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In this time of the year all should be according to schedule in the pigeon loft. Sorry, but not this year. The youngsters are weaned three weeks now and altogether they have been out three times. The old birds haven’t been out for a week now. The weather is awful. One storm after another. And the rain is pouring down. Farms half under water and ditches and canals filled up to the edge. Dutch racing starts in three weeks from the time you receive this column. As I write this, the storm howls around the Academic Medical Center where I work. And then I ask myself where will this lead to?


To be able to race pigeons successfully they need to be well trained around the loft and on the road. These are two very important things to start. As it looks now what we want won’t work. And we are asking for problems. It should be possible, but for that we need the weather to change. For the rest of the week they predict more rain and wind. So we need to keep the baskets in the shed for a while.


Scientists have written a lot about the rapid change in climate. The summer starts late and lasts until November. The winters are too warm. And spring too dark, too windy and too wet. Last year, because of Foot &Mouth disease the start of racing was delayed and we escaped from disaster. However, pigeon fanciers have short memories; last year’s April was dark and wet presenting good conditions for smash races. And when we were allowed to start, the weather was okay. The short distance races were super, but it can be different…


If it is needed, we adapt quietly and rapidly, but as soon as it’s up to us only, nothing is possible anymore. The races are scheduled and that’s final. No changes. The sport refuses to use common sense and to look out the window at the sky. I know a great many fanciers will basket their birds in three weeks time without a single training toss. If you don’t basket, no championship. Right? Or some club official organizes an Easter race because it’s good for the club. It can ruin your entire season. Good birds are ruined for weeks and maybe forever.


For a number of years there is talk about specialization in the sport and to do things differently with regard to the championships. One idea is the introduction of so called “Joker races” (you get three Joker cards that you can give to the race secretary the weekends you want to go on a vacation in the racing season and those weekends you’ll get the average points of all the other races you did put birds in).


Bring this idea up at the next meeting of your club. And your fellow members start to think right away, “Is it in his favor? Must be so. Otherwise he wouldn’t bring it up. So vote against it.” This is the way things go for decades in pigeon sport. And it is impossible to change things that are good for the sport and for the family. The last is forgotten the most. Pigeon sport is a time-consuming hobby. If you want to do it right there is no time to go on a vacation in the summer. Imagine if someone hands over two “Jokers” and goes on a holiday for three weeks.


I have three lovely daughters all chasing their boyfriends away from the backyard out of fear the boys might catch the pigeon sport bug. And right they are. The virus might spread! Our system leaves almost no room for new fanciers to enter the sport. For youngsters it is a nice sport in areas where there is not much for them to do, I imagine. But as soon as the girls move into their lives and they think of living together they find out both of them need to work hard in order to pay for the house. No time for pigeons. And where pigeon are still around the house they want to go on a holiday to get rid of some stress. If the sport makes some accommodations, new members will join. If we stick with the old, they won’t.


We have to be a lot more professional on a lot of levels in the sport. This starts at club level where a fancier wants to go on a holiday with his wife and is offered a possibility to be in the championships. Organizations should think of that! For the moment fanciers still think in a childish way: “I cannot, so he cannot.” So nothing changes. Except that members quit and go on a holiday. And buy a canary they can bring with cage and all to the neighbors if they want to go on a holiday.


Recently, I wrote about mycotoxines pigeons take in with food. Five years ago when I checked a pigeon transporter and found sacks of mais (corn) blue with mycotoxines. I asked the conveyer what he was going to do with it. Feed it to the birds, he said. When I offered to replace it, he turned around and walked away. The only thing to do was to take it out and dump it. You know what happened? I was very close to being suspended by my national section.


By the way, did any readers actually do something with my hint and talk about it with their conveyer?


I have a friend living in Portugal: Joao Carlos Coelho. For a couple of years he has had health problems with his birds. Joao spent a fortune on vets all around the world that were not able to help him solve the problem. His birds simply refused to go out the loft to train. And the ones that did fell back on the tiles after five minutes with their beaks wide open gasping for air. To take part in races was out of the question. Last night he phoned. His birds where high up in the sky again. For over an hour. Joao was very happy. His problem was solved. What was it?


The best local feed was not good enough for Joao’s birds and the very best feed from Belgium was on the menu. He ordered it special. After all, this was the problem, feed nobody bought in Portugal because it was so expensive. It stayed too long in the shop. I advised him to change to a local firm with local food. Problem solved! Together we will have a look in what way the birds can be of any use in the races. Mycotoxines do something to a pigeon. So the lesson is that a fancier also must think and act professionally. And that you cannot do without good and professional help.


Last year I built a site on the Internet to be used by the release officers here in Holland so they could work more professionally. I lectured them to explain it all. That night I met a lot of guys lacking knowledge. In the beginning I didn’t have the knowledge myself. But when I was asked to help with the release of the birds of my area I did something about it. But first, I refused, because I didn’t have the knowledge. But when you are on the board of your area, automatically the better fancier got the job to let the birds out on Saturdays. So it goes the same way and I guess many release officers got the job the same way I did. A very responsible job. A job you have to do professionally because a lot depends of the way it is done.


Also in the Dutch national board, professionalism is not present at all. The yearly report of the secretary even went against it. People leaving a board are presented a kick afterwards. What’s the use? Is it a professional act? I don’t think so. I was ashamed to bring the reason out why I did quit. I did mention the word a lot in this article. Put “NON” before professional and you will understand. My hands did produce something during the time I spent in the national board. I produced a report that is called “Optimalization Pigeon Sport.” But it was pushed under the table right away. One year later it’s still there. But that can be solved.


Is the whole organization not professional? No. I met a group of scientists doing a hell of a job for the sport. But the board uses them as a protection against the government and the animal welfare organizations to show they do something. My ass. Raise a finger and the board interferes. It could be different. It really could…


In Holland, new welfare laws are coming up that mention that races with pigeons are forbidden. And you know what? The government has given us pigeon fanciers the opportunity to fill in parts of the law ourselves! It couldn’t be better! But that was 10 years ago. In that period we demonstrated we are not really professional. Nothing has been done. But the government will ask one day what we did. And then there will problems all over the place with no escape possible.


Everyone who is reading this can guess the possible consequences. At last we can go on a holiday in the racing season because there will be no racing.

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Steven van Breemen