Hok Jos Vercammen: A Family of Winners, Part 2
In Part 1 of this feature story, we spoke about Vercammen's breeding system and his base pigeons. Now in Part 2, we want to talk more about his racing system.
We must say that Jos is one of those fanciers who races very well with young birds, widowers, and hens. This is all easier said than done, because in Belgium we have a lot of specialists, and if you can compete, in a successful way, every specialist in his category, then you have got it. Such a successful approach in the pigeon sport is also expressed in championships, and if we have a look at the national championships of the last years, then it seems that our friend has a ticket to come on stage: 3rd national champion yearbirds KBDB 1991 - 3rd national champion middle distance KBDB 1992 - 4th national ace-pigeon middle distance KBDB 1995 - 5th national ace-pigeon KBDB 1995 - 2nd national champion KBDB yearbirds 1998 - 2nd national champion middle distance KBDB 2000. This is a very nice list, and then we're not talking about Vercammen's other championships (such as provincials, etc.).
A LOT OF OXYGEN
When you visit Jos, you notice the nice lofts immediately. When you have a good look at those lofts, then you'll see that they're very spacious. A lot of area for a few birds is the first step to their superb condition. In every loft there are wooden grates. Why those wooden grates? Jos says, "Personally, I hate to clean lofts so those wooden grates are the solution. Every loft has a corridor and it is such that in one loft, the youngbirds' loft, I have 34 doors. Thanks to so many doors, I can create a lot of little lofts, or a lot of dark lofts-in order to motivate the youngbirds."
"I put a lot of energy into the ventilation system," Jos explains. "It is designed so that the roof of every loft is constructed in the same way. I follow the system of the chicken-farms. They ventilate also in the same way. Look, Stefan, it is hard to explain. Take a picture of the roof and then it's easier to understand. Sometimes pictures tell more than words. Inside the roof is closed (a kind of closed box); only the top is free. For the rest I have a ventilation system (just the same as they use in toilets) which makes sure that there is a good air-ventilation."
Jos continues, "Sometimes people ask how they should build the ideal loft, and then I always answer the following. For a successful loft, of course build with good materials and a little bit following the rules-not wet, etc., and then you try to perfect it. In a loft you need everything that can influence the condition. By this I mean you must make sure then you can open a window if it is too hot in summertime, that you can darken it, that there's a heating system when it is raining for a few days, that you can turn a ventilation system on, etc. All things that are useful at the moment you need them. This year we had a very good summer. It was always hot. Well, then it is normal that we open the windows in the lofts. Last year we had a summer with a lot of rain. Well, then the windows stay closed, but the heating system is turned on. You understand what I mean."
"I also have in every loft a radio which is always turned on during the day," Jos reveals. "If the pigeons hear different noises all day, then they're not disturbed when there's a strange noise somewhere or when the children are playing outside and scream."
PREPARATION FOR RACING SEASON
The number of widowers (old- and yearbirds) is 45. These are normally coupled around 20 December. They breed a couple of youngsters and when the youngsters are 12 to 14 days old the cocks (widowers) are taken out of the loft and go to an aviary. Now it's up to the hens to raise the youngsters.
"Once the widowers are in the aviary," Jos explains, "they get a tricho-cure so that there's certainly no trichomoniasis infection. The aviary-visit is the ideal oxygen-cure, and therefore they stay there for at least two months. As feed, they get a mix of 75 percent depuratif (Versele-Laga) and 25 percent Gerry Plus. They're fed once a day. As by-products they get on regular base Sedochol and brewer's yeast on the mixture. In the drinking water they get a lot of Prange-Suppe. This is a kind of soup made by the German top fancier Gunter Prange from Meppen and is sold by Dr. Schwidde (Germany). This is ideal as a "depuratif-cure"and stimulates the downfall very well. During the "aviary-stay" the pigeons are vaccinated against paramyxo and paratyphus."
Jos is proud of his birds: "I must say when the pigeons come out the aviary, they look fabulous. Nice pink flesh, white noses, dry eyes, etc."
When the calendar rolls around to the 1st of April, the widowers are coupled again. A few days before, they were put in their loft. When the widowers are "chasing" their hens, and the weather is good Vercammen makes the first training tosses. He explains, "I start at 10 and go up to 20, 30, 50 km. It all goes quickly, and when necessary I drive two times a day. Then they are basketted with the club for Quievrain (100km), Noyon (210km) and the first week-end of May they're flying their first middle distance race."
The racing hens are prepared in the same way as the widowers. They also go for two months to an aviary.
DURING THE SEASON
"Here, a pigeon has to earn his box," Vercammen continues. "Results are all that count, and the widowers can show their qualities on a lot of races. After the preparation, they fly a middle-distance program, and that is 320 km. A week later, 360 km. A week later 480 km. Again a week later 480 km. Again a week later 530 km. And then they stay a week at home and are then basketted every two weeks. They go up to 750km races."
Jos admits, "This is a hard program and then as a fancier you have to see that nothing goes wrong. Before the racing season starts, I take my birds to a specialized vet, and on his advice the pigeons are treated, yes or no."
"The condition is more important then motivation," Jos asserts, "and to keep the condition the whole year in the loft, you need to feed them in the right way. Look, I'll give you my weekly schedule:
Saturday (day of arrival): The mixture is Gerry Plus. When possible I feed again in the evening and then they receive 50 percent corn and 50 percent Super Diet. On the mixture I add Sedochol and brewer's yeast. In the drinking water they get Belgasol (electrolytes).
Sunday: In the morning the mixture is Gerry Plus, and in the evening 50 percent corn and 50 percent Super Diet. On the mixture I mix Neo-Oxygen (Dr Schwidde) and eggpulver. I add Prange Suppe to the drinking water.
Monday: The same as on Sunday.
Tuesday: In the morning, 50 percent corn and 50 percent Super Diet. In the evening 1/3 corn and 2/3 Expert 3.
Wednesday: As mixtures, the same as on Tuesday but now with Neo-Oxygen.
Thursday (baskettingday): The mixture is 50 percent corn and 50 percent Super Diet. Belgasol in the drinking water.
Jos adds, "I need to give a little more information. First of all, when I say 'corn' I must admit that I give a special type, namely 'Badischer Saatmaïs.' This is a corn that farmers use to plant, so it's a high quality corn."
"The mixture Expert 3 is a mixture with a high fat level. It contains a lot of fine seeds, peeled sunflowers, etc. This mixture is made by Versele-Laga."
"On the medical front, I cure every three weeks against trichomoniasis," Jos explains. "I use products based on ronidazole or metronidazole. Against ornithosis, I cure when I think it's necessary-for example, after a bad race or when they don't train anymore."
"Racing with hens is easier said than done," Jos continues. "Here a fancier has to have eyes in the back of his head or everything goes wrong. The big problem in this system is the fact that hens pair up with each other. I start the season with 30 hens but after two or three weeks 10 hens are already selected out. They don't fit in the system."
"Are the hens closed up during the week?" Jos asks. "Yes, so beside the hens' loft there is always a little loft built. When the hens have finished training, they come into their loft and they get the opportunity to eat and to drink. They stay there for about 30 minutes. Be careful! The boxes in this loft are closed because otherwise the hens will go in the boxes and pair."
"When they finished eating," Jos continues, "they go to the little loft and there they are closed up in little boxes for the rest of the day. Personally, I find this the best system."
"Also, the hens need to train very well," Jos says, "and this is sometimes a problem. Therefore I force them to train. A flag is shown and after a few weeks they know the system and they stay in the air until the flag is taken away."
"Hens can race as well as widowers," Jos asserts, "and sometimes they're unbeatable. Hens on widowhood need to be basketted every week, and here they get following racing program. The first week-end of May they go to 320 km and then week after week: 360-480- 480 -530-530-530. After the third 530km race, they stay home and can start a nest. Once they have eggs they're basketted again and are raced on nest position."
"When they hens are on widowhood, the cock is always shown before basketting for about one hour," Jos explains. "When they come home, then they stay together till the evening."
"Can you believe that in 2003, it was the first season that I concentrated on the youngbirds?" Jos asks. "Normally, I just raced them for fun without following any system. They were just sitting there, could build a nest, and those who had a very good nest position were raced. Now this year, I did it in a totally different way. Since this year, I darkened the youngsters and raced them on the 'open-door-system,' and I must admit that I enjoyed it."
"I darkened the youngsters till end of May and this is enough to race them until the end of August," Jos says. "As I already said, I raced the youngsters on the open-door-system. It is such that the youngsters stayed together till their first 200km race. Then they were separated, and things stayed this way until the end of the racing season."
"When you ask about the feeding system," Jos continues, "then I must say that I just did the same as with the widowers and hens. Also the treatment scheme was just the same. Motivation is very important with the youngsters. In the beginning of the report, I talked about the youngbird loft with its 34 doors. Thanks to this, I can motivate my youngsters in several ways. One of the best ways was that the youngsters couldn't go in two or three compartments during the week. On basketting day I put some boxes on the floor and created some dark places. Then I opened the door and the youngsters were extremely motivated to go in this loft. On the day of arrival they stayed the whole day in those compartments, and in the evening they moved again to their compartment. A week later, the same scenario was done. Motivation combined with condition is the best way to succeed."