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The doctor de Weerd interview (part one of two)

As a child I already had pigeons. This was not that strange. In those days (the 50-ies) nearly everybody raced pigeons, my neighbours left-door, right-door and opposite. My uncles and the workmates of my dad. Everybody had to work hard for a living and pigeons was a nice way to seek distraction. It was in those days that the little city of Tilburg alone numbered 1,500 fanciers, Belgium about 200,000.

At the time there were also champions of course but the gap between them and the rest was not as great as it is now. Those champions were no professionals such as there are now. The reason is that only later foreign fanciers started buying Belgian and Dutch pigeons. As a brat I stood listening mouth open wide when the grown ups were talking pigeons. It was always the names of the same champions which were mentioned: Delbar, Janssen and Dutch Dusarduyn. If pigeon writers were the subject also three names stood out: Jan Aerts, van den Hoek and Piet de Weerd (nicknamed 'The fat brown man'). They were the figure heads in those days.


I have always liked the country side very much and still do. In fact I prefer the smell of cow-shit to that of the gases of cars. And when I was a student and the weather was fine I picked my books and went to the woods to study meanwhile enjoying the birds sing their songs and the smell of pure nature. During one of these trips in the woods I met a boy of my age. 'What is your name?' I asked. 'Henk de Weerd' he reacted. 'The son of…?' was my next question. He nodded. 'The son of'.

The years went by. The father Piet, at the blessed age of 88 in 2001, now enjoys the fall of his life in a home for the aged now. He still follows pigeon sport closely and now he may call himself 'the father of…'. Because his son Henk became a prominent vet. It is undoubtedly also because of the fame of his father that he got well known abroad. He has clients now in 25 countries and personally he thinks this is also because in his younger days unlike most other vets he realised how important it was to be able to express himself in English. Of course I do not want to say that dr De Weerd is the best pigeon vet in Europe. He is just one of about 25 doctors who made pigeons as their domain. I questioned dr de Weerd about our sport. Not because he knows everything so much better but as a prominent vet he is better informed than the average fancier.


'You are consulted by lots of fanciers whose birds have all kinds of problems. Is it possible for you to give me a 'top three'. I mean which are the 3 diseases pigeons suffer from most? Dr. de Weerd: 'This is a little bit more complex than you suggest. You must distinguish old birds and young birds. You must even make a division between summer and winter. My negatieve 'top three' for old birds is in this order: Respitory problems, canker and paratyphoid. With young birds the order is a bit different. For them it is respitory problems in the first place, then 'Adeno/Coli' and finally trichomoniasis (canker). In Holland and Belgium we talk about 'Adeno/Coli' as it is often a combination of the two but again it is not that simple. We will talk about that later on.


I have three questions about paratyphoid. - In a German magazine there was a publication that no less than 80 percent of pigeons are infected. Is it really that high or what do you think? - My next question. I myself do not take chances and every fall I medicate all my birds against salmonella for about two weeks without having the birds tested before. Right or wrong? - Belgian champions Pros Roosen and Derwa have been doing the same as I do since many years. They are very happy with it apart from one thing: Too many birds get unfertile at a too young age. They wonder if the medicine they use against paratyphoid (Chloramphenicol and furaltodone) are to blame. Is that so? Dr de Weerd. Paratyphoid is indeed a far more common disease than people think. The more birds I had had tested in the lab the more surprised I was that so many birds carry the salmonella bacteria. I would say 80 percent is a bit exaggerated but as many as 40 percent of pigeons do have the salmonella bacteria indeed. What you and others do (take no chances and medicate yearly for a period of about two weeks even without salmonella was proven) is something I can advise everybody to do. The reason is that when you have say 50 birds it is an illusion to think none of them have paratyphoid. The effect of the medication will never be that all your birds will be 100 percent free of the disease but you will surely prevent a lot of problems. As for your last question I do not think that the fact that pigeons become unfertile at a younger age has anything to do with the medication. I think it is due to the fact that you demand too much of the pigeons. They are raced week after week and you will have to pay a price for that. This price is they are worn out sooner. What you can do to keep your birds fertile as long as possible is to give them much freedom. If that is impossible for whatever reason put the pigeons in big aviaries. I would say: make them as big as you can. Small aviaries 'are killing' the prisoners in them. So let the birds fly! Note of the author. Once I was in Japan where I visited a great importer of very expensive birds which had been Aces in Holland and Belgium or which had won National races. Much to my surprise I saw some of them fly out freely. 'How come this man let the birds which had cost fortunes let free with a great risk to lose them?' I wondered. The Japanese saw my surprise and gave the following explanation: 'These birds you see on top of the roof are all Aces for which I paid fortunes indeed. But at the age of about eight or a bit older one after the other became infertile. I bought these birds to sell their babies. But what can I do with birds which do not fill their eggs? I know about others who sell babies off of birds of 15 years or older. Occasionally this is possible but not very often. In many cases people are cheated when they purchase babies off of very old birds, though I hope there will be a change for the better now that we can make DNA tests to check the origin. When the Super birds I bought became infertile I let them out as I had nothing to lose. If the birds got lost they got lost. And you know what happened? I lost many of them indeed but off of those which did not fly away some began to fill their eggs again. Because of the freedom.' That was what the Japanese guy told me and dr de Weerd agrees. Freedom is important. Small lofts are killing the potency of birds.


The general idea is now that in case your birds suffer from paratyphoid the best thing to do is medicate them first for a couple of weeks with antibiotics and needle them after the medication. Is this the right thing to do and what is the best vaccine to needle the birds with? Furthermore some people claim that if you needle birds during the racing season they will get into a better condition and consequently better results will follow. Is that so? Dr Weerd: I do not support needling birds against paratyphoid. I did not 20 years ago and I am still against it. The reason is that the vaccines we have got now are not any better than those of the old days. 20 Years research did not bring us any further and believe me I know what I am talking about as salmonella has always interested me very much. I know that there are people who needle their young birds during the season as they mean it stimulates the condition. In my opinion they believe in ghosts. Furthermore I want to emphasize that paratyphoid in Europe is mainly a winter disease. The bacteria seem to flourish better in cold and humid circumstances. Every year in October it is the same story: Then I get phone calls from everywhere and the story is always the same: Paratyphoid. And then there is another thing. In fall pigeons moult (in Europe, Japan and America) and it is very demanding from a pigeon body when in a short period of time so many feathers have to be renewed. Pigeons are weakened and when that is the case they are more vulnerable to all kinds of diseases. Salmonella is one of them. When we have a dry fall the paratyphoid problems start later in winter. In tropical countries I have noticed the same: more outbreaks in periods when the humidity is high.


Another question about this theme. Is there anything a fancier can do to prevent an outbreak of paratyphoid? Dr De Weerd: 'First of all I want to tell you that paratyphoid and quality are quite different things. I know that some people say that good pigeons never get sick. That is bull. When you have many eggs which are not filled or little babies in the nest that die you better watch out. For 90 percent sure you have paratyphoid and this has nothing to do with quality. Even the best pigeons in the world can get it. But the question was 'if we can do something to prevent paratyphoid?' I think we can indeed. Which fanciers do have most problems? A: Owners of breeding stations. B: People that import many birds from different fanciers. What I mean to say is this: You have a greater chance to get paratyphoid when birds of different fanciers get into contact with each other unless you take measures of course. Paratyphoid is a much more serious problem with pigeons than many fanciers are aware of. You know what often happens? The birds are not in good shape, the fancier medicates against all kinds of everything apart from their real problem: Paratyphoid.
About this disease I have one final remark: Many vets (collegians) are undeservedly accused of being incapable. Fanciers send the droppings of birds to a vet and he in turn sends these droppings to a lab to have them tested. When in a lab the bacteria is found you may be sure you have a problem. But if they do not find the bacteria, so if the test is negative, this does not mean it cannot be there !!! Moreover it is possible that the bacteria is not found in one sample of the droppings but it is found in another. This is something good to remember for every pigeon fancier. If you have a healthy family of birds the best way to keep it healthy is never to import other birds. But import other birds now and then and try out new crossings is an absolute must for every ambitious fancier. That's why I agree with your method: Medicate preventively yearly. Of course there is also the possibility of a blood test. This is a much safer method.


A strange thing is that in case of salmonella very often coccidiosis and or streptococci are also involved. Is that a coincidence or? Dr de Weerd: 'That is rather normal than a coincidence. You must know that normally speaking coccidioses is not a big problem with pigeons. When they are healthy and the environment is good, I mean not too humid, pigeons rarely suffer from coccidioses. This is different however when birds are weakened for whatever reason. For example after a hard race or because of sicknesses. Salmonella and streptococci of course weakens the body of birds very much and that gives coccidiosis a chance. But once more in normal situations it is not a problem and I would like to warn against medicine against coccidioses during the racing season. Some of them are so called condition killers. So my advice? Do not take chances, medicate your birds against salmonella yearly but not the birds which you are racing.