Pigeon Fever Part 2 ~The first pigeons… a first class drama…
The more I learned about the present race systems and everything connected with those, the more I realized that I would never be able to comply to them. Just not enough time to achieve what I would like. I explored all avenues to find a solution for me to race actively, and the final straw seemed to me racing with young pigeons. No pigeons during the winter months, only a few breeders and come spring, starting with a nice team of young birds. But alas, this also turned out to be unrealistic, because there is much more to it than you would initially think.
But as so often, the solution came from an unexpected quarter. One part of the pigeon sport, which I now predict a great future for several reasons, proved to be the key. For me at least, it meant the solution which took care of all disadvantages that were standing in the way of my reintegration. I could not believe my luck and I’m incredibly happy with the existence of … One loft races!
I had of course come across these before but, to be honest, they didn’t appeal much to me and also because they had folded in the Netherlands. But because of the publications on the Internet and articles in the magazine De Duif about among others the Belgian Master, the idea took hold in my head and I started to explore a bit more. This was when I realized that, just as in the normal pigeon sport, here too, there is much chaff among the wheat with respect to reliability and pigeon welfare.
But if you pay a little attention, you can still find enough races that, due to good lofts and proper professional guidance, are safe to participate in. Among these are also races that will, at the end, have so many youngsters left that a modern fancier with young pigeons doesn’t have to be ashamed. Because here as well, it is nowadays quite a feat to have a few youngsters left… I have also noticed that there are several pigeon fanciers, who react as allergically to this type of  pigeon sport as any foreigner would do. Their view of such events is often based on excesses, and I get very annoyed when I hear pigeon fanciers say that this kind of races should be banned. For me, and for many others like me, these well organized races are another chance to race with pigeons on all levels, and that I like.
Had there been no one loft races, I would never have become an active fancier again, not an NPO member, no subscription to the magazines, not a visitor of exhibitions and so on. I shall put all things concerning one loft races in order, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this will become an important (future)reference for people who otherwise would, for whatever reason, have to say farewell to the pigeon sport. In that respect there are yet enough chances for the pigeon sport, all we have to do is think a little less conventionally. After all, a small breeding loft with only a few breeders is sufficient to race at a competitive level, and the Internet gives you the opportunity to keep up to date with everything, and these options will only get better. Especially during the winter months, this can be an interesting and exiting pastime.
For example, I can seek out the strongest competition on the speed/middle-distance races at the Belgian Master or the Danish Pigeon Race in Denmark.
With the one loft races, I can for instance register for the Algarve races in Portugal, or participate in various races in South Africa, to name but a few. There are also many more races that most fanciers are not aware of. And these are often races, where many of the strongest lofts in the world bring their very best pigeons, and of which the organization is done professionally. It couldn’t be better for me. Custom made!

‘Blue Motion’ shows it clearly: healthy pigeons = daily delight…

The ‘only’ thing I still had to do was build a small breeding loft with the very best pigeons I could find, start breeding with them and send in the young talents… Everyone starts at the same level with regard to accommodation, loft situation, feeding systems and so on. The only thing that can make a difference is the quality of the pigeon, a little bit of luck at the appropriate moment, and of course the natural health of the pigeons. In part I of this article, I wrote about the natural health of a pigeon, and stated that I wanted to keep and breed a pigeon that can stay healthy without any extra interference from me. And that in my pursuit for such a pigeon, I had to make regular difficult decisions because I had planned to give my pigeons no medication at all, besides several inoculations and something against paratyphoid, not even anything for canker.
I still believe that a potential breeding pigeon in a confined environment, should be able to thrive and produce healthy young without the aid of any medication. And I still hope that in time, I can create a head start with this. The prospects are very hopeful and promising, but I must confess that I already have, literally, shed a tear or two during the process.
For racing pigeons, this is of course a different matter, because these come into contact with other, strange pigeons every week. But I want to try to achieve the basis of my loft consists of a top quality pigeons in combination with a fantastic natural health, and with no room for mercy. This looks very respectable on paper, but not so in practice… Because if there is one thing I have learned, it is that many pigeons have a problem staying healthy without any help from medication.

These hens may start racing after they have received extra light for another week…

So, I had planned to get rid of every pigeon that would get ill, if most of the other pigeons in the loft didn’t suffer from the same ailment. In case most of my pigeons would show the same symptoms, I thought I would have to reconsider, because I would then obviously have put the bar too high. Every fancier knows how hard it is too buy a pigeon that is better than your own birds. How often does it not happen that a new addition in your loft doesn’t live up to expectations.
However, I had to start with only new incomers… and with the very first acquisition of some 20 pigeons from a renowned loft, all went horribly wrong. The first mistake I made was to blindly buy pigeons out of the very best… and I got them. Only, there were of course several that didn’t appeal to me at all with regards to build, appearance and behaviour and that I actually did not want to have in my loft at all. How stupid of me.
Finally, over a long period, from these 20 pigeons, 17 of them have been consigned to eternity and interred in the Japanese fruit bowl (see photograph).These birds were not all that seriously ill, but they continuously had ailments. I am definitely not someone who panics at the sight of a darker nose that persists for a few days or even for a week, but it does have to improve, certainly when there are also pigeons in the same loft who do recuperate quickly, or who even have no trouble at all. All the plagues of Egypt came to visit, one after the other and at a certain moment I had had all I could take.
I was left with three pigeons that had shown their health, but who didn’t appeal much to me. So in the end, I gave these away to someone who did like the look of them. The disappointment was enormous. I asked myself what I had gotten myself into. Had I not possibly set the health-bar too high…
So, phase 1 was a complete failure in terms of healthy pigeons but, as footballer Johan Cruijf used to say: ‘every disadvantage has its advantage’, and that was the case here as well. I now had my feet firmly on the ground again and was able to adjust my policy. Later I heard that the fancier from whom I bought my first 20 pigeons, had sold most of his breeding pigeons. He had enough of sitting in the waiting room of the vet every week… I could easily have kept the pigeons going with all kinds of treatments, but I believe that would have meant a huge false start. This way, I was still left with nothing, but now I had the chance to start again!

A photo of the final of the one loft race Belgian Master 2013 in Nevele. In terms of atmosphere and experience a kind of Gouden Duif celebration , but in August….

Two things I was going to do differently. First, I would select the pigeons that I wanted to bring into my loft myself, so that most of them would appeal to me from the start. Maybe it would cost a bit more, but I didn’t want to order them blindly again. Not that I think I can look into a pigeon, but at least they would be pigeons that I would like the look of. Otherwise I know how it will end…
Second, I wanted to import a very healthy population from another loft into my own loft. I know that no loft is the same, but I thought that it couldn’t go wrong to place a group of super healthy pigeons out of a top environment into my new loft. I just had to wait to see if it worked. The other way around I had witnessed before. A friend of mine once bought some 10 pigeons out of a bad environment and placed them in a separate compartment in his lofts. The sour smell of these pigeons didn’t bode well. He then dispersed these pigeons over his other lofts, and within a few weeks the new birds didn’t stand out any more in a negative way. The good environment seemed to have absorbed the bad.
I am always afraid that the balance will tip over to the bad environment, and that there will be no way back. I have seen more lofts that had a good environment but where, for one reason or other the balance changed (something you could notice because of the smell) and where the performances diminished rapidly, and even remained bad despite several treatments.
I believe that the smell in a loft is often a good indication. In all the top lofts that I have visited, there was always a particular kind of smell, difficult to define, but certainly agreeable.
At the time that the Brothers Brugemann from Assendelft sold their pigeons via sport magazine De Duif, and I was allowed to describe their breed, they were performing at the absolute top in the Barcelona races.
Pigeons like the ‘Orhan’ and the ‘Myra’, and descendants of the line of the ‘Wegvlieger’ from Hein Oostenrijk, made a lasting impression on me. But it was also the health of these pigeons that I haven’t forgotten; breathtaking. Especially for the endurance races, that is a first criterion.
One of the things they did at the annual cleaning of the lofts was put the thick layer of (of course bone dry) droppings in bin bags, and after the lofts were cleaned and scorched, they put the same droppings back in again. I have never understood the combination of scorching and putting back the droppings, but what I did find clever was that by putting them  back, they kept the environment 100% intact.
I sometimes wonder if it is wise to upset the entire bacterial flora by disinfecting, and by this I don’t mean removing the feathers and dust from the ceilings and so.It seems to me the same as giving antibiotics to a healthy pigeon, but that is my feeling, it has no foundation in fact.
The strange thing in the pigeon sport is that when you make a certain observation, there is always an example of a situation in which the opposite applied. I think that a scientist would become completely stressed in the pigeon sport. It is no coincidence, that when you ask three pigeon vets their opinion, you often get three different answers. It’s typical for the pigeon sport where, like I said before, 1 + 1 will not always make 2… Which might very probably be the reason why the pigeon sport still exists, but that is a different story altogether.

‘Zoon Penneke 92’ shows that he is ready to be coupled…

But, I had not forgotten about that environment story, and now it came back into my mind. That is why I drove to a friend in H., of whom I knew that his pigeons always looked extraordinarily healthy. A professional of the first order, who did almost nothing with medication. He had simple lofts, but everything was right in there. He was just about to start selecting his pigeons and dispose of his surplus, so I called him and went to visit him. I asked him if I could take all of his surplus that was in top condition although they had not passed the athletic or character test (about 20 birds I needed) and take them to my loft.
I would then put them in my breeding loft, and from the moment they would feel at home there I would, step by step, bring in the other, newly bought pigeons. First, after the initial debacle, I gave my lofts another thorough cleaning, after which I sprayed it with Virkon S.
The slate was blank again. Time for part II…
Each time that a (small) group of newly acquired breeding pigeons was introduced to the ‘Environment friendly pigeons’, I planned to remove the same number of these. After about one year, all of the ‘Environment pigeons’ should have gone again, and my breeders should have taken over the environment. The number of drop outs among the newcomers was still over 70%, but the pigeons that remained looked fantastic and stayed that way!
The path I had started on now, seemed to fit in well with my system. This restart was the opposite of the first attempt in everything. Also because I acquired some 20 pigeons from another loft that seemed to have hit the mark. I made a deal with the owners of a (in my eyes phenomenal) breeding loft, that I could choose young from various breeding rounds. Part of this deal was that I didn’t need to see any pedigrees beforehand. The average quality in this loft was so high, that I would be satisfied with any pigeon. I liked the look of them all. And I can assure you that this makes choosing a real pleasure… The pedigrees I would see as a belated bonus.
With these pigeons, I was lucky that their basic health was very good, and that they had an average quality that I was very content with. I believe, and am by now convinced, that this purchase will be the future for the basis of my own colony.
Then they will be coupled with the very best of various other top lofts, which have been chosen in the same way and afterwards they will be selected on health.
At this point in time, the count is that I have still got 40 pigeons left from the 160 birds that I acquired. Up till now, there have been no more health problems with these remaining pigeons.
I only still have many drop outs when I buy more new pigeons. These first go into quarantine for a long period, and the droppings are collected for 5 days and examined by 2 or 3 laboratories. This method has already given me a few negative surprises, and there have also been pigeons that haven’t even made it into my breeding loft, despite the fact that they looked good and that they came out of very good lofts.
The separate quarantine compartment has been and still is very valuable, and very important in the build up to integration.

The Japanese fruit bowl… Many potential stars (on paper) didn’t come any further than this place….

Last time, I showed a photo of the nice young cock that I liked so much and who had cost me a lot of effort and kilometers to acquire. After two weeks, he contracted a heavy bout of coli. The other young pigeons were not affected or only very slightly, and they had improved again after a few days.
I got an additional fright when I saw this young cock throwing up, and the other youngsters happily pecking this up. I tried to stop it in time but didn’t succeed, and I feared the worst. The sick cock and one other bird were very poorly indeed. And because they didn’t show any signs of improvement, I decided to dispose of both of them, although with pain in my heart. The other pigeons were not affected, not even the birds that had been pecking at the vomit of the sick cock. Afterwards I saw on the pedigrees that the mothers of the discarded pigeons were sisters… So apparently in the end it had been a wise decision to get rid of them?
I also remember another pigeon that had cost me a lot of effort and money to acquire. I was very pleased with it, she was built nicely, had a very bright head with a beautiful eye. Such luxury. In short: she was perfect. I told my wife in jest that I would see her through a potential illness with a tablet or two, in view of the price and energy that she had cost me, ha ha ha. I shouldn’t have said anything…
Two days later, I noticed that the bird had its beak slightly open… almost not visible, but still… Startled, I took her in my hand and then I knew: she had canker… and the other pigeons didn’t have any problems! I put her back, sat on the feed bucket and for a moment didn’t know what to do. For the first time I doubted if I was going about it the right way. In the afternoon, I called a good friend who is also a pigeon fancier and I told him about it. ‘Henk’, he said: ‘You mustn’t overdo it, give the bird a tablet against canker and the problem will be solved. You can only take things so far.’
At that moment, I thought he was right, I bought a packet of tablets straight away and gave the bird one that same evening. I had a very bad night and kept turning and tossing in my bed. In my mind, I saw all the pigeons that I hadn’t given any help when they were in trouble and that I disposed of… The outcome was that the next morning, with a heavy heart, I got rid of this little bird. It was a really bad moment, but I now feel glad that I have done it. After all, the rest of the pigeons didn’t have any trouble, and every time that I see the fantastic health of these pigeons that have stayed the course, this gives me the feeling that I have been making the right decisions…
Ultimately, I want to build up a breeding loft of some 10 good couples that won’t let me down, and of which I want to send the offspring to one loft races.
Besides these I want to have about 10 test couples. The young of these will be tested severely in the normal races, divided over three separate lofts, and they will race together with my youngsters. Ultimately, I never want to have more than 40 pigeons in my lofts. By now, I have reached that number of birds, but it will keep fluctuating because I will not only keep selecting on health, but also on quality.

A young couple that by now has passed all stages: ‘Panamera’ x ‘Justy’…

It has truly cost me blood, sweat and tears to build up my current little colony. However, I won’t look at what I have disposed of, just at what I have left over in the end, and those are more than worth all the effort.
In this column, I shall regularly make a report of the various races in which I participate, but also of the results of the youngsters out of the test couples, who will race from different lofts. I will also try to visit at least two finals of one loft races each year, of which the Belgian Master will of course be a permanent feature.
Next time, I’d like to describe the criteria that the pigeon that I like to see must meet. I have actually been forced to adjust my opinions quite a bit after visiting many top lofts, and by looking at the 10 best pigeons in one loft races. The modern racing pigeon has evolved considerably compared to the pigeons that ruled the races some 20 years ago, both in appearance and character…
Pigeons that were unbeatable 20 years ago, now seem barely able to make their way in the result list, save a few exceptions…
But this time of year the most important thing is of course to be together with your loved ones. Let us never forget that.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a successful and above all healthy 2014
Henk Simonsz
PS. I want to mention explicitly, that at all the lofts where I bought my pigeons, I have always been treated and helped to the best of their abilities. Every one of them, without exception, have tried to give me the best possible pigeons. With some of these birds, you are successful, with others not so because they don’t fit in your system. There is not much they can do about that. This is the reason that I will never mention the names of the lofts where I have been looking for birds to strengthen my breed.