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Superstar of Belgium
Michel Vanlint - Zoutleeuw, Belgium
Part 2 by Tom Smith


There I was in Zoutleeuw, Belgium, face to face with the man they called the ‘magician‘, the ‘conqueror‘, the ‘superstar’. The man who had won seven 1st Nationals, including two 1st National Hens, and a 1st Semi National, in two years! The man who had placed 19 pigeons in the first ten National positions, and 70 pigeons in the first hundred National. As Michel and I walked up the steps to his racing loft I put the question to him, “Michel you must tell me. How did you do it? You have won more Nationals and championships in two years than most fliers win in a lifetime. I must know your secrets. And if you do not want me to write them in an article, I won’t, but I have to know for myself Michel. How did you do it?”

A smile came across his face, a look of slight amusement. “Tom do you remember what I told you over 30 years ago when I won 7th National Champion of Belgium KBDB with my small team.” “Thirty years ago? No Michel, I don’t remember,” I replied with some incredulity. “I do, because it has not changed, the secret is…there are no secrets! You need superior quality birds above all else. Haven’t you ever visited a champion with outstanding results and been amazed that their loft is drafty, or there is a leak in the roof or the dung is piled high, or the loft faces the wrong way? Yet they win. Why? The class of the pigeons. Of course I do not advocate this, but just imagine if everything were done right. How much better even their performances would be.” “No secrets? I’m disappointed Michel, but tell me more.” And Michel continued to talk as we went from loft to loft.

“First, one must possess pigeons of superior racing ability. Too many times fanciers are impressed by beauty, and even select for beauty, but what they should be looking for is a history of outstanding performances, and the ‘body of muscles‘ to accomplish it. Then you must have the right pigeons for the task at hand. Do you want to win short races, middle distance races, long distance races, or marathon races? Horses for courses.”

Back in 1971 when he won 7th National Champion of Belgium he had a small race team of only nine cocks. They were a combination of the best long distance bloodlines of that time; Genette x Delbar x Desmet-Matthys. But upon his return in 2003, Michel set his sights on the middle distance and one day long distance Nationals, young birds and old birds. He obtained the best pigeons from the best fliers he knew.

“There is no use in starting with the second best.” Michel says, “You must have the absolute best quality pigeons to be successful.” He of course had become friends with many champions over the years, so when he started up he obtained birds from his friends. Fifty came from his close friend, the Dutch grand master Willem De Bruijn, the dentist from Reeuwijk, Netherlands; 24 from his Belgian friend, the champion Philip Herbots; 15 from the long distance champion Willy Olivier-Devos of Belgium; and 18 from another Belgian champion De Keyser of Erps-Kwerpes. In the case of Willem De Bruijn, Michel did not even ask him, but one day he arrived with 50 beautiful youngsters for Michel – free of charge! And the next year Willem came with 30 more youngsters for Michel, while Philip Herbots gave him 15 more! True friends. Only pigeons from their best pairs came to Zoutleeuw. But did they all win? No, of course not. Even from the best, all are not good. But the cream will rise to the top, and it did.
In particular, the pigeons of De Bruijn thrived under Michel’s management. And I might add, Michel followed much of the management advice of his close friend Willem. They had many discussions, both learning from each others experiences. Makes you think, doesn’t it. Michel has a loft of pigeons that make your eyes water. Like a treasure chest filled with golden coins, the Vanlint pigeons are a sight to behold.

Among them are such aces as:

Amos‘ blue cock, 1st Semi National Argenton 6,900 birds, 68th National La Souterraine 4,003 birds, a De Bruijn, son of his ‘Jaap’ 1st Ace YB WHZB 1996, strain De Wit Bros Janssen x L Wouda’s 7th National Orleans NPO.

‘Adonis’ blue chequer cock, 1st National La Souterraine 3,150 yearlings, 1st Vichy 1,126 birds, 13th National Vichy 11,448 birds, 544th National Bourges 45,684 birds, 6th Argenton 1,310 birds, 8th Toury, 43rd Bourges 4,372 birds, 27th Argenton 1,145 birds, a De Bruijn out of his ‘Olympic Zeus’.

Anita’ blue white flight hen, 1st National Hens, 1st National Vichy 2,450 OBs, 1st Regional, 2nd National Zone 4,723 birds, 44th National Argenton 17,129 birds, 6th National Zone 2,980 birds, 15th National Vichy 11,488 birds, 1st Toury Interprovincial 1,984 birds, 1st Argenton 629 birds, an Olympic pigeon, another De Bruijn out of his ‘Gilbert’.

‘Alice’ blue hen, 1st Pithiviers 1,070 birds, 1st Vierzon 231 birds, 1st Blois, 4th Toury, 4th Toury, 8th Chateauroux, 8th Soissons, 11th Bourges, 51st National La Souterraine 4,003 birds, all in one season, winning 9th National Ace Pigeon Middle Distance KBDB 2004, bred from two De Bruijns.

Atilla’ blue cock, 1st Regional, 14th Provincial Chateauroux 13,791 birds, 1st Toury, 2nd Regional, 41st National Bourges 14,207 birds, 3rd Regional, 6th Provincial Blois 2,770 birds, 8th Bourges, 12th Bourges, 8th La Souterraine, 25th Argenton 1,445 birds, 2nd Provincial 1,361 birds, 3rd National La Souterraine 3,150 birds, winner of 1st National Ace Pigeon DBS, 1st National Ace Pigeon LCB, and 1st Provincial Ace Pigeon Heavy Middle Distance Brabant KBDB.

Amanda’ red chequer hen, 2nd Regional, 2nd Provincial, 2nd National Vichy Hens, 2nd National Vichy 2,460 OBs, 29th La Souterraine 3,071 birds, 306th Argenton 4,723 birds, bred by Oliviers-Devos of Belgium.

Alfredo’ blue chequer hen, won 12 prizes middle distance in 2004.

Angelo’ blue white flight cock, 1st Sens, 2nd Bourges, 3rd Bourges, 3rd Toury, 4th Limoges, 5th Pithiviers, 6th La Souterraine, bred by De Keyzer, Boortmeerbeek, Belgium.

A multitude of ‘golden coins’, all bred in 2003. And believe it or not, there were several more not mentioned. Michel named them starting with the letter ‘A’, and the next year 2004 pigeons’ names being with ‘B‘. I should also mention that each bird has a multitude of prizes, only a few of which have been mentioned.

In 2004 even more golden racers developed in the Vanlint loft:

Barbara’ blue hen, 1st National Bourges (2) 32,724 YBs, bred from a Verbeke, Limburg cock when mated to a daughter of Herbots ‘155’.

Bea’ chequer hen, 1st National Bourges Hens 5,759 hens, 1st National Bourges Yearlings 21,940 birds, bred from a Maurice Vandevelde cock when mated to a Herbots hen, grand-daughter of 2nd National Dax J Wolters.

‘Bianca’ chequer hen, 1st National Ace Pigeon Middle Distance Yearlings LCB 2005, 2nd National Ace Pigeon Yearlings Middle Distance BDS 2005, 3rd National Ace Pigeon Middle Distance Yearlings LCB 2005, 2nd National Ace Pigeon Heavy Middle Distance KBDB 2005, 2nd National As Des As LCB 2005.

Brian‘ blue cock, 1st National Ace Pigeon Middle Distance BDS, 1st National Ace Pigeon LCB, and 3rd National Ace Pigeon Yearlings LCB 2005; 1st Toury, 7th Chateauroux, 7th National Bourges 21,940 birds, 9th National Bourges (2) 12,755 birds.

Barry’ blue cock, 2005 9th National Bourges 21,940 birds, 9th Provincial Argenton 2,472 birds, 42nd National La Souterraine 1,479 birds.

Blanche‘ blue hen, 2x1sts Toury, 12 times a prize middle distance 2005.

Bieke’ blue hen, six prizes middle distance, 26th National Bourges 11,510 birds in 2004; 10 prizes middle distance, 4th National Vichy 2,461 birds in 2005.

‘Bonnie’ blue hen, 24th National Argenton 5,911 birds, and in 2005 12 prizes middle distance.

‘Beatrix’ blue hen, daughter of ‘Attila‘, 10 prizes middle distance, 1st Le Mans, 4th Vichy in 2005.

Barabas‘ blue cock, 10 prizes middle distance 2005.

Brenda’ chequer hen, in 2004 prizes in Bourges National, Argenton National and La Souterraine National, then 11 prizes middle distance 2005.

Benito’ blue cock, in 2004 prizes in Argenton National, La Souterraine National and Vichy National; 2005 11 prizes middle distance.

Basilius’ blue cock, half brother of ‘Barbara’, 8th Montlucon, 8th Blois, 9th Le Mans, prizes won in La Souterraine National and Vichy National 2005.

Bambi’ blue hen, 2004 a prize in Argenton National, then 12 prizes middle distance 2005.

‘Bettina’ chequer hen, 1st National Argenton 2004, and 10 prizes middle distance in 2005.

Benoni’ chequer cock, 20th National Bourges 2004; 11 prizes middle distance 2005, 3rd Chateauroux, 4th Argenton.

Babetje’ blue hen, 12 prizes middle distance 2005.

Brigitte’ blue hen, a prize in Bourges National and Vichy National 2004; 1st Chateauroux, 13th Provincial Chateauroux 14,082 birds, 1st Montlucon, 6th Le Mans, 7th Le Mans 8,410 birds, 15th Argenton etc.

Bastiaan’ chequer cock, 10 prizes middle distance 2005.

Bibi’ slatey hen, 2nd National Bourges and 13 prizes middle distance.

Billy’ chequer cock, in 2004 prizes in Bourges National, La Souterraine National, Argenton National and Vichy National; 10 prizes middle distance 2005.

Beauty’ blue hen, in 2004 a prize in La Souterraine National, and Vichy National; 13 prizes middle distance 2005.

Bosco’ blue cock, won a prize in Argenton National, La Souterraine National, Vichy National 2004; 10 prizes middle distance 2005.

‘Betty’ chequer hen, 1st National La Souterraine 5,911 birds and seven prizes middle distance 2004, then seven prizes middle distance in 2005.

Belinda’ chequer hen, 11 prizes middle distance 2005.

Babiche‘ chequer white flight hen, 3rd Argenton National and five prizes middle distance 2005.

More ‘golden pieces’ than my eyes have ever seen! Yes, a treasure chest overflowing with doubloon. Pigeons one only dreams of, such quality, such type, perfection in pigeon. Every pigeon possessing great body, both muscle and bone structure; silky feather and brilliant eyes; strong eyes, vibrant yellows, pearls, reds, gravels and violets, all with dark serrated circles. These pigeons won several championships for Michel‘s Blue Heaven Loft, among them the coveted 1st Champion with 20 nominated pigeons (most prizes, 263) and 1st Ace Pigeon with ‘Bianca’ in the big Fond Club Wallonie, and Michel dominated the Obrafo championships.

Michel says once you have top quality pigeons they must be housed properly, that is in a loft that is draft free, but that has an abundance of oxygen for its occupants. The climate in the loft is very important. The temperature must be constant with no sudden increases or decreases. And there should not be any dampness or humidity. There is a ventilator in each section to expel dust and dirty air. But they are only turned on when the temperature is over 30 degrees celsius. The ventilators are made by the German firm Teleca.

The birds walk on wood gratings, and each section has a heating element. The loft must face east or south east to benefit from the sunlight. Michel, with input from De Bruijn, designed the ‘perfect loft’, based on the world famous loft of Huyskens-Van Reil, long before he even bought the house in Zoutleeuw. It not only had to be a healthy loft, but it had to be set up to fly the ‘double Widowhood system’ Michel planned on flying, at the suggestion of his friend De Bruijn. Once a house was bought with an area for the correct placement of the loft, Michel made sure Van Ostaeyen built his loft to his precise specifications. Michel is a stickler for details. His years of experience flying in Belgium and Taiwan gave him the knowledge necessary to build the ‘perfect loft’. It is in an L shape, 12 metres by 18 metres, has five sections for young birds and five sections for yearlings, hens and old birds. Two sections for hens, and three sections for old birds and yearlings. Each section has 12 boxes. The cock sections are large with large nestboxes, while the hens sections are much smaller with small hen boxes.

Next, Michel says that if it is at all possible, your loft must be located in an advantageous location for the races you want to be successful in. He studied the results of the Belgian Nationals for years and decided the best spot was in Putte, but alas, when he searched Putte for an appropriate piece of land and house, he could not find what he wanted. So he decided to move to the peaceful, beautiful little town of Zoutleeuw, only a few miles from his friend Herbots. It was not the best spot in the Province because it is a little too far east, but Michel thought if his pigeons would break from the National flock they would be on their own and could score well. He reasoned he could win in Zoutleeuw with the right pigeons, trained properly. Many thought he had made a big mistake, but he soon proved them wrong. Superior pigeons can overcome much.

Michel says “management” is another spoke in the wheel of success. Everything must be done punctually. The birds must fly freely around the loft twice a day, not forced. If the birds are not flying for an hour freely, something is wrong and the reason for it must be discovered. It is an indication that their condition is not okay. Or could there be some disturbance around. A hawk? Once in condition, flying freely they are given two or three 25-30 mile midweek training tosses a week from Michel’s car. These tosses will teach them to break quickly for home without circling when they are liberated on race day. At the loft ‘droppers’ are used to help the birds trap quickly. The hens and cocks are trained together, but as soon as they trap into the loft, Michel’s good wife Yu-Chin is waiting with a bamboo pole which she uses to separate the sexes. She guides the cocks into their section and the hens into their section. If they don’t trap when called, they don‘t eat.

Michel flies the double Widowhood system. His old bird team consists of 32 cocks and 32 hens. He feels the hens can win as much as the cocks. His friend De Bruijn suggested this system because he has used it very successfully, and it has been used in the Netherlands and Germany for many years, much more so than in Belgium. The cocks perch in front of their locked nestboxes, while the hens are locked in their small hens boxes until the day of shipping, when they are allowed together, then basketed. Michel says the hens race as well as the cocks, and perform better than the cocks when there is a holdover or bad weather. Cocks seem to be more sensitive and require more time to recover than the hens.

The double Widowhood system is different for young birds and old birds. OBs are always separated from their mates, but they see their mate for a short time, three or four times a week, after their midweek training tosses. Michel emphasised that seeing their own mate for a short time several times a week is very important for the system to work. Why? Because they must remember their mates, and not mate up to anyone else. On the day of basketing for a race, hens and cocks are given another training toss together, 25 or 30 miles; are allowed to stay together a few minutes, then separated, allowed to eat and drink before going to the club. Michel pointed out that the birds must not be stressed, but they are repeatedly ‘drilled’ like new trainees in the army, until their behaviour is almost automatic. They know that they will be together with their mate at home after being released from the race baskets, which is of the utmost importance.

During the week the hens loft fly for an hour while Michel moves the cocks to the hens section; then the hens trap into the section they have bred in and the cocks fly out. The hens eat and drink in the section while the cocks are out flying. After 45 minutes the hens return to their section where they are locked into their small boxes. The cocks then trap in to their section where they eat and drink, but are not locked into their nestboxes. The YBs are flown on the well known open door method. They are well trained, meticulously prepared like the OBs, constantly drilled with short tosses, and raced week after week with success.

Michel is very observant. He spends a lot of time with the birds inside and outside the loft watching and analysing. One of the things he watches constantly is each bird’s droppings. At the beginning of the season he selects four nomination birds and enters them every week. Michel mates his breeders the end of November to produce those early youngsters. The breeders are in the garage, each pair having an individual breeding compartment with a big roomy nestbox. The first two rounds, about 120 youngsters, are used as the YB team. He mates up the race team the week before Christmas and removes the hens to the YB loft when their squeakers are 10 to 12 days of age.

He starts flying his birds at the end of April, the start of the Belgian season. But from the third week of May they race every weekend, from 450km to 576km, until the last National races in the middle of May. And they go no matter what the weather. When they arrive home from a race they are soaked in a bucket of warm water and massaged. Over one season the birds fly over 8,000km. These are the kind of pigeons Vanlint wants, no, demands!

When Michel flew his youngsters every week, and then in all four young bird Nationals, everybody thought he was crazy, that he had burned them out. Michel culled any that couldn’t keep up with his YB schedule and kept the rest for his yearling team. That first year, 2003, he was the only loft in all of Belgium to place in the first 100 National prizes in all four young bird Nationals. As yearlings they were once again expected to fly every weekend. They had to fly Vierzon 285 miles, 4x Bourges 286, Blois 281 miles, Chateauroux 317 miles, Montlucon 329 miles, 2x La Souterraine 357 miles, 2x Argenton 335 miles, Limoges 383 miles, 2x Toury 231 miles. The nay-sayers were wrong about his YBs being ‘burnt out’, because as yearlings they indeed flew every weekend, successfully, winning two 1st Nationals and a 1st Semi National, all over 300 miles. Michel became the talk of Belgium!

He will have to modify his birds’ schedule in 2006 because the rules have been changed. There was a lot of controversy about racing hens, so for 2006 there will be no doubling for hens in the National races. There will be no separate result sheet for hens. Also they propose prohibiting racing yearlings every week over 450km. They would only participate every two weeks. Many are of the opinion that these rules would never have been thought of if it were not for the success of Michel Vanlint with his hens and yearlings. The pigeon world looks to Belgium with admiration, but in this instance we are looking with a suspicious eye. At first Michel’s success was looked at as a ‘fluke’, a ‘flash in the pan’, but as it continued, even improving over three years, the competition knew it was for real.

To fly such a strenuous schedule the birds must be fed properly. They must be constantly ‘refuelled’. Michel likes to feed his racers light food. He doesn’t like to feed heavy peas. He basically uses three mixtures or some combination of them. In the winter the birds get a combination of depurative and Widowhood mixes. The breeders get a breeding mixture. In the beginning of the week the racers get a Widowhood mixture with some French corn added in. In the middle of the week they get an energy mixture, rich in fats and then at the end of the week some sunflower seeds are added in. Michel says that feeding is an art that must be learned to be highly successful.

He often mixes health products in with the feed, but he also provides a hopper with plain feed for those birds that might not like the taste of the other feed. He says the pigeons must eat enough feed to race successfully. One of his favourite products is beer yeast. When the birds trap in from training, their boxes are closed off and their hopper is full of feed. Michel has noticed if their boxes are closed they eat more, and he wants them to eat as much as possible. When a bird returns from a race tired, it is watched closely to see what seeds it eats, and is then given more of those seeds. Pigeons know what they need.
Michel also likes to give the birds health products daily in their water. The drinkers are cleaned three times a day. Some of the health products he uses are Optimix, Bioduif, Vitaduif and 4 Olien.

He has his own ideas about medicating. He feels that in these modern times fanciers must adopt modern methods of medicating. It must be done regularly and precisely to be successful. Before mating his breeders and racers, they are medicated thoroughly against trichomonas (canker), which he feels is a great danger, and he treats his pigeons with antibiotics to clear their head. Suanovil and Lincospectin are used against respiratory disease. He vaccinates all his pigeons every year against PMV, which is the law in Belgium. Only the YBs are vaccinated against paratyphus. They are treated with PT Colombovac twice, three weeks apart. He says if you want success you must start the season with healthy pigeons. Pigeons can be easily infected in the racing baskets where they are with strange pigeons for two days and nights. So after every race Michel treats his birds for two days straight against trichomonas (canker), and for three days with eye drops. Before basketing and after their return home, they get mild antibiotic eye drops, and in the middle of the week they get herbal eye drops. After a difficult race Michel watches the birds closely while they recover. He says, “If they do not feel well, you can see it while they are sleeping.” He then treats them with some antibiotics in their water or on their feed. Great health leads to great form, which is one of the prime ingredients in successful racing.

His birds are also seen regularly by a top veterinary doctor Raf Herbots, son of Phillip Herbots. When Raf finished his studies in veterinary college he had many discussions with Michel, wherein Michel imparted a lifetime of pigeon knowledge to the young vet, based on his experiences, not theories. Book learning is one thing, but practical experience is another. Raf found Michel’s experience to be a treasure trove. It helped him become one of Belgium’s foremost pigeon vets. They of course became friends. Raf gives Michel’s pigeons a check-up once a month. He usually confirms 90% of Michel’s prognosis. Michel takes several pigeons to the vet‘s office, the first Monday of each month, to be thoroughly examined. Droppings are examined for worms, coccidiosis, canker etc.

Michel does everything possible for health. Visitors who enter his loft must first disinfect their shoes. And would you believe he has a different pair of shoes for each section he enters! Yes, Michel Vanlint is a perfectionist, with a capital ‘P’. But his system is not static, it is dynamic, changeable. What is done all depends on the situation at hand, things don‘t stay the same, they change, and you must be flexible enough to change also.

He is a complex man, yet a ‘simple’ man, for his great love is his family, his wife and daughter, and his pigeons. He is an amicable man, but a man of great character. Here is a man whose champion pigeons were stolen and loft burned down, yet he came back to be a champion again. Here is a man who left his well established profession and his homeland to pursue an opportunity on the other side of the world, in a strange country, by himself. Here is a man who persevered and eventually thrived in a country whose culture and language was completely foreign to him.

He lived in a small apartment above a busy shopping centre, attended a Taiwanese university to learn the Chinese language, built a thriving pigeon business, married, had a child, and eventually returned to his home country, where he again conquered all before him. In fact he was so successful that his pigeons were dope tested seven times in three years by the Belgian National Federation. And each time the results were negative. Through it all Michel has kept his composure and continued to participate at the highest level in the sport he loves. Quite a man!

As we descended the stairs from the racing lofts, passed by the breeding compartments in the garage, and headed for his house, Michel said, “Well Tom, do you think you have enough for an article about me now?” “Michel I have plenty for an article, but my only concern is that I can’t convey every aspect of your truly futuristic methods.” Michel responded, “For that you will have to obtain a copy of my video produced by Jan Hermans, editor of De Duif magazine. It is 104 minutes long, I explain everything in detail. It will be translated into English and sold only by The Racing Pigeon in England.

My wife Gigi, son Tristan and I bid Michel, Yu-Chin and their lovely daughter Linda farewell, and headed back to our friend’s house in Hamme-Sint Anna. As I drove, it was hard to concentrate on the road ahead, because thoughts of the ‘treasure’ I had just seen, swirled in my mind, ‘golden pigeons’, a loft full of ‘golden pigeons’, and a ‘master’, a true ‘superstar’ of our sport, the one and only Michel Vanlint of Zoutleeuw, Belgium.1

Written by Tom Smith and published in the PICTORIAL Magazine(U.K.)
Weblog Michel Vanlint
update 22-08-2013
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© 2004 Michel Vanlint
Michel Vanlint
Bogaerdenstraat 33 / 3440 Zoutleeuw
Tel: +32(0)475 75 79 58 / Fax : +32(0)11 69 66 78
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