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|News > Willem DeZutter|
All Round Champion
by Stefan Mertens
in his office
For this report I went to one of the most famous lofts of East Flanders,
namely Willem DeZutter from Ninove, Belgium. I say East Flanders, but
I must honestly say in all of Belgium. Willem is really an all round champion,
and to make this statement clear, I can tell you the following. Our friend
is now the only fancier in Belgium who won two years in a row the Championship
of "Cureghem Centre" and the championship of "Belgische Verstandhouding."
And I should add that I'm not talking about results from 10 or 20 years
ago, but results from the last four years.
Now I can imagine that fanciers from outside Belgium don't know how hard it is to win these championships, so I will explain how difficult they are. To make everything very clear, I will always mention the distance for Willem DeZutter for that race. The Championship of "Cureghem Centre" can only be won by the three first nominated pigeons on the following races: Cahors (for old birds - 764 km), Barcelona (for old birds - 1056 km), Argenton (for youngsters - 505 km), La Souterraine (for youngsters - 545 km), and the first nominated bird on La Souterraine old birds and yearlings.
The Championship of the "Belgische Verstandhouding" is won by the first four nominated birds for Brive (old birds - 658 km), Limoges (old birds and yearlings - 591 km), Perigieux (old birds - 690 km), and the first three nominated birds on Montauban (old birds - 784 km), Dax (old birds - 877 km), Marseille (old birds - 846 km), Perpignan (old birds - 910 km) and Narbonne (old birds and yearlings - 853 km).
Be aware of the fact that all these races are national races, against all the fanciers in Belgium. So only top fanciers with top quality birds can win such championships. This "combination" is found at De Zutter's loft on the Outerstraat in Ninove.
But that's not all. Willem has already been named general champion of the province of East Flanders several times, as well as 1st National Argenton (1996) against more than 15,000 young birds.
De "Wondere Dunky"
Willem De Zutter's love and fascination for the pigeons was kindled when as a five year old, he would join his father, Victor De Zutter, on Sundays to watch the return of his cousin's birds, with whom Victor was racing in partnership.
Willem kept no birds, however, until after his marriage to his lovely Italian wife, Assunta. Father Victor, living with the young couple from day one, had always discouraged any ideas of keeping pigeons.
It was only after Willem returned home with an abandoned one-eyed puppy, that Assunta promised to allow Willem to keep pigeons. The only condition was that a home had to be found for the puppy, since the family already had two dogs and a third was out of the question. That same afternoon, a foster family was found for the puppy and the construction of a new pigeon loft was begun.
The first pigeons were all gifts from local friends and never produced anything but heartache and embarrassment for Willem at his club.
In 1970 all of these birds were discarded and a number of birds were brought in from a good Belgian fancier named Francois Schelfout. Racing performance improved, and in 1976 Willem and his father Victor made the "deal of their life." They ordered a full round of youngsters from the top loft of Dick Postma (Leeuwarden - Netherlands).
Postma was a close friend of that other world renown fancier, Edmond Tournier (Lommel - Belgium) and his loft was saturated with these wonderful Grizzle Tourniers and, of course, direct Janssens (Arendonk), with whom he had very close ties.
The De Zutter family was now starting to grow, and in 1977 they moved to their current address in the Outerstraat 24. In 1978 the first young bird races were flown under Assunta's name, as Willem had trained his birds at the loft at his previous home for the old bird races. During this period, Victor insisted that Willem only participate in the short distance races. He was always keen to have the birds come home very quickly. Winning was now becoming almost a tradition with these fantastic Postma pigeons.
On May 1, 1978, Willem entered 24 young birds in a very famous race from Noyon and bet 8000 Belgian francs. That weekend the results were unbelievable, and he won 28,000 Belgian francs, which was a lot of money at that time. Father Victor was beside himself, and spent the week celebrating. However, Willem had other ideas, and the following week, without telling his father, he basketed the same team for their first Middle Distance race. All hell broke loose when Victor discovered what Willem had done. It was almost as if Victor's world had come to an end. He thought that all his pigeons would be lost. It so happened that Willem's team put up an amazing performance that day, and Victor was now even more famous in his club. He then gave his support to Willem's Middle Distance leanings, but that was where it would have to stop-no long distance races.
In 1984, Willem purchased 20 eggs from Raoul Verstraete (Oostakker). These birds made a huge impact on the De Zutter strain.
The "Jonge Elvis Turbo" and his hen "Fernanda" were among these twenty hatchlings, and their first son was the famous "Wondere Dunky," who went on to become an unprecedented three times ace pigeon in his five-year racing career. Then came "De Ecu," "De Ferrari" and "Erica," all top racers with the first two also winning titles such as 1st Ace Pigeon Regional with 4000 lofts competing.
During 1984, another champion was born, namely "De Cent." His father was a direct Postma-Tournier, and his mother a direct Jules Rijckaert (St. Amandsberg - Belgium). "De Cent" was basketed for his first very long distance race as a two-year-old bird for Perpignan (911 km). He excelled and was 4th in the club. He later went on to win 1st regional and 17th national Narbonne (800 km). Then he scored 1st national Barcelona and 16th national against 13,343 pigeons-as a nine-year-old pigeon!
For the coming season, Willem has 70 widowers. These widowers will be separated into different groups and will be basketed for different distances. Just as in the other seasons, the widowers have bred very early. This means that they were coupled at the beginning of December and may breed a couple of youngsters. After the youngsters are weaned, the widowers are put on a kind of winter regime. At mid-March the widowers are coupled again, and they may breed for three or, at a maximum, four days.
Willem is a fancier who has already tried a lot of systems. For example, two years ago, the widowers were not coupled again in March. So after the winter breeding, they were already on widowhood, and we must say that they succeeded with a super season. This system was not so good for the hens raced on widowhood.
Willem says, "Once the season is begun, no effort is too much. The more energy put into the pigeons, the better the results will be. When you want to succeed with widowers, then you have to treat their hens extremely well. A widower comes home for his hen. She is a kind of motivation." In De Zutter's loft, the hens are always shown just before the basketing to the widowers.
To motivate the hens, Willem keeps them in an aviary. Afterwards, they are put in special "henboxes." When this is done, he is sure that the hens are not paired up with each other, and they will motivate the cocks 100 percent. "To make everything very simple," he says, "we liberate the hens from the boxes on the day of basketing. They make some tours around the loft and then go to their cocks. When you handle the birds like this, this method can also have a positive side effect. I remember the 'Havana.' I liberated, as always, the hens from the boxes, and when I came to the loft there was another hen sitting by the 'Havana.' Another lady…it seemed that he loved it. But I tried an extra motivation. I also gave him his usual hen. I was lucky. The hens didn't fight and were both sitting on the 'Havana's' back. He was so motivated that he won the 1st provincial Bourges!"
"Motivation in the right way and at the right moment can work miracles," says De Zutter.
TO AVOID HUMIDITY
"Humidity is the biggest poison in a loft that I have experienced myself," De Zutter asserts. "Once I had serious problems reaching top condition in the loft. It all changed when I put heating systems in my loft. Such things must be kept in mind. I assure you that from the moment it starts to rain a little bit, I turn the heating systems on."
Asked if he trains the widowers with a flag, De Zutter answers, "Yes and no. Listen, as long as the widowers are in good condition, there are no training troubles. From the moment that the condition goes down, they don't train anymore, and then a fancier has to do something. When I have such a situation, I take a flag and make the widowers train for about an hour. If you succeed, the widowers get a second wind, so to speak, and after a few days they will train again by themselves for an hour."
"My feeding system is no secret," De Zutter says. "The pigeons are fed individually, and I feed from light at the beginning of the week to heavy at the end of the week. How much you have to feed is hard to explain. Our German friends say that you need to have a kind of 'Fingerspitzengefuhl'-this means you must feel it. You must see it for yourself and nobody can teach you that."
"About medications, I follow a system from a specialized vet," De Zutter explains. "One thing I want to make very clear is that I prefer to cure for five days once a month, instead of one day every week. I think this is the best way to promote resistance against any disease."
THE POWER OF THE LADIES
Besides the widowers, there are also 15 hens that help to put the name De Zutter at the top of the race results. Last season the hens were raced from a separate loft on widowhood, but next season they will be put among the young birds. How does this system work? To explain further, at the beginning of the year, the hens are in a separate loft, but once the youngsters are strong enough to train for about an hour around the loft, the hens join them for their training. He remates the hens and lets them sit on eggs for the longer races.
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Young bird loft
Every year there are about 150 youngsters in four lofts. Fifty percent of the youngsters are darkened, and the other half are not. Why does Willem follow that system? "A few years ago, I followed that system for the first time, and this is what I saw. Until mid-July, I always had about five undarkened youngsters home before the first darkened youngster arrived. So, if I wanted top results in the first young bird races, I also needed undarkened youngsters." These undarkened youngsters are sitting in another loft, a kind of aviary.
Speaking of darkening youngsters, he says, "I have tried several systems. Once I darkened the youngsters until September, and they flew extremely well. Personally, I think this is the best system when you only race youngsters. Of course, when you want to use these youngsters later as widowers, this long darkening system is not so good."
"What do I do now?" De Zutter reflects. "Well, at mid-February I close the curtains for the first time, and this lasts until mid-July. I darken every day from 6:00 pm until 8:00 am. It is not too dark in the loft. They can easily find the drinkers. Before they come out to train, they have already been in the light for an hour. When they are not darkened, the youngsters can go into an aviary, where there is always a bath."
De Zutter says, "The youngsters stay together until the first races. Afterwards, cocks and hens are separated, and the 'open door system' is used. This system is used for about seven or eight weeks. Around the end of July (the time of the first national race), the youngsters are coupled and work the rest of the season from a nesting position."
"If you want top results with youngsters," De Zutter emphasizes, "then you have to train them a lot. We train a minimum of twice a week at approximately 30 km. Youngsters have to fly a lot. The more races they do, the more experience they have, and that is a good thing for their future career as a widower. A few years ago, we tried something new and stopped a few nice cocks after several middle-distance races. We gave them all the time they needed to moult. The result that we had very nice, but unfortunately stupid, cocks!"
"Keep in mind," advises this Belgian champion, "the basket is and always will be the best judge to select your pigeons."
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