Are pigeon fanciers changing into pigeon merchants??
We may draw that conclusion. The sales and auctions are watched closely. Fanciers are on the lookout for saleable strains and names. This saves the purchaser a lot of time and money when he markets offspring from his purchases. There have to be birds in the sale with lots of firsts. No matter the number of birds in the race, only the firsts matter. Loft location and competition are not a consideration. The numbers and results donít lie?? Or do they?? What matters is the advertising and promotion of the sale. The pigeons themselves donít matter, as long as they sell. Why would anyone want pigeons that can devastate the competition, if nobody has heard of them and they donít sell?
Have you ever heard of Samson & Son?? No, I donít mean the one mentioned in the Bible, the one who got a free hair cut from Delilah, and later got stoned for his trouble. I mean Samson & Son from Belgium. The name doesnít ring a bell?? In Germany the church bells were tolling. After the sale the seller had money, tons of it. You just had to have those Samson & Son pigeons. They will sell, guaranteed. But, surprise, here in Holland there was no interest in the sale, nobody had ever heard of Samson & Son. That meant throwing your money away on those Samson & Son birds, because nobody would want them. Happily, even after the introduction of the Euro there are still differences in Europe.
The old Samson must have rolled over in his grave. After he died a clever German magazine editor bought his birds for nickels and dimes. The new birds were promoted and pushed for months in his magazine. Why not? No cost to him. Some birds were given away to help spread the word. Fancy pictures and glorious stories did the rest.
Some time ago my fax started rattling. The old thing spit out about 20 pages. Whatís all this, I thought. Some Belgian was selling a couple of birds that had won a lot of firsts from Quievrain (90 km; about 60 miles) and some from Noyon (a wee bit further). Probably entered most of the birds in the race himself or asked some long- distance flyers to enter his trainers in the race. I knew that old trick used at one time to win an easy ďWorld Championship.Ē
A bit later my friend from Germany, Bert Heidemann called. Why didnít I get it? This was the sale of the year. Only a fool would miss this one. They were birds from Jos Soontjens from Wommelgem, once the sprint master of the Antwerp Union. Some of the birds were even distantly related to some ďdirectĒ Janssenís. You canít miss!! They have to be good ones.
I had a quick look at the sales list and asked him if he was losing it. You werenít even allowed to handle the first 20 birds. They were so outstanding, so good; they had already proven themselves in the breeding loft and on the race course. Nobody could say any different. I told him I would never buy a bird just by looking at it and not being allowed to handle it. His enthusiasm started to dwindle just a teensy weensy bit.
The morning of the sale we had freezing rain and I stayed in bed. That night Bert called back. He had been to the sale and didnít buy one after all. He thought the fanciers at the sale must have been mad. The birds were short with sails for wings, attached with long forearms; you could do nothing with these birds past 300 km (180 miles). The sale totalled US $200,000. He managed to find one decent bird; it went for US $80,000. I couldnít believe his words. Some guys must have been laundering money. That would at least explain it.
If you want to be in business, you must have a hot product in your display case. All you need to do is buy some birds blind and you are in business. The PR has already been done for you. Win a couple of early club prizes and wait for the Combine win, and then Bingo!!! The phone rings of the hook. The pigeon brokers are after you. With a few well-known birds in your pedigrees you can ask even higher price. Later theyíll come back for some late breds.
Have you heard the story of the International Barcelona winner some 20 years ago? There was a young fancier, nice guy; everyone wanted to see him win. Suddenly, an International win, right out of the blue. The problem was his birds didnít descend from famous names and strains. The pigeon brokers were beside themselves. For birds with no name, no money, forget it. But, every problem has a solution. One broker was sent back by his wife. Donít be so stupid she said, this is the chance of a lifetime. One of the big names in Belgium has been waiting for years for a big win. Ask him what it would be worth to attach his pedigree to the winner. The broker bought the bird cheap, got a lot of Belgian francs, and sold it quickly for an amount with lots of zeros in it. Everyone was happy. Money doesnít stink.
Here is another twist to the story. You are racing well, winning out of turn and one day there the buyers are on your doorstep. You show them your results and some flattering pictures. They ask what strain are your birds? Strain? These birds are from X. Arms go up in disbelieve. He shows them a bird and explains it is half X. They shake there heads and there are a lot of noís. Our fancier starts to sweat. Heís racing super; he has the best birds in the area. He doesnít know where there are better birds then Xís. Finally, the big buyers are in the backyard and now the birds are not good enough. Come on! Give me a break! The broker looks at him and says slowly, ďX is an asshole, and he wonít sell me his good birds at my price. Thatís his choice. But, I will take care he doesnít sell a feather anymore.Ē Our fancier takes up another bird that is pure X, but he says the bird has a lot of Janssen blood in it. He didnít lie. The bird goes straight into the basket of the Taiwanese. Finally everybody is happy.
The pigeon broker is the happiest. He has found an up and coming super star, and this one is wet behind the ears. He doesnít know anything about prices. When the fancier asked for a price he meant Dutch Guilders not US Dollars. So the broker sold for Dollars and thus doubled the price and on top of that he charged the fancier 10% for his trouble. Thatís how to make it. And on top of that the Taiwanese laid a contract on the table; they wanted the best racers every year for the Far East and a basket of youngsters, too.
ďMom, we donít have to work anymore,Ē the fancier shouts in glee at his wife, after the company has left. Later that night they danced through the house with joy. They decided to buy a new car the next day; after all, the old one had seen better days. And he needed a bigger one for the birds.
The broker quickly became the best friend the young superstar ever had. Heís told things he has never heard of in his entire life. The broker brings flowers, candy and perfume for his wife. He brings something else, too.
ďWhatís that?Ē he says. ďListenĒ, says the broker. ďI put a lot of time into promoting you. It cost a lot too: phone calls, faxes, e-mails to the Far East. Iím working Ďtill all hours of the night. Iíve driven all over the country and arranged a super contract for you. If you donít race well this year itís going to cost me a lot of money. You have to strike while the iron is hot. You understand donít you? You have to fly well this year and Iím going to take care of that. Donít ask any more questions. Just put this stuff in the water. Donít worry they wonít catch you. No problem, I have friends in high places. I will tell you when you shouldnít clock your birds, so they wonít catch you.
ďHere look at this. The eyelids of your birds are slightly swollen. When they are like that forget it. The canít orient and you will loose them. Whatís the use of that? Another thing, donít buy anymore birds from X. When you need other birds, Iíll arrange it. I have some unknown lofts and you can help me with my plans. These birds wonít cost you a cent. Itís a deal, okay?Ē
A fantasy? What would you do if the same company showed up on your doorstep????????????
There are many who wouldnít think twice if the opportunity arose. You think there are no brokers like that? There is a trace of truth in this fantasy. I predict that this trace of truth is going to poison the sport in the very near future. It will come slowly, but it will happen. Its after-effects will hurt all of us, including the honest ones, those who are above reproach. Listen to what I tell you: there are already many who have gone down this road and will not turn back. Success and the money, always the money, have them in its grip.
I have a question for you. If your birds perform poorly all year, what do you do? You start looking for answers until you find them. You didnít change birds, managers, or methods. Hey! We did adjust the loft, the ventilation maybe? But itís still the middle of the racing season and we canít go back to week one. Now what?
Can you manage to devastate the race results and clean up on the Federation sheet, all in one week? Can you do that??? I canít.
When this fancier phones me to tell me what he did to the competition, I right away ask him what he gave to his birds. He changes the subject quickly and remembers he still has to mow the lawn. I know whatís going on. I wasnít born yesterday. Heís one more victim.
There are fanciers who are always searching. They watch for the lofts in the headlines. The ones that win a Provincial this week and a National the next week. They make their way to these lofts not for pigeons but for something else. They buy their way in, by purchasing youngsters. They are looking for knowledge, how to get to the top again.
But, what in heavens name is the best? We donít buy from the loft that canít win. Not a feather. But, from winning lofts we buy without question, blind! The difference remember can be just one week. Not the pigeons. We should be looking for extra class pigeons, nothing else.
Perhaps there is a new trend. If we donít learn the secrets, no birds purchased.
Years ago, I visited a big Belgian name. When I pointed something out to him, he said to me, ďListen, Mr. Van Breemen and listen well. We play for big money here. I doní like to lose money. I race my birds to make money.Ē I have to tell you I was shocked when he told me this. An old saying states, ďIt goes from bad to worse and there is no way back.Ē I have to agree, especially if there is money involved.
There are some who risk everything just to take home a trophy. I believe soon it will be very difficult to race naturally. Fanciers will be caught. Thatís a given. But, they donít care. They just move up the road and set up a new loft instead of going to court to fight the national pigeon federation. If they are put out of business, theyíre back from another location a year later, like nothing happened. The fanciers that keep birds for fun simply cannot understand whatís happening. They quit!!! They find another pastime.
It has already gone this far and it will no doubt go further. I have seen the birds. They had plenty of scars in the neck, because, of all the needles. If offered these birds for nothing, I wouldnít take them. With these birds I couldnít fly a prize. But, their ownership is transferred for large sums. They say the results donít lie. There are stories going around that your author doesnít understand about pigeons anymore. He doesnít race like he used to. He has lost touch. After all results donít lie.
Damned right, I have lost touch. I have not gone with the times. To me pigeon racing is a fantastic hobby. There are lines I wonít cross. What fun is there in having the right bottle in the fridge? Fly the competition into the ground and stand at the top of the podium with a big grin on your face. I donít have to tell you do I?
Not long ago I decided to only do what gives me pleasure and do it as long as it pleases me. Maybe I am one of the few left who is interested in gathering knowledge. What does the best bird look like? How do they orientate? How can I prepare my birds better? How do I motivate the birds? How do I breed, train? Are there other flying systems? That to me is pigeon sport. These things I can talk about with my colleagues at work. It makes my feel proud. Thatís how we promote the sport. Not the other way. Thatís enough. Letís not talk about it anymore. The trend has been set, many have fallen off the straight and narrow, they have been bitten by greed and they havenít even noticed. They have to ride the train to the end.
Did I shake you awake? Or perhaps not quite? Racing pigeons are a fascinating hobby, as long as you donít step over the line. I hope after reading this you wonít. Then you will see how much pleasure your birds will bring you. There is much to be learned. With my next article in two weeks Iím going to try to help you with that. Every once in a while we need a wake up call and plant our feet firmly back on the ground again. Keep one eye open for reality.