Pulle – Veni vidi vici. “He came, he saw, he conquered!” That is the credo of Rik Hermans. Rik was born on the 21st of December 1977. He is the eldest child of the well known Jan Hermans and his wife Nelly. When he made his début in Belgium in 2006, he was viewed with some suspicion due to him being the son of such an illustrious father. Many fanciers commented “It is far easier competing in Holland” and most of the fanciers in Antwerp were not convinced of his ability either.
Since his start in Pulle, Belgium, Rik has taken part in four racing seasons and the outcome has been very positive. “Passed with great distinction” is the least thing we can say about the tempestuous rise of this young Dutchman who will be a fierce competitor in the future in arguably the toughest races in the pigeon world.
Becoming a vet
Rik says: “My dad has a pigeon engraved on his heart. In my childhood he raced his pigeons and was still working in the town hall. I never had any interest in pigeons at that time. For the whole of my childhood I wanted to become a vet. During the school holidays and any other free days, I jumped on my bike at 7 am. I didn’t need a GPS-system. The destination was always the same, namely the practice of Rob Hoekstra who was and still is a family friend. I had to cycle ten kilometres to get to Rob’s place. My mother, especially, wasn’t very pleased with that. It was a very busy road with very poor lighting and the bicycle path wasn’t that good either. The cars would pass by at an incredible speed but in the end it all went well. When I arrived at Robs, it was like heaven. I was allowed to prepare dogs pre-operation, disinfect them, observe the operations and every once in a while I was allowed to handle some pincers, pliers and tongs. I stayed over for lunch with Rob and Astrid. In the afternoon, I was allowed to go with Rob and visit the farmers.
I was allowed to inject pigs and tag them. Sometimes, it was like a small war. The tags helped us to distinguish the pigs which were injected from the ones that still had to get their injection. On one of these afternoon visits, I also met Maarten Kappen who was one of the most famous scientists and vets in Europe (specialising in dogs). That’s what I wanted to become, a vet. But fate decided otherwise. My talent for physics was poor. So I could not do anything about my ambition because it was a compulsory subject for the entrance into university. Luckily, economics suited me better. I didn’t care too much about pigeons but what I used to do was accompany my dad around so that I could get a day out. I also earned some money for it and I used that money very well.”
Rik continues: “At a certain stage, I got interested in pigeons and I told my father hat I wanted to start racing them. I don’t think he ever expected that, but he of course helped me straight away. He gave me 15 young pigeons from the second round of his and Rob’s Long Distance breeders. My loft was the attic on top of the barn. I had no experience with pigeons at all, so I had to start from scratch.
But, with my dad being Jan Hermans this was soon remedied. I was allowed to go for a week of work experience with Dirk Leekens and Jos Thoné. At that time, I was a very inexperienced pigeon fancier. In that week with Dirk and Jos I saw how it really worked. Jos taught me how to hold a pigeon and while I was practising I was allowed to put one drop in the eyes of all the young pigeons. Jos and Dirk were very good teachers but there was no fanaticism at all. We, in fact, spent more time on the squash court than in the lofts. I remember hitting a friend of Dirks by accident on the squash court and he had to go to hospital. Back home it was time to turn my newly aquired theories into reality. I took it very steady. I got up in the morning and released my young pigeons for exercise, then, went back in to read the paper or even went back to bed. Yet, I won 50% prizes, however my Long Distance pigeons never returned early. I had one very tame pigeon but I lost it in my very first race.
A second hand loft of 3.2 x 1.6 meters
Rik says: “My dad was pleased to see me taking an interest in the pigeons. One day my dad bought all the pigeons and the loft from Van der Snoek from The Hague. He had invested quite a sum of money for the whole lot but the loft became “My First Loft”. It was like my first girlfriend. The loft was dismantled in The Hague and reconstructed in our garden by Jan Brans. The loft was 10 years old and the only new addition I made was the new sputnik. In 1996 I became a fully independent pigeon fancier (under the watchful eye of my father and mother, Dirk and Jos).
It was at the same time that Miel Van den Branden built up his breeding loft for the Middle Distance races. I got 30 young pigeons from Miel and about three or four from Hugo Moris. In our club in Waalre, I won 4 first prizes out of 9 in the young bird races, competing against an average of 200 to 300 other pigeons. The “Witpen Moris” was my best young pigeon. He alone won 3 first prizes. I coudn’t complain but honestly, I wasn’t good enough to be at the top of the CC Eindhoven. My best result was 14th place in one race. I would have loved to be in the first ten but I didn’t make it.”
Rik continues: “I made mistakes continuously. The biggest mistake I made was that I didn’t darken the loft enough. I got some light green and purple curtains but still too much light entered the loft. That’s why my pigeons started to moult too early. At the end of August I was back in University. Ken (Kenichi Yoshihara) came to visit us with some Japanese fanciers. They bought all my young pigeons (about 20). I wanted to win the car in the Orléans race but I failed. However, with the money I got from Ken, I could buy a small second hand car.”
The time after Orléans 1986
Rik adds : “My ambition started to grow slowly. In 1997, I wanted to make fewer mistakes. The curtains were removed from the lofts. I wanted pitch black lofts so I boarded up the windows. Above the pigeons was cardboard with a small slit for ventilation. At that point in time, I was influenced by some American and Taiwanese racing techniques. Training, training and even more training was the philosophy of the time. My dad won the 1st National Orléans in 1986 (including the car) but that was ten years previously. Since that time the pigeon world had turned around three times. My pigeons were not allowed to see the drinking pot and they were road trained a lot.
In the first race I won the 4th and the 6th prizes against 2,152 pigeons. In the second race it was bingo. I won the 1st and the 3rd prizes against 2,005 pigeons. I named my winning pigeon “Miel”. He originated from a direct daughter of the “Lichte Orleans” from Jules Verbeeck of Nijlen that was a true wonder pigeon winning the 1st Provincial Orleans and a 1st National Bourges. With these results he matched his illustrious predecessor, the “Nationaal I” owned by Karel Schellens from Kessel. The third spot was taken with a blue hen that had already won a 6th place in a previous race. Two weeks later, this same hen won 2nd Peronne against 1,358 pigeons. From then on, I named her my “Fenomeentje”. Later, “Fenomeentje” won another two first prizes and surprisingly she won the 1st National Ace Pigeon Youngsters WHZB and 1st National Ace Pigeon Youngsters “De Vredesduif”. To
complete the story I have to mention that the “Fenomeentje” was bred by Dirk Leekens out of a direct Thoné hen paired with the “Engel” from Harry Engelen which happened to be a good racer and was bought at the auction of Engelen in Maastricht.
My season had already been successful but I went on to win various other championships. I became 1st champion young pigeons in CC Eindhoven ( with the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th Ace Pigeon out of 6,000 other competing young pigeons).We bred 8 young pigeons from the “Fenomeentje” as a yearling before she was transferred to China. Two direct children from her were raced, the best one becoming 1st champion pigeon and won a first prize against 2,000 other competing pigeons. As we didn’t have a suitable cock for “Fenomeentje”, my dad attended the sale of the total racing team of Andre Roodhooft. The “Dure” was one of the best pigeons in Antwerp and we were very lucky (if it was luck at all) that he was a successful breeder in our lofts as well. The youngest daughter of the “Dure” and the “Fenomeentje” was the “Laat Fenomeentje van 98”. She was too young to be coupled in 1999 but she was precocious. Miel watched her coupling with another hen in the loft and he paired the “Laat Fenomeentje” with a cock from Ludo Claessens. It was an accidental pairing but their off spring raced really well. The year 1999 became a top year with the 2nd, 6th and 7th National Ace Pigeon Youngsters of the Netherlands. “Kleine Orleans” and “Daddys Favourite”, two nest mates from “Claessens 03” paired with “Laat Fenomeentje” became second and sixth National Ace pigeons. Let’s us say that Miel “planned” it well. Seventh national Ace Pigeon “Blauwe Flor”, was bred out of “Broer Fieneke” (Flor Vervoort) paired with the nest sister of “Secret”.
We got the “Witneus” and the “Dondersteen”, two direct sons of the “Kannibaal” and moreover two full brothers of the “Golden Lady” of Koopman from Dirk Van Dijk as Miel and Dirk are good friends. According to Dirk, Miel is the only fancier with two brothers from that coupling because the widow hen of the “Kannibaal” died shortly fterwards.”
Rik continues: “The base in Miel’s breeding loft is solid, the “Fienekes” from Vervoort, the “Kannibalen” from Dirk, and the line “Claessens 03” coupled with “Laat Fenomeentje” and last but not least, the ‘Stamcouple’.. “Jaarling Dondersteen” paired with “Janssenduivin” (direct Janssen Brothers). What we must not forget is that “Jaarling Dondersteen” scored twice in the Middle Distance races, once as a youngster in the ZAV and once as a yearling in the Union (this happened in the lofts of father Louis Van den Branden).”
The search for good hens continues unabated. Rik continues: “We are continuously on the look out for better. We got two pigeons from Jos Van der Veken and they were a hundred percent successful. We acquired several good pigeons from different fanciers. I can not just name Kees Bosua and Gerard Koopman but also the Belgians are very good also with leading lights including Marina Van de Velde, Wim De Troy and, of course, Eddy Janssens. Four out of my five best young pigeons from 2009 are half Eddy Janssens. Thank you very much Eddy! Maybe something else, I do realise that I am in a very lucky position. The breeders are in Miel’s and my fathers loft so I don’t have to worry about them.”
The ‘Kloosterstraat’ in Pulle
Rik says: “Good neighbours are almost as important as good pigeons for a fancier. I’m lucky in that sense as well. The way we got there in the end is a combination of coincidences. In February 2005. Danny Van Dyck was working in Miel’s loft. One day Danny’s car was in the garage so Miel drove him home. “Look the house next to mine is
for sale” Danny says. “Do you know a good pigeon fancier who needs a house?” That didn’t fall on deaf ears. A few days later Cindy and I went to have a look. It was a viewing day and the house was packed with cars. It scared us a bit and we were in a hurry because it was the day of the “Gouden Duif.” Rik continues: “The next day I called to make an appointment to view the house. They explained on the phone that all the cars were there because of an event in the school. A few days later we had the highest bid in the public auction. We made a thorough make
over of the house and we have lived there ever since August 2005. The house wasn’t finished totally but the children had to start school on the first of September. It was a real hit for us. Living in Pulle is very nice. I live very close to “De Duif” offices. Cindy has her own business (Zenses) on the ground floor under “De Duif”.
But, the house also ticks all the right boxes regarding the pigeons. The “Kloosterstraat” is a very social street in which a lot of pigeon racing is practised. My neighbours Danny Van Dyck and Rene Smolders are very keen pigeon fanciers but whats even better is that we are the best of friends.”
A copy of the loft of Kees Bosua
Rik says: “I desperately wanted to race my pigeons in 2006. The racing season was approaching slowly but I still didn’t have a loft. That was the situation at that time. Through Kees Bosua we met Jan and Leen Bravenboer and they were building a new loft in Kees’s garden. When they finished the loft in Dordtrecht, they packed all their tools and came straight to Pulle. My loft was a copy of the loft that was built for Kees, only it was a little bit smaller. The aim was to finish the right wing of the loft before the young pigeons were mature enough and we succeeded in that. The first round we bred in 2006 went entirely to Luc Sioen. I kept the second round and on the 2nd of July, these youngsters from my second round were my entries in my first race from Noyon. Two weeks later, I took part again in the race from Noyon. It was a dream race. I was perfectly happy when I got the results. Competing against 1,152 pigeons, the following results were achieved: 1st was
Rik Hermans with a 3 minute lead (18 prizes from 28 pigeons), 2nd was Dirk Van Dyck, and 3rd Danny Van Dyck. That was a result I could only dream of. The first year I aimed for 4 nationals and the results were quite satisfying with 54th, 110th, 157th National Bourges against 26,984 pigeons, 74th and 167th National Argenton against 14,534 competitors (15 out of 22), 123rd National La Souterraine against 13,965 competitors (with “Pepsi”, the sister of the “Propere”) and 55th
National Gueret against 13,303 competitors (prov. 17 prizes out of 25 entries). I could only have prayed for such results.”
Racing with cocks and hens
Rik continues his story: “In 2007, I raced for the first time with yearlings. I had never even done this before in Waalre. This is something I had to experience for myself as I never saw my father racing his pigeons from these shorter distances. I looked for advice from
some specialized fanciers and, in the end; I decided to go for the system of Kees Bosua. The only difference was that Kees kept the partners of his racing pigeons at home. In
2010 however, Kees will change his system and he will race the couples together. I also wanted to race all my pigeons. I had 25 pigeons from the 2006 team and I wanted to
subject them to a rigorous selection process where only top quality would remain.”
The first national race in which Rik took part with his yearlings was the Bourges race in May 2007. Competing against 9,021 pigeons, he started with the 47th, 53rd and 58th (fastest series of three national). The first pigeon that clocked was again the “Pepsi” (like we said before the sister of the “Propere” from Miel). The record of “Pepsi”
is loaded with first prizes. But, in 2008, she dramatically never returned. It was the day before the 60th birthday of my father, Jan. The Middle Distance races in Antwerp were hit very badly. It was a total catastrophe and one that turned out to be fatal for “Pepsi”. Rik isn’t easily upset but this hit him hard.
The management during wintertime
Rik says: “Between the last national flight (beginning of September) and the end of February, my pigeons are not allowed to go outside. Today, the 2nd of March, my hens are
released for the second time. The cocks have already been out 3 times. On releasing them, I always take into account what Danny is doing and vice versa of course. Occasionally, I do let other fanciers visit my lofts and I have seen many dissaproving looks. In winter, I only clean the loft twice over a period of 5 months. There is no scraping of the nest boxes either. I am a very busy person in winter time and obviously the pigeons do perform very well with my current cleaning system, so why
should I change it? They get food once a day. When the water is nearly finished, I will fill up the drinking pots. Medicines are not used with one exception being the autumn of 2008 when I treated them for 10 days with Baytril. When my pigeons are in their winter rest period they are housed in the young pigeons lofts. Windows are opened day and night. It will be the middle of January when the first
young pigeons from Miel arrive with the result that the old pigeons will be transferred back to their own place. For the moment, there are 20 cocks and 20 hens but I only have enough room for 16 couples. I still train all 40 pigeons. In case of emergency a “war victim” can be replaced by a substitute pigeon. The only pigeon in the racing loft that doesn’t race is the hen of the “Jonge Samson”. This is because in her second Middle Distance race in 2009 she only returned in the evening. Since then, I only compete with the “Jonge Samson”. Coincidence or not, with this change from my usual system, the “Jonge Samson” had the best season of his whole career.”
The management in summer time
Rik says: “At the end of March, the pigeons are trained from short distances, mostly from Lier (15 km). Maybe, there is something else worth mentioning. In the beginning, when I start road training the cocks, I let them come home to their hens which had stayed at home. Than I drive back home, I basket the hens and drive off to road train them, so that the hens can arrive back home to their cocks. Maybe, it’s not very important but this is the system of Kees Bosua and it seems to work well. The ultimate distance I train them is from Vilvoorde. They trained enough as youngsters and this will only reduce the risk to them in the long run. On April the 1st, all couples will go
to nest. Also, when they get together as they say, I will still train them. The cocks will race from Quievrain during the weekend. The hens stay in their lofts because they have to lay the eggs. When the cocks return home the eggs are gone. Most of the couples will brood for 3 to 5 days but there are exceptions. In 2009 “Beautifly” hadn’t laid a single egg and that was why she was still in the loft of the cocks. Every single pigeon is different. She was also slow in laying eggs in the autumn of the same year. My pigeons are on widowhood from the 15th of April. They race from Noyon twice and they all have to take part in the first Middle Distance race. It may be a coincidence but three times on a row now these opening races gives me some of my best results for the whole season. The food always comes from Versele. At the beginning of the week the food I give them can be a little bit lighter
(Gerry Plus). Then, I change to 50 % Gerry Plus and 50 % Champion Plus. Closer to basketing, I give them Champion Plus and sometimes Energy Plus. The Energy plus is given dependant on the weather forecast and whether the race is expected to be heavy or less heavy. The first meal upon arriving home is always Champion Plus supplemented with Recuplex from Rob Hoekstra (amino acids). On the second day, I give them sometimes
dampned food with “Edele Olie” or liquid sheep fat and sometimes Cometose (intestine conditioner), Tempo 60 or beer yeast. The choice of food is dependent on my decision at that particular moment in time. For the last
two or three drinking sessions I mostly give them Dextrotonic from Oropharma. When I give them this, my pigeons are not so thirsty when they arrive back home.”
Rik continues: “During the season I start releasing the hens at 6 am. It is weird; in 2008 they flew effortlessly for about 45 minutes to one hour. During the last season, the performances were better but the exercise
was disappointing. If “Asduifke” and “Beautifly” exercised for more than 20 minutes, it was a lot. I can try to exercise them longer with the flag, but when I do that, they go and sit on the roof of the school and I am not able to get them back inside.
Luckily, my lofts do not suffer from mutual pairing. It’s reasonably dark in the hens loft and there are sloping floors with some balls placed at the bottom of the slope to discourage mating. In 2008, two of my best hens paired together, but I locked them constantly in their boxes and they continued racing. In 2009, I collected only one egg.”
Rik continues: “In principle I only have one round. After mid February, not even a single feather is allowed to enter the young bird team. For 2010, I will have 70 young pigeons in one loft and 15 young ones in another loft.
The last ones are ten days younger (fostered eggs) than the others. The lofts will be darkened from the 1st of April until the 21st of June (from 5.30 pm until 9 am). I clean the loft once a day and then I open the sputnik at
10 am. While the pigeons are exercising, I put the food in their pots. During the week it will be Junior Plus and Gerry Plus. Then I leave for “De Duif”. This starts at the beginning of July. This year, my youngsters will race 2
Quievrains, 2 Noyons, then middle distance
races from Orléans, Bourges, Argenton, Quievrain, La Souterraine, Quievrain and the hens will race Gueret.”
Rik adds to that: “Cocks and hens are mixed together in the lofts until the middle of June which is more or less the same period as the end of the darkening. They exercise once a day then they are road trained. Occasionally, I let them fly in the evening. Maybe the tip is that this can help reduce the losses. With the first road training flights of 20kms, I first release them at home for an exercise flight before taking them training in order to prevent them roaming. When they return home from road training, they all have to come inside immediately. I don’t like strollers. One more thing, they are pigeons and they will stay pigeons. Last season, my pigeons had some ailments. They had coli two weeks before the Orléans race. I treated them with a product from Rob Hoekstra and basketed them without any expectation for Bourges. To my surprise the result was unexpectedly very good. My pigeons just came out their bad period in time.What I notice is that I don’t road train my pigeons in Pulle as much as I did in Holland. Probably it has to do with the traffic around Brussels. Driving half a day to road train pigeons is a bit too much for me. Luckily, Miel also raced his young pigeons in 2009. Before he raced them from Bourges, he drove our pigeons to Geraardsbergen and released them in the rain. The pigeons didn’t return very smoothly but the “Asduifke”
(2nd National Bourges) was among the first ones to arrive back home. For the first speed races they are all still kept together. For the middle distance they are separated before the basketing. They are all allowed to get together for one hour and a half before being basketed. I put more effort in for the national races. On Wednesday afternoons, they can all come together and that is for one and a half days before basketing. I create a corner, put bowls out and try to inspire some fire into the couples.”
The system for the older pigeons during autumn
Rik says: “In 2008, I was having lunch with Willem de Bruijn, Miel and my father. We were discussing which system was the best for autumn races. Willem gave me a few good tips. He said I had to couple the pigeons after the Orléans race (mid July). Four days after the coupling, I put one egg in each nest and one day later I add a second egg. It worked out extremely well. The hens accepted every egg without exception. I don’t know if it is important but some hens laid a few more eggs of their own as well. The “Asduifke” laid her eggs 5 days before the basketing for Bourges. That’s why the hens stayed at home that weekend. The cocks were basketed for Quievrain. Despite the bad weather conditions, all the pigeons were road trained the last three days before the race. Miel drove them to Zemst, Geraardsbergen and Zemst. The last time they trained the weather was really bad. The pigeons were struggling in the rain. It took most of the pigeons a few hours to return home. The “Asduifke” was one of the first ones to return home. I basketed her and she was like a little round ball. When they return home from Bourges, they continue the breeding cycle. After an “in between flight” the next weekend they are sent with a small youngster. In that way, they will be perfect for the Argenton race. I do follow the advice of Willem with a passion and it works.”
In the Argenton race of 2008 there were two young guys that distinguished themselves at a national level. Their names were Kris Cleirbaut and Rik Hermans.
Rik won 11th , 23rd , 50th, 73rd , 92nd , 116th, 143rd National against 5,206 old pigeons (10 out of 13) and 8th , 9th , 99th , 149th National against 25,583 young pigeons (15 out of 21).
It was his breakthrough at national level.
In 2009, Rik just continued where he left off. You could find him continuously amongst the top rankings. His record was 2nd National Bourges 11,756 old pigeons (the incredible “Asduifke” also won the 1st Provincial) and 3rd National Argenton 5,043 old pigeons. In the Bourges race (6th of June) Rik won 1st, 2nd, 3rd against 512 old pigeons. Winner was the “Jonge Samson” (direct Marina Van de Velde)
which also had an incredible season. As a matter of fact, Rik only made one mistake. He alternated the middle distance with the short distance. It would have been better that he concentrated on just one single distance.
Rik replies: “On the whole you could be right. I became 2nd Provincial Champion Short Middle Distance and 5th Provincial Champion Long Middle Distance while I only took part in half the races organised. Antwerp has quite a good system in which the results of the 5 best races of every fancier
will count. By betting on two horses, I ruined my chances but it is only pigeon sport. I raced good pigeons and gained some good results. My competitors are not standing still either. I enjoyed seeing the results of Danny Van Dyck. When the “Kanon” dropped out of the sky it was wonderful. I think Danny enjoyed it most, but, I enjoyed it almost as much as him if I am honest. We are very close friends and ‘Kanon’ is also our bloodline (the father of the “Kanon” is a son of the “Propere” from Miel). But if I can beat Danny, I will do it. He thinks in the same way as me and that makes me smile.”
Luc Van den Plas
Order the book online today: The Duif Chronicles Vol 2