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Herbots bros, Belgium, 1 National Chateauroux 2021 against 21,070 pigeons

23 Dec 2021

Only a small, almost inconspicuous company sign on the wall of the house in Dungelstraat showed me that I was in the right place. A little scepticism is always in order when it comes to navigation systems, since the time years ago when such a system guided me in an SUV with a caravan on a ferry across the Rhine, I do not entirely trust these electronic aids. To Halle Booienhoven I was navigated correctly and stood in front of a door with an equally simple doorbell: Herbots. The global Herbots brand with its different business lines - as you know, the "Herbots animal products" product range, the "Herbots IMEX" auction platform and of course the "Herbots pigeons", i.e. the sale of quality pigeons - presents itself modestly on the outside, I thought. 

First of all the first-class racing pigeons were the reason for my visit, because in 2020 the Herbots Bros. were able to place several Olympic national ace pigeons and cause a sensation. 

1st national Olympic ace Middle Distance Cat. B, "Olympic Manuela".
3rd National Olympic Ace Fond Cat. C, "Olympic Golden Gusta".
5th National Olympic Pigeon Yearlings Cat. G, "Million Alaphilippa".
11th National Olympic Pigeon Yearlings Cat. G, "Olympic Lu".

In addition 1st prizes and top results on the races Bourges, Chateauroux, Argenton, Issoudon, La Souterraine and Salibris against large numbers of pigeons. 

They can also boast of a remarkable performance in 2021 with the 1st and 2nd provincial ace in the big middle distance with the old pigeons KBDB, the 2nd provincial ace in the big middle distance with the yearlings KBDB and 3 rankings with the best pigeons in the world on different distances and 2 pre-classifications with the national ace pigeons KBDB as well as 23 top 100 rankings on national races and they won the 1st national Chateauroux against 18,741 young pigeons. Congratulations.

Brother and sister Jo and Miet Herbots are the managers of the Herbots companies.

The "Bachelor" BE 21-2130289

The story of the victory at Chateauroux is worth telling. The whole season flying youngsters was rather difficult. Bad weather, a lot of headwind, accompanied by losses, the youngsters rarely came further than 250 km this season. The preparation for the national races was very bad for all fanciers.

The Herbots brothers set the national race Bourges with a heavy heart, because they didn't want to lose their youngsters. When the last National Flight Chateauroux was scheduled in September, it meant a big jump in distance for all pigeons. Team Herbots was not sure whether they had to bet or not. But the weather and the wind were not that bad for them and the pigeons trained fantastic. So they decided to let all 159 youngsters fly. However, on the day of release in Chateauroux, it did not look that good. At 9.30 am, a total of 21,070 pigeons were released, including 18,741 youngsters and it would not be an easy flight. With a distance of 500 kilometres, the first pigeons were expected in Southern Belgium at 14.00 hours. But there were no reports at that time. The Herbots family was at the "Bachelor Party", i.e. a bachelor party of the son of Jo Herbots, from 2 pm and could only follow the arrival live through their smartphone. Jo was drinking a beer now and then and expected, given the course of the race, a pigeon from him at 16.00 hours. At 15.30 hrs a notification arrived on the smartphone and the first thing on the live list was: Gebr. Herbots "That can't be right?" gasped Jo. "Half an hour earlier than we thought." Minutes passed, but no pigeon flew faster. So it was the first national. This was very conducive to the mood at the "bachelor party". At the same time the winner BE 21-2130289, later called "Bachelor", arrived at the Herbots loft only with a bit of luck. Breeder Fernand Schroyen of the Schroyen-Henderix loft wanted to sell his breeding and best racers because of a merger. Somewhat reluctantly Herbots took over the 32 pigeons for resale and they changed lofts. But because a sale in China was not possible because of Covid, the pigeons were crossed according to the ideas of Fernand Schroyen in Booienhoven. The offspring had to be sold later with their parents. But when that was still not possible because of the pandemic, Fernand Schroyen wanted to sell the pigeons directly to Herbots. Jo Herbots agreed to the deal. In the meantime the old pigeons were still in Belgium, there was a second round of Schroyen pigeons and these went over to the youngsters loft and among these pigeons was the "Bachelor". "That's luck. Who can guess such a thing. It only came because of the pandemic. But they are also excellent pigeons. The mother of the "Bachelor", the "Diva Belgica" was the best young pigeon of Belgium," Jo told me in the reception room, which of course did not leave me at the door.

"Bachelor", the national winner of Chateauroux.
The mother of the pigeon the "Diva Belgica" was the best young pigeon of Belgium.
 

Bliksem and National 1

The basis of many successes until today is the foundation father "Yvan" (B07-2103401). He became 4th national ace KBDB in 2008 and 1st national ace KBDB in 2009 and graced the cover of Herbots breeding catalogue every year since 2010! The famous "Yvan" is a grandson of the legendary "Bliksem" of Gaby Vandenabeele and has on mother's side the line of Karel Schellen's "Nationaal 1". The "Nationaal I" descends from "De Argenton" B 83-6114062 with "Bibberke" B 85-6043216, a super breeding pair at Schellens. With the complete purchase of all breeding pigeons of Karel Schellens in the beginning of the 90's, the Herbots family raised itself to the "next level" according to Jo Herbots. A part of the breeding pigeons was sold to Heinz Meier from Rahden. The extraordinary success of Heinz Meier with the offspring of these pigeons is of course not only known by Heinz Meier fans. The combination of the Vandenabeele "Bliksem" and the Schellens "Nationaal 1" line still inspires Jo Herbots today. Not only in the first, but also in the next generations the "Yvan breeding line" scores. In 2020 a grandson of "Yvan" became the 13th national ace KBDB Allround! That's why the brother and sister Jo and Miet Herbots, who are now leading the company, were particularly struck by "Harry" NL07-2007621 of Jan Hooymans. Just like "Ivan" it is a grandson of "Bliksem" and so it fits very well in the Herbots line. Reason enough for "Herbots-Pigeons" to add six children to their breeding team.

Upstairs in the company building is the breeding room with 30 individual departments and here are housed exceptional pigeons. I counted 12 national ace pigeons and 10 Olympic titles alone. In addition there are other performance pigeons and promising pigeons from the "Kittel" and "Harry" lines.  All pigeons, some of which cost a fortune, are in this department. It is impossible to describe them all. Ask for a catalogue or download it from the homepage. But besides the "Yvan", I want to bring three other pigeons to your attention.

The "Supreme" BE 16-3031667 flies 1st prize national at Tulle 615 km 2019 against 6,206 pigeons and 2nd prize national at Argenton 504 km 2018 against 11,838 pigeons. He is out of the James Bond, of course not the 80's pigeon of Eijerkamp, but the James Bond BE 10-3002007 who managed to get into the top100 of national races 8 times. This pigeon was bred and raced by Godfried van der Stichele and his son won the 2nd National at Souillac with Herbots in 2021!

Another highlight is the "Alaphilippe" BE 16-4157919, named after the excellent cyclist Julian Alaphilippe from France who became world champion on the road in 2020 and 2021. The pigeon "Alaphilippe", bought by E & M Leutenez, was best yearling of Belgium in one-day long distance over 3 races in 2017. Also 1st provincial ace KBDB long distance 2017, old and yearling. 3rd national ace KBDB long distance 2017, old and yearlings and 8th best national ace of Belgium in one-day long distance. "Alaphilippe" is father of "Million Alaphilippe" this one became 5th national Olympiad Ace-pigeon yearlings cat. G. for Herbots, now "Alaphilippe" has paired with "Million", either a daughter "Yvan", or daughter or granddaughter "New National 1", which I will come to in a moment, the offspring fly top prizes. The pedigree of "Alaphilippe" consists only of top pigeons, Eagle Eye of E Limbourg (Best pigeon Belgium Allround 2007-2009), super sire Bolleken of Leutenez and Albert x Paola De Rauw Sablon!

Yvan: The basis of many successes to date is the basebreeder "Yvan" (B07-2103401). He became 4th national ace KBDB in 2008 and 1st national ace KBDB in 2009 and graced the cover of Herbots breeding catalogue every year since 2010!

"New National 1" BE 14-2338770. When a pigeon gets such a name, there must be something more behind it than just a line drawn down to the original of Karel Schellens. An absolute top breeder. On the picture left is his box with his picture.

New National 1 and Geoff

Last but not least there is the "New Nationaal 1" BE 14-2338770. When a pigeon gets such a name, there must be more behind it than only a descent to the original of Karel Schellens. The "New Nationaal 1" reminds us of the "Yvan", only a bit bigger and more compact. A dream pigeon whose children deliver top performances. The best child is BE 16-2146310 who won 1st national Limoges 700km against 10,554 pigeons in 2017. The "New National 1" was bred from a grandson "National 1" coupled to another granddaughter and at the same time inbred to the "National 1" by the Herbots family themselves. 

Out of such pigeons topbirds should of course always appear. But not everything in life can be planned and certainly not in pigeon sport. Jo Herbots says: "We don't know anything about the pigeons" and by doing so he underlines the most important statement of the "living legend", as Rik Hermans called him recently, Günter Prange, who always expresses himself in the same way. In the Herbots family sometimes happy coincidences occur, as described. "My brother has a good breeder called 'Geoff'", says Jo. "Because he is a good friend of Van den Abbeel - van Paesschen, a youngster of "Geoff" is flown there. The pigeon became 6th best youngster there on the national races and is called "SuperGeoff" since then. My brother asked me if I wanted to buy this pigeon because it was on sale. I was happy to do so and found a buyer for it from China. But the buyer did not pay. It was quite annoying, I had bought this expensive pigeon and now it was sitting here in the aviary. In the autumn, my brother asked me if the "SuperGeoff" was still there. I said yes. He said to me: "Give him back to me with a matching super hen". Ok, I thought, I do that for my brother and he got the pigeon "SuperGeoff" and a daughter of "New Nationaal1". This year Raf has two youngsters out of this pair, one stays with him and the other one goes to Van den Abbeel - van Paesschen. And they won with the youngster the 1st national La Souterraine against 14.513 pigeons at 563km in 2021. And the nest brother flies with Raf also the 77th national Bourges. What luck and coincidence you sometimes need to have to get good pigeons."

A failed business deal turned into profit. By the way, the potential buyer contacted us later when he heard about the success and of course he wanted the pigeon. Because he is a customer for many years, he got the "SuperGeoff". 

Another ace pigeon from this line also came from a lucky moment. The 30 compartments in the breeding loft were filled with the 29 best females, only the top breeder "Geoff" had no female yet. But Jo did not want to change the other pairs either. So Jo decided to pair what he considered to be the 30th best hen with "Geoff". But the result was unbelievable because out of it came an absolute top pigeon, the "Olympic Manuela". The "Olympic Manuela" won the 1st middle distance Montluçon 529 km against 8,334 pigeons and 2 weeks later the pigeon won the 3rd distance Montlucon 529 km against 14,104 pigeons. Next to that other 1st prizes and top prizes. She becomes world best pigeon of Belgium in the category allround 2019 and 1st national Olympic pigeon middle distance cat. B, 4th national Olympic pigeon Allround cat. D, 1st provincial yearling ace pigeon middle distance 2019 and 2nd provincial young ace pigeon allround 2018. Chapeau, one would like to say. Ultimately, that is exactly what is so special and reassuring about pigeon racing, that not everything can be planned. From an average pigeon, one will certainly not get an ace pigeon, but it is not clear which pairing will ultimately produce the "winner".

The garage

"Herbots Imex" and "Herbots Pigeons" bring pigeons worldwide on the market, the strongest market for the Belgians is China. It all started when Jo, 18 years old, accompanied his father Filip on his trips to Taiwan to translate for him during the talks. He enjoyed that very much. In Brussels he studied commercial engineering and he helped his father answering letters and sending faxes, mostly about the purchase of Herbots pigeons. Gradually Filip Herbots was also asked if he could make contact with other strong Belgian fanciers. During the first visits this was done without any compensation. Of course he wanted nothing for his mediation and often waved it away. But from time to time, the buyers or sellers gave him a commission. Thus, by chance, a business was born. In the beginning of the nineties Filip Herbots mediated 1 or 2 pigeons a week and today "Herbots Pigeons" and "Herbots IMEX" have 10.000 pigeons a year. But this developed slowly. After a few years the company moved from Taiwan to China. Herbots understood early on that a new market was emerging there. In the beginning different experiences were gained and today, after more than 25 years, they are very well connected. In 1993 sister Miet Herbots joined the business, and with her qualification as an agronomist she also acquired the knowledge of supply and cattle breeding. The enterprising father Filip increasingly came up with the idea of marketing his own products, as he was often asked for resources and products. Because one of Philip's brothers was a pharmacist, son Raf a veterinarian, son Jo an industrial engineer and daughter Miet an agronomist, there was a wealth of expertise within the family. Together with pharmacist Herbots they developed the first products, which were tested for a year on the fields in the Dungelstraat. When they appeared to have a positive effect and the Herbots family was convinced of it, the products were put on the market. So there were 1 or 2 products in the beginning and it grew over time. "The basic condition for selling products is that you follow your own rhythm, otherwise it won't work", says Jo Herbots. In the beginning Jo and Miet's daily routine consisted of cleaning the pigeon lofts in the morning, vacuuming, replacing drinking troughs and taking care of the pigeons. From 11.00 till about 15.00 they helped their father at the office and in the afternoon they went back to the loft to train the animals. Herbots had a classic garage business. "Mother made coffee and it was not unusual for her to make eggs with bacon for the guests in the morning," Jo recalls with a laugh. This went on for several years. As demand increased and so did the office work, extra people were hired to keep the pigeons. The first loft keeper was 40-year-old veteran Jamar Francois, who had already won the Limoges national race as a pigeon fancier. Today, four people work at the lofts and six people in the office, and it starts early in the morning. "We have a great team and everyone pulls together", Jo is proud of his team. The work at the lofts is all day long, besides their own pigeons they have about 2,500 sale pigeons and a varying number of quarantine pigeons for which there is an extra loft.

For their sales they mainly use their website herbots.be which is translated into 3 other languages (French, English and Chinese).

On the grounds there are, besides the racing loft, many rooms for sale pigeons, young pigeons and quarantine pigeons. The latest addition is a large aviary for a breeding loft.

Take your pick.

"The most important thing in business is to steer well with pigeons. You can run it the way you want, it starts with good pigeons, with very good pigeons" says Jo Herbots. But in the past they could not afford to buy the best and therefore most expensive pigeons, like the "Alaphilippe" that cost a fortune. In the past, at the time of the garage sale, this was unthinkable, also because the parents wanted to make it possible for all 5 children to study.

So after the racing season the buyers came to the Herbots family and Filip told them: "Go to the loft and choose what you want," because the parents needed the money for 5 children. 

When Filip Herbots held a hall auction in Karlsruhe in the 80's with 60 boys and came home with a part of 125,-DM, the children danced in the kitchen for joy.

"Fortunately, we have all experienced this and have not forgotten it," says Jo somewhat humbly.  The first time the Herbots family really invested in pigeons was when they bought the Nationaal 1 and Schellens pigeons in the 90's and with this pigeon line they still fly very well. From their current 30 top breeding couples in the pigeon divisions, each time 4 youngsters stay in Halle-Booienhoven for own races, others are tested by befriended breeders and all others are sold. The quality of these youngsters is underlined by the 3-year guarantee that they give on each youngster. This means that the pigeon can be returned to Herbots within 3 years and that the money paid minus 10% for each year will be refunded. This is a very self-assured behaviour and is certainly justified by the fact that even pigeons left over from the breeding loft can still be sold well. Besides, all pigeons above a value of 1000€ have a standard DNA certificate. And so you can guess that not every fancier can take the lift to the breeding loft. A child out of the "Supreme" costs 2500,-€. If for example the "Diva Belgica" is coupled to the 1st national ace KBDB middle distance young 2018 and mother of the "Bachelor" whose youngsters cost 2,000.-€, the price for a youngster comes to 4,500.-€. Children of the "Yvan" are not shown at all, the prices are only communicated on request. About the amounts that are currently spent elsewhere on the "Kittel" line, we do not need to talk, they are "mindblowing". As a comparison, a child out of Herbots' "Olympic Jules" with the best coefficient of the whole of Belgium and prices 1,1,2,3 and 7 seems almost cheap. It is all a question of proportion. You notice that this is another world of pigeon racing, it is fascinating in its own way and of course causes a sensation, which in turn is publicity for pigeon racing.

At Herbots buying is about performance and less about lines. So every year Jo and Miet buy one or two toppers for the breeding loft. Most recently they bought the "Olympic Rio", 1st national ace pigeon, Olympic ace pigeon and world's best pigeon speed 2020, a mold from the best white pigeon in the world and also world's best pigeon speed 2019 the "White Man" of Vrancken-Berden. But the pigeons have to like Jo as a whole, he attaches great importance to a fitting eye of the pigeon. If the eye is not right, the pigeon will not be bought. "It has to be something extraordinary," says Jo. Like Wolfgang Roeper's "Big Boss", a pigeon with exceptional performance, which Wolfgang did not want to give away so easily, Jo remembers. This pigeon has also left its mark on the strain and the children from it, the "Big Boss" no longer pollinates and is back in his homeland, are on the breeding loft like for example the "Best Boss", an excellent son.

Another highlight is the "Alaphilippe" BE 16-4157919, bought by E & M Leutenez. He was best yearling of Belgium in 2017 in one-day long distance on 3 races. Also 1st provincial ace KBDB long distance 2017, old and yearling. 3rd national ace KBDB long distance 2017, old and yearlings and 8th best national ace of Belgium in one-day long distance.

Good pigeons

The Herbots Bros. keep 200 youngsters, 65 racing hens and 65 racing cocks. There are 30 breeding compartments and extra breeding couples consisting of children of the main breeding couples. The pigeons are looked after by the loft caretaker Geoffrey. The 30-year old employee, who also goes to the pigeons on Sundays, provides the pigeons on arrival on Saturday with fatty food and Herbo MMK and Herbo Recovery Plus (electrolyte mixture) by Raf Herbots, which is given over the water. This should prevent muscle cramps and speed up the pigeon's recovery. On Sunday there is Sedochol to detoxify the liver and to feed lightly.

On Monday, light feed and Bronchofit from Herbots are given in the water. Tuesday the feed consists of 50% light feed and 50% sport mix, Optimix and Aminovit. From Wednesday there is a sport mix, Optimix and Aminovit and at the end of the week more fat mix. In this way, the pigeon is slowly prepared again. So the supply follows a generally usual system. However, there is one small peculiarity. On the last days of long races, the pigeons are more often fed with fatty grains. "That is Geoffrey's art." Jo is excited that the loft caretaker manages to keep the pigeons hungry during the day. The pigeons are actually fed in feeders.

Before the season, the pigeons are trained frequently, and once they are flown in, the caretakers do not carry out any additional training flights during the week. Finally, I ask Geoffrey another question. What is the most important thing? His answer: "Good pigeons!" Jo adds, "It starts with good pigeons, the feeling for pigeons, the knowledge of which pigeon should be cared for how and what peculiarities it has. Geoffrey knows the pigeons incredibly well and recognises them in the air, all 130 of them. All racers are handled by Geoffrey every day. You have to know your pigeons. Many people overestimate themselves and keep too many pigeons. If you are alone, 10 breeding couples, 50 youngsters and 25 racers should be the maximum, otherwise it will usually not be successful. You have to keep the overview."

They also tried out many things in Halle-Booienhoven. Their insight: You cannot do short distance and medium distance and long distance in one place. That is the reason why their pigeons are outsourced for the long distance. There has been a very good cooperation with the Heller family in Zweibrücken for more than 20 years. The name Herbots Heller has grown out to be a topper on the international races. The contacts between Jo and Filip Herbots and Elvira and Ewald Heller started at the Kassel fair in 1998.

Investing

In the past the Herbots family had already organised a charity auction every two years for a school for mentally and physically handicapped children. And now the Herbots family had also decided to do something for the victims of the German tsunami. Almost at the same time, Alfred Berger of Röhnfried Jo called and told him about the idea of a tsunami sailing. Eventually both companies joined forces and started an auction on Herbots' internet platform with customers and friends of Röhnfried and Herbots. The goal is to hand over as much money as possible to the flood victims. For Jo this is a matter of course and he sees it as an "investment in life", because you never know what will happen to you one day.

Summary

"Through a lot of work and a bit of luck," Jo sums up, "today we can afford very special pigeons and now it's not like I have to say: go to the attic and find something." 

In this context, I would like to add that it is not necessary to hang a large company sign on the wall of the house.

Supreme: "Supreme" BE 16-3031667 flies 1st prize national at Tulle 615km 2019 against 6,206 pigeons and 2nd prize national at Argenton 504km 2018 against 11,838 pigeons.

There are also very large aviaries for the young pigeon lofts, partly with windbreak nets. The ceiling is insulated, so it is cooler than outside in the summer.