More than words Part 5
This is the last of a series of articles, which are graced by photos. Photos may make things more clear than words can do. They may bring the news or may be interesting since they are old and historic. Hopefully you will enjoy both articles and photos.
All kinds of everything.
Shortly after World War 2 pigeon sport was THE national sport in Belgium.
It was even more popular than soccer and cycling, which means something.
It is said that there were about 300,000 fanciers in those days. Even the smallest village had its pigeon club (or even more than one) and a pigeon club in every street was not exceptional.
In the town of Geel alone (no more than 5,000 inhabitants) there were no less than 12 clubs and over 300 fanciers.
In the country side it was rather rare if somebody did NOT race pigeons and those who did not were interested in the sport.
Take Huyskens Van Riel.
When a race was on scores of people that were watched the homecoming of the birds.
One of the reasons that the sport was so popular was that people were stuck to their houses. They could not afford a car or a holiday, so pigeons were a pleasant outlet for many to escape from daily life that was boring and hard.
Though the sport has changed a lot there is still some nostalgia in it.
In the town of Lier there is a pigeon market every Sunday morning in spring.
Locals offer up to 5,000 birds for sale per day, most of them 4 weeks old, and prices are real cheap, 10 to 40 euro only.
On busy days the City centre is closed for regular traffic to enable fanciers from all over Western Europe to attend this market and it must be said, it is an unforgettable event indeed.
The place is occupied by such an immense crowd of fanciers that speak all kinds of languages that one would not say the sport went down so much.
Since so many birds are transferred it is inevitable that occasionally you can read about ‘supers’ that were purchased at ‘Lier Market’.
Those are birds without pedigree but ‘a low price’ and ‘no pedigree’ does not necessarily mean ‘a bad bird’.
Talking about nostalgia; ‘Quievrain’ has become a household word for Belgians.
It is the name of a release station near the French border from which fanciers have raced ever since pigeon sport exists.
Why Quievrain of all places?
It was the furthest place that a train could get at without passing the French border.
Nowadays the little station still exists but trucks take pigeons there, much different from the modern containers in which the Dutch and Germans transport their birds.
90 Percent of Belgian fanciers are said to race from Quievrain only, which is about 60
kilometres for those who live in the centre (Brussels).
In June, when the young bird season is in full swing up to 250,000 birds are released at a time.
The cooing of the birds before the release is impressing.
The clapping of some 100s of thousands of wings at the release is deafening and the immense mass of birds that darkens the sky reminds of a solar eclipse.
And only half a minute later, when all birds are gone, leaving a white carpet of feathers on the ground, the silence that follows is kind of scary.
In short, attending a release at Quievrain is an unforgettable event.
FINISHED OR NOT?
Like everywhere in the world where pigeons are raced it is inevitable that birds get lost sometimes.
Some will never return, others make it home days, weeks or even months after the race and it stands to reason that their condition may be horrible then.
When they are taken good care of some shape up pretty soon, for others it takes weeks or months, whereas some will never be the same as before.
Fanciers often wonder IF and WHEN a bird that got lost is fit to be raced again, since they know it may look good from the outside whereas it has not recovered yet.
There are some signs that may help to judge.
As long as the eyes are dull and not shiny you cannot race them. They are not fit to be raced either if they have not regained their normal weight and the nice pink colouring of the flesh; things that mostly go together.
‘Blue flesh’ around the breastbone is a sign that something is wrong and of course pigeons that have suffered do have blue flesh.
‘Why do so many fanciers wear a cap?’ people sometimes wonder.
One reason is that some are allergic for the special dust that birds like canaries, parrots, parakeets and pigeons spread.
‘Some’ may be the fancier himself but also members of his family and it is especially the hair in which the dust will stick.
By wearing a cap one will not take the dust into the house that my harm others, especially babies.
Fortunately I myself am not allergic but ‘my other half’ is which explains why I have been wearing a cap since a couple of years.
Pigeons are fun but a good health is more fun!
Scientist, vets and champions think different about many aspects of our sport but they all agree on one thing:
Grit is the most important food additive, lack of calcium and minerals means trouble.
What some people are not aware of is the fact that grit should be refreshed very often, since dust will stick onto it and then birds do not eat it any more.
The result may be that the food is not digested well and the bones of babies develop poorly.
It is often the eggs that show you if pigeons did not get the grit they need; their scales are not smooth and shiny but brisk and granular.
Talking about eggs, you can preserve them much longer than some think. As for new laid eggs that is up to a week or longer, provided they are turned twice a day.
But they should be fresh indeed, having been bred for one day only is too much since the embryo has started to develop and will die.
If eggs are NOT fresh you still can keep or transport them for a day or two provided you take the necessary precautions to keep them warm.
A ‘hot water bottle’ such as people used in the old days is very helpful. You should fill it with warm water, put it in an insulated box together with the eggs.
Do not stare dear reader, I am still talking pigeons and not drunk.
With ‘naked breasts’ fanciers refer to birds that miss feathers on the breast.
The subject is controversial and vets and scientists disagree about its cause.
There are two theories:
a. One is that a kind of ‘feather mites’ is responsible.
b. Others do not agree since they never found mites under a microscope.
‘It is the sharp edges of feeders and drinkers that break the feathers with naked breasts as a result’ they say.
After the moult the feathering is perfect again but a year later there is trouble again and strangely enough birds with ‘naked breasts’ do not perform.
I myself do not know which theory is the right one but that is nothing to be ashamed about. When the moment comes that one thinks to have an answer to all questions and there are no doubts any more that is the beginning of the end.
It is characteristic for the champions to ask themselves questions again and again.
People having fun at Huyskens van Riel in the old days before the home coming of the birds.
Nowadays the winners of a National are on television in Holland.
The town of Lier in Belgium has the biggest pigeon market in the world.
Up to 5,000 birds are offered for sale every Sunday in spring and fanciers from all over Europe gather either to buy cheap birds or smell nostalgia.
Quievrain is ‘the mother of all release stations’. Old-fashioned baskets and old trucks distinguish pigeon sport in Belgium from that in Holland and Germany.
5e.1. Will a bird that is so devastated after a race still perform?
5e.2 A bird like this (too skinny with blue flesh around the breast bone) is not recovered yet and unfit to race.
A cap may help to protect your family from pigeon dust.
A bended breastbone is often the result of lack of calcium. Furthermore a bird like this is too skinny to develop into a healthy and vital bird.
A ‘hot water bottle’ is ideal to transport eggs that are not fresh.
Grit, minerals and pick stone should be refreshed regularly. If it is put in jars in a dusty corner of the loft it is useless since pigeons do not pick it.
Naked breasts: No fun as far as pigeons are concerned.