Jan Pappens - Hundelgem won 102x 1st prize over the past 4 seasons !

08 Nov 2019

Hundelgem ... borough of Zwalm, almost invisibly hidden in the beautiful Zwalm region. Right next to the church and well hidden in the one-street village center, is the home of Jan and Marleen. It is always nice visiting them: they are very sociable and always in for a chat. His hobby, or rather his passion, the pigeon sport, is very closely connected with nature. Keeping the pigeons as close to nature as possible, without being naïve, is his creed. Jan is above all the carer, observer and motivator, but he would not manage without the support of Marleen, who mainly takes care of the administration and training and gives the necessary critical scrutiny now and then.
Professionally, Jan Pappens was a forest ranger for the Flemish Government. He spent every day in nature. His day job was the day-to-day management of the domains of the Agency for Nature and Forest, which included forests and fishing waters. So Jan Pappens' life largely took place in the forests between the beautiful fauna and flora of our little country. In his natural habitat, Jan soon developed a passion for everything that had two legs and two wings. Hence, the link can easily be made to his second great passion, the pigeon sport ... a sport in which he has excelled for years. You could say that he has a certain gift: the ability to look at a pigeon from a different perspective than the average pigeon fancier.
Jan has been playing with pigeons independently since he was 15 years old. It was his uncle who introduced him to the pigeon sport. In the beginning, when Jan was not playing himself yet, he was kind of the pigeon fanciers' postman. There were no cellphones, tablets or internet yet and upon homecoming, Jan drove from one fancier to another to exchange the noted times. Jan achieved the first successes with a little pigeon from Michel Claes in Welden that immediately accounted for descendants that flew a 17th & 33rd National. In 1974 Jan moved to his current address in Hundelgem. A new start, with many new pigeons but with lesser results ... Jan decided to change direction and build his colony with pigeons of his cousin, Jean Hoste, a local speed specialist. With his drive and ambition, Jan moved from the speed game to the middle distance. Again he sought reinforcement, which came from totally unexpected sources.

Total view of all race lofts

Jan continues: "When my soul mate and pigeon fancier Willy Sachem from Zottegem died, my world stood still for a moment. Willy's family decided to sell the entire colony. I knew Willy's pigeons better than anyone and decided to buy the "Crack". He was the most expensive of the sale, but I bought the winning ticket. The "Crack" was renamed "Willy" as a tribute to Willy. This cock, a 100% Lucien Vermeiren (Zottegem), developed into the progenitor of my colony in no time. The first 2 youngsters I bred out of this 5 x first prize winner immediately showed their qualities ... And generation after generation this winners instinct is passed on. Previously, I played a 1st prize now and then but now things are running much more smoothly. For those who like to see numbers ... the number of victories amounts to 102, for the last 4 seasons alone.
The last few years, 'Willy's' breeding line was reinforced with pigeons from strongly playing fanciers from the area. This too is always a search to get to know which pigeons can be perfectly crossbred with mine. "

Are the breeders often re-coupled?
Jan: "The strength of one's breeding loft is the basis of one's racing successes and that is why the basis of that breeding loft is very important. I am convinced that 'winning' and 'flying ahead' is in the pigeons' genes and the trick is to create a family that possesses these genes and then passes them on over several generations. That is why I will usually leave proven breeding couples together. I may change the hen once or twice, but only to give the other hen some breathing room, i.e. some rest. Rest can sometimes do wonders in a breeding hen. Let us say that I have about 10 fixed breeding pairs. All others are re-coupled or crossbred with a pigeon that is brought in. Should a breeder be a 'beauty' in the hand? Well ... everyone loves a beautiful pigeon but I have a few stock pigeons that are not 'mother's finest" but I would not want to miss them in my breeding loft. All they need is a strong carcass and good plumage, I always say. They call me a 'throat judge' because I love a fine beak slit. I very much like to breed with proven flyers. First they must prove that they master the art of flying ahead."

Since a few years, Jan has been following the system of total widowhood. At the start of season 2018, 32 hens and 32 cocks were ready to go. Amongst this group were 6 old cocks and 9 old hens. On 20 February they were mated. Jan allows them to choose a hen and a bin freely. Some do it smoothly, others 'doubt' a little more. Despite the chaos nothing is forced and once the "ferviest" couple has been breeding a day or 4, all cocks and hens are separated again. Some have bred, others have mated with difficulty.
Once the flying squad is on widowhood, the cocks as well as the hens train once a day. The hens train around noon and the cocks around 6 pm. They are also fed once daily.
It is difficult to describe which compositions and which quantities Jan feeds. Jan feeds purely on intuition in which factors such as the weather, how heavy the last flight was, the weather forecast for the next flight, etc ... all play a role. The basis is a mix of different protein-poor mixtures and as the basketing date approaches the protein-poor mix is enriched with sports and energy mixtures, again from different brands. Jan likes to feed mixes that contain a percentage of barley. If they do not touch these during feeding, a fancier knows what he needs to know.

With the exception of a small group the cocks usually fly small middle distance. The hens fly middle distance weekly. The racing hens are loose in the loft. That loft is constructed in such a way that there is hardly any place to sit together and mate. Hens must see a release place every week in order for them to lose their excess energy and to temper their drive to mate. Leaving hens home for a week is asking for trouble.
In terms of by-products a weekly dosage of freshly made tea, oregano oil and Nutri Power (powdered) is on the menu. During the winter period, a lot of commercialized tea is administered.
Medically, the man in the white smock is visited before the start of the season visited and treatments are administered if necessary. This visit takes place 2 months before the start of the season so there is enough time for treatment if it is really necessary. During the season the medicine cabinet remains closed as long as the performances are good. In the event of poor performance during a few weeks, Jan will take a seat in the vet's waiting room and follow his professional advice. Jan administers the well-known 'yellow drops ' against tricho.
Pigeons in good condition train well and Jan likes to keep an eye on his racing team during their daily training. Furthermore, Jan says that “pigeons in good condition also tend to motivate themselves. In a manner of speaking, they find motivation for example by trying to extend their territory or doing another 'crazy' thing."
At the end of the season, the selection takes place, both with the old and youngsters, purely on performance. "Would I keep a young pigeon who has not flown any prize whatsoever for another year to prove himself as a yearling? Frankly no ... a young bird does not need to fly 100% prizes for me, but will have to fly itself into the spotlights with an astonishing achievement at least once. The kind of 'bang' that impresses the owner."

Jan: "In my opinion, a good loft is immensely important. A good loft optimizes basic health and if that is OK, the condition will follow more easily. A good loft is dust free, i.e. you should not be burried under a dust cloud when the pigeons are flying to and fro. Fact is that a good loft ventilation will limit the dust to an absolute minimum. A good loft feels good too ... being in the loft should not give you an unpleasant feeling. "
Jan ... it probably will not be bullseye every week ... What do you do after a lesser result?
"Indeed ... I sometimes get 'a beating' and I am not ashamed to admit this. A fancier should not panic after a bad flight. No ... just sit down and try to figure out the cause of the failure. This year I also had a bad result on a major middle distance flight but other pigeons from the same loft that were given the same guidance, however, did perform well on the middle distance. Look ... in such a situation I am not going to change anything about my system. A bad result now and then is simply part of the pigeon game and is something a fancier has to learn to live with. Of course, this bad result must not repeat itself the week or weeks after because that would mean something is wrong and I will consult the vet. "

Jan and Marleen ... thanks for the hospitality and a lot of success!