Our 'widowers team' consists of about 180 birds. This sounds like a lot, but every year nearly 40 summerbirds are kept: pigeons that, as a one-year old bird, don’t have as much experience as the other yearlings. In spite of this handicap, they still have to fly at least one flight of more than 500 km, and it is this flight that is the basis of later selection!
When the season is finished at the Norman lofts, all widowers may breed a couple of youngsters. During this period the pigeons are fed a high-class moulting mixture and they are given Colombine tea or Naturaline every day. When the weather is not too bad, they can fly out every day, and of course get the opportunity to take a bath enriched with some Ideal bath salts. During their first nesting, all birds are treated against trichomoniasis, and then the medication is closed until the start of the next season.
When the nesting is finished, the hens are separated and the cocks are put on widowhood until the beginning of April. Only in some years are birds coupled for winter breeding. Filip explains that it makes the birds feel better, stronger in their box. Also, some top birds are bread out of young birds. As already mentioned, the old widowers have to wait until April to meet their hen again. An exact coupling day can not be planned because it all depends on the weather conditions. "Once the end of March or beginning of April has come, and the weather forecast has a few days of very good weather in it," Filip says, "then we put the hens in the lofts because we like to toss the widowers when they are chasing hens. The widowers may only nest for a maximum of four days, and then they’re placed on widowhood."
Pigeons for the very long distance are basketted every three weeks, and all other widowers see the inside of a basket every two weeks. "I don’t have a fixed treatment schedule, but there’s a certain pattern in it," Filip continues. "When the pigeons come home from a race, they can stay for about 30 minutes with their hen. Everything depends on the race. If it was a very hard race, then the hen can stay longer with the widower. We give electrolytes in the drinking water, and for their feeding they get as much as they want of a protein-poor mixture. To this mixture we add a big percentage of French cribs maize."
Although we can heat the lofts, we don’t turn the heating plates on every week.
On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday Norman gives the same protein poor-mixture. Afterwards the protein-poor mixture is replaced by a racing mixture. The widowers are fed this way up to the race. The widowers are always fed in a feeder, being allowed to what they want for about half an hour and then the feeder is put away.
"One thing we care about," Filip says, "is that the widowers keep on eating until basketting day. We like to basket the pigeons with a little bit of feed in the crop. The pigeons which are going to the long- and very long-distance races are not fed up to the limit. The reason is that we want the birds to eat during their stay in the basket. If they are really fed up to the limit, they will not eat anymore in the basket, and then they will start with empty batteries instead off fully loaded batteries."
Concerning feeding, Filip continues, "we have already tried several methods, but in the end we have to conclude that a lot of good methods could be followed. One thing I’m convinced of is that once you have a successful method, you don’t have to change it. Even when the results are not that good you have to stick to your method. If you want to try something new, then you have to start this at the beginning of the season and not in the middle of the game."
It’s Filip’s opinion that motivation is very important but that it can also be so dangerous. As a last motto: the only thing that really matters is to compete with good pigeons.