Interview with Leo Heremans

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El colombófilo, Leo Heremans, en su palomar en Bélgica.


WINKIE: Where does your interest for pigeon sport start?

HEREMANS: Well, really, it was a bit by chance. I really liked fishing and that was one of my hobbies. But one day, on the stairs of my terrace, I found a pigeon with a broken leg that could not fly. I sheltered him at home, I cured him and my children wanted to keep him. That's how I started to care for these animals. My children told me they wanted more "brothers" for the pigeon and there we went to the market to buy several birds.

At first I had a small group of pigeons in the basement of my house and it was more a distraction for my children. But little by little I began to take care of them and along with the advice of some neighbors thatwere fanciers, I decided to try to fly pigeons and train them.

I liked the experience so much that I have done it for more than 30 years. In addition, with the subject of fishing, I was and still am a great fan, I had a lot of relationship with the fanciers of my town since I asked for the droppings of the pigeons to fish.


WINKIE: How do you remember your beginnings in pigeon racing?

HEREMANS: Well, I started with two pairs of pigeons. One of them I bought in the market of Lier, a town in the province of Antwerp. The other was given to me by my neighbor, Louis Claes, who introduced me to the world of pigeon racing. It was Claes who went through different markets acquiring good specimens for me, to start competing.


WINKIE: Have you had a fancier as a reference?

HEREMANS: Louis Claes, my neighbor. He was my mentor, the one who taught me this sport. In 1978 it was the year that I started with this adventure.


WINKIE: The lineage of your pigeons makes your offspring are highly valued, how would you summarize your trajectory until you get to have these pigeons champion?

HEREMANS: I have always taken into account the results in the competitions. For me it is a very important indicator. Starting from this, I tried to reproduce using pigeons with very good results in the races. Great pigeons always come from great runners. For example, if 1,000 birds compete in a race, the ones that I will select must be within the first 100 pigeons for ten races, if they do not, no place in my loft for them.


WINKIE: Which pigeons are most abundant in your breeding loft, the ones that are native to your area and flight line, those imported from other areas or even from abroad, or a mixture of both?

HEREMANS: The pigeons of short distance or speed, the maximum that flight is 665 km.


WINKIE: How do you proceed selecting the breeders?

HEREMANS: Those who get better results in races during the last 3 or 4 years, are the pigeons that go to my breeding loft. It is the most important criteria for me. Along with the track record, it is important the pedigree, which has good ancestors with good races too. And I make the final decision when I pick up the pigeon in my hand, I touch it, I feel it, I see its plumage, its muscles and its structure.


WINKIE: Tell us something about your facilities/loft.

HEREMANS: My loft is distributed in a very simple way. I have a specific loft only for breeder team that are between 60 and 80 couples. The first batch of chicks is always for me. I keep them in my loft. When the pigeons are born, after 30 days, I select the best and, almost always, I get rid of about 20 chicks. The selection I make is very severe. I take them in my hand and I can see, immediately, which pigeon is going to be a good runner and which is not. When the chicks are 25 days old, I separate them from the parents and the cocks go with the cocks and the hens with the hens.

Also, I have a loft with the flying team, both yearlings and old pigeons and all are cocks. I do not fly females, it's too much work and my loft is very small.


WINKIE: What training and competition systems do you usually use?

HEREMANS: I start at 8 in the morning and I train in a widow's system. First, I feed them. Afterwards, young cocks are the first to fly for an hour and a half maximum. Next, it is the turn of the hens (I only train them to be in shape to have chicks but I do not fly them in competitions), the same time and, finally, the adult cocks.

In competition time I start, every day, with distances of 1 km and if they return home very disoriented, then I take them 1 km away. After 5 km, 12 km, 45 km and to continue with the club in 117 km, (the first race with the club).


WINKIE: What is the type of contest that has given you the greatest prizes?

HEREMANS: In the short / medium distance.


WINKIE: Do you consider yourself a specialist at some distance?

HEREMANS: Yes, in the sprint races.


WINKIE: What methodology do you use in pigeons since they are born until they are ready to compete?

HEREMANS: When the chicks are 4 months old, I proceed to train them with the same system as the rest of the birds. One hour and a half maximum, each day, and starting with distances of 1 km, 5, 12, 45 and then go with the club.


WINKIE: What level of demand do you have for the yearlings? In terms of distance, how far do you usually get with them?

HEREMANS: Up to 220 km I usually reach them. It is the level of demand, although there are some of them that go even further. In 2006, 30 birds were stolen in fourteen days and I was very sad, I even lost 20 kilos. So I decided to sell all my birds in 2007 and I only had 1 pair of breeding birds and some young pigeons that I took them to the pigeon loft of some fanciest friends. They could keep the pigeons but if I needed it, I could bring them back to my loft, offspring of these birds. In 2008, I competed again, winning the ACE Pigeon in the province of Antwerp, in a distance of 400 to 600 km, with the Dubble Aske pigeon.


WINKIE: Is there any secret to becoming a champion in this sport?

HEREMANS: Good pigeons is the most important thing and be very constant in training. But only good runners are born from good pigeons. Of every 100 that I reproduce, only 10 are good. You have to make a good selection from the beginning. And you have to adapt the training to the type of competition in which you run, it is not the same to train a pigeon for speed racing than for long distance. My birds, both young, yearlings and adults must be prepared for competitions.

You have to have a very specific system. The first weekend of April begins the training and, therefore, I match them in the widowhood system one month before, in March. After 10 days, they lay eggs that I sell, separate the hens from the cocks, and then the first training begins, around the loft. When they do it very well in the loft, I take them 1 km, 5, 12, 45 and then with the club 117 km.


WINKIE: What is essential in a pigeon house?

HEREMANS: The cleanliness and health of the birds.


WINKIE: What do you think are the essential characteristics for a pigeon to become a champion?

HEREMANS: First, the physical qualities of it. Therefore, the importance of catching the bird in the hand and observe its musculature, the bones of the bottom (in the back) have to be together, without there being much space between them, the plumage that is soft, like silk , the build of it. All this has to be, at first glance, good.


WINKIE: What do you feed your pigeons with?

HEREMANS: In winter, I give them a mixture for reproduction, in the summer I give them mixtures for competition. I use a not very expensive local brand that has worked for me all these years.


WINKIE: Do you vary your diet during competitions and trainings?

HEREMANS: No, I just change it in the breeding season.


WINKIE: Do you follow  have a sanitary program throughout the year in your loft?

HEREMANS: No, not really, I just watch my pigeons a lot. I try to have the loft very clean and the water pure, which is the only thing a pigeon needs to survive. I try to keep it as close as possible to reality, how they would live in freedom, in their own nature.


WINKIE: How often do you go to the vet?

HEREMANS: I never go to the vet and I check my birds myself. I am very clear that if a pigeon has something, I put it in quarantine for 3 days and if it does not improve, I take it out of the loft.


WINKIE: What requirements must a person have in order to succeed as a fancier?

HEREMANS: Must be a person who likes dealing with these animals. Dedication and perseverance and, above all, give love and treat them well. As if they were the love of your life, to know them well.


WINKIE: Throughout your career, what do you think has changed in this sport in recent years?

HEREMANS: Now it is more professionalized but only the great pigeon houses will survive. You compete for the honor. The money is made selling pigeons and pigeons. If the big fanciers do not put money and do not bet, this sport will not continue.


WINKIE: Do you use consanguinity or are you more in favor of open crosses?

HEREMANS: I'm more in favor of open crosses. I do not use consanguinity much.


WINKIE: In what cases do you use consanguinity?

HEREMANS: Only if I have two very good runners, with spectacular results, from the same family, then I cross them to have chicks that will be, almost a 95% chance, good reproducers. I never use birds that are born of consanguinity to run, only to reproduce.


WINKIE: Do you have a preference for any line or lines of pigeons?

HEREMANS: Olimpiade and De Jan are my reproducers, the original line, my 800 birds, all of them, carry blood from them or from their descendants. In addition, I usually buy pigeons at public auctions in my country, based mainly on the results and qualities of the bird that I appreciate when I have it in my hands, but not on the idea that they come from this or another specific family. The best specimens that were sold in Belgium in the 80s, I was the one who acquired them. I went from fair to fair, from auction to auction, forming my corridor team.


WINKIE: Throughout your career, what do you think has changed in this sport in recent years?

HEREMANS: Now it is more professionalized but only the great pigeon houses will survive. You compete for the honor. The money is made selling pigeons and pigeons. If the big fanciers do not put money and do not bet, this sport will not continue.


WINKIE: As for pigeon racing, what is your vision about the future of this sport?

HEREMANS: Every time the number of fanciers will be reduced if there is no money in between. It costs a lot to maintain a loft and if it does not report anything, it will disappear. And the Belgian system is a little outdated and has to adapt to the new times. Only the first two birds with which you compete get a prize and this should change.


WINKIE: The pigeon racing and competition in Spain has always been very ingrained, what news do you receive about colombofilia in Spain?

HEREMANS: Not many the truth. I am very focused on competitions in Belgium.


WINKIE: What role do you think One Loft Race plays as a type of competition?

HEREMANS: In Belgium, they are competitions that are not popular, because what we like is to compete with our neighbors and partners, since we are many clubs. There are many lofts, some close to others in my country. But it is true that it can be a very interesting option for countries like Spain with larger dimensions and with a growing hobby.