|Herman De Schepper and
More Than Just One Season
by Stefan Mertens
Click on any photo for larger version
The loft of
Racing hens on
A racing hen
during the season
Merelbeke: Everybody works to achieve it: that one superb racing result. A result everybody speaks about. A result of which everybody says that it is almost impossible to do better. To make such a result is for most fanciers only possible in "dreamland," but for some of us this dream comes true once in a lifetime. A fancier who made this dream come true is without any doubt the partnership of De Schepper-De Temmerman from Merelbeke. On the national race from MontÚlimar, in which 10,195 old birds participated, this husband-wife combination won the 8th and 10th prizes, with only three pigeons in the race!
Combine this with the fact that results like a 1st national La Souterraine youngbirds (1996), 1st general champion KBDB Province East-Flanders (against 11,000 fanciers - 2000), 1st provincial Bourges yearbirds (2003), 2nd national Bourges old birds (1997), 1st provincial Vichy old birds (2004), 3rd national La Souterraine young birds (2005) are also on the result list. And so we know that we're not speaking about just any fancier. We wanted to know more about these fanciers, so we turned the car in the direction of Merelbeke.
ONE BIG FAMILY
The power of this loft comes from Herman De Schepper and his wife Marietta De Temmerman. Herman is an industrial engineer and works for the National Railway. But this job demands a lot of his time, and so he hasn't enough time to look after the birds. Luckily, he has the help of his lovely wife Marietta (who's a housewife), and thanks to this they make the ideal combination.
Herman raced until 1985 with his father, Leon. The move to their new house ended the partnership, and Herman went his own way in the pigeon sport. It's normal that the first birds came from father Leon, but Herman saw that he could upgrade the quality of the birds. He analysed throughout one season all of the racing results of several clubs. At the end, he concluded that Jozef De Lodder (Zulte) and Rene Vandenheede (Zingem - now represented by his son Freddy) were the best. Herman took his savings and went to those two fanciers to invest. The crossing of those two strains was immediately successful, and the pigeons of father Leon had to make room. The results were suddenly better, and Herman wanted to invest again. Now he didn't have to look a long time for a good loft. No, the name Gaby Vandenabeele was hot, and eggs from his breeders went to Merelbeke. Herman says, "Every year I buy some birds, but it will always be from Vandenabeele or from Vandenheede. I can say that the base of my colony is De Lodder, and the rest is formed with 25% Vandenabeele and 75% Vandenheede."
Is this the new trend in Belgium? The fact is that little by little more fanciers choose this system. Herman explains, "In the early days, I always had 28 widowers, and every year I put, (with pain in the heart) all those good youngbird hens in the aviary. In 2000 I had a talk with Freddy Vandenheede, who races very well with hens, and after this conversation I decided to race seven hens on widowhood. These seven hens flew so well that one season later I already had 20 ladies on this racing method. Now the lady-team is 28 ladies strong.
The reason why we choose total widowhood all had to do with a shortage of space. As you can see, we don't have that much space to build lofts and didn't want to search for an extra place in the garden to build an aviary for "nothing-doing-cocks" to pair with the widowhood hens. So I have chosen the total widowhood system. This system is very easy. At the end of November, the birds are coupled, and after breeding a couple of youngsters they're separated. On March 15th, it is again a "big party." When the hen has laid her second egg, she goes directly to the hens' loft. So there is no second brood."
Herman continues, "Once widowhood is established, we follow a strict schedule. With the exception of a few things, we can say that everything is done as at a lot of other lofts. Fanciers say that hens have to be basketted weekly, but this is not a fixed rule here. It is possible that in the beginning of the season the hens are basketted several times every week, but as of June the hens are basketted every two weeks. Between the two races, they stay home and I mean really home. It is possible that the hen stays home and the cock is basketted, or the opposite can be done, but for the same money both are basketted or are at home. Here, it is each bird's condition that decides if the birds are basketted, yes or no! The pigeons that stayed home are, on the arrival day of the other birds, closed up in half of the widowhood box. When the pigeons come, home they can choose next to which cock or hen they want to sit. Only when around two-thirds of the birds are home do I go to the loft to close up the pigeons couple by couple."
"Upon arrival," Herman explains, "we work directly at the recuperation, and this starts with a good meal. Concerning feeding we've got our own system. This means I buy the best mixtures of several brands and on my own opinion I mix 50% racing mixture + 25% ma´s (corn) + 25% Super Diet. I give this mixture on arrival (Saturday), and the quantity is as much as they want. Also, the morning after they get this mixture. On the Sunday evening the mixture is already changed to 2/3 Super Diet + 1/3 ma´s. This mixture is given until Tuesday morning. On Tuesday evening and Wednesday, a racing mixture is on the menu. Thursday is basketting day, and I always like to basket birds for a 'two-night basket' with a little bit of food in the crop. Therefore, I feed on Thursday morning only 10g/bird a mix of Super Diet and ma´s. In the afternoon (around 2:00 p.m.) again Super Diet + ma´s is fed. After this last meal they have about three hours to drink and then they're basketted. As you can see, we always feed the birds twice a day and we take our time in feeding them. Normally, the birds get around 15 minutes to eat what they want, but we can say that the pigeons get approximately 35 to 40grams of feed a day.
Breeder on nest
Aviary for bathing
Herman confides, "We don't need to keep secrets from each other. Without medication, it is not possible to put good results on paper. A good season starts with a good winter breeding. When it already goes wrong during that period, then it will be hard to put the birds on the road to top condition again. I treat all the birds against paratyphus at the end November. This is done with a cure in the drinking water. There's no vaccination afterwards. Once this treatment is finished, we go to the specialized vet and let the him dictate what the pigeons need."
"Once the youngsters from the early breeding have been weaned for a few days," Herman continues, "the old birds are treated against tricho with a ronidazole product. This tricho cure is repeated when the racing birds are coupled for the second time. Before they have their first training tosses, they're treated with Soludox against ornithosis. During the season, we follow a strict medical routine. In 2005 I treated every three weeks with Soludox. Only the youngbirds were treated more often. Everything depends on how good or bad the results are. I can say that during my best racing seasons, I treated not that much."
"Every year we have a visit from the youngbird disease," Herman says. "The earlier it comes, the better. As soon as one youngbird turns his crop upside down I have already mixed some antibiotic in the drinker. Last season, I thought to be clever that I wouldn't treat at the first signs of the disease. No, I waited until three-fourths of the youngbird team became ill, and that was a mistake because it took me a great deal longer to kill the virus."
"For the rest, it is the same as with a lot of other fanciers," Herman goes on to say. "Electrolytes upon arrival and on regular basis brewer's yeast and vitamins on the mixture. Tea is administered several times a week. I also use a lot of Biochol. What we like to do is to use drops in the eyes of the racing birds. If we had the time, we would do it daily but now we drop twice a week. We use the eye gel Clinagel." [Editor's note: Two similar products that are available from Siegel's are Lysocur eye drops by Comed or Golden Eye drops from Herbots.]
"Every year we breed between 100 and 110 youngbirds for our own use, Herman continues. "This group is composed of 80 youngsters from the first round and 20 of the second. The purpose is to be top on the national races with the youngbirds, and therefore they stay together until two weeks before the first national race. Afterwards, they're separated and raced following the open door system. In earlier years, the youngbirds were separated earlier and came together two weeks before Bourges. The nationals were then raced on nest position. It may sound strange, but sometimes I think it's better to basket youngbirds for the nationals in nest position than on widowhood. Certainly for the last two races it is better. Why don't I act on that? Well, I guess I'm doing it the easy way! If you race pigeons on nest position, then you have to sleep in your loft, so to speak. It is easier to keep pigeons healthy when they're on widowhood than when they're on nest position. And pigeons on nest position hardly train, while youngbirds raced on the open door system train without any problem one or two hours a day."
"Miss Bourges "
" Victoria "
" Linde "
" De Cahors "
" Miss Rhone "
" Montelimar "
" Vechter "
Herman concludes, "Since 1996 we have darkened our youngbirds, from March 15 until June 15. Before, when we raced on nest position, we stopped darkening at the end of May but youngbirds which are not in nest position throw their wing feathers more quickly. If you stop darkening at the end of May then you have moulting problems for the last two national races. Youngbirds need to see the inside of a basket weekly. Even between two national races I basket them for a 300 km race. Before I forget, the national races are only reserved for the young hens, the young cocks stay at 300 km."
RACING RESULTS 2005
05/15 Toury 635d.: 1-11-43-44-48-76-78-83-90-93, etc. (33)
05/21 Dourdan 315jl.: 8-9-12-13-18-19-20-21-29-48, etc.(32)
05/28 Bourges zonal 6831 old birds: 45-52-382-444-1210 (9)
6507 yearlings: 18-20-174-214-221-356-732, etc. (20)
06/11 Tours 409 old birds: 1-10-13-22-32-37-39-49-71, etc. (27)
Provincial:1372 old birds: 6-18-21-47-62-69-74-93-167, etc. (27)
Tours provincial: 883 jl.: 2-10-13-40-44-47-60-104, etc. (26)
MontÚlimar national 10,195d.: 8-10 (3)
Zonal 1380 d.: 1-2 (3)
National duivinnen: 781d.: 1-2 (2)
06/18 Chateauroux provincial 1387 old birds: 4-6-8-20-36-37-67-86-88-91-103-109, etc. (27)
Provincial 784 yearlings: 4-6-7-21-38-39-75-76-99. etc. (26)
provincial 1595 old birds: 5-11-22-34-38-40-43-51-62-67-78-91-93-105-139, etc. (32)
provincial 1057 yearlings: 3-7-14-18-21-22-25-31-38-39-46-54-56-64, etc. (29)
Orange national 7600 old birds: 24 (2)
Barcelona provincial 2315 old birds: 105-213-365 (4)
07/16 Dourdan 806 young birds: 1-9-10-11-13-14-16-28-29-40-49-58-60-61, etc.
Blois 360 jl.: 3-5-10-46-49-64-75-78, etc. (18)
07/30 Bourges zonal 2316 yearlings: 18-29-53-91-147-166-283-286-288, etc. (19)
Zonaal 9042 young birds: 12-83-84-176-292-810-841, etc. (16)
08/13 Argenton zonal 6570 young birds: 30-76-119-134-153-290-315-787, etc. (24)
Dourdan 334 young birds: 6-7-8-11-12-14-30, etc. (43)
08/27 La Souterraine
national 15,406 young birds: 3-26-66-154-494-739-753-1566, etc. (38)
09/10 Vichy 11,022 young birds: 86-337-613-632-819-839-1165, etc. (39)