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The hens' loft
In the racing
Geraardsbergen: East-Flanders remains the biggest “pigeon province” of Belgium. Although the number of fanciers is quickly decreasing, there are still more than 7,000 fanciers in this province.
To become general champion is not that easy because a lot of top fanciers are doing more than their best to compete for this title.
In 2010 the title of general champion went to Koen Crucke. Koen—a young and super motivated fancier is more than proud that he won this championship. Personally, we’re also very happy because Koen is a very good friend of ours, and the fact that he wins this championship as a very young fancier is a real promotion for the pigeon sport. Koen proves that if you’re motivated as a fancier you can win a lot in the pigeon sport!
Koen didn’t invest a lot of money when he started in the sport. His loft was given free of charge by a fancier who stopped racing pigeons, and with the help of his father-in-law the “second hand” loft was erected in the garden of the young Crucke family. Also the first pigeons came to Koen for free by several good fanciers, fanciers who are prepared to help a young starting fancier and who are not jealous because he wins with their birds. These fanciers are in the first place father-in-law Freddy Depuydt, and then there are Erik Brootcoorens (Idegem), Luc Crucke (Asper), Stanny Hollevoet (Torhout) and some birds from several friends who are fanciers.
How was your season, Koen?
Koen: “It is the first year that I race hens and I must say I’m more than satisfied about their results. It is thanks to my hens that in 2010 I won the general champion title of our province and that I won the 6th national ace KBDB great middle distance.”
“My hen-system is a system based on jealousy. I learned this system from an experienced fancier. In fact, this system began with the construction of the loft. My loft for the racing hens is constructed in three parts. First of all, I have a ‘central loft.’ This central loft is a section in which special boxes are built. At the back of the central loft, I have what I call the “rest loft.” In that section there are only perches, designed that when the hens sit on the perches they cannot see each other, and a specially constructed floor on which they cannot sit. In front of the central loft, I constructed an aviary. This aviary is not so important. In that aviary they enter the loft to go to the central loft, and in the aviary they can easily take an bath. Otherwise this aviary is not used.”
“As I’ve already explained, the whole hen system is based on jealousy, meaning that two hens are coupled in the same box with one cock. To have success with this system, I constructed a special motivation box. It is a box that is divided into two smaller parts. The ‘wall’ between the two sections can be easily taken away. If I take that away, there is only a wire that keeps the two hens apart. So they can see each other, but not fight with each other."
"It is not all that easy to explain, so therefore I would ask the readers to have a look at the photograph, because a picture always says more than words. During the racing season, it is up to the fancier to control the system of jealousy. It is very important that the two hens stay motivated the entire season. Therefore, I never let them fight, and if they have the opportunity to come together, then I will be in the loft to make sure that I have two motivated winners and not one winner and a loser.”
“Before basketting I let both hens be with the cock. Not long, let’s say just a few minutes maximum. When they come home from the race, the hen that arrives first may go with the cock. They are closed up together, and the hen that arrives second can only sit in front of the box and see how those other two are in love. After about one hour, I take the hen that arrived first away and the hen that arrived second can go with the cock for about one hour.”
“How do I make sure that both hens are well paired with the same cock? Well, all my birds do one winter breeding and also one of the two hens is coupled with the cock at the beginning of December. They breed a couple of youngsters. In March all the racers are coupled a second time, but now I couple the second hen to the cock. The can only brood for one day. In that way both hens are well coupled to the same cock.”
“During the racing system, the hens stay during the day in the ‘rest loft,’ which is the loft with the special floor and the perches. I release them from that loft to have their daily training around the loft. When the hens have finished their training they enter the loft through the aviary and come into the central loft. During the week the boxes in that loft are closed. The hens eat in the central loft, and then they are put in the ‘rest loft’ where they can find the drinker. The drinker is constructed so that only two hens can drink at the same time. If the hens have more places at the drinker, they have the opportunity to pair with each other and this must be avoided.”
What about training?
“Do those hens train very well? No, if they train 5 or 10 minutes I’m very happy. But during those 5 or 10 minutes they’re always out of my sight. Because they don’t train that well I toss them a minimum of once a week at 40 km. A friend of mine tosses them, and I stay home to call them inside immediately. Because the hens are basketted weekly for a 400 or 500km race, I don’t care that they don’t train that much during the week.”
“I’m convinced that hens have to be basketted weekly. If they’re not basketted for a 500km race, then they’re certainly basketted for a 150km race.”
“Feeding hens is another piece of art in the system. Hens may not be fed too heavily or too much. Only on basketting day can you feed them as much and as heavily as you like. My feeding system is as follows. On arrival, they receive a little bit of Super Diet. In the evening of arrival day the can eat as much as they like of a ‘heavy mixture,’ which is a mix of several sport mixtures. The day after arrival they can eat again as much as they want of a heavy mixture."
"In the evening the heavy mixture is already replaced by a light mixture. A light mixture is a mix between a protein poor mixture (Gerry Plus) and a depurative. This mixture is very limited feed. In other words the hens are still hungry when I stop feeding them. This amount and kind of mixture is fed till the evening before basketting. The evening before basketting they get the same amount of mixture, but now the light mixture is replaced by a heavy mixture. On basketting day they get as much as they want of a heavy mixture. The heavy mixture is then enriched with two brands of fat mixtures.”
“Every day my birds get some kind of supplement. I administer a lot of Brewer’s yeast (Oropharma), garlic-oil, Elixir De Reiger, Gervit W (Röhnfried), Optimix (Herbots), Forzoil (Oropharma), Energol (De Reiger), Boost X5 (Oropharma). I also drop at least once a week the birds that went on a race. I use several brands of drops, but most of the time I drop with Neobacetracine (an antibiotic drop).”
“As for medication, I follow the advice of vet Wim Boddaert. I visit him on a regular basis to make sure that they are more than healthy.”
WIDOWERS AND YOUNG BIRDS
What about the rest of your team?
“In addition to the racing hens, I also have 24 widowers. I follow the traditional widowhood system. They only thing that is different with the hen system is that the widowers only have one hen and that they are fed more and heavier. If I keep the hens on the same feeding system as the hens, then they’re not round enough on basketting day. The widowers also train much better during the week. Widowers are only basketted every two weeks.”
Tell us about your breeding system.
“Every year I breed around 100 youngsters for my own use. Those are all bred in one round. Having all my young birds bred in one round is very easy for me. You have to know that I still have to work and that I have two little children to take care of. One group means one training, all tossed at the same time, and that’s what I want.”
“I give my young birds a lot of natural products. They receive either Herbolan (Oropharma) or Prodigest (Herbots) or Apple vinegar each day. On the mixture I add a homemade soup (a mixture of carrots, onions, several herbs, sugar and so on). This is then dried with brewer’s yeast. Because I mix a lot on the mixtures, I feed my birds in plastic feeders. These plastic feeders are very easy to clean.”
“When the babies are weaned, I don’t treat them against tricho. There are some fanciers who treat their weaned babies, but I treat the parents when they are brooding. I have found that if you do that then the babies are not infected with tricho when they’re weaned.”
“The first weeks after they’re weaned I feed them a breeding mixture. Afterwards I feed them a young bird mixture (Dark Plus I.C.). This young bird mixture is the base mixture for the rest of the racing season. I only feed them a racing mixture during the last days.”
“The sexes stay together till their first short-distance race, at the beginning of June. Afterwards the young birds are raced following the sliding door system until the beginning of September. I darken my youngsters till the 15th of June. For the rest I follow the same system as with the hens. So I also toss the young birds a minimum of once but most times twice a week. Suppose that I basket youngsters on Thursday evening, well then I toss them on Wednesday."
"Cocks and hens are released separately, and when they are home they stay together. On Thursday morning I toss them again. Now they’re released together. When they’re home they eat together and then they’re separated. Before basketting I feed them again and they don’t come together anymore.”
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