People and Pigeons~ Ad Schaerlaeckens in conversation with ANDRE ROODHOOFT
It’s not going well for the pigeon sport, unfortunately.
What are emerging are the mega lofts, professional lofts, but despite that also… there is positive interest in the short-distance, or long middle-distance as they call it in Belgium. For me, the man we are introducing to you here is possibly the best in this discipline, together with Willy Daniels.
And when I say the best, I mean the best of them all.
When I mentioned this in a small group of fanciers from Antwerp a short while ago, I was met with a bit of sniggering. But when I asked them to name one that is better, they all became quiet.
I’m speaking about Andre Roodhooft from Pulderbos, Belgium. Also known outside Antwerp by his educational articles in ‘Duifke Lacht’, the second best pigeon magazine under the moon.
I have known Andre for many years. We used to go out to dinner together with our wives. And that is how I came to know him as a thinker and a searcher. Someone who experiments in a businesslike way, but with one goal only: to make pigeons achieve at their highest level. And how well he has succeeded in that, and without spending a lot of money.
I will get to the point.
In the rich history of the Union Antwerp, nobody has been King as often as he. And the Union is supposed to be the Academy, as Piet de Weerd once stated. Andre doesn’t know bad years; overwhelming results all the more.
Take for instance the year 2015:
– Souppes old birds in the Union against 3,403 pigeons: 4, 5, 6, 8, 42, 45 and so on (44/35).
– Gueret National Zone against 5,821 pigeons: 7, 11, 16, 24, 25, 40, 79, 92, 105 and so on (29/20).
– Montlucon old pigeons 10 of 10.
– Montlucon yearlings 17 of 24.
– Argenton yearlings 20 of 25 and so on.
For the rest you will just have to trust me that there is much, much more. It is possible that there are fanciers who perform even better, but I don’t know them. At least not in his discipline.
Andre, when did you start performing well and what kind of pigeons did you have then?
To be honest, I have been amongst the best ever since I was 18 years old. That was when I still took part in the speed races and lived in Geel. Apparently, I proved myself to be a pigeon fancier there, because I was invited by Mister De Scheemaecker to come and work for the breeding station. I jumped at this chance to make a hobby into a job and moved to Sint Antonius. That was in 1972. I took 10 couples with me. After that, there was a tremendous boost with the addition of pigeons from Nelles Van de Pol, a close friend of Hofkens. Also a hen from the fairly unknown Charel Cuyvers had a great impact. Actually, these pigeons are still at the base of my colony.
And after that you started concentrating on the middle-distance and short-distance?
That’s right. At first with the ‘old’ speed stock. In the beginning, people used to laugh about that, but that didn’t last long.
Which pigeons gave you success later on?
One pigeon from Aelbrecht, given for free, was a great success, and I also performed well with a pigeon from Engels. That was a grandson of his ’31’, or what was the name of that top breeder of his again?
And how about Lou Wouters?
Of course, how could I have forgotten about him? I bought several good pigeons from him. We also exchanged birds. When he died in 2002, he still had 18 pigeons. I collected them all, kept about six of them for myself and was very successful with them.
What was the very best bird that you ever imported?
That must be that cock from Engels.
How many pigeons do you have at this moment?
About 20 hens, 40 widowers, 20 breeding pairs and 20 so-called breeding pairs. ‘So-called’ because they are mostly tryouts. I breed with them and I also use them as nursing couples.
Each year, I have a lot of youngsters, up to 150. I have to, because the power cables here are a disaster. This year, losses have been limited for the first time, but I’m just waiting for the old pigeons to fly into them.
Do you race your pigeons on total widowhood? Why do you or why not?
No, I’m afraid to do that, for two reasons.
I fear that in using this method, winning with nominated pigeons is a problem, and that I get less out of the cocks.
That’s why the partners of the racers stay at home here.
Are you also a fan of racing with hens?
Absolutely. But I do have a problem with this that other fanciers don’t have. For the life of me, they won’t exercise here. At most half an hour twice a day, and that with the use of the flag. Luckily, they will fly when it counts, which is in the races.
They say that you train like Verkerk, every week ‘away’ up to 600 kilometer. Is that so?
I do this with the hens, not with the cocks. They fly up to 400 kilometer each week.
Incidentally, I find racing three weeks in a row with a head wind and 30 degrees a bit too much.
Do you do something special to let them recuperate?
On returning home every week electrolytes, which means Belgasol from Henk de Weerd, but I don’t know if you can publish that. And they get Sedochol over the feed.
Are you showing the partners?
I do with one night in the basket. With two nights in the basket for the further distances, never.
For the rest anything special about feeding?
I do everything to let the pigeons eat as much as possible.
I use a fair bit of by-products like peanuts, nutri power, oregano oil, brewer’s yeast and I don’t know what else.
Until they start racing, the young birds get naturaline and apple vinegar in the drinking water each day. With respect to garlic, some fanciers leave this in the water for days or weeks at a time, here it is refreshed.
Shall I tell you a secret?
Don’t laugh now, but the truth is that I know nothing about feed. Don’t ask me the percentage of peas, barley or maize in my mixture, I have no idea. And of protein, carbohydrates and all those other things, I know next to nothing. Here, almost everything is done intuitively.
Can you see if a pigeon is capable of flying a distance?
However, it seems that pigeons that can fly the distance are mostly perfect pigeons.
And… that I only strive for such pigeons in my breeding loft. I admit that good racers sometimes have very visible defects, but I will never breed from such pigeons.
Are you also losing so many young birds, and what do you think that the reason is?
This year, I lost too many, and what the cause is? I really wouldn’t know.
And Adeno, is that a problem here as well?
Absolutely. I have problems with it every year.
Do you breed from the racers?
No. I want to say something about that. The racers are housed in the aviary for five months during the winter.
Not because I believe in what they call an oxygen treatment, I do it for myself and for Annette. This way I have almost no work with them. Keeping pigeons takes enough of my time and my private life during the racing season.
Which youngsters are developing into the best racers here? Those from the winter’s breed? Or from the second round?
I don’t see any difference in them.
Are the best performing youngsters also the best old pigeons?
Almost always, yes, but I want to add something to this. Every year in August, I breed a few more young out of the best birds for myself, in the hope that there will be one or two really good racers among them. These can’t be taken out in the big basket anymore. I used to take them a few times into the flight direction myself, but I hate the traffic these days. So what I now do instead is take them to the breeding station some ten times, which is a northerly direction. True, I lose a fair number of them this way, but each year there is also at least one good pigeon among them. As there was also this year.
Training. Do you do this very gradually like Van den Bulck and Leo Heremans or in leaps? I hear for instance that Constant Gijsbrechts and Gustje Van Aert let their youngsters train four times at the most, after which they are entered at once in the Quievrain race. And they have almost no losses. What is your method?
I train them more like Leo Heremans and his friends. This means very gradually. I firmly believe in training often. This even pays on the middle-distance. But I myself don’t take the trouble to bring the youngsters away so often.
How do you race with these?
Separate, or ‘with the sliding door’ as some call it.
Are there standard medical treatments for your pigeons?
Certainly. Each year, after the racing season, they are treated against paratyphoid for ten days.
Have you ever had to adjust your opinion about medical care?
I have had to adjust my opinion many times, because I’m still learning every day.
About 15 years ago for instance, I treated the young before they started racing some ten days ‘against the head problems’. I don’t do that anymore now.
Now I respond to the situation of the moment, and react quickly to it. At the first sign of something wrong I take action. If you let things develop too long you can’t get it right in time and the whole season is wasted.
Can you still race without medical treatment?
No, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do blind treatments.
Do you believe in vitamins?
No, not at all.
Tell me something about your lofts.
I have build in more and more ventilation over the years. I even have ventilators that I switch on when the weather is hot, oppressive or when there is no wind. I appreciate a well ventilated loft, and so do the pigeons.
The lofts of Dirk Van Dyck are closed.
I know. But why would I change it when everything goes well?
From whom have you learned a lot?
From Nelles Van de Pol, Noel De Scheemaecker, and, and this is not to flatter you, a lot from you about racing with young pigeons.
Do you read a lot? Do you use the Internet?
I don’t use the Internet. I don’t even communicate via e-mail. I used to read a lot about pigeons, but not so much now anymore.
Who would make you happy by giving you a basket of youngsters for your birthday?
I don’t have to think about that: Gaby Vandenabeele.
I don’t want to be indiscreet, but why don’t you come across a lot of references?
You can ask me anything. The answer to the above is simple. I don’t sell many pigeons. People visiting every day or even every week? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
[Note from the author: I think it is also because of the fact that he never promotes himself, never seeks publicity and that he is a bad bookkeeper, as he himself says. No fancy pedigrees, no photos of pigeons. No website.]
Who do you admire as professional in the pigeon sport?
It used to be Lou Wouters, now, again no flattery is intended, it is you. I think it is fantastic, the way you perform with those few pigeons in Rijkevorsel.
(I’m blushing slightly).
Do you have any help? Does your wife have a role in your hobby?
Yes, I do. Roger is an invaluable help to me, and my wife is helping we when needed. She looks after the people that are waiting for the pigeons to return, and sometimes she takes the pigeon out for training.
(Annette: I do sometimes wait for the pigeons, but it takes too long for me to keep gazing up into the air).
If you were in charge, what would you change straight away?
A racing program with a lot less races, especially long-distance races. I can’t understand why they won’t listen to the people. Isn’t that what everybody wants? And still they don’t change a thing.
Do you do something that others do not?
I said so before. I want them to eat, eat and eat. As much as possible, especially the last days of the week.
So much for our interview with the man who writes the popular article in ‘Duifke Lacht’, and who is the man to beat in Antwerp on the races of around 600 kilometers.
He is a great champion, but a bit different than many.
Because if there is ONE champion who doesn’t seek publicity, it is him. In 2013 for instance, he had a real super hen, his ‘049’, because such names the birds get there. If he had submitted her results he would have been the National Ace pigeon KBDB with her.
But Andre didn’t report it, he wasn’t bothered.
That same hen went on to win a 1st National from La Souteraine, which would never have happened had she become National Ace pigeon. Most probably, she would have gone into the breeding loft.
Or, how every disadvantage can have an advantage. Although, please read on.
I will never forget that visit to Andre with W. de Bruijn. In his breeding loft, he had to catch one of his better breeders, which was very much against his habit, and when he finally got the bird, it suddenly lay dead in his hands. We stood there blushing red with shame.
But where others would curse, shout and lament, Andre didn’t say anything and threw the bird in the bin. “Don’t worry, it’s just a pigeon and it just had to be”, he said and took the next pigeon.
My last question was how the ‘049’ was doing, the virtual National Ace pigeon and the National winner La Souteraine 2014.
“Lost on the disastrous race from Chateauroux”, Andre answered. “I lost my two best old pigeons in that race, the ‘049’ was one of them, and I lost my best yearling”.
“My goodness, that must have been a setback,” I said.
Andre shrugged. “They are just pigeons,” he answered once more. This sums up this champion from Pulderbos. And others stay awake all night because of the pigeons.