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Vet Herbots speaks

Raf Herbots, the vet.


You cannot believe how many questions I get from foreign fanciers about the health of our pigeons and about medical issues.

The reason why is clear: In those countries there are no or very few vets who are specialised in pigeons.

In Belgium however there are about 10 vets who deal with pigeons only and inHolland about five.

If all of these vets are good you may wonder?

Yes they are, though no one is perfect of course.

This is a small world, fanciers talk, and if any of these vets were no good he would be finished soon, since he would lose all his clients.

Due to my position I know most of these vets quite well.

They all have their own specific qualities, though they may have different opinions about some issues.



For a change I had a talk with Raf Herbots.

Raf, the son and brother of'is one of the good vets in Belgium.

Father Filip and Jo are the talkers, Lars the vet is quieter.

But when he opens his mouth you better listen well since he knows what he is talking about. Naturally the pigeons of the Herbots family are under his control but also those of many other champions such as Vanlint and others.

If they had no confidence in him they would not apply to him and follow his advice.

It is as simple as that.

And if he were no good I would not spend my valuable time on him.

We asked Raf some questions that may not be the usual questions you may expect but which are hot items in the pigeon sport of today.



Today there is a trend to skip all medication and to completely trust on the quality of the bird and its natural health only .

'Back to nature' they say.

'If a human is not ill they do not take medicine either. Why medicate healthy pigeons?' they say.

Are they right? Can we go back to the basics?

Therefore my first question:

Is there any medication which is an absolute 'must' to be a successful racer today?



Unfortunately we cannot go back to nature. There may be champions who do not use any medicine but they are as rare as white ravens.

And those few you mainly find among short distance racers whose birds are only in the basket for one night when being raced.  

But as I said, in my opinion there is no way back. Keeping birds like in the old days and being a champion at the same time is something you can forget.

In the past every body thought canker (trichomonas) was the enemy number one but

I am afraid they are wrong. It is salmonella (paratyphoid).

I strongly advise to keep that under control.

Very good medication is amoxicillin and Baytril but with Baytril you must watch out. It creates resistance.

I myself promote vaccinating. With other animals we also see less and less antibiotics are used but they vaccinate more than ever.

And birds that are vaccinated against paratyphoid get more resistance against other diseases. They seem to become kind of stronger.

If you race youngsters at long distance I especially advise to vaccinate them. The best vaccines are live vaccines in my opinion.



And what about training if you have just vaccinated the birds?



That is a good question. No matter what vaccine you use against paratyphoid there will always be side effects. They hurt the birds and they need a rest for at least about 10 days after the vaccination.



Some people, and there are great names among them, use the so-called 'four step method'.

One week they medicate against canker, the other week against respiratory problems, the third week nothing.

Then they repeat it.

Do they not finish their family? Is it not too much?



Birds can handle a lot and maybe this method is not bad for fanciers who 'do not see things'. Those who are not real pigeon man. A good pigeons man will see to day if a pigeon will get sick to-morrow. A poor fancier sees if a pigeon is sick when it is sick. And that is too late.

For such people this method may not be that bad.



Baytril is very controversial. In 2011 I myself had problems with paratyphoid. I treated my birds 10 days and I never regretted it.



Baytril is very good stuff despite its bad reputation amongst fanciers. We import pretty many birds and we always treat them with Baytril during 10 days since we do not want to take any risks.

Medicating 10 consecutive days with Baytril outside the season is not bad at all, on the contrary. Medicating 5 times 2 days is killing the birds indeed.



What is a very useful additive apart from grit?


That again depends.

If you race short distance only or long distance makes all the difference .

For short distance you do not need much additives.

If you race the further distances stuff that recuperates the birds is very important.

Especially Elecrolytes.

They may be given before and after a race in warm weather when pigeons lose much moisture.



I personally have no much confidence in electrolytes especially devised for pigeons and give those that are for animals like chickens, ducks, pigs and so on. Do I do the right thing?



Yes you do. These electrolytes are developed after much research and tests since live stock represents a high economic value. Pigeons do not and therefore you may have doubts about electrolytes for pigeons indeed.    

The electrolytes I use and sell are derived from those for humans. They are available in many forms. If you use the powder form be careful. In the water they very soon lose their value.

Furthermore I find proteins very important for those who race the greater distances.

But watch out: Too much is too much.

Again you see the difference between sprint men and others.

The few fanciers who claim they never visit a vet and never medicate are almost without exception so called sprint men who race their birds no further than Quievrain, about 125 kilometres, 80 miles.

Those birds are basketed late in the evening and released early the next day. They need a different approach from birds that are being raced every week from say 400 kilometres or further and who are in the basket for 2 nights.



The pigeons of a man have performed real badly for a few weeks. He goes withhis birds to a vet who checks them but finds nothing. 'Your birds are not sick he says.'

What do you advise such a fancier to do?



It is clear that there is much in between super condition and being sick.

But if a vet or me cannot find anything this does not mean the birds are fine.

In case the birds perform extremely badly THERE MUST BE SOMETHING.

But you must realise that we vets cannot see everything.

In such case I advise a so called 'general antibiotic' such as Theraprim or medicate against respiratory problems.

Also the lofts may be the reason of those poor performances. 



People are often surprised that for prestigious races such as Bourges they are often the same names that dominate. For a few weeks their results were 'so and so', then there is that important race and they are on top. The common people have their doubts when they see those results and wonder if they have done something special. With other words: Can you boost your pigeons?

I mean with legal means of course.




I am sure you can give the condition a boost.

In the past there was La Sota, but there are other things as well. How they work out differs from one family of birds to the other.

(note of the author:  Already in the 80-ies I wrote about La Sota and used it with much success).

I used it only once a year. That was 5 days before an important race and for 2 weeks the birds MOSTLY achieved fantastic results.



Some people treat against canker one day after every race, others 2 or 3 days every 3 weeks, others only if they think they should do so.



The third group does the best thing but very few fanciers can see/feel when it is time to take action. Medicating one day every week I strongly advise not to do. Every 3 weeks 3 days is much better.

In case of an infection you cannot possibly eliminate the pathogens in just one day



From long way back, when fanciers started to give their birds vinegar, I remember you once said: 'I would not be surprised if it works against canker as well.'

Today we see that many fanciers who put vinegar and or garlic in the water have less problems with canker.

Is that a coincidence, or ???



I am convinced vinegar and garlic are products that suppress the development of canker. But they do not heal pigeons that are infected.



So far an interview with the vet Raf Herbots from Belgium

I could have asked him many more interesting questions but I had to restrict myself.

We thank Mr Raf Herbots for his time and hopefully you have learnt from him.

Anyway; I have !!