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  News > Verstraete - Raoul and Xavier

Raoul and Xavier Verstraete:
National Winner Cahors

by Stefan Mertens


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Raoul and Xavier
with trophies








The Family




Garden lofts


Breeding loft

A closer look

Oostakker: It has been already some years since I’ve been to Oostakker on a visit, but now I could not do anything else but drive to the Groenstraat in Oostakker because another top performance has been recorded by these world famous fanciers. Clocking top prizes is one thing… winning a national race is more than a step higher. Well, a few weeks ago Raoul and Xavier Verstraete won the first national Cahors race, and if we searched our archives well, we could count this last national win as the fourth national victory for our father-son partnership.

I will refresh your memory. It all started in 1981 with the national win out of La Souterraine with a pigeon named “Manolito.” In 1987 our friends again won national La Souterraine.  Now it was a pigeon called “Tempo” who was the best. There has to be a special link between La Souterraine and the fanciers Verstraete because in 1991 they again won national, now with a pigeon named “Solo.” To be clear, all these victories were clocked at the nice lofts in Oostakker.  All the other national winners like “Uno,” “Dax,” “Brive-duivin” and “Bingo” were all pigeons which were bought by other fanciers.

The loft of Raoul and Xavier Verstraete is known as the “loft of the miracles” –a name that they received in the eighties from a Belgian pigeon reporter named Clement Van Keymeulen. Those were the golden times of the famous pigeons like “De Gouden Bol,” “De Mirage,” “Meteoor,” “De Zilveren” and so many others. The races between the 150km and the 500km distance were their speciality.

Although Raoul had so many top pigeons in his own loft, he was never afraid to buy other top birds. Hereby we think instantly of top breeders like “Rapido,” “De Panter” (both of late Theo Gilbert from Zulte), “De Elvis” (1st national ace), “Carl Lewis,” “De Miljonair,” “Bolide,” “Admiral,” and of course we cannot forget the 1st national Bourges winner against 10,992 birds and the same year the 1st provincial ace middle distance 1989—namely “Uno.”  During the last 20 years, that cock became father and grand- father of many very good middle distance birds.

For the heavier work (meaning long distance), pigeons were bought from Robert Venus (line “Supercrack”) and “Witslager Desender” (1st national ace long distance). But as I have already mentioned, that was all some time ago.  We saw that the loft of Verstraete has taken another direction—not any longer the way of middle distance but the way of success at the long distance. With a list of questions under the arm, we went to Oostakker.  We were curious as we rang the bell in the Groenstraat at number 13.

Stefan:  Good day, Raoul.  First of all, congratulations with your national victory. It has been a long time since I visited you. How are things here in Oostakker?

Raoul:   Thank you for the congratulations.  Everything is OK over here, only like everybody else, we become older day by day. Within a few weeks I will blow out 78 birthday candles and that starts to count. People say that I still look the same as years ago.  My answer is that outside I look still good, but inside I don’t feel so healthy. But Stefan, you’re not here to hear my complaints. Now I must say that I don’t follow all that pigeon business anymore. Be careful to understand that I’m not saying that I don’t care anymore about the pigeon sport. Every day I’m in my loft, but all the things about reports and about buying and selling pigeons I don’t follow it any more. Look, I will guide you to my son Xavier who just lives next door. He knows everything much better than me. When I’m with my pigeons, I become very relaxed.

Stefan:  Xavier, maybe I’m saying something stupid when I say that the colony Verstraete doesn’t perform anymore like some years ago?

Xavier: Yes and no… I also heard that reaction from some other fanciers. Listen very carefully.  As you know we have focused ourselves for years on the middle distance races. Let’s say races between the 150km and the 700km.  But during the past few years we wanted to be the best on races around 800km. You know, liberated in the morning and at home late in the evening—those races are now our target.


In widowers' loft

Inside another
widowers' loft

A widowers' box

Inside the loft of
the racing hens

They’re coloured in flour on the racing programme.  The first years we basketted our middle-distance pigeons for those races and I must say they performed well. But, and now it comes, the first time they were in the top of the result, the second race they won prizes, and the third time we lost them. Certainly the line of the “Uno” had too much speed and middle-distance blood, and they failed when the races became hard. They were too much bred for the middle distance, and therefore we needed to search for more long-distance blood. Not every investment is immediately “bingo” and therefore it took some years before we found the right crossings. Now I must say that for the last five years we’ve been general champion in “Fondclub Eeklo,” a club where also fanciers like Meirlaen and Hebberecht are basketting, so it’s a club with a lot of competitors.

Stefan: If I’m not wrong, the line of the “Topstar” is now predominant in the breeding loft.
Xavier: Well noted… When we bought pigeons from Cas De Graaf (Arnemuiden) and Kris Hebberecht (Evergem), the results became suddenly much better. The two top breeding hens are without any doubt “Blauwe Kathy”and certainly “Geschelpte Kathy.” But also the “Cadillac” (who himself won 1st prizes and top prizes from 300km till Barcelona) and the “Grand Cru Uno” have proven their breeding qualities.

Nowadays our top breeder is without any discussion “Topstar” (B03-4242129). “Topstar” is an extremely nicely built chequer cock who won the 68th national Beziers (900km) against 9,191 pigeons and also the 77th national Montauban (850km) against 7,303 birds. Those are very good results but something else was also noted. The first youngsters that he brought into the world could also win first prizes, and for that reason I decided very quickly to put “Topstar” in the breeding loft. That was the best decision I made in years because I have already banded a lot of top pigeons out of “Topstar.” His most famous son is without any doubt ”Xtra,” who won in 2008 not only the 1st national Cahors but also the 21st national Brive against 14,521 old birds.

Stefan: Once you said that the results became much better when you started to race hens.

Xavier:  That’s true.  For years and years we basketted only cocks. That changed in 2003. That year we bred a nice group of youngsters.  They performed very well, but at the end of the season it turned out that the best pigeons were all hens. What now?  I discussed everything with my father, and I said that I wanted to race with hens. “What?” he answered, “again more pigeons?  Forget it.  If you do that, then you can start without me.  I’m not keeping more pigeons. More pigeons is more work.  No, my son.  Forget it.” But you know how that goes. A few days later, he was open to a new discussion, and after some time we decided to follow a total widowhood program. I could race hens, and there were not more pigeons in the loft. Everything went well and the team of hens performed well. Several times we clocked one or more hens before the first cock was present. Also at the long distance, those hens performed well.  

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Security at
the door

Sputnik with aviary

Dry drinker


Stefan: Can you explain your system of total widowhood?
Xavier:  O my god… now it comes… please don’t expect something special or some fixed rules. The principle is that we race the old and the year birds just like the young birds, following the system of the “open door.” In other words, the hens are on one side and the cocks are on the other side of the loft. Before basketting the door is opened and the hens and the cocks can come together for some minutes.  Only upon arrival from a race can the couples stay together for some longer time.

The problem is that we don’t basket all the pigeons for the same race. No, sometimes we basket three times in a week, so it’s impossible to let cocks and hens get together every time. Therefore we made a rule. Every Thursday evening we open the door. Pigeons who are getting basketted before Thursday don’t see their partner. Pigeons that are basketted on Friday are separated again on Thursday. In the beginning we thought this system would not work, but it was no problem. The only thing that you need to take care of is that every pigeon is well motivated. A cock or a hen which is not motivated will never be at the top of the results page.

Stefan:  When I understood it well, the word MOTIVATION, is extremely important.
Xavier: Good guess… experience taught me that.  It is an art to learn and recognise every move of each pigeon. To know what they like and what they don’t like. If the cocks and the hens come together,  my father and I are always on the lofts. Not to clean but to see everything each bird does. Does they look for a dark corner or do they do something special? It is up to the fancier to recognise everything. If you know that, then you can motivate each bird very well the next time.

Stefan:  Your national winner—the “Xtra”—was he motivated?
Xavier:  Not motivated, but super motivated.  This is a nice story about how you can let a pigeon fly through a wall. I’ll explain to you how we motivated this cock. You must know that the “Xtra” had no box. No, a little place on the windowsill was his favourite place. Now you have to know that next to that place, there’s a curtain, and the “Xtra” liked to go behind the curtain and sit there calling his hen. Look… as a fancier you need to see this… such things are worth gold. What I also learned is that you have to motivate pigeons step by step. Don’t do everything on basketting day.

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Xtra's wing






This photo of
says enough

No, days before the race you need to start to motivate. We worked in different steps. First we saw that the “Xtra” didn’t have much of a place to sit, and therefore we gave him some extra space. You could see the condition of the “Xtra” growing by the minute. The second step was that we gave him an extra dark place. So now the “Xtra” had two dark places, one behind the curtain and one under a box. He didn’t know where to hide first. Then the third step. On the day before basketting we built a perch just above his head. Again he didn’t know where to sit first.

And then basketting day,  he was protecting all his places, and on top of this he got two hens. Unbelievable!  I still remember that he was sitting behind the curtain and calling for his two girlfriends!

Cahors became a very nice race. Everywhere in Belgium there were early birds, but the quickest of all was our “Xtra.” Liberated at 8 o’clock and clocked at 5:03 o’clock for a distance of 750km, he made a velocity of 1382.55 m/m. With this speed he beat the second bird on the result sheet by 22m/m. A nice detail is that due to the bad weather circumstances, the pigeons stayed four nights in the basket!

Stefan: A real top performance!  Can you tell something more about the pedigree of this winner?

Xavier:  Certainly. His father is already mentioned—the “Topstar” (B03-4343129). Next to being father of the “Xtra,” “Topstar” is also father of “Telstar” (1st Chateauroux) and “Belga Queen” (72nd national Irun 18.967b. and 71st national St Vincent 6521b.).

Father of “Topstar” is “Cadillac” (B93-3268617). “Cadillac” won top prices from 300km till Barcelona. His father is the brother of the 1st national Limoges won by Catteeuw. The mother of “Topstar” is “Kathy” (B01-4094502) directly from the loft of Hebberecht Chris from Evergem. “Kathy” won top prizes on Bourges, Argenton, La Souterraine and Guerret. She is a daughter of the “Panda.” “Panda” (B99-4262239) was in three different years one of the best Barcelona pigeons of Belgium.

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An old base bird
Mother of the “Xtra” is “Diva.” “Diva” (B03-4343099) has a very impressive racing result. She won top prizes on Vierzon, Chateauroux, Argenton , La Souterraine and Dax. On Dax, which is an international very long distance race, she won the 14th international against 11,937b.  Her father is the “Flippo” (B96-4263241) who comes out of our old lines of “Thriller,” “Manolito” and “Crusson.” “Flippo” won 2nd Argenton 479b., 3rd Tours 437b., 4th Limoges 765b., 4th Cahors 193b., 5th Perpignan 173b., 6th Chateauroux 523b., 8th Bourges 290b., 8th Vierzon 350b.  Mother of “Diva” is “Gravin” (NL01-184214) direct from the loft Cas De Graaf from Arnemuiden (Holland). She comes from the coupling “NL98-9801084” (2nd national Dax) X “NL98-1281051” (daughter nest brother 5th national Pau).

As you can see, in the pedigree of the “Xtra” we found a lot of long-distance blood.

Stefan:  Xavier, thanks very much for all of that information, and I wish you a lot of success!

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