In January 2006 a peculiar measure was taken by KBDB (Belgian Homing Union).
From then on it was not allowed to race (old) hens in a separate competition.
That meant a big change in the history of pigeon sport, since the Belgians had raced their birds in the following categories as long as this sport exists:
- Youngsters and' up till now there is even another category: 2-year-olds.
'Why all these separate competitions?' you may wonder.
Everything has a reason and this one is simple:
Old birds were supposed to be superior to yearlings and cocks were thought to be better racers than hens.
People thought that racing would be fairer for hens and yearlings if they did not have to compete old birds but had their own competition.
And if some one had an excellent hen or yearling this was interesting.
They could 'double' such a bird, which means: Let it also race in the competition for old birds.
By 'doubling' it could win 2 (first) prizes in the same race and' such a bird could win money in both competitions.
A yearling hen could even be entered for 3 competitions; those for hens, yearlings and old birds.
Two-day races (from 900 kilometres and further) is another story, hens often won these races.
Do not ask me why, I do not know, no body can explain, it is just a fact.
This so called 'doubling' had its disadvantages for the average fancier though.
- Extra papers had to be filled in.
- Extra entry fee for each competition had to be paid, as well as extra money for additional result sheets.
- Furthermore those 'doublings' were often abused when making publicity. Fanciers showed off with birds that won 2 or 3 first prizes, while in fact they only won one. The other so-called firsts were won in the same race.
In Holland they never knew this division.
There they only race 2 kinds of birds; Young ones and old ones.
So a yearling is an old bird in Holland and so is a (yearling) hen.
This sometimes led to comic situations.
Once I overheard a conversation between a Dutch fancier and a Belgian.
'How many old birds will you race next year?' the Dutch asked.
'Four' was the reaction.
The Dutch fancier was surprised.
Did he have four old birds only?
What the Belgian 'forgot' to say was that his loft was also filled with 30 yearlings that he could race.
It all started around the year 2000.
Many winners and aces, up to national level, were hens.
Furthermore one could read about outstanding hens in loft reports.
Then Vanlint showed up in 2002.
He had lived in Taiwan for 21 years, returned to Belgium and started to race pigeons.
He followed the advice of his Dutch friend de Bruyn to race both hens and cocks and much to the surprise of a whole nation his hens performed incredibly.
Of course there were superior hens before, think about 'Fieneke' from Vervoort and world famous 'Paula' from Remi de Mey, but they were exceptions people thought.
But it was not only Vanlint that made people frown.
Also fanciers such as Jos Vercammen, Van Elsacker, Luc van Mechelen, Van Winkel, Broeckx, Verkerk and others performed extremely well with hens.
When later on, in the fall of 2005, young Eric Berckmoes was Belgians best in the Nationals and his winning birds turned out to be hens as well people and KBDB in particular had stuff to discuss.
It is a well-known fact that Klak also raced hens but that is another story.
He raced natural, like Janssen brothers.
As for racing hens NOT natural there are two methods.
- Some race them on widowhood, they do not race the partner (cocks).
- Others like Van Elsacker. Verkerk, Vanlint, De Bruyn practise 'double widowhood', the so-called 'German system' which implies that both hens and cocks are raced.
I myself practised 'double widowhood' for the first time in 2005 and never regretted it. From the very beginning it was mostly the hens that were the birds to be beaten.
I do not want to promote this method ('double widowhood') as the ONLY good one.
For many it works but other methods also do.
It stands to reason you can race 'double widowhood' both with young birds and old ones. I will deal with young birds first.
For successful young bird racing 5 items are of vital importance.
The birds should be 3 months old minimum when you start training them.
In Belgium and Holland new bands are handed out January 1st, fanciers want to race babies as old as can be, so what do most of them do?
Mate up the birds end of November so that babies can be rung first week of January.
I said 'most' since those who participate the 2-day races do not practise winter breeding.
They know they have a type of bird that does not perform in their year of birth; so 'winter breeding' is not relevant for them.
'Winter breeding' is the name of the game for 'young bird specialists' though, since training tosses can start sooner with babies that are older and early breeds will be
more motivated since they are sexually more matured.
Naturally it does not make sense to race widowhood with birds that are not matured.
Birds that are not trained adequately will not perform.
As for tossing some say 'the more the better' but this is not so. I have often seen results going down due to over tossing.
Of course you can only start tossing when birds train spontaneously round the loft, since birds that do NOT lack condition. Tossing such birds that do not train around the loft will inevitably lead to many losses, regardless the quality.
You need a family that performs well in their year of birth.
Certain families do not, since they mature slowly. It is a matter of heredity and fanciers themselves know best what type of bird they have.
The loft (the environment) is very important as well. It is hard to describe how a good loft should be, since the weather conditions also play a role.
A loft that is good nearby the sea, where it is often windy, may be a bad one inland.
A loft that is good in Belgium need not be good in Taiwan.
A loft that is good in a yard between buildings may be a bad one in the open.
Anyway: A good loft is warm (not too), dry with fresh air and not draughty.
Nowadays more than ever you need birds that have much resistance against diseases that constantly threaten them.
NATURAL OR NOT?
So young birds can be raced natural (on the nest), on widowhood (the partners are not raced) or 'double widowhood' (both sexes are raced).
In the past Orleans was THE race every body wanted to win in Holland. It was so popular that up to 200,000 birds were entered.
Fanciers tried to enter them on a baby of about one week old, which needed a lot of preparations and calculations but it was worth it.
The easiest way was to mate them with old birds.
It was mostly hens that won, but it is well known that hens race better than cocks as a baby, especially when raced on the nest.
But racing natural has 2 disadvantages.
a. The birds do not train, so you have to force them or go on the road with them.
b. You can exploit a good position for only 3 weeks maximum (from eggs that are about to hatch till on babies of about 12 days old), but nowadays the specialists require good results week after week and do not focus on one or two races.
So performing well the whole season is impossible with birds that are raced natural.
Therefore racing on double widowhood ('on the door' they say) is what most young bird specialists practise nowadays.
As I said one reason is that , if birds are healthy, you need not worry about loft training and you need not go on the road with them.
Till the birds are about 3 months old they need to be fed well which implies a mixture that contains enough protein (peas).
This should change though before the racing season starts.
Then the feed should be lighter (no or very few peas) and a treatment against canker is also welcome.
When I start tossing the sexes are not separated yet since it is hard to race 'double widowhood' successfully for 10 weeks, the birds get used to it and lose motivation.
Therefore I separate the sexes when there are only 6 or 7 races to go.
I found they are at their best about one month after you had put cocks and hens apart.
Once cocks and hens are separated 'double widowhood' is simple.
The first two weeks I take them for a short toss on Thursday afternoon.
When coming home they find the door in between the sections that separated them open, as well as the nest boxes.
In the evening the birds are separated, on Friday they are basketed (I do not let them together that day), when they come from a race they may be together until dark.
Unlike others who let the sexes together on basketing day, I prefer the day before.
Thus they are basketed more calmly, which is important in case of hot weather or when birds have to stay over.
After racing day, when the sexes are separated again, they may train once a day.
The opening to the loft is closed for at least one hour, and then I call them in.
I do not like to rotate. So hens have to go into their section and cocks into theirs. And what if hens get lesbian manners?
As for young birds this is no problem; it may even motivate others that get jealous.
For the same reason it is no problem either if after a race birds 'take' another partner.
This method is one of those that should work. If it does not, the birds lack health, quality or both.
I did not talk about the medical part, since that is not as important as many think.
Most young bird specialists treat against canker for 5 days before they start tossing; later on they treat them every 3 weeks for 2 days.
Giving birds electrolytes in hot weather won't hurt either.
As for the medical part that should do.
And what about respiratory problems?
It is often the birds of the same fanciers that suffer from them.
The mistake they make is that they try to solve this by medicating whereas they should find the cause, which is often to be found in lofts that are over crowded or draughty.
Double widowhood with old birds does not differ real much.
In Germany fanciers have practised 'double widowhood' with old birds since long.
In Holland and Belgium it became popular in recent years.
Before 2005 I used to race (about) 25 widowhood cocks.
Naturally those cocks had a partner, that partner was not raced, so I needed 50 birds in order to be able to race 25.
But racing cocks only as I used to do and many still do?
Let's face the truth.
It is just unthinkable that your worst cock is better than your best hen, so why race doubtful cocks and not race hens?
Racing both sexes is also helpful to judge quality of the hens.
So a great advantage of 'double widowhood' is that you need fewer birds and you learn more about the quality of both sexes.
I will describe a method that has proven to work well for others and me and will start with the start.
In autumn, after the moult, I put my racers in 2 adjacent sections; let's say the hens in section 1 and the cocks in section 2.
When I mate them late November they will be on the nest in section 2.
Section 1 is empty then.
Since I only keep birds in which I have confidence I practise 'free mating' and' I keep babies off racers as well.
If you have a good family and you select strongly any pair may give good babies, therefore I never understand people who only want babies off the breeders.
A 'breeder' is no more than a name that we give to a bird.
Many good birds were bred off racers, even off yearlings.
Furthermore it can only be good for the condition and motivation if racers were allowed to choose their partners and are not forced to accept one that we have in mind for them.
When the babies are weaned I put the hens in (their) section 1 again.
Naturally they want to be in section 2 when I let them fly out, since they know the cocks are there, but this loft is closed and of course they cannot see the cocks.
When I let the cocks out it is the same story; they have to go into their section after training.
In section 2 the nest boxes are open, those in the section of the hens are closed in order to prevent them from mating amongst each other.
Once the hens get lesbian manners you have a problem, since this will not change when they are raced.
In order to prevent this problem I let them with the cocks half a day in the middle of the week so that they will not 'forget' about their partner.
Two weeks before the racing season starts the birds are mated again in section 2.
Meanwhile I start training them and when they get back home the door between the 2 sections is open and so are the nest boxes in both sections.
Naturally it is in section 2 where all birds want to be, since it is there that they had their nests before.
When the eggs are 4 or 5 days old they are taken away and 3 days later the hens are removed again to 'their section 1'.
Then things are set for the racing season.
Once the racing season is on, there is nothing simpler than 'double widowhood'.
The sexes are separated but may 'meet' in the middle of the week for some hours and after they come home from a race of course.
Some champions lock the hens up, others don't and there are champions such as Verkerk that have them in an open aviary.
I tried out all these methods and found no difference.
In their section the hens can only sit on so-called 'V Perches' to prevent them from mating.
After the birds come home from a race I let them together till dark.
As for loft training I found it does not make any difference whether you train hens in the evening and cocks in the morning, or reverse.
Training once a day is good enough, since healthy birds will train like hell, hens in particular.
As for feeding I keep things simple and give the birds the same (light) feed 7 days per week, since I race Middle Distance only.
If I would race long distance the mixture would not be that light.
Since there are several ways to race double widowhood successfully I paid much attention to the advantages and disadvantages.
But one great advantage I did not mention yet.
On their way to the release station hens do not fight in the baskets, they are calmer which may explain why they recover so much faster than cocks.
Therefore hens can be raced weekly, even more, they SHOULD be!
Giving them a week rest won't do them any good, on the contrary.
When in the past somebody asked how good a 3 year old hen had performed he often reacted 'Is that all?' after he saw the results.
'Of course' I said then, adding 'it was only raced as a baby'.
But' times have changed indeed.