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The methods of the young bird Champions in Holland and Belgium

Pigeonsport in Holland and Belgium is quite different from the sport in Taiwan. We referred to that in a previous article. The big thing in Europe has always been old bird racing and still is.

Until the sixties pigeonfanciers considered racing young birds nothing but a burden. It was no more than a necessity to prepare them for the future. They should pick up experience for their flying career as old birds, with other words:
Young bird races were considered as training and little more than that.

The turning point was the organisation of a National race for youngsters in Holland from Orleans in the fifties. The distance was about 420 kilometers for fanciers in the south, the pigeons that belonged to fanciers in the north had to overcome about 650 kilometers.

Then many people protested heavily against such a race. It was too far. Young birds could not handle such a distance. For that reason people in the North passed and did not enter birds.Those who were against seemed to be right as the first race was a smash. About one third of the birds never came back.
But this meant by no means the end of the race from Orleans, on the contrary.

Gradually people began to realise that young birds could easily handle distances of 450 or more kilometers. More and more they began to take an interest in the races with young birds and Orleans gained in popularity so much that it was to become the Greatest pigeon-race in the world.

In the early 90-ies no less than 250,000 birds were entered and released at the same time. ‘The sky above Orleans became black, it looked like a solar eclipse’ the magazines wrote.
In the 70-ies we got a quite different situation from in the past. Young bird racing was no longer a means to train them for their future, it was considered as much fun as racing old birds.
One reason was that with old birds it was always the same people who were winning, whereas with young birds chances were more equal. Everybody could win (in those days!) Because of this growing interest more races for youngsters were organised, even till 600 kilometers and… very few birds got lost.

And we got a new category of pigeonfanciers: Those who were less interested in old bird racing but the more in young bird racing: They were called ‘the specialists’.
Within a few years they were so dominating that they destroyed the races.
Now we got a funny situation: In the past it was said ‘with youngsters chances are more equal as everbody can win’, now the time had come that it was the other way round.

Young bird races became a ‘family party’, no fun for the rest, the happy few won everything.Racing against ‘the specialists’ was something the average fancier could forget as he was beaten beforehand. Especially those who had long-distance birds bowed their heads as birds of a long distance family never do good in the year they are born. I am going to tell you about the methods of those Supermen with young birds. Though I am not sure Europeans do better than their fellow sportsmen in Taiwan. In Taiwan much money is involved and when money is involved you cannot afford to be dumb.

The ‘specialists’ start breeding at the end of November or middle December at the latest. That is in the heart of winter when days are cold and short. So an advice for you dear reader: If ever you want to visit Holland or Belgium stay away in winter. It is very unagreeable, many people even get a winter depression. Not the pigeonfancier though. He is too busy to visit a shrink. The breeding season is in full swing and takes all his time. He must make the days longer as pigeons do not mate when the daylight is no more than 7 hours. He also has to give the birds water frequently as it may freeze immediately and turn into ice. What they do is switch on lights at about 7.00 a.m. and let them burn till about 9.00 p.m. They start doing so about 10 days before mating.
When birds are mated in november/december the babies will be one week old with New Year. It is then that the bands of the new year are handed over.
The long-distance racers mate up their birds later as they know too well they have no chance when racing youngsters.
The first four months of their lives the young birds get food with much protein (peas). This is considered to be a good means for their development.

The ‘specialists’ start to make the food ‘lighter’ in April. ‘Lighter’ means easier to digest: Less protein such as peas and more ‘diet food’. The result of ‘lighter’ food is that the birds begin to train spontaneously round the loft. This is an absolute ‘must’. If youngsters do not fly for at least one hour after opening the loft it is useless to start training them. Because if birds do not fly like hell after setting them free that means no condition.

‘No condition’ means poor results and… birds that get lost! Most champions start training in May, the birds are about 5 months old then. 5 Months is an old age for Taiwanese standards but you should realise the weather in Holland may be very bad before. And pigeons here are neither raced nor trained in bad weather to give them a fair chance.

The weather however is so unpredictable that it may happen that birds still meet bad conditions on their way home. Such races any pigeon can win which is good to remember when buying birds. Like that great Japanese champion who is far more succesful when buying pigeons than others.
How come? Before buying he wants to know what the weatherconditions were of the race the pigeon won. In other words: If it was a fair race with equal chances for all pigeons.

This is a thing we in Europe also do first when we judge the result of a bird. We consider the weatherconditions under which a race was held. Naturally champions hate lucky races. But such races have a positive aspect though: Outsiders may win! They keep fanciers who are used to losing in the sport after a good result. That this ‘good result’ was in a lucky race is something they do not care about. Lucky winners are also birds that do good with strong tail winds at a high speed. Let’s go back to training. I start at a distance of 10 kilometers, the next so-called ‘toss’ (the English ‘pigeonword’ for training) is from 15 kilometers and the following step is 20 kilometers.

From the first training trips the birds seldom fly home directly and I stick to that distance, (20 20 kilometers), till they do. Only then I drive further, from 30 kilometers to about 70.


The racing season starts end of June and the big race (National Orleans) is early August. This used to be late August. That was (important to know) the time the birds were moulting. And the moult is a big problem in the young bird game. Pigeons that moult do not win a prize. So what did the fanciers do?Stop the moult artificially.First by using cortisone, later by ‘the darkening system’ (maximum amount of day-light 10 hours). Why not cortisone any more?

It has become forbidden stuff as it is considered drugging. Those who are caught using cortisone will be expelled from the races for 3 years. As the National Organisations in Holland and Belgium (NPO and KBDB) wanted to demotivate fanciers to stop the moult artificially the racing schedule was changed.

Now the national long distance races take place earlier than in the past. The season starts with a race from about 90 kilometers and every following week the distance will be greater. The big races (the Nationals or Semi-Nationals) are from 400 till about 600 kilometers.


It is also important too know that in Belgium the situation is quite different from other European countries. Unlike in Holland and Germany in Belgium people can make choices.They start racing youngsters in May from Quievrain ( from 50 to 145 kilometers for those who live in the north) and… from then on there is a race from Quievrain every weekend.Can you believe there are people who only race from that station? In Holland they are often laughed at because the distance is considered too short. On the other hand one should realise that in Quievrain up to 250.000 birds are released at the same time which does not make it easy for them to orientate. End of May the Belgians start racing from Noyon or a station similar to that (from 160 to 250 kilometers) and… they can race from that station every weekend too!

In June and later are the Middle Distance races (about 350 kilometers) every weekend and after that the ‘Nationals’. So in the month of July Belgians can race their youngsters every week from Quievrain and from Noyon (short distance) and… they can race middle distance. So 3 races in one day. A minority (the champions) prefers the Middle distance races and the Nationals because of a greater impact (prestige) and more attention in the press. The average fancier races short distance only. Furthermore there is a catogory called ‘the addicts’. They race every weekend from Quievrain, from Noyon and from Middle distance. So they have birds coming home from a race early in the morning, others come home by noon and others in the afternoon from a middle distance race. You can imagine what stress that is! Being the wife of a ‘pigeonaddict’ is no fun in the weekends, I can tell you. In Holland people do not have those choices. There is only one race per weekend which explains the enourmous amounts of birds in the races about which foreigners often wonder.


Gritt is, apart from normal food, considered to be the most important thing pigeons need. What the champions do is try to let them eat gritt as much as possible. The gritt should be refreshed every day or every 2 days. Pigeons do not eat gritt which is left in the loft because of the dust that will stick on it. Birds like it fresh. Once I was told by a doctor (a scientist who is specialised in pigeons) how important the minerals in gritt are.

‘When the birds come home from a hard race you should put some gritt in their box and some normal food and see what happens’ he said. I did so and indeed, he was right. The first thing the birds did was pick gritt instead of food. I know a pigeonman who regularly throws gritt on the ground before the loft. It happens that, when the birds come from a race, they land on the ground to pick gritt instead of flying into the loft! It is their instinct! The body needs those minerals. The first few days after a race the birds get ‘diet’ for a good digestion, towards the end of the week, before the race, they get extra corn or peanuts to build up energy.


You may be surprised but the medical part of the game is not considered essential, the loft however is. This is because of the changing weather conditions. The point is to construct a loft which is influenced by the changing weatherconditions as little as possible. If there are problems it is mostly respitory problems. The champions try to prevent instead of medicating. And the best prevention is a perfect environment (loft).
A reason why fanciers try to keep their hands off of anti-biotics is the fear of having constant healthproblems when birds are older.

And old birdracing is, as mentioned before, despite the popularity of young bird racing now, still what matters most to the majority. The ‘specialists’ are still a minority. Some of them do not worry about later but concentrate on the young bird game only. These people use anti-biotics against respitory problems indeed. It is a combination of products well known in Taiwan too. When the babies are 6 weeks old they are treated against trichomoniase for about a week and this is repeated before the racing season.

During the season medication is avoided as much as possible. The most popular stuff is Ronidazole 10 procent. Many champions add glucose to it. Coccidioses is not a problem. Very few people medicate against that. Coccidiose is mostly the result of a bad loft (high humidity) or a secundary infection (salmonella).

Moreover many medicine against coccidiose are ‘condition-killers’. Most champions do not believe in vitamins for birds which are raced. Vitamins are good foor breeders and for pigeons that moult or which are sick is the general opinion. In hot weather electrolytes are popular after the race. They must make up for the loss of moist in the body due to the heat.

Medicine do pigeons not fly faster


Fanciers handle 2 different systems. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
a. One is the ‘natural system’. That means race youngsters with eggs or babies in the nest. It is practised by those who aim at the National races like Orleans and Bourges.
i once made a study of the position of National winners. 65 procent of them had a baby in the nest. So racing natural (with a baby in the nest) looks like a good system for those who aim at one or two important races. The disadvantage is that birds on eggs are seldom succesful, they are at the top of their condition and motivation for only 2 weeks. That is when they have a little baby in the nest. Another disadvantage of racing natural is that the birds do not train around the loft spontaneously. Training is considered as very important so birds are forced to fly (they are startled by a ball, a flag or something). Or they are taken away by car.

b. The other system is racing with seperated sexes. The great advantage of this is that the birds, provided they are in good shape, train around the loft like hell. Racing with seperated sexes is practised by most champions.

The cocks and hens are housed in different sections. In the morning the cocks train and in the evening the hens. Or the other way around, it does not matter. Some hours before basketing the cocks and hens are let together and they are allowed ‘to make love’. In very hot weather the cocks may join the hens the day BEFORE basketing. The reason for this is to put them in the basket when they are calmed down and not excited any more. Birds which are basketed in an excited state, full of stress, will exhaust themselves too much during the transport to the release station.

When trying to win that particular race the champions consider the best position is to have their youngsters on a baby. But those who want to be good in every race (winning is not their first goal) have the sexes seperated.
So far the ideas and methods of most champions in Holland and Belgium. Are they right or can they do better? I should ask champions in Taiwan to get the answer to that question.