Indurain and the old man
"Would I select his pigeons for him?", he had asked me in a polite letter.
He was "still a simple man of the old fashioned ways", and according to him a lot had changed in the pigeon sport.
I wrote back that if he thought that I knew which were the good ones and which the bad ones, he had the wrong person. And that even in my own loft, with pigeons that I know quite a bit, I have the greatest difficulty sorting things out in the autumn.
That I too, take the same pigeon in my hand time and again, without knowing if I want to keep it or not.
"Everyone has too many pigeons, because nobody can select like that," I wrote back, but I went there nevertheless.
IN THE OLD DAYS
A very old man opened the door.
"You have come about the pigeons, have you?"
"Then it"s my father you want," he said and indicated an even older man.
"My goodness, did you come after all?"
"That"s correct," I said. I could hardly say that I hadn"t come. He pointed to the man that had opened the door.
"This is my son. Isn"t it a pity that there are not enough young people coming into the sport anymore?" he said shaking his head.
On the walls hung certificates, yellowed because of their age. On the cabinets stood rusted cups, and he started to talk. About the old days.
The good old days, when everything was so much better.
"It was still a real sport then. But that time won"t come back and doesn"t time go by so quickly these days. Communism is in pieces, the Berlin Wall has fallen, the Vietnam War is over, smoking isn"t permitted anywhere anymore and AJAX (Dutch Football Club) is also not what it once was.'
"Yes, time goes by quickly old man," I said, "and Elvis is dead too. Enjoy every day, because you have only one life."
'It goes quickly, but the pigeon sport is still great. I wouldn"t know what to do without it."
I agreed with him.
VERY NEAT INDEED
He used to race very well in the old days, then he stopped for 10 years, and 2 years ago he had started keeping pigeons again.
With the same breed as he used to have, but ... they didn"t succeed in winning a single prize.
"Well come then and we can have a look at the pigeons," he invited me.
I followed him up a steep staircase to the attic and I was surprised at the ease with which he climbed them. He noticed my surprise and smiled.
"Ten times a day up and down and you soon learn how to climb stairs," he explained.
The lofts looked immaculate, very clean, and the pigeons looked a picture of health.
"They look fantastic," I said.
"You think so?" he asked, "and yet they never get any medication."
"Maybe that"s why," was my reaction.
He looked at me with a puzzled look, and then handed me some pigeons.
Fantastic birds, but they almost slipped out of my hands.
I told him that I couldn"t find any fault with his pigeons other than they were much too fat.
He was aware of this but the reason was that he kept them inside during the winter because of the birds of prey.
This was where he made his first mistake.
Freedom in winter isn"t necessary; many good fanciers keep their pigeons inside, but they don"t have pigeons that are so fat that they can barely manage to fly to the nest box. Pigeons should never be fat.
During the racing season these won"t win a prize, in the autumn they moult badly and during the breeding season they have difficulty producing eggs.
Sportsmen are known to gradually reduce training outside the season.
Pigeons that stay in the loft become fat easier and that"s why it is important to check the weight of a pigeon regularly.
The old man continued:
"And I feed them with half barley."
I have heard this story before. But barley isn"t an aid for pigeons to maintain weight or to keep them calm, like people say.
I have seen more very fat pigeons that were only fed with barley.
Also female pigeons on a "barley diet" that laid like chickens.
But there was more that wasn"t right.
KEEPING UP WITH
Gradually, the remark that he was "still a simple man of the old fashioned ways" proved that he had much self-knowledge.
"When pigeons that are so healthy don"t win anything, there"s no need to look too far for the cause," I said.
"They are certainly beautiful, but not worth much."
Pigeons of 4 years or older, that have never yet produced a good one don"t belong in the breeding loft. And 3 generations of breeding without selection based on achievements?
It is not that simple.
Nothing is easier than breeding outwardly perfect looking pigeons, again a matter of selection, and to breed a stock of very healthy pigeons is easy as well. AGAIN a matter of selection.
A loft full of good pigeons you can only build by racing and selecting, that is the simple thing.
Keeping non raced brothers or sisters of a good pigeon can be done as an exception, but not achieving anything good for generations can not be done.
The old man still had "the good blood of the old days", but "good blood never lies" is in my opinion one of the greatest lies in the pigeon sport!
It reminds me of that fancier from my district.
He is a fancier like not many others. Such a happy person, always cheerful, almost never wins anything but that doesn"t spoil his fun in keeping pigeons.
I have a feeling that he, in spite of his bad results, has as much pleasure in his hobby as many champions.
He asked me if I still had the parents of "that good one".
I told him that they were indeed still in my loft.
"Then you are lucky. With such a couple you have to rear a series of brothers and sisters."
But no matter how well-meant his enthusiasm was, such a man doesn"t make me mad or happy.
The parents already had another partner!
Most champions set different prices for their young.
Only Klak was different; he always said:
"Why would you make the youngsters from certain couples more expensive? Every year I experience that you can never know out of which pairs the good ones will come. A couple that produced a good one, usually doesn"t make a habit of it."
Commercially, he was completely wrong, but he was certainly right.
Of course, certain pigeons present more chance of a good one, but when you see that thousands of Euro"s are paid for squeakers of four weeks old, you have to conclude that the indoctrination has become tragic.
Even when some fanciers now and then breed a descent pigeon out of a good one, you don"t have any certainty that the same parents will ever produce another good one.
I know that by now.
I have known many good pigeons; I have never come across good pigeons with only good brothers.
I wanted to give my "good one", of which the man spoke, the name "Indurain". That great cyclist of a few years back.
Indurain had a brother that was his spitting image; the same body, the same parents and the same education. Only, the brother couldn"t cycle at all.
The old man"s pigeons, of which several generations hadn"t been used for racing, reminded me of certain breeding stations.
They buy pigeons, the young are promoted as top breeders, and the offspring of these are for sale.
You could be lucky, but the chances are small on account of a generation not having been selected on racing results.
Like the pigeons of the old man.