The village of Westmalle in Belgium has three ambassadors. The first one are the Monks of the famous abbey. Their beer ‘Trappist van Westmalle’ appears on every good beer list. And the Trappist cheese of the Monks also brings many food connoisseurs to Westmalle.

The second standard bearer of Westmalle is a carpenter … Karel Mintjens is his name.

In recent years they have been joined by ‘The Lion King‘… Marcel Wouters.

One pigeon can change the life of a pigeon fancier for ever.

In the case of Marcel Wouters there are two … two outstanding pigeons from 2003 … the ‘Leeuw’ (6277418-03) and the ‘Extreem’ (6277483-03).

Two great flyers that were swiftly put into the breeding loft … the best decision that Marcel could have made. Not only Marcel himself, but also champions like Jos Vercammen, the Geerinckx family, Rik Hermans, Willem de Bruijn and Ad Schaerlaeckens have reaped the rich fruits from them.

In 2011, in the national race from Bourges, Marcel achieved a result that  fanciers will speak of for a long time to come … his yearlings won 2nd, 7th, 21st and 24th national against 20,544 yearlings (His first three nominated arrived in the lead  plus the Gouden Duif winner middle-distance for May), and with the old pigeons (three entered in the race) he won 30th and 323rd national against 24,676 old birds.

Cowshed on the farm

“I’m starting to itch, but it is still too early”, Marcel says when we visit him on one of those beautiful days in March. His widowers (22 in total) and racing hens (also 22) are still in their rest period … Bourges (26th May) is marked in red in Marcels diary … he would like to have his birds in prime condition then … But that is still two months away. Marcel remarks, “therefore March is still much too early and the racers must stay at home“.

In 1976, Marcel married Gerda and went to live on the small farm that belonged to his grandfather … the farm was surrounded by fields … so ideal for pigeons. Every Sunday, Gerda went to work at the bakery and Marcel went to watch the pigeons coming home at his father-in-law Gust Boeckx’s in Zoersel … one thing led to another … and it wasn’t long before pigeons were housed in the cowshed on the farm …

In 1976, Marcel made his debut from Bourges … with two birds in his basket he went to the Kempische Fondclub … at that time the queue waiting to basket the birds almost stretched into the road … Marcel did well right from the start and won 15th and 30th.

In 1977 he won his first 1st prize … in 1978 the young couple moved house to the Kapelstraat … the pigeons felt at home straight away … and in 1979 Marcel became Algemeen Kampioen (General Champion) in Sint Antonius.

Marcel earned his living as a postman … in Antwerp until 1992 with early and late shifts … and in 1992 he transferred to Westmalle.

Because of the irregular hours Marcel prepared little pots of food ready for Gerda to feed to the pigeons … she also released the birds for exercise … and all of this was done in a perfect routine. Marcel is still grateful to Gerda for this.

Marcel: “There is more to life than just pigeons. Since I started racing the middle-distance and long-distance races, I try not to enter my pigeons for races on Sunday. I will sometimes let them fly in a race from Quievrain or Noyon, but they only fly for training. It is only the first three races with old birds and later with the young birds that they race for prizes. Sometimes that is a pity. This way my ‘Ad’ (best pigeon of 2010) missed a few good early prizes, but that is the consequence. Generally, one day a week, Gerda and I go out for a 50 kilometre cycle ride… a pigeon fancier also has to keep the peace with his wife … and after that I can spend time in the loft with an easy conscience …”


The ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’

There are 18 couples in the breeding loft … of which the two figure heads are the ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’ … Two ‘toppers’ from 2003.

Marcel: “The ‘Leeuw’ raced for a season and a half. As a yearling, he was a real crack. I nominated him for the National Ace middle-distance award … his co-efficient was 1.51 … that is very fast … and therefore it was a little bit of a disappointment that he only became 8th National Ace … but on the other hand, that can also have been my good fortune … who knows what would have happened if the ‘Leeuw’ would have finished 1st … I may have sold him … as it was, I put him in the breeding loft and have reaped the benefits ever since. In my own modest opinion, a big mistake made by many small fanciers who discover a good pigeon is, that they race the bird until it drops or until it gets lost …”

Marcel: “Having a bit of good luck once is something, but in 2003, it happened to me twice. The ‘Extreem’ is another pigeon that gave me a lot of pleasure … As a young pigeon he won among other prizes the 2nd provincial from Argenton against 2,057 youngsters ( in 35 degrees C). As yearling and old pigeon, he confirmed this by winning 1st provincial Blois, 2nd provincial Vierzon, 3rd provincial Chateauroux, 15th provincial Bourges and so on.

For all that, the ‘Extreem’ was a bit of an odd bird. In normal, fine weather, he didn’t achieve very much … but in extreme conditions he flew very well and for such pigeons a fancier takes up the sport in the first place …”

Marcel: “You mustn’t look for famous names in my loft … the father of the ‘Leeuw’ was a good pigeon from Bourges and Chateauroux … he is a cross between Vermeiren from Sint Lenaerts, Gabriels from Oostmalle (also supplier of the base breeding hen of Lou Wouters, ‘s Gravenwezel) and René Verdonck from Deurne.

The mother of the ‘Leeuw’ is from Cop-Gijsbrechts from Pulderbos. In 2002, I wanted to buy a hen … Koen pointed to a hen and said “that’s the one you want” … and it became the mother of the ‘Leeuw’.

With the ‘Extreem’ it is very much the same story.

On the father’s side he is the bloodline of Vermeiren from Sint Lenaerts and Brocatus, also from Sint Lenaerts (mother won seven 1st as a yearling).

On his mother’s side he is of the Ghielens breed by way of Gabriels from Oostmalle, Willy Van Berendonck from Schilde, Vermeiren from Sint Lenaerts (again), and of the Brutte bloodline of René Michielsen (by way of Jos Van Giel).

Until 2008, the ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’ produced some five nests a year.

That changed in 2009, when Jos Vercammen won 1st national Bourges against 37,357 young pigeons with a grandchild of the ‘Leeuw’.

Marcel: “In 2008, Jos came to see me … as a small fancier, I had won six 1st prizes in Sint Job … which was the signal for Vercammen to come and inspect my pigeons … he bought young from the ‘Leeuw’, from the ‘Extreem’ and from a few other couples, and has already won many lead prizes with their offspring. That is when I made my name. From that time on, I started to breed more with the ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’. The other breeders also stay together until August (from May one young per nest) … I don’t have enough space. If I separate the couples sooner, they will only lay their eggs in the aviary …”

The credentials of the bloodline of the ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’ in other lofts is considerable:

– Loft Jos Vercammen, 1st national Bourges against 37,357 pigeons (grandchild of the ‘Leeuw’)

the ‘Elektro’ (son of the ‘Extreem’) super breeder for Vercammen

– Luc, Bart Jurgen Geerinckx, 2nd national Argenton and 2nd national Chateauroux against big entries with half Wouters

– Rik Hermans, 1st national Bourges against 24,676 pigeons plus Olympiade pigeon Poznan with the ‘Cow Girl’ (granddaughter of the ‘Zuster Leeuw’)

– Willem de Bruijn, 1st provincial Ace middle-distance 2010 (district east) with a grandchild of the ‘Extreem’

– Ad Schaerlaeckens, 10th national Gueret against big birdage (grandchild of the ‘Extreem’)

– Eddy Janssens, young pigeon with three 1st  in 2009 (grandchild of the ‘Leeuw’)

Marcel: “Of course it’s a shame that the ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’ are nine years old by now, but everything is still going well. I am a contented fancier.”

Racing team

In 2007, Marcel let Luc Geerinckx persuade him to try his luck with hens.

Marcel: “That was the best decision I have ever made. In my good Bourges race in 2011, the four first arrivals were hens. That will never happen to me again. I was of course fortunate that a champion such as Luc Geerinckx explained his system to me. I don’t make things difficult as it easier to keep it simple. From September until 10th November, everything is done in a very low key way. After the selection, I make it easy on myself by putting a nine litre water drinking fountain in the loft.

Around 10th November, I have my pigeons examined.

My motto is “if there is nothing amiss, don’t do anything”. That is to protect the good pigeons. Doctor Gijsbrechts is a good friend and a good vet.

Three weeks before Bourges, my pigeons didn’t perform well at all in the training flights. On the advise of Gijsbrechts, I gave them electrolytes for 15 days, and just in time they were in top form.

I also have a good relationship with Walter Smits from Zoersel … Walter has his own microscope and (as a personal favour) he also examines my pigeons.

All of my pigeons breed in the winter. Afterwards, the racing birds are separated again.

On 1st April, I put the racing couples (on total widowhood) back together for three days. That is the moment that I start to train them. I don’t have a fixed rule for basketing … sometimes the couples will come together … at other times I just put all of them in the basket … upon arrival back home, all boxes are open … the home comers are allowed to do whatever they want … free pairing certainly brings pleasure to the loft.

I have four sections for young pigeons. This year, breeding has been very successful (100 young out of the first and second rounds) … the youngsters exercise for an hour and a half … and if everything continues to go well, we will have a good season …”

The genes of the ‘Leeuw’ and the ‘Extreem’ are present in almost every pigeon …  in recent years, Marcel looked for (and found) pigeons for strengthening his breed at Luc, Bart & Jurgen Geerinckx, Cop-Gijsbrechts, Dirk Van Dijck, Hok Jos Vercammen, Eddy Janssens, Jef Hermans, Combination Maegh-Schaerlaeckens, Michel and Linda Baertsoen and Tymen van het Ende (the Netherlands).

Oil-containing seeds

Marcel always uses the products from Ronny Van Tilburg. The day that the pigeons arrive back from a race, he feeds them a diet mixture. The next two days half diet, half race mixture. Also, Marcel is something of a perfectionist … he doesn’t like to put all his apples in one basket and therefore blends two mixtures … on the day of basketing the racing pigeons are fed normally in the morning, but only sparingly … in the afternoon, Marcel gives them small Cribbs maize … at 4 pm they get oil-containing seeds from Van Tilburg (the bag in which they are kept is wet from the oil). That way they have a full crop when they start their journey.

Marcel: “In my opinion, the day of basketing is crucial. Every time they are fed, the food is better … and that makes them eat more …”

Not much pleasure in the pigeons in 2011

Marcel: “To my mind, I have raced well in 2011, but the pleasure in it was missing.

Luc Geerinckx was my best friend in the pigeon sport. Last year, Luc suffered a lot with his health (and his family and friends suffered with him) … that got into my head … we talked about pigeons (and other things) for hours … I do well with pigeons from Luc, as he did with pigeons from me … we were always together in the club … always together at a table … when Luc’s health deteriorated more and more, I lost the last bit of pleasure in the pigeon sport. My mind was too much on the misery of Luc … But in the end the world continues on … hopefully, the pleasure will come back …”

Luc Van den Plas