Freddy & Jacques Vandenheede (Zingem) : General Champion KBDB 2018 and superior in all areas (part 1)

07 Nov 2019

Actions rather than words. A statement that fits really well for the super brothers in pigeon sport. To find superlatives that put their results from the past few years in the spotlights is no evidence. ‘Good, better, best, top…and then you get the results from the brothers Vandenheede’ is about the way to say how hard their racing team races from the short distance to the extreme long distance. Jacques and Freddy aren’t guys that show off, but just race very hard. An approach that is being described by Freddy as ‘no nonsense’.
A real all round colony, all-rounders but then on a level that makes you dizzy. What they managed to do last season is really amazing. So time to pay them a visit and search for their view on pigeon sport, their approach and their motivation to get to these results. It snowed big time, the nature looks peaceful and white, ideal for a coffee and to chat about the start of a new season. In part one we bring the breeding strategy and the care of the widow cocks together with some top results and top pigeons. In part 2 we will talk about the approach of the hens and the young birds together with some more results and top pigeons.

You both have extended experience within pigeon sport, did your cooperation lead to even better results?
F & J : We both literally grew up between pigeons. Our father, René, was in his generation also a top fancier who knew where to get good pigeons and to breed the good ones and also managed to set strong results. His strain of pigeons are in fact the founders of our current colony. Several names of top pigeons out of his glory times are still to be found in our pedigrees. Jacques (73 years) raced for years under his own name top nationally with a lot of victories as a result. Freddy (58 year) raced for a period of time together with father René and later in tandem with our mother. The fact that we live very near each other and after deliberation we concluded that a cooperation could lead to even better results. You can also spread all the work over more hands and our compiled knowledge were a real asset. Also our relationship became more intense and closer.

How do you split up the tasks? Is there überhaupt a division of tasks?
F & J : The breeding pigeons reside at the lofts at Jacques, all the racing pigeons at the lofts at Freddy. In principle, Jacques takes the breeding pigeons onto his account and Freddy the racing pigeons, but in practice this is all overlaps each other and we are ‘multifunctional employable’. Jacques retired years ago but Freddy is still full time active in school in a coordinating job. That’s why his time is limited and everything needs to be planned well. We have a daily communication and everybody knows and can do everything in a matter of care and approach. When Freddy leaves, Jacques can take over seamless and he knows exactly what still is left to do. After a few years we just need a look at each other to know how the day continues but a daily communication is and stays a necessity to run such a colony.
But there is reinforcement on its way in 2019. Claude, who already helped out in the weekends, is about to strengthen the duo full time as from Spring 2019. He is very familiar with pigeon sport, did manage to set good results with his own pigeons and knows our approach for quite a while now. It is a well-considered and good move to have someone extra on a full time base.

We know that you own one of the best breeding lofts over the world as you don’t sell any national or ace bird winners. Which breeding strategy is yours?
F & J : We don’t sell our strong trees, we do sell their fruit. We don’t sell national winners, no ace birds, no Olympiad birds or whatever. We are this passionate about these pigeons and the results they set that we don’t feel good in selling our top pigeons. The amounts they sometimes offer are hallucinatory but don’t win from the sentiment and satisfaction of this strong base.
We have 50 breeding couples where off only a few are fixed couples. It is our rule that the pigeons can breed freely on the breeding lofts, but to ensure the origin we have a few breeding boxes. Couples can pair up in these boxes and fertilize each other but we don’t breed in them. The breeding itself happens on a free loft. The top cocks can pair up twice with another hen and fertilize them in a box and put them afterwards back on the breeding loft with their fixed partner.
Our breeding strategy is based onto one rule namely good on good. We have good pigeons in all types of models and colours and that isn’t a goal for us. We base ourselves for 99% on results and this approach which we are using for several years now lead us to our current top results. When necessary we do a compensating breeding. A big cock is then coupled well-considered against a small hen, but that is how far our adjustments in coupling goes. We don’t look at eyes or something like that. We couple on results and on origin.
Pleasant evenings, mostly in the month of October, are the hours that we together, supported by results and origin, make the couples on paper. We discuss well who will be coupled against who and that is a nice way to go through the dark days.
The breeders are being coupled at the end of November, normally 4 rounds. Last year and this year the first round is being sold and from the second round on they are for own use.
Experience tells us that a good breeding couple can have a weaker moment. Couples that already gave good ones all of a sudden don’t give a good breed anymore. That’s why we never condemn the coupling, but we leave them breed once with another partner and bring them back together afterwards. This gives a new fire in the quality of the off spring.

Your pigeons evolved the past years from middle distance to heavy middle distance to all round pigeons who can race from 100km until 900km at the top. How did this go?
Middle distance and heavy middle distance are the races that we loved the most and we surely don’t deny this. We knowingly choose to build out our colony to an all-round colony with as goal the general championships.
This adjustment did go various ways. We determined that our old strain could race the long distance races, we only never raced them this distance in the past, but races from 600-700km is something they didn’t have a problem with.
The input of the De Rauw-Sablon pigeons brought us more long distance blood and matched really well onto our old strain. We also went to get some pigeons with specific long distance blood and crossed them in with our own pigeons (in risking to forget some people we speak about Luc Van Coppenolle, Wilson Dekens, Guy and Roland Nihoul, …).
But the other way around we also like to cross in real short distance pigeons in our strain. When these pigeons have the quality to go further we also try this. This is how super hen ‘Morgane’ (Luc Vanaelst) was a typical middle distance pigeon, but also had the quality of a long distance pigeon, she just wasn’t raced that distance. Her off spring clearly proved that they could handle the kilometres. From Sylvain Verhestraeten – Herentals we have ‘Chanel nr 1’. This hen grew out to be in a short period of time one of our best breeding hens.
We did also determine that the typical extreme long distance pigeon (900 km and up) is a pigeon that we don’t really are ambitious for. These pigeons are strongly different from a long distance pigeon (the pigeons that want to reach their loft no matter what the same day of releasing). We tried this but don’t want to focus too much on it. To race Perpignan on a top level is possible and we did proof this the past few years.

Do you inbreed ?
F & J : We don’t like to call it inbred, call it rather strain-inbred. We do this during the summer period where we have a few breeding tests with our best pigeons. If we have healthy pigeons out of this breeding with marks from the parents than we dare to keep them, but this is rather an exception then a rule.
Don’t forget that our selection norm is set really high. An analyse of the former years learned us that 10% of the hens and 20% of the cocks is still present after one year. The percentage of the cocks is a bit higher as we have a bit more patience with them with our eye on a later long distance career. We breed a lot, we like to race with a lot of pigeons but at the end of the season our goal is very high for those who can go to the racing team of the coming year. As we only select on results we hardly change this.

How is the care of the breeding pigeons?
F & J : The breeding pigeons have to be strong from nature and are being kept as close as possible to nature. The principle is that breeding pigeons don’t get any supplements aside good food and water. The only exception on this is garlic juice in the drinking pot and a lot of grit and minerals. There is always a bucket of water with garlic standing ready. We scoop out of this bucket to fill up the drinking pots. The bucket will be refilled with water and the garlic can do its job again with the water. We aren’t naïve! The breeding pigeons are being looked at medically on a regular base, but always preventive never reactive.

Do you believe in artificial fertilizing?
F & J : We don’t have any experience with this and don’t have any plans to do this. We are real pigeon lovers and like that the pigeon lead an as natural live as possible. Especially breeding pigeons need to feel at ease and at home so they can breed in a safe and quiet way. We don’t make any statements which is better or worse, but we just don’t have any experience with it.
Conclusive we can describe our breeding vision as ‘good x good’ and as close as possible to nature. We are aware that it is a human good to possess such a breeding loft. It brings us satisfaction each day again to see these pigeons, take them in our hands and have the luxury to choose which provincial, national winner, ace bird and so on…we can couple against each other. We do understand that good pigeons are being sold, but that is no goal for us. We also saw that less ‘garbage’ is being bred. By pushing our goals higher and higher, the quality of the pigeons also increases. Nevertheless we also have our exceptions, this is how our best long distance pigeon ‘Olympic Tygo’ is everything but a nice pigeon by hand, but he races like hell! As you see, nature doesn’t take any orders.

How big is your racing team for year birds, widow cocks, widow hens?
F & J : We take of the season with 120 cocks on widowhood (30 old cocks and 90 year birds) and 80 hens on widowhood. That is a big team, but we like to race with many pigeons and it isn’t too much for us to take care of such a big team and to take on the management of them. Despite the amount we don’t make use of the chaos system nor total widowhood. This means that for each of these 200 pigeons we have a home staying partner. We really believe in the classic widowhood and get the best results with this system.
We do believe that some forms of total widowhood where both partners go into the basket can make top results for a while, but we choose not to do this and won’t do this in the near future. What these things are concerned we are conservative racers, but our results say that the motivation for the racing pigeons hold the entire season like this.

Running such a colony asks for a tight organization, how does this work?
F & J : The widow cocks only breed before the season starts of and are being trained in April. The goal for the old pigeons is as start the 1st long distance race from Limoges, the year birds likewise in timing but a heavy middle distance race as start. Goal is that the old pigeons take on 6 long distance races.
We mainly take on a regime whereby pigeons race 2 weeks after each other and get one week rest. We also adjust the training regime on to this. This is how the pigeons who go to a race train twice a day, the team that is in their resting week only train once a day.
This has two reasons namely for one it is a form of building up the racing rhythm towards the race and two the practical issue that a day doesn’t have enough hours to train each team (widow cocks, hens, young birds, …). We organized ourselves in this way that pigeons have to adjust to our approach and not the other way around. We determine the schedule, rhythm, attitude and the ones who don’t fit in go out. By the amount of pigeons we have it is with the consequence that we know the drop-outs rather quickly and that we can afford ourselves to take one or two out. Without a doubt we already took out good pigeons this way, but probably even more bad ones…
After the training the pigeons are called in with peanuts, not because of the peanuts but for the fact that this is a real easy way to call in a team in short notice of time so the next team can go out to train.
We feed all our pigeons together in feeding trays and let them eat as much as they want during half an hour. Afterwards everything is taken out.

Are the partners being showed before basketing?
F & J : No, no widow cock or hen see their partner before leaving for a race. This is not doable to get all the partners for such a big group and to show them. We did do this in the past, more for our own motivation then for the pigeons. A few years ago I (Freddy) got back from a school night much later than expected and had to basket a team. I really didn’t have the time anymore and basketed them without showing their partner or a nest dish…with a very strong result as consequence. Since then we decided to stop doing that before a race and to make it easier for ourselves.

How are your widow cocks being fed?
F & J : We don’t know anything about pigeons food (we do know a bit, but always go with the quality of some brands). We choose different mixes from a few known brands and mix these. This is how we think we have the best quality possible. At homecoming the pigeons always get super diet to change to partly super diet, partly sport, partly energy along the day of basketing approaches. With the known feeding methods that are to be found at all the feeding producers.

How are the widow cocks being guided medically?
F & J : Every pigeon is being treated the same. The colony is too big to work individually. We do have an eye for the treatment of late comers and stragglers. We make sure that they don’t infect the other pigeons and most of the time they go for a while in to the ‘sick-bay’. We try to avoid medication as much as possible. Also in this area we learned a lot by time and experience.
In the past we gave them many thing more to hush our own conscience then the conscience of the pigeons. All pigeons are being vaccinated against paratyphoid and paramyxo. Aside this the entire colony is being cured mid of April against trichomoniases. We do guard the medical health a lot in between to make sure they are not ill. We rather work pro-active then re-active.
In the meantime we have enough experience to see from the training- eating and racing behaviour if a pigeon is in good health or not. We do give yellow drops preventively against tricho (either in the beak, either in the drinking pot).

How well are the lofts being cleaned?
F & J : Also an item that sobered us up by testing out a few things. The lofts of the breeding pigeons are being cleaned daily. On the lofts of the widow cocks and the young birds we put wheat straw at the bottom at the beginning of the season. The pigeons like to sit on it and it is good for the climate in the loft. Last season we didn’t even clean the boxes of the widow cocks…not at all during the entire season. To the extent that the pigeons had a pile of manure as resting place. We noticed that when the base health is okay and you follow up the situation mean times, this isn’t bad for the pigeons, even at the contrary, they feel more at home then on super clean lofts. This is different than for the hens (see part 2).

Are the widow cocks being darkened ?
F & J : We didn’t darken the widow cocks, we don’t have any experience with this and we have never tested this out. We did enlighten them from the longest day on until the last race. We thought this was really good and saw that this effected the conditional level and training behaviour of the cocks in a positive way.

Do the widow cocks get any supplements ?
F & J : Also here we changed a few items. In the past we gave a lot, both in the drinking pot as over the food. We could use once in a while a pot of pro biotics (mostly as we got this with a promotion or championship) but then we always forget to follow up. It might sound weird for many but we are more and more convinced that this isn’t necessary when the base health is good. Well balanced food and especially good pigeons is the lead we follow. Too many times the fancier thinks for the pigeons and are handlings mirrored to the behaviour of people…but the pigeon itself mostly knows best. At homecoming they get electrolytes and proteins to encourage the recovery. Next to this enough grit and vitamin minerals and this especially the first days after a race. This is how shortages on salt and minerals are being filled up the fasted way. And that’s it.

Top results as a reward for their effort
To vouch for all the above with results and top pigeons we give a view out of the almost inimitable palmaris which Jacques and Freddy have accomplished and still are accomplishing.
This as an end of part one of this interview. In part 2 we will have a deeper view on the game with the hens and the young birds and we will add some more results and top pigeons.

National victories
1 Chateauroux 18,499b 2017 young birds
1 Libourne 3,950b 2017 year birds
1 Argenton 13,629b 2016 old birds
1 La Souterraine 6,205b 2015 year birds
1 Libourne 6,658b 2013 old birds
1 Libourne 6,134b 2013 year birds
1 Narbonne (intern) 5,098b 2012 hens
1 Tulle 6,345b 2011 year birds
1 Argenton 5,763b 2010 old birds
1 Bourges 27,506b 2009 old birds
1 Bourges 22,499b 2009 year birds
1 Gueret 1,626b 2002 old birds
1 Gueret 640b 2002 hens
1 La Souterraine 17,315b 2001 young birds
1 Bourges 4,225b 2001 hens
1 Gueret 1,311b 2000 old birds
1 Gueret 794b 2000 hens
1 Bourges 44,185b 1999 young birds
..or what we can call an impressive list of victories. Whoever did this?

On the past Olympiad in Poland there were two pigeons from their loft present namely:

Olympic Tygo (BE15-4130410)
This super crack won next to his Olympic nomination the title of 2nd Ace bird Long Distance KBDB 2018 after the super crack ‘Armando’ from Joël Verschoot. He comes from winners blood and his father won the 1st National Libourne, which can hardly be better as a blood line.

Olympic Mercy (BE15-4130412)
‘Olympic Mercy’ is on fathers’ side out of the top breeding strain from super inheritors ‘Mattheo’ and ‘Morgane’ coupled to a hen from Gerard Itterbeke from Zomergem that also has a palmaris to bow for.

With these two stars we close off part one where we can conclude that the statement ‘good x good’ has more chance on success, but that the results set by Jacques and Freddy aren’t the effect of luck but of a persevering effort, a winners mentality and the believe in the good pigeon. But most of all we like to conclude with a quote from Jacques and Freddy ‘good pigeons is a must to be at the top, but without an unlimited effort from the fancier these results aren’t made.’

A big congratulation is at its place here !

To be continued

Geert Dhaenens