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  News > Robert Van Eycken
  Robert Van Eycken: Winner
Marseille National 2002 &
Marseille International 2003

by Stefan Mertens


Click on any photo
  for larger version

Robert Van Eycken
with one of his

Planes fly in close

The Van Eycken
breeder loft
and youngbird

A view of the
breeder boxes

A special box
for one old cock

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The Van Eycken
youngbird loft
Erps-Kwerps : As a reporter, I often get the question-Who raced best in Belgium? This question is very hard to answer. First of all, do you speak about sprint, middle distance or long distance? With youngbirds or with old birds? The answer depends on all these things. But if we look into the category of long distance, then we can certainly say that our friend Robert Van Eycken is classified in the top three. He won not only the international race from Marseille (849 km) but also six times the 1st provincial. Then we can talk about these races: 1st provincial Tours (481 km) against 2055 old birds, 1st provincial also 1st semi-national Bordeaux (777 km) against 1434 yearbirds, 1st provincial also 2nd semi-national Bordeaux against 2780 old birds, 1st provincial Jarnac (678 km) also 2nd semi-national against 5233 yearbirds, 1st provincial Argenton (529 km) also 3rd national and of course the international victory from Marseille.

All these results are very easy to recite, but if you have to clock them then that is another thing altogether.

By the way, in 1995 Robert also won Bourges national against more then 20,000 pigeons. You see, there is quality enough in the Visgatstraat in the small Belgian town of Erps-Kwerps.


We must tell things the way they are. It is not simple to win the same national race two years in a row. But that week-end, the week-end of 19 July 2003, something strange happened in Belgium. That week-end there were three very important races, namely a "time-race" from the Mont Ventoux (very well-known place in the south of France where pigeons are liberated in groups of three birds at once), a national race from Souillac, and an international race from Marseille. Now, believe it or not, but the fancier (Philippens and son from Voeren) who won the Mont Ventoux race in 2002 won also in 2003. National Marseille 2002 was won by our friend Robert van Eycken, and he won again in 2003. And the national race from Souillac was won in 2002 by Van Damme-Boddaert, and in 2003 they won the second national (beaten with only four seconds' difference). Unbelievable. Three different races and almost all won by the same fanciers as the year before.

But let's give more information about the victories of Robert Van Eycken. The widower who won national Marseille 2002 against 4183 pigeons (4th international against 19,290 pigeons) is called "Kenny" (the same name as his grandson). "Kenny" (2144212/00) is a son of "Blitz 1" (2130959/92) who won 1st provincial and second national Limoges in 1994. "Blitz 1" is a grandson of the famous "Blitz" of Norman (Westkapelle - note: Norman won in the weekend of 6-26-04 the 1st national from Pau) who won a first national on Limoges in 1984, coupled with a daughter of the "Thurau" (1st national ace-pigeon long distance 1982).

The mother of "Kenny" has ring-number 2145079/97. She comes from the loft Gaston and Danny Devooght (De Haan) and is a granddaughter of "Aldo" (national winner Pau 1994). The national victory was not the only prize won by "Kenny." No, in 2002 he also won the 215th national Limoges against 16,495 birds. Now he is in a loft somewhere in Taiwan.

The international Marseille winner 2003 is "Boris." "Boris" (2144226/00) is bred in the same round as "Kenny." "Boris" is a son of "Wouter" (3180233/84). "Wouter" is an extremely good breeder and comes directly from the loft Gaston and Danny Devooght (De Haan). He is a son of the "Wouter" from Devooght who won Dax national coupled with "Paola" (14th national Argenton).

The mother of "Boris" is a crossing of "Devooght" X "De Ceuninck Van Houcke." "Boris" was a very good racer with a lot of top results after his name. Now he is sitting in the breeding loft because Robert believes very strongly in his breeding capacities.

But these are not the only toppers in this loft. What do you think about "Pieter" (2260123/99)? "Pieter" is a blue white flight cock and was basketted four times for a national Bourges race and won following results: 120th national against 22,151 b. - 118th national against 18,028 b. - 123rd national against 21,593 b. - 109th national against 12,161 b. But he also won top results in other races between 200 and 550km: 1st Noyon 579 b. - 2nd Toury 556 b. - 11th Toury 470 b. - 449th La Souterraine 7089 b. - 87th Argenton 4843 b., etc.


Exporting vegetables, and more specifically chicory, that was the profession of Robert Van Eycken. He got infected with the "pigeon bug" by his father, and although he had almost no time for a hobby he was in the club every week to basket pigeons. It was a pity that a stupid accident put a stop to the first part of Robert's pigeon career. Robert was in the hospital, and his wife took care of the pigeons. "Give open loft day and night," Robert advised, but when he came home he found most of his pigeons dead due to field poisoning. This all happened in the early 1960s. But the pigeon sport stayed deep in Robert's heart, and one day he saw a nice house with very nice pigeon lofts, and Robert's wife Maria said, "Robert, when you build such nice lofts like those then I don't see a problem to start with pigeons again." Robert only needed this hint and one day later he ordered an eight meters loft to be built immediately. One year later he added 14 meters to it.


Inside the
youngbird section


The Van Eycken
racing lofts

A view of the landing board and sputniks

"Dochter Bugno"
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New lofts need of course new pigeons, and Robert wanted only quality birds. To obtain those he went to Deceuninck-van Houcke (Nieuwpoort - 1989), Jos Deno (Leefdaal - 1989), Norbert Norman (Westkapelle - 1991 and 1992), Deveseleer Alberic (Tollembeek - 1991 and 1992), Louis Van Der Wielen (Boortmeerbeek - 1994) and last but not least Gaston and Danny Devooght (De Haan in 1992 - 1993 - 1994). Since then, Robert buys some Devooght pigeons every year.


With 50 widowers, 16 breeding couples, and 120 youngsters, Robert and his loft manager (who comes only in the morning to clean the lofts) have enough work. The widowers have their last race in mid-August, and then we talk about the Argenton national. After that last race, they may breed two rounds, and then everything is separated.
At the end of the November early breeding, 25 widowers are coupled at the same time as the breeders. The best widowers may breed their own youngsters. The others get the eggs of the stockbirds and may raise those youngsters.

The breeders can start a second round so very quickly, but now they're coupled with another hen. At the same time, the other part of the widowers' team is also coupled, and the same thing happens again. Sixteen widowers get the eggs of the breeders, and the others breed their own youngsters. When this has happened the breeder cocks are coupled again with their first hen, and now it is up to them to breed their own youngsters. By handling in this way, Robert has three rounds from his breeder cocks (with two different hens) and one round of his best widowers.

"Once the youngsters bred by the widowers are 12 days old, one youngster goes together with the hen to the youngbird loft. The other youngster stays with the widower. Robert explains, "It is nice to see that group of youngbirds, sitting on the heating plate and all those hens around them to feed. I must admit that the hens feed their youngsters much better than the widowers."

Once the youngsters are weaned, the widowers are put on a winter regime and may only train once a week. During this period the birds get a lot of Colombine Tea with garlic.

The last week of March a second coupling is on the program and after five days of nesting, widowhood is a fact. The first training tosses are very important, and as soon as the weather is good, they toss the widowers as much as possible.

Before coupling, a specialized vet is consulted and his advice is law. Most of the time, Robert needs to treat against tricho and sometimes against coccidiosis. Just before the racing season starts, the widowers get a five-day treatment against ornithosis. This is done with a variety of products.

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During the 2003 season, the weather conditions were very hard for the pigeons with a lot of heat and headwinds most of the time. Then recuperation is very important. Between two long-distance races, the widowers stay two weeks at home, between two very long-distance races three weeks, and between two races the widowers are always treated.

They are always fed enough. This means that they can eat for about 15 minutes as much and what they want. When basketting day comes closer, they even have the opportunity to eat for a few hours. On the mixture they get on a regular basis Form Mix from Colombine and Form Oil from Colombine. Now and then, liquid vitamins (Aminovital, also from Colombine) go in the drinking water. The last days before basketting an extra portion of mais is given and when they come in after the training, they always find some sneaky mixture and some peanuts in their box.

The widowers' career takes about five years and then in most cases a transfer to the breeding loft is made. A breeder gets three years to prove himself. If the breeding results are not good after those three years, he has to make place for other, and hopefully better, birds. Robert says, "It sounds maybe a little bit crazy but I'm not looking for a superb breeding couple but for a superb breeding cock. The 'Wouter' is a cock like this. With different hens he's the father of several provincial winners and now even of an international winner. Those are the ones I'm looking for."


As I've already mentioned, Robert breeds around 120 youngsters for his own use. A hand-selection is made a few days after they are weaned. Let's say that 10% of the weaned youngsters never see the inside of a basket.

Once the early youngsters train well around the loft, the cocks and the hens are separated. From the end of February until mid-June, they are darkened from 6:00 p.m. until 8 o'clock in the morning. It is not too dark in the lofts. The youngsters can easily find the drinking bowl.

Robert explains, "Once May arrives, the first training tosses are made. In five steps we go to 30 km, then twice to 50 km, twice to 200 km and then there are the middle-distance races and the nationals for the youngbirds. As long as the youngbirds are in the middle-distance races, the young hens go twice a week on a 50-km training toss. It's very difficult for darkened youngsters to achieve top condition, and experience has taught us that it takes one month after darkening before top condition is seen in the lofts. On the medical scene, we treat the youngsters in the same way as the widowers."

"The youngbird team is raced on the 'open-door-system,'" Robert continues. "On basketting day we open the door from 3 until 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and then they go immediately into the basket. We create some dark places as an extra motivation, but sometimes we couple some old cocks with young hens. It all depends on the number of young cocks and young hens we have in the loft."

A few days after I made this report I visited Robert again but then in the company of Ed Minvielle. Ed confirmed what I had told him about the quality in this loft. One family with good racing results-what more does a fancier need?

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