Courtesy of The Duif Chronicles Online…
WILLEM DE BRUIJN
An Abundance Of National Ace Pigeons
Reeuwijk…“It has to be about the young pigeons. The old ones haven’t flown well this year, everyone pretty much knows that, so we can skip that,” is the first thing I hear when I begin the interview (editor’s note: despite this, Willem did win 1st Ace Pigeon middle distance and 1st Ace Pigeon one day long distance in Rayon East of Section 5 South Holland). Straight to the point has always been Willem de Bruijn and that has not changed to this day.
There is no lack of clarity. That’s great and very enlightening but can also be very confrontational. If someone calls him and complains about his own performance, it won’t take long for that fancier to be asked the next question: “Are your pigeons bred from good ones?Then the conversation often ends quickly.He has not always been appreciated for this frontal approach. Even if someone is only expressing an opinion about something, invariably the question follows whether he has tried it himself. He writes an article every week in De Duif and what concerns him is how he manages and develops his colony.
Could there be something that he doesn’t examine in detail? Are ideas tested? Willem continues his search towards the improvement in his methods and new things to try out. However usually it turns out that the simplest way is often the best, and the eternal search for better pigeons also continues unabated. Every week we read what he does and certainly does not do, in detail in his column and you will soon get a good picture of his hobby and the experience that comes with it. We will now try to dig a little deeper.
Willem de Bruijn is over seventy and still passionate about his hobby. “It is a Hobby and not a Sport. In my opinion the word Sport does not describe accurately what we should consider a Hobby”.
His wife Joke replies to my question how she would like to describe her husband“He is still full of fire and with the same will to win that strives to achieve higher, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously and if things don’t work out, fortunately he can laugh at himself.”
Willem has raged with hurricane force during his career in the ‘pigeon sport’, and leaves many things in his wake. As soon as he wakes up it is 100% full on, he follows everyone with great interest (if anyone has success he is the first to send a message) and forms an opinion about everything based on self-gained experience.
You can follow his imagination and experiences every week in his widely read and critically acclaimed De Duif column. It didn’t work out the way Willem would have liked with old birds in 2023. He doesn’t want to offer any excuses but that’s what we’re going to ask him anyway: It was concerns about the health and well-being of a close family member that took his attention and that certainly played a big role. Jan Ouwerkerk had said it before: even if something is wrong with your little finger the pigeons are no longer 100%. Everything has to be right and your head must be clear to race well. Willem himself says afterwards “In short, the old birds didn’t do well enough and that’s why I elaborate a little in this report”.
With the young pigeons however it was a different matter. They continued to do what they had been doing for years. The whole season they flew out of their skins. For example they won many ace pigeon titles at national level and Willem also had the best young pigeon of the Netherlands for the Olympiad in Maastricht.
But there is still room for improvement there too, because they failed from the last flight. Some started to moult the small feathers and it was enough to make the last week not great. This was a consequence of an experiment I conducted in 2022 that turned out well, but not in 2023.
It starts with good pigeons. That’s the basis of everything. ‘Good ones and the rest is nonsense’ are words that have become an important statement, but there is of course more. “The main things for me are good pigeons; a good loft that is also well ventilated and has a good regular system of care. Those are the pillars. So don’t use a complicated system, and stick to the basics.”
According to Willem by thinking logically the side issues do not become the main points. “Maintain a broad outline as well. You get good pigeons by searching for them, trying them, racing them a lot, then searching and racing again.
It is difficult to say what a good loft is. The pigeons should tell you that. If all is going well then completely stay away from changing it. If you see the pigeons do not look good and feel weak, then you must be rigorous. I once sawed out half the ceiling in the middle of the young bird season and replaced it with mesh. It worked too. The windows have been wide open day and night ever since. In all weathers and wind. Fans running at full speed (one in each of all four compartments) take care of a lot of fresh air. That has to be because we accommodate more than two hundred youngsters in two quite small compartments.
My lofts don’t have luxury, that is completely absent. The materials we used when setting up the loft years ago, are still good and still there. It doesn’t cost too much to maintain, but it still works fine,” says Willem.Those boxes are not really super clean. The scraper flies over them quickly every day and there is plenty of dust in the curtains (which serve for blackout) and in the double mesh in the ceiling. It hurts the pigeons not. They shine and that is a delight.
Early on the wing and resistance
“Youngsters must go out of the loft immediately after weaning. Birds of prey or not. I ‘teach’ the early youngsters to fly as quickly as possible. This I do by keeping old pigeons among the young ones to teach them by example. The young ones quickly follow those old pigeons into the air. We use the same method for the later rounds and they follow the older ones again and it always goes smoothly. They often take to the air very quickly, some even when they are only six weeks old.
The young ones learn early on in life if the loft is open they have to take to the air. That is a lot better than having been kept for weeks in the loft and only trains the leg muscles to walk around the garden. Things learned young are also done when they are older.The hope is that with a bit of luck they get through the teething problems well.
But you can also do something about that yourself. The young are vaccinated after weaning against paramyxo-rota. It seems that’s why an adeno-coli infection is milder and certainly far fewer pigeons die. I think that the intestines play a major role in illness or health. Those intestines must be kept calm and kept healthy and that is the challenge. That’s why I put Roni from Comed in the water for months or Collinol plus from DHP Cultura over the food.These create a more acidic intestinal environment. Vinegar on its own cannot do that as it is neutralized in the crop. Roni and Collinol only have their effect in the intestine. Of course they aren’t medicines and are not miracle cures.It ensures an optimal environment in the intestines and that helps to make it harder for adeno contamination – which causes coli to strike. They just become less severely ill in the event of a virus attack.
I notice that things have been very different in recent years than before. Previously the young birds here had serious problems every year with the teething problems, but fortunately major problems have not happened in recent years. Maybe that is because it depends on staying closer to nature, providing plenty of oxygen inoculating with a combination vaccine and not treating them like greenhouse plants. I wouldn’t know any better way.”
Training young pigeons
“The young birds will receive the smallpox vaccination at the end of April (injection in the neck) and at the same time they also have a chip ring on the leg. A smallpox vaccination gives the young birds a boost. More down falls and the moult accelerates.Exercise also gets better and it gives them plenty of opportunity to explore the area. Healthy pigeons that are made from the right stuff fly a lot and learn the environment themselves. This should happen naturally.
Yet it is very different than previous times before darkening became fashionable. Then you let the young birds out and they were right away out of sight with other exercising flocks searched up and returned home in teams or alone. Educating themselves, so to speak.We don’t see that at all anymore. That’s why we now have to act differently.
At the beginning of May the last youngsters to be weaned are about 7 to 8 weeks and then the training baskets are brought out. If the weather is suitable the young birds are taken a few kilometers away, not too far the first few times. When you get home, there will always be some candy seed ready. They are of course a bit upset the first few times and that stress has to be released. After three or four training flights they are then increased to a distance of 10 kilometres, and I continue to release them at that distance until they start to get it right and fly home from the basket in a straight line.That is why you have to start doing this as soon as possible, because young pigeons grow fast and they must learn something at a young age. I cannot stress enough they must be well educated and need to go in the right direction straight away without first flying a few laps around the liberation place. This usually only happens after at least 10 times and sometimes after 20 times. This year it was the 15th time. Only then they went home straight from the basket.
Then the distance is increased to 25 kilometres and they never get it quite right the first time. Then when it’s about the end of May they go three times to 40 kilometres with the pigeons of two friendly fanciers and are all released together. The first two times they fly along with the birds of the other fanciers that fly a further distance and then fly back to their own loft. When they understand this they are ready to start joining the clubs group training.
In 2023 they went with our transporter four times prior to the first prize flight and then they learn to travel and fly in even larger flocks and I look forward to start the season with peace of mind.I used to train myself between flights but I stopped. Because I don’t think it helps. It can even work against you because the pigeons get tired of it and they are better able to cope if the races do not run so smoothly. If I thought there was any benefit from it I would really do it, that’s for sure.”Willem regularly emphasizes this in this report the importance of well-prepared young pigeons. “How is it possible that almost no one does it this way?” he asks himself almost in despair.“You have to start as soon as you can and don’t delay until it absolutely has to be done.
During the young bird race season they are all housed together but there are advantages when they are separated towards the nicer flights. They are basketed quieter and not left together after competition. Good pigeons don’t need anything else”.
Additional lighting: yes or no
In 2022, Willem put it to the test if the young birds can be darkened until July 10 and not use additional light from the start of August until the end of the season, expecting the combination of 18 hours of light – meaning that it is like high summer – when the sun is dropping quickly from its highest position towards autumn, to not negatively affect the orientation.Especially from the last, further flights at the end of August, early September. The youngsters remained without any additional lighting and did a great job until the last flight. But to test whether the theory is better even though a south-easterly wind could not be tested, because of no south-easterly wind. Just one test of one system is not good enough to form big conclusions.
He did the test again in 2023. But that turned out very differently than expected. William did this together with two fancier friends. It proved that one summer is not the same in terms of light as another and also due to the extension of the racing season, the youngsters already fell apart in the moult before the end of the season All three fanciers had raced beforehand above expectations. But they fell back one by one as the pigeons that had previously arrived early were moulting or were already ‘thinking’ about it. The team still appeared in good condition but the performances declined from one week to the next. In any case, it has now become clear that to race young pigeons well until mid-September for Willem, it is not possible without illuminating from early August. Something else learned again by putting it to the test.
A subject where there is no consensus, what exists in pigeon country is paratyphoid. Those vets think differently about it and also provide correspondingly different advice.
Let’s look at four of the best lofts in the Netherlands, three will treat and one will not against paratyphoid. Peter Theunis does, father and son Verkerk too, Willem himself also does , but not André and Bert Leideman, but they do vaccinate twice a year. Many roads lead to Rome.
Most fanciers have to deal with it at some point and the fear is well ingrained. Then it is ‘total war’ according to Willem to get rid of that rotten disease. Completely clean and disinfect the loft, cure, vaccinate, cure again, disinfect and vaccinate again, etc.Three years keeping on top of it and then you become the boss again.He had to deal with it himself in 2011. After six years there were no problems. Now Willem does anything and everything to avoid having to experience that again.
Is he not afraid of resistance by giving three-week preventive cures every year? We know of the Studies from Ghent University that provide a frightening picture of the resistance to commonly used substances and there is a fear that in the long term there will be nothing left that works. In response, Willem draws a parallel with trichomonas. There was 10 to 15 years that we heard the same noises about it and now look, we don’t have to give anything anymore and the pigeons themselves have built up sufficient resistance to it. It is however a natural parasite and not a bacterium, but we will to see.
Veterinarian Stephan Göbel indicates that Baytril already has little or no effect anymore against paratyphoid. Laboratory tests would prove this. His colleague Fernand Mariën, Tielen (B) indicates that Baytril is the only remedy that still works. You have to choose yourself who to follow and how to act.
Pigeon fanciers already give a lot of medicine. Some reports contain lists of cures administered that are actually quite shameful according to Willem.
Weather and releases
Willem was a part of the race control in Sector 5 for years on end. Together with Tom van Zwienen, with whom he has a good working relationship, they formed a capable duo. Not that it always went 100% well, but very often it did, and along the way they gained a lot of experience of what can and cannot be done.
That’s exactly why he thinks that experience is important and in his view, the risk assessments for releases and protocols only hinder a well-considered decision. It is in the risk assessment where no one imagines nothing other than a smash can fall. Now, based on data from meteorologists who have never experienced even holding a pigeon in their hands, give racing flight guidance (IWB) advice that Willem abhors. It seems like they look for as many problems as possible.
Continuing to think for yourself is essential. Waiting to solve inversions – nowadays which means a layer in the atmosphere in which air temperature increases with height that becomes a warm layer has become the dumbest thing you can do in his eyes.
The first time you race with young pigeons we take into account inversion (which there actually is every day except with strong winds), but after that it is no longer a problem at all. Our southern neighbors understand this better. On days when it is likely to be close to 30 degrees, youngsters should not be released if it is warmer than 19 degrees at time of release. But it depends on the experience they may have and if it’s not too far from home on such days.
Late releases at temperatures that are too high also ensure that the pigeons believe it is acceptable to return late in the evening or to return home fresh the next morning. Once they do this they will keep doing it.
In addition, bad weather fronts are very dangerous, but you have to be smart about it. Liberate behind a front is a guarantee for trouble. Holdover or drive through the front to shorten the distance and then liberate are the only options.
How things are now arranged with protocols defined flight requirements does not help to be flexible. Or actually not at all. “We now have much more knowledge and data at our disposal than before, and yet things regularly go wrong. That is certainly not necessary, as long as you think logically.”
National policy and its impact
“I think it’s a shame about the direction our hobby is now going. There’s too much listening to the loudest shouters and we readily accept the social debate on animal welfare. As a result, there are fewer flights for the young pigeons and a national program with four fewer weekends with opportunities to race the old pigeon’s other than race sprint etc. etc.
We get a limited program and are too careful with liberations. Our pigeons need a little adversity or they lose courage. The toughness goes out of them, or if you prefer, the natural talent for perseverance. We’ll end up with decorative pigeons that look like homing pigeons.
I’ve already said enough about it in De Duif newspaper, but we find ourselves, with as an example, the grandmaster competition in the Netherlands where average reigns supreme, a sliding scale that is not good for the future of our hobby. I can say a lot more about it but I don’t want to do that now or here. I do that often enough.”
“The image of our hobby is one of old men and a single old woman. At the same time, this also implies little or no innovation. Still, I think our hobby will remain and we must try to see if it can be done differently and even better and of course that can happen. This is how our hobby develops continuously. That also makes it fun and interesting.
Despite new methods, other types of feed and by-products also vaccines against new threats in the form of viruses, I like to repeat again the most important thing that I started with: it’s all about the good and the bad is rarer than we think and commonly read!”