It is not necessary to introduce Michel!
Every pigeon-fancier knows this friendly man from Zoutleeuw (Belgium) and everybody knows which results he has obtained over the years.
But how does someone reach this level, which are his secret weapons, who or what is the basis of his success�?.?
On a Friday morning, I drive to the historic village where Michel lives in order to ask him these questions.
Michel, how many years have you been practicing pigeon racing?
I have been a pigeon-fancier for over 50 years. However, I did not race pigeons from October 1982 till December 2002, because of my leaving for Taiwan. But during that period as well, everything revolved around pigeon racing. I traded pigeons, just as a means to survive there.
Who made you start racing pigeons?
My father is the origin of my life as a pigeon-fancier. He raced pigeons too, and my three brothers were avid fanciers as well. I am the youngest from a family of 8 children.
How do you start racing pigeons, do you have advice for beginners ?
It is not easy to start with pigeon racing. First you have to be interested, passionate and full of admiration for everything that involves our winged friends.
Starting to race pigeons does require some efforts. Usually everything goes wrong at the start because beginners want to skate on thin ice! There is a difference between keeping and racing pigeons.
First you need to take care of a dry and well-aired loft, it has to be well-oriented, preferably east-south-east. If you don’t take this into account, you will have problems later to get ‘on paper�?and to survive. I cannot emphasize this enough: a loft that is well-oriented is one of the foundations of a successful career in pigeon racing! When you have your loft, you will soon be able to get some pigeons here and there. It is the opportunity to learn how to deal with pigeons and to get to know them better, to observe their behaviour and to conclude that there can really be a relationship pigeon/fancier. Learning how to deal with pigeons first and experience things yourself through constant observation, these are all elements which are the best school in this initial period. This way you gradually create trust and a bond that will bring both parties closer to each other. If this period is over, you can take it a step further and start to train the birds. It all seems a bit amateurish but afterwards it is definitely worth wile. Don’t let the pigeons start before they are ready, otherwise it will go wrong �?
Then about the pigeons �?they are the ones that have to prove themselves. The fancier puts a lot of trust in them �?But the pigeons have to be of sufficient quality! It is very important to be able to start with pigeons you get from a pigeon-fancier friend, someone who knows how to win prizes. Try to gain the trust of such a person.
Show him you are interested and show him your respect. You will do well out of it, you will probably soon get some useful pigeons in your loft, without having to pay too much.
Is pigeon racing an expensive sport ?
It depends on how you look at it. Every hobby has its price. Someone who smokes every day and / or likes to drink a beer, spends a lot of money on this as well. The same goes for pigeon racing. Everything costs money. Going to a restaurant, even without eating many specialties, is also expensive, but it is affordable�?especially for the people who manage their budget. You can start with limited means, and in the beginning you don’t have to want to jump higher than possible. These are the winning cards that you can use. And with 15 �?you can feed 25 pigeons for a whole month. Is that expensive? Certainly not for an enthusiastic novice.
Does ”racing with pigeons �?have a negative effect on family life? I’m thinking of the lack of spare time, no holidays �?/strong>
When you start racing pigeons you need to know where you want to go. The best thing is to make good arrangements. Because the more you want to learn, the more time pigeon racing will demand from you. This always happens at the expense of family life �?However, it is a big advantage when you manage to involve your partner in your hobby. It is always positive if you can share the work and divide the tasks. When the wife is helping the husband, the results are usually good. You can find numerous examples of this. That is probably because a woman deals with animals in a more loving way. You could say she has a soothing voice �?the pigeons like it and their mutual trust visibly increases.
During the racing season, from mid-April till mid-December, you can’t go on a holiday. But after the last national race, usually the second week of September,�?all your stress disappears and you can take some time off. You will always be able to find someone to feed and take care of your pigeons.
Which part does a woman play in the loft, behind or beside the fancier?
The wife plays a very important part as a helping hand in and around the loft. This goes for me as well �?although I keep taking care of my racing pigeons �?they cannot handle the system of two people taking care of them. I remain the boss with my yearlings and my old birds �?that is why I am so selfish to want to do everything myself, especially with my racing pigeons.
Have you had any setbacks �?and did you find any solutions?
An ace-pigeon not returning from a simple race �?a loft burning down with all the pigeons still inside �?those things were a big blow to me �?But every disadvantage also has its advantage! As a result I had a completely new loft built in ytong concrete blocks, with double glazing, whereas I only had a simple single glazing in my own house! In this loft there was not a big difference between inside and outside temperature, by day and by night. On this new loft, the results were great from the beginning on! However, two years later the call from the Far East was so strong that I moved to start a new life. Can you imagine? I couldn’t speak Chinese, just a little English, so it was not easy to make people understand me. I stayed there for 20 years, and I never got homesick. It was a beautiful time �?although sometimes it was harsh in the beginning. But I don’t give up�?and I could turn the tide on time.
Which part does a veterinarian play? Can you do without him �?or is he very important?
As a fancier you do need a veterinarian, for medical exams or for medication. You have to find someone you can trust, someone who specialises in pigeons, someone with experience and with a thorough knowledge of the pigeon. A vet who remains UP TO DATE �?There are not a lot of them, but you can find them �?just ask. I put my trust in Raf Herbots, with whom I am very satisfied.
A delicate point: medication ! What is your opinion?
Only use medicines when it is really necessary ! If “something�?can be found, when you can see signs of disease, then you can ask the advice of the person you trust, your veterinarian.
Supplements can also be of very great value, at least when they are expertly manufactured by a competent person, like a pharmacist. These products can have a curative (healing) effect or they can be used preventively against all kinds of disease symptoms. I recommend to use them! Good feed supplements highly increase the resistance against diseases.
Do you know a way to increase the number of fanciers and perhaps to decrease their average age?
It might help when you reduce the number of clubs or at least when you have them follow the same programme, and make them race together, with a covering result.
If you manage to have good results and to win a lot, you will appeal to outsiders.
Stealing pigeons: it happens every week ! Reason - cause - solution ?
When you obtain good results, there is a constant danger that you can have unwanted visitors. Aspirant buyers, who call themselves pigeon fanciers, drop by and only want to see your best pigeon. Not only see it but also hold it in their hands and see in which loft it is staying! So without you knowing it, every one of them gets the chance to look at everything and to absorb every detail. The access to the loft, the windows and doors, and the lofts where your best birds are staying, they see all of this.
You can solve this by securing everything, but this is not a guarantee! These visitors are specialists of their trade. And to them, stealing pigeons seems easier and more rewarding than having to pay for them.
Another solution maybe? Do not give any visitors, whether it is a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger, access to your lofts. If necessary, you can put some pigeons in a basket to show them like that. But this involves some risks as well. Most of these visitors aren’t even capable of holding a pigeon, let alone judge it �?with all its consequences.
Some fanciers absolutely claim that their pigeons can obtain results only with water and corn. Is this true, is this still possible, or is this only a fantasy, a dream?
The era of water and corn in pigeon racing has long gone! The performances that are now asked from the pigeon require a great deal of energy, and moreover they put a strain on the pigeon’s system. If you don’t give any supplements to your pigeons, you will soon notice that their energy decreases, whereas it should increase. Fanciers who only use water and corn …have they ever existed? I have my opinion on this. When someone like Arie van den Hoek, an eminent writer and advocate of the “corn and water theory�? says: “when my best breeding pigeon is ill tomorrow, I will go to the vet today.�?Need I say more?
Can you describe a day “at Michel Vanlint’s place�?? Which scheme is being used? What is your plan for the day?
You might not believe it�?but I will show you!
05:30 : the alarm clock rings�?although I would like to stay in bed a little longer, I jump out off bed.
05:45 : flags are being hoisted (6 of them), like a government building decorated with flags.
06:00 : widow hens go outside for their morning training.
07:00 : the hens are called inside, they get food and drink. In the meantime the cocks are brought to the hens�?compartment. Food and drink are always refreshed.
07:15 : the cocks go outside for an hour of training as well.
08:00 : the darkening at the youngsters�?loft is removed.
08:15 : the cocks can go inside again. In the meantime, the hens are locked up in their compartment.
08:20 : my daughter Linda has to go to school.
08:30 : breakfast
09:00 : leftovers are taken away from the pigeons �?the airing, heat and humidity are being adjusted to the circumstances.
09:30 : the youngsters enter into the run. The lofts are cleaned.
10:00 : read the newspaper.
10:30 : youngsters go outside again from the run. They get some candy. Afterward they too go outside for an hour of training with the flag. They have to stay in the air!
11:30 : youngsters are called in.
12:00 : youngsters go back to the run.
12:30 : Chinese lunch.
13:00 : watch the news and weather forecast.
13:30 : close my eyes for a while.
14:30 : preparing a ration of food for dinner, after the obligatory training. It consists of 1 part Star Plus Mix, 1 part Energy Plus, 1 part Super Diet and 1 part Cribs maïs , supplied by the company Versele-Laga. To this mix we add Cure Oil and Lysocur Forte, and we dry the mixture by putting Winmix and Enercom on it. All these products are from the company Comed.
15:00 : cleaning the lofts.
15:30 : youngsters go from the run back to the loft.
16:00 : taking the youngsters away.
16:30 : removing the leftovers and hoisting the flags for the evening training.
17:00 : widow hens go outside for their evening training.
17:30 : darkening the youngsters�?loft.
18:00 : widow hens are called back in and are given food.
18:15 : widow cocks go outside for their evening training.
19:15 : widow cocks are called back in and are taken to their lofts. In the meantime I take a few pigeons to assess their weight and shape.
19:30 : removing and stowing away the flags.
20:00 : removing the leftovers.
20:30 : giving Lysocur eye drops to all racing pigeons.
21:00 : the hens (locked in) can stay on the floor for a while so they can drink one more time before they enter into the night. They are rewarded with a peanut for their “good behaviour�? They know this very well!
21:30 : the end of my daily work. After dinner�?checking my computer.
22:00 : relaxing and looking into a few pigeon magazines �?not reading them�?br>
22:30 : go to bed�?do I sleep? I can’t believe it�?I sleep uninterruptedly till the next morning …exactly 05:30 u …you will say it’s madness …yes…maybe for you but not for me …It makes me feel good and apparently it makes my winged friends feel good as well.
What do you have to pay attention to?
For pigeons, their health is essential ! Everything starts with this! It is also important that the pigeons train well. Then they usually keep on eating well and training will not be a problem for them, it’s rather a blessing. Provide them with good food (corn) and supplements. We put our trust in Versele-Lage and Comed. I feel good with them and my performing pigeons seems to feel good as well.
Which are the most important symptoms that announce health problems ?
If the youngsters aren’t listening this could be an indication, so then you have to be alert. They seem to be indifferent when their master is calling. It isn’t a good sign either when they are crouching, looking a bit numb. Other symptoms are a bad digestion, vomiting, green/yellow excrements and drinking too much.
You can see it, you can notice it or �?you can remain indifferent, but this is exactly the moment when an outbreak of coli/adeno happens.
How do you keep a pigeon in shape?
The only thing that helps is training, training, training and training! It keeps the muscles supple and it increases the shape. And when the pigeons are super healthy, everything works. They eat well, they really want to fly and when they are staying in their lofts, they are mainly resting. Their weekly bath is also a barometer to see if everything is alright. Pigeons which are eager to bathe are healthy. Lysocur eyedrops from Comed for the eyes and nose help obtaining a good shape. I also regularly have a talk with Mr Jorissen, a pharmacist from the Comed company in Hoeselt to see where and how we can improve things, together with my good friend Willem De Bruijn . Together we make a great trio ! The council of wise men!
When you look back on a rich life: are you happy �?or would you rather not be a pigeon-fancier anymore?
My life has been good so far. I have been so lucky as to always be able to do what I like. My 20-year adventure in Taiwan took me to paradise on earth. I have always been surrounded by beautiful women and pigeons. I have never complained about what I did, I only regret a few things that I have NOT done in my life so far. If I were able to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same, I would only extend my period in Taiwan. Yes, life is what you make it �?and you construct your own happiness, I am very sure about that �?/p>
What are for you the nicest results your pigeons have obtained?
BOURGES (460 Km.) : Provincial : 2,622 p. : 1-2-3-4-5-16-48 etc
C.F.W. : 5,877 p. : 1-2-4-5-6-18-76 etc.
National Hens :5,959 p : 1-3-4-17- etc.
National : 21,940 p. : 1-5-7-8-9-38 etc.
VICHY(576 Km.) : National : 2,460 p. : 1-2-9-26-45-46-47 etc.
BOURGES(460 km.) : National : 32,724 p. : 1
LA SOUTERRAINE(576 Km.): National : 3.150 p.: 1-4-8-36-52 etc
Not bad, isn’t it?
It was a nice, relaxing talk. But we have no more time left,�?the pigeons get all the attention now.
Michel is a great man, as a person and in his performance! He loves his winged friends, which do not want to disappoint him either. He does all he can to give them the best possible care, and they thank him by obtaining great results!
I happily return home, considering a possibility of maybe someday racing pigeons myself �?I already know an excellent master !!!