Pigeon Fever 3 ~ Buying more pigeons (1)
One of the advantages of being a re-starter is that you don’t make as many mistakes as you did the first time in the pigeon sport. I now know exactly what I want and I can work directly towards my objective. Of course, in the meantime, I’m making mistakes all over again, but not so many and the plus side is that I am consistent and remain consistent… Also, I don’t let myself get sidetracked over issues like strain delusions, pedigrees, unnecessary medication, supplements or backbiting, to name but a few.
I feel good in myself with the daily pleasure that pigeon sport can give you, and I can intensely enjoy it all. This seems to be a problem for many people nowadays, enjoying the things that they do have. Especially a lot of Dutch people seem to have complaining embedded in their genes, and that is a pity, because that way you miss out on a lot.
What is my method of searching for reinforcement, what do I Iook at, how do I make a selection? By now, I have strong views on these topics. I don’t want to imply that I know everything there is to know, on the contrary. I would never claim such a thing, but there are people who would like to hear the opinion of other fanciers, and that is why I want to give it a try… One thing that I do believe is that it’s not simply having good pigeons that will get you to the top. I find discovering good pigeons actually one of the least difficult things in the pigeon sport. There are lots of criteria that can give you an accurate impression, like results, references and so on. Use your common sense in addition and you are quickly on the right track.
A factor for successful pigeon sport that I find much more difficult, maybe even the most difficult of all, are the lofts. Lofts can make or break you. And fanciers, who are lucky enough to have a good or even a super good loft, often think nothing special of it and very easily say that the loft is not very important at all. But oh dear, when that loft is not so good and the results are not there anymore, I would like to hear them again on the importance of a good loft. It can be really difficult to create a super environment. I mention this at this point in my article, because there are lofts with such a good environment, that almost every pigeon with a little bit of quality can be successful in them. And a good pigeon can even become a super in them. But on the other side, people who buy pigeons from these same lofts are only seldom successful with their acquisition themselves… But that is another, and I believe a much underrated, topic for later…
The claim that someone can look ‘inside a pigeon’ is the biggest nonsense there is. But you can of course use external characteristics as a kind of pre-selection, with which the chance of success will improve. And when you hesitate between two seemingly equally good pigeons, go for the greatest common denominator that you see more often in top pigeons. More often than in ‘normal’ pigeons, so to speak. A 100% score is totally impossible, but you can come to a fairly high score by making clever use of previous experiences and a little feeling for the pigeon.
During my first period as a pigeon fancier I have seen lots of good pigeons that belonged to the best pigeons of the world, both as racers and as breeders. And I will never in my life forget the details of a pigeon that I especially liked. I can still vividly remember some of the pigeons that dominated the sport in the eighties and nineties, for instance the ‘Stamdoffer’ and ‘Pauduivin’ from Steketee, the ‘Dolle’ from Marijn van Geel, the super pigeons out of the line ‘Abor’ from the Saya Bros, the Barcelona cracks and the ‘Beatrix’ from the Kuypers Bros, the ‘Perpignan’ from Cor de Heide, the ‘Ohran’ and the ‘Myra’ from the Bruggeman Bros, the ‘Smaragd’ from Wim van Leeuwen, the ‘Witbuik’ from Batenburg, many national winners and many, many more top pigeons. But I have also visited enough ‘former-glory’ lofts, lofts I couldn’t get away from fast enough, and which were really a waste of time…
In the nineties, I regularly went on a ‘pigeon hunt’ with Bert Bouwman, and we had agreed on a code word that we used as we didn’t like the look of the loft we were at. And especially at lofts with a renowned name, but that were already in a quality downward spiral, you really needed to hold every pigeon in the hand. It was a never-ending process. We had agreed that if we didn’t like it, we would say while assessing that the pigeons that they were nice, strong birds. Especially very strong… Whenever one of us used that term, we knew that we really didn’t like the loft and that we wanted to move on. Our free time was precious after all… The owner would then be very happy that we liked his pigeons so much, but we ourselves couldn’t get away from the loft fast enough. Maybe it was not entirely honest, but it was very effective… and the last thing that we wanted to do was to offend the owner.
After having seen all those pigeons and inspecting them all seriously, there had to be something that all those good pigeons had in common. And I have indeed discovered something, namely that there is not a 100% certain norm for a good breeder, and even less for a good racer. One-day long-distance pigeons are usually a bit nicer balanced, but here also there are plenty of exceptions. What you can do if you are looking for purely physical qualities for potential breeding pigeons, is taking the greatest denominator and using that as a basis for choosing from a series of pigeons, with which the chances for buying a better pigeon are improved.
Take for instance the vent. I have (especially over the last few years) held many good breeders in my hands with a vent that wasn’t closed. Suppose that I would use these pigeons as reference and start looking for pigeons with a vent that is open for at least 1 centimeter, I don’t think that that is a smart thing to do. Why not? Because my experience is that maybe as much as 70% of the top breeders do have a vent that is firmly closed. Therefore I will, when having to choose between two equally good pigeons, rather go home with the pigeon that has a tightly closed rear end. I would see this as a bonus point, and enough bonus points will give an added value.
But if I discover a top pigeon in my loft with an open vent, and such a specific weakness is only in one bird, then I will resolve the problem in this one instance through compensation breeding.
The reason that I keep an eye on the external qualities is to prevent a build-up of too many physical deficiencies because that will always lead to problems over a longer period. You can often see this starting to happen in lofts that are past their best. The colours in the eye are becoming duller, the wings are shrinking, the flight-feathers get broader, and the rear end becomes wider and so on. And because I find these changes risky to bring into my loft, I am forever careful in my selection of new birds. What racing pigeons look like I find of no consequence, as long as they perform well. I see racing pigeons as the end product, breeding pigeons as the basis.
Being careful with the quality of the pigeons that you bring into your colony is not always because you want to do even better in the races, but it is especially important if you have a good breed of pigeons and you want to keep the quality within it. This is the biggest challenge for many champions, and at the same time the biggest pitfall. Starting too late with testing new cross breeds, buying pigeons that don’t fit into your colony at all, bringing in pigeons with serious technical deficiencies and other mistakes. I have been at many lofts with a very high success rate, but where they were nonetheless very relaxed about bringing in new pigeons, thinking in advance that the newcomer would fit in well… It was clear to see from the quality of the acquired birds that they were on a slippery slope, that they were suffering from professional blindness and that they looked more at the fantastic pedigrees than at the pigeons themselves. They didn’t talk about the first prizes that the next of kin of these pigeons had been winning, but about the price that the pigeons had fetched during a sale on the Internet. As if such (often fictitious) prices could tell you anything about the value of a pigeon as a breeder. Usually this is the beginning-of-the-end. It is a delusion which has already been the downfall of many good lofts…
Also, never settle for a blind selection from a certain well performing loft. I have done this a number of times and after a while; almost none of these birds remained in my colony. Luckily, I have learned to analyze a loft quickly because of the reports I used to make for pigeon sales from top lofts. The pigeons that you want to buy are the ones out of the proven stock-couples of the colony, because these have the quality that you want to bring in. I mean the base pigeons with which the fancier has made his name in the sport, and which have proven to be good breeders as well. Everything else is just ballast which doesn’t give you any extra value in my opinion.
When I was looking for good middle-distance pigeons, I went to the loft of Gijs Peters, who at that time had the best pigeon of the Netherlands with his ’73’. The ’73’ and his sister were two unbelievably good pigeons and descendants from the famous ‘Olieman’. They had wing structures as I had never seen before. Also their appearance was something to give me goose bumps. I very badly wanted to buy the young from these two supers, but Gijs didn’t want me to just take the cream of the cake. I could buy them, but then I had to buy the entire round, which I could understand as well. I had not much money to spare, but even so I bought the entire round. I also discovered a top couple at the loft of the late Tiny van Herpen. A fantastic hen out of the famous ‘019’ from the Janssen Bros, coupled to the just as good cock ’64’.
I coupled a hen out of this pair with a cock of Gijs Peters out of ‘zus 73’ and this proved to be a really good couple which I gave the name ‘Autokoppel’. Lead prizes on the NPO races are still won with crossed descendants of this couple.
The point I’m trying to make is that from all the pigeons that I bought from Gijs Peters and Tiny van Herpen, the best ones came out of their best pigeons. Of all the other pigeons, nothing has ever been heard again, and that should tell you something. It taught me that you must only buy the very best pigeons, even if you have to pay more for them, rather than going for the ‘normal’ pigeons that every top loft also has. I learned that when you buy some 20 pigeons, in the end it will cost you more than when you would have bought the young from super couples to begin with, even when they would have been ten times more expensive. But this too, you could adapt a bit. I have regularly bought pigeons out of absolute top pigeons, but almost always with the restriction that I would be allowed to return them if I didn’t like them. This in spite of the fact that they came out of a famous pigeon. It was almost always allowed and it suited me very well.
I even made such a deal with the renowned Janssen Bros from Arendonk. At one time, I had won a car with a child of the above mentioned ‘Autokoppel’. I sold the car and with this money I went to the Janssen Bros. I very much wanted to buy a child, a cock, from the ‘019’ to couple back with descendants of the ‘Autokoppel’. After all, the hen of the ‘Autokoppel’ had come out of a daughter of the ‘019’ as well. I had heard from Tiny van Herpen, who was one of the very few allowed to go upstairs into the racing lofts, that there was a beautiful yearling from the ‘019’ in the racing loft…
So my wife and I went to Arendonk, talked pleasantly with Louis and Charel Janssen for a while, and were even offered a drink of apple juice, which is often a good sign. Eventually I told them that I would like to buy a youngster out of the ‘019’… No problem, said Louis, but I would have to wait six months and then I could get a 5-day old young. I almost didn’t dare to say it, I got up all my courage and told them that I didn’t want a young out of the ‘019’, but came for the yearling cock from the ‘019’ that they had in their racing loft…
Louis and Charel looked at me for a moment in surprise, but Louis recovered immediately and said: ‘But the others out of the ‘019’ are just as good, you know!’. I told them that I was only interested in that one bird in their racing loft, that I was not in any hurry and that I would happily come back again to talk it over once more. They agreed to that. I could phone them later and they would think it over in the meantime. I phoned Louis four weeks later and he told me that they were willing to sell him to me, but that there were more interested parties and therefore the price had gone (very much) up. That didn’t surprise me, but as said before, I was prepared to pay a bit more for a special pigeon than I would do for a ‘normal’ bird. In the end, I went back twice to negotiate with them and I must say that each time they gave me a very warm welcome. They were of course very professional fanciers, but also from a business point of view they were very much ahead of their time, for which I could only respect them. We as fanciers, had after all no obligation to buy from them, and at the time of the ‘Bange’, the ‘Merckx’, the ‘Jonge Merckx’, the ‘Geeloger’, the ‘019’ and so on, they had really good pigeons, and I think that there were not many lofts from which so many fanciers achieved so well with pigeons as from the Janssen Bros, monuments in the pigeon sport.
In the end we came to an agreement. I had to pay to Louis and gave him the agreed amount. He gave me the handwritten pedigree while putting the money carefully away in a little tin box. My wife made a picture of us two with the new acquisition. They actually liked that very much, especially Louis, and he wanted to look his best in the picture so he went away to comb his hair. Wonderful moments, never to be forgotten… The son of the ‘019’ was coupled back to the ‘Autoduifje’. Time showed that this pair produced fantastic breeding pigeons, which have brought success to several lofts… But there are not many of these pure Janssen pigeons left, at least not of the breed that dominated the sport in those years.
I don’t think that the pigeons of the present day have become prettier than the ones of some 20 years ago. Back then you saw many more pigeons of the Janssen type, nice light checkers, proud and sturdy, strong backs and steel frames. With heads like fighting cocks, angry-lookers as we called them then. You don’t see many pigeons of that type in the present day lofts. Based on the number of pigeons that I have viewed at modern top lofts that are strong overall, you may conclude that the pigeons seem smaller than in the past, but also that their backs are not so strong anymore.
You also see more open vents, in top racers and top breeders alike, but also a different kind of head and general appearance. From fierce and aggressive to bright and cunning… Which is probably also because of the rising popularity of the one-day long-distance.
I think that you can generally say that the shorter the distances, the larger the pigeon, and according to the increase of kilometers, the smaller the pigeon becomes. Until you are left with a small fuel tank with wings. You can see the same thing in people. Look for instance at the difference between sprinters and marathon runners. And if I think of the athlete who won the Elfstedentocht in the Netherlands (200 km ice skating marathon) both times I went to watch… a small person, with crooked legs, delicately built, but ever so tough and characterful. I will never forget that fierce face, so charismatic! And the same applies to pigeons: To win once is interesting, but to win a lot more than once proves to be absolute class… And that last category of pigeon is what I am looking for.
But for me, the upper-uppermost important thing in a pigeon, besides the physical qualities, is the appearance and the character in the loft. When I can clearly see these qualities, I dare to go very far in selection and acquisition. I believe that you can get your best impression of the pigeon from its appearance. And it’s the same with people. If you are a good enough judge of character, your first impression will be the right 9 times out of 10. The eyes are after all the mirrors of the soul, and why wouldn’t it be the same for a pigeon? Next time more about this!