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Strong with the Weaker Sex
by Stefan Mertens
Click on any photo
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Racing hens' loft
above the pigeons
A corridor at the
front of the loft
Inside the loft of
the racing hens
The special boxes
for the racing hens
In closed position
It was a very nice spring day when we steered our car in the direction
of West-Flanders, and more specifically Ruiselede, with a new piece of
paper and a just bought pen in hand, because today we have a meeting with
one of the fanciers who gave a new dimension to the game with hens. About
ten years ago, everybody was convinced that the hens couldn't follow the
cocks, but now a good decade later, every middle- and short-distance racer
The hens are anything but the "weaker" sex. No, it happens more than once that the hens perform much better than the cocks. The saying "today it is hens-weather" is recognised by every fancier. Even the best widowhood racer with cocks is afraid of the specialist with hens...
It doesn't require any discussion. Without really knowing him, you can see and feel that Rik Cools is a real perfectionist. His house, his interior, his garden--everything is perfect. This perfectionism is also at work in his hobby with the pigeon sport. And Rik knows what he is doing. "Not too many birds, just one discipline and then you can be the best" is his idea. A few years ago, on the advice of Astère Vergotte (Aalter) the formula of the game with hens was followed. Not too many birds, but quality above quantity. The number of ladies is limited to only 24.
PREPARATION FOR THE SEASON
The early winter breeding is revolves around the program of the hens. Once the youngsters are ten days old, the hen goes in the direction of the aviary and the cock is alone with the babies. During the stay in the aviary, the hens are fed very light. After three weeks the hens go in the direction of the racing loft. If the weather is good, they may even train a few times per week. This to keep the "training- rhythm" in the birds. "I love to notice that the hens train about three fourths of an hour. I feed them very light. This means 2/3 protein poor mixture and 1/3 Super Dieet," Rik explains.
On the April 1st they are coupled for the second time, and when all the hens have laid, they're on widowhood. Cools says, "I don't let them brood because I don't want them to become too fat, and secondly, again I'm afraid that they will lose their training rhythm."
Pairing is the nightmare of every hen-racer, but Rik seems not to be afraid of this problem. Rik explains, "On one side I do everything that is possible to keep pairing hens away from the loft. On the other side, the selection, made through the years, resulted in my not having a lot of hens who pair. Let's say that this bad characteristic is selected out."
Cools goes on to explain, "An unwritten law is that the hens must train twice a day, and I'm convinced when the hens train twice a day they don't have the intention to pair with each other."
Hens must be basketted every week. Also this stops the pairing with each other. Here the hens are basketted every week for races between the 400 and 600km. Only when they have had a very hard race for two weeks in a row do they get a 300km race under the wings.
Feeding plays a very important role in the game with the hens. On the menu is always a protein poor mixture. By arrival they get one soupspoon protein poor mixture. On Monday and Tuesday they get the same mixture but only a little pot of pick stone filled up to one centimeter of the border, with this much providing for 12 hens. Rik says, "This is everything except a lot, and I can guarantee you that the hens have more than just a good appetite. On Wednesday and Thursday one soupspoon protein-poor + ½ soupspoon maïs is given. And the last meals I also give a portion of Energy Plus I.C., a mixture very rich in fats with a lot of peeled sunflowers, hempseed, etc."
Rik believes that the training around the loft is the best way to see if the hens are in good condition or not. He says, "I love to see the hens train for a minimum of one hour. Sometimes I get asked how I do this, but I cannot give an answer. Of course the hens are raced following the same method as a young bird, and so they know a little bit about the system. And those who are not following my system are of course selected out. Hens who train very well eat very well. And when they eat very well, they train very well. In this way the circle is round but the art is to get the birds in this circle."
Rik says, "Believe it or not, but it took ten years it took to construct, following my idea, the ideal loft. Basically, everything is very well protected. Only a small piece at the backside of the deep (4.5m) loft is open. So the wind never blows directly on the birds. From the beginning they told me that you have to be alert with the big differences in temperature between day and night. Therefore, the heating plate goes on between 4 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the morning. In this way the first 'morning chill' does not affect the loft.
Nothing is left to the coincidence. That much is certain. Before the racing season starts, Rik organizes a visit to a specialized vet, and examination for parathyphus, worms and coccidiosis is done. He emphasizes, "If any one of those diseases is present, a treatment is immediately made."
Cools continues, "During the racing season I work with a three-week system. The first week I treat against tricho, the second week against ornithosis, and the third week I examine for coccidiose. Treatments are done individually as much as possible. This is the most easy and efficient way to treat birds. I only have 24 hens, so this is not too much work to treat. I work with different products. Against tricho, I use for example Spartrix, Tricho Plus or Flagyl. If a treatment is made, this happens always on Sunday and Monday. One important thing--if something happens or the pigeons are not in the desired condition, I immediately visit the vet. After the racing season, when the big moult has passed, all birds are treated for eight days with Baytril and then vaccinated for parathyphus. The hens are given antibiotic drops on basketing day."
For Cools' own use, a nice group of 60 youngsters is weaned, and those who survive the first "hand-selection" may not expect a "take-it-easy" life. Cocks and hens stay together till May 15th, and then they're separated. After a period of 14 days, the young hens are coupled with old cocks and the young cocks with old hens. It's a lot of work to do in a very short time, but with some patience of the fancier it's perfect to do.
Rik explains, " I'm lucky to work as a teacher in the local school, and so I have a lot of free time during the summer. To be clear, I want to mention that the young hens may not lay. When they're very well paired for a few days, then this is enough. The young cocks may start a nest, and they may even breed a youngster till it is 10 days old."
"Of course the young birds are darkened. Those who aren't darkened don't win a single prize in the months of August and September, and to be honest that is not the purpose," Rik continues. In Cools' loft, the curtains are closed from March 15th till June 15th from 6 p.m. till 7:30 a.m.
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THE BREEDING COUPLE
As with many top fanciers, we find a superior breeding couple out of which come a lot of birds that are standouts in the loft.
The cock of the couple is the "Gaby" (3051184/93). This cock has as father the "17" (3067317/90) and then we're speaking about a full brother of the world-famous "Wittenbuik" from Gaby Vandenabeele (Dentergem). The mother of the "Gaby" is the "06" (3067306/90). She is a daughter of that other famous breeding pair of Vandenabeele, namely "Groten" (4427490/84) X "Anneke" (3206001/88).
The hen of the couple is the "Francoise." She has as father the "Stier" (3043138/94) and as mother "Francinne" (3074422/92).
Children of "Gaby" X "Francoise":
"Bieke" 3195029/00. This beautiful hen won 1st Chartres 326b. - 1st Blois 519b. - 1st Argenton 323b. - 1st Chateauroux 781b. - 1st Poitiers 651b.
"Superke" 3062049/97: 35th Brive 7846b. - 29th Chateauroux 7000b. - 35th Bourges 14883b. - 33rd Tours 4800b.
Grandchildren of "Gaby" X "Francoise":
"Aske Dahlia": 1st Blois 537b. - 1st Tours 2115b. - 1st Bourges 122d. - 1st Poitiers 292b. - 2nd Blois 989b. - 8th Blois 5347b.
"Crista" 3116143/01: 1st Tours 261b. (11th against 2829b.) - 1st Bourges 212b. (12th against 1272b.) - 1st Blois 197b. (9th against 1231b.) - 1st Tours 115b. (19th against 1672b.)
"Darling": 3185274/02 was last season 1st provincial ace-pigeon old birds KBDB West-Flanders. Won 1st national Bourges against 4931 hens, also good for the 2nd national against 23,694 old birds - 1st Chartres 680b. - 7th Chateauroux 4061b. - 2nd Poitiers 292b.
"Golden Wiske 1" 3116126/01: 3rd Chateauroux 801b. (9th against 7347b.) - 4th Bourges 448b. (20th against 5347b.)
"Fientje" 3069691/04: 1st Blois 1038b. - 11th Poitiers 1655b. - 15th Poitiers 2957b. - 5th Tours 195b.
"Elke" 3056350/03: Was in 2003 the 2nd provincial ace-pigeon youngbirds KBDB West-Flanders. Won 1st Nantes 108b. (3rd against 1548b.) - 4th Poitiers 751b. (8th against 1083b.) - 10th Chateauroux 407b. - 3rd Tours 103b.
"Cim" 3116202/01: 1st Blois 339b. (9th against 4034b.) - 1st Dourdan 145b. - 23rd Blois 1972b. - 2nd Poitiers 1022b. (6th against 4190b.) - 9th Limoges 654b.
Tours 680 old birds: 1-13-36-54 (14/23)
Chateauroux 4061 old birds: 3-7-13-43-82-93 (12/12)
Tours 5149 old birds: 3-7-13-30-32-40-41-68-86 (21/24)
Blois 232 old birds: 1-3-12-13-15 (10/12)
Bourges 4931 hens national: 1-57-82-153-605-1040 (6/7)
Chateauroux 2991 yearbirds: 3-4-78 (12/15)
Poitiers 2070 old birds: 8-28-53-152 (4/4)
Chartres 717 youngbirds: 1-6-11-16-17-18-20-39-50-51 (31/68)
Bourges 1536 yearbirds: 3-16-23-39 (8/12)
Argenton 960 yearbirds: 1-3-4-8-13-48-140 (7/10)
Tours 197 youngbirds: 1-2-4-5-6-7-9-18-28 (12/12)
Poitiers 1655 youngbirds: 3-7-8-11-23-24-42 (14/18)