2014 Pilgrimage to Holland and Belgium
Holland and Belgium are known as the epicentre of modern pigeon racing. These are the countries where you can have regular races against over 30,000 pigeons. This is one of the reasons that pigeon flyers from all over the world go to the low countries to search out the best bloodlines that are available. With this in mind Schleifer Lofts decided to make the pilgrimage across the Atlantic to see what it was all about. Derick Schleifer and Marie along with Ray Gould and his partner Bridget left Toronto on the 12th of February and landed in Brussels. The timing of the trip was dictated by the Fugare pigeon show that was being held in Belgium over the Valentine’s day weekend.
They were all very impressed with what was on offer at the show and the number of visitors that were in attendance. This is the place to be if you are looking for new ideas and inspiration as to what to do to take your own loft forward. The group were invited to attend a welcome buffet held by PIPA the on-line pigeon auction site. This was the opportunity to meet some of the younger and more forward thinking people that are involved in the sport today. The only problem that could see was the difficulty they would have getting some of the heavier items back to Canada and with this in mind only smaller items were purchased that would fit into the luggage and not leave the cases over weight. Derick was taken by some very thin and elasticated coloured marker rings so these were added to what was being taken back home. Another thing that interested them all was the preponderance of multi mixes. These are grit and mineral combination mixes that contain all that your birds will need in one mix. As mentioned there are various kinds of grit, shell, red stone etc. and mixed minerals. These are further enhanced by different oils and come in many variations. Unfortunately, not something that they would be able to take back with them. Two days were spent at the show with the Sunday being a little lighter in attendance and that gave the team a better opportunity to see what was on offer.
Monday saw the group make the first of the loft visits that had been arranged for the group to get an insight as to how the pigeon game worked. Bruno Van Den Brand and Yannick Deridder are the owners of the Flanders Collection, the stock birds housed in a secure yard behind Yannick’s home. The Collection houses the families of Leo Heremans and De Rauw – Sablon. They are a breeding house but do race these families very successfully as well. There are some gems held here with one of the premier examples being the last surviving son of Albert and Paola, born in 1999. Although getting on a bit he is still filling his eggs in his individual breeding pen. For those whoare not aware Albert and Paola are the base pair at the head of the De Rauw – Sablon family. Marcel Albrecht housed one of the premier collections of this family and the Flanders Collection is maintaining these lines with the help of Marcel. In fact Yannick and Marcel speak nearly every day.
The other major family kept here are the Leo Heremans pigeons. The top pairs of this family are again kept in individual pens to ensure the parentage of all the offspring. DNa sampling is now being used extensively across Europe, driven by the rising prices of pigeons. Numerous testing has only proved that the parentage of the youngsters from the Collection are as claimed in the pedigrees. Talking of pedigrees Yannick has such a handle and knowledge of all of the pigeons in his care that he can give you the parents band numbers for each bird that he picks up. A regular visitor to the lofts is Leo Heremans himself and because he has such an extensive knowledge of his own family he gives advice on what pairings should be made. Leo is seen as royalty in the pigeon sport and for that reason if he advises a certain pairing then that is the one that is made. The visit to the Flanders collection went hours over the scheduled time allowed and that was why the visit to Benny Steveninck was cancelled and the long drive made north to Emmen near the home of Gerard Koopman.
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his stock pair Jonge Bliksem x Dirkje have now proved to be excellent racers as well. Both in regular races as in prestigious one loft races they succeeded in achieving top prizes.
The visit to the lofts of Gerard Koopman was pulled forward to 9AM and the reason for this was made obvious when the group arrived. Now Derick has an extensive collection of Koopman pigeons at stock in Canada so this was to be the highlight of his trip. The compound at Emmerveen where Gerard lives and keeps his pigeons is impressive but as soon as you enter the Belgian Shepherd dog makes you take three steps back. No one gets near without him setting the alarm and letting every body know that visitors are about.
The reason that the visit was pulled forward was that it was Gerards birthday. So as is typical of the hospitality that is shown when making these visits the group were invited in for coffee and birthday cake. Gerards major breeding pairs are kept in individual breeding pens that are above the house that he lives in. As the Koopman strain is to all intents and purposes a trade mark, the business was too much for one person to manage. To ease the strain Gerard has assembled a team of experienced helpers around him. This actually allows him to take a holiday or make business trips around the world if that is what is needed. The people helping are good pigeon men in their own right, such as the Leideman brothers and they do compete against Gerard in some races.
Back to the birds after the refreshments Gerard invited everybody up to see the top pairs. Although there is no Kliene Dirk up there you can see the likes of Cassius, Mighty Man, Lisa, and all of the other pigeons that make up this years breeding plan. The ventilation up here is such that you do not smell pigeon anywhere, this is the end that every person should aspire to. Derick was excited to handle to 941 of Hebberecht that is a big part of the present team. Derick has three children of this pigeon and was happy to see that Gerard also has an extended team of these bloodlines. So much so that Gerard would like to get a hold of the parents of 941. Again this was a loft that many extra hours could be spent at but the next visit was calling.
The next loft visited was one recommended by Tom Powers of England who was along for the loft visit ride. Anybody who knows modern pigeons will have heard of Jan Hooymans and his champion bird ‘Harry’. Harry is considered by many to be the greatest pigeon alive in the world today. In 2009 over the course of 6 weeks Harry won the following. 1st against 37,728 birds from Blois, 1st against 22,340 birds from Chateauroux and finally 1st against 21,520 birds from Chateaudun. Incredible flying by any standards.
The parents of Harry are Jonge Bliksem, a son of Bliksem bred and raced by Gaby Vanden Abeele and Dirkje who is a direct daughter of Kleine Dirk of Gerard Koopman. So this visit tied in with the previous one to Koopman as well as getting the chance to see a great pigeon. Jan has the responsibility of running the family business so again he has full time paid help on site. We were informed that he was probably away on business at the time of the visit so it was a surprise when he personally came out to meet the group. Coffee and cake was offered in the office and then Jan informed all that there would not be a personal tour around the lofts. This was for security reason as being the home of such a pigeon the thought and fear of uninvited guests around the loft was paramount. Every body sat down around the table and Jan brought out pigeons one at a time for all to handle. They were all children from Harry with Dericks preference being for the chequered side. Finally Jan announced that there was a special pigeon, and out of the basket came Harry which made Toms day and probably his year. Jan said that the young bird performances of Harry and for that matter any of his young birds was never recorded. For him young bird racing is only training and a preparation for greater things to come in old bird racing. This is where the real prestige is achieved in his opinion.