You can say it in so many ways, but champions are the ones who can teach you a thing or two…even if it is just a detail…a small thing they keep in to account and something we might never think off. As curious as we are, we went to the Dutch Province Drenthe and people within pigeon sport who know this place immediately know we went to visit champion Gerard Koopman.

Gerard and his team are top people…those kind off people we don’t have too many of in this world…you won’t hear them bragging off about the results of their own pigeons and about the results of other fanciers is always talked about with the highest respect. Big champions or small champions…Gerard treats them all the same…and this is what is being appreciated a lot within pigeon sport. Proof of this is the well-visited open house that Gerard organizes each Spring.

Gerard… how was the preparation for the current season? Does the racing pigeons breed early? When are they being coupled?
Our racing team exists out of 2 groups. A first group of pigeons are those who race the flights between 100km and 700km and they were being coupled middle of January. They raised a nest and didn’t have a second coupling anymore.
The second group are the extreme long distance pigeons. They were being coupled in March and have today (23/04) youngsters of about 14 days old in their nest.

Which medical guidance do they get in the period after breeding until the racing season? Is a vet being consulted? Cure against paratypes? Cure against herpes? Against head diseases?
We have to call a cat a cat…without the medical guidance of a specialized vet it is very difficult to bring such a huge colony to top results. For this reason Dr. Mariën will visit us every 6 weeks. He doesn’t only give do a check up on the racers and breeders for the standard things but he will also vaccinate for example the youngsters against PMV. Paratypes is being checked for every year. During 7 days we will gather manure and this will be examined in a licensed lab. When they do have paratypes, the necessary treatment will be given. Before the start of the season it is possible that you can find us in another waiting room of a specialized vet. Just a matter of getting a second opinion We won’t ignore the advice this man gives and we will follow strictly his advice.

What kind of food system do you follow in the period after the breeding until season starts?
It is no secret that we commercialized our own mixture together with the Beyers company. This mixture is called ‘All-in-One’ as it is for us a complete as possible mixture. The composition is the end result of years of experience and wasn’t put on paper on one cold winter evening. No, …all our ‘feeding-knowledge’ is being put in this mixture. I will have you noted down the entire schedule, so also the one of the racing season:

Feeding schedule racing season old pigeons:

-      on the short distance races, races up to 300km, I add barley. An alternative is 10% to 15% barley and 5% paddy.  The pigeons have to eat it all before they get new food.

-      Middle Distance / GMD, the races from 300 to 700km, at this phase I switch entirely onto the ‘All-in-One’ mixture. I do refresh the food then twice a day. So even when they didn’t eat it all when they receive fresh food. The food that is being left behind goes to the partner pigeons or summer youngsters.

Feeding schedule racing season youngsters:

-      To 300 km, see schedule short distance old birds. They youngster won’t get as much as the old as otherwise they won’t listen that well.

-      Above 300 km, “all-in-one” mixture without barley
Both the old as young birds will get, when they get back from a training, a small amount of the mixture: peanuts (60%) – cheese (30%) – sheep fat (10%). I make this myself in a kitchen machine, they get about 2 to 4 grams per pigeon per day. This will be practically 1 teaspoon a day? The sheep fat that I use is being kept fresh in the freezer as this type of sheep fat isn’t treated with anti-oxidants. 

After a matter of time the pigeons get to know this and will be an extra stimulant to get them inside. And also schedule of the pigeons that have to train afterwards won’t be delayed.

I don’t give extra peanuts. In the ‘all-in-one’ mixture and the mentioned mixture of chees/peanuts/sheep fat contains enough. When the pigeons have to be basket for a race with one night in the basket I will remove the fodder by 10 o’clock. When they have to be in the basket longer, there will also be fodder at their disposal at the day of basketing. 

Do you give during the winter time / preparation period during a longer time natural products as for example tea or other herbal mixtures?
Yes, sometimes, willow bark tea and ‘Weidenrinden’ tea.

Are the pigeons being coupled again before the start of the season?
No, pigeons won’t be coupled again before the start of the season.

Are the racing hens loose on the loft during the racing season or not?
What the pigeons are concerned that race the 100km/700km race both hens as cocks are being raced on traditional widowhood. Meaning that the partner of the racing pigeon stays home. The cocks get their box at their disposal. The racing hens at the contrary are on shelfs in front of their breeding boxes. I we wouldn’t place shelfs in front of the breeding boxes, the hens would get together after a while and that is something we have to try to avoid.  The pigeons that race the extreme long distance races, are being raced in the total widowhood system.

What is the medical guidance during the racing season? 
As mentioned before there is a check-up every 6 weeks. Every week manure is being send to the lab. A report will follow with the so called OPG-count (coccidiosis) and a check on the presence of worms. And again I only give something on advice of the vet.
If there might be something wrong with the racers, also the home staying partners will be treated. We think this is very important and some fanciers forget to treat the home staying partners as well.

Do you give a lot of side products during the racing season?
Yes…we supply following products over the food or in the drinking water: Mineralith, Actives Eisen, Iodine and Probac.

Is the daily training very important? 
Yes, indeed, about 2 weeks before the first one day race the pigeons will train twice a day for about one hour. In the period before that a training from about 1 hour will be sufficient. The pigeons aren’t driven away during the racing season anymore.

Imagine that the pigeons during the week don’t train a lot but race amazing that weekend…are getting concerned then?
IF the intensity of the daily training wouldn’t be sufficient, but the results are superb…I won’t be concerned but very conscious as one does link to the other. So training less during the week might be a first indication that the condition is getting down.

How are the racing pigeons being motivated? Will you motivate in a special way for certain races?
Believe it or not, but the racing pigeons aren’t being motivated in a special way at the day of basketing. I believe you have to make it comfortable the entire year around for a pigeon. This expresses in a safe and clean environment where a pigeon can be himself. Not being harassed all the time by a loft mate or being pressured in any other way. Next to this relieve them from parasites and other discomforts.

Do you basket the pigeons for a race with 2 days in the basket with a full or a half filled craw?
As pigeons can eat all the time, I don’t have any control over it.

Make pigeons eat until the day off basketing…do you have a special trick for this?
No, not at all. My feeding schedule isn’t made that way. The pigeon has to figure it out himself.

When it has been a very hard race…or you going to do something special to improve the recuperation?
Beside an electrolyte mixture nothing special.

Do you oblige them to take a bath after home coming?
No, the pigeons can choose themselves whether they want to take a bath or not.

Are the eyes of the racing pigeons being dropped a lot or just a bit?
We don’t give them any eyedrops here.

Do you make use of heating plates during the season…if yes…which ones and when?
I make use of the known ATX plates, these are being put on when I think this is necessary.

Can you mention some breeders in particular?  
That is a hard one…at the moment we have different pigeons that race extremely well on their own loft as on different international One Loft Races. For example breeding cock ‘Bert’ (won himself 1st National Ace Bird One day Fond – Fondspiegel) and is also already grandfather of “Keep Dreaming” (NL17-1643767): 3rd Ace Bird in the Pattaya One Loft Race 2018


But also the breeding line of “Bjarne” is according our modest opinion very successful. The last few months our pigeons did very well in several different one loft races. The thing that is very stroking is that the name of ‘Bjarne’ appears not seldomly in the pedigrees of the different OLR winners. "Bjarne" (B02-4247563) is an original De Rauw-Sablon cock and a direct son of the famous "Dromer" x "Sister Smallen". “Bjarne” won himself 6 Dourdan 364b. and 7th Interprovincial Chateauroux against 5,349b. More importantis his breeding value. "Bjarne" is father of : “Good Aim”(3rd Sun City Million Dollar) - “Bonamo” NL09-1674447 (Is at Koen Van Roy father of  13 x 1st prize and grandfather of  "Linda" (1st Provincial Ace bird Middle Distance KBDB 2015 – 6th National Ace bird MD KBDB 2015 – Olympiad bird Brussels 2017)) - “Miss Lang Ping” (3 Boxtel 9,525b. - 4 Strombeek 6,378b. - 15 Duffel 8,866b. - 33 Morlincourt 5,886b. - 90 Strombeek 11,586b, and so on…) - “04-1389505”(10 NPO Chantilly 12,389b. - 12 NPO Blois 5,737b.) - “Raubritter” (1-3-4-7 prize Sun City). "Bjarne" is grandfather of several OLR top pigeons and also from “Martine” (2 NPO Sens 6,386b. - 3 Pommeroeul 7,848b. - 6 Ravenstein 5,247b. - 9 NPO Pithiviers 4,494b.) - “Miss Jenjira”(1 NPO Breuil Le Vert 4,562b.) and so on…

All your breeders reside in beautiful breeding boxes…perfectly made to re-couple…does this happen a lot?
What is ‘a lot’? Let’s say that every cock gets two to three times a season a new hen. Probably important to mention is that all pigeons being sold through internet auction Pigeon Bids are foreseen of a DNA certificate which has been officially notarized. So the buyer can be 100% certain of heritance and sex.

How do you decide which couple is being place together…do you base yourself on the ‘eye-theory’ or on base of palmaris or pedigree?
Our pigeons are being coupled on a base of palmaris, this can be race- but also on breeding palmaris. Next to this his pedigree stays very important.

What is the best to reinforce your breeding loft: a strong inbred or a ‘crossed’ pigeon?
Just as many other champions I like to reinforce my breeding loft with an Ace Bird out of a very good family. Head racing has to be in the family tradition…the chance on succeeding is the biggest this way.

A last question…I will lock you up an entire day with 3 other pigeon fanciers and you can only discuss pigeons. With who will this be?
I can mention only one name…Noël Peiren from Zedelgem… that man has so much ‘pigeon experience’. And if you would have asked me this question a few decades earlier, I would have told you Louis Vanloon.

Gerard… thank you for this interview and we like to wish you a lot of success in the racing season of 2018 !