blois against 944 pigeons
– 69th national La Souterraine against 11,236 pigeons
– 70th provincial Fontenay against 7,568 pigeons
– 27th provincial Tours against 5,976 pigeons
– 8th Fontenay against 584 pigeons
The father of ‘Anouk’ is ‘Big Time’, a direct cock from Rik Hermans out of a brother Athena x Tinkerbell (and therefore half-brother of the phenomenon ‘Tinkie’ of Rik’s). Mother is ‘Big Bubbles’ from Willem de Bruijn, a granddaughter of his famous stock pigeon ‘Nauwelaertsdoffer’. That was the first champion that was bred out of the cross Hermans-De Bruijn, but it would certainly not be the last. Consequently, ‘Tina’, 3142137-12, a full sister of ‘Anouk’ won:
– 23rd national La Souterraine against 11,236 pigeons
– 10th provincial Fontenay against 7,568 pigeons
– 29th national Poitiers against 12,379 pigeons
– 44th provincial Bourges against 3,080 pigeons.
Further in 2013
That season, Hilde kept achieving with her hens in the same manner:
– Fontenay against 268 pigeons: 4-7-8-11-19-21-23-26-28 and further (11/15)
– Argenton (493 kilometer) against 483 pigeons: 2-3-4 (3/4)
– Argenton National zone against 2,650 pigeons: 29-50-52 (3/4)
– La Souterraine (531 kilometer) against 344 pigeons: 3-4-6-8-17 (9/10)
– La Souterraine national against 11,236 pigeons: 23-30-69-97…
– Tours (427 kilometer) against 208 pigeons: 2-3-8-9-10 (10/16)
– Tours provincial against 2,297 pigeons: 11-15-64-71-73…
That year the restarters Luc and Hilde Sioen became 3rd in the Gouden Duif Competition and 7th national Champion KBDB Long-distance (with the remaining pigeons out of the long-distance loft from Luc). Another yearling that made hay in 2013 was ‘Roxanne’, 3142072-12, this time out of a cock from Willem de Bruijn x a hen from Rik Hermans. The cock was the ‘Willem’, nest brother of ‘Adriana’, the mother of ‘Nomi’. Mother was a full sister of ‘Minerva’, who for Rik Hermans flew:
– 10th national Gueret against 13,885 pigeons
– 21st national Argenton against 22,442 pigeons
– 36th national Argenton against 4,123 pigeons
As a youngster ‘Roxanne’ flew 406th national Argenton against 25,949 young pigeons, but showed to be a real champion as a yearling:
– 16th provincial Fontenay against 4,802 pigeons
– 5th national zone Chateauroux against 4,107 pigeons
– 57th national Poitiers against 13,135 pigeons
In 2014, she went on to win 54th national Poitiers against 12,379 pigeons. This brings us to 2014.
More of the same in 2014
At the risk of becoming ‘boring’… 2014 was almost a copy of 2013, including a national victory from Poitiers. For the enthusiasts, a few of the results in 2014:
– Clermont against 255 old pigeons: 4-12 (2/2)
– Fontenay against 265 old pigeons: 1-28… (4/4)
– Tours against 504 old pigeons: 2-7-30-31-32… (12/20)
– Tours against 147 yearlings: 2-4-7-11-14… (9/9)
– Bourges against 340 old pigeons: 3-16… (9/16)
– Bourges against 202 yearlings: 3-7-9-10-14… (9/23)
– Fontenay against 182 old pigeons: 1-6-7-15-16… (6/6)
– Bourges provincial against 2,899 old pigeons: 43-63-64… (5/7)
– Bourges provincial against 3,324 yearlings: 36-79-120-121… (5/7)
– Chateauroux against 618 old pigeons: 1-7-33-59 (9/13)
– Chateauroux against 607 yearlings: 2-15-23-43-53 (9/21)
– Poitiers local against 521 yearlings: 1-4-10-34-58
– Poitiers national against 14,094 yearlings: 1-9-82-409-884 (7/10)
This time, the national victory was for ‘Willemina’, 3138072-13, a blue hen out of two direct Willem de Bruijns. ‘Willemina’ managed to fly 13 minutes alone in the lead during difficult, but fair pigeon weather. Not an everyday occurrence! Not surprising, she became effortlessly fastest of the whole field of 26,486 pigeons. Her father is ‘Spidey’, again a son of ‘Jeroen’ (through which ‘Nomi’ and ‘Willemina’ are nieces). Mother is ‘Marie-Anne’, once again a granddaughter of the ‘Nauwelaertsdoffer’. Just like her niece ‘Nomi’, ‘Willemina’ is already producing good offspring and mother of the 3058290-15, who as youngster won:
– 31st national La Souterraine against 9,760 pigeons
– 74th provincial Fontenay against 9,536 pigeons
– 81st provincial Pontoise against 12,885 pigeons
La Souterraine twice bingo
For those of you who thought that the stunt of Hilde’s from Poitiers in 2013 and 2014 was already the maximum, we can now go one step better. During 2015, Luc and Hilde seem to have spared all their strength for the two nationals from La Souterraine. In the three categories combined, they won 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7th national. Let’s put them in order for you:
La Souterraine I (July 6th):
Against 6,205 yearlings: 4-5-118-221… (9/10)
– ‘Xiao Li’, 3034163-14, 4th national
– ‘Andrea’, 3034025-14, 5th national
Against 4,161 old pigeons: 2-7-58-64-101… (9/10)
– ‘Alexia’, 3138081-13, 2nd national
– ‘Margaux’, 3142052-12, 7th national
La Souterraine II (August 22nd)
Against 9,760 young pigeons: 1-6-31-65-132-225… (10/24)
– ‘Nairo’, 3058337-15, 1st national
– ‘Zus Willemina’, 3058219-15, 6th national
We will spare you the detailed pedigrees of these six champions. Only this: it certainly stays in the family! Because ‘Nairo’ (out of ‘Rigoberto’) and ‘Xiao Li’ (out of ‘Natalia’) are grandchildren of the couple Explosief x Gipsy, while ‘Andrea’ is a direct out of the same couple. Refreshing the memory: out of this couple they had already bred ‘Zirtaki’, ‘Raffaela’ and her nest mate. We can safely begin to call this a super breeding pair. ‘Alexia’ is in her turn a niece from the same ‘Gipsy’. And that ‘Zus Willemina’ a sister is of ‘Willemina’, 1st national Poitiers 2014 and niece of ‘Nomi’, 1st national Poitiers 2013, speaks for itself.
We said it before: it stays in the family. And let’s not forget ‘Margaux’, another granddaughter of the ‘Nauwelaertsdoffer’ from Willem de Bruijn. This ‘Margaux’ was no novice either, and had already won a few good prizes. Besides her 7th national La Souterraine she also won:
– 44th national Argenton against 25,949 pigeons
– 43rd national Montlucon against 14,230 pigeons
– 97th national La Souterraine against 11,236 pigeons
To be complete
A few more results in 2015:
– Clermont (177 kilometer) against 452 pigeons: 1-10-10… (10/14)
– Clermont against 414 pigeons: 1-11-15-18-19… (13/14)
– Fontenay (301 kilometer) against 362 pigeons: 3-4-6-7-10-11-13… (15/19)
– Fontenay against 201 pigeons: 1-2-6-7… (6/12)
– Fontenay against 365 pigeons: 10-17-36-38-39… (6/6)
– Tours (428 kilometer) against 418 pigeons: 1-3-4-5-9… (10/14)
– Tours provincial against 5,967 pigeons: 27-61-68-88…
– Tours against 269 old pigeons: 4-6-10-28-29-30… (7/8)
– Tours against 224 yearlings: 1-6-8-12-14-18… (11/14)
– Tours provincial against 2,463 yearlings: 2-65-88
– Limoges against 672 pigeons: 7-9-46… (6/7)
“As planned, after La Souterraine II, we closed the book on the 2015 season,” Luc Sioen says. “Besides, there was a lot going on as well and the pigeons were regularly disturbed or put into baskets… for photographs, for the doping control. Also, the season had been busy enough for us, and we wanted a few pigeon-free days with the children as well. But all in all, it was a fantastic finale of an unrivalled season.”
How does she do it?
I’m sure that you, dear reader, also ask yourself: ‘How does she do it?” Because let’s be clear about it: Luc Sioen admits without rancour that five of the six national victories at the Roeselaarsestraat 181 are entirely due to Hilde. That doesn’t mean that Luc does not have an active input in the strategy: together with Yves Vandecapelle he organizes the breeding program, plays his part in planning the racing program, helps thinking and searching for ways to keep the pigeons in good health… but the loft and the day to day care of the young pigeons and hens for the middle-distance, they are taboo for Luc. That is totally Hilde Vanoverschelde’s domain. We already said so in the introduction of Part I: Hilde has a feeling for pigeons that you can’t learn from books or magazines… and that you can’t explain or pass on to someone else. “So what is it that you do, Hilde, to make these pigeons so tame and affectionate?” we wanted to know. “You want to know?” she asked… “My pigeons are not tame at all. They are certainly not shy, understand me well, but they won’t come over to me, or sit on my arm or head. I’m not drilling them, if that was your question…” So what is it that she does do? “Observing, noticing everything, having a feel for the pigeon’s needs, be a pigeon among the pigeons, enjoying being with the pigeons, be consequent and consistent… I can’t explain it any other way…” Hilde tried to put it into words. “But that means that you have to spend the whole day with the pigeons?” we presume. Luc immediately contradicts us: “Looking after the pigeons takes a fair amount of time of course, think for instance about administering eye-drops or nose-drops, but Hilde certainly doesn’t live in the loft.”
From anti to pro
This brings us to care taking and medical care of the pigeons. And here, Luc has his opinion ready. “The basis of our medical strategy is that, since a few years now, we avoid the use of antibiotics, almost banned them completely even. For over five years, we haven’t given anything against trichomonas… We also never go to a vet anymore so, basically, we don’t even know if our pigeons have tricho… but if their form is as it is, they can’t be all that sick.” As an alternative to antibiotics, a lot of probiotics are given, to support the immune system and intestinal bacteria with healthy bacteria cultures. During the racing season, from the start of the middle-distance, every week the pigeons get Probac-1000 over the feed for two days, in combination with oregano oil and two days Probac Energy in combination with lecithin oil (all products from Dr. Brockamp). Combined with the yellow drops, it seems that we stay on top of most illnesses and infections. “And what if the pigeons do get sick?” we ask cautiously… “That of course depends: a pigeon that has proven itself, we won’t dispose of immediately because it has a wet nose or a wet eye, but basically, we almost never have that problem because we are ruthless with the young pigeons. Weak birds (male and female) are weeded out straight away, and then there are almost never any problems with the older pigeons.” And Hilde continued: “This year, we have even gone a step further… I started 2015 with 55 young out of the first breeding round. Every time I detected a pigeon that looked a bit off colour or that was moping, it got a pink clip-ring on its leg. That means that that young gets five days to overcome its problems, without medication or extra help. If it doesn’t recover, the bird is removed, without looking at its pedigree… I can assure you that my heart sometimes bled, since because of this, in the end I started the racing season with some 25 youngsters (of the 55).” “Are you serious?” we ask incredulously. “That’s how it was,” Luc confirmed in his turn. “But…” he continued and Hilde agreed, “After that we have practically not lost a single young pigeon.” Could it then after all be true that you don’t easily lose naturally healthy pigeons? It’s certainly drastic and Spartan, but it appears to be effective as well when you see the achievements of these pigeons. Luc and Hilde believe that there’s not much chance that they kill a super pigeon, they are very rare anyway. “When there are a dozen good, usable pigeons in among a round of 50 young, you are lucky. The chance that there is a star among the weaker birds is almost non existent, we think. Hence our motto that a sharp knife is the best medicine.” Luc Sioen summarized their vision on medication with a brainteaser: “to give antibiotics means undermining the healthy pigeons in order to help -temporarily- the sick bird… So in the end, what have you won?”
“Can you tell me a bit more about the yellow drops? It seems that everybody is giving those nowadays…” “The yellow drops are indeed very popular, and therefore for sale everywhere (Koehoorn, Raf Herbots, Colman…), this after they had been out of use for a decade or more and been replaced by an uncontrolled use of antibiotics and ronidazoles. Colman Laboratories introduced the product about half a century ago as a disinfectant against among others trichomonas and mucous under the name of Mugomorve (now Mugmo). The active ingredient is acriflavin (also: trypaflavin), a strong disinfectant. Everyone seems to have his own way of using it: individually in the mouth or in the nostrils, or collectively in the drinking water or over the feed. Because it is a strong (and slightly poisonous) disinfectant, too much is not a good idea. Acriflavin is irritating, so you have to be careful to keep it away from the pigeon’s eyes!” Luc and Hilde Sioen administer the drops in both nostrils, after the races when they take the partner away, and at the same time, the birds that stayed at home are disinfected. “Tell the reader that it leaves stains on clothing that can’t be washed out,” Hilde tells us as a concerned housewife. The Sioen family is convinced that disinfection of the mucous membranes in nose and throat after the race is useful. “But that is not all,” Luc Sioen goes on. “In addition, every Monday, we use Sliepzand with the racing pigeons. After all, we assume that pigeons that don’t have ‘breath’ enough, won’t fly well, won’t like flying and are flying slower because of it.” Sliepzand is another old-fashioned product (distributed by Dofo) that basically irritates the mucous membranes of nose and mouth, thereby stimulating the production of mucous and loosening undesired mucous. With every pigeon, Luc and Hilde remove this mucous with a cotton swab. “A lot of work,” Hilde says, “but after this, the palate clefts are completely open.” Luc Sioen doesn’t know what the exact formula of Sliepzand is, and he doesn’t have to, as long as it works. According to the omniscient Internet, Sliepzand is a mixture of Haarlemmer oil (which causes the turpentine smell) and ground white alum. Unnecessary, Luc adds again that the pigeons are very susceptible to infections of the mucous membranes of nose and throat: bacteria, viruses, mycoplasma… They cause blockages and swelling that we generally call head illnesses (wet eyes, film, blocked tear-duct, bonded palate cleft, dry mucous, one eye cold…). The environment also plays a part in this: too much light, not enough oxygen, draughts, over population, stress, and contact with sick pigeons in the basket… The Sioen family seems to have all this under control with cleaning the mucous membranes and with a precise ventilation policy. As soon as the weather changes, Hilde goes to her lofts to make the necessary adjustments: more open, less open, screening the aviaries of the young pigeons with more or less mesh… With the young pigeons, the air vents in the ceiling are mostly closed. It makes the loft relatively dark and, during the night, the window always stays open, but it is protected with a green draught screen. During darkening, enough oxygen is guaranteed through the air vents in the ceiling. A lot of thought has gone into it all that is clear.
I am the boss
Who would think that Hilde spoils her pigeons, thinks wrong. “The pigeons have to know that I am the boss,” Hilde says, “a bit like ‘tough but fair’.” As soon as the pigeons have finished moulting, they are put on a very sparse winter regime. And this is the ideal time to teach them to listen. Hilde exercises her pigeons with a whistle. They are fed so little, that they rush helter-skelter into the loft at the first whistle, sometimes even through the door, to get to the feeder as quickly as they can. ‘Gone is gone’, they learn that very quickly. When they know the system of exercise, whistle and entering the loft, they are fed a bit more, but it stays sparse until they have twice been on a flight of 175 kilometers. During the racing season they are fed very lightly (low-protein) until the 300 kilometers. From 300 kilometers on, they are accustomed to a three-step feeding system: up to Monday recuperating with a low-protein mixture, Tuesday and Wednesday building up with a sport mixture and on Thursday repeatedly feeding without limits with a high-energy (read high-fat) mixture. The hens exercise twice a day for about half an hour, around 9 am and 4 pm. At the beginning of the season with use of the flag if necessary. In the morning, they are fed with barely a level spoon, and in the evening a full spoon per pigeon. Everything has to be eaten. At first, the young pigeons are not fed with a stepped system, because racing with young pigeons is not a priority. To grow well, young birds must eat especially good and varied for the first few months. In terms of supplements, the story is quickly told. On returning from a race, the pigeons get sedochol in the drinking water. Not much more is put into their water at any time. Pigeons must drink enough, is the view of the Sioen family, and they drink best from fresh, pure water. Over the feed we give predominantly probiotica, as we mentioned before: Sunday and Monday Probac-1000 in combination with oregano oil, and on Tuesday and Wednesday Probac Energy in combination with lecithin oil. On Thursday, the pigeons get pure food, so that they have no hesitation to eat. “We won’t say that our system is the one and only way to do things,” Luc Sioen finishes this topic, ‘in the past, we used to give the pigeons all kinds of other supplements and tonics as well. I’m not sure if it makes a difference or not… Healthy pigeons will thrive for the most part on healthy food alone.”
And what about Luc?
The reader could get the impression that Luc Sioen practices the pigeon sport mostly from the sidelines in Moorslede. But of course, nothing is more wrong. Although Luc has buried his ambitions and preference for the overnight long-distance, at heart, he remains a long-distance racer with a great respect for pigeons that can fly a few extra kilometers. We have already mentioned that Luc and Hilde became 3rd in the Gouden Duif Competition and 7th national Champion KBDB Long-distance in 2013. Naturally, this wasn’t achieved with Hilde’s middle-distance pigeons alone. Among the few remaining descendants of the ‘Luuszak’ -you’ll remember: those mostly shy birds- there were after all still a number of champions. For instance ‘Joachim’, 3026065-10, won:
– 13th national Cahors against 8,348 pigeons
– 52nd national Souillac against 5,282 pigeons
– 110th national Souillac against 7,760 pigeons
– 135th national Limoges against 14,271 pigeons
– 163rd national Libourne against 6,658 pigeons
His brother, the 3026080-10, won 7th national against 6,217 pigeons and 10th international Bordeaux of 11,444 pigeons. But eventually, Luc also got rid of these, and he started anew with pigeons from his friend Georges Bolle. In 2013, Georges Bolle said farewell to the pigeon sport as General Champion of the Entente. His age (78 years) and failing health made it necessary for him to sell his pigeons. Luc Sioen handled the sale, not forgetting to furbish his own breeding loft with the best that Georges had. Luc wants to breed with these Kapiteins, Generaals and Kolonels, to use them on the long-distance and… to cross them with the bloodlines of the pigeons with which Hilde dominates the middle-distance. As an experiment, Luc took over a few promising young cocks from Hilde. He put them in the widowers loft to race long-distance with them, and guess what… these pigeons can apparently handle that discipline as well. For instance ‘Vazil’, 3034061-14, (out of NL1742464-11 ‘Spidey’, father ‘Willemina’ x NL1742491-11 ‘Bryan’, mother ‘Margaux’) won five prizes, among which two long-distance flights:
– 11th Fontenay against 414 pigeons
– 8th Tours against 224 pigeons
– 21st Chateauroux against 942 pigeons
– 3rd Brive against 315 pigeons
– 10th Limoges against 375 pigeons
‘Frakke’, 3034102-14, a full brother of ‘Anouk’ (the super champion with among others 4th national Poitiers against 13,134 yearlings, 9th national zone Chateauroux against 4,107 pigeons, 7th provincial Tours against 6,400 pigeons and more) won:
– 2nd provincial Tours against 2,463 pigeons
– 15th Fontenay against 414 pigeons
– 55th national Jarnac against 4,559 pigeons
“Talent seems to transcend the boundaries of the system,” Luc summarizes these feats of the fast pigeons from Rik and Willem.
Because of the wind
“Luc, I’m not telling a secret if I say that some people call you a wind racer… When the westerly wind blows, your pigeons stay at home…” “Et alors (so what)…, would Mitterrand say, nationally, the middle-distance and even the long-distance is purely a wind game, non? With a headwind, you have no chance nationally. If we can’t win, we won’t participate, it’s as simple as that…” Luc Sioen doesn’t race for rankings or championships. This takes the pressure off to -against better judgement- participate for the necessary points or coefficients. “Look on the map at where we are situated in the west corner: with a westerly wind, we won’t have a chance nationally… And,” Luc Sioen defends his viewpoint, “we are surely not the only ones who take the actual chances into account… it can’t be coincidence that from La Souterraine I there were far fewer pigeons on the east side after they predicted hot weather and a north-easterly wind.” We counteract: “Wouldn’t it be better to abolish the national races altogether then? There is always a part of the country that has a disadvantage, or that has no chance at all, as you call it? “I wouldn’t go that far,” Luc answers, “the sporting image of a ‘national’ is very big abroad. For people who only know the Belgian pigeon sport through the written word and the Internet, a national victory says 100 times more than a provincial or zonal triumph. If you abolish that, you short change the Belgian pigeon sport, I think. Besides, the wind blows however it wants, and every region will have its turn.” “But even so, you abstain if you can’t win…” “Yes, but there is more to it than that…,” explains Luc Sioen. “Look, when our pigeons have to fly over Brussels coming home, they easily fly some 80 to 100 kilometers too far. That doesn’t do them any good you know, people forget that sometimes. They think that their pigeons flew a middle-distance race, but in the end, it was almost long-distance. And that is something else entirely. But actually, the primary reason to cry off with a westerly wind is that it makes the pigeons unsure. Pigeons that have had a couple of bad races because of the wind direction will lose their self-confidence. You can bet that the following race, they won’t be so eager to fly home. If you basket pigeons, of which you know in advance that they will fly the wrong direction, you basically learn them to fly the wrong line. At least, that’s my view on the matter, although I can’t prove it. But once again, I believe that pigeons that always come home following the ideal flight line will be more motivated to do their very best… And only with pigeons that are super confident, can you achieve the results like Hilde’s from La Souterraine.” Hilde keeps silent and just listens to Luc explaining his vision about the influence of the wind, which he has very likely already given dozens of times. And basically, we can’t say anything against it. Only participating on the middle-distance when you have a chance to win… et alors? There in Moorslede, they have done it five times already. So I would say, copy that.