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How is Leo Heremans doing?

Thursday, November 28.
Outside its damp, dreary, drizzly weather.
Inside it is pleasantly warm. At least at Leo Heremans where I sit on the chair I always sit. Barely 10 years ago, the man was unknown abroad. Anno 2013 he is perhaps the most famous pigeons fancier of the world. Certainly the most discussed.

What people said after his successful auction:
- "How can he, barely five years after an almost total sale, grow so many babies?" - "How good the Heremans birds are."
- "Unbelievable, how bad these birds are."
- "Heremans beat all records with a yield of 4,000,000 euros."
- "Leo Heremans sold the most expensive pigeon ever."
- "Over 500 birds are flying around his loft again shortly after his sale."
- "He is training AGAIN baskets full of pigeons."
- "He will race this year again after two so called total auctions."
And so on. Sense and nonsense alternate, based on sensationalism, envy and admiration.
I could always get along well with Leo, which explains why I was a bit curious how he was doing. How he had experienced the past year. What his plans are for the future and ... I wanted to hear the truth. Not from the street or in a pub filled with drunkards, but from his own mouth.

How are you today Leo?
Not too good. My health has certainly not improved. Especially when I"m among the pigeons I have problems with my lungs.

People say they saw again a cloud of pigeons flying and they saw you tossing birds.
Hear those words! The truth is that I have 10 couples plus a number that is waiting to be sent to China. And more than 10 couples I will never have from now on. And tossing birds? Those were exactly 2 pigeons that I tossed indeed.

Concerning your auction, are there things of which you think you should have done or you should NOT have done?
I am happy with everything, but will not deny that I have had sleepless nights.

Due to the retention of the pigeons in China?
Also, but even more because of all the press rats. You know, I began to hate all this publicity and I did not allow those men from the tv or the papers into my house.

Have you lost friends because of that renowned sale?
You do not lose real friends by such a thing.
I always get a lot of people on the floor, especially Dutch.
If 1,000 people were visiting me before, 995 of them keep coming

. Will we see the name of Leo Heremans ever again on the result sheets?
I hope so. But it will never be as it was. From now on I will only race when I feel like it.

I used to run auctions myself long way back and often wondered about the buying behavior of pigeon fanciers. It often happened that average birds went for a lot of money, and there was little interest for good birds. Did you notice the same thing? Was "Bolt" the bird of 310,000 euros, your best indeed?
Bolt and its relatives were class pigeons, but there was a better one in the sale.

Which one?
" Gilbert ", a bird of 2011 was in my opinion the best of all.

You imported some Dutch birds. Were you happy with them?
Very happy, they were fantastic!

Should we then conclude that in the Netherlands pigeons are better?
Better? I doubt it, but equally good for sure. The difference between the two countries seems to me that there are more bad birds in the Netherlands. Look at it this way: Among every 100 fanciers in Belgium are say, six good and three in the Netherlands.

What was actually the best pigeon you ever had?
That was certainly "Jan". Both as a breeder and a racer he was second to none.

You succeeded very often with pigeons that you imported. You breed 100 babies, you pick out 15 that you will race and they perform wonderfully. Speaking of pigeons knowledge. What do you look at when grading a bird?
The whole body, especially the feathers!

And the eyes?
I know nothing about eyes. An eye must be clear, radiating vitality, health too. You know, sometimes people came here with a picture of eyes of pigeon of mine. Picked from the Internet . "Look, birds with eyes like that we want to buy " I heard then. After much searching, I found the birds that had such eyes and those were always the worst. Many so called connoisseurs have visited me. They often disapproved of my very best pigeons because of the eyes and the eyes only.

You were the king of the short distance. Can you excel if you do not often toss?
Absolutely. If the birds are in good shape you do not need to go on the road with them. And if they are not in good shape tossing does not make sense. I myself seldom trained my birds. Maybe with youngsters you have a little advantage in the first few races when they are trained well. I said MAYBE.

You did not go on the road with the birds? Maybe others did for you? I know another guy who says he never trains. But a friend tosses his birds.
If I would do such a thing it would leak out soon in this little village in which I live.

Which babies are the best, those of the first round or the second ?
I always kept but one round for myself. But if you want to know my opinion, I think you are better off with the second round.

Should the lofts above the heads of the pigeons be open or closed?
I do not know. I love "open" and when something goes well you should not change. Of course, I know quite well that the lofts of other champions, such as Dirk van Dijck, are closed above. Those people should not change either when they are happy with the results.

Do you race young birds with separate sexes or on the nest?
Separate sexes. I mated my young cocks with old hens. I must say that if you do NOT race widowhood you can play them two or three MORE years.
If you race them so intensively as I did you will have few good birds that are three years old. Young hens were more or less neglected here. When I got the idea there might be a good one among them, I raced it.

Were your best old birds also your best young birds?

Where would you go to get pigeons of you would restart completely?
Stickers Donckers, vd Wouwer, van den Bulck or Geerinckx. Stickers Donckers is criticized a lot because he tosses so much but others are free to do the same. You should not underestimate what a winning mentality you have to have to toss them daily with the heavy traffic of today.

Can you still perform well without antibiotics today?
Sure. I myself never medicated with antibiotics. They got a cure once a year against canker and that was it.

Do you read much?
I read one pigeon magazine only: De Duif. Internet is not for me.

What do you find a good additive?
At the risk of being laughed at, that is Cod liver oil. And Vitamineralen (the Dutch word) should not be missing in a loft.

What are the biggest mistakes you made in your career ?
Someone always got the birds that I got get rid of, since they were no good. He could make the best soup if it, he claimed. One night I went to the loft to get two birds for him and accidentally killed two real good racers. How such a thing could happen? I was stressed and in a hurry and then people make mistakes. You must know nearly all my birds are blue and very similar and those cocks were sitting in the wrong nest boxes then.

You are a so called sprint man. Are you not surprised that others perform well with your birds in races from 500 kilometers?
Not really. I love short distance indeed, preferably the races from Quievrain which is about 100 kilometers only. But whenever I bought good pigeons those were mostly middle distance pigeons.

What is the best pigeon that you ever bought ?
Olympiad of Gust. Gust is a man with a heart of gold. (Typical Leo. As long as I have known him I have never heard him talk bad about others. A. S.)

Gust is indeed a great guy. I have handled that Olympiad many times. I had youngsters of it and could get more. Bbut when Gust offered me babies of Olympiad I turned it down because I did not really like the bird. How wrong I was.
You need not be ashamed. When I got the Olympiad in my loft and people saw it many of them said: How could you buy such a bird. It is no good.
It was not a dandy indeed. It was not an athlete.

Beute though said it was the most perfect bird that he ever handled.

Guess I once saw this man at a pigeon show and later he was once in my loft indeed. Its easy to grade a bird when you know how good it is.
I maintain that the Olympiad was not really my type and I myself was surprised it turned out to be such a great breeder. No one knows for sure if a bird is good or not. I know it is a clich' but the result sheet is the best grader.

How do you mate your birds?
Everything revolves around that one couple. I want to form that real super couple first. Then I try to make 4 more good pairs and for the rest I count on good luck.

Do you look at the muscles?
I know nothing of muscles. When a pigeon is swollen and tense I cannot see whether that is muscles or fat. I just cannot feel the difference. I know much has been written about eyes, muscles and so on, but when you see the results of the same people you know enough. Why would we all breed so many babies if we could see by their looks if they were any good. We judge them when they are 6 months old or so. After we have seen their race record.

In conclusion.
So far my interview with Leo Heremans, the man who wrote history with pigeons. Is not it strange that the great champions, of all people, claim to know nothing about pigeons, muscles, eyes, feed and so on? Andre Roodhooft and W de Bruijn are also such people. But I can tell you you are a lucky person if you do not have fanciers like them in your club!