We paid a visit to Joost De Smeyter, who, for the last 10 to 15 years, has been one of the greatest specialists of the real heavy work: the international races. Already at an early age, Joost surprised the long-distance scene with his first international victory at Perpignan with the famous 'Joost'. What nobody could suspect at that time is that the breeding power of this famous 'Joost' and the breeding strategy and expert knowledge of Joost De Smeyter would lead to several international and national victories (Narbonne, Pau, Barcelona Dv, Sint Vincent). So, we are talking about the very best here! And this is why we went there to learn more about their strategy:
1/ Can you tell us more about your goals? Which races and with which pigeons?
Here in Melden, we only focus on the seven international races. We divide our pigeons in different teams. We enter a team of old cocks on widowhood and they race in Pau, St Vincent and Perpignan. This is a rather heavy programme but the selection follows automatically and only the strongest can finish this three-part race successfully.
We also compete with a team of old nest hens at Barcelona and Perpignan. These hens are paired as lesbian hens among each other. This way we don't have to keep any superfluous cocks. We also prepare an alternative team of old pigeons on widowhood for the races at Agen, Narbonne and some pigeons for Marseille. These are mostly younger pigeons (18-month-olds) that are still learning the ropes.
The yearling hens are also raced on widowhood in the international races at Agen and Narbonne. The yearling cocks on the other hand only race in the great middle distance and one or two one-day long distance races. This way, we don't overburden the cocks and won't endanger their future career.
2/ At what moment do you start the new racing season? And are the racing pigeons involved in winter breeding or are they paired in spring?
In principle, a pigeon season lasts 365 days a year, but each season has its own specific accents. But I would like to emphasise once again that fanciers have to put 100% effort into their pigeons all year round. This commitment is always repaid with good results in the season.
The racing pigeons (both hens and cocks) do not do any winter breeding. They even stay together during the whole autumn and winter period. They are separated for two months in spring and at the beginning of April, at the start of the racing season, they are paired for a few days to train them. In early April, depending on the weather, we start to train the pigeons. When they have been paired, the yearlings are more motivated to return quickly to their hens.
3/ When do the pigeons start training at home again and how are they fed in the first months following the winter?
We start training them at home from early February and we try to build this up systematically. First once or twice a week, later on three or four times and then every other day.
During this period, the pigeons are given Plus I.C.+ Winter and Plus I.C.+ Depure to keep them at their weight and to prevent them from gaining weight. Fat athletes are difficult to train and have a greater risk of all kinds of injuries in the run-up to the new season.
4/ Do you keep the pigeons in the dark in spring to limit their fitness? Or are there other things to keep them calm in the beginning? And how do you get them in shape by June/July?
The pigeons are not kept in darkness, but we try to keep them calm by consciously adapting the training and feeding. As said before, they don't race much in the beginning and as the main goals approach, we intensify the training. The same applies to the nutrition. In the start-up period they are fed lightly and sparingly and when the racing aims approach, we switch their diet and this serves to whip up their condition.
5/ What do you mean by intensifying the training? And how do the first training races go? Are the pigeons transported a lot before and during the season? Do they have to train with a flag or not?
As said, until the training, the pigeons fly every other day. Only at the start of the training in early April (depending on the weather), they fly almost daily and then we gradually start the obligatory training with the flag. From the middle of May at the start of the great middle distance races, we train twice a day for at least a full hour to achieve the ideal condition by the time the big races start.
The old pigeons are only driven out three times in the run-up. The yearlings are driven out a few times more. During the season, the nest hens are also regularly taken away by car for extra training.
6/ How are the pigeons fed during the racing season and can you tell us about the recuperation of the pigeons? Are the lofts heated after the race?
Feeding the pigeons is actually a logical process, but many fanciers do not think about it. In the run-up, as mentioned before, we keep the pigeons calm and we only feed them Plus I.C.+ Winter and Plus I.C.+ Depure. Once we start with the training, we switch to Plus I.C.+ Black Label Gerry for 100% and we also do this for the shorter training flights.
Once the more serious work starts, we feed in different phases as follows. When the pigeons return home, they have to recuperate as quickly as possible, so they need a good diet with sufficient proteins. We then feed them with 50% Plus I.C.+ Start and 50% Plus I.C.+ Depure, depending on the distance and the toughness of the race, for one to two days. Then we enter the maintenance phase, in which it is important that the pigeons are well-fed, but still continue to train and stay fit. Therefore, during this period we give them 100% Plus I.C. + Black Label Gerry. The pigeons continue to train very well and still have enough nutrients to be at their best. In the last days before the races we start the loading phase. Depending on the distance, two to three or four days before basketing, we switch to 50% Plus I.C.+ Black Label Champion and 50% Plus I.C.+ Black Label Superstar, supplemented with a little snack (Sneaky mixture) every day.
In full peak season, we also use ATX panels with infrared rays connected to a hygrometer and a thermostat to regulate the heat. This also helps the pigeons to reach peak shape.
7/ Which vaccinations do you give your pigeons and how do you approach the medical side of things?
The racing pigeons are only vaccinated against the paramyxovirus and smallpox, not against paratyphoid.
Medical supervision is provided by Dr Pascal Lanneau and we take action based on his advice. We do not provide any blind treatments and, during the season, we carry out regular check-ups. The youngsters are only trained for their later career and therefore they are only vaccinated against paramyxovirus and smallpox. Furthermore, ‘survival of the fittest’ rules here.
8/ In long distance races, do you also show hens or partners to the widowers before they leave? And in which state do you prefer to basket the nesting pigeons?
We never show any hens to the widowers before basketing. We try to basket them as calmly as possible and one must assume that the widowers quickly learn the ropes. Pigeons are much smarter than you think and they know very well that the hen is waiting when they return home.
It is important to be consistent and to show the hen every time when they are being trained. When it comes to the nesting game, I don't have a favourite state for basketing. The hens are basketed on youngsters of three days old at Barcelona and on a nest of ten days old at Perpignan. But for a good pigeon, this will not make much of a difference!
So remember: you can achieve success in many ways but it is especially important to be consistent. The fancier who makes the fewest mistakes will often be the most successful.