The successful Günther Prange pigeons, better is not to be found in Germany
10 Nov 2023
Meppen. a waterfront town, is beautifully tucked away in greenery. This old fortified town has none of the bustle of the metropolis and is located on the western edge of Lower Saxony, barely 20 kilometres from the Dutch border. For the international pigeon world, Meppen is world-famous thanks to the top performances of pigeon fancier Günther Prange. Günther's calling card looks impressive. Victories against great competition, several national ace pigeons, several Olympiad pigeons and this already for several decades.
In a few weeks the Olympiad in Maastricht will take place and back Günther will be allowed to delegate two pigeons.
The class of the Prange pigeons knows no boundaries. Not only on the loft in Meppen but also with many other fanciers the Prange pigeons have left their mark.
Time for a detailed interview.
Let's take a look at the care throughout the year. You try to let the pigeons fly free as often as possible in winter ...
Yes, actually almost every day, no, every day! The one exception is when they don't go outside. That always happens in the afternoon. It gets dark around five, so I let them out at 2.00 pm. Then they fly for an hour or two and then come straight back in. I've also done it in winter by opening the loft in the morning and letting the pigeons out. It's quite strange then: the pigeons come out, train, go back in and seem to take a midday nap. That's roughly how it works. They're not outside at lunchtime. And in the evening, the whole gang is outside again at once. It seems to be a similar rhythm to that of humans. They do it all by themselves. Later, I only let them out in the afternoon. That's enough even in winter, when they come out once a day or at least every other day or three times a week.
I would recommend everyone to do it this way. It's simply better for the pigeons. For example, I've never had any respiratory problems and I think it has to do with the fact that they fly through the cold air in winter. They are used to it. I let them out in all weathers, even in the rain. If there's a thunderstorm coming, I open the shafts immediately, even if it's not at the time I normally let them out. The lofts are opened, the pigeons go out, do a few laps in the rain and then lie on the warm roof tiles and hold their wings up. That's all part of it. A pigeon has to know all weathers. The only thing I'm afraid of and where I don't let them out is when it's snowing. But that happens very rarely. Or if there's thick fog, then I don't let them out either. You don't have to take any unnecessary risks. You can also see that with my friend Gerard Koopman.
Do you do a cure or vaccinate the pigeons before winter?
No, not at all. I don't vaccinate my pigeons in autumn. In spring they get a paramyxo vaccination, but nothing more. I don't vaccinate against paratyphoid, Parastopp or anything like that and I don't give anything against salmonella. I've never had any problems with it. If you look at my pigeons' droppings, you realise that it doesn't get much better than that. It could happen that they have salmonella. However, I send a pigeon in for testing every year and no salmonella has ever been detected. And these tests are really thorough. If they don't find anything, why should I do anything about salmonella? And if pigeons do have salmonella, I think they will sort themselves out in my loft management.
What does the feeding look like in winter?
I have my basic mixture. Cleaning mix is then added to this. The pigeons always get enough so that they are never overweight, but also not underweight. I don't give them extra barley and paddy. Everything they would get from it is already included in the cleaning mixture. Of course I could give them paddy rice, but I just don't think that little bit extra makes the difference. In general, I don't think much of these extra products. What an effort it used to be to weigh every grain first etc.! When I look at my feeding plans from the past and compare them with those of today, there's a world of difference. But the pigeons don't fly any worse because of it.
Giving a few more grains of this or a few more grains of that does not make a difference. The proportion of cleaning feed is reduced for mating. The breeding pigeons then also get vitamins via the feed. They then sit in the aviary and I always give them greens in between anyway. And for breeding, we then work properly with vitamins. I'm still a bit old-fashioned when it comes to breeding. I use cod liver oil, which is added to the feed every two to three days, and I give a lot of hemp in the breeding loft, even as a standing feed! Before mating, my pigeons are given a course of Prange soup. The Prange soup is actually only intended for preparation for the journey and the racing period. When the pigeons start to fly better and faster in the flock, this will subside after they have been mated. When I start to train them myself with the pre-flights, they are given a two-week course of Prange soup and later as required.
Do the racing pigeons breed before the flights?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That doesn't play such a big role. None of that is decisive. What matters is that you keep the feathering well. I can darken my loft a little when it's already quite light in spring to push the mould back a little. I have blinds in front of the loft and I use them then too.
Do you change the feed before the pre-flights?
Yes, I've already changed it for the pre-flights. Then they get the Prange mix. But for the first, short flights they still get a proportion of cleaning mixture to make the feed a little lighter. The food is made a little heavier for breeding. But only when they all have young. Then they are also given hemp. As standing feed! You can then observe that the pigeons eat the hemp like crazy at the beginning, but later this decreases again and the feed trough is no longer empty. Once the young have reached a certain size, however, they start eating again. I always have beautiful young in the nest. There are no problems and I'm still having good experiences with the cod liver oil. We know it from our childhood. It tastes awful, but the mums had no mercy!
Do the pigeons receive a cure before travelling, for example against trichomonads?
No. I haven't been to the vet for years now. I think that if the pigeons fly really well in the house and don't show any problems, then they must actually be healthy. If I noticed anything, I would go to the vet straight away. In any case, they don't get anything preventatively, not even the breeding pigeons. After the fifth or sixth breeding, some of the youngsters do get trichomonads, but if they can't deal with them themselves, they have to be removed. I don't save them. If there are two out of 50 chicks that have really bad trichomonads and the others don't, what's the point of nurturing them? I am of the opinion anyway that far too few pigeons are sorted out.
How do you prepare for the flights? Do you take the pigeons away a few times yourself?
I start in roughly the same way as with the young pigeons. At first it's only a very short 5 km. With the young pigeons I even start at 500 metres. They first have to learn to go into the loft and realise what they have to do and what their task is. The old ones already know all this, but I don't take them any further than 5 kilometres at first. If that goes well, I'll go 10 kilometres, and then I'll do that two or three times. I don't go further than 15 kilometres myself. Because if I drive further from here, for example to Lingen or Lohne, there are already the first peregrine falcon territories that they have to cross. I used to train the pigeons together with Hubert Borker, and we were always missing pigeons! Others came back and had injured their backs, and you knew straight away that it was the peregrine falcon. This risk has become so great in private training that you simply have to let it go. You can still do it here, there's not so much going on here. But if you drive more than 15 kilometres to the south, there are three peregrine falcon nests. That's how I lost the brother of "1037", which I had rated even higher, over a very short distance.
Surely you have a few good tricks up your sleeve for our readers, especially when it comes to motivating the pigeons!
I don't have such a large flock of racing pigeons. And I don't want to have one because I want to know every single pigeon. I know exactly their behaviour. You can then draw motivation from this for individual pigeons and use this knowledge more intensively. Not every pigeon reacts in the same way. For me it's fairly easy because I have a tribe of pigeons that react in roughly the same way. For example, if I take this super female, the "515", who flew like a madwoman even as a young pigeon: She then kept this up as a yearling and was just totally obsessed with the nest she had built in her corner. I closed this corner after she became an ace pigeon because I didn't want to keep crawling into it. If I wanted to get to the nest, I always had to bend my back. That's changed now, now she has to think of something new on the breeding loft. The motivation is different for every pigeon.
You basket the widowers the day before. Do you still show the females then?
No, I don't show them. I take the pigeons from the loft in the dark in the evening and put them straight into the basket. I only send the females from the nest. Anything else - letting the birds out first, then letting the females out, then the young pigeons - would just be too annoying for me. I'm also busy in other ways. I have to do the washing, I have to go shopping, I have to do all sorts of things. That's just too much for me. I also don't want to be a slave to my pigeons any more.
Let's come back to the young pigeons. There are quite a lot of them. You might have about 20 year-old racing pigeons left. Are the others selected so harshly?
I breed a lot of young pigeons because experience has shown that I lose at least 30 pigeons to power lines every year. You can tell because the pigeons come back with broken legs, their whole chest is torn open. And I've also seen pigeons fly into the power lines and fall off. If there's a corn or maize field underneath, they can't get out. I once saw them fall onto a meadow. I went there and there were four pigeons with their heads missing. These lines are there and we have to deal with them. That's why I'm breeding more pigeons. Then there's the fact that I want to be able to choose my pigeons. Because when I test out new pairs, not all of them are always after my cap. One pigeon is too short, the other has this or that. Then they have to be particularly good, show themselves off or stand out in order to stay. Otherwise, I would like to keep my tribe like this, in terms of their figure. I want them to be like the old Delbar pigeons on which I based my colony. The model for me is still the old "51", a marvellous, pale pigeon.
I remember years ago, people from the presidium visited here. They were invited by Wolfgang Wiedemeier and wanted to have a look at the pigeons here. One of these people had many Janssen pigeons in his hands, which were known for their class at the time. He had inspected this "51" and before they left, he asked me if I could pick it up from the loft again, as he had never seen a pigeon like it. That was an exceptional pigeon. If you now compare this "51" with the "1037", you can see that the figures are similar. And the "1037" has already bred an outstanding female, the "515", with the "1077", while the nest brother of the "515" doesn't pull a herring off the plate and is a loser. That too is pigeon racing. It's not that easy. I have to breed a lot of pigeons, because there are also a lot of inbred pigeons that are less suitable for racing, but which I want to optimise so that they at least have a little bit left in them. They will then be used for breeding again later.
Do you also select according to performance, or do you only choose the young pigeons according to your taste?
First of all, I keep the ones I like. Then when they go to the old pigeon loft, it's according to behaviour: Are they anxious? Do they show strange behaviour in the loft? Or do they quickly become flock-proof and defend their cell? I look to see whether they are bullies who fly at every cell or are simply so stupid that they fly at all cells. Peace must be restored to the loft as quickly as possible. So I mainly select according to behaviour. The troublemakers get out. You can't use them. Even the ones that are particularly shy get out immediately. You don't need to have high hopes that they will perform well or become tamer, they are just like that. If I breed a hundred pigeons, there are always one or two that just fly into my face when I try to pick them up. The others don't do that. You can't do anything with these wild animals. You can never keep them quiet unless you always close the cells. Of course, that's not a solution either. At this stage, performance doesn't play a role.
The performance of the young pigeons is generally irrelevant to me. I also have a young pigeon loft without antennae. I can see if there's one in there that always stands out. But that has nothing at all to do with performance for the future - at least in my eyes. If you have trained a lot and then still have a lot left over, you've just had a very good youngster year.
What do you expect from the year-olds?
First and foremost, I expect a lot of top prizes from them. I don't take part in every flight, but when I do, they really have to deliver. And they also have to fly prices reliably. If they are not quite so reliable, but often fly top prizes, then of course I keep them. They usually become more reliable as two-year-olds. A pigeon doesn't fly a top prize first and then not the next time because it can't do it. Either it is not as motivated or it has got a bit confused. As two-year-olds, they become more confident and firm. The experience of pigeons also plays a role. Unfortunately, we hardly talk about it here if the pigeons simply don't have enough experience. In Holland, for example, this is a big issue. People are quick to say that the pigeon just doesn't have enough experience yet.
Then they travel 50 or 80 kilometres to race the pigeons somewhere else where races are still taking place. Because there are so few young bird races here, the pigeons don't have the chance to gain much experience, so it's impossible to say anything about the pigeons' abilities. Sometimes the weather doesn't play ball, or people are just cautious. And if they are over-cautious, they lose most of their yearlings the following year. Some also stop racing youngsters prematurely and then only have a few left. As yearlings they still have them at the beginning, but in the end the good ones prevail. Even pigeons that are not so strong at the beginning become more and more confident in June and fly more tops accordingly. When I have pigeons like my "509", which achieved over 690 As-P. on seven skilful tours, or its brother "518" with 677 As-P., plus the pigeon "653" with seven prizes and 639 As-P., then that is an outstanding performance for pigeons. There are others who have 12 prizes and still only 600 or 700 As-P., and they say: "That's a good one." Of course, such a pigeon is not bad either, it depends on what a fancier expects from his pigeons.
The golden breeding loft
The heart of any colony is, of course, the breeding loft. It is no different with Prange. Only with him, all breeders have plenty of space because his breeders are in very spacious boxes.
If it used to be the Delbars that brought success to Günter Prange, nowadays it is the crossing of the old base with the pigeons of C and G Koopman that keep the fancier at the forefront, albeit that the Koopmans are displacing the old base more and more. Of course, select pigeons here and there have still come to reinforce the breeding loft, but it is still the old type that gets top marks.
Breeder number one is without doubt the NL 94/2227959, a son of the Beatrix cock with Sultana (out of Eric with Wonderduifje 056) from Cornelis and Gerard Koopman. That "959" is father, grandfather and great-grandfather of a whole series of ace pigeons. He gave exceptional breeding with the Bellens hen "736". A son, the 02098-97-330, flew eight first prizes in his career and also became an excellent sire. By the way, in the 2001 season, the "330" flew 10 prizes, reaching 968.01 ace pigeon points out of 1000.
Another son of the "959", the so-called "Ringlose" became father of outstanding breeding and racing pigeons. His mother is still from the old Delbar strain. A son of the Ringless, the 02098-99-802, became Germany's first ace pigeon in 2001. From a daughter of the Ringlose, the 02098-99-704, the well-known fanciers Bernard Beumer and Theo Sandbothe bred the 05991-01-1011, which also became 1st acebird of Germany in 2002.
In 2003, another son of the Ringlose caused a furore. He carries the ring number 02098-01-1009 and comes from a pairing Ringloze with the NL94-2783577 (out of "Ons Louis" x "Zuster Eric") of Cornelis and Gerard Koopman. This 1009, with 598.43 points out of 600, became Germany's second ace bird.
Up to here a small anthology of the Ringlose' great breeding capabilities. We are now in 2011 and even now he is still showing his class in all areas. To the extent that some offers mention so much offspring that a reasonable person still has reservations. He can hardly have bred so many direct offspring in his lifetime and Günter Prange also has his doubts !
I still have pigeons that are closely bred from my "ringlose" pigeons. These are pigeons that I am not currently using for breeding, but which I know I will need at some point! I know that. ... That's the way it is. You either have to have a parallel loft that also breeds these lines or, like me, you have a very large breeding stock. Actually, that goes against the grain, but if you want to keep a line like that stable, there's no other way. You always have to keep the line intact and ensure that fresh blood is introduced in good time. But every fresh blood also harbours a risk: Will I get better or worse? Will it fit well or not at all? People always think: "If the Prange does it, then it will definitely fit." In reality, it doesn't fit more often than it fits. But if it fits, then people talk about it. If it doesn't fit and you've messed it up, then nobody talks about it.
So much for my conversation with Günter Prange, for which I would like to express my sincere thanks. Of course, we were not able to discuss all the topics. The description of the batting facilities and their development alone would require a separate report! But we'll stay on the ball, and perhaps our master will manage to put a complete season on paper at this level once again. Then we might be able to ask Günter about other things.
Thanks to Rainer Püttmann/magazine Brieftauben International
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